ART / Self-Portrait: Paul Storey on the inspiration behind his painting The Virgin Mary Dreaming

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The Independent Culture
My work is often described as bizarre and shocking when in fact it is full of specific literary and philosophical allusions which pass many people by. The idea of the Incarnation and the Annunciation lie behind this particular painting, and in the dream sequence that it represents, the image of God, in the form of a distorted head, has appeared to the Virgin who lies dreaming on the blue bench.

Critics are constantly picking up on the allusions to other paintings in my work, but these are not necessarily deliberate and for the past four years I have lived in rural France, isolated from any major artistic influences. The initial inspiration for the image of God in the picture may well have come from Holbein's Ambassadors, but I have played around with the form so much that I don't see it as having anything to do with Holbein any more.

The idea for the cross motif, which conveys the idea of the centre or access point and in Christian terms the Crucifixion, came from Vorticist paintings by Bomberg. These had an enormous influence on my early work and the subsequent idea has evolved over many years.

I have never really enjoyed painting from life and used to be an abstract painter. But I could never suppress the figurative painter within me and the past eight years have been a case of letting my inhibitions come out and developing a literary context for my work. It has taken courage to let my imagination run loose.

I am not interested in anatomy but rather in constructing a figure that is emotionally right. Strange things tend to happen to my characters, like the Virgin who has one fat and one elongated, skinny arm. She appears naked and distorted not because I am intentionally trying to disorientate or disturb the image, but because it is the naked form that fascinates me, and that is how the figure worked in this particular context.

However, in many ways I would be happier if I could express what I wanted to say without all the strange things which happen in my pictures.

'Paul Storey: New Paintings', Benjamin & Rhodes, London W1 (071-434 1768). To 15 Oct

(Photograph omitted)