Narrative means telling a story. Many of Richard’s paintings do this. He produced a concentration of detailed pictures largely in the 50s and 60s often with different threads of story lines. But apart from these, there are many which pose questions about what exactly is happening!
There are plenty of stories here, and so many threads make it hard to fathom what the main subject actually is. In spite of all the activity, the calm sea and sky give the picture breadth and even a certain stillness.
The painting is based on Kafka’s short story: The Great Wall of China. Instead of China we have the Yorkshire dry stone walls which are often piecemeal just as is the Wall in the story. The messenger can be seen running across a plank bridge hoping to deliver a message from the Emperor, but in this shimmering and dream-like immensity we know he has a hopeless task.
Detail is only hinted at here. Richard expresses the obscurity partly by low light and partly by the way the paint is laid on in thick strokes. We may wonder what is going on with the group of figures on the pontoon. They are lit up by a photographer’s flash but not clearly enough to satisfy our curiosity.