How To Tell A Story Through Art

Humans have been telling stories for thousands of years. From breathtaking Ice Age cave paintings to Banksy – and everything in between – we have expressed and elicited the whole gamut of emotions with a combination of colour, composition and creativity.  

Sometimes, the story is an ancient one: good overcoming evil, love conquering all, other times it’s about capturing a moment in time, such as Paul Delaroche’s Execution of Jane Grey, or an entire movement, as in Erich Lessing’s Liberty Leading the People. 

Using art to tell a story can be a transactional experience, as the artist imbues their canvas with deeper and deeper meaning, so it requires the viewer to look and look and look, extracting more from the story than perhaps even the original creator intended. 

My piece Saturday Night – Sunday Morning 3:24 am asks many questions: who is the lone figure in the distance? Where has he been? Where is he going? Why is he alone? The story percolates and builds in the viewers’ imagination as they are drawn into the piece. 

One of my main aims is to stimulate the visual sense, and I draw on a range of inspirations to achieve the final image and tell the story. I’ve written previously about my admiration of David Hockney and his work Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy is a perfect example of storytelling in art. 

It depicts fashion designer Ossie Clark and the textile designer Celia Birtwell shortly after they married (Hockney was best man) and is packed full of symbolism that helps tell the story of the couple, who divorced just three years later. 

Birtwell is standing, suggesting she’s the dominant partner in the union, and stands next to a vase of lilies, synonymous with female purity. Meanwhile, the cat in Ossie’s lap is synonymous with infidelity and envy: and bisexual Clark’s continued philandering lead to their separation.  

Of course, you don’t have to be an expert in art history to understand the story behind a painting. My canvas Old & Tired was both challenging to paint and rewarding, offering a hint at what the elegant but faded Wilton’s Music Hall had seen in its time. 

That’s when art truly comes into its own: telling the stories that are on the cusp of being forgotten, and bringing them to life and a whole new audience, ready and eager to listen. 

 ‘Husbands’ is another favourite of mine, painted for my friends Dan & Steve and I think it can be compared favourably with this work by Hockney. It would seem that the way I look and depict the world now is similar to what Hockney’s was then. Dan & Steve had been together for over 20 years and this painting was commissioned shortly after their wedding, hence the title ‘Husbands‘ and was my contribution to the normalisation of same-sex marriage. I thought it was a brilliant composition and found it technically rather challenging but the result was a success and my clients loved it.

I have been called a ‘true aesthete’ which is flattering as I would say that is what Hockney truly is, his work has an air of modernity, no matter when painted. My goal as a painter is also to create beautiful images which act directly on the visual sense and which appeal to one’s innate aesthetic sensibility. No doubt I have been influenced by some of Hockney’s style but he is only the first of many artists who have had an effect on my artistic sensibilities.

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