25 November 2020

Last installment of Journal 98 Collaboration with François De Asis and Claude Massu

2 June 2000

Arrived at about 11h30. He was waiting for me in the garden. We went down to the studio and in it was so much

work that it was hard to find a pathway through it all. I am amazed by the increasing clutter of paintings in the studio.

First off, I saw two large pictures of the Barrage Zola on the north wall. One very dark, emerald greens and cold blacks linked together by brackish violets. Next to it was one with a very warm color harmony; deep violets moving to oranges and red. Both done in one session. I was amazed by the intensity of both. He had done them just before leaving for Venice.

He then almost immediately began to speak his mind, the reason for which he had wanted me to come visit. While working in Venice he often talked with an old Italian man who lived next door to the spot where he was painting from. One day the old fellow expressed his thoughts to him. Although “interesting”, he said he found Francois’s painting “without form”. Francois seemed to have been really bothered by this small comment. I have the impression that this was perhaps the one worry which lay hidden deep within Francois’s heart, a doubt which springs into action to plague him during moments between his work. And I understood that this one fear might be that no one will ‘see the work’ or come close understanding it.

While painting he is fearless, but his Achilles Heel might very well be this one lurking notion. Actually, I was glad to see it because sometimes, he almost seems too invincible in his convictions about Art and Painting.

Looking at these magnificent paintings and contemplating his words, I wonder to myself something which has been growing inside me in recent years: In the end, mustn’t a painter love Painting, (the canvas) more than he loves Nature, (the motif)?

I saw that Francois has made his own road into Painting, one he hopes is linked to all Painting which has moved him over the years. What else can a painter hope for than that? His ultimate belief in himself will undoubtably leave almost everyone else behind from time to time. Isn’t that what it means to be original? (so much can be said about all this!)

He put another Barrage Zola (same size 30F?) opposite on the easel. It was just as dark but unlike the first two it had been done over many sessions. We looked at it for a while. And yes, the picture felt ‘richer’ and ‘complete’ in its structure as if nothing else was needed. Nothing else could be put into it without being extraneous. Isn’t that what Leo was all about? Cézanne, Van Gogh? This painting was full, satiated with so many painting sessions encased inside of it that it did actually feel like a symphony.

What more could Francois ask than this? That few see it, even like it, or understand it is beyond the painter’s grasp. Once finished, the picture is put out to pasture so to speak. And then, I think of Baudelaire, who said that something which is truly great and original, often appears strange at first viewing.

Looking at all three pictures together was compelling, and I liked them all. The two done in one session possessed a Form not unlike the more ‘worked’ one, just less developed. It was clear however that they were from the ‘same family’ as Leo often observed when we looked at things together.

Maybe, in their own particular, if abbreviated way, they were less like a symphony, just more like a Trio or Quartet.

23 November 2020

Charlotte Joko Beck's cookbook for a healthy mind

From a book which I have read and re-read many times over the past twenty years. Its called Everyday Zen and was written by Charlotte Joko Beck who died in 2011 at the age of 94.

"What is time? Is there time? What can we say about our daily life in connection with time, and with no time,  no-self?

Ordinarily we think of a dharma talk or a concert, or any event in life as having a beginning, a middle, and an end. But at any point in this talk. for instance, if I stop right now, where are the words I've already said? They don't exist. They just don't exist. If I stop at any point in the talk, where are the words that have been said up to that point? they don't exist. And when the talk is over, where is the talk? There is no talk. All that's left are memory traces in our brains. And this memory whatever it is, is fragmentary and incomplete: we remember only parts of any actual experience. The same thing could be said of a concert - in fact we can say the same thing about our whole day, and our whole life. At this very point in time, where is our past life? It doesn't exist."

What struck me even the first time I read this passage was that the creation of a painting is a kind of permanent memory, for lack of a better way to describe it. The experience of time is gone but the product of that time is a sort of souvenir born out of that fleeting experience of which she might be describing. The painting is the tangible result of this creative space of experiencing the moment.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Music once heard, disappears into sensorial memory. The written word, once read aloud, has the same effect as watching a fireworks display. But a painting can be experienced all at once, forever locked into our memory.

More to be revealed...

22 November 2020

mysterious woman, out of reach

I saw this portrait at the Courtauld in London back in 2012 I think. It was painted by a Dutchman who had come to London to paint the many fashionable people of the late 18th and early 19th century when portraits were the way of saying to the rest of the Bourgeoisie "We exist!"

I went back to see it again a few times but it had been moved and was nowhere to be found to my great regret. There are wonderful things at the Courtauld but this was my secret favourite, even over a version of Van Gogh with a bandage over his ear which I love.  

This portrait of a young wife reminds that greatness is not just about painting but in humanity too. For to render such fragile beauty as in this portrait is a great gift. It is spared the often heavy technique which inhabits Rembrandt. 

19 November 2020

Journal 98 Collaboration with François De Asis and Claude Massu (cont)

5 July

He came over to show me proofs just recently pulled for his new book. He wanted to explain just how he worked up these serigraphs as opposed to his paintings. He said he had no interest in simply reproducing these drawings. He doesn’t have the time, nor would he want to waste time, they are simply done, finished, and he moves forward. For him, the serigraphs represent a new and unique ‘interpretation’ of his own paintings.

He interprets each painting by way of many different plates of color. Each one is drawn uniquely for the serigraph. (I think of Leo’s way of making his lithos) They are done with a brush which ‘brings them close’ in feeling to his painting but they are done in monochrome, the colors added later.

7 September.

I went yesterday for a visit. Eliane was sitting in the garden at the table writing some letters. Francois and I went down to the studio which was cluttered with canvases everywhere one looked (more and more!). He had had a good trip to Monterosso and it had been very productive. He was happy, and it showed.... he seemed younger.

He started off showing me the early morning motifs most of which were charged and turbulent. He said that during the whole time in Italy there were only 3 or 4 days when the sea was calm. They are all about size 15F, maybe 20F, and all were done in one session. He explained that he worked every morning from 7h - 10h30. Only after, would he then ‘faire sa toilette’ and have breakfast with Eliane. He seems to work like a diesel engine, always steady and always plowing forward through any doubts or concerns.

One of the canvases was done in a rainstorm which drenched him, and he caught a strep throat. It was a thing of rare beauty, cold emerald green water below violet mountains.

He described these things as ‘le couleur du tableau’ as opposed to the ‘couleur local’.

I could see immediately that all these things came out of his experience with the serigraphs. In fact, some of them looked as if they could almost have been serigraphs. He admitted that they were ‘born from his books’. They looked like colored drawings to me. He showed me some smaller things done from the balcony of his hotel.

Afterwards, we looked at three paintings from a two week stay at Stephane’s in Forcalquier. He wasn’t satisfied with the results. They were huge, I don’t know what size; maybe 70F or 80F..?

I loved them even before he had a chance to straighten them up on the easil. I could see something which was directly close to me... to my sensibility, an emotional feeling I am after perhaps.

They were tremendous images, completely abstract, done of the plateau.. Incredible that someone could pull off such an image from this landscape. He described them as being “scattered with color” not unlike the “couleur du tableau” of which he was speaking earlier. The “couleur du tableau” is done from the sensation, almost a memory, he explained again.

He spends at least an hour preparing his colors before he begins, hence the clarity and organization which I sense in his work. And yet, the crazy, wild brushstrokes, so spontaneous in much his work, seem to contradict the careful planning. I am not sure that most people would share my admiration. He is moving into a realm of Art where few can follow.


18 November 2020

Iterations of dusk, the chariot of the goddess Selene sinks beneath the horizon


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 6 November, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 11 November 2002, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Variations on a theme of dusk. Though done on different evenings they follow the moments of change in as many of the iterations which I am able to capture. 

As if by ritual, it seems both earth and sky prepare for twilight by yielding to a shower of fine fairy dust until  the arrival of Night driven in a black hearse.

I am there most nights to witness it. Sometimes after working, I languish and await the first few stars to become visible. It is a glorious moment but without fanfare. It is akin to stumbling, unexpectedly upon a field of tiny wildflowers.

This is the head of one of the exhausted horses that draws the chariot of the moon goddess Selene goddess of the night. Having ridden all night it reveals its fatigue. There are two which are part of the Elgin Marbles in The British Museum (Two other horses and Selene’s torso are in the Acropolis Museum, Athens.) In the corners of this pediment, the exact time of day was set by the chariot of Helios, rising at dawn, and the chariot of Selene, sinking beneath the horizon. 

Like many, I have always loved this head exhibited on the far right of the whole group of figures and horses in th British museum. It is, for me, that height of technical perfection coupled with an intuitive feeling, or emotion unique to rare artists and artisans. And so, both dawn and dusk have been celebrated for thousands of years on this earth. I celebrate it too, in my own way on a beach on the North Coast of Australia.

15 November 2020

glorious and unwanted, the tomato surprise!


Tomato Surprise, Dieulefit, circa 2008, oil on canvas, 80 X 50 cm

Almost none of my friends like this painting!! Alas! And I can understand, but with a certain chagrin. I suppose because I like it so very much, and I believe myself to having superior taste, of course! So, why wouldn't others like it as much? 

That is the great mysterious beauty of Art. It is so deeply personal that no one else can feel what you should feel yourself.

And too often when it comes to Painting people can kind of zone out because technique quickly supplants the poetic love of pure feeling (which by the way, no one does when listening to Stevie Wonder or the Rolling Stones, or Mahler, for that matter) 

So Art is that one place where we are free to take what we want and leave the rest. How glorious this is,,, how democratic.

13 November 2020

fingernails scratching the sand, inhaling a flower blossom

I had a remarkable experience the other night. I was working on a few studies which came quickly. I must have made 4 of them. 

The wind from the South brought a chill as I worked and I kept an eye out for whales which often breach this time of year. The sea was turbulent and occasional whitecaps formed again and again.  Its waves broke upon the shore like long fingernails scratching the sand, and me there, just like a 10 year old, amazed by life itself.

When suddenly, within a few minutes the wind dropped, and I couldn't hear it anymore. I realised that the sea too had calmed down, silent, its waves now were more like patterns in a blue woollen jumper, its whitecaps instantly ironed out. I stopped working for about a minute to understand what was happening. I marvelled at the sudden empty space, the sonorous rest note when one stops at a flower blossom, bending over slightly to inhale it. 


11 November 2020

Proust and the Time Machine

I have the dubious luxury of possessing a few old photos of myself from boarding days which my father had lovingly framed and had hung on his bathroom  walls at the Westbury Hotel where he lived for about a dozen years waiting for my mother to change her mind.

I have a few framed photos of various hockey and football teams from different schools. I look at them now almost vicariously as if from another life time. It's another small body, but that is in fact me even if it is no longer a small young body. The photos have been shuffled about from New York to France, and now they find a home in Australia. I haven't yet hung them up anywhere. They have been orphans mostly propped up in different bathrooms of mine over the years. Starting out at the Westbury Hotel (where the arch-villain in The French Connection was filmed staying), they are reminders to me to never wait for a woman to change her mind. For that matter, never wait on a woman. She had moved on while he hadn't. This is a theme of men and women, it seems, though naturally as a child I was clueless. Meanwhile these photos have become used to waiting around in new and different shaped bathrooms over the years, on different continents, but always bathrooms nonetheless as I remain loyal to that idea alone.

And looking at them recently as I brush my teeth or perform some other bathroom ritual I find myself trying to remember my teammate's names. And weirdly, I can almost remember all of them despite that I can barely remember the name of my current neighbour whom I see often. But these names are glued to distinct memories far beyond the vast desert of what became of my adult life. And of these ghosts I can sometimes pin a first name or family name, and sometimes both. It feels like using Time Machine on my laptop where clicking onto those faces draws up to the murky surface of the present those sepia memories reaching far back into the past. 

Last year I read Swann's Way, the first in Proust's winding path down through his own memory lane and to the first bite of the infamous Madeleine with his grandmother.  We all have them, these elegiac lightning strikes at most odd moments in our often odd days, these odd memories.

Let's see: in the back row starting from the left is Brad Gifford, the next is a blank, Me number 9 in the middle, Charlie Baker, Seqriest Front row: John Lee, Charlie Ebles, Kristopherson the goalie, Belucci, and Greg Bloomfield on the far right.

The photo itself has faded terribly which shows its age. It was the Junior Varsity Hockey team and it was taken in Deerfield Mass. In it, we are all laughing because I remember the photographer had cracked  a  joke to make us smile. (a lesson I learned well, and stored for later in life when taking my own photographs of uptight or shy sitters) I like that I am smiling broadly in this photo circa, 1965, because I somehow lost that smile as I went into the rest of my adolescence and adult life. 

Journal 98 Collaboration with François De Asis and Claude Massu (cont)


22 May 1999

Went yesterday to say hello as I know he has passed by the Château twice since last week.

I found him drawing outside in his garden chair. Eliane close by him in a chaise lounge in the sun and reading. Francois was drawing the huge chestnut tree next to the house. Its flowers, large like ice-cream cones are hitting their zenith. I glanced at the sketchbook to see a wild and woolly circus of lines. I am beginning to notice a kind of symmetry in his drawing which indeed, one finds in Nature but only when really looking hard, I think to myself. Francois has tapped into it like a Japanese Zen painter of a time long ago when communion with Nature was essential for life as an artist. We chatted about my upcoming show.

His neighbor had cut down an immense pine tree some months earlier. The huge western sky caves in every afternoon. Such light which illuminates that entire portion of the terrace is stunning. Francois and Eliane are pleased. It changes everything.

We ambled down to the studio, the long lines of pale purple irises are still robust. In fact everything is alive,.. bursting with life.

In the studio he is working 6-8 hours a day on the serigraph prints for the book with Yves Bonnefoy. Its a cerebral kind of task which invigorates him, so he claims. Each plastic plate is lovingly painted to correspond to a color of his painting. How surprising that in fact his painting, so seemingly spontaneous and unruly, can dovetail into this rigorous print-making process. I always marvel at this concentrated mind. And I see in this just how much he had in common with Leo, whose own temperament was rigorously disciplined.

He showed me a copy of Poésie 98, the review by Yves Bèrgerey which he had just received in the mail. The text is beautifully interlaced with his drawings. Fantastic things! Drawings from Venice, Monterosso, the Alps... He seemed very pleased with it.

He then showed me an album from his first visit to the Alps where his series of the Large Boulder were done. They are squirrelly, seemingly random in explanation, as if his pencil had not been lifted off the page. They are dense with an intensity and relentless probing; crazy peregrinations. They seem obsessional.

His second visit seemed to dispel all the uncertainty of the first because with the greatest simplicity, he carved out images made with brevity. Where before, the thick surface-markings of lead obscure the structure of the drawing, now, the white paper dominates, as if the sun has come out and suddenly swept away the clouds. They are the results of deliberate movements between the hand and the eye..

10 November 2020

sisters of mercy on election day


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 3 November, 2020 oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm 

These two paintings were done back to back though I am not sure which one was made first, probably the one 
below. Now I realise they were done on election day in America though from the future in Australian time. I was feeling deeply apprehensive about Trump being re-elected and it clouded my otherwise lovely sky. But they came quickly with a deliberate confidence, to my surprise unlike the uncertainty of Joe Biden's transition to power. 

When I feel under the weather, I can easily forget that many, many other people feel anxiety in this time of Trump. 

And these are times of great uncertainty in so many ways. I feel grateful that my small life only seems to concern itself with the uncertainty in the making of a painting because I have developed a new hope that my arrival at this task is possible. I have finally learned after all these years that the struggle is the pleasure. This cannot be said for those living under the roof of uncertainty and fear in Trump's America.


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads,  3 November, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25

08 November 2020

The anecdotal president and J.M.W.Turner

This president has been many things for America, from his dishonesty to all the really stupid things he has done to push our country backwards into a dreamy world constructed of his own personal anecdotal details. He has tried to reshape America into a doctored photograph tacked up on his bedroom wall. He is the anecdotal president, full of baloney, as they used to call it in the more polite America of yesteryear. Now, they just call it s**t, as in s**thole, which also could be one of this president's more infamous insults. He is a moron, a deceitful one, but more like a reptile which is only motivated by fear and greed (but both in the same foul breath). But, yes, everyone knows all that already!

I didn't mean to go off on a tangent. But because this word anecdotal has become le mot de jour in the past few years it got me thinking about Turner. More precisely, it is something which has always bothered me about so many of his paintings, both large, small, in both watercolour and in oil. Under these magnificent mountain skies and seascapes, figures resembling tiny porcelain figurines always seem to litter the surface of the foreground. It has driven me a bit nuts, actually.

Needless to say, I don't like them, and I will admit that perhaps I don't completely understand why he would ruin an otherwise unified painting to include these small things which only distract us (me). Sometimes they are less bothersome, and can even work to place the landscape, or seascape into a certain context like the image below (but very unlike the otherwise splendorous watercolour at the top)

To what purpose do they really serve, a painter can ask? They are habitually well crafted, well depicted, well painted too. And yes, it was an accepted form of classical painting which I suppose, arose from the tradition of depicting classical themes in paintings. The centuries proceeding Turner, both in England and Holland, had produced a ton of these kinds of 'landscapes with figures'. It was a grand genre theme this Man intermingling with Nature, but before, of course, man went to war against it at the start of the Industrial Age, consciously or not. 

Humankind in Harmony with Nature was a big hit with wealthy collectors, and families of great historical power in Britain. They had country manor homes to decorate, city palaces, and often castle estates like Petworth House which is home to a magnificent collection of Turner's work. I have visited it several times over the years, most recently with my dearest friend Niki McCourt who lives in East Sussex.

One thing I love about the British is that they possess a genuine love for their land and wildlife. They take pride in the protection of it through the National Trust which lords over every centimetre of this beautiful nation. Rich or Poor, they love their gardens. Sadly, the almost opposite of our own president and his minions.

So, I think the question for a painter (and the point of all this) is why did Turner fill so many of these paintings and watercolours with extraneous figurines in the foreground? it certainly wasn't because he needed a device to push the middle ground back into the distance. He was far too great a painter who could manipulate with ease any space in his pictures with a small flick of a brush or a wipe of a cloth.

The burning of the House of Parliament 

I wonder if it wasn't simply because wealthy collectors were too used to seeing figures in the foreground, maybe they were too comfortable with them, traditional by nature, and too conventional to see differently. They were not artists after all. And, Turner knew that, he had expenses like everyone else.

So, perhaps towards the end of his life his artistic sensibility, his intuition, was to simply let go of the artifice of these figures in the foreground. He was wealthy enough to truly let go of any financial worries by then. At this point he was also already preoccupied with the idea of the sketch as a work of Art in its own right, and  done rapidly in front of his favourite motifs on the coastline in Sussex or in sensual Venice . 

Below, are some of the later things which reveal his clairvoyance; his intuition which blew him into the 20th century like a hurricane.

02 November 2020

plastics in the Hall of Versailles


Making Art is an American concept. I don’t think anyone anywhere else has ever referred to Art being made in quite the same way. It seems to be part of the vast vernacular of the America landscape. I always feel a bit relieved that I see myself as just a painter who paints pictures. I don’t make Art, thankfully. 

Painting pictures is an easier, a less melodramatic activity. I have always felt a little sorry for really famous contemporary artists who must continually re-invent themselves each couple of seasons in order to please an audience of investment bankers and others on top of the food chain. 

Also, there is something grotesque about American Hubris in every regard except that it is worse in Art in the world of Art-Making where America promotes itself as the Biggest, the Best, the Boldest, and the most Expensive.           

There is an innovative animal in the American spirit for both the good and the bad in our enterprises. It's if it doesn’t matter what is made, but it needs to be made! (And I am not even talking about the current president who, in this regard is in a class by himself) I have often felt that we are in an extremely materialist phase at this moment in time. It's not that Versailles is parked in our living rooms but in our gluttonous minds. 

Over the last century the world has produced many things which have improved our lives. Plastics come to mind, as one example. Yet for all its benefits, of which there are so many, it has after decades of existence also infected our lands, oceans, and waterways not only into every corner of the earth but into almost every microscopic tissue in every mammal and fish on the planet. So melodramatic am I! But it's nevertheless true. And for all the good of industrialisation in our manufacturing, we are left a century later with a hotter planet, and too few cool heads to try and fix ameliorate our situation. 

So what has this got to do with Art? I would postulate that as we assess our carbon imprint upon the planet it behooves us to also try and understand the impact of what our Art has on others. 

Does it make an attempt to connect to others with whom we share this community in both the small and and large senses? Or, is it all solipsistic navel gazing? And personally speaking, I have been guilty of that myself, so I am not throwing stones at the mirrors in the Hall of Versailles.

What interests me intellectually anyway, is what our creative contemporary culture thinks when it makes Art as an activity and livelihood. 

So after that rant, I will offer up a very small painting to contrast with those large ideas which I seem to be clever at juggling upwards into the air but inept at catching as they fall.


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 26 October, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

30 October 2020

Journal 98 Collaboration with François De Asis and Claude Massu (cont)


23 March 1998

Went to see Francois last night. I wanted to read him a piece (en Français) which I had written about myself for the show in Mirmande at the Église St Fôy in September. He kindly helped me to rewrite the last paragraph which brings order to the whole thing. He liked it, and to my surprise, he found it well done, concise and original, loyal to my person, as the French say.

Afterwards, he showed me a book on Picasso’s last paintings. We looked at an erotic scene of two lovers kissing. Such crazy distortion! He wanted to show me this in relation to a Duccio painting ‘The kiss of Judas’ which he had seen in John’s (Gasparach) slideshow at the school with the music of Stabat Mater playing. Indeed the surface unity of both were so similar.

He added (regarding my own work) that the angel-like person flying in one of my paintings was in fact, no more ridiculous than angels flying overhead in the Giotto frescoes which he had seen in the slideshow at the school. I agreed because for me, the angels were just objects in space to help unify the picture plane. He said he had much preferred them in the Giotto fresco than in the seemingly endless blue sky of the Mantegna (crucifixion) also seen in the slideshow.

5 May ?

I went over on a drizzly Tuesday afternoon at noon. In his studio he was working on a serigraph plate for his project with Bonnefoy dressed in his sheepskin jacket, woolen sweater underneath, and his huge wooden clogs, the kind which one slides into completely like a boat with pointed toes.

He was painting the plastic sheet with a whitish tone; each sheet representing a different color for the lithographer. There would be maybe 10 or 12 of them per painting. He gestured to it and said with a smile:

“Voilà Tal Coat!”

“Non”, I responded

“Voilà Giorgio Armani!” which he didn’t understand at first because of the way I had pronounced it, (but also because it seemed so out of left field.) Then foolishly I repeated:

“Armani, Giorgio Armani, le Couturier!”

I tried to explain that the oriental looking patterns on the sheet in pale lavender reminded me of the exotic, and beautiful textiles that Armani uses to make his coats and dresses....but, alas, he was already off onto another tangent.

On the wall were hung a few new paintings from Venice. He said that it had been the coldest, rainiest trip ever....almost every day: rain or drizzle, a bone chilling cold which infected him whenever he was outside on a motif.

There was painting of a ‘new motif’ from the Ca Rezzonico looking toward the Ca Foscari. I recognized it immediately because I often stayed there. I was fooled by the actual place however, thinking he had done it from the 2nd or 3rd floor, and wondering just how he had received permission to work from a balcony window. He had, actually done it from just on the other side of the building in a tiny spot to the right. What fooled me was just how much ‘vertical’ water he had managed to draw into the construction of the painting. It really looked as if done from above, not at the waterline. As cold as it was, he admitted that it was “passionnant”, adding “J’y retournerais toute de suite si je pouvais”. And, I could see that he meant it.

On the left of this was a ‘very abstract’ version, a later one in violets, pale greens, and yellows done very quickly, perhaps even in 20 minutes or so. At the moment (as I write this) I retain an image of it as an X-ray, but in color. It seemed to be a quick expressionistic vision of the bones, ligaments, and shreds of muscle in the motif itself.

On the right, a finished version, in fact, the very first one done after arriving in Venice....in his own words: “very impressionist”.

He had received a letter from Yves Bèrgery who is somewhere in Martinique. Francois had just replied to it and he read me both. Basically, what Yves said was that Nature was too big, (describing the view from where he was staying on a hilltop with a 360 degree view) and that he believed it impossible for anyone to work from it today, or do anything of it which would do justice to its scale. To me, it sounded like a rhetorical question, not knowing Yves very well. Francois agreed because he felt that deep down, Yves believed it was impossible to paint from Nature.

Francois read me his reply. One thing I remember he said was said that ‘anything could be done from Nature if one worked at it enough.’ and he went on.. ‘A solution could always be found in pictorial terms if one stayed with it long enough to tame it.’

I didn’t stay long as I wanted to let him get back to his work. Before I left though, he showed me a Saluté also done in no more than 40 minutes.... An exquisite thing!... yellow, violets, and a black Dogana! (the small white building at the the point of the lagoon which used to be the Customs Office, hence Dogana or Douanes in French)

29 October 2020

Keith Jarett, Jackson Pollock and the Burbling Brooks everywhere

Below are some excerpts from an article which came out last week in the New York Times about Keith Jarrett. He has been undergoing some serious health issues and has been unable to play for the past year. Sad news for all us. 

I was mad about him for years and managed to see him a few times in France. 

I love the small anecdotes which are copied and pasted below. I love what he says about Coltrane and how he spawned a generation of imitators. And this makes me think of the parallel situation in the Painting world. There are few really original greats of any era but there are many, many imitators. Think of Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Manet, Monet, Cézanne, Picasso, Klee, de Kooning, Pollock, and even Donald Judd. But I don't endorse any of these artists as great, or not, or even worthy of praise, or not, I just point out that each of them still live on a cloud street overhead and high above of imitators as far as the sky can see.

I love the second excerpt about his aunt who advised her 3 year old nephew to create something from a burbling brook on the piano. Now, this was a cool and clairvoyant woman!

And lastly, the one wherein Jarrett renounces the 'musical idea' before a recital. Few artists who have tried to paint a picture really battle with this notion as it is a rare preoccupation I believe but I have spoken of it a little before. Most people (myself included, and too often) approach a motif with an 'idea' and this can be a comfortable way to face the terror of an empty canvas. But the really great ones of our time, in any field, simply don't need to think anymore, they proceed with a great trust in their own gifts and with grace.  Their practice has been done, and so has their thinking, they simply open up to the Muses which have assured their confidence. One could say even that they place their trust in something higher than themselves.

 “I feel like I’m the John Coltrane of piano players,” he said, citing the saxophonist who transformed the language and spirit of jazz in the 1960s. “Everybody that played the horn after he did was showing how much they owed to him. But it wasn’t their music. It was just an imitative thing.”

According to family lore, he was 3 when an aunt indicated a nearby stream and told him to turn its burbling into music — his first piano improvisation.

Of course, imitation — even of oneself — is anathema to the pure, blank-slate invention Mr. Jarrett still claims as his method. “I don’t have an idea of what I’m going to play, any time before a concert,” he said. “If I have a musical idea, I say no to it.” (Describing this process, he still favors the present tense.)

26 October 2020

like waves of a thousand afternoons


Evening Prayer Brunswick heads, 15 September, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

I am not sure if I had put this up here in this space but here it is in any case. Tonight, the sea and sky looked just like this. But sadly I painted something else as hard as I tried to paint this one somewhere deep in the vault of my visual memory. Alas, too often, it is an elusive kind of adventure this Painting business. 

But yet, the truthfulness in this painting was like a 'yellow stickie' affixed to my forehead this evening despite my inability to render it again as I had in this painting done just over a month ago. 

Though I couldn't get this right tonight, I certainly painted something else of certain value, but it wasn't what I had wished for. But what pleases me, and I wish to express, is that the sea and sky tonight was just like the painting already done weeks ago. 

And at the risk of being redundant,  it is the inverse of being in a museum in front of a painting which seems so truthful that one  thinks to oneself: 

"I have seen this it when I was on such and such beach last year!"

Here, it is the beach which says: "I have seen such a painting at so and so's home last month!"

So it is reassuring to a painter that when there is truthfulness in a painting it will continue to live on (in this case) on the beach like the waves of a thousand afternoons to come. 

25 October 2020

Journal 98, collaboration with François De Asis and Claude Massu (cont)


13 November, 1998

Arrived late, just after the sun had disappeared which left a glowing blue sky. François and Eliane had just arrived back from town.

As it was a little late to go down into the studio (no electric light), we parked ourselves in the living room and looked through some of the green folders on the table full of drawings which he had just matted. Eliane made us a mint tea, and thus we spent the next 2 and 1/2 hours.

Almost all the drawings were done from the vaporetto, that is to say in no more than 4 or 5 seconds maximum. So exquisite did I find these things that I could only look at them with a rather dumbfounded expression. A few done from San Giorgio started a discussion. One in particular, with strong accents embracing the church cupola gave Eliane some confusion. Francois began to explain the various elements in this particular drawing. Firstly, he said that he only really ‘saw’ the drawing for the first time this very evening, as even when matting them he rarely gives himself the ‘distance’ nor the time to ‘look’ at them. So, it is only with time and distance is he able to properly understand what he has done. I think of one of Leo’s favorite maxims from Thomas Aquinas which said that ‘Art is the measuring stick for Art’.

It seems to me that he only sees the ‘motif’ while working, the drawing is simply the result of what goes on between his hand and his eye.

He pointed out that in fact a round element indicating on what was certainly a square window on San Giorgio was executed that way only in order to preserve the unity of the image as a whole. An “inexplicable phénomène”, an improvisation created by years and years of working from ‘the visible world’ as he always describes it.

I confess that it took me a few minutes to see the drawing in my own mind.

Eliane saw the cupola ‘as the sun’ which of course is easily done. But François quickly pointed out each and every element right down to the white tower to the left explaining each of his marks, or “signes” as he calls them.

Next, we looked at drawings of the Rialto and drawings done just as the vaporetto approaches the Ca Foscari as it turns to the left and up to the Academia. Before the turn on the right sits the Admiral’s Palazzo with the two distinct pillars atop the roof marking it so. For me, one of the very remarkable things about these drawings are the delicate patterns working in concert with one another. The curious rhythm of the strokes is uncanny, and they made me think of Stravinsky.

Also, each drawing is comprised of three parts: the sky (air), the water, and the stone of the buildings. Remarkably, each possesses its own ‘sign language’ particular to its own very nature. (I think of Titian)

I pointed this out to him and he seems surprised but in fact, he is always completely aware of everything regarding his own work.

I also remarked that this phenomenon was so unlike Cezanne’s drawings wherein all the elements are abstractly unified with apparent disregard to the ‘element of nature’ (i.e. water, earth, stone, etc.) François’s drawing takes so much from his affinity with Dufy, and various Cubists, and of course Picasso whereby each element is described as a ‘signe' (en français, I don’t know what the proper translation is in english)... maybe just a mark, a marking, a stroke?

Also, much has been taken from Van Gogh whose drawings have so much in common with the Japanese love of brush work ascribing each series of strokes to one specific element (in Nature).

François’s love for ‘les signes’ is at times very different from Leo’s whose own work in this respect was far more aligned with that of Cézanne.

À propos to Leo, François said that in fact he was the only one of ‘us’ (meaning fellow students of Leo) to have followed Leo. He is adamant that working only from the visible world can one arrive at Form in Nature, (that is to say; to create a unified image from an unruly Nature). And this too, is what Leo believed.

When drawing he described himself as being a ‘receptical’ more than anything else. This goes back to looking at the first drawing of San Giorgio. For me, its as if he approaches the ‘motif’ empty. Only by working it, is he slowly filled up with it. He responds visually to a ‘motif without judgement’, his hand simply follows what the eyes take in, albeit as abstractly as it may seem to be. He often speaks about the dangers of having a concept in one’s mind before beginning work.

As usual, I come away from these visits with more questions than answers. How indeed, can one truly ‘see’ a motif if one is chained to a conception of it before working? And, how does inspiration fit into all this? How does one proceed from an inspiration (an idea) that speaks in one’s soul which says:

“Yes, there is something here for me to do” without falling into a sentimentalisation.

Francois’s response to all this would be just to begin drawing. Begin drawing just as a river begins flowing from its source. Any questions asked are certainly answered by the drawing itself so I imagine.

We talked about the advantages of working quickly from a moving vaporetto. I remember going all over Venice in the very back of those boats, often going all the way to the Lido and back. The perspective is changing at every instant, creating an almost ‘arc-like’ phenomenon. As his friend Yves Bèrgeret says: “It is a moving of the octagonal into the horizontal.”

We talked of Giacometti, and our mutual visits to La Stampa. He told me that Leo had even gone to Paris to meet A.G. which I didn’t know. Apparently, no rapport came out of it, nor any complicity was felt on either side, at least not enough to open a friendship in any event. Strange, a great shame I thought, but then, they were of such different temperaments it seemed. (And I say this knowing Leo only as I did, My understanding of A.G. comes from James Lord and A.G.’s own writing.)

Afterwards, I left. As always, he walked me to my car in the driveway and under the black sky he bid me ‘Good Luck” on my trip to London.

23 October 2020

Flower power and the tired, dead horse

Someone asked me yesterday,  why do I keep painting the same thing over and over? I smiled and sighed, wondering if I could muster up the energy to try and explain what it means to paint from the same motif ‘over and over’ again, as she put it. 

It’s not an easy sell in today’s world of quick changes. And then, ‘over and over’, as if I am working on the same poor old tired canvas. What do they say: ‘Beating a dead horse’? and then the word ‘again’ as if it’s not even the same dead horse but the same sea, the same sky. 

I could have said to her - but I didn’t - that a few rather remarkable painters had done this. I could have dredged up Monet or Morrandi, or gone musical and cited Satie or Scarlatti, both of whom were locked into obsessional melodies while separated by several hundred years. But of course, these were Greats, while I am but just decent at my craft.

So many things come up for me when I log into ideas about Painting, and Art,  but this night I just wanted to get home because I was tired. Et pourtant, there is much to say about all this. In the end, I would just rather hold up a painting, or flower like the Buddha did, when without a word, he silently held up a lotus flower to a curious interlocutor because he wanted to cut to the chase.

22 October 2020

Call me decadent, call me anything, but call me.


When I see photos like these I am reminded why the Art community has moved towards more political content. And it should. These photos are extraordinary and they speak to us immediately, like blades through our hearts.

We as Americans are shocked at the unrest and violence in the streets. Yet it shouldn't be. It is quite natural for America, a culture so inherently flawed and  unequal should implode like so many other warring nations before us. 

The Art which flows out of such a country must be very political because it speaks to socio-economic ills. Somehow the rage always finds its way out into the streets.  It is unstoppable, and it is perfectly reasonable. 

And just as pavers from the streets of Paris were used  in the violent clashes of May 1968,  the smart phone, in hand, has now replaced them. It is the universal tool de rigeur of this brave new media-obsessed world.

Change will come, as it always does, can we handle it? 

Meanwhile, here on a beach in Australia, I find meaning for myself most nights. It is an art form of another kind.
Call me decadent, call me anything, but call me.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 October, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm