27 May 2015

Jacob Lawrence and Peter Schjeldahl

Today I was reading an art review by Peter Schjeldahl about the painter Jacob Lawrence. I like Lawrence's work very much and would like to see the show in NY if I could. At one point Schjeldahl described Lawrence's work as "world changing art" which pricked me with a kind of strange surprise. People often say things like that about art work and I am often rather astounded. Hyperbole is endemic after all. One thinks of Picasso's Guernica and immediately thrown into a world of war. That it was about Spain is beside the point, which I guess is why the painting possesses such a universal appeal. And yet, what exactly has it changed? Has it awakened anyone to the brutality (often futility) of aggression on a national scale? (or even on a personal one for that matter) I doubt it. Can it shape a person's sudden decision to become an artist? Of course, but so can Monet's Hay Stack's or Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Can although for different reason probably. But what does "world changing art" mean? Somehow I cannot understand how art can change anything except in a very deeply personal nature. I don't believe Schjeldahl means that. After all the title of the show in question is Migration and the paintings are illustrations on this theme of the great Black migration northward to the cities. It is a monumental theme. I like his work mostly because of the paintings themselves which I find graphically arresting. The theme, although important, isn't the reason I like the paintings anymore than I like angels painted by Giotto. The theme is secondary unless one is in the propaganda business. The real reason is because of the dramatic integrity of the art work which has a unified motion of its own after the work is finished.

22 May 2015

Chris Burden, made in America

This was a pivotal moment in America's art movement. At the height of the Vietnam War this piece moved the complacency of the Art world into another dimension; into the world of theatre and performance from which it rooted and has blossomed ever since.

I don't know how to think of it other than as a political piece, but then, I know little of Chris Burden. 

As Rod Serling would often say:
"for your perusal in the twilight zone"

16 May 2015

apropos Yoko


 New York 4 hours ago

Art makes people think. Yoko makes people think. Whatever you think of Yoko is art now. Thank you for your participation.


In the NYT yesterday was an article about Yoko Ono's show at MOMA. I do not write about her show but instead on the comment made by this contributor to the Comments dept which now accompany many NYT articles online. I find myself perusing this section for a few minutes to get an idea about how variously random people react to events in today's political, social, and cultural world. These Comments sections' being the new Hyde Park of op-ed pages. 

In any event, what struck me so sorrowfully was just how differently I imagine Art than to this fellow Stig  who had responded to another person's comments about the show (not favourably). I will not get into her work  but address this idea that "Art makes people think". (Art should make people think)

I find this disturbing because for me, Art has always made me feel something mysterious inside of me, almost as if a work has cross-circuited my prejudicial thinking patterns and gone straight to my soul. Saying this does  not discount the role of imaginative thinking which runs parallel to this 'feeling' in front of a work. It saddens me that Contemporary Art, since post-Dada, has somehow hijacked this experience and created a kind of Frankenstein of intellectual machinations which have taken over the education systems worldwide. This is a new phenomenon in the scheme of things. 

I am not a luddite, nor am I someone who caves into charming sentimental pastiches of reppitive and un-original works of Art, but I cannot understand how so many people have been hoodwinked into a Contemporary Art world reduced to coy symbols. After all, it is Philosophy which should make us think, but it is Art and Poetry which allows us to feel. How can it be otherwise? 

Who is Bach? Puccini? The Beatles? Mahler? Goya? Titian? Matisse? Arthur Miller? Tennessee Williams? BB King?,,, Maria Callas for god's sake?

And, just because I am at it; how did Contemporary Art divorce itself from sensuality anyway? How did Contemporary Art become reduced to a 'twitter-like' thought only to be jettisoned into the nearest litter bin?

Ah, a friend might say, you miss the point: "Follow the money trail!,,, It is just entertainment...."

Another might say:
"Stop with all your serious misgivings over the state of Art,,, its just game,,,, a shell game for the rich."

Mais, "NON!" I say, because I am a painter who still yearns to be moved by Art, not titillated (or twitterated) and entertained like its a Disney film. 

Suddenly, in all this, I am reminded of The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse which I had so loved many years ago. 

More to be revealed,,,,

14 May 2015

Peter Bruegal, still alive

In our time of terrible, indiscriminate madness wreaking havoc in the Middle East, Africa and even on our own 'civilized shores', I cannot think of an image which best renders the actual horror of what some men do to others. It is a reminder that violent insanity isn't just a signature of our epoch, something which I confess I sometimes I believe because through the internet it feels like an onslaught 24/7, as they say these days.

In this painting is that terrible beauty; one which only artists of rare ability seem capable of making in any epoch. Bruegel shows us that there is such a grace even in darkness. I sometimes do not know where to put this awful sense of guilt for having such an easy life while so many others on this earth seem to be destined for inexhaustible sorrow. I live in a land wherein clean water is taken for granted and food plentiful. And then, there is this shame for feeling incapable of doing anything for them. Only a handful of painters are able to do this, Goya comes to mind. All the exquisite handling of paint (behind the 'motif') reminds me that to get to the 'whole' of an unified image one must past through the details as gruesome as they may be.

09 May 2015

Hakuin Ekahu (1686 -1768) #2

Here are two more exquisite works by Hakuin Ekahu. The first is on the theme of 'one hand clapping' which is the most famous of Japanese koans. The second one is perhaps another koan but I don't know the motif. It is simply called 'mortar and bush warbler'.

These are interesting for me, notably when one thinks of the struggle of the Contemporary painter in his/her search for meaning in the surface especially after someone like Matisse for instance.

07 May 2015

Hakuin Ekaku (1685 - 1768)

 Monkey and Cukoo (55 x 43cm)

This is a wonderful ink wash by one of the really great, great poet/artists of Japan. Superlatives aside, he is for me inspirational in the sense that his pictures teach me about pictorial form in this Contemporary world. He uses the space of the paper in a very particular way and his pictures seem to defy logic which is an enviable aspect of his originality. A great unified picture plane is evident while at the same time it is built using all of its few elements necessary to complete the poem at hand. 'cows, 'ants, 'spoons', 'cups', 'crows', 'bamboo' 'waves', 'Mount Fuji"...
This mix of elements and ideas in a unified picture plane is for me the "Holy Graal" of painting.

04 May 2015

ciné-échange! (les livres à pattes)

There is a Cinema just a stone's throw from the Gare Saint-Lazare aptly named Cinema Caumartin because it sits on the rue Caumartin. In the lobby, to my surprise, when I went to see a film there a few months back, I discovered several large shelves overflowing with books of all shapes and sizes. The idea is simple: One is encouraged to take a book home but on condition that one replaces it with another one. The idea for this comes from Russia where apparently (so reads the small sign below) when Russians lose personal papers (of any sort I presume) they are called "des papers à pattes" (papers with legs!) and they are not considered lost at all, but are deemed to have a life of their own as they simply go their own way leaving their owners forever perplexed. So in this spirit the Cinema Caumartin offers "Les livres à Pattes!"

pretty cool (très chouette, en fait!)

03 May 2015

Geoffrey Lehmann, Australian poet


                Getting started 

When we first came our house
was two weatherboard rooms
in a bare paddock.

I was just back from a war.
There were no trees
and I chose the name "Spring Forest".

It was dark when we drove up
and lit our pressure lamps and unpacked.
Our children found potatoes sprouting
on the wire mattress of a large iron bed.
What were they doing there?
my daughter kept asking.

We burned ironbark
in the old brick fireplace,
rubbing etherized hands into warmth.

At dawn Sally and Peter were out
calling in the frost, exploring.
A long icicle hung from the tank.
That day five cars passed on the road
and the children ran out every time.

01 May 2015

Jasper lips

A dear friend has sent me a wonderful book entitled "Rendez-vous with Art". It is essentially a dialogue between Philippe de Montebello and Martin Gayford as they travel through museums, churchs and art galleries around the world.

(Just the early introduction is already  captivating)

Philippe de Montebello pauses in front of a shattered  yellow stone. 'This', he exclaims, 'is one of the greatest works if art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, indeed in the world, of any civilisation!' The object we are looking at is part of a face, the lower section. Of the upper portions - the brow, the nose, the eyes - nothing remains.

'If you told me you'd found the top of the head', he continues, 'I am not sure I would be thrilled because I am so focussed, so absorbed and captivated by the perfection of what is there; that my pleasure - and it is intense pleasure - is marvelling at what my eye sees, not some abstraction that, in a more art historical mode, I might conjure up. It's like a book that you love, and you simply don't want to see the movie. You've already imagined the hero or the heroine in a certain way. In truth, with the yellowed jasper lips, I have never really tried to imagine the missing parts.'

I remember this small fragment in the Met because I prowled the Met every friday afternoon for years when I lived in New York. And, how I miss those excursions!

(More to be revealed)

29 April 2015

Katmandu and the trench

These little souvenirs came from Nepal. The little rat is a tourist copy from the museum in Patan where the original is quite compelling. I fell in love with it and of course, I wanted a smaller replica so I searched high and low for just the right one with that child-like expression. It must be a popular item because this motif is made by so many craftsman in town, alas, many of them quite sterile, but this one had just the right simple feel to it expression. It sits in my bathroom and stares up at me when I brush my teeth. Its the small rat which offers up food to the giant elephant Ganeesh. 

This is a small figurine (terre cuite) which was made by the tribal artists in the hills all over Nepal. I bought several but gave the rest away as gifts. 

This was painted by a young man who made them in his tiny studio off one of the main squares. I cannot remember which temple but it was a large and very popular one with the tourists. He and his wife lived and worked in this tiny studio/apartment with a makeshift kitchen. In the front were his paintings which he made for the tourists. I bought several, and still have a few. Really lovely (and, lively things) which still move me. They were such a kind, modest and unassuming couple. He was (is, I hope) a very talented painter. It was easy to see. He painted lots of different animals with a great animation which appealed to me, and for each one he made a small wooden frame. I think that all 8 were the price of a meal. I have often thought of them since my visit there. Now, I wonder where they are,.. and if they survived the earthquake? They had so little before, now what?

These last few days as the tragedy unfolded  I was digging a trench (mostly by hand) for electricity and water to be moved to a small studio behind my house. The whole time, I couldn't stop thinking about all that digging going on all over Nepal. 

24 April 2015

Hubble telescope

I love the two skulls in this one

21 April 2015

Emerson on Nature

"All men (and women, I will add) are in some degree impressed by the face of the world; some men even to delight. This love of beauty is Taste. Others have the same love in excess, that, not content with admiring, they seek to embody it in forms. The creation of beauty is Art."

Obviously, a graduate of any Post-Modern education would have a difficult time with this. Even worse for the graduate would be what follows.

"The production of a work of art throws a light upon the mystery of humanity. A work of art is an abstract or epitome of the world. It is the result or expression of nature, in miniature. For although the works o f nature are innumerable and all is different, the result or the expression of them all is similar an single. Nature is a sea of forms radically alike and even unique. A leaf, a sunbeam, a landscape, the ocean, make an analogous impression on the mind. What is common to them all, -- that perfectness and harmony, is beauty. The standard of beauty is the entire circuit of natural forms, --the totality of nature; which the Italians expressed by define beauty 'il più nell uno'. 
Nothing is quite beautiful alone; nothing but is beautiful in the whole. A single object is only so far beautiful as it suggests this universal grace. The poet, the painter, the sculptor, the musician, the architect, seek each to concentrate this radiance of the world on one point, and each in his several work to satisfy the love of beauty which stimulates him to produce. Thus is Art a nature passed through the alembic of man. Thus art does Nature work through the will of a man filled with the beauty of her first works."

11 April 2015

Issa (forever)

  not knowing the tree
will be felled- the birds
  build a nest

09 April 2015

Taneda Santōka (1882 -1940)

Taneda Santōka once wrote in his journal:

"Today, I've composed 10 haiku, 
of course they're about as good as broken pieces of tile, 
but they may shine as much as a piece of tile can, and my job is to polish, polish,
polish them until they shine"

leaves fall from the trees-
I keep on walking

no one to meet-
the path worsens

can't do anything else-
I just keep walking

becoming a frog-
and jumping

a bird comes once-
and does not sing

all day in the mountains-
ants are also walking

snow falls on snow-

the sound of drinking saké
is lonely

men and women
alone with their shadows-

when you live alone-
green green are the grasses

03 April 2015

small earth


A new home 
A new roof even
Same old crow!

30 March 2015

Germanwings, white light

The Germanwings crash has really shaken up a lot of people. Myself, I cannot stop thinking about the 'purity' of such a pulverising death. The small ravines of the crash site are littered with confetti made up of the smallest of bits and pieces. But too, are sad clumps of clothing which survived, outliving their owners. 

Would death come as a white light? Or, perhaps like being knocked out before a surgical procedure in hospital? But then, there would be 'no awakening' in the post-op room afterward (as far as we know). Just 8 long (short?) minutes in a kind of dream, a nightmare of space of waiting until the inevitable impact, or hoping for a miracle too. Hollywood could still send Superman, but the News Hour would tell us otherwise.

-This cannot be happening!.. I have class tomorrow, and homework to do...I have a dinner date tonight...-

Most surely, their end would have been painless. Mightn't it be a passage through matter into a white light of nothingness? 

In the meantime, as the Police comb through the grisly task of looking for bits of DNA the rest of us continue breathing in and out this delicious oxygen. The sun warms our cheeks as we look up to ponder airliners traversing the sky above. Are the passengers ordering another cocktail, or watching another film, sleeping? or maybe, just looking down at us sitting on a beach and looking up at them? 

26 March 2015

Onitsura 1661 -1738 (Germanwings)

Above the young barley
see the skylark ascending
oh no! descending!

This is a mountain over which I flew many times when I was hangliding. And, it has swallowed up the lives of a few hanglider pilots, ingloriously spitting them out into the steep dark canyons below.
Better to die that way than free falling ten long minutes in an aircraft. How sad for everyone.


22 March 2015

Villa of Mysteries (restored) ouch!

So, they have restored the infamous Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii. Above, are old photos of several famous scenes painted in Pompeii. Note that they had already been restored at least on several occasions over the years. But these images are what we are left with until now. They have just re-opened the site and are proudly displaying new restorations of those iconic images. Just from the one image (below) it seems to be a great tragedy! The  light is skewed, and all wrong in the detail below exhibiting lighting instead of Light. All the subtly is gone, and  what a great shame because now it is gone forever! But, I am curious to see what they have done to the others before I really get mean.