ennui: a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.
“A most welcome challenge to enjoy the mood and establish a balance between location and figure. As always significant changes up to the eleventh hour, perhaps a blessing with oil as this chap had a companion all the way through, yet his removal as well the monochrome against a sliver of colour has pushed this to a more ambiguous resolve.” Oil on canvas board. 40 x 50 cm.
“I wanted the process of the drawing to be as tedious as possible (and it was!) creating a sense of time stopping/ dragging… the only indication of its passing being the alteration of pencil type and pressure… repetitive pattern making tying me to the work table. A sense of entrapment. Clouds are mercurial by nature, constantly metamorphosing, so, by freezing the image, time is once more stopped. All is silent bar the scratch of graphite on paper…diagonal lines crossing (prison walls, calendars, unwanted words), over and over and over.” Graphite on Fabriano. 22” X 22”
“I found the painting by Walter Sickert pretty toe-curling to look at. ‘Ennui’ seems to refer to their marriage; she’s staring at the wall, which appears more interesting than her husband, while he’s sitting at the table puffing on a cigar with nothing to say by the looks of it. The mood is claustrophobic and suffocating; I want Dawn French to march into the picture with a huge pair of cymbals and stomp round that table going LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-CRASH, just to break to tension.
It’s not a feeling I make much work about, but I found this old image that might fit the bill. A while ago I made a paper maquette of a tattooed lighthouse keeper. I made a few bits of environment and photographed him in various poses. In this image, night is falling but he can’t be bothered to get up and turn the light on in the lighthouse. Ships will founder on the rocks if he doesn’t get a move-on, but he seems lost in his own thoughts…”
“The first time I saw this painting, I was struck, in an almost visceral way, by recognition of the woman’s stance, of her state of mind. I knew exactly what she was feeling, and I marvelled at Sickert’s ability to capture it in paint. The Kickabout has prompted me to try to capture that same moment in words. I decided on the classic form of a sonnet, as this has always seemed to me to be an ideal format for encapsulating a single instant of human experience.”
“Ennui is most closely associated with boredom, but it is heavy with an attitude that it seems to me is mostly posturing. It’s a self-indulgence of the privileged who needn’t even be bothered with the daily tasks of life like cooking or washing clothes, or even gardening, as they have servants to deal with such mundane things.
Boredom infers monotony which does reflect the world many of us inhabit right now–the endless days and hours that we can’t keep track of anymore. But it’s not really boredom. I have no problem filling my days, though I can’t always point to what exactly it is I’ve filled them with. But I find it hard to focus, to find motivation, and I’m often anxious and uneasy and feel unsettled and displaced. The relentless heat is no help.
That’s what I tried to capture in my August grid and poem. The pandemic world of now seems to box you in, surround you with a sameness of grey.“
The day was packing heat,
hanging it like a curtain
between me and the world–
dampening all sound,
clogging the airways,
slowing synapses down.
The open windows
provided no threshold
of relief–no wind
You can neither forecast
the way the currents
move you, or strand you
in a density that refuses
Some days have wings–
but most rely on gravity
to anchor them–
to keep them
safe from the whims
“This story came quickly, drawing all the extra bits and pieces to it with a satisfying click. It’s nice when it happens that way – it doesn’t always. For me, it was the bell jar and the woman’s attentiveness for that patch of wallpaper, so not a bored woman thinking of nothing at all, but another kind of character altogether – oh, and that important-seeming glass of water…”
“Oftentimes, the prompt sends my mind shooting off in some wild meandering direction. But this time, I really couldn’t get away from the couple in the painting. After doing a little reading about it, this is clearly part of the genius of this artwork: its devastating “normality.” I kept saying to myself, “they really need their own space.” I fought that notion for about a week, tried a couple of collages of the whole painting I wasn’t happy with, and then finally gave in and made them their own collages.”
“Sickert’s stuffed birds under the bell jar really stuck out for me. One of my favourite films is Guava Island starring Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) and Rihanna, It’s a beautiful story of a creative man bursting with ambition who wants to use his talents to unite people. It’s visually stunning with a gorgeous animation at the start with a voice over by Rihanna. The film is filled with bird symbolism, as birds can be seen as free to fly anywhere, but also caged and stuck. There is one particular scene where the antagonist is enjoying some alfresco dining while surrounded by caged birds. I decided to draw a version digitally using the style of brush strokes seen in Sickert’s piece.”
“I have always thought if I ever got stuck by myself on a desert island, with nothing to do, then I would scratch patterns in the sand or on a cave wall. Or like Tom Hanks in the film Castaway I would make a ‘friend’ out of driftwood so I could have something to talk to! Anyway, I decided to ‘doodle’ a Hamsa hand. This is a good luck symbol for many religions and cultures and is an ancient sign of harmony and protection. I found it very therapeutic and satisfying to do. The stick figures were more difficult and not at all therapeutic. Firstly, finding the right shaped pieces of wood was not as easy as it seems and secondly, -well have you ever tried to make a stick look presentably dressed? Anyway, it was great fun and never for one moment was I bored.”
Courtesy of our regular Japan-based contributor and Red’s Kingdom artist-in-residence, Tom Beg, we have a fresh new prompt, a single word, inspired I think by some of his own very noisy neighbours! See below for the prompt and the new submission date. Here’s to fending off more of that 2020 ennui!