Pop Classical. 1960s and 1970s

Narrative Painting I

  • Acrylic on Canvas
  • 156 x 191 cms
  • 1978

Narrative Painting I

During the mid to late 1970s Derrick Greaves made use of words in his works, often to create a contrasting juxtaposition between image and text. It was also a chance for Greaves to develop his imagery and complicate his iconographic vocabulary. Greaves used this development to create an ironic interpretation of the Modern denunciation of narrative and storytelling as is seen in both Narrative Painting I (1978)and Narrative Painting II (Karen his wife) (1978).

This development is written about by James Hyman in From Kitchen-Sink to Shangri-La (Lund Humphries, 2007):

Restructuring his language allowed Greaves to incorporate words in order to introduce a narrative element into strongly formal compositions. At a time when even figurative artists adopted a Modernist rhetoric which rejected narrative or storytelling - most famously and articulately in the interviews given by Francis Bacon - Greaves's sardonic response was to introduce actual words and narratives to accompany highly pared-down images. Greaves had already written narratives in his notebooks and in several paintings of the 1970s and 1980s he incorporated pre-existing words, phrases, sentences and even stories. (p.121)

Other paintings are entirely word based, a witty riposte to a conversation in which the artist Jo Tilson had argued that it was no longer possible to do narrative painting. The resulting paintings also contained autobiographical elements such as allusions to Greaves's marriage. In Narrative Painting I (1978) and Narrative Painting II (Karen his wife) (1978) lines of words fill the entire picture surface with a short story. (p.125)

Through exploring the introduction of a literal vocabulary into his work Greaves developed a relationship with a poet, Roy Fischer, who together set up a written and visual dialogue by post, which was eventually turned into an exhibition. Greaves and Fischer also shared a love for piano-jazz which influenced both their works, and their collaborative endeavours. In Greaves's work this influence translated into harmonious and dynamic movement, from colour to colour and words to colour. This movement within the painting alludes to the journey through a piece of jazz music.


Loughborough and tour, Loughborough College of Art and Design, Forty from Ten, 1986


Loughborough College of Art and Design, Forty from Ten, 1986, Cat. No. 5, p.9

James Hyman, Derrick Greaves: From Kitchen Sink to Shangri-La, Lund Humphries, London 2007, illustrated p.124.

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