Four Faces of Stress

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Four Faces of Stress

Here are just four causal faces of stress, as seen by artists (photographs taken by me from books in my collection).

(1) Fear

Midwinter & Stress

Hilary Paynter’s wood engraving, titled ‘Stress’, catches the anguish of the rats as they cower together. The rats express their fear in individual ways. Some sink to the bottom of the pile, their eyes closed or glazed over in submission, whilst others huddle together for protection. One shrieks out its pain. When I see this image, I see refugees everywhere; refugees huddled together on sinking boats; refugees crowded into camps; refugees sheltering and terrified from bombs.

(2) Alone in a Crowd

Midwinter & Stress

Carl Randall’s oil painting of the Rippongi Nightclub in Tokyo freeze-frames the frenetic dancing. All are alone in their own ways; all seem disconnected from each other; few of the couples look at each other.

But some are more alone than others. Three men form a trio of loneliness. A bald-headed, bearded man, left of centre, looks abandoned. His isolation is emphasised and framed by the arms of the dancers. A finger from the dancer below him seems to point accusingly at him: his loneliness is ‘his own fault’. Another man to the left of the first has sunk deep in his own thoughts; whilst the third, the man seated at the bar, talks into his mobile phone oblivious to others around him. Mobile phones present a veneer of connectivity with the world, but paradoxically give us an excuse to ignore people in our immediate vicinity.

(3) Motherhood

Midwinter & Stress

Hilary Paynter’s engraving, ‘Another Life’, captures the stress of the mother serving the insatiable needs of her new baby. The baby dominates the mother; the mother is still tied to the child by the fallopian tube; there is no escape, no sleep, and often no sympathy from others. The woman cries out for help. But the media can have little sympathy for the mother who cannot cope with a new child – it will often work itself into a paroxysm of righteous moral indignation against mothers who crack and abandon their children.

(4) Work

The relentless, alienating pace of city life is captured in the George Tooker painting,’The Subway’. Most of the people are in work clothes and look dazed or fearful as they hurry about their business; all are isolated from each other. The separate cubicles and hall-of-mirrors effect emphasises an overall sense of disconnect and people trapped by their jobs.

A man lounges against a wall at the bottom of some stairs; his lack of urgency suggests he is not on his way to work; the bars that frame him symbolise the ostracism of unemployment. To work in a city can be stressful; but to have no employment – no assigned role – can often be worse.

If you were to create a picture of what stresses you, what scene would you draw?


Colin Neville is a retired university teacher, author of four non-fiction books (on education and local history topics), online seller of art & design-related fine and limited edition books, gardener, chef, granddad.He lives in West Yorkshire, near Ilkley. Currently working on developing an information database of Bradford (Yorkshire) born artists, past and present.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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  1. This is a really interesting piece Colin. Though I’m not a mother the creation of responsibility (and in turn guilt) currently pulls at me in a similar way to number 3 – perhaps more created by the self, it’s still something that tugs with great intensity. The real skill is turning it around and learning lessons from it; something I’m still working on…

    • Thanks Dreya. The Hilary Paynter image (3) of Motherhood was sparked by an incident recently in Britain, when a mother walked out of a maternity ward in Bristol last month with her child and walked, clothed in slippers and light clothing, to the cliffs overlooking the River Avon, where both froze to death. The full story is still to come out, but the media and righteous tweetarati were hostile to her from the start – not what a ‘mother’ would do, blah blah.

      • I heard about the woman and child in Bristol and it would be interesting to find out what caused this lady’s actions. It’s such a shame that the bandwagon can trundle on without any comprehension of what was happening to this lady – from post-natal depression to guilt and/or an inability to cope. People are dealing with trauma and stress every day but it seems to be another of those subjects that isn’t actively discussed. Thanks for creating a intriguing and thought-provoking article in such a creative way.

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