It is inevitable that there will be a moment in our lives where we will think the end is near, whether the thought is triggered boarding a plane, watching a loved one die of old age or an accident, or even those close calls that make you question how you survived such an event. Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings is a project by Nicolas Ruston to explore how an art form can operate through different media, as described in the introduction of the book The End, edited by Ashley Stokes. The book consists of fifteen interpretations by writers who have chosen one painting each by Ruston. Each painting is ambiguous with few hints towards the genre of the short story that follows it.
Every chapter captures the emotional response of its writer, inspired by a black and white etching by Ruston. ‘The End’ is first seen as a large, dominating white text situated in the centre of each painting, and is also the central theme for the fifteen narratives that follow each painting. Fifteen detailed, uncomfortable, thought-provoking narratives present a multitude of emotions. Some paintings are much clearer than others in that they present us with a familiar object, hinting what the story that follows will entail. Each painting is then crafted into words, as it were, to arouse feelings of anxiety, or nostalgia in the reader, or even perhaps to draw the reader into the writer’s paranoia and vision of ‘The End’.
There, of course, are chapters you connect with and are more drawn to than others – paintings and stories that speak to your unconscious mind, your own anxiety and experience with more power than others. There were times where I felt suffocated, uncomfortable when reading certain stories. The stories vary in style and content. The power behind chosen sentence structure and word choice changed my mood and at times I had to put the book down to walk away for a moment before returning to complete the story. Even now I am reminded of the stress I felt on one particular interpretation of a painting. Each story, each memory presented a new thought, a new location, a new passage to the end of something, whether it is life or opinion, whether it is the narrator’s life or someone they are observing. Something ends, even if it is the fictional story itself.
On finishing each story, my attention was drawn back to the beginning of the chapter – the image of ‘The End’. At times the first few lines of a story directly connected image to text, or sometimes it was the final sentence or idea, or even the story as a whole. Back and forth I flicked from painting to word, from chapter to chapter; I sometimes understood the connections, and sometimes I was so caught in the narrative I forgot the painting. There are recurrent themes – such as reference to someone dying, something or someone leaving, or even a habit abandoned. In this way, the reader is teased by the notion of the end throughout. I felt a constant anticipation to find out what will end, who will end and even why.
When each story ended I found myself back to comparing the painting to the words, or the memory, the narrative, the character or setting. Stokes is right in saying the book never ends and you will re-read it: I have read it twice and I want to read it again. When walking in the street or around the house I picture my surroundings like the painting, a black and white etching telling me a story, an end; I text my family and friends more often now than before. The End: Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings made me think about my situation, my thoughts, and I hope others look at these painting by Ruston and their interpreters’ stories.
About the reviewer
Annalise is a student in her third year at the University of Leicester, studying BA English. She is currently on an Erasmus year abroad at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Outside of her studies Annalise paints and writes as a hobby, hoping to use her degree to work towards a career within the art industry.