The Story Behind: The Last Carnival

The Story Behind: The Last Carnival

The “Last carnival” is an acrylic and mixed media artwork created by Lionel Thomas. It was painted in Geneva in 2021. What strikes upon a first glance, is how the main character in the middle occupies the space of the canvas. The limit between him and his external environment is very thin, as if he was part of it and not separated from it.

The use of vivid red and cyan blue convey a great dynamism in this painting. Small symbols resembling scriptures invade all of the canvas, as if they were floating in the air. The boldness and rawness of the brush strokes suggest they are rather exploding than merely floating. The use of a painting knife creates this effect even more. All together, these elements compose an animated environment, in which the main character remains still. What is interesting about this painting is how this interaction between the subject and the environment creates a junction between impressionism and Neo-expressionism.

Impressionism can be seen as the subjective impression of the effects of light on external components, while expressionism is the representation of internal components. If we observe again into its context, we can see that all the motifs and symbols exist in two distinctive states: music lives inside the main character as mental projections, but also outside as a physical reality.Lionel’s work is about the transposition of music into light, by the way it expands itself into space. The representation of sound is something that lies at the brink of different senses; it is heard, but it is also felt and can be imagined visually. In the Last Carnival, music notes roam freely as specks of light inviting themselves in a landscape.

The multimodal quality of music isn’t the only subject of this painting though. Lionel was inspired by the movie Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' film to create this artwork. This movie depicts a theater representation of the famous jazz and blues artist Ma Rainey. She often returned to New Orleans to sing and be inspired by the area. Ma Rainey is called the mother of the blues. This painting isn’t a portrait of her though : it is a portrait of the archetype of a bluesman in today’s world. The title “The last Carnival” suggests an attachment to New Orleans carnivals. Its phrasing adds a dramatic effect but also reveals a deeper meaning to the painting. The last carnival evokes the end of a dream, of an ideal moment, of fatality. This feeling is in-temporal and goes beyond blues and jazz.

It could be linked to the emergence of naturalism in literature during the 19th century, THE LAST CARNIVAL The Last Carnival gives the same feeling Madame Bovary has when she thinks of the bal de Vaubyessard : the end of a truly perfect moment. For her, the fact she is unable to come back to such balls as she will never be invited again is unbearable and becomes a symbol of what she has never become in her life. The last carnival announces the end of a time that unlike Bovary could happen again, but keeps on disappearing. This artwork also evokes the Bal du Moulin de la Galette Auguste Renoir painted, by the way the soft light patterns seem to dance, creating the illusion of music in the painting. In a way, this painting also encompasses the realization of the passing of time. What brings the blues isn’t just bad luck but the eternal return of cycles in which we go through.There is a great sense of nostalgia and a touch of melancholia in this painting. The main character in this painting is accompanied by music everywhere he goes, as an underlining to his life. Sometimes the reason why we want to go back in time is that we want to listen to the melody that was sewn into that moment. The Last Carnival reminds us that this melody always exists and invites us to take the time to appreciate it. 

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