Exercise: Telling a story – final painting

iranian-hunger-strikers final-low res

Iranian migrants on hunger strike at the border of Greece and Macedonia. acrylic and pen, 49 x 19cm – from a photo by Yannis Behrakis

Following the prep I did on Friday, this is my final painting of the Iranian migrants. My aim was to try to capture the body language and facial expressions that tell a story of despair and exhaustion. There is a bond between the characters; they are supporting each other through the ordeal of a hunger strike. You would have to look hard to see that the lips of two of the men are sewn up. A viewer is unlikely to pick up the detail of the story without the help of a picture title / caption but I don’t  think that matters. I hope the picture is striking enough that people might want to stop to think about what is happening.

The photo by Yannis Behrakis was taken in November 2015 and the  plight of these refugees was written up by several news agencies and papers. They were stranded in Greece unable to cross the border into Macedonia as only asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq were being allowed in.


Interim stage

I cannot find out what has happened to them since. They will most likely have been labelled ‘economic migrants’ and may have not attracted much sympathy or support. It’s a cruel and difficult situation. In our culture we are expected to do what we can to make a better life for ourselves but we are critical of ‘economic migrants’ for trying to do the same thing.  It is likely that traffickers sold them a story of an easy route to work, housing and prosperity but they have been left stranded and desperate, unable to go forwards or backwards.

What works?

  • I’m pleased with the simplified colour palette. I used Henry Moore’s shelter drawings as reference.
  • The drawing lines (influenced by Jonathan Yeo’s portraits) are effective – they could perhaps be a bit more subtle here and there.
  • The expressions and body language aren’t bad.
  • The experimental combination of brush, credit card and drawing pen has worked.
  • I’ve interpreted the photo as a painting rather than simply copying it… I’ve adjusted colour palette and composition.
  • During the prep I experimented with cropping to three characters (perhaps thinking I might make my life a bit easier!) but I returned to five as it is the relationship between the group that is the story.

What doesn’t work so well?

  • The hands aren’t terribly well drawn and it is not clear who they belong to although I don’t really mind that. I thought about going back to neaten up the hands as they are roughly painted but a voice in my head told me that I’m not setting out to create a pretty picture.
  • My initial sketchbook drawing was a little better, a little looser and more expressive, but I haven’t made a complete hash of scaling it up.

This was an ambitious painting for me with a complex composition and I’m pleased that I stretched myself. There is no way I would have had the confidence to tackle this at the start of Painting 1.

I did quite a lot for of preparation for this painting which you can see here.


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