30 March 2024

Painters and Pianists

This morning I spent over an hour playing just two measures of a difficult piece by Erik Satie. It took me a short while to get into it but then after I did, time melted away.

It was difficult tempo that had to be burned into my head and fingers through concentrated repetition. By the end I got up and made more coffee and then I suddenly marvelled at how I was able to do this at all because for most of my life I had been so ill-constructed for any kind of concentration. And as a child I could never pay attention for longer than the time it took to scratch my own nose. Unlike today, they didn’t have fancy names for this sort of demeanour back in the 1950's, nor was their any medication for it. But I would have been a fine candidate for it all. The best explanation they had for me was that I was a redhead.(!) 

This kind of concentration on a piece of music even on just a few measures feels so vastly different from how I operate out in a painting session today. 

But why would I want to invest four months of piano practice just to learn a new piece by Erik Satie? Like so many amateur musicians (and mountaineers worldwide) I proclaim, mostly to myself, "because it’s there!!”

Recently, I watched a great interview on YouTube hosted by the musician and journalist, Rick Beato in Atlanta. He talked with Brad Mehldau a pianist who I didn't know, and it was absolutely wonderful. See him (above) playing Blackbird, at the Steinway factory in Hamburg from two years ago. 

Like a great painter Brad Mehldau expands lots of rich relationships in this lovely song by Paul McCartney, the lyrics of which were inspired by the racial tensions in the American South. 

Mehldau plays it with luscious harmonies that he gently weaves out of it like he was making taffy at a country fair. This rendition reminds me of the way Pierre Bonnard painted his pictures; patiently, richly, and ever expanding a whole image as if one were watching fireworks in slow motion. 

My Painting teacher Léo Marchutz, once said that the greater the number of relationships in a work of art, the greater the work of art.

But I bring all this up because at a certain moment in the interview he spoke about the 'flow', and how essential it is when improvising music. He said, "Thought was the enemy of the 'flow'". A cliché for sure, but it's a truth that any creator, athlete, barrister in a court room will attest to, no matter the art form. The flow is how the world of creativity functions.

And it's something I'm always conscious of in both Painting and in the study of music, but also just  playing tennis or even reading a book.
But I must confess that this idea of the 'flow' came quite late in my creative life. I recently only began to learn about it specifically through the piano but also in my sessions at the beach over the past six years. With the exception of LSD, this 'flow' had mostly eluded me for most of my life.

Au Chateaunoir, early 1990's, oil on canvas board, 30 X 22 cm

But this older painting (above) is a rare early example of the 'flow' that I've somehow managed to connect with in my painting process. I include it here because it was such a rarity and because for me it has a certain feeling in it, one of a constant musical movement that I recognise. 

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 3 February 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This painting (above) on the other hand, was randomly selected to reveal the flow in my working process today. But I could have picked any number of these oil studies
(out of hundreds) to reveal the presence of the how the 'flow' was cemented into my way of working on a picture. It's a shame that it came to me so late in life but my mind wasn't able to access it earlier on a steady basis. Alas. 

These paintings always come quickly with little hesitation or thought. I generally set up to work before Dusk when I am assured of the greatest number of colourful changes to come. This rapid procedure insures that I will be pushed out of the thought process as if I were improvising on the piano.

But the painting motif is simple just like the melody for the pianist. This allows the focus to be oriented around the harmonic key changes. And this is how the flow normally begins for both painters and pianists.   

27 March 2024

Vincent Van Gogh, the biggest con artist in history!

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 19 March 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here are three things from last week when the sky opened up between weather systems arriving from the Eastern seaboard. It was a lovely 'Bloom' but was a little short-lived as it shut down quickly. But while it lasted, Yes!

There are presented as they were successively painted. This top one, I really liked it right off the bat and for once, I stopped just in time because my guardian angel came to me in the form of a magpie which wandered around my easel while looking straight at me, she gently sang in that warbling kind of way they do here in OZ. So I said, 

"OK, Grace,,, I hear you, and thank you."

So I dutifully stopped work and left it despite my inclination to continue. It had come very quickly and I was grateful because when I haven't been painting out here so regularly I feel nervous. I'm badgered with questions on the 12 minute drive to the beach, (What am I doing? Shouldn't I find something else to paint? I'm too tired, too sore, so maybe I'll stay on the sofa and read). But somehow I almost always seem to show up regardless of ME. And like they say, I'm always taken care of,,, always.

In the second one, the sea had turned pale blue and afterwards when I had finished it felt a little spooky to me. Today it still does. I'm not sure why but maybe the orange sky feels a little too 'bloody'. But as many landscape painters will tell you; 

"Hey! it really looked like this!! No kidding around!"

But actually, I've got news for you, if the viewing public hasn't figured it already, I'll let you in on a big secret hiding in plain sight: All artists are liars! We're all liars, all of us,,,, we're con artists because the motif never really looks like we say it did, ask anyone. Ask Vincent Van Gogh, the biggest liar in Art history! 

Everything we do is distorted (ask Picasso), twisted (ask Chaim Soutine), fanciful (ask Marc Chagall) theatrical, Philip Guston, long-in-the tooth, ask Giacometti.

Everyone of us is a Pinocchio in a hoodie.

But regardless, it was wonderful to be out painting with a small breeze on my face and a rather empty beach save the usual suspects; beach walkers, a few surfers, the late afternoon bathers who finish work and come to jump in for a short splash, then back to family dinners or take-outs, and then Netflix for everyone. This Australian beach life is pretty laid back like most Australians are in general, pretty much everywhere around the world.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 19 March 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

The last painting (below) was somewhat of an afterthought. The 'Bloom' had almost evaporated but I thought I might eek-out another study from the light traces of colour still imprinted on the sky. 

It's a strange picture that began with such promise but I lost it and my heart sank. Here it is anyway. As I say, all too redundantly here in these pages, only Time will tell if it's true.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 19 March 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

19 March 2024

Mail from beyond the grave


I just watched a new CNN report about the crash of TWA flight 800 back on the 17th of July 1997.  For so many of us who often flew this route from New York to Paris it hit home as these events always will. They become personalised.

I was back in Aix when it happened and like everyone else I was saddened. But the next year I was again back in Aix that summer and I received a large beaten-up looking envelope from the post office in Queens New York. I opened it not without curiosity and found this letter inside a small plastic bag. Accompanying it was a letter from the Queens Post office explaining that my letter had just been released by the FBI after their investigation into the TWA flight had been terminated and they were therefore allowed to deliver it to me. Shocked as I was happy to receive it under such macabre circumstances, I opened and read it.

It was from a friend with whom I shared a regular correspondence, John Spinks, an artist living in NY. There are several things about this that I need to note about this strange occurrence.

John, by habit, always wrote with a ball-point pen so thus the ink was pretty indelible, as seen in the photo above. On the other hand, had it been a letter from me to him it would not have survived because I have always written by habit, with a fountain pen, using blue/black ink that was almost never indelible. So it would not have survived the Atlantic Ocean. 

When I wrote back to John with a photo of his envelope he was naturally flabbergasted and because he worked principally with collage I believe he turned it into an art work almost immediately.

I am sure that many others received their mail like me after such a long time. Like every tragedy we seem to all be witnesses by varying degrees. 

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 7 March 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm 

In this spirit I offer up this study that was made about two weeks ago. The sea is deep, deep Blue Violet and Emerald Green that despite the bright summer yellow joy, it seems to possess a somber feeling. 

As a child, I remember swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in July and August at the height of the hot summers but this ocean always felt cold and black, like it could never warm up, unlike the Pacific. The Atlantic Ocean felt to me as a kid  like an old witch who could sink a sub for no reason at all.

16 March 2024

Tolstoy and death and painting

 This is a reprint of a small piece I posted almost three years ago. 

11 August 2021

Tolstoy and Christian Martel, peintre de Montpellier et La Drôme 

Christian Martel, (circa 2012) oil on linen, 25 X 20 cm

Christian was a friend for about 30 years before he died suddenly two years ago. The way he died reminded me of the short story by Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, which I read in high school so long ago. Though Christian did not at all live an 'ordinary life', as Tolstoy had described Ivan Ilyich, he did live a discreet and unglamorous life. He devoted himself, and all his resources, always, to his creativity, wherever that led him.  

Like many creative people he was extremely sensitive, so touchy that it became a joke between us when he would lower his head and say 'half-truthfully' 
"Oaui, Oaui,, Coffey la Brute!" 

Sometimes he would not take my calls for months on end until he got over it whatever it was that so upset him. But I did eventually stop teasing him when I finally realised that he was so fragile. I tempered my gregariousness and learned to temper my behaviour. I can be that way with people for whom I have a really great affection. Often, I needed to lay off and tell him: 
"Oui, oui, J'avoue qui je suis un Taquinuer au premier rang! Pardon-moi."

We always made up, that is to say that I always apologised in my light-hearted manner, only then, did we pick up where we had left off, sort of. 

He was a very gifted painter even if I didn't appreciate the skills he had picked up at the Beaux-Arts in Montpellier 500 years earlier while in school. He worked from photos of landscapes and industrial buildings from which he would invent small paintings. I was very critical of this approach to Painting, and let him know it whenever he asked my opinion of something he had done. But I learned to never throw out anything in an unsolicited manner.  Sensing my displeasure in something, he used to explain that they were 'tourist pictures' which sold. And he did support himself with the sales of these pictures, but also by teaching small groups of mostly adults each week. 

I admired him for the life which he had managed to create for himself. Life wasn't easy for him. I knew he struggled as an artist but it was mostly with himself, I believed. He was a survivor of his weird childhood. Me too, which is what bound us together. Our difficulty was fitting into a life where most people seemed to have so many other priorities. We both believed in Art, above else.

He often came and stayed for weeks at a time when I lived at the Bélvèdere in Dieulefit. Each night, we hosted anyone who showed up for dinner. Great wonderful improvised affairs, Summers, Springs and Autumn were a wonderful time outdoor on the terrace. We never ate indoors. We 'rugged up' with extra clothes, as the Aussies say down here. 

So, I have always loved this painting (above). I often told him that too, but he never understood why this one, but not others. It is a complete success as a picture, and now when I stare at it on my desktop, I think of him dead, gone forever. I find it ironic that, for me, this small church became such a great painting because I knew that he loathed churches. In fact, anything, remotely religious he loathed with a passion. Renaissance paintings, icons, statues; lovely and simple, and not even a  Romanesque church on hilltop in Nature could move him. No beauty withstood his rancorous disdain for anything connected to the Church. 

Ma foi!! 
Et Pourtant! Ironically, this little church, lit up from his imagination, is so very very lovely on every pictorial level. For it is unified by every tiny squiggle of colour and detail. It is embalmed in a black/red/purple mix of sky gripping it in place. It is this mass of deep colour which allows that pale blue sliver of artificial town lighting on the right side to work so well. 

It is a great little painting, a marvel of invention! If only I could write him this....from today.

I will not show his other work out of respect for this one picture, though he made so many small lovely things throughout his working life.

I read Ivan Ilyich when I was seventeen years old, when death seemed a million miles away from me. My teacher was an older man, a really nice guy who I liked. He was very moved by this short novella by Tolstoy, and this in turn, moved me. I understand now, at this later stage in my life just what my elder teacher had perhaps felt for the simplicity in this story of a banal life, even worse, a banal death.

And this brings me back to to Christian, who had survived Myeloma Cancer several years earlier only to fall down the narrow winding staircase in his apartment building one night. According to the coroner's report he died of a heart attack as a result of the fall.

I wonder what he would have thought of that ending? Actually,,,, I wonder what any of us would think of our own exits?

07 March 2024

The Japanese architect, meets Billy the kid and Ockam's Razor

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 28 February 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 24 cm

A few years ago I read about a Japanese architect who was explaining about the best placement of a garden pathway from the driveway to the home he had recently designed for a couple. He told them that he had not planned for it but wanted to let the pathway "just happen naturally over time" as the began couple living in their new home. Only then would the new occupants figure out where their pathway would spontaneously appear.

I loved that. And it came to mind the other day during my piano practice. As I've just started another learning a new piece by Satie, one I hadn't planned to memorise, (too much work and time!) I was faced with the notation for the fingering. This is the 5th Gnossienne, and the delicate fingering is really tricky.

Like all amateur musicians, I note the fingering whenever I begin a new piece in pencil just above the notes on the manuscript. But they can often change as I look for the better fingering to get me through each measure while preparing for the next one. So like the architect advised his clients, when working this out, I allow my fingers to find the most natural pathway throughout the piece, measure by measure.

So regarding Painting, I wondered what the correlation might be between this procedure and how I go about Painting. This question asks me to analyse my habits already developed over a lifetime of experiences and to which I don't think I have any answer. 

In this beach series where the focus is particularly narrow, with little or almost no deviations from a drawing perspective, there is a simplicity that borders on the austere because the motif is so Zen simple. In other words I don't have to subjugate myself to a procedure for these sessions. My procedure is already simple.

But, this architect's advice can work in every other part of my life and it can also sharpen the edge of another of my favourites maxims; Ockam's Razor, already, a practical vehicle for navigating intelligently through Life.

The picture above is from last week, it's one I like. Initially I thought it too sloppy, but now I'm not so sure. In fact over this past week I've come to really appreciate things about it. 

Below, is another picture from the same night. They have both been big hits on Instagram. Though I like the one above I don't care for the one below. It's a study that doesn't really do it for me at all. It seems to work, everything is in place, but it doesn't grab me, certainly not the way the one above does. So I am trying to see what others see in it. 

One thing I have shared often in these pages is that I really appreciate social media. It is a godsend for painters like me who live like spiders, high up in the corners, out of reach of  life below, where civilised, normal people go about a practical life.

I am continually surprised at what many people like and dislike in my work. I'm never offended just curious. I say this, but I admit that I didn't like someone the other day who wrote me to say that, "all of your pictures look the same". Hmmm, I fumed.

Of course, I immediately unfollowed him. So, evidently, I am curious what people think, but I don't want to put up with snarky comments that are just made to offend me. After all, I'm not famous enough to be trolled. 

And hey!, as my cousin Billy in the Bronx told me; "Thump the mother****er" first before he thumps you". This was advice that took me a long to time to exercise in my own life. But then, I'm still alive while cousin Billy was stabbed in the Bronx in a street fight back in the 1990's, so go figure. 

Anyway, like the Japanese architect suggested, don't make a plan, but live first, let the plan  unfold in the right place for you. Apparently, Cousin Billy had the plan but was just too early, and it killed him (just sayin). 

In this series, I don't have a plan but I do have a motif in front of me, and I use a simple palette of just five colours. I work quickly without hesitation, and also without conscious thought. Is that a plan? I'm not sure. 

But I'm still not nuts about the study below. Maybe I will change my feelings over time, but maybe not. Feelings about art do change often over time. Things I liked years ago are a no-go now, but conversely, studies I didn't see just a short while back can suddenly look like genius to me. 

Because I'm the beholder, beauty is alway in my own eyes, that's just the way it is because it's a rigged system and the painter always wins in the end.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 28 February 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 24 cm

27 February 2024

Beginnings and Endings, veracity and tenacity

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 February 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This came one evening about two weeks ago before the sky's initial promise of splendour had died. The weather had been hot and humid, and still is. The sky was confusing by the end of the day but it's not like I need clarity, though with certain weather, there is a kind of mushiness that sometimes overwhelms the afternoon like some weird gravy at the Thanksgiving dinner of my youth.

But hey! It comes with the territory, as my Uncle Frank used to say up in the Bronx.

But here, the beach up on the North Coast of New South Wales is not the Coney Island of my childhood nor is it ever what one could call crowded. With this sweltering weather it looked like maybe 200 people had showed up and dotted the beach as far as I could see and that is what we call crowded. 

I had arrived a little late and set up quickly. It became evident that the sky was folding in on itself, a sign that my painting session would be limited, so I figured I might only get one study out of the evening. Realising this had curiously relaxed me somewhat, and given that the sky would not cooperate, like a hungry dog, I quickly grabbed what I could. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. 

Like so many of these things done here, improvisation plays a greater role than viewers might normally imagine. Surprise is the element that binds both the painter and viewer in this hopeful relationship, and a painter like me, is always surprised, indeed. As for the viewer, one hopes for the best. 

The session is pretty standard, from the sky I pluck out things which prick my interest and I try with all my heart to hang on to them, but on this afternoon, it seemed a losing proposition. The sky’s transition at this moment of the day is disconcerting, but instead of allowing it to confuse me, I doubled down on an idea I had begun and I allowed it to guide me to a soft landing. This is how memory works for me, but it’s not typical of the way many landscape painters proceed. Most appear to already have the pictorial idea fixed in their minds. They then rely upon a technical prowess to force feed it into that idea in order to deliver it to an end already conceived.

For others like me, it’s the opposite. I begin with what I see, then improvise, sometimes blindly until the end comes into focus. The idea of the ‘study’ comes to me at the very end. I suppose that this is the Expressionist side of me, though unlike the American Expressionist, I work from a motif in this series because it’s what generates the idea. 

And for those who work from photos (of landscapes) I feel sympathy for it's dead end in my opinion. 

Even Turner, one of the greatest watercolourists of the Modern era, and whose techniques were so extraordinary, they rarely eclipsed his visual memory stored up from decades of improvisation in front of Nature. His watercolours have never be surpassed even in by, what we call ‘Abstract’ painting of the past 100 years.

I am still a rather messy expressionistic painter who appears to love the adventure of painting more than the final result. This fact provides for me an endless stream of surprises because veracity comes in lots of shapes and sizes after all.

24 February 2024

A cuneiform kiss


Babylonian clay tablet, 1800 BC

Seeing the Mesopotamian wing at the Met in New York as a child left me dazed and transfixed, And being so small, these Assyrian statues and bas-reliefs appeared to me gigantic and other-worldly. 

When my father took me there I immediately made my way through the main hall, and drawn like a magnet, I'd find myself lost in the solemn section of bas-reliefs that lined the walls. 

But these early visits to this new 'mysterious world' right in the heart of a modern city locked themselves into my imagination forever. When in grade school we studied Cuneiforms, and the very beginnings of what we now know as writing, I became further obsessed. I remember that my crayon drawings became childishly imitative of these things. 

Ideas as pictures worked much better for me at that age than the sentence structures being drilled into me by an old bag of an English teacher although I instinctively loved any sort of her untidy chaos on the blackboard. 

So when the New Times ran an article about the earliest illustrations of the kiss, it immediately ignited my long-dormant affection for these clay sculptures. 

Best to read the article yourselves. Though it's a sweet Valentine Day's story, its the small clay sculpture pictured top, that is the real star.

This (above) is from the vast British Museum collection from Nineveh which is the current city of Mosel in Iraq. Sadly, many of these temples were sacked by ISIS fighters after the American invasion. 

But what I love in these bas-reliefs today, after fifty years of painting pictures on a flat surface, are the curious resemblances to painters such as Van Gogh and Gauguin. Gauguin's use of the flat antique profiles are well known and easily calculable, but also are the wavy seas that Vincent used so freely in his skies. 

These are universal forms and they can be found throughout art history, and just for fun, here is an example from the church at Moissac, in south-east France. Although no longer the bas-relief of Mesopotamia, a full-fledged Jeremiah with a lovely flowing beard adorns a center post of the south portal on this amazing church. My personal regret of oceanic proportions, is that I have not yet visited it, but I will.


11 February 2024

Let them eat clouds!

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 February 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 February 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

So another great few days this week at the dunes. These three studies came out orderly, one after the other like triplets. Magnificent Blooms that I never seem to capture and which make me feel like a certain cartoon character chasing after its arch enemy

But I wonder if I ever did catch this elusive ‘thing’ I'm seeking, would I no longer need to keep painting it? Or is that just a cliché?

I ran into an old acquaintance in town yesterday who used to be in the art game back in London and who was curious to see how I had been spending my time (me too, I'm always curious about this). So I pulled out my phone and showed him the first two images (above) from Instagram. He remarked immediately, 

"Oh, that's Rothko"

I replied that another of my Brit-Arty-Smarty-Pants kind of wise guy/gal had also told me this about some of my paintings. But I said it more politely. I guess I can understand that some make this association, (doesn't it give us something to talk about? Or is it simply a way to show off our culture?).

Regardless, I take it all onboard. It's easy for me to speak about what I'm up to in Painting, as any regular reader here will recognise, but just the same, I'm sort stumped when I have to speak about myself and a painter like Rothko whom I've only come to appreciate over the past decade. We do both seem to share an affection for thick wide stripes which sort of makes us like cousins.

But, my ideas come to me naturally from the motif, I don't know where Rothko's ideas came from,... were they visions of the desert that jolted him and charged his imagination in his earlier years? Were they ever from a landscape? Like my own, were they memories of the sea and how and where it meets the sky? If painters work from obsessional ideas, where did his come from? 

Over the years as I've already revealed, the origins of my own obsessional 'Stripy Thing' seem to come from varied sources. I've always had a thing for thick horizontal lines too, whether from early childhood drawings or roaming the vast landscape of ties on the first floor of Brooks Brothers where all kinds of brightly coloured stripes are gently arranged in their own little coffin-like mahogany boxes and spread out across the main ground floor upon elegant display cases. But this is probably just one place of origin because in the human mind, as all shrinks know, the memory, visual and otherwise, is a mystery.

Personally, I think it behooves any visual artist to investigate one’s own pictorial memories (and obsessions) because every painter will eventually exhibit uncontrollable patterns early on in their creative youth. Do all painters investigate these visual roots? Some do, while others don't. But the trend in Contemporary Art is a definite YES! This is a new young Art World where personal identity is no longer sheltered away, where no dark shameful secrets and obsessions are withheld anymore. Everything in today's world of digital transparency is an open secret and I say sure; why not? Bring it on, but please make it a cohesive, not just indulgent. (SVP!)

Yet it's also inevitable that a painter's original (and graphic) DNA will manifest at some point during their own creative journey. Intuition for any painter lies out there on the horizon line, and the faster we row out to retrieve it the better. Why waste time chasing other's dream?

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 February 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Regarding this last study (above), as the twilight began to arrive, the horizon line was stripped of excess atmospheric clutter present in the previous two. 
Due to this, it lends itself to an almost crisp but subtle design. And it is to this aesthetic where my intuition has lately been pushing me to visit. 

Clouds, like four year olds at a birthday party, can be mischievously disruptive to an otherwise clear, calm, blue backdrop. A sky full of clouds of no matter what sort, will generate different varieties of paintings. Indeed, there is a whole genre of 'seascapes'; everything from wispy views of the calm sea to stormy, dark, and menacing pictures that are all considered 'picturesque' for the amateurs of art. 

My small study is not that but on some days it certainly could be. There are skies that lend themselves to these genres and I might easily make a more picturesque-looking painting for no particular reason other than it looked just like that. Almost everything depends upon the sky and what it's doing at a particular moment. All, except that there is also my own mood too. 

I think for me, clouds are but colourful outfits worn by the sky, which left to its own devices, would otherwise be just a space; empty and naked, waiting to be dressed as if it were Marie Antoinette. And just like us, on some days it will step out in a fancy frock while at others, a lumpy pair of sweat pants and a hoodie. Like a mannequin in a store window, the sky can wear anything and everything. I've seen its whole wardrobe, trust me.

As one often hears (though I never, ever believed this myself) that clothes make the person, clouds, by contrast, will always define the sky, and this I do believe, empirically so. 

And just as clothes can alter our appearances, clouds too, can be sexy and pretty, elegant and spry, dark and brooding, but at the end of day it's all just a cover-up! Naked, like us, an empty sky will gently reveal its natural state come nightfall. And this is what I attempted to capture in this last small painting the other night.

And finally, I do admit it; all this sounds so terribly pedantic, probably too wordy and too nerdy, but I assure you that in many ways it's about the essence of how any picture functions because in the end, it's really just about a confined space and about how painters fill it up with colours.


06 February 2024

Twin sisters, the taming of the shrews


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 31 January 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 1 February 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here are similar studies from two successive nights this last week. I am so grateful to be out there painting again after several months of mushy weather that was not compatible with painting nor with my personality. Yes, one can, and should paint in any weather, but hey! I'm a guy from the Bronx, and as we age we get real fussy, OK?

But honestly, these do not do justice to the 'Blooms' of the past week where the magnanimous gods were so generous to me. And alas, I cannot seem to get anywhere close to rendering their outrageous beauty nor their brazen outlandish elegance. Though they are from different evenings they feel like twin sisters.

These humid days I have to push myself out of the house to paint down at the beach. They may sound awful to someone in the wintry Drôme, like a whiny, curdled old man who exclaims: "I have to go the the beach just 10 minutes away. Yuck!.." Indeed, it would also come off awfully  spoiled to someone living under grey skies of Paris too... Boo Hoo...

But anyway, this is my life, not at all glamorous nor exciting, but not uninteresting and with a touch of bohemian chill. 

So, eventually I gulped an expresso, and before I knew it, I was out the door and leaving my lazy dog of a personality on the couch. 

Arriving at the dunes, I unpacked and quickly made a palette. I generally try to give myself enough time to jump into the sea before painting because this is what really wakes me up. The sea is wonderful of course, but also 'rippy', full of fast moving tidal rips so I'm careful after almost having drowned here about six years ago. But as usual, I then began to paint just as the sky was about to ripen. 

For both of these studies, the same thin, pinky line of clouds were crossing the horizon, it was a classic evening. They both began the other night with an unusually strong acrid yellow in the sky, that colour Van Gogh adored, and it does appear from time to time around here. It's so yellow green that it looks like penicillin growing upon a lemon on the shelf. But quite soon, on both nights, all hell broke loose and colours flew around like embers from a giant fire. Pink turned Purple and then into a pale Prussian Blue almost like a faint shadow. It resembled the deathly hue with which some many painters depicted Christ in early Renaissance renditions of the Pieta. Then, as if dead, this ghostly colour rises into the heavens to evaporate miraculously. The sea below, discreetly follows suit, and honestly, it's so fantastical that at times I cannot distinguish between hallucinations and real life. Is it me or God?

But in any event, these skies feel so alive and so unreal at times that I think I'm going to pee in my shorts.

The downside to all this divine ecstasy is that despite these studies that began so enthusiastically bold, so wildly spontaneous and free, I nonetheless managed to tame them as if they were dangerous circus animals. Oh, what a shame! I fall prey to my inner obsession with formal structure and thereby reducing the picture to thick stripes; careful and sure.

It's not always the case, but it usually happens when I begin to over-work a study. I groan when I feel it kicking in but by then it's almost impossible to correct course. Apparently, there is a policeman living inside me along with the lion trainer. I think I need an angel to intervene.

I close with this short bit of wisdom from one of my only heroes of 20th century American Painting, the great Philip Guston. 

"Everyone destroys marvelous paintings. Five years ago you wiped out what you are about to start tomorrow. 

Where do you put form? It will move around, bellow out and shrink, and sometimes it winds up where it was in the first place. But at the end it feels different, and it had to make the voyage. I am a moralist and cannot accept what has not be paid for, or a form that has not been lived through.

Frustration is one of the great things in art; satisfaction is nothing."

Because I'm a wise guy, a smarty pants of the worst sort, I would add a small twist to this right after the first paragraph. Here goes:

"And today, you will ruin what you will succeed doing in five years hence."  


03 February 2024

Furry friends!

Well, because it's the third of February, I thought I would keep quiet for once and let my furry friends speak up.


30 January 2024

Mike Sadler vs the bully boys


What has happened to this spoiled generation? But I won't just single out Britain because this weird world of young (and old) humanity appears to be everywhere. 

I was so moved by this story (above) about Mike Sadler and his actions as a clever soldier during WW2. I invite the reader to google him to find out more. It's a remarkable story of bravery and heroism at a time in history when there was already a surplus of these traits overflowing the British borders. 

Was it not because they rose to the challenge of fighting off a crazed German nation, that their lives depended upon it? Boys became men overnight, and the British people became united after a decade of political squabbling. It was, as they say, an existential threat, and they took it on with that stoic British sense of pride. Americans too, faced this threat, and they too lost many young men and young gals, but from the safety of their geographical position. My uncle died flying raids to Germany in a B17. He was barely out of school. Europe, as a whole also lost an entire young generation.

So why are we so different today? Have we all lost our moral compasses? Has our sense of decency been deformed by too much information over the internet?  I don't have the answer. But these two fellows (below), who are the grandchildren of what we have always called 'The Great Generation' of the post WW2 era are certainly poster boys for this weird contemporary world.

"Things change", as the philosophers say, it's the way of Nature, of life, and the world. But how sad it must be for British families who had lost so many sons and daughters during WW2 to have to face Newspaper Headlines depicting these ignoble mugs.

But indeed, there are times for glory and there times for cowardice. We seem to be living in the latter, yet in spite of that, there are unsung angels working everyone around us, hiding in plain sight, as it were, from hospitals to hospices, relief agencies to middle schools, so let us not forget these heroic angels when we come across a pair of unworthy bully boys.