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Something fishy

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

Most of my pictures are derived from events or sightings that have a strong visual impact that I call charismatic. However the origins of this painting was an anecdote. A colleague told me about someone they knew who lost a sale because they started getting too overtly Christian about the content of a picture which they had sold to a Saudi buyer. Apparently anything with water attracts their attention so a painting of loaves and fishes had done on this occasion. That was the germ of this picture, a chance remark suggested a picture around the theme of floats and fishes, as i had just painted a table top picture this seemed a natural follow on.

The fishes were easy - I am familiar with both mackerel and trout - and I originally thought I could paint a couple of nice brownies, but then those religious overtones cut in and I remembered how the early Christian symbol of a fish was remarkably similar to the streamlined shape of a mackerel. Mackerel are the supreme streamliners, meant for high speed schooling to avoid predators and their markings also seem to have been speed lined, much like a Nike flash repeated down their bodies.

The Biblical overtones continue into the loaves. I have seen Roman loaves carved on funerary monuments in Rome and they are pleasingly divided into sengments, presumably for easier tearing.

So now I had circular loaves and lozenge shaped fish. The basket deflected by the fish became another lozenge and from somewhere a lemon, also lozenge shaped, crept in. Maybe because when I cook mackerel I put slices of lemon in their bellies. Just thinking of the bread made me want to tear a piece out, so a hunk of bread also entered the composition.

I set the "table" at an angle within the rectangular field of the canvas, running from top right to bottom left and set about disposing my objects within that shape. I could have aligned the table as a rectangle parallel with the edges of the canvas but that would have been less dynamic and unstable. "Unstable table" just had to be included, no legs, just the sliding field. The loaves had to hold the top corners, so maybe a bottom one as well and then the basket, lemon and fishes had to slide in to set ups counterpoint to the round loaves.

The colour of the mackerel dictated the rest of the colours. The loaves I thought had to look freshly baked so that suggested an ochre, tonally balanced against the indigo on the fish backs. I imagined the table to be scrubbed wood and the colour mediates between the ochre and the blue. I scratched lines in to suggest the wood grain and then low lit it with streaks of indigo mixed withe the ochre. I had introduced shadows as another graphic element in my previous painting and had enjoyed what I could deploy them to do, so I repeated that here, using patches of that indigo - ochre colour I had used on the table.

The colour of the fish was so strong I felt the background, which could be a tiled floor if you want to read it that way, had to be an equally strong complementary orange - red. And so I got my favourite three colour game set up once more!

I doubt if anyone could have fed 5,000 with this lot.

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1 Comment

Michael Edwards
Michael Edwards
Jan 07, 2022

Hi Sinclair, great painting!

Really illuminating to read your analysis of your iconography.

Happy New Year!


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