Autobiographical Art

I’ve spent many months working on a 5ft x 4ft oil on canvas called The Storm. It’s my first figurative painting and I have spent the longest time on the figure and must have re-painted the face a dozen times to get her expression right. The beach is based on the view from the Dorset coast looking out to Hengistbury Head. It is an area I have visited for over 10 years and ironically, as I’ll explain, I found a sense of calm there.

It is a deeply personal piece which expresses my feelings about weathering lifes turbulent times, and explores how we adapt and navigate through heartache, loss, trauma and illness. Most importantly it depicts how we control our own reactions to life’s ‘storms’.

I was influenced by several artists: Hokusai in the wave, Turner in the moody sky, Botticelli in the female figure, and Michelangelo in her hands. Each element representing an important part of the pictures meaning.

The figure herself could be me, could be family, could be you. She is reacting to events around her and has a thousand yard stare, like a war veteran*. Yet her expression contains determination, resolve and even an element of control too. Her body shows a willingness to move forward and away from the wave threatening to engulf her; yet she forms part of her own environment and indeed her own destiny.

We can perhaps see this in the way her Venus-like hair melts into the clouds above, and the interaction of her hands with the water and the land. One hand pointing at and influencing the wave, the other is letting the land pass through her fingers or perhaps even casting seed in the creation of new beginnings.

Trying to depict overcoming life’s hardships through painting has been challenging. It is interesting to me that I have chosen an area of the coast which I find very peaceful as the setting for a painting dealing with the hardest times we can face in life. Although I am able to explain some of the elements of this painting here, any work of art always presents things to the artist that is surprising and unexpected, and in fact says so much more about the subconscious and our intentions than any words could; and is reason we make art.

#oiloncanvas #mentalhealth #painting #art #trauma #PTSD #wellbeing #women #art #bereavement

*The ‘1000 yard stare’ is movingly depicted in an exhibition of Don McCullins’ photography featuring war-battered soldiers as part of his wider war photojournalism images.

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