Melancholy Art – (and why I sometimes paint it)

Why all the melancholy art?

Why are your paintings so melancholy?

Life is hard enough without surrounding yourself with sad melancholy art!

Why don’t you paint something happy for a change?

It’s a great painting but I don’t think I would want it on my wall!

I get a lot of comments like this. Yeah, fair enough I suppose, I probably don’t take them as negatively as you might expect. Quite the opposite, I think it’s quite a compliment when someone responds to one of my artworks as if the emotion portrayed was too visceral to be tolerable. It’s a nice feeling when someone responds to something that you have created in a way that suggests that it has made them think or feel something. Particularly for a painter like me that is far more interested in capturing a feeling, or expressing some inner turmoil, than achieving some technically pleasing but emotionally bereft masterpiece.

The darker side of the human heart

Capturing human fragility in my paintings interests me, humans are full of complex emotions, and exploring those feelings through art seems like a natural response. If I think of artists that inspire me and some of their most melancholy artworks, I picture The Scream, At Eternity’s Gate, and pretty much anything from Picasso’s blue period, some of Edward Hopper’s paintings seem to be actively aching with loneliness. These pictures to me represent the universality of human experience, even if it is the darker part of that experience.

This exploration of the darker side of the human psyche seems necessary, from a personal perspective it’s not purely about cathartic expression but also about gaining a deeper understanding. A deeper understanding of myself and my own feelings but also a deeper understanding of my place in this world and how I fit into it. I also learn from other people who sometimes feel something from some of my paintings, that I’m not alone, that whatever darkness that may sometimes engulf me isn’t unique to me. But this is not a choice, to paint like this, it is a compulsion that demands a reaction


No negative feelings allowed

Maybe my tastes are too rooted in centuries past, after all this is the age of social media and we should all walk around with fake grins plastered permanently across our faces recording every banal moment as if it had meaning. Any expression of psychological distress should be analysed, and dissected into the tiniest minutiae. Any suggestion of feelings medicated into oblivion until we all but rattle when we walk.

Well, I say bollocks to that. Live your life, feel your feelings, we are not automatons. We all experience pain, trauma, overwhelming sadness, and despair at some point throughout our lives. That is part of the human condition, if we were all walking around in a constant state of bliss and happiness then the whole concept of happiness would itself lose all meaning.

I paint for me

I paint for me, I write for me. As a result, I paint paintings that are like the art I would like to see, I write novels that are like the novels that I would like to read. I explore the feelings and topics that are interesting to me. I find any other approach quite bizarre, why would I stay up all night painting a picture that has no meaning for me? Just to make a stranger say that’s pretty, before forgetting it forever ten seconds later. I think a reaction like, that’s thought-provoking, or disturbing is a far deeper and meaningful response.

The reason I started painting again after a twenty-year hiatus was because of an extreme case of writer’s block (which turned out to be something else), having established the habit of expressing all my frustrations through my writing it was a struggle to relax without some kind of cathartic outlet. So I paint for me, sometimes the result is melancholy art, sometimes quite the opposite, but always for me.

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