Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Narrative Paintings", works in progress.

A recent conversation brought up a favorite subject.....Narrative Paintings.  I guess the old illustrator in me can not resist paintings that have a narrative, or suggest some kind of a story.  The narrative could be a complex involved description, or a very simple subtle suggestion of something happening.  These types of images can be anything from sweet and sentimental, to very strong and powerful imagery that tells, or suggest some story line.....or leaves an opening to the viewer to imagine some kind of story taking place.  I have always appreciated and have been drawn to this type of work.  Most of my generation were brought up on Saturday Evening Post and the great illustrator/painter, Norman Rockwell.  He was one of the great story tellers.  His covers always wove some kind of a tale.  As a kid, the influence of this type of image had much to do with shaping my desire to want to create those kinds of pictures....hence the illustration career, and pursuit of representational painting.

I think illustrators who become fine artists are well equipped to do this.  The only difference is, as an illustrator, one is painting someone else's stories.  As a fine artist, one is painting his or her own story.  It is always more fun to do something that interest you personally.  The two works in progress that I am near finishing, and the "Lula Belle and the Preacher Fisherman" included here are what I would consider narrative type paintings.  Each has, or suggest some kind of a story....or leaves the viewer to create or imagine their own version of that story.  Without titles, the viewer could certainly come up with similar scenarios....or possibly different ones.

Paintings do not have to be narrative in nature to be great works.  Paintings can be about paint quality, about light, about sense of place, about things that have nothing to do with any story many landscapes.  I have heard mentioned the notion that figures in paintings automatically suggest a narrative.  I'm not sure that I totally agree with that .  A painting of the figure can be just a study of the human form and be absolutely beautiful, without the suggestion of any story attached to it.  That prevailing attitude may be because stories usually involve people, so if a person is in a painting, the chances that a story is occurring is more likely than one without people.  I think this an interesting topic....of which I obviously do not have the absolute answer to.....but, it comes up occasionally.  I usually don't think about this kind of stuff regularly unless the subject does come up in conversation, or as a class question.

These are my personal observations, and don't necessarily reflect any universal opinion or attitude towards this subject.  I will post the images of the paintings in progress again as they are finished.  Thanks again for listening to my ramblings!


  1. Hodges, I always enjoy your paintings and insight. I wanted to be an illustrator, too. Unfortunately, I came along too late. But I'm always thinking of the stories behind my pictures. I think about the farmer who broke his back 200 years ago building the stone wall I'm depicting, or who the family that picnicked on this stretch of coast that's in my seascape. I can't paint it if I can't think of a story to go with it. I guess I can call it the Hidden Illustrator Syndrome!

    1. Kevin, I sort of miss it at times, but I must say that I do prefer the fine art part of my career because of the freedom it gives you to paint what you want. I agree with what you are saying about the connection with the subject one paints. I think it shows in the work if you have skin in the game, or really invested part of yourself. Thanks for the comment. Love your work.