'The Riddle of the Sands'    40x280cms  Penny Watts


There was a fascinating and varied response to the novel from the artists on the recent 2-day Freedom in Painting workshop at Creek Creative, Faversham.  Narrative, incident, characters, location, timelines, were all explored alongside colours and emotions sourced in the text. The theme of the novel was particularly challenging with nothing physical and 'real' to respond to but words provoke image and stir the imagination and the painters' skill makes those images and ideas visual and concrete. 

We did not have a set novel. The choice was down to the artists, who were asked, in advance of the workshop, to read and re-read their chosen work and find the essence and bring ideas and studies to the workshop to transform into painting. Some of chosen novels (or poems) were recently read but most were long-term favourites connecting to the artists' personal journeys and interests. The chosen works were:

'The Riddle of the Sands', 'The English Patient', 'Housekeeping', 'Moby Dick', 'On Chesil Beach', Journey into Nature', 'The Day before Happiness', 'A Sleepwalk on the Severn', 'Wide Sargasso Sea', Remarkable Creatures' & 'Swallowing Mercury'.  Many of the novels contained dark themes which came across strongly in the paintings. 

The wording of the title of the workshop - 'BOOK - Painting the Novel' was deliberately ambiguous, allowing room for the artists to include the physical presence of their book in their painting(s). 


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The relationship between books/text/words and painting is long and distinguished, from illustrations of the Bible and Greco-Roman mythology to Anselm Keifer's responses to the Kabbalah and Paul Celan's heart-wrenching poem 'Death Fugue' in the Margeurite and Shulamith paintings. However, during my research I was surprised to find how rare the novel is/was as a subject for serious painting. 

As always, the workshop began with an introductory talk, referencing paintings inspired by 'Don Quixote', Edgar Allen Poe, Kafka, Lewis Caroll,  Grimms Fairy Tales, 'Lord of the Flies', Albert Camus and inevitably 'The New York Trilogy'.  We also looked at illustration and at the magical trinity of calligraphy, poetry and painting in Chinese art. Ideas and methods were discussed and exchanged before the artists began their personal translation of those ideas into painting. An almost impossible task in 2 days but this commited & hard-working group of artists certainly delivered. 








'Very exciting and challenging workshop.Loved the lecture with photographs at the start'  GRISELDA MUSSETTS

'The workshop brought the painter in me awake...it opened the soul - made liquid the heart'  KATHLEEN ALBERTER

'I learned a great deal and now feel I am beginning to understand abstract painting. Ashley is a very inspirational teacher and always has a way forward out of a difficult situation'  ANITA BONE

'The workshop opened me up to trying something I haven't done before - very exciting.'  TEDDY KEMPSTER