26 October 2019

Degas, a grand draughtsman, et pourtant...

Here is a lovely example of Degas at his most sensual. A drypoint, or etching more likely, it is certainly an early self-portrait. It possesses everything one can love in a portrait; a unity of expression, graphic expression and a kind of piety found in so many Rembrandts of a similar genre.

But, saying all this does not mean that I am a great lover of Degas by any means. In fact, he is an artist whom I respect completely but whose work I mostly find devoid of much humanity (empathy). There are lots of exceptions, of course, but on the whole I cannot warm to him. 'L'Absinthe' is a great portrait of a drinker, but there is still a dispassionate distance which keeps me away. There are a million people who would disagree with me, of course.

Then, there are so many pastels of dancers which never come close to moving me despite their almost perfect clarity of conception.

I just cannot move beyond their technical virtuosity, so apparent, into something which  is personal.

And the nudes are rendered with exquisite taste, yet they still do nothing for me as good as they are.

There are exceptions; as when he made mono-prints of landscapes which I have always loved. 

Then, too, are so many simple, poetic drawings seemingly made from so little. Herein, lies his greatness for me. There are only a small handful of artists whom I consider truly great, but for whom I have little or no affinity of feeling. Degas is a curious example of one. And I admit freely to my quixotic taste.

27 September 2019

a few words to Milton Avery on his death by Mark Rothko

".... Avery is first a great poet. His is the poetry of sheer loveliness, of sheer beauty. Thanks to him this kind of poetry has been able to survive in our time...."

"....I cannot tell you what it meant for us during those early years to be made welcome in those memorable studios on Broadway, 72nd street and Columbus Avenue. We were, there, both the subjects of his paintings and his idolatrous audience. The walls were always covered with an endless and changing array of poetry and light."

Obviously, I have selected these pictures for very personal reasons, they please me immensely. And, they have always had a large influence upon me. 

Avery was called the 'American Fauve' which I can certainly understand. 

For me they continually raise all the those mysterious questions concerning 'non-objection' and 'abstraction' whilst working from Nature and a motif. 

23 September 2019

Whistler and me

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2019, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This painting study made a few months ago sits in my kitchen over the burners. It's where I shoot them each morning with my i-phone when I bring them in from my Hilux. For some reason it proves to be the best place to shoot them because of the even light and lack of glare. 

I call them all studies because in fact, they are made quickly, indeed, so fast that I am almost embarrassed that I sell them for $600 regardless of whether they take 5 minutes or 15. I work quickly because I am an anxious sort of guy. But also because I work just when the sun begins to set behind me, and  as anyone knows, dusk does not wait. There is both magic and serendipity in speed, but dumb luck too. 

I agree with Whistler who once said to a client that one pays an artist for all his many years of failure.

22 September 2019

waves and waves of familiarity

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 4 September 2019, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

It often occurs to me that when I venture out to my motif each afternoon I am never sure what I will paint. All I do know is that by the time I have prepared my palette, it is always 'the motif' which will guide me to a visual solution. I have by now learned to completely trust this ritual. After 2 1/2 years of this very 'site specific' work, not only I have I come to trust this motif, but the motif has come to trust me. And, I realise what a particular thing it is to say such a thing. It is the process of creation which is out of mind.

One of the wonderful aspects of pursuing this 'motif' is that the conditions are always different; what with the look of the sky and sea, as well as my own mood each day, it is the continuity of this work - one which might drive another to boredom - which has pushed me into  a new dimension. 

I have been reading Rothko's notes lately and he said something which I underlined because I found something in it which rankles my own understanding of Painting. Writing about Romantics, he wrote:

"They failed to realise that, though the transcendental must involve the strange and unfamiliar, not everything unfamiliar is transcendental."

I read this sentence several times and it still rather confused me. The first part of it is bothersome because it contradicts how I understand the paintings of Monet who repeatedly worked motifs over and over again, under all sorts of weather conditions. What I always glean from Monet is that the Transcendent comes out of the familiar in our painting experiences. It is in the repeated access to the familiar that Nature opens her wings to us, and allows the strange to appear in fact. The second part of the sentence makes sense.

And so it is for me that a horizon line dividing the sea and sky has given birth to an endless flow of images for me, as many as there are waves over the sea.

17 September 2019

Giacometti and Tony Tuckson

Alberto Giacometti, “Head of Woman (Flora Mayo)” (1926), painted plaster, 31.2 x 23.2 x 8.4 cm, collection of the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris (© Alberto Giacometti Estate, ACS/DACS, 2017)

Two different works; one, a painted plaster block and the other, an oil portrait. Both made within three decades of each other. One done in Paris, the other in Sydney, Australia. 

I love them both because they reveal the same disregard for any academic style in achieving a work of Humanist determination. Giacometti was in Paris at the height of the Surrealist Movement and yet he was an outcast for most of it. This head of Flora Mayo has more in common with ancient primitivism than Surrealism. It borders upon  extreme abstraction and seems timeless to me.

The portrait of Tony Tuckson's wife is also primitive in conception. It is an abstraction which reminds one of Matisse, and even Georges Rouault whose drawing was built with strong and accurate lines. There is something in her expression which speaks of Humanity a quality which I note often in these pages. Alas, it is also something for which contemporary art has little patience. But, is it not the reason one feels compelled to make portraits in the very first place? In this case they are two women depicted by two men.  And for men, is there anything more dangerous to grasp than understanding the mysterious soul of a woman? Flora Mayo by Giacometti reveals an uncertainty, perhaps a sadness due to deception while the expression in the Wife of Tony Tuckson feels more buoyant and more tender. I could certainly live with them, daily contemplating the the candlelight of life within both.

13 September 2019

Picasso, Le Baiser,

Picasso, le Baiser

I have been thinking a lot about how difficult it is to express violence and the inhumanity of Mankind in a painting. It is rare that a painter succeeds as well as the image above by Picasso. This picture pierces the love/hate of a relationship in human terms. It is a war, not one between nations or religions but between the passions and demands of the human heart. How many crimes are committed in the name of love? On the radio, daily, I endure reports of terrible acts of violence perpetrated between individuals. With knives, swords, nail guns, broken bottles and pistols, people go at each other continually, but mostly it is men killing women.

And even in the quiet of their homes do couples destroy one another with silence, mistrust and jealousy. 

It's not a happy topic but fortunately Picasso made something extraordinary from it. And although his ex-partners did not have kind things to say about him, as a man, art speaks louder than all of the worst qualities which comprise an artist. In these days of the 'Woke' generation and all that 'political-correctness' de jour, many would find my ideas insensitive. But for me, even art can wear the clothes of a villain, for isn't the point of art to pierce our bias and decapitate our prejudice??

I love this picture for its graphic unity of expression that seems to oscillate within the boundaries of its own four walls. It is a difficult image, and it is a painting which speaks in decibels not in whispers. And I really like it for that.

03 September 2019

Early Rothko, a sampling of three oeuvres

These are very curious pictures done by Rothko in 1948. Because I have been reading his earliest texts and letters, it has pushed me to prowl around a bit on the Net to look up various things about him. 

In a 1952 interview with Willian Seitz he said a few things I note:

"I do not want unity"

and with Trumpian flair:
"My own work has a unity like nothing (I do not mind saying even if I appear immodest)"

"I am not interested in colour"

"Space has nothing to do with my work"

Indeed, he said many things, much of it incoherent. But also, he said many things which I find sound. It comes down to one's personal ideas about Painting and Art. And to be fair, he was young and full of intellectual energy along side his fellow Expressionist painters when he wrote these terribly serious things. 

I understand these paintings to be extrapolated from the human face. I find them quite sensual and beguiling in a weird way which pleases me. I have picked these things which I like, because there are many which I don't like from this period. He was heavily into sacred symbols and rituality connected to primitive cultures. At the same time he was apparently very interested in Surrealism. One could find a dim resemblance to works by Masson, Ernst and Henri Michaux among a few others. 

Also, there is a resemblance to Pollack's earlier work which was also coming out of a figurative world. I saw a show of it in Paris years ago. It was very interesting for me. I understood where he was coming from.

I think he is being defiantly disingenuous when he claims that Space and Unity do not figure into his criteria of importance because I find them completely beholden to both Space and Unity.

from the National Gallery
In a 1943 letter to the New York Times, written with Adolph Gottlieb and Barnett Newman, Rothko said, "It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints, as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as a good painting about nothing. We assert that the subject is crucial and only that subject matter is valid which is tragic and timeless. That is why we profess a spiritual kinship with primitive and archaic art."

02 September 2019

Andrea Mantegna, Matisse and Modernism

The magnificent Humanity of Mantegna and Matisse is alive and well in these images. Separated by 400 years, these two artists share an interest in depicting a full range of the human soul. What is lacking in sophistication in the last portrait (of Marguerite) is made up for in the simplicity of its expression. And, Mantegna is a hard act to follow, a bit like any popular band going on stage to perform after the Rolling Stones. But, it is through expressive means that paintings are bound to greatness despite the technique employed. And, Painting is about making visual decisions at every moment in the creative process.

I saw this small portrait of a young man (in pink) at the Capodimonte Museum in Naples many years ago. It was so small, and it was placed on such a large wall in a palatial room surrounded by so many great pictures by Titian that one could have easily not noticed it at all. But its presence was undeniable, like a beautiful child at a funeral procession. 

The modernity of Matisse's flat graphic space isn't new. It is but part of the curved arc of progression in Painting which returns always back to a graphic unity. I think of Giotto, from whom escaped Mantegna, and his training as a Renaissance painter. Giotto, who singlehandedly, had carried us out of the Byzantine and into the world of a truly Modern 14th century. It begs the question? What is the next step in Painting? Can we reel Post-Modernism back to an expression of Humanity?

01 September 2019

re-print, Sara Thornton, a decade gone by, alas

09 October 2009



Somewhat overcast this morning, mostly grey in fact and yet the rain (la pluie) refuses to arrive. My days are so quiet that when the telephone rings (sonne),  it startles me somewhat. I spend most of the day in my painting studio. But I have also been reading a book by Sara Thornton entitled  "Seven days in the Art World" which is enlightening to say the least (le moins). One of its chapters is devoted to the nominees (nominés) for the infamous Turner Prize, and the  2006 winner, which was Tomma Abst, a painter living in London. Curious, I looked at her works on the net, as well as those of the other nominees. Her paintings are smallish (plutôt petit). I liked some of them. They reminded me of the Russians of course, I saw two exhibitions devoted to them last year in Paris and in London. The painting above (ci-dessus) is from the show in Paris at the Fondation Dina Vierny. I was allowed to photograph to my hearts content (tout son soûl), an unusual luxury these days but I forget who did this painting though.

One of the big surprises in her book is a revelation by one of the publishers of ARTFORUM magazine who confessed to Ms. Thornton:

"As for Contemporary Art, 95% of it cannot be taken seriously"

Ouch! (aïe!)

Marcel, a painter friend, calls Contemporary Art: "L'Art Contemp-pour-rien"
"Good for nothing" 

Mostly, I agree with that, but my eyes are always on the prowl, and they have to be: this is my world whether I like it or not.

Regarding the Art World, Paris seems to have lost its luster (lustre) in so many ways over the past 50 or 60 years. It seems to have missed out on most of the Hedge Fund money; the funnymoney, which seemed like an electrified arc between London and New York, a kind of permanent rainbow (un arc-en-ciel) between the two cities. They say that's pretty much over but I doubt it. There is already too much speculation built into the system. The French have older and different ideas about money, especially (surtout)concerning Art. I hope they never lose that unusual respect for the quiet poet slaving away in a small life somewhere; he or she, working for the dead and the not yet born. It is one of the things which I love about this Culture. There isn't another like it any where in this Internet-connected world and as they say: As long as it lasts (pourvu que ça dur).

Ah,... (tiens) the telephone rings.

29 August 2019

Richard Serra, terra nullius,

Mr. Serra’s “Tilted Arc”; which raised a storm of controversy after it was installed in 1981 in downtown Manhattan. It was removed in 1989

Richard Serra is back in the New York Times with a new and weighty piece about his show currently at Gagosian gallery in New York.

I remember when this piece was put into place in a plaza in downtown Manhattan. It raised my blood pressure then and as it did for many others at the time. It was a cultural fight over terra nullius which spilled out on to the sidewalk. Only the elite art establishment, including wealthy patrons and galleries, attacked those who opposed it. And, to be fair, it was an ill-advised purchase by the city of New York. I remember Leo Castelli hurling insults at those who opposed it by claiming that if the Pope had listened to the rabble of people, there would be no Sistine Chapel. It appalled me then, as it still does today to hear such disingenuous babble.

Cutting a plaza in two with a rusty steel wall of weight has nothing to do with anything that Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. This rusty steel wall was in fact a barrier which separated one side of the plaza from the other. It did what war does to people, it cut the plaza into two spaces, cutting the people into two. Before that, it had been a place where Secretaries and workers would take their lunches; an open and sunny hour of their day. It had always been an open walkway so rare in New York City.

Maybe this was Richard Serra's idea at its conception. I do not know. But, I still see it as an elitist view which directly hindered 
the daily life of everyday people. One can, and one should ask the question: What is the purpose of public art if it imposes a war on ordinary people and makes their lives worse?  

Obviously, I feel that this piece was a terrible mistake, and it should never have been put into this plaza. Although Serra sued the city of New York, the piece, after much legal manoeuvring, was removed in 1989. There many were  people who lamented this decision but the great majority of them presumably, were able to return to Greenwich, Southampton, and other sunny and grassy spaces. Serra's works have already found homes in these spacious properties.

The Nazis burned books and paintings (as well as any vestige of Jewish life) in their attempt to control and close off the freedom of thought for citizens in Third Reich Germany. And, it may be a leap for most, but I see in this case, a parallel into how an elite, intellectual class tried to close off a physical space cutting it in half back in 1981. There was a 'gaslighting' of dialogue. It was a case of intellectual and cultural superiority ruling over the lives of ordinary people. What is really egregious is that it was pushed by the very people who made money on the deal.

As I understand it, Richard Serra has never changed his opinion about the whole affair, and his large work is popular. I am left with questions: Does an art work create harmony or intend to destroy it? Is a work dissonant for good reason or by arbitrary whim? Does a public  work look down on the public or does it allow them to look upward? Whose space is public space anyway? Is this aesthetic Form over Function? 

25 August 2019

death and drawing in Essaouira, Morocco

I put this up today because it has sat on my desktop now for years and I still marvel at the fact that I made it. I remember that it was on my first trip to Essaouira in 2006, maybe? But I love the drawing because it was one of several hundreds I made one week working in the streets and sitting in cafes. I love it because I didn't look at it until after I had left and returned to France to open up all the drawing books. At that time I was crazy for the small blank books which Muji made (and still does). They are quite small 10 X 15 cm, and contain a lovely off white colored thin paper. Small suited me because I was so insecure about going off to Morocco and thinking that I could make something of worth. Looking back, I can understand it. Nonetheless, I still like the intimacy of a small drawing. When framed in a very large white mat they gently pull the viewer into to themselves allowing for the most personal visitation. No room for anyone else to press in, to elbow one out of this affectionate, almost confidential rapport. But I do like large paintings too, don't get me wrong. But the seduction of small drawings
lined up on a long wall, each separated by  space just large enough to breath is for an art lover, a kind of catnip of sorts.

But, the drawing in question took my by surprise because it seemed that Death itself had so casually walked by me, and I had obediently drawn it like everything else which moved in the street. There was almost an erotic element to the experience.  And, I love that Death is so casual, so cool,  so nonchalant, so careless like a woman on the prowl in this drawing. 

A friend of mine (a devout and practicing Buddhist) bought it from the show which I subsequently made months later. I was happy for him to have it. Sadly, a few years later he died very quickly of Cancer. I still have a photo of him which I snapped on SKYPE when we were chatting away and months before he even knew that he was ill, and that he was to die soon enough. 

24 August 2019

Turner, the fisherman

At the Tate Clore Gallery a few years back I found my way to the watercolors, many of which are sacred to me, certainly to so many others.

His sketchbooks reveal his often messy, but immediate approach to working in front of the landscape (the motif).

I read a biography of Turner long ago but didn't retain much, but one story impressed me a lot. Apparently, Turner loved fishing, and he could often be found by the small river next Petworth, I believe, or if not, another of his patron's palatial homes. A grandson of the owner would often join Turner at the river and watch him fish with his small rod. He recounted this to the biographer as a grown man. He only saw Turner 'work' once because apparently he fished a lot. But one day, as storm clouds approached on the distant horizon he watched Turner take out his small watercolor book, and satchel of material. He then soaked his paper, dried it crudely with the cuff of his sleeve, then he scrubbed the paper with a brush full of color in a sloppy fashion. He proceeded to work like this for about 30 minutes, back and forth with his fingers, brush, and sleeve until suddenly appeared a set of hills in the distance with wild-looking dark clouds running across the small page of his watercolor book. As a child he was entranced at this event.

I often associate the image of the fisherman and the painter. Afterward all, it is an activity done mostly in solitude at the mercy of all sorts of weather. And both painter and fisherman (and fisherwomen) go out bravely to see what the gods will offer up to them. It is always a surprise for both fisherman and painter. 

Sometimes walking back from the small dune carrying my painting pack and easel, where I have worked under the wild weather, I too, feel like the Old Man and the Sea.

23 August 2019

reprint of a simple tale

18 December 2009

skating on thin ice

Snow this morning, everywhere a white rug! Apropos, I was just speaking with my Dutch friend Joyce about the snow, ice and other winter things when she  asked me out of the blue if I had ever ice-skated? I replied that I used to play ice-hockey when in school. "Oh really" she said "why am I not surprised, you seem to do everything". I laughed, and suddenly remembered a story of me going to visit an old girlfriend in Amsterdam which I then recounted to her over the telephone. 
"It was winter, (I began) and we had planned to go ice-skating. She wanted to present me to one of her dearest friends at an outside rink. She had asked me well in advance did I know how to ice-skate? I assured her this was no problemo. Ha Ha. On the day in question, I cannot remember why, but we had been quarreling when we arrived at the rink and watched the Dutch skate swimmingly around the large oval. A devious inspiration manifested in my childish brain. I nudged my girlfriend over to me to indicate that there was a small problem. She looked at me as if expecting a complaint of a blister on my foot, or something equally as inane but I lowered my head appropriately to discretely inform her that I had lied, that in fact,... I did not know how to skate after all! Naturally (naturellement), she became annoyed with me, I could tell she was angry at the deception. "How could you lie to me?" she cried out loud.... it was the lie which upset her more than the fact that I would now embarrass her in front her old friend acting like a spastic.Shaking her head, she took off to begin circling the oval while I lumbered around the sides making myself ridiculous, Charlie Chaplin being in my mind. She looked over from time to time with exasperation as I fumbled around making a fool (imbecile) of myself. This went on for about ten minutes until I decided that I had gotten my revenge as silly as it was..... Poor girl, I wasn't an easy boyfriend. When I think about it now, I realize that to be in a couple, is to be in a state of war always. Usually though, its operating at the most subtle of layers  

Hell, Its no wonder I'm a bachelor.