15 April 2021

L'air de rien #170 Terry Riley (best on mushrooms)

Back in 1970, in my first semester in Art school at the University of Denver, I took a drawing class with the San Francisco artist Ken MacDonald. He was a hardcore hippie. 

For the very first class he put this piece on the record player and instructed us to draw, paint, whatever: a recent dream we might have had.

It was quite something, really; and I ran out after class to buy the album and became a Terry Riley fan ever since. This excerpt is from the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

14 April 2021

Autumn anarchy


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 12 April, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm 

The Autumn skies have arrived and they reveal the Winter light. A Southerly brought a chill to the nights which told me I have to get to work on the wood pile. 

This sky is, of course exaggerated, but after a summer of nothing happening in my quiet life I seem to want to throw some hot sauce into it, a little anarchy in any way I can.  

I made three studies the other night. This was the second one done as the sky began to really cook. What is difficult to describe when working on a changing motif like this is that if one doesn't throw enough 'heat' at the canvas the picture will look weak and insipid compared to what's out there. But if one throws too much 'heat' on the picture the motif can suddenly look feeble and faded in comparison. Everything is relative to these two spaces; the motif out there, and the painting on the easel right here. So, I try to remain somewhere in the middle.

11 April 2021

upside down


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 10 April 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

It was a humid evening session. There were families frolicking in the pale glassy sea with an easy surf. 

I wanted to try something a little different so I painted the sea before the sky. I almost never do this but on this day I was feeling antsy to break with my own habits (which do die hard) when it comes to Painting rituals. 

A group of young kids kept coming by to see the progress of the three studies that I eventually made that afternoon. Sweet kids, they were playing pirates in the sand dune not far away. It was Saturday and many of the families were from Brisbane, Melbourne, and the Gold Coast. They are surprised to see a painter on the dunes at the end of the small path but they smell the turpentine long before they see me. Then, often, many will come to up to see what I am up to, the kids especially. It is always very friendly, and they are very polite. Maybe because I seem as exotic and as strange-looking as a Martian. They really don't know what to make of me, which I find amusing. 

I had wanted to leave this picture in a sketchy mode but I went further than I had anticipated. This happens often. Where to stop? 

But I rather like it as a study, maybe it's a harbinger of something to come in the future. Who knows?

I took the three out of the boot of my car this morning to photograph. At one point I looked at this one and I wondered what it would look like upside down. It's kind of interesting.

10 April 2021

The infamous white and gold dress which is really black and blue

I only just came across this fascinating story a few weeks ago when I was reading about the British hiker in Devon who took the photograph of the ship which appeared to be hovering over the English Channel. This in turn took me to a link about optical illusions which again took me to this story about a woman wearing the dress above and below. 

One can readily find the article about this which will explain it easier than me. But the gist of it is this: 

A woman posted a photo of the bride at a wedding who was wearing this dress. It created havoc because many people saw the dress as white and gold while others as blue and black. The story Ballooned from there and began to ricochet around the globe within days.

What interests me in all this is just how it throws much of my own ideas about colour on its head. I could not imagine that people would see such different colours! And of course, this is my own solipsistic way of seeing paintings. I am so used to seeing paintings through what I imagine to be a 'universal' set of eyeballs, as it were. How wrong I could be! 
I understand that the original photo of the woman wearing the dress was removed due to all the exposure, understandably. She was in fact in Jamaica on her honeymoon oblivious to everything when all this blew up. But that is unfortunate because it is really the original photo in this context which reveals the divergent ways that people were seeing the colours, black/ blue or gold and white

Everyone on Twitter wade in on it, all of them expressing very strong opinions on the colours which they were sure that they were seeing.

For instance, I saw the woman wearing a white and gold dress, very clearly, I might add, as did many others. But then, just as many saw a black and blue dress!

So the question it raises for me is exactly how does everyone see a painting? What colours do they really see? 

And I do understand that this example has to do with a photo of colours in a taken in an an artificial environment which is one step away from a direct experience like that of seeing a painting directly, or a woman wearing the dress in person.

But what does it mean for paintings if, according to science that many people have different amounts of  blue components in their retinas?

Anyway, it is interesting story.

(Below is an art from the NYT explaining the phenomena behind this optical illusion. But the dress is in fact a black and blue dress and sold in London for around 49 British Pounds, as illustrated just below.


The mother of the bride wore white and gold. Or was it blue and black?

From a photograph of the dress the bride posted online, there was broad disagreement. A few days after the wedding last weekend on the Scottish island of Colonsay, a member of the wedding band was so frustrated by the lack of consensus that she posted a picture of the dress on Tumblr, and asked her followers for feedback.

“I was just looking for an answer because it was messing with my head,” said Caitlin McNeill, a 21-year-old singer and guitarist.

Within a half-hour, her post attracted some 500 likes and shares. The photo soon migrated to Buzzfeed and Facebook and Twitter, setting off a social media conflagration that few were able to resist.

As the debate caught fire across the Internet — even scientists could not agree on what was causing the discrepancy — media companies rushed to get articles online. Less than a half-hour after Ms. McNeil’s original Tumblr post, Buzzfeed posted a poll: “What Colors Are This Dress?” As of Friday afternoon, it had been viewed more than 28 million times. (White and gold was winning handily.)

09 April 2021

Vincent Van Gogh lives in the Courtauld Institute at Somerset House

This, I confess, is a re-print from 2 December, 2012 which I just came across again today. I wanted to post it anew (just because I can!). Enjoy!

In London recently, I visited the Courtauld Institute at Somerset House. Everywhere, one's attention is split into small bits by so many wonderful things. But it was this self-portrait which hung by itself in a large wood-paneled room which so surprised me. I spent a long time with it and I think because it was alone I was able to completely plug into it. Often paintings hanging side by side in rooms can be a distracting affair. This amazing portrait must have been painted just days after Vincent cut off his ear. I know there is another version with a red background, also with a bandage, but its this one which I find mesmerizing. 

Firstly, I find it so beautifully done with its cool and disjunctive color harmonies prancing around lime yellow. Its a complex painting despite its apparent simplicity at first view. Its so flat, and distinctly drawn from an obsessive love for Japanese portraiture. The prussian blue hat (which also figures in the other portrait) with its almost black fringe acts like a kind of black hole around which everything seems to gravitate. 

Well,.. for me it is extraordinary, beautiful, and yes; perfect. Its a truthful portrait and one can only imagine what the ordinary, uninspired folk of the 19th century  must have seen: Ugliness! It was Baudelaire who once said that often, new and original works of Art can look ugly on first viewing. How vigilant this forces us to be in our contemporary times.

Ultimately what trapped me in front of it for an hour was its Humanity, the deep rich humility of the person which Vincent so apparently possessed. There isn't a hint of sentimentality anywhere, just a plea perhaps to God, that he might be understood. 

08 April 2021

Ugo Rondinone tangos with Samual Beckett


This performance was cogently concise, clearly weird; It's a witty existential display of the absurd which might have pleased André Breton if he hadn't been such a dour sourpuss of a Parisian snob.

I was amazed, and I stayed riveted for about an hour or so walking about in this space through which one was invited to contemplate life. While I was there hardly a dozen people passed through, many of them with wry smiles and confounded looks.

I remember that it was December 9th, and my birthday. I was in Sydney for a few days so I went to the Gallery of New South Wales to contemplate my own passing years by having a cake in the cafeteria. Looking back, all this seems now like an extravagance, ambulating through these public spaces, carefree, and without a worry, watching others do the same. 

Perhaps, this is at the truth of why the piece is so engaging, captivating, and so absurdly serious. What has the pandemic taught us about ourselves? How do we live? Who do we love? What do we really care about as we move too quickly through Life? 

This piece comprised of two clowns made of unknown substances don't move and they only seem to speak through an audio loop playing again and again the same dreary dialogue. It is a play, in fact, and maybe Samual Beckett would have approved had he meandered through this space zoomed up from the 19th century. He might have even asked, 

"Isn't this what theatre is all about?"

07 April 2021

the unknown soldier, an unknown painter

                         120 X 90 cm

This is a painting that my brother picked up in a flea market for $35 a few years back. He hung it in an alcove near the entrance to his home, and I have always coveted it. 

The other evening I went by for dinner with him and I saw that he had taken it down and it leaned against a wall looking like a wounded soldier. I said,

"What's up this this?" to which replied,

"I am getting rid of it". 

"Oh, I said, surprised.

"What, you want it?"

My heart leapt up out of me.

"Really? Wow,, how come?"

"I have too many paintings", he said with a kind of sigh. It's true he collects a lot of paintings and things.

I couldn't believe my luck so to mitigate the arrangement I told him I would just keep it in the interim, to which he agreed. But he is so generous; we both knew that he meant for me to keep it.

So, now it hangs over my piano and I am really happy like a small child who was given a cherished teddy bear.

So being the curious type I became interested in the why, of whom, from where about this painting. Luckily there was a faint telephone number on the backside along with the artist's name written in pencil.

The painter's name is Rich Metcalf and he painted it in 1997. I looked him up but found nothing. I looked up MARKWELL PACIFIC, the subject of the picture which turns out to be some sort of food company which still exists.

Why the fuss? Though it is not easy to discern, the light; the luminosity in this modest oil painting is quite remarkable and it begs the question of whether it was done in a studio or on site. The former seems unlikely, but to make such a thing in a studio would reveal a painter with vision and a lot of talent, but I have not found much of that here in Australia. 

Secondly, I really feel something in front of this picture, and isn't that what it's really all about? It is what makes the art of Painting so rare. It's something which music lovers, book lovers experience all the time but in the world of Painting it is rare, especially in this time we live in today with so much digital distraction.

This picture has a simple quality to it, an unpretentious side which speaks to a frankness I don't often experience in today's art world. Perhaps some would find it kitsch because of its subject matter but I do not. It is actually much nicer than the photo suggests. 

It manifests a specificity loyal to its subject matter but it also floods outward beyond the picture and into the world of Art. What I mean to say is that for me, it has a certain kind of beauty sufficient enough to uproot it from its home in parochial Australia to land it back in Europe where it originally came from. 

Here in Australia only the Aboriginals have an original Art form, the kind created from spiritual myth, and conceived in a space between the landscape and the stars. The rest of Art is basically European, and like a family which intermarries for too long, the results are never good over the long term  

The floral landscape, as little as there is, depicts exactly what one sees around the southern tip of Queensland, it has truth, but without that awful photo-finish that one finds rampant these days, here and elsewhere. The water is that of a river moving gently along without a worry in the world, reflecting the  bright white light of Queensland where only fools go out without sunglasses.

Lastly, it seems sad to me that it could be had for only $35 dollars which represents an hour's work here in Australia for a good paying menial job, of which there are plenty. But it is the way it is, so they say. Perhaps I indulge in Romanticism, but hey! Someone down here has to do it.

So my quest will be to sleuth out this artist, I am sure he is out there somewhere, if even in an unmarked grave like an unknown soldier. More to be revealed.

05 April 2021

hats off to the little guy with a big heart

A visit to a small but wonderful toy store I stumbled upon in Taree when driving to Sydney a few years ago. 

I hope he is still there, but between the fires last year and the floods and pandemic this year he would be hurting. Hats off to the little guy with a big heart.

(update: just saw online that the store shut its doors on 1 November 2018, alas....)

04 April 2021

castles burning at dusk


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 April, 2021, oil on canvas      board, 30 X 25 cm

These three came easily the other night to my surprise. It was a big sky full of clouds looking like castles, many of which were on fire. A sky I dread. But I set up and waited for most of the fires to go out as the sun dropped in the horizon behind me to the west. 

"All this melodrama going on in the sky! You would think that JESUS was arriving on a chariot for Easter!"

I thought this as I set up and gently stepped into the first study (above). The clouds will often dissipate as twilight sets in and the sharp edges of everything soften leaving puddles of colour. By then, I know I am in and my worries have left. The second study didn't photograph well at all. It is much nicer in real life, but this is rare, it's usually the reverse.


    Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 April, 2021, oil on canvas         board, 30 X 25 cm

By the time I pick up a third canvas board (a smaller one) the sky is a gentle giant and it allows me free rein to do as I please with it, and by this time I feel at ease and wished I could keep going but for the falling night. 

If I have any reproach it is that they are studies which harken back to the past. 

It is what it is though because I cannot control what goes on out there. I just set up and try to find a way into a painting, any painting. They come as they do, and I am grateful for their truth.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 April, 2021, oil on canvas      board, 25 X 20 cm

02 April 2021

l'air de rien #61 (Can on a hot tile roof)

I cannot believe it has been 17 years since I made this little video. I think I had a small Canon G7 back then. It had such primitive capabilities compared to what is available today!

I was in a bedroom which gave onto a small terrace on the roof one afternoon, probably reading or taking a snooze on my bed. I loved being there above the faded bustling of the streets below but where also the daily prayer blasted into my life 6 times a day from the mosque minaret almost hovering over me.

But on this afternoon I began to hear the annoying sound of something rhythmically scraping intermittently on the roof outside. So I went out to see this remarkable ballet going on just for me, apparently. 

Of course, I could kick myself for not getting more of it, not doing it better, etc, etc... But maybe it was just meant to be shot in this quick, spontaneous manner, after all. First thought, best thought.

Mais pourtant,,,,


31 March 2021

dragonflies and snowflakes seen through the porthole


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

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

Two studies from the other night which revealed something slightly new for me. I see that if I wait long enough, but not too long, there opens a fragile window onto a map of delicate colour harmonies which beckon me way after the sun has dropped behind. It is a small opening though, a porthole, hardly 30 minutes when this Autumn sky gently diffuses into the most extraordinary palette. 

Maybe I sound redundant because I am sure to  have already written these thoughts on a number of occasions in these pages. 

It is not that the sky has changed of course. It is that I have opened up to this new delicacy as if suddenly I acquired a passion for some unusual new hobby like catching and classifying dragonflies or the photography of snowflakes.

It is something so ever present, usually overlooked, banal even, but which becomes a sudden passion, perhaps like knowing a woman since a long time, but one day, quite out of the blue, one suddenly sees her, and falls deeply in love. And one is spellbound by the event.

After all, the clouds have always been there, up high and just out of reach since forever even if most people do not spend a great deal of time studying them the way children and misfits can, and usually do.

So in this Painting world, I am always amazed that Nature reveals more of itself just when needed, like when one wonders if maybe they have hit a dead end on their chosen path.

I keep thinking of something Cézanne said:

"There is truth in Nature, and I am going to prove it".

Alas, for the rest of us amateurs, we slog along behind him ruminating his confidence and hoping to pick up scraps of it along the way. 

30 March 2021

29 March 2021

each moment, even each rainy day


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 27 March, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 30 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 27 March, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 30 cm

A small series of four pictures from the other night which came quickly. It was the first clear sky in a week, at least and it felt good to be out mixing colours. Out of the four, I really only like the second and fourth ones but I put them all up though not in the order they were made. 

There isn't much to say except that at least they live because I created them when I did. For many years I often used to curse myself when I didn't work because it felt to me (in only a very metaphorical way as I do not wish to offend anyone) it was like having an abortion. If I didn't show up to take a chance  on life, none of these things would see the light of day, nor would I have the pleasure and the pain of each creation.

So, I take what I can each day, each moment, even each rainy day. 

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 27 March, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 30 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 27 March, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 30 cm

28 March 2021

Leigh Bowery meets EX de Medici in my kitchen


A friend of mine stumbled by the other day. He had been to the Myocum Tip store which is a few Kms away from where I live. His obsession is picking things up at the Tip, things he has little use for in the present but imagines he could use someday in the future. His wife complains openly that he is a hoarder. He stops in for a coffee sometimes. The other day he brought 1/4 of a delicious apple cake which he had made. He is generous Greek who arrived in Melbourne as a child. He loves to cook and spread his food around, it's his way of spreading love. He also brought an outdated Art Monthly Australia dated June 2004 which the guy at the Tip probably gave him because he is such a fan.

shopping at Harrods

as muse for Lucien Freud

This morning I picked it up from the kitchen table where it was left days ago. I quickly perused it flipping through the pages and saw an article on Leigh Bowery who has always fascinated me as an amazingly creative and original man. He was one of Lucien Freud's most famous muse. He was like a brawl between two gangs of thugs, amazing to watch, spellbinding the public both erudite and popular, while shocking everyone else. And sadly, like all sparkling champagne it goes flat, and he died of AIDS in London in 1994 at 33.

So today, I read the article on him but I then stumbled upon another article featuring EX Medici of whom I had never heard. A tattoo artist who made large intricate watercolours among other artistic pursuits. She is very well regarded in Australia and will have a major show at the NVG in Melbourne at the end of this year. 

Full disclosure: I don't like her work but I see that it is original, and she is very gifted in her craft. I like her obsessional personality, so evident and strikingly fastidious. She is a serious artist, full of an intricate imagination. 

She deals with very contemporary subjects in a dystopian vein which is in itself a whole genre of contemporary art today. Guns which seem to be have been taken over by nature's flora is interesting and is re-iterated in many pieces. It reminds me of the famous (iconic) photo from the 1960's of the hippy girl putting a flower into the barrel of an M16 held by a Ohio National guardsman standing guard after the killings at Kent State University. 

I can also see why she is very successful, and I say this without any catty inference. When I see originality and great talent I hope to recognise it but I am not beholden to liking it. 

My taste, which is just what it means, is personal. In the arty world there great things which I do not appreciate nor like at all, just as there are things which I deem to be awful  but I can like very much. 

This is at the heart of having a mind which is both original and fallible. 

Here are more examples of her work.


24 March 2021

the think with the sink


I have this thing about keeping a sink clean, at least during the waking hours anyway. Is it obsessional or just practical? Having lived alone most of my life, and having no maid for this kind of thing, I seem to have always understood what needs to be done for my own sanity.

But why the sink? I care less about the laundry pile which has been washed and dried outside but seem to take forever to find its way to drawers and hangers. It lives in the purgatory  of sofas and tables for weeks on end. But because I don't receive many visitors I don't worry about the visual mess. There is already so much visual mess around my home.

But the kitchen, on the other hand seems to be the Central Nervous System of my life. And the sink is the heart of that system. 

Keeping a clean sink is a great way to pretend that one's life is clean and ordered;  organised for a chaotic world outside the protections of home. 

And it is in my home where I eat exclusively so my kitchen sink is used a lot. It's great pleasure to eat at home though in this region, one can eat out like a king and queen if they so desire. This is foodie country around Byron Bay.

I have a plumber who remarked to me after doing  a few things around the place over the years. 

"I can tell this kitchen is the most important place in your home!"

I agreed, only just to keep the conversation at a minimum but he was in the ballpark though. My small deck overlooking the garden is a very close second.

So the sink, one thinks... what about it? On one level, yes, it is my desire for the order which I cannot find in my mind, in my life. When the sink and kitchen is clean and sober I have a chance at being clean and sober, so I muse to myself. 

But on another level, it isn't really about the sink at all, it's about the preparation for my own random, and possibly impending death. 

When I lived in Aix, a million years ago, I was completely mad about hang gliding. I flew for 20 years and I went flying any chance I could mostly near Gemonos, not far from Marseille. It was a small bowl of a small mountain where we could climb high enough to see the whole coastline from Cassis to La Ciotat. Then, most weekends I flew with friends at various sites around the Southern Alps, but also too, in Italy in the summer. It was a glorious time; It was my youth.

But here is the thing: Whenever I left my house to go flying I always cleaned up the sink and I arranged the place so that it looked neat and orderly upon return. I was acutely aware that I might die, or become disabled if I screwed up in flight and I didn't want anyone else to be faced with a messy house. But especially if I died, then my friends would have to sadly make their way into this small house to figure out a way to contact my next of kin. 

Why would I wish them to face a mess and a sink filled with unwashed cups and dirty dishes?  

This was the real thing about the sink.

23 March 2021

first thought best thought


This was a photo of a study from last year taken before I went further with it. Sometimes I will take a photo of something on the easel in order to preserve an idea which I know will soon be lost. Not sure what became of this painting when finished, but looking at it now, I really like its unfinished state.

One never really sees what one does at the time of creation. It takes time.

21 March 2021

Clouds, the colour of mountain tops

Several days of heavy rain has kept me away from the beach yet I did manage these small things in between squalls the other night. 

When I arrived at the beach it didn't look brilliant. I wondered if I could find enough of a clearing in the sky where I could grab and hold on to something long enough to find a few pictorial ideas.  

As I unpacked and set up a palette some patches of blue opened up as if I had commanded "OpenSesame!" Faith is the key.

To find a parallel to Rock Climbing would not be imprecise. Arriving at a motif, (in this case the beach and sky) I immediately study the wall of solid clouds above me trying to decipher a point of entry. If it isn't opaque there will be some veins of light running through it and providing colour (hopefully). Without these veins of light there is less of a chance for colour. Alas, no light no colour. 

And like the climber, a painter is a child of patience (well, sort of). Without it, one cannot proceed with care, but in failure, a climber has more to lose than a painter. 

Arriving at the summit both climber and painter feel an enormous relief, a satisfaction too.

Happily, on the other night, there was light and colour. The result isn't exactly fireworks but maybe the subtlety within these harmonies will lead to new paintings in the near future.

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


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

18 March 2021

pale colours pasted on the soft yellow sky

The rain keeps coming! My late afternoon painting sessions are sporadic in this weather and so it pushes me into the studio. It is difficult to ever complain about too much rain, unless one lives on the coast of Ireland or Britain. Here it comes and goes like a cat through any window. 

One afternoon last week the sky brought me these three gifts. I wasn't so crazy about the first two, which are in order. It was the third one which pleased me the most. But now, I kind of like the first two as well. 

It was clear but for the sleeping cloud above the horizon line, so naturally it was rose to begin with. Then, it goes purple, cold like a recent cadaver. Then comes that particular moment when the entire sky opens up again, and lightens dramatically. Though obviously not a scientist I have understood it to be when the sun has dropped so deeply behind the western sky that it shoots all its light upwards giving us an evenness of luminosity everywhere. 

But anyway, in the third smaller one I do like the simple stripes of pale colours pasted gently upon the soft yellow sky. Colours seem diffused at that hour and also seem to meld into one another. I am beginning to really enjoy this time for painting.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 13 March, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

    Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 13 March, 2021, oil on   canvas board, 30 X 25 cm


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 13 March, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

16 March 2021

Bejiing, behold the beauty in the eye of the artist

Credit...Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

The terrible beauty of pollution now affecting Beijing is revealed in these two photographs. Apparently due to a dust storm to the northwest of the country, the air quality is at a minimum. There isn't much to say except that I find these pictures quite extraordinary. Though I cannot imagine what it would be like to live under such conditions, there is beauty in the eyes of the two photographers.

Credit...Noel Celis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images