Tag Archives: choosing what to paint

Paintings as premonitions

What makes some paintings into premonitions? Is there something in the human mind that can peer into a dim future and translate it into paint?

self portrait oil sketch

looking resolutely ahead; turning away from the void! oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

Some shadowy rather scary things have been happening of late. The blog has been neglected while I tangled with them. Before even an inkling of anything occurred I decided to paint a small self-portrait – just a quick sketch – of me turning my back on the void. There even seems to be evidence of a haircut in there, foreshadowing the fact that, feeling disturbed, I would soon reach for the scissors.

Another odd coincidence involves a picture painted while I was still at school, of myself cycling down the notorious Fleet Moss – a climb so steep that a cautious descent involved passing others who had chosen to walk down for fear of somersaulting over their handlebars. The point in the road captured in that painting was, many years later, the place where my chain snapped while struggling up the same climb, optimistically attempting to tow a trailer loaded with camping gear. Something had to give and it wasn’t going to be my legs so the metal sacrificed itself instead, throwing me instantly onto the tarmac.

Fleet Moss painting on paper, A4, either watercolour or acrylics

painting of Fleet Moss – a dreaded hill in the Yorkshire Dales – picture probably created at around age 14 or 15

Did I know, all those years ago, that that spot high in the Yorkshire Dales on a terrifyingly steep bit of road was going to feature again in my life? Who knows? Something compelled me to paint that section of rearing tarmac.

It’s just as mysterious considering what draws artists towards those motifs that they become associated with forever, in the way that Mont Saint Victoire is synonymous with Cezanne. Why do certain scenes lodge in the brain, winkling their way into the psyche and why is it so much harder to paint well without that peculiar overwhelming instinct? Maybe some painters can manage it but I always find things flow much more easily when the subject itself takes over.

Are premonitions just coincidences? Even if they are, coincidences are strange things in themselves.

Therefore, how we explain coincidences depends on how we see the world. Is everything connected, so that events create resonances like ripples across a net? Or do things merely co-occur and we give meaning to these co-occurrences based on our belief system? Lieh-tzu’s answer: It’s all in how you think.

― Liezi, Lieh-tzu: A Taoist Guide to Practical Living

A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish – but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.

Vladimir Nabokov, Laughter in the Dark