A book. A friend’s story of a friend. Your mother’s childhood. Your father’s employee’s childhood. A piece of music. A theatre play. A conversation happening two tables behind you at a caffe-shop. Two children playing in the park. A mother kissing her infant child. Writers can get inspired by anything, anywhere, at any time. And as much as all these things have captured my interest for another side-story in a book – narrative paintings have also done a remarkable job for me.
My wish is to welcome you, writers, to another world of great inspirations, namely figurative painting.
So I hope you’ll enjoy my little list of paintings that have guided me throughout a very fun (although hopeless at times) writing-process!
1. Thomas Wilmer Dewing – “La Pêche”
This one inspired me to write about a place in one of my character’s imagination; a utopia, where nymph-looking women run freely around, sings, dances and creates beauty wherever they go.
2. John William Waterhouse – “The Decameron”
This painting made me want to include a scene; explaining a very charming and seductive (but deceiving) character.
3. John William Waterhouse – “Lamia and the Soldier”
“Lamia and the Soldier” is a perfect illustration of every girl’s fantasy when growing up. Meeting a handsome soldier in the middle of a wild forest is just about everything a 13-year old little girl wishes to happen to her – so I took the liberty to use this image to describe an innocent fantasy of a young character.
4. Odd Nerdrum – “Embrace”
This one is also a fantasy, but a little bit more dramatic, not so sweet. Therefor, closer to reality. It’s a timeless motif of two lovers, either meeting each other after a long time apart – or holding on to each other, making sure the other one doesn’t slip away. Either way, it’s perfectly usable in literature.
5. Odd Nerdrum – “Memorosa”
One can make many symbols out of this. For example; the big men on the left with the weapons are the government, in power over the individual (the individual being the mother of course.) Personally, I have always been drawn to death in literature. Especially the death of a mother. So I look at this motif quite literary: A mother is being executed right in front of the innocent eyes of a child. Now, the child has to survive on it’s own in a harsh, cruel world, full of big men with weapons.
6. Odd Nerdrum – “Refugees at the Ocean”
When I was little, I saw this painting in one of my father’s books. Later that night, I had the most terrible nightmare. I dreamt that this ship, full of refugees, came and took me as their child-prisoner. During my imprisonment, I was beaten, tortured and treated very badly by all of them. All I wanted was to go back to my family, but I couldn’t – because they had already killed them. You can say this painting had a huge impact on me for many years. Of course, I ignored looking at it again for a very long time – until one day, when I was writing on my story. I ended up writing about this character who had the exact same dream, although this time, it had a more symbolic meaning behind it.
7. Rembrandt – “Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph”
I first saw this painting in a museum, together with my parents. For some reason, I thought the old man (Jacob) was dying – and so I instantly started envisioning my own father lying on his deathbed, and us, saying farewell to him. As you can imagine, I got really sad, because I made up this whole story in my head. Obviously, I have used it in my writing later.
8. Rembrandt – “Philosopher in Meditation”
When I saw this, I felt so inspired. Not because of the meditating philosopher, but because of the way this house and it’s furnitures are built. The stairs curling up towards the ceiling, the little door behind the old man. It looks a little bit like the house of a hobbit. And so I sat down and began to describe an old man’s house. Detailed and thorough. I wanted it to sound exactly like what the viewer sees in this painting.
9. Raúl Campos – “Mujer con Pájaro”
There is a chapter in my story which is all about this young girl, trying to survive on her own, without any money or any caretakers. So she goes out to hunt for something to eat, and comes home with a dead bird in her hands, looking more dramatic than anyone, debating in her mind wether or not she just did the right thing. Obviously, this painting inspired this scene.
Be sure to give me a message if any of you guys have felt inspiration flowing by any figurative, narrative paintings. If not – what inspires you the most? Should painting, music and literature always go together in the same category? Let me know your thoughts on this in the comments below!
Aftur S. Nerdrum