Jul 12, 2010

King Canute

One of  my favourite painters has, for a few years, been Edward Hopper. If you are familiar with his work you know that Hopper, for all his greatness, rarely paints a good human figure. They are too pale, or too bent, or too angular or too.... just not right.
But for  all his faults he has succeeded in describing the essential isolation of humans from each other. A typical Hopperesque painting might have two or three figures in an enclosed environment, each facing away from each other, as if the others did not exist.
In his paintings the protagonists are so close - and yet so far.
Though Hopper places his people in American  environments of the 20's and 30's, logic tells us that this inability to bridge this isolation has been part of human nature since we started as a species.
So thank you Hopper for the inspiration.
And of course that leads us directly to our subject - King Canute. (Well it doesn't really, but I will pretend it does.)
If you are like me, you probably don't know that King Canute, also known  as Cnut, won the English throne in 1016, just 50 years before the Norman 'invasion.' Again so close, and yet so far.

With all the things I know about the Normans (funny helmets, arrow in Harold's eye, Hastings, Bayeaux tapestry, the Droit de signeur) I know nought about King Canute - except that, try as he might, he couldn't stop the encroaching tide.

That isn't to say I don't think about Canute quite often.

In fact I do - most often when I am having my morning run along the beach and my shoes are wet from a sudden surging wave that has caught me unawares.  To be honest, usually I've been daydreaming about making up some scary monster that I can scare kids with in my next 'illustration" - rather than taking in 'the moment'. 

So serves me right.

And to be more honest, at six o'clock this morning, this illustration started as an illustration about a bent and gnarled tree. At about half past six, the tree became an island. At a quarter to seven the island became inhabited with Canute, who refusing to leave the seaside, has been caught by the encroaching tide.

Originally Canute was staring out to sea, on his lonesome. But then I realised he needed more.

He needed enigma.  So at ten minutes to eight, just when I should have been ironing my shirt for work,  I introduced the figure on the right - and suddenly had more than a story. I had drama, plot points, metaphor and balance - not just the balance of composition, but the balance between age and youth, gluttony and moderation, stoicism and distress.

And another figure to clothe.

Oh well.

The final image is below  this text. The dark clouds are above the youthful figure, the light is on the King's old and swollen face.

I wonder what it means?

And I wonder which one is me?

Thank-you for looking. Again. Clicking for big in this case give accidental almost "photo-realism". Something I strive against.

Oh well :)


  1. So today is the day when the door opens just an inch wider? :)

  2. Hhm. I see such an immense contrast yet a solid unity between all the elements. Two as one. One in two.

    Might it be a mirror?

    Of course, every man may accomplish great things and walk this earth as the respectable king of the ocean. But then, there will be times when he looks deep inside and finds himself far differently than he appears to be.

    The same goes for women, of course. Especially a smarty pants like me. :D :D :D

  3. All big words aside, I will have to say that this is one brilliant, honest piece of art. :)

  4. Thank you Amalia. You are very kind. This work was an accident. I didn't realise that I was the king until I saw he had his feet in the water.

    And that his running socks were wet.

    Of course the younger man on the right, looking so mournful, could be the king himself, mourning his lost youth.

    But that wouldn't be any fun, would it?

  5. Maybe he's not mourning? Perhaps exhausted? From too much partying the king seems to indulge himself in???? Hehehee....

    Nevertheless, I don't think you could ever lost 'youth'. It's always there where you need it to be. :)

  6. I can see the Hopper inspiration.
    Fantastic work. And yes, sometimes we start something and it develops into something completely different...but that's one of the great things about making art isn't it? It's always full of surprises.
    Love the contrast between the two characters and the whole atmosphere around them. It looks so peaceful(though the dark clouds give a dramatic touch as if a storm is to come), nostalgic...and the black and white makes all the emotions shown even stronger.
    Thanks for your visit. I'm glad you like it.
    Hope my english version was ok haha.

  7. Thankyou Ana, yes the English was good. I went and hid my diary straight afterward ... :)
    Yes it's true and good when something becomes something else - a bent tree becomes a long dead king :)!!


  8. I agree with Ana, what I like best with this picture is the atmosphere and the contrast between the characters. IT´s the king that brings the "slightly-strange" into the atmosphere. The young guy doesn´t look sad at at all. He´s had a long swim, and now he´s busy with his sit-ups ;-)
    Now of course, a sport-geek will always be more frightening to me, than a king. Even if it is a Norse king.

  9. Love the story about the process of creating the piece--sounds like me...I started out to do this, then I changed it to this and then...

    It's my favorite way to create. Great tribute to Hopper in your own inimitable style!

  10. Hey Andrew, this is great... moody and mysterious and sorrowful. Love it.

    By the way, I thought King Canute was supposed to have gone to the seashore to show his fawning supporters that he wasn't all-powerful. He asked them if he was so powerful he could stop even the tides, and they said "of course, you are our amazing king" etc. So he stood there and commanded the tide to stop, which it didn't, and as his feet became wet he turned to his court and said something along the lines of "You see, stop treating me like a god, I'm just a man". Over time the story has become that he tried to stop the tide, but (as far as I know) that wasn't the case!

  11. I don't know what it means, but I agree that there is a whole drama there, and I want to know the story. I'd never heard of King Canute, but my education way spotty (i.e. I was probably reading a novel during a lot of the key points). I love the illustration, and laughed about how your conception evolved over the course of your morning run. These characters are really really intriguing. The older man looks haunted, stricken, and the younger one looks like he can't bear being trapped with the older man on this island. So much tension between the two, even though they're facing different directions (or because they're facing different directions). Lots and lots to think about here.

    Thanks for the comment on my blog (and as far as composition goes, I don't really think too much about it on the quick sketches, except that of course decent composition is always more pleaseing. But the one on the top was cut off by the page break--there's more of him on the other side). And now I'm off on my morning run, but no beaches in Kansas. Instead, some lovely paths through the woods along the river.

  12. I saw dominance and control. I like your story and getting into your head with your thought process. The evolution of this piece is very interesting.

  13. Hi!
    ahahah, your comment have been the perfect complement of my post about diaries. I'm glad that you like it. and... You're right! ahahaha, the rocks will survive... with the cockroaches as companion! (cockroaches are "las cucarachas" in english, right?) is a funny image...

    Ah, you are a machine, Andrew? (a machine always creating fantastic universes, and never stops), is wonderful :)

  14. I did not really think of Edward Hopper's people as unusually angular. I love his Nighthawks. I thought he painted the women the way they looked which was exemplified by models like Dovima, Sunny Harnett and Alice Bruno. These were in the 40's and 50's and women did wear Christian Dior styled clothes which were rather angular. The angles were eventually tapered by Coco Chanel.

    As for your King Canute, I am distracted by the hunk sitting on the beach. What magnificent lighting. I struggle with lighting that I totally ignore it.

  15. Hi Andrew,
    Thanks for the feedback over on my blog...I thought I'd see what you have been up too.

    I really love the atmosphere and lighting of your King Canute piece. The composition is great, the tree branches, and even the relfections really lead your eye easily through the piece. All of the horizontal lines created by the clouds, and water ripples really set a serene scene of quiet contemplation for your characters.
    It really is thought provoking too, with the juxtaposition of the old King and the younger figure...what are they thinking???

    It was cool to see your thought process behind this piece and how it came together.
    Ahhh... running along the beach in early morning must be sooo wonderful and relaxing. It would be a great way to clear your mind, and refresh.

  16. Very good work, Andrew.
    I've heard out there that Hopper's nudes are all from his wife. It seems she was so jealous that would not let him paint another but her naked. No kidding, eh.

  17. Ohhh, I didn't look at Edward Hopper paintings since a school work... it is good to discover again his work (I have my mind fresh now, full of ideas) thank you, Andrew!

  18. Hello, Andrew! I can hardly add anything quite different from the comments above. My perception doesn't differ a lot... I find the atmosphere somewhat oppressive, due to the black and white colours and the feeling that these two men have nothing to say to each other. Nothing more. Maybe a storm is coming... A difficult situation for two men on a lonely island... For the king it seems to be all the same, but for this young and vigorous man?... Although back to back maybe they are more connected that they suppose... However, the result of your post for me was that I read a lot about king Canute the Great and the other king Canute, that reigned later. I haven't studied about them at school but I knew about them from my short visit to Denmark a few years ago!
    I liked very much your story (and the sense of humour!)about the process of creating the picture. I don't find it strange at all, because something similar happens to me sometimes when I write my dramatizations for puppet theatre...

  19. Hi Andrew, wow you were at it early, no wonder you are so productive. I like this moody piece. The guy on the right side is especially well done and I agree it does feel a bit photo realistic, but then the king keeps it from feeling too much so. Thanks for the input on my reworked piece. I appreciate your help. I am still trying to figure out how to make the ant with the watermelon read better so ideas are welcome!

  20. hello, still working so fast, i see :D

  21. i know what it means.
    it's about yin's evolving.


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