17 January 2021
15 January 2021
13 January 2021
I don’t want to make boring paintings which hug a wall, attaching to it like a stuffed elk head in a hunting lodge.
I don't always like to paint anecdotal pictures either but I admit that these two are anecdotal in a weird sort of way though it may seem obscure to many, even myself.
I am not looking for reassurance when I paint, nor do I look for that when viewing pictures either in my home or elsewhere. To seek confirmation, to pursue a verification of my own ideas seems to be a misuse of the moment. And to see Art as a relic, something old, something dead in a glass case in a museum is also a misuse of time. But I can understand why so many people do when looking at Art. Museums are full of things both dead and alive, and too, its visitors are both dead and alive. In the end, it usually comes down to how much imagination we bring to the experience.
A relic of the past is an affirmation that life was, and to some degree is still today somewhat recognisable (even if young people all have tattoos). We want the familiar but to want this familiar is too often to simply want the same, same old. And the same old in Art is boring and dishonest.
After Matisse, why would anyone desire to paint in the manner of Rembrandt? What is the point? But don't get me wrong I love the OLD too, I love Chardin because I like the OLD but well painted and truthful OLD.
Ultimately though, I want the NEW, but I don't want the NEW to be badly painted. Museums are too full of bad paintings. I want the NEW to be a grandsons of Monet, Cezanne, or Morandi even. Is that asking too much?
I want to paint pictures which cling to the walls of my home, creeping around like dragons and serpents with smokey breath. I need to be shaken up. I want paintings to force me to gently tippy-toe around them naked, or in underwear on the way to the kitchen looking for a sweet during the night. I want to risk being bitten otherwise none of it is very interesting. But at the same time I do want to make pictures which will please me to live with in my solitary castle.
Enfin, I want to be eternally surprised. I need for paintings to ask me questions instead of always throwing answers at me with a clunky heavy certitude.
Why can't artists learn to ask questions to which most answers seem reasonably incomprehensible?
10 January 2021
This is a study from sometime last year which I wisely stopped myself from finishing. It's most rare that I show this restraint because normally, if I like the start on a painting I will often just grab a quick shot of it whilst still on the easel as proof that miracles still can happen. Then I continue working on it, transforming it into something which it never would have imagined becoming. This one spoke to me and told me to put it aside.
But, one cannot hold onto all great beginnings, after all. If we did, we might never get beyond the first kiss, the first few delicious dates... and then, we would certainly never move onward to marriage and children would we?
No, like a painting, we must jump in further, making mistakes along the way with a secret hope that they are repairable, until they aren't. And then comes divorce, and tears, and recriminations from all sides.... but I digress.... I am really trying to just discuss a painting, after all. But you see how things are related? What can start out so beautifully, can equally turn ugly, full of messiness and regrets, the end then, depends on whose point of view. This is a story of Loving and Painting all bound together.
The start of this painting, though not great, had a germ of pictorial genius in it which I had wanted to keep.
There was something of it which reminded me of Japan, and this Nippon fascination, once bitten and smitten, becomes a life-long infection.
But in it too, there is something truly American, as in the heyday of large minimalist Painting back in the 1960's when life seemed simpler, more expansive, more happy and optimistic (but only if you were white though).
And come to think of it, this image reveals that voraciously oversized American appetite, the one which can never be satiated, the one which screams for MORE Park sausages mom!
Finally, this small start of a study, is reminding me of an oversized billboard out on a deserted stretch near a beach somewhere. It brightly advertises the sale of the whole darn, big blue sky!
09 January 2021
A rather gloomy-looking sky engulfed me last week as I set up for a session. I was not looking forward to it. It has been raining so much these past weeks that I have not been able to find any convenient skies to enjoy working from. This study was on its way to being a real wreck which would have made me a wreck for the evening.
Then, remarkably, when I was just about to smear and smudge it over with an angry paintbrush I found my way back in to it with a hint of hope. I had nothing to lose, after all, but in those moments one forgets this fact too easily. And I knew that it would put me in a bad mood for the entire drive home in the car. But once there, I would make a cup of tea, sit at the piano, and within no time at all I would again become my usual optimistic self once again. ! Ha Ha... but it's true, mostly.
In any event, I managed to re-arrange the whole graphic drawing for this small study, then thought to myself: well, not great, not even good, but at least I didn't destroy it and leave the beach with a resentment. I put it in the back of the car and went home. It rained for several days afterward and I forgot to remove it which I normally do on the following mornings. Anyway, when I did finally retrieve it days later I was pleasantly surprised with it. I put in a frame and thought,,,, hmm...
And that is a small sketch of the angry paintbrush and the hint of hope which almost got away.
06 January 2021
04 January 2021
02 January 2021
For anyone unfamiliar with Ian Fairweather's work, he was born in Britain in 1891, and after many peregrinations throughout Asia he ended up in Brisbane Australia. It's a stone's throw from where I am currently settled. I will not say too much about him, but Google will inform anyone interested in this extraordinary painter.
For an 'abstract' painter, I find him infinitely more interesting than the infamous Jackson Pollack who is still considered the reference for 'Abstraction Expressionist Painting', at least in America. Fairweather's outline follows a similar path to Pollack's. They both worked from Nature early on in their careers but eventually subject matter became personalised, increasingly.
I like these two paintings so very much. That is to say, they speak to me in a familiar yet foreign language, one which I do speak but might not completely understand due to a regional dialect which is a little confounding..
It is a shame that Fairweather is not better know outside of Australia. That is a problem with being so far from the Art capitals in America and Europe. At least it certainly was in the 50's when Australia was indeed a cultural backwater. Perhaps that may have changed enough today so that someone of Fairweather's stature might achieve a greater recognition, at least beyond the beaches. Not sure about that, myself, Australia is still very parochial in many ways.
But Fairweather would not have become the painter he became if he had not lived his last years in the isolated Queensland of the 50's and 60's, when Australia was a very different country than today.
Shalimar, 1962, polymer oil-based house paint, (approx) 250 X 150 cm
31 December 2020
30 December 2020
I was speaking to an old friend yesterday, a long conversation via Messenger which has now become my go-to mode of communication.
She has been at work as an artist for about 40 years. In my mind she has always been a tireless worker, always at it, day and night, and yet a rich successful career has eluded her.
"...you know Christopher, I have been working for 40 years now and it seems to me that I still don't know what I am doing!"
I laughed because I had heard this from her many times before. I told her that artists, writers, musicians, etc, etc, who cannot admit this sort of thing are probably not very good at all. An artist who never questions him/herself, who knows nothing of the gnawing doubt deep inside one's skin would surely make very insipid Art. But to work through it all is the key to a happy daily routine, in most cases, anyway. Moreover, Art doesn't generally come out of technical schools, it comes out of recess period between classes.
I often think this to myself:
'the greater the doubt, the greater the artist'.
But then, I quickly think that maybe this is dangerous ground, I should not be making such broad pronouncements. But I have read of great painters who have claimed that in their twilight years they have only just begun to understand Painting even as their teeth and hair are falling out. Delacroix comes to mind.
Doubt can be a healthy thing in all things, even brain surgeons have loads of it except when they are deep at work inside the brain of human cosmos. The thing for me is that when I am working doubt usually disappears, and this is always the proof that the routine is everything.
29 December 2020
diAEvening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 31 October, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm
A magnificent sky for Halloween almost two months ago which I struggled with like a fisherman with a tough catch. I lost it several times but reeled it back in each time to my surprise.
28 December 2020
I recently met a guy from Melbourne, who with his wife, spent his holiday in America a few years back. They were in New York the week that Trump rode down the now infamous escalator ride at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy for President. He and his wife had been shopping in midtown, when on a whim they popped into Trump Tower.
Just a few minutes in the lobby of Trump Tower this great-looking couple were quickly approached by a woman who asked them if they wanted to make a few bucks, $50, to be precise for an hour's work. They agreed immediately, and were taken to the second floor landing, then into a large empty retail space hidden from view with brown paper over the windows. There were about a hundred other people there waiting around, some lucky to have chairs. They had no idea what was going on. At a small table another woman, a bright blonde, sized them up quickly and handed them two tee shirts from large boxes behind.
"...these are all a little bigger, just put them over your shirts"
She said. The white tee shirts emblazoned with 'TRUMP Make America Great Again' written in red. They had only a faint clue who he was as a reality television star.
A big muscular guy in a black suit handed them both a $50 note from a roll in his pocket and told them told them to go over to move and indicated to the other side of the room where they were to wait before being called.
After about an hour of waiting around uncomfortably the bright blonde moved to the center of the room threw up her hand and yelled out for everyone to listen up. She then explained was expected of all of them, and in a few moments they were all trotted out 'to mingle'.
Some people were given signs with 'Trump for President!' scrawled with different coloured magic markers. Others, wearing tee-shirts, were instructed to go down to the lobby, the rest were told to stay on the first floor to cheer as Trump rode down the escalator. The couple were given a place (as were others along the balustrade, on the landing.)
They had been instructed to cheer, clap and shout loudly as rode downwards.
"Trump! Trump! Trump!"
The guy told me it was funny but also really weird because Trump was in fact, really weird. He went right by them without looking, focussed on the lobby below, then began waving casually to nothing in particular, just space. It was a ragtag-looking crowd as if they were all extras (they were) of some old Italian B film where the actors were yelling out their lines not in sync with the film.
And so that was it. It went by "like a dream" he kept saying. Ivanka introduced her father, then Trump gave his speech.
About an hour later, they were in front of painting by Jackson Pollock at MOMA and still laughing about the whole thing. Lucky them, I thought. A story for their grandkids. And, they kept the tee-shirts as souvenirs.
26 December 2020
Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 April, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm
This is an old painting from April 2020 which I just saw on my cluttered desktop but suddenly 'saw again' which is a very nice thing for a painter. It means that the painting still lives, it still succeeds, at least for me anyway. And I am the most important person to please in this small cottage of a life I live. But hey! It's a great cottage.
It's not a picture that will knock your socks off but it is a decent replication of my session on that small dune up here on the North Coast of New South Wales in Australia. It is what I saw and felt, even without knowing what I saw or how I felt, but it's the painting afterward which tells me what I was seeing and feeling.
This is the marvellous thing about Painting from a motif over and over again. Perhaps like an actor on stage doing his/her 986th performance, the character has developed a life of its own even beyond the actor. As I wrote recently about Keith Jarrett; he said that he had no idea what he was going to play before he went on stage to perform solo, in Cologne, Paris, Antibes, etc, etc,,, When one listens to those recordings it is confounding to understand this.
But a painting, perhaps like a recording, is after, all a souvenir of 'an event', an experience empirically lived. This is something that has become clearer to me in recent years. On a simple level it is about making a picture which if good enough, can outlive its creator. On a deeper level it is not about that at all. It is really about having the painting experience in front of an ever-changing Nature which the painter is simply graced to witness, and work from.
In my own case, I work lightning fast, partly because I am anxious by nature, but also because 'my motif' is the 'hour of the wolf', the twitching hour of dusk between day and night. It is when the colours are at their zenith which suits my nature.
I don't pretend that these pictures are great, high points of the zeitgeist today, but they are 'souvenirs' of a moment when I lived and worked there in front of the sea and the sky during a painting session. It isn't much in the grand scheme of things but it is a painter's work. I have learned from so many different types of craftsman about this, not just painters, writers, and musicians.
This is just my small story, but like all stories, it leaves its own colourful traces like scattered rose petals after a storm.
24 December 2020
Having just read in the Times that Trump's wall is being constructed with a feverish speed to get as much of it done as possible, one presumes before his ejection from office in a mere 28 days, I couldn't help but think of an eminent American sculptor who faced a firestorm of a very different nature, contextually speaking.
I wondered if photos of Trump's wall cutting through a virgin landscape in the American Southwest wouldn't give Richard Serra a frisson of sorts?
I have already written in these pages about his Tilted Arc which was conceived for Foley Square in downtown Manhattan back in the early 1980's. It was finally removed, dismantled, and put into storage after a much rancorous debate, equally as bitter as Trump's wall. Then, it pitted the working class against the elite and monied Art world of the city.
"Holding the site hostage" is how one journalist put it.
Foley Square with Richard Serra's Tilted Arc, 1980's
To be fair, Serra simply created a large public sculpture for a very large open space in downtown New York. The fault was clearly with the United States General Services Administrations which commissioned the piece on the recommendations by The National Endowment for the Arts 'panel of art experts'. There doesn't seem to have been a report which might have looked at the ramifications of this placement. Too much hubris, perhaps?
At the time, I was in New York, and I took a strong stand against it not because I found it ugly (on the contrary) but because I found it was inappropriate for the space. Why carve up one of the most precious commodities in New York: open space? Though I was bothered by the discourse at the time (which hasn't changed much, in fact) I hated that ideas like 'beauty' and 'ugliness’ were dredged up out of the closet and used to malign one group against another in this community fight. It seemed to trivialise and debase a discourse which was, and is always, a real and important consideration about what is public art.
Sadly, it allowed an 'art elite' to savage the 'proletariats' who simply didn't want the sculpture there. It was an ugly fight, and for me, this was a political one not an aesthetic one, or it should have been.
When everyone seems to look so closely at beauty, by using it as a standard of measurement for judging Art, inversely, eyesight falters, and suddenly, everyone needs a new pair of eyeglasses.
That I can find beauty in rusted steel is not a paradox but an integral part of the mystery of Art. But by putting a wall of steel in a public space like this corrupted the sculpture in a strange way. In a practical and civic sense, it felt to me at the time like it bordered on Architectural Fascism. This is a tough thing to say being a lover of Art, but I still feel that way, maybe even more so, as no doubt, it would have quickly become home to graffiti artists.
This leads us to Trump's war on immigrants and his own Moby Dick of a rusting steel wall which cuts North America in two. Most people on both sides of the wall detest it in every way. This is about politics, not Art, after all. But 'land artists' out West, will they see a great graphic beauty beyond the abhorrent ideas behind it? A conundrum for Art lovers: is our taste dictated, or confirmed by ideology?
To see Trump's Wall for what it is (as a national barrier to keep foreigners out) is politics, and far outside the realm of Art which is surely to bring people together.
Do we see a wall of steel scarring the natural landscape or do we see something artistic? Is an artist ever free from the straight-jacket of politics, and should he/she ever be?
What would both Christo and is wife Jeanne-Claude think of Trump's Wall? And Richard Serra?
Too many questions, Happy Christmas everyone!
21 December 2020
18 December 2020
15 December 2020
My friend (and ex-wife) Cheryl Bailey invited me to the annual art exhibition for disabled clients at RED inc, an organisation in Mullumbimby where she works. She is a painter herself but became an art therapist a few years ago, and she has really found her calling in working with these clients. I call them clients, but I should call them artists and painters first. And creative types with obsessional natures are all a bit disabled to one degree or another aren't they?
The opening began at 18h so I wanted to get there on time to see it, then leave to go paint on the beach somewhat quickly thereafter. I am very glad to have gotten to the reception early this year as I missed last year's show altogether and I deeply regretted it after seeing pictures my brother had bought there. My other regret is that I didn't have enough time to meet all of the painters, though I did meet a few who painted the pictures I bought.
RED inc is a series of two spaces, a small house in front, but behind, a very large shed where Cheryl and others run the program. It was full of pictures for sale, chocker-block as they say in Australia. I ran through it somewhat rapidly and immediately fell in love with so many things that I was super grateful to be early and on time just for once. Everything was available for sale, and I think it sold out later on. The paintings were very, very inexpensive so I went a little wild and bought all these paintings below.