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Filmic Painting: Part I - Qualities and Techniques

This is the first part of my blog that aims to explore filmic qualities in painting - the language of film and how it can be applied to the language of painting. The aim of this research is to inform and provide a context for my own painting practice and in so doing, help inspire new work.

What are filmic “Cinematic” qualities?

When a painting is described as having filmic qualities it shares certain attributes that we associate with cinema and photography.

These may be:

  • Narrative - A suggestion of a story or narrative. A sense of something happening or about to happen. This could be said of many paintings by Edward Hopper.

  • Movement - A painting may give the illusion of movement, usually through the gestures of the figures or through the use of strong diagonals, horizontals, and verticals in the composition that indicates something is moving through space. Degas's ballet and horse racing series would be good examples of this.

  • A clear sense of mise en scène - In film, this refers to all of the elements that comprise a single shot, including the actors, setting, props, costumes, and lighting. For example in painting, Manet's Dejeuner sur l'Herbe.

  • A Selective Composition - The composition is framed in a way that suggests it is seen through a lens. For example, the subject may appear to be cropped off or composed at extreme close-up, suggesting lens-like zooming in on the subject matter. Likewise, there may be an awareness of viewpoint, this may mirror the viewer's vantage point or the subject may be seen close-up, oblique, distant or from a high or low vantage point. The work by Romanian artist Serban Savu would be a good example. His paintings feature distantly composed people as though spied at through a long lens.

  • Lighting - There may be strong contrasting shadows like the stark lighting effects found in film noir. Lighting may be theatrical in nature, appearing to be unnatural from the scene depicted. Found for example, in Sickert's music hall paintings.

  • Tonality or colour - Awareness of a particular tone or colour scheme -brought to life by the quality of the painting technique. This could be said of many paintings by Luc Tuymans and Karin Mamma Andersson.

Pool in Garden (30x30cm) An example of work cropped and reframed with balanced tones

Still Painting

I am particularly influenced by cinema, especially the film still, where a single moment is frozen in time. Once detached from the original film, the composition appears more random, fragmented and interrupted - people appear on the verge of action but the wider narrative is obscured.

I am interested in the idea of painting that has an unseen or oblique narrative, that leaves the viewer open to project their own interpretation.

Unlike most films, my paintings rarely feature people, but their presence is felt through the man-made objects that are left behind, whether it be paddling pools in suburban gardens or the wartime relics such as pillboxes and sound mirrors found along the southern coast of England where I live.

Paddling Pool #2 (oil on board 12x12cm) An example of close-up framing

I use many of the techniques found in photography and film such as cropping, framing, and close-up to create a fragmented composition. Many of the pool paintings, for example, are framed close-up and cropped, detaching and abstracting the subject matter. Others, like those from the Memento series, are framed as though seen through a long lens, the space is compressed, leaving the subject matter frustratingly distant and unknowable.

Carnac (oil on board 15x17cm) Here the viewpoint appears to be moving

In my paintings, the subject matter is handled with loose flat areas of paint, balancing what is essential with more detailed technique. In the Carnac standing stone series, the paint is blurred, as though the stones are glanced at suddenly from a moving vehicle. In my recent work, based on photographs taken at Turville, I use a simplified palette of two to three key tones, this reflects the influence of the painter Giorgio Morandi for his closely balanced tones.

The relationship between art and film has existed from the outset of the film medium. Many film directors themselves have been influenced by painters and vice-versa, some, like Wim Wenders (famous for such films as Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire) were painters first, before moving to film. After all, the language of painting is in itself the language of film, with its emphasis on lighting, composition and use of colour to engage the viewer.

Over the next few posts, I aim to further my research by looking at artists that have influenced me and whose work could be said to share some filmic qualities.

Turville Grave #2 (2021 oil on board 18x24cm) Example ofstrict colour scheme and balanced tones


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