25 September 2021

Usual and unusual, elastic and electric, Japan!

Frôler, August, 2013, oil on canvas, 150 X 150 cm

This painting was done back in Dieulefit in August of 2013, a year after the small gouache shown below. 

I was in a particular kind of groove, I think because I had just gone on two trips to Japan which gave me a jolt of elasticity. Maybe electricity too, but really, I was pulled and pushed to extremes both during, and after these trips. Japan has that effect upon people. I only met one person whom I know who didn't like it. But he was a sad and angry Parisian. 

Since I went to Japan I have never quite been the same. It affected me, had a strong effect upon me and also re-enforced feelings which I have harboured for decades regarding the world of Painting. It released this energy inside which allowed me to vault over so many ideas I had learned from European Art History which I had stored like a squirrel somewhere between my heart and mind. Vertical space, horizontal space, space used and unused, too much, or too little! Japan seems to be a culture of space, the reverence for it, the protection of it, the embrace of it in all its spiritual emptiness.

It seems to me that contrary to practically everything revered in America, where emptiness often connotes a kind of desolation, this embrace of the void is an unspoken reality in Japan. 

Of course, the Japanese abroad will be drawn to all those big spaces of America and Australia because to live in Japan is almost always to be cramped in little homes. Yet, generally, they are organised for this limited physical space and their homes are designed impeccably. It's almost the opposite of the American sensibility; the Japanese tilt toward the lean and spare, the Americans race to full and extra-large.

The painting above and the small gouache below would never have been done if I had not made those two trips to Japan. In them both, I yearned to stop at just the inspiration comprised of so little. Having over-thought everything in my life and art, suddenly, I wanted to slip underneath the bridge. 

I began a lot of work which defied everything I had been taught. Some of it was Ok, some of it was not, but some of it was really interesting for me. I wouldn't pretend that it is even very good. But what I do know is that a lot of the work done in these last few years have spoken to me, spoken a strange and encrypted language that I was barely equipped to understand.

And that is a key for me because I will always prefer to feel something artistically than to simply understand it.  

The painting above is so simple that it completely surprised me and so I left it as is. And today, I am glad I did. I have ruined so many pictures trying to make them righter. It is hopeless cause. 

But this is titled after the French word verb frôler which means to lightly touch, or graze something. Imagine a butterfly alighting a rose petal. 

It also speaks to the gouaches too. Looking back I suppose those several years were all about a means of expressing that 'gentleness in all things tactile' from Japan which have so moved me so much.

I took to framing the small gouaches with a simple band of masking tape while leaving paint splotches and ink drips as they had fallen. I do like works of any kind to show their battle scars, as it were. I hate pretty frames that attempt to cover up the organic execution of a picture which is sort of like putting a silk suit on a slob. 

Japan has been on my mind because I recently saw The Earthquake Bird which is set in contemporary Tokyo. It's a compelling film and I liked it very much, so much, that it has stayed in my imagination, lingering like  everything of substance.

23 September 2021

gli Uffici, and the Q train

I am still transcribing my diaries which is a Sisyphean task but I keep at it little by little most nights. I will share this day from so long ago.

Florence, 8 October, 1986

'...In the museum today, there was a young woman being pushed around in her wheelchair. She was hooked up to an oxygen machine which was attached to her throat. It struck me as most sad. The machine wheezed mechanically with a jerky rhythm pumping air into her, then sucking it out again with great urgency, almost a great violence. To imagine that I complain about my life so often! This poor woman goes through an unfathomable ordeal just to survive each day. Without the machine she is dead. I was very moved watching her in the museum today as she glided around looking at paintings so intently, more intently than most I thought. We must be thankful for our faculties I think to myself. They can be taken from us so randomly and with uneven violence. The sound of her artificial breathing moved from room to room just ahead of me. 

'... I am thinking of Paris. I always do at this time of year when the Autumnal streets darken in the moist, late afternoons. I have an urge to wander the busy boulevards aimlessly past the  cafes all lit up and full of apparent gaiety. I would be alone as usual, but that is part of this charming postcard in my head which was after all written back in childhood. Then suddenly, all the tall street lights would switch on, and the crazy birds would roost noisily in the great Plane trees overhead. That is Paris in the Fall....'


'...A funny little thing in the Herald Tribune today. In the subway station at Union Square a confused tourist on the platform was shouting at the conductor whose head had popped out of the cabin window as he was pulling out of the station. 

“Is this the 6 Train?” the tourist yelled out.

“No, This is the Q train,..Q train,, Q as in cucumber!” he shouted back as the train departed. into the black tunnel.

Ha Ha, only in New York...'

21 September 2021

White flowered dresses, three sisters at the Ball


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 18 September, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 18 September, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

           Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 18 September, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

I arrived somewhat earlier than usual and set up on a very windy dune. The beach was almost deserted save for three or four kite-surfers who were cutting up the sea. The sky was slowly filling up with cirrus clouds full of tiny holes, and the deep blue sea looked scratched with broken whitecaps. They appeared, then disappeared. Just to watch was exhilarating. These studies came in quick succession the other night. I believe they are in order of when they were painted from top to bottom.

I jumped into the skies as soon as the palette was ready, and I didn't think much at all which is always wonderful. "In the groove" is what everyone says while in such moments; lost but then found again. Time evaporates temporarily.  

To be honest, I had been a little out of sorts over the previous few days for a number of reasons. Thankfully, these shadows rarely lasts long anymore. It is a great privilege to be able to go out to paint at the sea; a privilege to escape my mind even for a few hours. These are beautiful skies and I regret any day I miss them. 

There was the waxing moon which always disrupts this lovely 'bloom' or 'blush' in the sky, so I had to quit earlier than usual. But because it had clouded over, and the moon was briefly obscured, the whole sky suddenly turned the colour of red plum but only after I had already cleaned up the palette. Sadly, I had to watch it glow for a little while longer before it went deep, deep blue. But I was happy to have these three studies to carry home. 

I am beginning to really love these pale evening clouds at the very end of daylight when all colours and forms merge. This night they appeared almost like embroidery with soft, delicate patterns as if made for ball gowns from another age.                                                                                      

19 September 2021

James Salter and the time stamp of art

I have just finished this small book by Jim Salter, one remaining holdout which I had yet to read. It is a compact volume made from three talks which he gave later in his life. There is also a great introduction by writer John Casey. 

The talks are filled with stories, for like many writers, he loved anecdotes, and like any writer too, he was a story teller. But perhaps not like all writers, he really loved talking and telling stories. Though I had already read in his other books many of these delicious anecdotes they were a pleasure to 're-listen' to them again. He has been described as a 'bon-vivant', 'a Francophone', and 'a gourmand' who loved friends around the dinner table with bottles of wine on hand.

But again, all writers are not like this, some are listeners, discreet like church mice, and mostly somewhat invisible. But then, he was both it seems clear to me. 

What I wanted to say about him is that there are many points during this book wherein he speaks about a thing, anything in life that happens to us, risks to disappear if it is not recorded, written down. He says:

"....Everything not written down disappears except for certain lasting moments, certain people, days. The animals die, the house is sold, the children are grown, even the couple themselves have vanished, and yet there is this poem."

Curiously, he refers to his lengthy novel Light Years, to which he is referring, as a poem.

I don't know if he would agree with me that all of life is perhaps a dream, and that it must be recorded, otherwise it will slip back into the inconclusiveness, into the rich and enticing formlessness of a functioning dreamworld which is not an artistic process, though helpful I'm sure.  

All this resonates with me because in essence, as a painter I feel much the same way. A painting does the same thing as stories. Of course, one could say that everything 'conceived and physically constructed' by humankind is included in this, but I only use books and paintings as an example. 


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 16 September, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

For me, a picture needs to be as coherent and clearly communicable as any poem or short story, novel, what-have-you, or it too risks not living. It needs to 'exist'. And I am not excluding abstract paintings, for they too, possess the possibility for cogent, communicable ideas enough to give birth to a work which is alive, or I should say, has lived in this world. 

To go further out on the limb I would say that the problem with both bad writing and bad painting is that they employ cheap methods to attain their goals. In novels and stories, it is often the cliché, (among a number of overly used tools which dooms it).

And the same goes for Painting, for it is the cheap lighting effects, the poor drawing, or lack thereof, among any number of other gimmicks which derail it. How can a picture live if it is has been poorly made?

The problem with all this is that if (when) they fail, then perhaps there is nothing to give them life. One could say that they pass into the netherworld or dreamworld of a failed work of art. 

But if, and when they do succeed it's because a confluence of so many elements of greatness, talent and originality to name but two. When great they endure, and they can live forever.

Could one not say that only Art itself is what gives us an appropriate accounting of reality of history? 

There is a reason that so much bad painting is locked away in vaults of the Louvre and also why dime store novels are freely used to get the chimney fire started.

But, what I really wanted to say is that we  have so little time on this earth in human form that by 'passing our time' in the pursuit of Art is a worthy vocation.

An adult artist, not unlike a child who draws a lot, is hungry, almost obsessionally so, in order to concretise his/her feelings somewhere, and by any means. I think of the cave paintings of Lascaux.

So of course, I use my own painting done a few days ago as an example of how I put my own time stamp upon the day reminding me that I was there. I existed because this painting is proof that I was there out on the dune at dusk facing the Pacific Ocean. 

15 September 2021

Occam's Razor and the search for meaning


Evening Prayer Brunswick heads, 11 September, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm


Evening Prayer Brunswick heads, 9 September, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm


Evening Prayer Brunswick heads, 11 September, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

These days many of us cannot help but feel an immense state of anxiety about the world and the people who inhabit it. There are too many versions of reality because everybody knows best, more than everyone else, and because they have big mouths. Daily, after watching the News, I cannot shake the feeling that the inmates have taken over the asylum. Enfin! Quoi faire!! 

When it comes to Painting though, and happily so, diverse realities are welcome! "Bring it all on!" we cry out to the world.

In my pursuit of some abstract meaning in this particular motif I seem to be continually drawn back to a simple design, and this is fine with me. It is almost as if I am cutting everything down to the barest of bones via Occam's Razor. 

In olden days, it was known as the Principle of Parsimony, and that makes sense to me. And today I imagine that it lives on wholeheartedly in places like Japan for instance, where brevity and simplicity are still equally revered.

Myself, I often pare both the drawing and colour harmony down to the design of a flag for some verdant island near the equator. I don't usually set out to do this but it's true that when I am feeling uncertain I will sometimes just carve out the sea and sky into slices the colour of mango and watermelon.

Graphically, (for me) it is interesting, and somewhat easy as I adore stripes of all sorts, thick and thin. Sometimes it is a way to just begin something because time is precious. 

I could almost see an entire show presented just in this simple format yet inevitably with many, many varied colour harmonies. 


11 September 2021

Twins, 9/11

(This was first posted 9/11 2011)

Exactly ten years ago I was living here at the Belvedere with my friend Lydia who is also a painter and we spent that day trying to take care of a lamb whose leg was broken. At this time there was a shepherd named Roger from Catalonia who walked his dog and troop of sheep four  times a day, up and down the small road which is below the house. Early each morning the sound of tinkling bells and his bellowing voice awakened us. 

Up to a large field about a half kilometre off the road each morning, then back for lunch, up again, then back home late afternoon was his daily routine. For us it was a wonderful way to mark each day of our life here in the Drôme. Roger was friendly and always shouted 'Salut' when he saw me coming out onto the terrace to wave to him. Once in a while a lamb with a broken paw would straggle behind crying pitifully which was painful to watch four times a day. That week it was too much for our city sensibilities so we asked him if we could take care of the latest invalid. Thinking we were a bit crazy but being affable about the whole thing he gave it to us much to our surprise. 

So on the morning of September 11th we took it to the Vet's in La Begude who probably also thought we were a little 'dramatic', and he advised us that it had a broken leg and should be someone's dinner quite soon. We brought it back to Roger who promised he would put it in a small field next to his house. After lunch we each went into our retrospective studios and painted for the afternoon. Lydia painted a portrait of two large dying sunflower plants (see top photo) They were slumped over and hanging to one side. I worked on a few things but couldn't concentrate so at one point I threw two red vertical lines onto a small canvas hoping to throw me into some movement. I found it was a compelling image, I don't know why but I stopped and left it in that state to pick to up something else. 

We did not live with a television at that time and retrieving emails was a dial-up affair, and thus it was not as easy as today to access the internet. In truth, we were at the end of our relationship and we didn't have much to say to each other so I imagine that we ate dinner outside and went to bed. I do remember the telephone rang once or twice during the night but this was at a time when I wished to be out of touch I guess. Needless to say we didn't find out about what had happened in New York until the next morning when I did retrieve the phone messages. There were condolences from several French friends which I found perplexing and an hysterical message from my sister in the States. I went online to see what the fuss was all about. What really surprised us were the two images which had come up for us both completely independant of one another. There was something quite eery about these images being worked on at just about the same time as the towers were falling (6 hours ahead of Eastern standard time)

(An update to this story: Lydia wrote to remind me (which I had forgotten) that the small lamb which she had healed with argile had somehow lived and walked after a week!) 

Robert E. Lee and Antonin Mercié, condemned together


As these photographs attest, Robert E Lee will no longer have a bird's eye view over Broad street in Richmond, Virginia. The 12 ton statue will be taken somewhere, but where? 

The sculptor was a Frenchman, Antonin Mercié, who designed it in France, built it in four pieces and shipped it to America to be re-assembled and set upon the large stone monument in 1890.

I am all for the removal of iconic Bad guys, I mean, who would want to have to walk by a large imposing statue of Donald Trump or Adolph Hitler everyday on their way to work?

But, context is everything, especially these days and one cannot argue with its removal. But personally, I would have loved to see it remain with new brass placard revealing the real history of Robert E Lee. The problem with that is that there seems to be two very different stories about this man. So maybe the only answer was to remove it and be done with it. Only sadly, one is never done with it, for racism, and the rejection of a multicultural country is still an anathema to a great majority of people in the United States. 

And the truth is that all of this reverence for Robert E. Lee and so many other Confederate myths indeed were all fabricated after the Civil War. It is almost as if the Civil War never happened, or was it about something else entirely different? One can easily see how the White establishment behaved for the next 100 years. 

I rather like it also decorated with so much colourful graffiti like in the following photo. From a distance it looks garlanded with fresh flowers.

Being a painter, and a lover of most things artistic, I feel terrible for any works of Art to be ransacked and destroyed for contextual reasons. Haven't we learned anything from the French Revolution? 

My hope is that it will not be melted down but preserved as a work of great craftsmanship and perhaps stowed away until it can be seen as  in a different light certainly in another time. I think it is a magnificent sculpture.

I wrote previously about this, last year, when George Floyd was murdered. I reminded my dear readers that a walk through the Roman rooms in the Louvre revealed many marble portraits of anonymous senators condemned to reside in a dark wing on the first floor. Who knows what these guys got up to?

06 September 2021

Macy's Day Parade at the beach!


Evening Prayer Brunswick heads, 1 September, 2001, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

I arrived a little late to an already buoyant sky full of colour. Looking high above my forehead at the expanding clouds I suddenly remember myself as a small child underneath the Macy's Day parade in New York. Enchanted, I stretched upwards, over and over again in vain hopes of touching those vaporous cartoons suspended just out of reach.

And here a hundred years later at the beach, I find the same pneumatic pleasure watching clouds mutating from one gentle and friendly shape into another. 

I set up my easel quickly and began work. I made three studies which all began brilliantly or so I thought to myself, but I lost them quickly, one after the other, alas!  

I overwork almost everything due to perfectionism. It's my achilles heel. 

"Just one more touch here, there!" I think to myself. Then, I find myself lost, needlessly so, in search of a new ending. (Like authors, painters have endings too, B.T.W.) 

I need to learn to stop just at the very peak, the very top crest of the painting, no more but no less. The wise cook cuts off the flame of boiling milk right before the boil. Ha Ha.

Anyway, this study was the first one I battled with and had thought completely ruined, but to my surprise, it doesn't look as as bad to me as other night when I packed up. More to be revealed, more to be learned.

04 September 2021

1st class or Economy, or on a wall at TATE Britain?


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 28 August, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This is from last Saturday evening. The sky was insane, and I really wanted to jump into it quickly, like a child, impulsively, and without a thought. I managed all of this except the last, for it was hard for me to keep my mind from butting in all the time. I had wanted to make a savage-looking, wild, Fauvist sort of picture without a thought for distance, colour harmony, or composition, for that matter. This was a tall order because, let's face it, I am who I am at this late stage in my life, but nonetheless I did paint it quickly. 

A friend in New York is interested in two paintings and she is curious about frames which I offer to accompany the pictures. So I made a few quick shots of recent things to give her an idea of how they look (I kind of liked the un-cropped and quirky feel of the photos so I have left them as they are). They are a satisfactory solution to the awful and vexing problem of framing which most painters I know struggle with. 

They are made locally, very simple and unpretentious, and not expensive so they are an easy solution for presenting these things. The very top one is not the same, it is from a shop in Montparnasse which I ordered when in Paris the last time. It is more expensive, and made with oak and brushed with a white paint but rubbed off, typical of that style of frame. Nice, but expensive. But since I am in Australia I found a small shop here in the nearby town of Balina. These are made of just pine but they are covered with a thin veneer of bamboo paper curiously enough. I like them, they are simple and people can change them easily if they want something more to their liking. I buy them by the dozen when I have some cash as I am hoping to show a large number of these small things one day soon. But who knows? In the meantime I send them off to art lovers mostly in America and France.

And then a curious but not unusual thought came to me after looking at the top one. I suddenly wondered, by chance, if I had stumbled upon this painting on some lonely wall, lost somewhere in Tate Britain, would I still like it? I confess that in fact, I often do this with my own work. This is my way of measuring up to what I deem to be successful. Does it seem to work? Will it stand up on its own, surrounded hopefully, by great things?

Yes, it's crazy, and not a little delusional, I freely admit, but HEY! we are in Lockdown, and at least I have an excuse for my general instability. But really, the truth is that I compare myself with my greatest heroes all the time. They are, after all, my teachers, my guides. Why wouldn't I think of museums as a parking spot for a picture of mine, however small and insignificant?

And, if, by chance, it were presented as the work of someone very famous, renowned, and with a big career, what would I see? How would I react? Would I look at it and think: "Oh Yes!" or "Wow" ou bien, "J'aime ça!", or would I quickly think: "This stinks!"? 

So many possibilities, so much foolishness!

And actually, (spoiler alert) this is something that I find myself doing anyway whilst still on the beach in front of a painting still wet. It's my device of separating it from me, as the painter, in my own mind. I regard it for a moment, wondering whether or not it is finished, and still in my mind, I frame it, and I imagine it on a white wall.

All this is done in less than a minute. Perhaps a bit strange, yes,  but it allows for some distance, a space that anyone else would not be able to imagine. They might see just a sloppy wreck of a picture on its own. But me, I need to see it even briefly, at Tate Britain. Ha Ha.

But then, I often wonder about the mind-set of the public when walking through a museum. Just because a picture hangs on a wall, is it a valuable use of our time, and imagination? Or is it being 'sold' to us by trendy curators and the gallery intelligentsia? Or indeed, is it not unlike being on a plane where those of us in Economy are expected to just eat whatever the stewards bring us, while those in 1st Class, have a choice of what they will or will not consume? 

31 August 2021

On the palette, Puccini, loved Pink !

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 19 August, 2021, oil on canvas board,  25 X 20 cm

Recently, I was speaking with another painter who I vaguely know. She questioned why I would go to work outdoors to paint pictures. She wasn't closed to it, but she was surprised that I still go out day after day to make a picture of the same place at the same time. 

I like her, and I know that she isn't a snob so I tried my best to explain that I don't go out each evening to make a picture as much as I go out to enjoy myself, to take pleasure in the challenge of painting. That I get a picture at the end is great but not necessarily the point. 

I needed to articulate for her that it is a way to open up to the palette wheel of Nature careening around us in constant motion. At the close of day, it comes to boil, a crescendo like the third act of a Puccini opera. And yes, it can  be quite melodramatic, bordering on the kitsch even, but to be there at dusk is to bath in great pleasure. When one takes command of one's own palette of colours, one is free. 

They say that only after years of writing an author might find his/her voice, might discover a narrative style unique and original to himself/herself. It is the same for a painter if they are fortunate to work long enough.

This painter didn't respond for a while, but seemed to ponder my clumsy attempt at talking about how Nature is our teacher when we are working outdoors in front of a motif. And access to this teacher is through using our eyes before anything else comes into play. 

30 August 2021

Je m'en fous, French cool on Mars

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 20 August, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 20 August, 2021, oil on canvas board,  30 X 25 cm

These studies are from this past week. I like them both but especially the one below. Even immediately after I painted it, I liked it, but this can be a dangerous sign that it mightn't be all that I had imagined, self-satisfaction can bode badly for art. But today, I still like it, though it didn't photograph very well. 

It was an idea which gave me lots of optimism, but problems too, and I struggled. But only at the end would the drawing, much to my surprise,  melt into the red surface of Mars.

This is what I am looking for, and just as the pianist, with a mind full of melodies, must search for the appropriate harmonic resolution, the painter, also seeks a solution for his visual idea. There is nothing fancy about it, there is no intellectual wizardry nor any concept to save him.  

Curiously, these two studies appear somewhat 'insouciant' like certain characters one sees about every 2 minutes in a Parisian cafe. Their self-assurance is expansive and relaxed, their flaws are unrestrained, flamboyant even. And if these small pictures had lips they would curl up slightly (Je m'en fous), and like the truly cool French, they would wear their imperfections with pride, arrogance even. And since I am going overboard on all this, I would add that what these pictures lack in a certain technical prowess, they gain in authenticity through sartorial surprise. (like zee French! Ha Ha!)

In the end, I am always after an authentic experience when I work, and so the result will rarely be technically virtuous, something that people often fail to grasp. 

28 August 2021

The bumble bee in Pierre Bonnard's tree


          Judas Tree, circa 1990, oil on canvas board, 25 X 15 cm

This is a small thing done in the field at Canto Grilet (across from the Châteaunoir) sometime back in the early nineties. I painted a series there one year, but this was my favourite. There were three or four mature Judas trees in the field that spring to life each May. The Judas tree is named for that scoundrel of Christianity who was said to have hung himself from it.

I always loved this small study because it's so wild, up-close, and in your face, as if I had dove into it like a bumble bee. 

I also remember thinking that I loved it because it made my heart sing. I had touched something inside me that I had longed for ever since I began working outdoors. After all, I never really wanted to paint like an Impressionist which is an easy trap to fall into here in the South of France. But I had to slog it out in the landscape long enough to find something that could really move me. I think I wanted to dissolve distance in a quiet sort of way.

But actually, I first had to learn to paint! The only way to learn was to go out and make lots of really bad paintings. Even when one thinks they have finally "got it", they rarely  do, even after being in the game for a long time. Great is alway one step ahead, and that's a good thing too because the best painting is ALWAYS the next painting, it is the one I'll do tomorrow which of course, now brings us to the PAST.

This painting by Alfred Sisley at the Met has always haunted me. It's entitled The Road from Versailles to Louveciennes, 1879, (and one can only imagine what it might look like today).

When in New York, I ventured uptown just to look at it, mostly on Friday evenings when it was open late. It drove crazy, and looking at it today, again, it still does.  

Google tells me that Sisley made 471 paintings in his lifetime. Not a great deal compared to what so many contemporary artists crank out these days but it's a different world; faster and less discerning perhaps. Sisley spent long hours on each picture outdoors, preferring to finish his work on the motif unlike other Impressionists who went back to the studio. 

He was an exceptionally modern painter who survived the dusty, dogmatic schooling of the Beaux Arts. Regarding painters and their work, he said that "every picture reveals a specific place in it which the artist has fallen in love". 

An interesting observation which I would like to contemplate a little before writing about because I see it somewhat differently. There will always be places in a picture of which the painter will be fond for any number of reasons, some, because they are wonderfully worked areas, whilst others, because they reveal the painter's flaws, mistakes even. The painter never forgets those spots for if he hasn't repaired them, he will have to live with them forever. Indeed!

He also said; "I like all those painters who have a strong feeling for Nature". 
That's for sure, I wholeheartedly agree with that. 

This painting has a tactile and spontaneous application of the paint which means that hidden under his British reserve there was also a passionate Frenchman (he was a dual national).

What I hadn't learned already from Vincent Van Gogh's visceral sensuality I learned from this modest picture. Long before Vincent, Sisley's sky had revealed both clouds and air to be living entities. It had nothing to do with the world of permanence so often evoked in Cézanne's austere pictures. This is a sky of stormy emotion, one that erupts, then dissipates within hours. 

It looks like an early winter landscape to me just before the November chill. The large tree on the left, (in the relative foreground) wiggles and writhes like an old oak resisting the change of seasons; holding on, and holding off, with all its might to its last leaves. The tree to the right of the figures might be an elm, or mulberry, who knows? But unlike the great oak, it has accepted its fate and surrendered its colour. I love that it has been rendered with such lightness of touch. Painted with a rough hog's hair brush then scratched out with a stick even. Its faded leaves are  a lovely grey, and winter lives in its branches. Threadbare, one can almost see through it.

If one covers the entire foreground below the horizon line, one would be left with a picture of a sky and trees, for the most part, and suddenly, it might have been painted by Pierre Bonnard, a Bonnard in a big hurry though. But writing this, and looking at it continually, I might amend that and say that maybe the entire painting could have been done by Bonnard even if the foreground feels more Sisley. The tree (aforementioned on the left) feels so Bonnard! It's hard to describe just why, but it has something to do with the utter lack of pretension in it. It is painted with wild, childlike freedom, so charismatically Pierre Bonnard. Sisley was more of a technician than Bonnard but that it not a slight to either of them. In fact, this picture is rather atypical for Sisley, who is usually a smooth operator with a flawless sense of drawing, loyal perhaps to the older tenets of Impressionism, barely 30 years ahead of the younger, more pictorially modern and adventurous Bonnard. 

And finally, showing my work next to Sisley's might seem a tad presumptuous, or quite pretentious of me (though someone already did find this Blog pretentious, in fact). But, despite all this it has been posted with great humility and a reverence for this often overlooked hero of Impressionism.

25 August 2021

un ange qui passe ici, mais peut-être, pas par là


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 August, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This past week has again left me with that sinking feeling that that Painting is an indulgent escape from a world in which there is just too much suffering, where existential uncertainty cloaks the world. 

I am thinking of Afghanistan this week. But there are so many disasters going on around the globe at any given moment one cannot escape their shadows. If it isn't Afghanistan, then it's Yemen, or Central America, India, or Manhattan even. Before the extraordinary invention of the smart phone we could live in a smaller world by choice, selectively choosing the size of our own windows. Disasters for the most part existed elsewhere, out there, and beyond if we were so lucky. Inside our own cosy lives we only feigned interest in death and destruction by maybe watching Samual Beckett's dark work in the comfort of a protected theatre. Basically, we want to avoid all this really existential stuff if we can. This has been our survival technique. 

This life of Painting (or Art) in the face of so much suffering has been a re-occurring problem for me. I think everyone has to deal with it in their own way, and some people are just more sensitive about this than others. And yet there are people, many even, who are happily oblivious to it.

In my first year in France, we read a few books and essays in French Literature, one essay was by André Gide. He wrote, as I remember years later, something which shook me to the core, (I paraphrase) -if there were even just one person left to suffer on earth, he would (could) not allow himself any happiness- (Ok, he was heavy,  like so many writers of the early 20th century France and smoked too many Gauloises) but this hit me over the head because it confirmed so many messages which I had received from my own childhood. And it surfaced every time I exercised a creative endeavour. But one cannot live like this, and I was suitably neurotic as a result. Then I changed (when I got sober), and I have learned to let go of this kind of thinking. But I am still sensitive like many people. How can we live sanely with a full heart in this cruel world?

So now, I do paint, but without all the guilt of my youth. How did I imagine that I was so powerful that I change the world anyway?? This is work for the Gods.

A woman in France wrote of the painting above: 'Un ange qui passe' which I found quite lovely and appropriate. The French have a saying that when a conversation ends, leaving everyone with a slightly awkward pause like there isn't anything more to add, then 'an angel has passed'. 

This (top one) was done last week. It was the last one of three studies made that evening. I enjoyed working it mostly because I had no idea what I was doing unlike the two (below) which were made barely 20 minutes earlier. In those two it was easy getting to the heart of the picture (the drawing), and I was able to finish them somewhat quickly.

But because of such uncertainty in pulling off this small study (top), it felt so much more rewarding for me. It is also clearly superior to the other two. 

Too often, in Painting there is always this moment of terrible uncertainty when one feels that they don't know what they are doing, fearful of destroying what they might be lucky enough to have already started but then clueless how to proceed, how to finish, how to put an end to it for God's sake!!

Unlike composing music or writing stories, one cannot erase or crumple a piece of A4 paper to begin over. Canvas is capricious. The mistakes one makes, if one is clever enough to hide them, simply become 'issues of style'. 

A painting done quickly is even more fragile. It becomes a divine craft propelling the artist forward without a compass but for their own intuition. It is a worthy vocation for anyone despite the state of the world. I have to believe this.


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 August, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 August, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

21 August 2021

#metoo meets the Taliban


The terrible reality that some men, women, and children live in a country which is considered free, while others live in another country that is subjected to the insanity of despotic, patriarchal, and religious fanaticism. 

This downfall reminds me that in America, we have our own version of the Taliban, certainly less retro-primitive than that of Afghanistan but a patriarchal class of businessmen who prey upon women wearing black suits and designer sunglasses. In Palace hotels these high-flying men abuse and exploit women exerting their positions of power in very much the same way as the Taliban men. 

As much as I admire what Biden is doing for America, he seems to have stuffed up bigly. The Right-Wing crucifixion of him in the Media is comical, but also disingenuous and malevolent, an alternate reality. The truth is that no war ends well, it's never neatly tied up with a blue ribbon around it and a bow on top. It was always going to be a disaster, but it's true that they could have prevented at least some of the mayhem.

Trump never gave a s**t about the people of Afghanistan, and to pretend otherwise only adds to his list of lies and skullduggery.     

And as we know, it is always the poor and the powerless who suffer the most. At the moment it is the Afghan people who are stuck between a sword and a hard rock. It is impossible for Westerners to know what the women of Afghanistan are feeling and thinking in these days. Is it back to wearing a Burkha? Can the year 2021 co-exist with the 12th century? And as many in contemporary America seem to have great difficulty at self-examination, they still have the luxury of that self-examination.  In Afghanistan, the Taliban men have a license to hate women. 

Like everyone else, I wait, and wait, watching the news, fearing the worst, but praying for some unrealistic outcome to somehow magically unfold.

Over the past twenty years art has not exactly flourished in Afghanistan but it has found a place in Graffiti on city walls everywhere. Below are some interesting examples. They will certainly disappear soon.