04 July 2015

Francois de Asis, Aix-en-Provence, 2015

François, a mentor of mine, is having several exhibitions in his native Aix-en-Provence this summer. I regret not being able to get over for them, alas. (but maybe in September)

He was a student of Leo Marchutz, as I was back in the early 1970's when I first met François.

He, had of course known Leo back in the early 1960's I believe (or late fifties). I was the 'last wave'  of students to study with Leo on a daily basis before he died in January of 1976.

François's work is so very important, as he continues a line which he believes essential 
in the history of European painting. He works exclusively from 'the motif', that is to say outside in Nature (for him, the visible world).

He is a remarkable man. I hope 'les Aixois' give him the respect he is certainly due.

02 July 2015

Nicholas Winton and Oskar Gröning, a tale of two men

We are given one life to live, as far as many of us know. How do we live it? What do we do with this life so freely given to each of us?

Nicholas Winton saved Jewish children during the last war while their parents were sent to death in the gas chambers. He died the other day at 106. And look at the joy on his face in this photo of 2009 as he greets one woman saved by him!

The photo below is of one Oskar Gröning, who is 94, and a former SS officer who worked at Auschwitz collecting valuables from prisoners on their way to their deaths. He was recently on trial for being an accessory to 300,000  counts of murder for his role at Auschwitz. Although he admitted his guilt before God it wasn't enough for many. 

For me, it might seem that some of us have moral bearings while others do not, and that some are just more attuned to that moral compass than others. Some might say people are just plain crazy whilst others evil. But many of us may be simply too lazy and weak at heart, unable to affront the machinery of violence and cruelty already set in motion around us. I do not make excuses but one can see it in today's world. 

So the question begs: we have one life to live, how do we live it today, and what do we do to live it well?

01 July 2015

James Salter, then and now, 1925 - 2015

then and now (1963 & 2015) oil 40 X 40cm 2015

Alas,.. the passing of a truly fine American artist. He is someone I would have liked to have met and yet, I am aware that to meet such a man late in his life would have been less desirable than perhaps meeting him back in his paragraphs again, and again, and again. I understood he was a reserved man who didn't suffer the presence of fools, perhaps my intuition is correct, at least regarding my own person. Better for me to stick with his books. 

Overall, he touched so few of us in fact, at least in the scheme of this large over-boiled world of twittered superficiality which reigns today. His ability (like which some painters possess) can gently disturb our inner contract we seem to have made with ourselves. He made me want to write, but more than that, he made me believe in the possibility of words, just like Joyce and Tolstoy. As a painter, how is it possible to express at an experience of pure feeling through abstract means? 

30 June 2015

Kevin Connor, Australian artist

Kevin Connor lives and works in Sydney but travels to London and Paris each year to draw. He sits for hours in cafes simply drawing the people around him; the grittier, the better I understood. Places like near La Gare du Nord far from where the tourists flock or the Wealthy shop. He is a very interesting artist, and he reminds me of Robert Crumb in a certain way.

Why do you draw? (he is asked in the preface)

"Well, I have this wonderful answer - 
why doesn't everybody draw?"



 National Gallery London

25 June 2015

Issa, always

After a long nap
the cat yawns, rises, and goes out
looking for love

23 June 2015

Bashō, again just when we need him

Come out to view
the truth of flowers blossoming 
in poverty

22 June 2015

Issa, and the snail

The snail
goes to sleep and wakes
just as he is

19 June 2015

sparrows forever! Issa (1763 - 1827)

Wake up, wake up!
sparrows are dancing
butterflies frolicking

Sparrow chicks,
look out!
Mr Horse is passing by

Tired out
in a crowd of children
a sparrow

18 June 2015


An evening crow
speaks up about
autumn melancholy

Buson 1777

17 June 2015

great books #7 (Tolstoy , Childhood, Boyhood, Youth)

This is wonderful book which he published when he was only 23. Anyone who loves History should read it, but also, those who might want to peer into the heart of a really great writer. He is a veritable poet disguised as a writer.

16 June 2015

Bashō, forever

 This is the first paragraph from the journal he wrote entitled: The Narrow Road to the North. 

'Months and days are eternal travellers, as are the years that come and go. For those who drift through their lives on a boat, or reach old age leading a horse over the earth, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is their home. Many people in the past have died on the road, but for many years, like a fragment of a cloud, I have been lured by the wind into the desire for a life of wandering.'

15 June 2015

Anaïs Nin

"Something is always born of excess,,,Great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them."

from her diary  June 1945

13 June 2015

contest winner Elisa Villari! (Parthenon horse)

$64,000 question was quickly answered correctly by my dear friend Elisa Villari of Genoa Italy. From the Parthenon she speedily replied reminding me that there is at least one or two fully erudite followers of L'air de rien. This glorious horse head is on the far right side of the infamous Elgin Marbles display in the British Museum. 

And so, for this she wins the $64,000 question which entitles her to receive a drawing from Morocco done a few years ago. This may or may not be worth $64,000 in 300 years.

Next week, another contest!

12 June 2015

Sarah Manguso

I picked up a small book the other day by Sarah Manguso entitled Ongoingness. I had seen a review of it in the NYT, and it looked very interesting because it concerns her diary-keeping. Being a diarist myself since 1986, I was immediately sucked into it. It is tiny book of short entrees on each page in which she reflects upon her feelings about keeping a diary. For anyone interested in this personal form of narcism I highly recommend it.

But I mention it because I fell on an entry which speaks so clearly about what painting means to me in this period of my life. As these poor pages can attest I have tried to articulate this ephemeral idea. Ms Manguso expresses it perfectly.

"I often prefer writers' diaries to their work written intentionally for publication. It's as if I want the information without obstacles of style or form. But of course all writing possesses style and form, and in good writing they aren't obstacles.

Another friend said, 
'I want to write sentences that seem as if no one wrote them.'
The goal being the creation of a pure delivery system, without the distraction of a style. The goal being a form no one notices, the creation of what seems like pure feeling, not of what seems like a vehicle for a feeling. Language as pure experience, pure memory. I too wanted to achieve that impossible effect."

This is most interesting for me. In Painting over the past 60 years there have been several waves in art which have come so close to this idea. (And of course, the Japanese!) Trying to achieve a painting which has no hand, in fact. Artists like Rauschenberg simply showed found objects rather dryly in the gallery space. Today, it is a generally accepted method of working (and exhibiting).

But what interests me is to hot-wire the system using paint to arrive at a feeling in a painting without that constraint of a stylistic form. (imagine details of a Van Gogh picture) Here (below) is an example of what I am after, although, it too, falls short. In the end, I do not want to imitate Nature so much as perhaps mimic it using a method of building up and destroying back down some ephemeral feeling. It is a process of editing; but also layering until that secret intuitive pool of meaning is pulled up  from deep inside one. A writer might describe it as playing with the unconscious, manipulating it, and with discipline shaping  it into something of form. And the choices involved in this process create the idea of the work in question unbeknownst to the maker.

more will be revealed.

160 X 120 cm

06 June 2015

Roger Fry on IanFairweather

"I sometimes wonder whether it nevertheless does get its force from arrousing some deep, very vague, and immensely general reminiscences."

Roger Fry

02 June 2015

Ficre Ghebreyesus

Here is a real gem. Curiously, it reminds me of something which Henri Cartier-Bresson said about photography before he died:

My Passion has never been for photography “in itself” but for the possibility through - forgetting yourself - of recording in a fraction of a second the emotion of the subject, and the beauty of the form; that is, a geometry awakened by what’s offered.

27 May 2015

Jacob Lawrence and Peter Schjeldahl

Today I was reading an art review by Peter Schjeldahl about the painter Jacob Lawrence. I like Lawrence's work very much and would like to see the show in NY if I could. At one point Schjeldahl described Lawrence's work as "world changing art" which pricked me with a kind of strange surprise. People often say things like that about art work and I am often rather astounded. Hyperbole is endemic after all. One thinks of Picasso's Guernica and immediately thrown into a world of war. That it was about Spain is beside the point, which I guess is why the painting possesses such a universal appeal. And yet, what exactly has it changed? Has it awakened anyone to the brutality (often futility) of aggression on a national scale? (or even on a personal one for that matter) I doubt it. Can it shape a person's sudden decision to become an artist? Of course, but so can Monet's Hay Stack's or Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Can although for different reason probably. But what does "world changing art" mean? Somehow I cannot understand how art can change anything except in a very deeply personal nature. I don't believe Schjeldahl means that. After all the title of the show in question is Migration and the paintings are illustrations on this theme of the great Black migration northward to the cities. It is a monumental theme. I like his work mostly because of the paintings themselves which I find graphically arresting. The theme, although important, isn't the reason I like the paintings anymore than I like angels painted by Giotto. The theme is secondary unless one is in the propaganda business. The real reason is because of the dramatic integrity of the art work which has a unified motion of its own after the work is finished.

22 May 2015

Chris Burden, made in America

This was a pivotal moment in America's art movement. At the height of the Vietnam War this piece moved the complacency of the Art world into another dimension; into the world of theatre and performance from which it rooted and has blossomed ever since.

I don't know how to think of it other than as a political piece, but then, I know little of Chris Burden. 

As Rod Serling would often say:
"for your perusal in the twilight zone"

16 May 2015

apropos Yoko


 New York 4 hours ago

Art makes people think. Yoko makes people think. Whatever you think of Yoko is art now. Thank you for your participation.


In the NYT yesterday was an article about Yoko Ono's show at MOMA. I do not write about her show but instead on the comment made by this contributor to the Comments dept which now accompany many NYT articles online. I find myself perusing this section for a few minutes to get an idea about how variously random people react to events in today's political, social, and cultural world. These Comments sections' being the new Hyde Park of op-ed pages. 

In any event, what struck me so sorrowfully was just how differently I imagine Art than to this fellow Stig  who had responded to another person's comments about the show (not favourably). I will not get into her work  but address this idea that "Art makes people think". (Art should make people think)

I find this disturbing because for me, Art has always made me feel something mysterious inside of me, almost as if a work has cross-circuited my prejudicial thinking patterns and gone straight to my soul. Saying this does  not discount the role of imaginative thinking which runs parallel to this 'feeling' in front of a work. It saddens me that Contemporary Art, since post-Dada, has somehow hijacked this experience and created a kind of Frankenstein of intellectual machinations which have taken over the education systems worldwide. This is a new phenomenon in the scheme of things. 

I am not a luddite, nor am I someone who caves into charming sentimental pastiches of reppitive and un-original works of Art, but I cannot understand how so many people have been hoodwinked into a Contemporary Art world reduced to coy symbols. After all, it is Philosophy which should make us think, but it is Art and Poetry which allows us to feel. How can it be otherwise? 

Who is Bach? Puccini? The Beatles? Mahler? Goya? Titian? Matisse? Arthur Miller? Tennessee Williams? BB King?,,, Maria Callas for god's sake?

And, just because I am at it; how did Contemporary Art divorce itself from sensuality anyway? How did Contemporary Art become reduced to a 'twitter-like' thought only to be jettisoned into the nearest litter bin?

Ah, a friend might say, you miss the point: "Follow the money trail!,,, It is just entertainment...."

Another might say:
"Stop with all your serious misgivings over the state of Art,,, its just game,,,, a shell game for the rich."

Mais, "NON!" I say, because I am a painter who still yearns to be moved by Art, not titillated (or twitterated) and entertained like its a Disney film. 

Suddenly, in all this, I am reminded of The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse which I had so loved many years ago. 

More to be revealed,,,,

14 May 2015

Peter Bruegal, still alive

In our time of terrible, indiscriminate madness wreaking havoc in the Middle East, Africa and even on our own 'civilized shores', I cannot think of an image which best renders the actual horror of what some men do to others. It is a reminder that violent insanity isn't just a signature of our epoch, something which I confess I sometimes I believe because through the internet it feels like an onslaught 24/7, as they say these days.

In this painting is that terrible beauty; one which only artists of rare ability seem capable of making in any epoch. Bruegel shows us that there is such a grace even in darkness. I sometimes do not know where to put this awful sense of guilt for having such an easy life while so many others on this earth seem to be destined for inexhaustible sorrow. I live in a land wherein clean water is taken for granted and food plentiful. And then, there is this shame for feeling incapable of doing anything for them. Only a handful of painters are able to do this, Goya comes to mind. All the exquisite handling of paint (behind the 'motif') reminds me that to get to the 'whole' of an unified image one must past through the details as gruesome as they may be.

09 May 2015

Hakuin Ekahu (1686 -1768) #2

Here are two more exquisite works by Hakuin Ekahu. The first is on the theme of 'one hand clapping' which is the most famous of Japanese koans. The second one is perhaps another koan but I don't know the motif. It is simply called 'mortar and bush warbler'.

These are interesting for me, notably when one thinks of the struggle of the Contemporary painter in his/her search for meaning in the surface especially after someone like Matisse for instance.

07 May 2015

Hakuin Ekaku (1685 - 1768)

 Monkey and Cukoo (55 x 43cm)

This is a wonderful ink wash by one of the really great, great poet/artists of Japan. Superlatives aside, he is for me inspirational in the sense that his pictures teach me about pictorial form in this Contemporary world. He uses the space of the paper in a very particular way and his pictures seem to defy logic which is an enviable aspect of his originality. A great unified picture plane is evident while at the same time it is built using all of its few elements necessary to complete the poem at hand. 'cows, 'ants, 'spoons', 'cups', 'crows', 'bamboo' 'waves', 'Mount Fuji"...
This mix of elements and ideas in a unified picture plane is for me the "Holy Graal" of painting.

04 May 2015

ciné-échange! (les livres à pattes)

There is a Cinema just a stone's throw from the Gare Saint-Lazare aptly named Cinema Caumartin because it sits on the rue Caumartin (Duh!). In the lobby, to my surprise, when I went to see a film there a few months back, I discovered several large shelves overflowing with books of all shapes and sizes. The idea is simple: One is encouraged to take a book home but on condition that one replaces it with another one. The idea for this comes from Russia where apparently (so reads the small sign below) when Russians lose personal papers (of any sort I presume) they are called "des papers à pattes" (papers with legs!) and they are not considered lost at all, but are deemed to have a life of their own as they simply go their own way leaving their owners forever perplexed. So in this spirit the Cinema Caumartin offers "Les livres à Pattes!"

pretty cool (très chouette, en fait!)

03 May 2015

Geoffrey Lehmann, Australian poet


                Getting started 

When we first came our house
was two weatherboard rooms
in a bare paddock.

I was just back from a war.
There were no trees
and I chose the name "Spring Forest".

It was dark when we drove up
and lit our pressure lamps and unpacked.
Our children found potatoes sprouting
on the wire mattress of a large iron bed.
What were they doing there?
my daughter kept asking.

We burned ironbark
in the old brick fireplace,
rubbing etherized hands into warmth.

At dawn Sally and Peter were out
calling in the frost, exploring.
A long icicle hung from the tank.
That day five cars passed on the road
and the children ran out every time.