Why Soap Characters?

After several discussions within my own Field, Constellation and Subject lessons, the topic of discussion of my personal usage of soap television characters in my work has been brought forward several times. Although I feel that the subject matter within the paintings I have chosen is not relevant to the painting itself, in the same way one would not question why Cézanne has chosen to specifically choose an individual as his subject in a still life, or why he would choose to paint a still life of a bowl of fruit as opposed to a vase, I feel there is some resonance within Soap TV, the role it has within society, and the effect it has had on myself as a person.


“Think of Me as Switzerland in Glasses” – A Portrait Of Deidre Barlow

I personally feel that there is not a substantial amount of work within contemporary art that accommodates for the working class section of Britain, and what is relevant to some people’s lives. Although these portraits can seem rather playful and possibly not have much substance to the series itself, there is a personal attachment that people have for television characters. People reflect themselves within storylines that are situated in the programmes, and empathise with the situations they are incorporated into. Not only are these characters idolised within society due to the resonance they have in society, but they are even humanised due to our own empathy of the characters, and our own reflection of ourselves within the storylines; such as a grievance of a close relative would be treated similarly to the passing of a fictitious character. An example of this public reaction to television drama is the outcry that was shown in the wrongful arrest of the character Deirdre Barlow in Coronation Street. Although Granada Studios admitted to the release of the character being part of the  story, there way a national campaign called “free the weatherfield one” by the public put in place to ensure the character was back into the script.


It is for these reasons I’ve decided to portray these characters in a similar style to that of Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec and Daumier. Although originally I was compelled to portray these through the satirical works of Honore Daumier, and providing satirical portraiture for a contemporary art scene in the way Daumier did in the 19th Century, I’ve become attached to the idea of possibly even glorifying these characters, reflecting the style of painting of Toulouse-Lautrec did with famous dancers within Paris. In addition to this, the actors themselves become embodied into the role they play on television, and their own personal lives are then reflected within the character themselves. For example, the actor William Roache (who portrays the character Ken Barlow in Coronation Street) had undergone scrutiny in the media due to child abuse charges in which Roache was found not guilty, and as result of these allegations the character was written out of the script and the character was labelled as the villain within culture and the media.

Not only do I find this attachment we have with soap culture on a literal level, but I feel there are some philosophical ideologies in place with respect to their place in society. As I’ve mentioned previously, we reflect our own personal experiences with the characters in the programmes, but also the scripts are written in order to highlight day to day endeavours and reverberates the lives of the common person. This makes programmes such as Eastenders or Coronation Street a reflection on the world and a response to how we understand our own being, and possibly our own existence. In Marxist philosophical theories on art and being, this would make soap television an art form within its own right.

Continuing on this ideology of being, there is a presence of Self-awareness that I wish to pursue in my own works after the “Art in the Conscious Mind” lecture I had attended. Due to the reaction of emotions, body language and events we empathise with in the programmes, there is the notion of self-awareness and self-consciousness . Philosophers such as William James or Edmund Husserl would argue that the self and our own sentience is an accumulation of everything we have ever known, and that these communications between people are the pivotal reason we have our own self-awareness. Without this knowledge of knowing what others think or feel, we not only become curious but we create our own personal existence of consciousness, and therefore it can be said that soap characters are a by product of our own consciousness through empathy and communication with characters in the public eye.