04 December 2015

Picasso, anecdotal evidence of a tough player

Luis Buñel writes in his clever memoir a story about the young Picasso on the verge of stardom.

On one occasion the Catalonian ceramist Artigas, one of his (Picasso's) close friends
went to Barcelona in 1934 with an art dealer to see Picasso's mother. She invited them to lunch, and during the meal, she told them that there was a trunk in the attic filled with drawings that her son had done when he was very young. When she took them upstairs and showed them the work, the dealer made an offer which she accepted, and he brought about thirty drawings back to Paris. When the exhibition opened in a gallery in St. Germain-des-Prés, Picasso arrived and went from drawing to drawing, reminiscing over each one and was clearly moved. Yet the minute he left, he went straight to the Police and denounced both Artigas and the dealer. Artigas had his photo in the newspaper under the headline "International Crook!"

29 October 2015

part 2. Sola Agustsson (some wise words from the front!)

1. Art collectors treat art as an investment.
For the most part, the only people who can afford to buy art in this economy are people who are not affected by this economy, the top 1 or 2 percent. Of course, rich people have always patronized the arts— Michelangelo would never have been able to produce his masterpieces without the Medici family— but today's billionaires aren’t just patronizing artists, they’re investing in and branding them. The top 10 billionaire art collectors have 18% of their net worth invested in art, though the average billionaire invests about .5% of their net worth in art. Investing in art can sometimes prove more lucrative than the stock market; a recent study shows that works by Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst have been appreciating at a higher rate than the S&P 500.
There is money to be made not just in selling art, but also in evaluating its worth. In the same way a financial advisor would help you make investment choices, there are art advisors who counsel your art purchases. “Appearing as if from nowhere, like a biblical swarm of locusts: The art advisors…. in the last few years, advisors have popped up literally everywhere and now outnumber collectors 2 to 1,” says financial writer Adam Lindermann. Many contemporary art collectors have no interest in the art itself, making priceless works of art nothing more than fetishized commodities.
Flipping, selling artworks immediately after purchasing them at exponential prices, is also a common practice among art collectors. Many financial advisors predict that continuing to inflate the value of works of art that are constantly turned over will soon cause the art bubble to burst. “The auction houses are experiencing a situation where every auction total is higher than the last and these vertiginous upward prices cannot be maintained forever. Someday the music is going to stop and somebody is going to be found without a chair to sit on,” says art expert and former Sotheby’s employee Todd Levin.
2. Art is a spectacle.
There are certain exhibitions, like James Turrell’s immersive light installation at the Guggenheim, when experiencing the art everyone is extoling is nearly impossible because there are so many viewers clamoring to see what the hype is about. I waited in line for nearly two hours to see Turrell’s Aten Reign, a “meditative spectacle” where I “may or may not see God” (according to New York Times critic Roberta Smith). Perhaps I would have seen God had not every New Yorker who had that day off been breathing down my neck, but mostly, the entire exhibit seemed like a subtle joke. There I was, standing in a line, shuffling up the steps like a prisoner, waiting to see this transformative work that no matter how spectacular would ultimately frustrate me. Perhaps I’m cynical, but the crowded wait only ruined the exhibit for me. I wondered if this wasn’t some kind of existential funhouse, a metaphor for the futility of human existence, ending in a disappointing light show.

26 October 2015

Sola Agustsson (some wise words from the front!)

from an interesting article by Sola Agustsson (part 1)
For the last few years, I’ve hovered above the refreshments table at art events, guzzling free wine like a peasant and stuffing napkins full of bread and cheese into my purse. Usually the art is mediocre, I am alone covering an exhibition, and making small talk is excruciating without the encouragement of alcohol.
I have been to thousands of art events over the course of my life. I come from a family of artists: my grandmother is an African-American assemblage artist, and my mother and aunt are artists as well. Growing up, I was dragged to all kinds of art openings and museum shows. Some art school students would love that kind of exposure, but as a kid, I found them painfully boring. Though informally trained in painting and drawing, I have always considered myself more of a writer and an academic. Nobody wants to be like their parents, even if they are bohemians. But alas, I fell into writing art reviews, despite not having a background in art history, deferring my aspirations of becoming a fiction writer.
I’ve written about art for about three years since moving to New York, though I never managed to really write as an art critic; I was more like a junior copywriter for art. Writing for certain art magazines and blogs allowed me a Gatsbyian entrance into the lives of the extraordinarily wealthy. I got to interview art collectors, gallery dealers, models, artists, and designers who probably spend more on handbags than I do on rent. I’ve sipped champagne in a Bentley and feasted on caviar in penthouse apartments. Though I disliked some of the art I was assigned to cover, as a grad student I couldn’t really be choosy about what I wrote about. I wanted to get published, and getting paid to write, no matter the topic, felt like a blessing.
I approached writing about art from a literary perspective, aiming to uncover some significant meaning by contextualizing the work within the artist’s life and perspective. This made uninteresting art exhibits easier to write about, since a lot of artists are more inspiring than their work. I’m shy, and interviewing people proved to be a valuable experience.
Yet art events continue to make me uncomfortable. Whether it's a press preview at a huge museum, a commercial art fair or a packed gallery opening in Chelsea, I’m always anxious to leave. The lighting is always too bright and everyone acts as though they, like the art, are on display, smiling grotesquely as if a camera is lurking. It’s usually so crowded you can hardly view the art, though it doesn’t seem as though people look at the art as much as they schmooze, and you have to stand the entire time. The social discomfort is the least of my qualms with the art world, though. Here are the main reasons why the art world nauseates me.

07 October 2015

Idris Murphy

This is long but very interesting for painting lovers.

Idris Murphy paints in the studio from Sean O'Brien on Vimeo.

06 October 2015

Idris Murphy, Mutawintji

I came across this marvellous painting in an old Art Review here in Australia just recently. And no, he is not an Indigenous artist here in Australia. He is a very gifted painter and he possesses a European sen of colour and light. 

More images tomorrow, and more commentary as to what I mean by "European".

30 September 2015

Leon Kossoff

I think I took this i-phone photo in The Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney. I have just come across it in the computer. 

Not only do I marvel at the Humanity in it but also of its thick impasto which indicates so much struggle within the portrait itself. He is alive and painting at 88 years.

28 September 2015

Spacey Art!

There is a group show at the Galerie Thaddeus Ropac Pantin outside Paris, featuring art work inspired by Space and Space exploration. Included are a few celebrated artists of the 20th century. 

Here are two which appealed to me.

"MOON" by Not Vital 2013

and, most curiously this one by Robert Rauschenberg entitled "Nagshead Summer Glut Sketch". This surprises me by its poetic eloquence, something I have rarely ever felt in his art work despite his immense popular success and celebrated status.

26 September 2015

This is a large scale mural (27 feet high) which decorates the side of a building owned by Wyllie Goodman in Red Hook Brooklyn, NY.
According to the NY times she heard what she though was gunfire outside. Actually it was the sound of paintballs being shot at the mural.

The mural is part of a campaign in London and New York protesting the prison sentence of Iranian illustrator Atena Farghadani who received 12 years for depicting politicians as animals. (!)

In any event, I was simply struck by how much nicer the mural worked with the addition of the long vertical white stripes down its side. It gives an otherwise bland black drawing some real character.

Sadly it will be painted over because of local protests from the Brooklyn neighbors who hate it apparently.

So, does Iran have saboteurs working not so covertly in America?

25 September 2015

Earnest Ernest Hemmingway at the Morgan Library

This looks like a wonderful show at the Morgan Library in Manhattan. Here was man who seemed to be at the epicentre of the zeigist of the early 20th century. A tough guy who who did unpolitically-incorrect things like shooting lions and tigers. But, he also took a stand against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. A flawed man, apparently, one whose own inner demons killed him with a shotgun. But, what a hard-drinking talent of a writer! If only our politicians today had an ounce of this kind of courage!

24 September 2015

Thomas Hart Benton, oops, that's Art!

Ha ha, two Republicans in Missouri caught trading telephone numbers with one another while doing so using a painting by Thomas Hart Benton as a surface. Sacré Bleu! Liberals, and Democrats alike are up in arms of course. (And they should be) This wonderful photo by Dave Marner, editor of the Gasconade County was taken at the Missouri State Capitol and published the other day.
What surprises me in some much of the social media commentary is just how scathing people are towards these two bureaucrats. (And they should be, I repeat) However, it also strikes me as a bit confusing (perhaps a bit disingenuous) because it would seem to me that these same people (Liberals, Art lovers, Lefties, etc) also celebrate  the freedom of expression which takes the form of Graffiti so celebrated by the very upper crusted institutions around the world. And, painting Graffiti it seems to me, isn't so very different a behaviour as the non-chalance performed by these two bureaucrats.

Unhappily, we seem to live in a world governed by philistines. If it isn't Terrorists chopping up Palmyra or defacing Parisian streets, it is great Cultural institutions  promoting Graffiti Art at the request of interested parties in the commercial Art world. The world, it seems, is ruled by a selfish disinterest in that thing called Beauty. Poor Beauty! Pillaged by Post-Modernism, and flogged by Contemporary Art schools, it seems to survive only in the hearts of few lost dreamy souls like myself.

10 September 2015

Japan Graphic

I fell in love with this.

08 September 2015

Piero della Francesca, yet again

Born in 1415 and he lived many full and rich years but in that short life of a painter he created so many marvellous things. The portrait above is one of the reasons I began painting. A large poster of this head which I found in Italy has somehow survived my various homes and studios from Aix to New York, back to the Drôme, and it now lives in Australia. It is a remarkable thing; alive and so full of feeling. And that, is what I believe it is all about in Art regardless of the current vogue for intellectual machinations.

This is the reason I paint.


07 September 2015

Le 28 Août, 2015

oil on board 150 X 100 cm, Myocum N.S.W. Australie

This is a new painting which pushes me into another direction.

02 September 2015

what is a home anyway?

As the refugees slip through the porous eastern front of Europe many of us watch from the comfort of our homes with memories of the horror of World War II. Even a little house like the one above would do. 

And further, do I find myself more worried about the destruction of the ancient site of Palmyra or the invisible children of Syria who trying to escape?

29 August 2015

La France and America, Sacré Bleue

I love that these four American servicemen were blindly scooting through Europe, blissfully enjoying themselves,.. the rest is history, of course.

Its a wonderful thing to cheer America, Americans, really. Think of it as maybe a sequel to the Hangover franchise but with a very different ending.

Sacré Bleu, indeed!

(Addendum: ill informed as I am down here in the Southern Hemisphere, I neglected the British and French men who also received medals for their heroism on the train) 

24 August 2015

The Painted Word

Still a classic, which I picked up again for a quick read between Tolstoy and Proust. What a sorbet does between two heavy courses during a meal. Curiously I don't accept his premise as easily as I did 30 + years ago, but then, the art world has changed a great deal, and so have I.

He begins the book because of something he picked up in the Sunday Times (NYT). It was from an article by (then) Chief art critic Hilton Kramer.

"..I was jerked alert by the following: (he writes)

'Realism does not lack its partisans, but it does rather conspicuously lack a persuasive theory. And given the nature of our intellectual commerce with works of art, to lack a persuasive theory is to lack something crucial -- the means by which our experience of individual works is joined to our understanding of the values they signify.'

This was enough, apparently, to trigger his inspiration for writing this small book about Art.

Wolfe deduces from Kramer that one needs to understand the context of a work before one can experience it, and thus he explores the history of the 'idea' behind a work (or maybe the idea which proceeds the work).

Coming from a place of 'Art for Art's sake' I saw this premise of his differently then than I do now. Post-Modernism has ruled the thinking in art school's since Wolfe first wrote this book back in 1974. But, before that time, it was still a fairly 'elitist' program of thinking. (Joseph Beuys was shocking main stream thinking back then, imagine that!)

In any event, it is a very interesting read.

19 August 2015

Ryan Hoffmann

Three lovely paintings by an Australian painter. 

18 August 2015

Kevin Connor

Andalusian House, in the Forever Moonlight Night, 2015oil on canvas198 x 223 cm

14 August 2015

wonderful photograph

This was taken by Richard Heathcote of golfer Rickie Fowler tab Whistling Straight.

05 August 2015

Caravan house!

Classic architecture in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. Photo taken by my friend Davis Hickson.

01 August 2015

Sea Shepherd

After a 10,000 mile chase the Sea Shepherd's Bob Barker pushed this illegal commercial fishing ship to its spectacular end when the crew scuttled it. New York Times recently made an interesting report on this chase.

What I love is this image taken before its rapid sinking just 400 miles off South Africa.

If boats were people...poor thing.

31 July 2015

full moon

Moony, 22 July 2015, oil on canvas, 150 X 150 cm

27 July 2015


'Among animals. we find surprising cases of altruistic adoption among different species, like the female dog in Buenos Aires that became famous for having saved an abandoned human baby by placing him among her pups. Similarly, in a striking documentary, we see a leopard chase and kill a mother baboon. Before dying, the baboon gives birth. At the sight of the newborn, the stunned leopard hesitates for a second, then changes its attitude: he treats the little baboon gently and, when other predators approach, takes him delicately in his jaws and places him safely on a tree branch. The baby baboon, frightened at first, tries to climb higher, is caught by the leopard, and then exhausted lies motionless between the paws of the leopard, which begins to lick and groom him. The two fall asleep leaning against each other. Its finally the cold of night that takes the life of the baby baboon.'

from Altruism by Matthieu Ricard

23 July 2015

eating habits

In China an animal activist rallies to save dogs which are caged and boiled for human food. I applaud her (the woman in the video on the right) for her efforts. And although I don't eat meat or chicken now since 1980 I see that what one culture eats may be abhorrent to another. What I find interesting is how humans see the animal world as somehow inferior. This is the problem with Humanity, and it is why we are at war with every other species on earth, plants, animals and fish. Sadly, then we are at war with ourselves.

17 July 2015

Issa, always again, and again

Not knowing the tree
will be felled  - birds 
build a nest

14 July 2015

two haiku by Shiki, (Masaoka Shiki, 1867 - 1902)

It's snowing
I can see it through a hole
in the paper window

In this snow-covered house
all I can think of is that
I'm just lying here

11 July 2015

Artaud, encore, patience SVP!

"Written poetry is worth reading once, and then should be destroyed. Let the dead poets make way for others."

Well, well,, now Monsieur Artaud I beg to differ! But, I forget that you were an anarchist, bien sûr! I couldn't imagine a world today without the riches of the Past. How could we not but reach backwards into Time in order to know our present worth?

Tut, tut,,, Monsieur Artaud! And if your drawings were destroyed?? The world today would have nothing in its arsenal to combat the Disnification of contemporary culture.

As Keats wrote at the end of Ode to a Grecian Urn:

'Beauty is Truth, and Truth Beauty,
That is all ye need to know on earth,
And all ye need to know.'


10 July 2015

Antonin Artaud, fuit l'enfer!

"No one has ever written, painted, sculpted, modelled, built, or invented except literally to get out of hell"

Although I am not personally completely convinced of this statement it is surely relevant to a lot of Art created over this brief history of mankind. It seems especially true for Artaud, perhaps Van Gogh as well as many many other tortured souls. 

And what is hell anyway?
more to be revealed.

08 July 2015

Antonin Artaud, encore!

"I would like to write a book which would drive men mad, which would be like an open door leading them where they would never have consented to go, in short, a door that opens onto reality."

from his selected writings

06 July 2015

Antonin Artaud

Here is a great drawing by Antonin Artaud to start the day off with.

It reminds me of why I like to keep drawing.

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). My feeling about his paintings is that essentially, they are done 'from Nature' in order to be signposts leading us (the viewers) back to Nature itself. And of course, he follows in the great tradition of landscape painting. He might see it differently, but nonetheless, 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 himself!

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 of the relatives of those put to death. What is quite remarkable is the difference between the two expressions; one of joy and one of fear.

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