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 

20 October 2020

Journal 98, collaboration with François De Asis and Claude Massu


This was published 4 years ago. It came about because I sent François entries from my diary wherein I had noted my visits with him in his studio in St Marc Jaumegarde just outside of Aix-en-Provence. They were taken from the years 1998 - 1999.  

Why those dates? I am not sure except that I came across them while re-reading some of my diaries and I thought that he might like to use them for a series of exhibits he was planning for the summer of 2015 in the  Aix. Of course there are so many more visits noted over the years but they are scattered like leaves throughout the diary. And my diary has been ongoing since January, 1986.

A short while later, after that summer, he wrote to me with the proposition of making a book out of them along with reproductions of work to which I referred in the diary entries.  Of course, I agreed immediately. Claude Massu, whom I did not know was engaged to translate the entries. He is a professor of English and Art History but also a colleague of François and his wife Éliane. I was sent the translation which I found quite good.

The book moves through the texts and the images of  paintings in an easy manner. François has made many books over the years and possesses an adept graphic sense. But like his other books, it is a collector's item which means that it was a very limited edition of perhaps 30 copies in total. Alas, they are not inexpensive. Once a few years back I was walking along St Germain when I saw them displayed in the window of a beautiful bookshop which only deals in very high end  books of contemporary Art.

As I was not part of the publication I had nominal input as regards to decisions for the book. I was simply invited as the author. Ideally, I would have very much liked to see a more "commercial" edition which could have been readily available in English worldwide perhaps through museum bookshops. Alas, that was not my call to make. But in any event, it was a wonderful experience for me to collaborate with my old friend François De Asis whom I met during those early years in France when I visited Léo Marchutz in his studio each day. 

So, as I don't imagine that Journal 98 will ever see the proverbial light of day, I have decided to reprint it for fun in these pages in the original English. I think there are only about 15 different dates so once a week a few will appear in order by date.

Bonne lecture!

(no date, 1998?)

Francois had been on the terrace when I arrived retouching a recent picture from Stephane's property. He had several pieces of paper in varying colors and tones which he was attaching to different areas of the painting.

One, (about 4 centimeters square) had been placed over part of the tower. It was reddish and slightly darker than what it was consigned to replace. He asked me what I thought of it with, or without it. I remember feeling a little like I was at the optometrist when asked to clarify which lens was clearer for me, this or that? So back and forth with the small colored piece of red, on, and then off again. What intrigued me was just how subtle were the changes, and how Francois understood the delicate transformations to the neighboring colors and forms. In fact, the entire surface was changed by just shifting these colored patches around. To me though, it seemed endless these combinations.

3 October 1998

I arrived at 18h, he came to meet me as I got out of the car. We went down to the new round fountain (which his son Stephane had just made for them). Eliane was there reading. We talked about their 8 day stay near Forcalquier. François had been working on a view of the ruin not far from the property. Afterwards, we went into the studio to look at them. But first, he put up his latest version of the Barrage Zola which he claimed was his finest. It was done in just one session.

He then put up another version done over perhaps 4 or 5 sessions which we then looked at for a while. The second one seemed gentler and rounder as if the extra sessions had somehow softened the punch of the initial drawing. They hadn’t removed it, but certainly had embellished it such that it seemed as though fur had suddenly sprouted onto the bones of the first one.

We had often spoken about the different qualities inherent in those things done in one session compared with those done in 20 or 30 sessions. He has always admitted that to arrive at the ‘Forms’ he was looking for he absolutely had to pass through the latter paintings. There is no other way of getting an understanding of the motif except by pushing paintings back and forth until he is satisfied.

He thinks of the pictures done in one session as akin to the late piano sonatas of Beethoven while those really developed paintings, more like symphonies.

He said once again that the paintings done over time are infinitely richer in that they take longer to see and appreciate. While those done in one session are almost always more striking at first glance, they might lose their appeal more quickly. (I am not so sure)

Francois brought out a few of the pictures of the ruin done in Forcalquier. Amazing images! In one of them, the motif is hardly discernible as if I have not yet been given a map to find my way around in it. A fresh image; the kind of which I think de Kooning would have longed to make earlier in his career.

He then brought out a large one (40 figure?) which he had worked on each day. He admitted that it would be shortly destroyed but had wanted to show it to me. He said that he had had high hopes for it at the beginning but had lost his way. He was unable to retain his first impression, losing the whole of it to a multitude of parts as if it had been worked on by several different painters. He goes on to explain that despite the intense anguish which it puts him through, (and his family) he knows that he can never understand the complexities of a motif unless he abandons himself into a painting of many sessions done always at the same time of the day. (Monet, I think to myself).

He had come to the (my) studio a week before and had seen some things of mine from the summer, He liked some things but had harsh criticisms for some others. He wanted to talk about them. In effect, he criticized many of them for being “uneven” as my objects (cups and bowls) were treated very differently than the background or space of the painting.(!) I had to agree that he was right, and admitted that I had been seduced by the delicacy of trying to make a painting ‘look beautiful’.

His point being, that once a painting has been started one must follow those very first few strokes to the end regardless of their direction. Afterward, he showed me some drawings from Monterosso done last year and also drawings done from the vaporetto in Venice. All of the drawings were so reminiscent of Leo in their brevity and respect for space, and what light!

At one of these drawings (a Venice; rounding the turn at the Academia) I exclaimed

“My, how Japanese” to which he replied

“yes, absolutely!... it was like I was saying hello,,, a small hello to the Japanese!”


His face suddenly lit up with childlike wonder at the drawing as if seeing it for the first time himself (like a child being surprised at his own drawings).

18 October 2020

T'is Grace, who offers up eye candy each afternoon



Two pictures from this past week, both with very different colour harmonies. Below, done before dusk while the other one painted just after sunset with a sky full of candy colours spread all over it.

They are different in another respect because the one above is closer to where I seem to be moving in this series. The one below is decidedly a work more related to where I have already been. But I love the light in it so I am not at all dissatisfied, and yet, I do see that it relates to the past.

Happily, none of this matters on a daily basis because I am always just happy to keep working from a motif which appears differently to me each day.

I have learned to accept that everything which Grace  offers up to me is a gift. My favourite painting will always be the one I make the following day.


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 12 October, 2020, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

16 October 2020

Spinelessly effete at foot in The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Delay of Philip Guston Retrospective Divides the Art World

“Philip Guston Now” has become Philip Guston in 2024, after four museums postponed an artist’s show that includes Klan imagery.

Poor Philip would roll in his grave if he saw this headline 40 years now after his death. I have always loved his devotion to Art through his own original vision crafted out of the Classics.

I first saw his work as a child in New York and his brushwork spoke to me. I am indebted to him for this very early feeling for the sensuous use of paint and the delicious insouciance of his oeuvre though at the time I was too young to understand his motifs. 

That he left his earlier adherence to the Abstraction Expressionist movement was courageous, but his intuition which led to the very far-out cartoonish paintings of his later life was clairvoyant. They led his return to the visual world of people, places, and things, after a whole detour through Abstract Expressionism. 

He wanted his images to speak out about social issues going on around him during that dark  American chapter. He found a voice through painterly means and he exploited it fully to illustrate the deadly racism so prevalent in his country. 

Here was a painter who adored both Piero della Francesca and Massacio, who managed  to channel their visual acuity, and to make something so irrelevant, and outrageously American in spirit on the one hand, yet so weirdly 14th century on the other.

And so he would be bereft at learning that his iconic paintings which make fun of the KKK will not be shown in the near future out of fear that they might upset the feelings of people whose lives, and "feelings", have already been ruined by the racism caused by the the KKK for decades in America.

The article appeared in The York Times about two weeks ago. 

11 October 2020

Cochlear crimes and charcoal bliss



One of the few drawings I still have from my second year in Aix-en Provence back in 1974.  I worked a lot in charcoal for some reason. As a drawing, I am not sure what to think of it but like a persistent memory which  still lives, I value it like a relic as it was an old flame whose name was Christie.

Below are drawings from a few months ago. It's curious to see what is similar but also what is different. Generally, I don't work with charcoal any more. The truth is I can't even say that I even draw with much steady discipline these days, but when I do, it has been with pen and ink. 

My work has become more graphic, for sure, over the years. Possibly, it's  from taking so many photographs in the last twenty years and doing some graphic work. But even the large paintings done in the studio these past years have developed a graphic surface. Below is an example from around 2012. And further below from 2019, done here in Australia at the beach at dusk.

They say that there are some parts of our body which are unique to each individual and which can be seen readily in a head shot. A face can become unrecognisable over time but the ear has a personal design structure which never alters of a life time. Detectives can identify someone 50 or 60 years later just from this seemingly strange detail. 

And one thing is for sure; it's that one's work can change over a lifetime but the brushwork will always reveal the painter.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 4 May, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

08 October 2020

an engagement with quibble

While preparing some paintings this morning it came to me that I may have been working from a concept instead of a vision. This is an interesting discussion.

I generally don't talk about Vision very much, somehow it seems too lofty an idea. At least it isn't in me to speak about myself using that noun. I would be more comfortable using the word concept when it comes to painting. And yet my hope be that at least some of my pictures were created out of a vision personal to myself. 

Somehow the idea of concept feels to me a little more mechanical, cerebral even, as in conceptual, whereas vision somehow implies a sense of the mysterious, almost mystical perhaps.

I approached my work the other night with an idea in my head. I wanted to just make very, very quick studies one after the other. In fact, I made 5, one right after the other. I was willing to leave them in a fresh state, unfinished-looking, as if made by a 6 year old. 

I was happy working with this idea in my mind because I  was aware of coming to the session with a concept which I accepted. They were not visionary, but the ensuing work which comes out of it might be in the future. For me, a vision comes through the work and the intuition which it subsequently engenders over time. In other words, a vision arrives over time from having worked on a motif at length. It arrives because of all the small failures and little adjustments one makes over time.

The two presented here closely resemble one another. Indeed they were probably done in sequence. Maybe the top one was painted just before the one below judging from the deepening yellow sky.

I am continually drawn to this citron yellow in the late afternoon before dusk even considers its arrival. There is this collision between the palest Prussian blue and the discreet yellow forming under it just over the horizon line. The sea has Prussian blue in it but also Ultramarine too. When I put too much Prussian blue in the sea, I look up again to see the sea suddenly begging me for Ultramarine and a touch more of Magenta. This is the most delicious part of working in front of a changing Nature. And this dialogue with the sky is a visual one and it has engaged me in conversation. That is why I paint from the Natural world. It is an escape from my self.

It is inexplicable to me that people would work from a photograph in order to render Nature. They are missing out on something quite magical. But that is another quibble for another time.

06 October 2020

Monet forever, the octopus diary, and Dr Frankenstein's malaise.

On my travels I have seen a lot of Abstract Painting in my day. But now it mostly comes to me online which is practical.

And yet, I rarely see much Light in it, even more rarely do I see much form or graphic unity in it. I know I am entering into the awful world of generalisations but as they say these days, it is what it is. 

I recently came across these photos I took from my last trip to the Musee Marmottan in Paris. They are selected 'crops' which I wanted to isolate in order to reveal this abstract unity which is ever present in so much of Monet's painting. 

In real life for a painter it can be very difficult to crop off bits from a picture in the studio while thinking that it can be preserved (kept alive). Too often, one can tell that they are simply 'crops' or 'cut outs' Lots of artists have done it in the 20th century, very successful ones and otherwise. I have done it too when I couldn't bear to trash a picture nor had I courage repair it. So I would cut them up. But then, I was never happy because I realised that I was just left with the amputated bits. None of the bits looked as good as I had imagined they would when separated from the mother ship, so to speak. Cutting off the Octopus legs only kills them, but the Octopus regenerates new ones as good as new such is the magnificence of this creature. Kind of like Dr Frankenstein in reverse, it seems.

This brings me to Claude Monet whose talents indeed came from the gods. And by that good fortune he had the gift of creating whole parts out of whole paintings. Go figure! There are but a few mighty painters but Claude Monet was certainly one of them

For me, each of these selections or 'cut outs' are 'finished', 'complete in themselves', still very much alive off into the world on their own. Enjoy!

04 October 2020

Nicholas de Staal and the dilemma of engagement

The other day a painter (and acquaintance)  asked me what I thought of some of her paintings. I had looked at them and was at a loss of how to be honest with her without hurting her feelings.  

A long time ago I learned to never ask anyone such a thing about my own work. I learned the hard way because once many years ago when I did question a friend about a painting and received a negative response, I got such a resentment that I almost went into cardiac arrest. I vowed to never fall into that trap again. Ha Ha, And, I haven't. 

If one cannot handle someone else's opinion then they should never broach the question.

I have learned to avoid this problem by simply explaining that I was not engaged by the work in question. And I wasn't lying. But then, I had to explain what I meant by engagement. It turned out reasonably OK, I think, as I waded into a swamp of ideas and concepts ad libbing the whole way.

But I realise that this question of engagement in Art is  crucial for me. What does it mean to be engaged both intellectually and emotionally by something which we collectively assume to be Art? I know that it really doesn't matter for 99/100 of the world population but hey, if you are reading this it must mean something. 

Art criticism is an age old endeavour, one which was fairly widespread in the wealthier nations up until the 19th century. All hell broke loose in the 20th century, while now in the first 2 decades of this century, it is such a delicate subject that only the really brave, (and angry)  either consider it still something real, or just a dusty remnant of pre-post-modernist library. 

I love the debate about Art though but I am hardly a public persona. Yet, how I look at a painting is as important to me as the ranking of one's favourite football team to someone else. 

To be in front of a painting, and engaged in it,  can reveal the same emotions as that of an epicurean's last few panting steps before entering a 3 star Michelin restaurant in Burgundy. It is an affair of passion. 

If I am drawn into a work's intelligence and beauty I can assert that I am engaged. But I demand a high intelligence and a deep sense of beauty which is inextricably linked to Truth.

So, just for fun, I throw up a few images by Nicholas de Staal who lived and worked around Provence, La Drôme, Antibes and Paris. Poor guy, after a very productive life of work he killed himself (défenestré) at the young age of 41, apparently jumping out of a window in the middle of Antibes. 

I have a soft spot for any artist who kills himself even if I haven't always understood his work. But I can engage with these pictures. I understand their graphic truth.


30 September 2020

Prussian Blue, I love you in Harry's Bar

Salute, 1985, oil on canvas board, 35 X 27 cm

The vaporettos of Venice are as crowded at rush hour as any buses in New York, Paris or London. Everyone is packed tight like sardines in these boats. In Venice, the vaporetto churn and sway, pushed around by other sea traffic much the same as a New York subway car.

Many years ago when I used to go to Venice to paint I carried an old army pack which housed my paints, turps, brushes, and such. I also attached the laminate palette to the army pack so it hung off the back. At that time I didn't remove the slabs of oil paint from my palette, I cleaned only the large surface of it while leaving the swabs of colours hanging in thick splotches. So in transit, the primary colours were left to fend for themselves on the palette like sherpas on a mountain face. It was a stupid way of operating and I was kind of aware of it too.

One late afternoon I was on the vaporetto on my way to the Gardens to paint San Giorgio at sunset. I had gotten on a vaporetto at Accademia heading East towards San Mark's and it was loaded with a great variety of fellow commuters; shopkeepers, tradespeople, maids, tourists, business types, glamorous couples, and everyone else. I was seated on the right side and people were pushed up tight around me. My bag pack was on my lap with the palette facing away from me, out towards the world.

At Ca' Rezzonico a big crowd got on the boat making it heave from side to side and a glamorously tanned couple were discretely pushed up against me by the sudden influx. The woman who must have been in her thirties, was talking rapidly with her companion. He was was wearing one of those slim Venetian tan suits, a blue shirt, and wearing an elegant tie. He wore slim  Italian loafers which I could see where I was seated just below him. A handsome man, jet black hair flying in the wind, he was the kind of man who in those days might elicited a slight envy in me I confess. The woman was right out of Vogue. Her chestnut coloured hair held in place by a colourful silk scarf, she wore large black sunglasses à la Jackie, a pair of delicate shoes, a magnificent silk dress patterned in small Ultramarine  blue stripes running every which way if I can remember it after so many years. She was beauty, and I was flustered especially when she was jolted towards me, glancing quickly at me and softly said "Mi scusi". Though we were all in the magnificent lagoon underneath the the shadow of the looming Salute to our right, it was still the sloppiness of Rush Hour like anywhere in the world.

The next stop was on the left at one of the first of threes stops for San Mark's and the Hotel Europa. The exit ramp gave away to a small alleyway which went right past the discreet entrance to Harry's Bar on the right.  

These boats approach the dock slowly but then roar into reverse throwing everyone off balance like in a New York subway car. As we pulled into the next stop, the boat lurched, heaving everyone back and forth. And  it was this last jolt of the vaporetto, and as a consequence, created for me a dilemma from which I recoiled with the grandest cowardice. For on that last jounce this beautiful woman's dress collided with my palette, brushing it lightly as the French might say: "ç'a frôlé", like a butterfly's wing.

Completely oblivious, she moved with ease among the other disembarking passengers to the boat exit with her handsome man in tow while I focused on her dress. For I saw with distress several fresh Prussian Blue streaks across her backside. I froze.

To be fair, I didn't have much time. I mean, what a terrifically awful scene it would have been had I jumped up and out at her to explain in my fragile Italian that due to my civic recklessness I had destroyed her beautiful silk dress. This alone would have created a completely different outcome to the story.

Then, again, the recklessness, no,.. the utter chaos of what I had unleashed would have been far worse.  For I had understood that such a well-dressed couple were not returning home after a day at the dry cleaners, no,,, they were out for the evening, and first stop was Harry's Bar where tout le monde went to be seen, to drink caprinis with movie stars and wealthy aristocrats.

All this flashing through my poor brain in a nano second while the boat, having filled up with fewer people now prepared to continue onward towards the Lido which was its final destination.

I sat in a state of shock and shame, and I slowly turned the palette around to see it disfigured with a broad swarth of blue and a bit of  lemon yellow. My mind filled up quickly with scenes from a film in my head about what was shortly to transpire. As the vaporetto pulled away, I watched the woman casually walking up towards Harry's Bar, cool and beautiful, unaware of the storm awaiting her fabulousness,.. and I thought,

 "What have I just done?"

By the time the vaporetto was making its next stop further onward at the end of St Mark's Square I had already created a timeline for the mess I had made. Chaos would be unfolding, as the woman took her seat at a table. Prussian Blue would quickly find its way outwards and into the dining room like a virus. It would move with stealth everywhere. It was just a matter of time, I surmised, before all Hell would break loose.

I imagined several scenarios but the one which stayed with me after 40 years is this one:

I saw the Head waiter showing the couple to their table. There might be a little air-kissing for acquaintances on the way. The Head waiter would then hold the back of the chair for the madame, the madame would gently fold the back of her dress with one of her small hands to glide herself smoothly in so as not to crease her lovely dress. And just from this gentle manoeuvre she might have felt the sticky oil paint with her delicate fingers before bringing her left hand up to see an errant blue curling itself around her golden ring and pinkie.

Even after all these years, I can not envision the look of confused horror which must have lit up her face as she jumps up, spins around and sees Prussian Blue on the base of the chair while at the same time grasping at the back of her silk dress incredulously.

Would she yell at the poor bus boy nearby? Would she scream, or just cry out with anger? Who would she blame? The entire room would go deathly silent for sure, and our poor heroine, whom I now call her, is shaking her slender tanned wrists with emotion. Flapping their clean hands, waiters in white, scurry around the table like impatient geese. This is an Italian film, after all. Her handsome companion suddenly standing in solidarity, but rather cluelessly. Who could blame him?

How long before all the main actors found the cause of this pandemonium? 5 minutes? Ten? At least for a few long moments anyway, I mused to myself already, at least a kilometre away from ground zero by now. But Prussian Blue would have the upper hand in this comedy, or drama, depending on whose perspective.

Eventually the culprit would be identified as the poor woman's dress and she would eventually find her way to the ladies room where the smartly dressed but elderly attendant would help her smudge out the paint while ruining at least a dozen white linen towels. Our heroine hoping to clean it up enough to get through dinner. Her mind, dizzy with questions. How? What? why? Would she remember the weird looking fellow with a palette seated on the vaporetto? 

Meanwhile, in the dining room, waiters would have removed the infected chair, replaced it, and cleaned away anything Blue. The Head waiter like a house dick in a 1940's film would have nervously circled around other tables to see if there was a bigger problem of BLUE elsewhere. (BLUE! Sacré BLUE!)

The other diners discreetly inspecting  jackets, dresses, jewelry, and even socks and shoes before getting the All Clear and turning back to their own meals. Suddenly, there was something interesting happening! And this would be great dinner gossip for years to come.

Eventually our heroine would return to the dining room. And because of her beauty, her return might elicit a brisk applause as she entered, cheekily inspected her new chair to everyone's amusement before seating herself quickly, though now on a towel placed over it stealthily by a quick thinking waiter.

At the same time, the cowardly painter having arrived at his motif, had set up his easel and begun to paint San Giorgio before the sun set.