When I was a teenager I painted depressing subjects; refugees, weeping mothers standing by graves, etc. My offering for the composition section of Art A level was entitled Death of a Hero (chosen from a list) and depicted a sick old man lying in bed with a chamber pot underneath. So why did I choose to paint these subjects? I think there were two reasons. Firstly, as a teenager, I felt deeply about stuff; secondly, I thought people needed waking up to how much suffering there was in the world.
These days I wouldn’t dream of painting anything which doesn’t delight the eye and hopefully stir the heart; that means I no longer depict scenes of despair or suffering. Does this mean I no longer care? No. It means I’ve learned that suffering is an unavoidable part of life and sometimes there’s nothing you can do. Trying to emotionally take on board the enormity of pain and hardship we witness through the media on a daily basis can lead to only one thing; total despair.
As a teenager I was dismissive of my parents’ generation. Nothing unusual in that. But, thinking back, I’m staggered at my ignorance and audacity. I poured scorn on their love of security and order. All Things Bright and Beautiful wasn’t just the most popular hymn of the time, it was the catchphrase for the 1950’s. I saw it as hypocrisy and it sickened me. But how could I have overlooked the fact that these people had just endured the most devastating war which robbed millions of loved ones and scarred a continent. Was it any wonder survivors turned their faces from it towards a hopeful future?
So, what about the bad stuff? Should we just ignore it? Sometimes, yes, in order to survive. If there’s something we can do to help we should. If there’s nothing we can do, let’s try to put into life something better and help redress the balance. Life is full of injustice, cruelty and pain; far too much for me to want to add to by depicting ‘the dark side’ in my paintings.