The paintings in this series are inspired by instances of sleep, dream, nightmare and insomnia in poetry and other literature. They were shown at a solo exhibition at Shaftesbury Arts Centre in Shaftesbury, Dorset, November 2021. You can listen to a radio interview from 5th November 2021 about the pieces and the show at the link located at the end of these paintings. The interview starts at around 24.57
The Evening Clouds ©Annabel Carington, 2020 (acrylic and gold leaf on canvas). 100x100cm. Inspired by ‘The Castle by the Sea,’ by Ludwig Uhland (1805). This beautiful German narrative poem describes a scene which is almost like a nocturnal pastoral. It is romantic, mystical and whimsical in many ways, but also careful and questioning as the words tenderly mark the page. Much has been written about exactly what kind of scene is being set in this work but, for me, it is a dream about the very act of dreaming, and how fundamental that is to our experience of being asleep and how we think about what being asleep means. In this painting, I have tried to capture something of Uhland’s “evening clouds” with “the moon standing above” and the sea in “the deepest stillness.”
The Night We Met ©Annabel Carington, 2020 (acrylic and silver leaf on canvas) 100x100cm. SOLD Inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula. When a work of literature becomes so popular that it inspires such a variety of adaptation and performance, there is a danger of it becoming one-dimensional in the collective imagination. In the case of Dracula, the focus quickly honed in on the concept of ‘undeadness’ as a state more powerful than being alive, and the natural horror that comes along with that. After a long history of the idea of the vampire in central European folklore, it is understandable that the popular focus should be on this aspect. However, a considerable amount takes place in the novel before Jonathan Harker realises he’s trapped in a castle with an immortal predator, and it is this aspect of the novel I wanted to focus on in this painting: travelling through the night to reach a new destination; the first meeting with a new and interesting person; and the glittering excitement of an inexplicable attraction that holds you both physically and mentally beyond your previously-imagined realm of existence.
Night Storm ©Annabel Carington, 2020 (acrylic on canvas). 100x100cm. Inspired by the novel, Moby Dick, by Herman Melville (1851). Storms often happen at night in Moby Dick, striking when everyone is tired and disrupting their capacity for sleep. Weather is used here to show restlessness and a troubled mind and so it is telling that events such as storms are often nighttime occurrences, because they also become the conflict-filled dream (or even nightmare) that would have been experienced by several of the characters had the actual storm not taken place. In this sense, the conflict and turmoil are transplanted from the very insides of the human struggle, to the ‘outside’ battle with nature and, therefore, with each other.
A Series of Nights in Which One Slept ©Annabel Carington, 2021 (acrylic on canvas). 60x60cm. Inspired by the novel, The Heat of the Day, by Elizabeth Bowen (1948). Widely regarded as a masterpiece, ‘The Heat of the Day’ is the most amazing piece of literature I’ve ever read about wartime London. The descriptions of day to day life, the constantly changing cityscape shaped by nightly air raids, & London rendered as a space occupied by the living and the dead existing side by side, all manage to be absolutely devoid of any sentiment whilst also communicating the sensation of individual existence arrested in the extended moment of collective trauma. Bowen was a ‘stayer on’ in London during the Blitz and was an ARP warden. Her house on the edge of Regents Park was bombed pretty badly, too, so she was right in the middle of Home Front life. She described London at this time as a series of archipelagos, each one separated by a sea of different wartime experience. In this painting I hope to have captured something of this idea of a landscape shaped by a collective experience that, by its nature, disconnects the people involved from one other.
Storm I-IV. ©Annabel Carington, 2019 (acrylic on canvas). 40x40cm each. Top right and bottom right SOLD Inspired by Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest (1611). The play opens with a huge storm, which throws the characters around like puppets and results in creating the ‘stage’ for the rest of the play. Shakespeare often used weather, especially storms, to weave the presence of magic and mysticism through a dark cloth of man’s brooding about his ultimate and inevitable destiny. In The Tempest, the dark and tremendous storm is also symbolic of terrible conflict and betrayal returning to haunt Prospero and cause further struggles ahead. These four paintings are inspired by Shakespeare’s use of weather and nighttime to show how man is both part of nature and at its mercy.
The Moon Fell Suddenly South-West ©Annabel Carington, 2021 (acrylic and gold leaf on canvas). 41 x 31cm. Inspired by James Thomson’s 1874 poem, ‘The City of Dreadful Night.’ This dark poem places the city at night almost as a living entity independent of the people inhabiting it, and suggests that, in having evolved to this state because of human intervention and for the purposes of improvements to human life, it is actually now acting as an organism that feeds off its occupants, leaving them drained, small, and powerless. The city is not, therefore, the industrial wonder of 19th century innovation and progress where more is possible, but a place empty of humanity and thriving on loss. Thomson employs a branch of philosophy in this poem known as ‘pessimism,’ which suggests that humans are, by nature, at odds with the world and that the very state of being alive is contrary to that experience of ‘aliveness,’ rendering life essentially meaningless. Life is the contradictory state of having to ‘be’ in order to realise there is no point in ‘being.’ Whilst this does seem unremittingly bleak, it can also be seen as a comment on the increasingly mechanised society of the late 19th century and the widespread fear about what that might bring. There were very real fears at the time that we were willingly constructing for ourselves the hell of our own destruction. Thomson himself suffered from chronic insomnia, and so was well aware of the differing landscape that constitutes the middle of the night. There are aspects of this poem which draw on the concept of the flaneur and the ways in which sleep deprivation and an absence of dreaming colours one’s perceptions of one’s immediate environment.
Two Nights Passed ©Annabel Carington, 2021 (acrylic and gold leaf on canvas). 31 x 120cm. Inspired by the poem, ‘The Pains of Sleep,’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1803). Coleridge is almost as well known for his sleep difficulties as he is for his poetry! In ‘The Pains of Sleep’ the speaker is experiencing terrible visions and a desperate need for peaceful, safe sleep. The previous two nights have been pillared by hellish nightmares and an inability to settle, and the speaker is now unable to move in or from his bed. He feels tortured by his own material state and does not know where to turn. In making this painting I thought about the ‘two nights’ and the experience rendering the speaker immobile and subject to his delusions on the third night. I wanted to capture this distorted and strange experience of time passing, along with a sense of the effect of this on one’s senses and perception of the world.
The Night Tree ©Annabel Carington, 2020 (acrylic on canvas). 29 x 34cm (framed). SOLD Inspired by the poem, ‘Sleeping Standing Up,’ by Elizabeth Bishop (1969). This poem begins “As we lie down to sleep the world turns half away / through ninety dark degrees […] and thoughts that were recumbent in the day rise as the others fall, stand up and make a forest of thick-set trees.” It suggests a shared experience (as “we” lie down to sleep) of what is also an intimately personal and individual part of one’s life. No one but you knows what it is like for you when you’re asleep and yet, as she suggests, we tend to accept that we somehow all “fall” into our sleeps and that, wherever we find ourselves in those nighttime hours, our somnolent topography is contoured with mystery and hiddenness, like a “forest of thick-set trees.” Bishop was extremely interested in sleep, dreams and ‘attention’ in unconscious states, evidenced throughout her poetry (“Sleeping on the ceiling” is another favourite of mine) and I love the deeply careful and sensitive nature of her work, which also always realises there is such a thing as ‘reality.’
A Dream Oppressed and Shifting ©Annabel Carington, 2021 (acrylic on canvas). 75x75cm. Inspired by the short story, ‘The Back Drawing-Room,’ by Elizabeth Bowen (1926). This story plays with the idea of ghosts, dreams, and other times, places and planes being mixed up with or somehow crossing into the present. This idea of the boundaries between other times and places being ‘thin’ and permeable is an enduring feature of Bowen’s work; her stories and novels include characters who fall in love with the dead through the letters they have written, history being endlessly repeated by different characters in the same location, and images of the dead walking among the living on the London Underground. ‘The Back Drawing-Room’ contains a story within a story, and the embedded narrative is essentially a ghost story, but with a difference: the house is the ghost. The line from which I’ve taken the title of this painting is ‘One lives in a dream there, a dream oppressed and shifting, such as one dreams in a house with trees about it, on a sultry night,’ and I wanted to try and capture something of the ethereal feel, of a place that’s only almost there, like a half-remembered dream or memory, or a poem we’ve forgotten to write.
Night Walk ©Annabel Carington, 2020 (acrylic and gold leaf on canvas). 44 x 54cm (framed). SOLD. Inspired by ‘The Painter of Modern Life,’ by Charles Baudelaire (1863). In painting ‘Night Walk,’ I was working with the poetry of Baudelaire, especially ‘Landscape,’ and his essay, ‘The Painter of Modern Life,’ which is so important in the history and development of writing about art. The concept of the flaneur – a dilettante who saunters around city (especially Parisian) streets in the nighttime hours for the purposes of observing modern life – makes an appearance in Baudelaire’s essay and I started to think about what a flaneur (or flaneuse, if female) would make of the countryside, rather than the city, at night, if they were suddenly picked up and placed in a nighttime meadow, to see “the night open its eyes” and, without gas or electric light or the bustle of night life, be “plunged more deeply into winter and night”. The light on the trees and water would be shifting and phantasmagoric and the ground underfoot would be uncertain. In their wanderings, a path would be crafted from which to observe the open space and the still night air, challenging the “detached” nature of the dandy saunterer.
The Night Meadow ©Annabel Carington, 2021 (acrylic on canvas) 40x40cm. Inspired by the novel, Sleep Has His House, by Anna Kavan (1948). The ‘Night Meadow’ paintings think about both the novel and the dream as a permanent location outside of our conscious access, drawing on this novel from Kavan which is highly experimental and almost entirely symbolic. It’s probably my favourite of her novels, partly because it deals so much with nighttime but mainly just because, despite some of the dark and difficult areas the book moves towards at moments, the beauty Kavan creates with words is actually arresting. How can you not be stopped in your tracks by a writer who describes the night as ‘a princess in exile’?! This particular novel also includes lots of imagery of art and artists.
The Night Meadow II ©Annabel Carington 2021 (acrylic on canvas). 60x60cm. SOLD.
The Night Meadow III ©Annabel Carington 2021 (acrylic on canvas). 25x25cm.
The Night Meadow IV ©Annabel Carington 2021 (acrylic on canvas). 20x20cm. SOLD.