The visual rhetoric of narrative

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
David Paul Skinner (Creator)
Western Carolina University (WCU )
Web Site:
Ron Laboray

Abstract: In her essay “On Narrativity in the Visual Field: A Psychoanalytic View of Velázquez’s Las Meninas,” Efrat Biberman asks: “Does narrativity by definition contradict visuality, and if so, why is it so prevalent in the context of painting?” (Narrative 14.3 (2006): 237-253, at 237) As one of the primary objectives of my painting is eliciting narrative potential through my images, the question of whether a visual experience is compatible with narrativity—something typically associated with the more temporal tradition of literature—is particularly relevant to my work and thus forms the subject of my critical essay. My initial investigations into narratology and the theories of Roland Barthes and Gerald Prince make clear that the concepts of narrativity are applicable not solely to the written word, but also to the visual arena. As Marie-Laure Ryan writes in her essay “The Modes of Narrativity and Their Visual Metaphors,” “reconstructing the plot is as fundamental to the understanding of the narrative text as identifying the depicted object is to the mental processing of a representational artwork.” (Style 26.3, (1992): 368-387 at 370) Concepts such as the micro-narrative and the macro-narrative, as discussed in Ryan’s piece, speak to the subjectivity by which viewers decipher narratives found in a work of art and touch upon one of the foundational impulses behind the art-making process throughout human history. As a painter, the act of painting is integral to the process of discovery that occurs as I find my way to a finished composition. My recent body of work is primarily figurative, though the figures exist in an ambiguous picture plane along with abstract patterns, scrawled text and gestural marks that trace the evolution of the final image. I often work in the diptych format, echoing the panels found in comics and graphic novels and referencing both the passage of time and a binary narrative relationship. The figures that inhabit my paintings are based on personal and historical photographs and, recently, video stills taken with my phone. The relationship between photography and painting as exemplified by artists such as Luc Tuymans, Gehardt Richter, and Peter Doig has opened a direction for experimentation:. by enlarging images found in photographs and rendering them in paint on canvas, the photographed moment is re-contextualized as a work of art directly linked to the figurative tradition of painting, and quite literally given new life through the act of painting, divorced from mechanical methods. The image has been transformed through the artist’s particular handling of paint, and given meaning through the simple fact of having been selected from innumerable choices. The images that I arrive at in my paintings suggest narratives that touch on themes of memory, history, masculinity, alienation, fatherhood, and our complex relationship with the natural world.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2019
David Skinner, diptych paintings, figurative abstraction, figurative painting, narrative paintings, photographs and painting
Narrative art
Narrative art (Art movement)
Narrative painting

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