Saturday, January 4, 2014

Creating Narrative Through Composition

"The Gathering" by Jim Carpenter, Acrylic on Crescent Board, 12" x 20"

When Icons Aren't Enough

Some of these figures are beginning to feel like old friends. I've seen them before in my other paintings. Thus the title, "The Gathering."  

When I began this painting I imagined the figures were long-buried icons being uncovered.  I used various gel mediums, including crackle paste, to get the effects of ancient crumbling walls and plaster. This is the painting I started with - the one of the 30 that I said I was going to "finish" in this 30 day challenge.  

So when I picked the painting up again I began to work on fleshing out the figures.  I added combinations of metallic gold and bronze and quinacridone gold. 

Eventually I found that having the figures on the wall as adornment simply wasn't enough to satisfy me. I wanted to put the figures into an environment in order to create narrative.  I wondered if the original artist put them in an environment.  I thought: "Well when the artist painted this on the ancient wall did he have them in a scene or were they just icons on a gilt wall?"  

Yes, I know that sounds a bit crazy, but remember I was "a theatre person" for a good number of decades. Stanislavsky rules! Creating characters and back history and putting yourself in the situation of the character are second nature to theatre people. Still, sometimes it's important for me to remember that I really am the painter of my paintings!  I'm the decider.

The Environment and Narrative

The environment does not have to be literal. It can be figurative - simple - abstract space.  Where the figures are placed in that space and how they are positioned is what creates story. 

I put figures in an environment in order to create narrative, and as you can see, I also take figures out to help the story along. Taking out one figure created a large space between the first figure and the second, adding weight to both.  

Although we don't have a lot of details, a story is there for the telling.  You can imagine that the figure on the left is benevolent, judging by the tilt of the head, and by its being positioned on the left side of the paper. There seems to be a conversation of sorts going on between the two figures on the right. But it is the central figure who is the strongest - that is, the central figure takes the most focus. Although it would seem that all of the figures are engaged in their own activity, it is the figure who is closest to the viewer, closest to the center, and with his full back to us who catches our attention - because of where he is and how he is positioned in the space in relationship to the other figures.  With his back to us he generates additional wonder and mystery.  

PS. I had a few good laughs at myself while writing this blog post. I had not really thought about how I slip into theatrical modes of thinking when I paint. Stanislavsky would be proud of my liberal use of "what if."  


  1. I love reading your theatrical posts Jim. You always make me think about things in a new way. Thank you for that :) I love light in this. From above and below. The textures are wonderful, and yes, the mystery draws me in. I want to know what comes next, and what is being said in the corner. so glad to see you here Jim!

    1. Hi Sheila! Thank you for your comments. I'm happy to know that you are finding the posts valuable, and I always look forward to hearing from you.

  2. I LOVE this painting - really all three paintings you have completed in this 30 day challenge. For the viewer, me, I get a feeling of peace of mind and confidence especially with The Gathering. This painting seems to be expressing that one can have peace of mind and confidence when moving into the unknown instead of sadness and fear, In addition, it’s a journey taken alone.

    In The Gathering, these figures appear to have been together for awhile and now their time together is ending. Time for the central figure to continue his/her life’s journey. It seems so true to life. As the central characters of our lives, we often gather with others for awhile and then when ready, we move on. Some of the people we meet stay on, others we will “gather” with again and some were there for this “gathering” only.

    1. I hadn't really thought of it this way before, that it might represent the gathering before moving on - but I see it now, and I see it in my other paintings - this notion of "moving on" - of taking leave. And, of course, I love your observation that it is something we must do alone. That does ring true - and now that you mention it, it does seem to be a theme that runs through my work. Thank you for this insight, Jackie!

  3. what if is always a legitimate question to ask in any medium. thanks for reminding me to ask it more often.

  4. Hi Peter! "If I were____ , then I would _____" is what Stanislavski would suggest. And yes, it is a good question to ask in any art form.