Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Laughing Man

Oil on Canvas, 81 x 81 cm.

In the first three images the lad seems really to be trying to "hold it in", especially in the third, where he appears to be biting his lower lip. Only in the fourth is he laughing openly. I may well work forther on this picture.


In working on these I note that the following elements are necessary to depict laughter, as opposed the grinning, or smiling:

1. The mouth should be open
2. The head should tilt back- ergo the features should be foreshortened and the upper row of teeth and throat visible.
3. The eyes should be narrowed.
4. It helps if the shoulders are raised, so the laughing person seems to be in a fit of hilarity.


I am not sure if images of people laughing necessarily provoke laughter or even a good mood. Laughter is so often cruelly directed at another that if we do not know what someone is laughing at, as in these pictures, then the effect is often sinister (these painting are quite large which enhances this effect).

Even those laughing Buddhas have a crazy quality to them. It is as if they are laughing generally, at human folly, perhaps. But that is hardly a very helpful response to the world's problems, so the laughing Buddhas imply abandonment to suffering, giving up on humanity.

True isn't the response of a person fully in control of themselves, (as anyone who remembers schoolteachers telling them to "stop laughing" will recall) so the image of a laughing man can suggest hysteria, loss of control, breakdown, rejection of order.

And often laughter is not a response to something that is really funny (unless one defines "funny" as anything which provokes laughter, which would include tickling, for instance): I mean, it isn't a response to a comical transformation, but to a change in circumstances involving social embarrassment or restriction (I recall here how during a compulsory school Christmas church service the entire congregation of children found themselves giggling hysterically during the sermon. Christianity is a bizarre, portentous religion, but it isn't especially funny: simply the prohibition on laughter created the desire to laugh. After the service one of the boys was taken and belted for his laughter: muscular Christianity indeed!).

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