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This is one of two lesson plan resources for secondary-age students that focus on modern African paintings in The Argyll Collection in Scotland. They can be used individually or together within a lesson plan, offering students the opportunity to explore the contrasting approaches to painting mood and atmosphere.

Explore the resource 'Painting mood and atmosphere: Louis Mbughuni'

About The Argyll Collection

The Argyll Collection was developed between 1960 and 1988 as a learning resource for the young people of Argyll and Bute. It was established by writer Naomi Mitchison (at that time a Councillor for Argyll and Bute) and Jim Tyre, art advisor to the Council.

'My plan had two edges: one was purely artistic. But the other was to build up a Scottish confidence, a sense of nationhood, something a civilized person could be proud of.' – Naomi Mitchison, Times Educational Supplement 1966

The focus of the collection is contemporary Scottish art, but it also includes artworks from Africa and Asia, collected by Mitchison on her extensive travels. She wanted students in Argyll to be able to connect with other cultures, and often selected artworks that linked these cultures with Scottish cultures – such as scenes of fishing or agriculture.

Find out more about The Argyll Collection
Browse paintings in The Argyll Collection
Read the Art UK story: Modern African art, from Dar es Salaam to Dunoon

First impressions: what do you think?

Look at the painting as a group and discuss your first impressions.



Henry Tayali (1943–1987)

Argyll and Bute Council

You could use these nudge questions to help to get the discussion going:

  • what does the painting show?
  • what is the mood or atmosphere of the painting? What does it make you feel? (It might help to ask your students to think of words to describe the painting.)
  • if you could listen to paintings as well as look at them, what do you think this painting would sound like?

Painting thoughts

The painting shows a bustling scene with lots of people – at a party or in a bar or café. The people are sitting in groups at tables and chatting and dancing (at the back) so there is probably music. There is a lot going on and the atmosphere is lively.

This YouTube playlist of African music from the 1970s provides a possible soundtrack to the painting

Look closer: who is Henry Tayali?

Henry Tayali (1943–1987) was born in what was then Northern Rhodesia (it became Zambia after independence). He was a talented artist from a young age and held his first exhibition when he was 15.

He trained at the renowned Makerere College in Uganda, and then Düsseldorf Art College and became one of Zambia’s most revered artists. A national contemporary art gallery in Zambia is named after him.

Look at this photograph of Henry Tayali in his studio with your students. Behind him, some paintings are stacked against the wall.

  • What this photograph tells us about Henry Tayali and his paintings?

Henry Tayali in his studio

Henry Tayali in his studio

Behind the artist, lots of paintings are stacked. They are painted with expressive, gestural abstract marks. If you look closely you will see that one of the paintings shows clenched fists and the word 'freedom'.

Zambia and independence

When Henry Tayali was born, Northern Rhodesia was part of the British Empire. Black African people in the country did not have the same rights as the very small number of white Europeans who lived there.

Tayali played a pivotal role in the cultural and artistic development of Zambia, as a lecturer in African Art at the Institute of African Studies in Lusaka and as President of the International Association of Artists.

Zambia is a landlocked country and does not have a coastline. It has lots of natural resources, including wildlife, forestry, freshwater, and arable land. It is also rich in minerals – especially copper.

The mining of copper on a large scale changed Zambia from a country with lots of small villages, to one with big bustling cities. The population is concentrated mainly around Zambia's capital Lusaka in the south of the country, and in the cities in the north where copper is mined.

Find out more about Zambia

What inspired Henry Tayali?

Henry Tayali lived in Lusaka and documented the lives and hardships of the people living in the city.

His paintings and prints often evoke busy urban spaces, particularly bars and cafés where people relax after work. He felt it was important to reflect the identity of the Zambian people and culture in his paintings.

The Other Side of the Bar

The Other Side of the Bar

1983, print by Henry Tayali (1943–1987)

Look closer: how has Henry Tayali created the bustling, lively atmosphere of his painting?

Although the painting shows a real place and real people, Tayali has abstracted the scene using composition, colour, and gestural brushstrokes to capture not only what the bar looks like but also what it feels and sounds like.

Colour and mark-making thoughts

The quick gestural marks dabs, blobs and messy lines suggest the bustling moving of the people in the bar.

The colours add to the lively atmosphere, they are not confined to separate areas, but are repeated across the surface of the painting.

Look at the shirt of the figure at the front of the painting, it is made up of blues, pinks and purples. The figure's skin is also made up of different colours – browns, reds, deep maroons, and warm ochres.

Untitled (detail)

Untitled (detail)

Henry Tayali (1943–1987)

Tayali's use of dabs of bright, broken colour could be compared to the Impressionists' use of colour to suggest fleeting movement. Like Tayali, they often painted scenes of everyday life and wanted their paintings to look as if they were capturing a moment in time.

Vincent van Gogh, and artists such as Oskar Kokoschka, Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff also used expressive marks and dabs of colour to suggest movement, atmosphere and their response to a subject or scene.

Prague, Nostalgia

Prague, Nostalgia 1938

Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980)

National Galleries of Scotland

Contemporary artist Denzil Forrester uses bright colours and gestural brushstrokes to capture the lively atmosphere of nightclubs, busy city streets and the bustle of everyday life.

Family Living

Family Living 2004

Denzil Forrester (b.1956)

Government Art Collection

Have a go! Paint a busy, lively scene

Task your students with researching, planning and painting a busy, bustling scene with lots of people, inspired by the atmosphere in Henry Tayali's Untitled.

These research and planning suggestions have been written for students to follow.

Step 1: Starting points and source material

Decide on a subject. Think of bustling places like busy cafés or parties, think about busy streets or beaches, or a crowd at a football match or sporting event.

  • What do busy places look like?
  • What do they feel like?
  • What do they sound like?

Collect images of busy scenes to inspire you. You could also draw or photograph crowds of people if there are busy places near you.

People at a busy train station

People at a busy train station

A Jostling Crowd

A Jostling Crowd

John Flaxman (1755–1826)

UCL Culture


Step 2: Research

Explore how other artists have depicted lively, bustling, noisy scenes. Look at how they have used composition, colours and mark-making to create a sense of vibrant activity.

Bier Garten 1974

This is another artwork by Henry Tayali that shows a busy scene. At first, it looks abstract, a muddle of wiggly lines. The composition is intricately crammed with people, benches, tables and beer glasses.

Bier Garten

Bier Garten

1974, woodcut on paper by Henry Tayali (1943–1987)

How has Henry Tayali used composition and mark-making to suggest a busy scene and create the atmosphere of the work?


Denzil Forrester


Witchdoctor 1983

Denzil Forrester (b.1956)

Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre

Ghanaian-born British painter Denzil Forrester, like Tayali, is inspired by busy places – streets, parties night clubs.

Many of his paintings are inspired by music. In the 1980s and 1990s, he drew people dancing at Dub and reggae clubs in East London. The movement and music inspired the marks he made.

Leon Kossoff

Leon Kossoff often drew and painted busy crowds on streets and in swimming pools.

Look at the quick gestural marks he has used to capture bathers in this pool.

Children's Swimming Pool, Friday Evening

Children's Swimming Pool, Friday Evening 1970

Leon Kossoff (1926–2019)

Birmingham Museums Trust

See more artworks by Leon Kossoff

Lisa Milroy

British artist Lisa Milroy also manages to suggest the busy activity and noise of a crowd in her painting Doing, Thinking, Speaking (2000). How has she done this?

Doing, Thinking, Speaking

Doing, Thinking, Speaking 2000

Lisa Milroy (b.1959)

Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre

See more artworks by Lisa Milroy

Research more paintings of busy scenes

Search Art UK's website for more inspiration

Try these search terms... and think of some of your own.

  • crowd
  • busy
  • festival
  • café

Busy Street Scene

Busy Street Scene c.1968

Eric Marwick (1946–2018)

University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

Step 3: Plan your painting

Sketch some ideas for your painting and make notes to help you plan.

Booking Hall No. 6

Booking Hall No. 6 (interior of Kilburn Underground Station) 1975

Leon Kossoff (1926–2019)

Museum & Art Swindon

Think about:

  • composition – how can you make your painting look full of people? Think about how Henry Tayali filled the painting and didn't leave any blank spaces.
  • colour – how can you make use of colour to add to the bustling look of your painting? You could use lots of colour and variations of colour – think bout how Henry Tayali used pinks, blues and reds in painting the purple shirt!
  • mark-making – How can you use your brushstrokes and marks and dabs of paint to suggest movement?
  • what your painting sounds like? How can you suggest the noise and bustle of the scene?

Top tip! Listen to some lively busy music while you're painting (on headphones, of course, if you're in the classroom!) and see if the beats and sounds inspire your mark-making.

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