25 May 2013

Henri Cartier Bresson in Kyoto

I was skeptical about paying ten euros to see a small show of HCB believing that I had seen most of his things either in shows or books over the years. But it was such a sexy poster and being here in Kyoto, I was feeling a little homesick for France so coughed it up, as we say in America. And I am glad I did as there were some images which I didn't know, and a few of them were mesmerizing. One, in particular; a wide shot of a young boy in a shabby looking street of Paris in 1932. The look on his face, not sad, but somewhat worse, his expression seemed shorn of any hope that he would ever escape that miserable looking street. Many others from far flung places, which were indeed more flung far than they are today: India, Spain, Soviet Union, Greece, Mexico, they are now just a low cost ticket next-door. But HCB certainly lived a wonderful and productive life. In the show there is great self-portrait of himself: Laying down on what appears to be a wall, he shot everything below: (horizontal though) his sweater, a bit of trousers, and his naked left foot folded over his right ankle. It said: tired feet!
I was happy to see the show after all. I realize just what a giant he was for a whole generation of photographers. His work in black and white, or monochrome, as its fashionable to say today, seems always anchored by a simple kind of unity, either pictorially or through something going on in the subject. I don't know much about his life but I do know that he always drew, and made paintings. Towards the end of his rich life its all he wanted to do. His beloved Leica would have felt lonely sitting on a desk or tabletop. 

For myself, and my recent adventure in photography, I feel that taking pictures has only strengthened my understanding of what it means to 'seize' Form. I have watched my paintings become more graphically impaled upon the visual world around me. Its as if most of my waking hours are in pursuit of the 'next' image whether it be a photograph or a painting. That it can captured so fast with a camera is marvelous thing, but, a painting  alas, takes time. My drawing, for the moment  has been sulking, but whenever I do make something, I am surprised at how much it has evolved. It is more graphic than ever before and I believe this is a good thing, surely its from all the photos I take. 

The show ends tomorrow at the Museum of Contemporary Art here in Kyoto.

23 May 2013

sharks and tornadoes! (O.M.G.!)

So, what is it about sharks and tornadoes that frighten and fascinate us all? The terrible destruction of the recent tornado in Oklahoma remind us all how fragile we are no matter where we live. People will always live in 'Tornado alley' just as surfers in South Australia will always surf waters known to be the home to White Pointers. 

Is it the perfect beauty of both these 'monsters'; their aerodynamic lines; their unpredictability; their capacity to instill in us the most intense and irrational desire to watch them from as close as we possibly can, yet still be at a safe distance away? Is it their ruthless appetite for ripping things up in a matter of seconds; for serrating objects in half, for their indiscriminate violence? For all their amoral destructive behavior they appear almost benign. Just look at the happy face on that shark!

There are shows on television which chase tornadoes, and there are all sorts of operations in South Africa which lace shark infested waters with chum, then lower spectators in steel cages while White Pointers circle in a frenzy. We cannot seem to get enough of them, until they get us.

further reading for the really curious and not faint of heart! One gleaned from a site entitled White Shark Facts, the other entitled  Tornado Facts Website.

shark facts!

Great White Sharks try to avoid fighting for food. When there is only enough food for one, they have a tail-slapping contest. The sharks swim past each other, each slapping the surface of the water with their tails, and often directing the spray toward the other shark. The one who gets the meal is the shark that delivers the most tail slaps.
The Great White Shark have an enormous liver that can weigh up to 24 percent of its entire weight.
Scientists estimate that after a big meal, a Great White Shark can last up to three months before needing another one.
Great White Sharks rarely attack people and when they do, it is because they mistaken the person for their usual seal prey.
Young Great White Sharks eat Leopard Sharks.
A Great White Shark was once kept in an aquarium for a few days, but it became disoriented, continually hitting its nose against the glass, so it had to be released into the sea.
The biggest Great White Shark ever caught was off Prince Edward Island in 1993. It was 20 feet long.hitting its nose against the glass, so it had to be released into the sea.
In one year, a single Great White consumes about 11 tons of food.
Some scientists believe there are less than 10,000 Great White Sharks in the entire world.
More than 70 percent of known victims of Great White Shark Attacks survive because the shark realizes it has made a mistake and doesn’t finish off the prey.

Tornado Facts!
Each year, about a thousand tornadoes touch down in the United States, far more than any other country.
Waterspouts are tornadoes that form over a body of water.
A strong tornado can pick up a house and move it down the block.
Nebraska, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas make up Tornado alley, where tornadoes strike regularly in the spring and early summer.
Many houses in tornado alley have strong basement shelters.
Some people have seen inside a tornado with their own eyes lived to tell about it.
Knives and forks have been found embedded in tree trunks flung from a tornado.
Usually a tornado starts off as a white or gray cloud but if it stays around for a while, the dirt and debris it sucks up eventually turns it into black one.
3 out of every 4 tornadoes in the world happen in the United States.
Thunderstorms most likely to give birth to Tornadoes are called supercells.
Tornado winds are the fastest winds on Earth.
A Tornado in Oklahoma once destroyed a whole motel. People later found the motel’s sign in Arkansas.
A Tornado can sometimes hop along its path. It can destroy one house and leave the house next door untouched.
In 1928, a tornado in Kansas plucked the feathers right off some chickens.
In 1931 a tornado in Mississippi lifted an 83 ton train and tossed it 80 feet from the track.
The United States have an average of 800 tornadoes every year.
Each year, dozens of Americans die from tornadoes.
Usually, a tornado’s color matches the color of the ground.
Some tornadoes make a considerable amount of noise while others make very little. It depends on the objects a tornado might hit or carry. A tornado moving along an open plain may make very little noise.
Some people think the crop circles in the UK are the result of weak whirlwinds. About 60 of these small tornadoes are formed every year in Britain.

22 May 2013

Bacon in Tokyo

There is a show at the Tokyo museum of Modern Art of Francis Bacon's paintings. I went to see it there as I had never really seen a large show of his work.

Recently, however, I saw a documentary containing perhaps the only real interview he ever gave to an art critic whose name I forget,  plus footage of him and his friends at the notorious bar, the Colony Room Club in SOHO back in the late 60's. Amazing stuff, and I found myself surprised by his remarkable personality, one of tremendous wit but too often ladled up with sarcastic cruelty. He was a drinker after all (an anecdote: he once told an admirer of his work, someone who had wanted to visit his studio: "You wear bad ties, why would I show you my work?"). Ouch! But, he had a tremendous artistic personality, one of obsessive and unabashed curiosity around the baser aspects of the human body and soul, no doubt. This is the obvious side, of course. But in this interview he comes off to me as very bright and completely unpretentious, without any presumption regarding the direction of his work or even its value. He simply painted, and that was that. If others liked or didn't like it, so be it. One has to admire this steely response to the outside world especially in the ego-driven world of Art. 

I had also seen the remarkable film starring Derick Jacobi, a long while back that I found horrifying and beautiful all at once. There are scenes recreated of the Colony Room which capture with uncanny verisimilitude the alcoholic antics of Bacon and his friends. 

He created his biggest works in a small messy room (his studio) in South Kensington, and this also speaks a great deal about him. He loved Velasquez, that is certain, but I was less certain about whether or not he had done anything of significance from using these great paintings as models. 

I wanted to simply articulate a few feelings that his work provoked in me. So armed with just these previous encounters with Bacon, I went to see the show in Tokyo.

(From my notes made in the exposition):

The first problem I have, and perhaps it's the only one really: How does one enter into Bacon's world? At the risk of giving offense to his admirers, and I know there are many, I personally feel excluded from his inner world. Why is that? 

Ok, it would be easy to suggest that I simply don't get it. That is possible, but the problem for me is that I 'almost' get it, so thus my frustration. 

I feel that I am too much of a sensualist who loves Tintoretto, to find movement in Bacon's paintings. This is what I find frustrating. For me, it comes so close, but then it appears fro freeze in a kind of two-dimensional graphic space which fights with the often intricately rendered detail of heads and bodies. I have often felt that his work has the light of 'illustration', so unlike the light I love in many different painters from so many different periods in art history. I think of Massacio and Piero della Francesca; of the torment of Goya and Otto Dix, and the mystery of Matisse.

So, my feeling is that I find myself strangely left out as if watching a photo of a scene going on inside a house across the street; a scene which excludes me.

There is a study for a portrait of a man, his head sits in the middle of the picture, a tiny head in a sea of blue and I am reminded of Giacometti. How would Alberto have created a sea of light in all that darkness? I know it's unfair to compare but most of us do anyway, even secretly when we are alone in our studios or bedrooms with no one else around. Comparison is inevitable when push comes to shove in creation.

I realize after looking at already a few of these portraits that he worked from photographs which for me, sadly feel too present in the paintings. The color harmonies feel contrived, or worse, they don't relate at all to one another, cool orange clash next to a field of cold greens....I find no resolution for this collision of disharmony. I am left standing at the edge of a cliff, I cannot jump but cannot turn back either. I am stuck and I imagine that many of his admirers would happily say:

"Yes! That's the anxiety! That's his genius. It is just this place from where he comes from, and can articulate so well."

And yet, I still cannot find my way into, or out of this 'anxiety' because it feels two dimensional and contrived.

There is a study of the Pope Innocent X dressed in a pink frock while seated in a bright green chair which made me think of Matisse and just how he might have rendered it. Matisse always invites me into his world and through each and every picture I never feel excluded from his emotional input. I have the feeling that his painting never stop moving unlike that of Bacon's which seem to cement me into a darkness as if I've been buried alive.…. So why does Bacon keep me out? No doubt Bacon himself would like that. But if he hadn't been a drinker would he have cared? I want so much to like his work more than I do, and that is my frustration.

14 May 2013

War and Art

In the Tokyo Museum of Modern Art is an exhibition of war time paintings. Here are but a few samples. Obviously, I was so struck by the intensity in all of them but also the painterliness, especially in the last one of the kamikaze attack on the American B-29's. They chose a 'Western' way of working these subjects into oil paintings. It as if the painter (Ken'ichi Nakamura) had Monet in mind when he made this incredible picture. I was very moved by them and leave them for your perusal. 

13 May 2013


Searching for
Mind behind
Smart phone.

12 May 2013

tokyo rain

While walking under a light rain this evening from Omote-sando to Shinjuku here in Tokyo I came across a a marvelous sight. It looked like an entire japanese landscape imprinted upon a cement wall perhaps 15 meters long as if done on a long scroll. Created by water seeping down the wall from the top in uneven degrees misty mountains appear as if by moonlight. I had only my i-phone on me so these are dark but wonderful, if one has the imagination.

11 May 2013


And surfing smart phones-
Tokyo metro!

01 May 2013

gotta love that gal #13, Deanna Durbin, The Anthem Sprinters by Ray Bradbury

Deanna Durbin dies at 91.
'Say it ain't so!' as they truly did often say in so many films of the forties and fifties, many of which we saw as kids in black and white on the television late at night.

I remember Deanna Durbin, the all American kid, if ever there was one, albeit fictitious, and dreamed up by Hollywood during the Depression to cheer everyone up.

But I really remember her because of the pivotal role she played in a wonderful short story by Ray Bradbury called The Anthem Sprinters. There was a time in my life when I think I read everything he ever wrote.

Bradbury and his wife spent a year in Ireland back in the sixties when he was hired to write a screenplay. He was having a tough time of it and decided for distraction to write a few short stories while he was over there. Apparently, he did fall head over heels in love with the Irish. 

The Anthem Sprinters is the story of a gang of friends, who, from their bar stools at the local pub (naturally), organized races to see which one could get out of the movie theatre the fastest. The rules were simple: The races were between two runners, who having sat through a film at the local movie house had to race out of the theatre and back to the pub where their friends waited impatiently. This was a serious pastime and piles of money were wagered on each runner. In fact the best runners were 'handicapped' by being seated in certain rows near the front of the theatre. The slower ones were given the advantage of being allowed to sit near the back and closer to the exit. Both runners were seated on the aisle however, but the important caveat was that they could not move until the very end of the film but before the start of the Irish Anthem. Once The End was displayed they were off.

In his marvelous story Bradbury gets caught up in the excitement and waits with the others at the Pub for the arrival of runners. Only one of the runners shows up though, and everyone at the Pub is scratching their heads. They sent someone down to the movie house to see what has happened to the other runner. Did he fall and break his arse they wondered? After a while this guy comes back to the Pub to report. It turns out that the 'favored' runner who had been handicapped in the first row seat hadn't actually left the theatre. When they found him he was seated in the empty theatre and still balling his eyes out because the heroine in the film had died. The heroine was Deanna Durbin.

She eventually left Hollywood and went to live in France to raise a small family in 1949.
Smart girl! 

Great books #2 (Kafka on the Shore)

I know, I know,,, he has been around for years and I only just discovered him when I randomly picked up The Wind-up Bird Chronicles while in Japan last year. Ok,.. so I don't read the New York Review of Books each week!

But, anyway, not since reading (and re-reading) J. D. Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye and his Nine Short Stories so many years ago have I been drawn into such youthful eccentricity. Murakami's imaginative narrative is as good as the great American Master himself.