Inspiration from Art

Should I stand on a box, or glide urbanely between tables?


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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
I change my laptop's wallpaper daily, taking images from an 8GB memory stick which holds paintings and photographs I've saved over the last ten years.

I've stored photos of wildlife, famous and obscure artwork, favourite cars, motorcycles, yachts and aircraft and portraits of inspirational writers, musicians and actors. What I choose each day is sometimes done randomly, other times more selectively to create a mood. In winter, I don't often pick photographs of the Arctic—I'm already cold enough! The wallpaper that appears from time to time, as I close documents stirs wonderment in me and the brief pause while I contemplate another world gives my brain a mini-break. :rolleyes:

Occasionally, I realise that one of the reasons I saved a particular image is that it's connected to issues that I'd like to write about. This morning, I have a painting by David Inshaw on my computer screen. He created neatly composed vignettes of the British countryside, which feature people in sinister, suggestive and symbolic arrangements. Phallic and pubic imagery abounds, and there's a feeling in many of his paintings, that things are barely restrained and are about to explode! As I look at She Did Not Turn I wonder who the lonely woman in a blue cloak is, and why she's making for an isolated house or barn—an assignation with a lover—or does she live there? It's showery weather, from the largely clear sky and rainbow. What's the strange structure on the hill summit...a haystack or an ancient fortification? My Cornish Detective novels feature acts of violence in beautiful surroundings, and it would be easy to build a plot around this painting.

I'm currently in the early stages of writing a second novella about an American Civil War veteran, a cavalry officer with PTSD, who is making his way from the Appalachian Mountains to his sister's war-damaged plantation near Atlanta. He's travelling by horseback and has inherited a mustang, two mules and a mongrel dog. As I write, I think of Olaf Wieghorst's paintings of lonesome cowboys making their way along precipitous mountain trails:


Do any of you seek inspiration from paintings, photographs or sculptures?
I do this all the time @Paul Whybrow, in the same way that certain musical compositions prompt me to write and accompany me as I am writing. With art, it is ekphrasis, what happens when words, sounds, colour, textures, light and art come together, what rubs off against one another in different forms, this medium, that medium.

A short story I began and published perhaps eight years ago was inspired by Joan Mitchell's Les Bluets (1973), a woman on holiday in France who walks past a field blue with cornflowers and witnesses a child being attacked.

As part of my weekly trip to the library, I try to borrow a book on art. I was fortunate to have a requested copy of a book on the Newlyn School of painting waiting for me this week.

Founded in the 1880s by Stanhope Forbes and his contemporaries, who'd studied with French painters in Brittany, who were producing rustic scenes out at the actual locations, rather than imagined in a studio, the Newlyn School settled in Cornwall for its amazing light and attractive tableaux of fishermen.

Cornwall's 'Fisherfolk' Art & Artifice, by Mary O'Neill contains many wonderful paintings.

I particularly like the one on the cover—painted by Frank Bramley and titled Eyes and No Eyes—it's impossible not to make up a story about it. What has amused the young women so much? The old salty dog of a trawlerman must have said something suggestive about the problems he was having getting his cotton thread through the eye of the needle the first time...

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Should I stand on a box, or glide urbanely between tables?