I’ve been doing a lot of painting recently. Despite lots of dipping into video, animation, photography and poster making over the last seven years (since I started this art journey), I always seem to bounce back to drawing and painting (or, as I have argued before, drawing with paint). I’ve been trying to work out why I can’t leave painting alone. What is it about painting that I love so much? The times when I have not been painting I have missed it with an ache. So it must be within me to do it.
There isn’t really any good reason to paint in the 21st century, given that it would be much quicker, and neater, to use digital technology. Of course, I don’t really believe that. But if you look at painting as a means of conveying a message, then it does seem rather archaic.
Painting isn’t just putting marks on a surface, adding colour, and depicting something. It is so much more than that. It is a means of expression. But it is also more than that. The act of painting is one element. The marks made are another. The transference of emotions from artist to canvas is a third. The fourth element is the thing that is being depicted. The final element, is a big one, and that is me, the artist.
What does painting need in order to be a language? It needs three things: syntax, pragmatics and semantics. Syntax refers to the grammar. I think there is a sort of grammar within painting. The relation of its component parts do have a consistent relationship to the painting’s meaning. Pragmatics refers to the connection between the speaker or listener and the means of communication. This is something which painting has – the viewer is able to understand the message of the ‘speaker’ or ‘artist’ through the medium of paint. Semantics are about the literal meaning of an expression. A brush stroke can be considered to have expression, as can colour, tone, light and shade. But finally, languages also depend on nuances and tone to convey an exact meaning to the ‘listener’. That, certainly, is something which painting does well and arguably does better than a more traditional spoken language. The biggest advantage painting has over spoken languages is that it does not need translating. It speaks for itself.
Paint is a language and it is a language that I speak. So I am lucky in those terms. I find speaking with my voice quite hard. I stumble and mumble and cannot find the words often. I find writing easy. I find painting easy. I guess not everyone is fluent in every language. So, I need to stop questioning my language of painting and keep on speaking.