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.
12 December 2020
I first became aware of the Mandelbrot set and the popular Chaos theory a few years ago. I was over for drinks at Virginia's at Thomas in Comps, just up a few hills from where I lived in Dieulefit. I was speaking to Patricia an old friend of hers from Edinburgh, a scientist whom I met there during the summer months and liked. She suggested I read the book entitled CHAOS by the New York Times science editor, at the time. I have forgotten his name.
And so I did, and I was glued to it for about a week straight. A great read, it explains in very simple terms the history and the impact that Chaos theory has had upon the scientific world at large. My memory of it today however, reminds me that all indigenous peoples around this planet since the beginning of time have certainly lived by Chaos theory.
It isn't a long book but I always like to take my time whilst reading, reading anything actually, even straight news. I am a daydreamer, and this state interrupts me all the time so I can inspect my own feelings about the subject at hand.
"What are my real ideas about all this?", I ask myself between sentences.
Worse, any pretext is enough for me to pause between pages to inspect an ant or a wasp climbing up my arm, and which itself, would be inspecting me... but, anyway.
In boarding school they tried to speed me up with reading exercises and such. But was I to be trained for a love for Law or Tolstoy?
Anyway, I am still a slowpoke when it comes to reading but I read a lot, all the time in fact. I am currently reading a small book (among others) entitled Mandelbrot the Magnificent by Liz Ziemska which is actually a fanciful novel about his early childhood in France, and quite good. He was the earliest proponent of Chaos theory, the inventor of the whole motherlode.
In school I loved the idea of Maths and Geometry but I was really, really crumby at all of it. My grades were almost as awful as my ability to concentrate. My mind was disorganised but it could also be randomly focused like in some parallel universe where poets lived like pirates terrorising conventional thinking. I was able to see and feel relationships everywhere, and I also had a good visual memory despite the brain of Swiss Cheese. I always aced those IQ tests which demanded quick responses to pattern recognition and visual relationships. I am still good at them. I was pre-selected to be a poet of sorts, but a poor Maths student.
Imagine that poet being told to find the fastest route around a triangle? This poet will almost always find the slowest route, the scenic route, spending time at both A and B before heading home to C. Like a wayward baseball player, having hit a home run, the crowd goes nuts as he leisurely waltzes around the bases before eventually arriving at home plate with a sort of autistic hesitation, a pas de deux without the deux, but with a certain flair.
My dear friend John grew up in Northern Ireland and he too, went to boarding school. He was a first class raconteur, and very funny. He once described to me the Sporting Competition which his school hosted at the end of each year before the summer holiday. He boasted about winning the bicycle race one of those years.
But the bicycle race he won was particular in that the first prize went to the clever fellow who managed to take the longest route possible before arriving at the finish line after all the other competitors. In fact, the goal was to come in last place. The rules stipulated that every participant had to keep moving in a forward direction only, however slow, while not touching the ground with one's feet. Obviously collisions disqualified any and all participants.
It would have been a painful 50 yards long and the width of a football field so it would have taken forever too, but it must have been hilarious to watch. And John, who managed to win the slowest bike race in his school's sporting competition was indeed proud for many years thereafter.
Watching the race from above (which one can easily do these days with a drone) would have revealed a strange side of Mandelbrot's theory of infinity. But back in the 1950's, and high above, one might have seen the competitors crawling about like ladybugs in a field manifesting Mandelbrot's idea of expanding fractal design.
The CHAOS theory for me, is a repudiation of Euclid's rigid hold over the way we perceive finite distance and space, as if we all live in a cube created by Marcel Marceau.
Distance is really infinite when one looks at it from the perspective of say, an ant, a ladybug, or especially a poet. But this is my own quick description which might not please a science professor.
You see, my problem with MATHS was that I never accepted that 99.99999999, etc, etc,,, that needed to be systematically rounded off to the nearest 100. Every student at school had to deal with it. Personally, it made me crazy because it was like being condemned to wearing a tee shirt which was too small, too tight and uncomfortable. I would always be pulling on it with infinite displeasure. So all this left me anxious and uneasy, especially around what I deemed to be a convenient solution for conforming dunderheads all around me. I was someone who created complications out of everything so I thought I was special!
And I was the terminal "Yes, but" sort of student. "Yes, but,,,,,, Yes, but,,,,,, Yes, But,,,,,,"
I was the Doubting Thomas of students, poking my poetic insistence into solid concrete theories. I drove my teachers to distraction.
Funny enough, not too long ago, I heard a woman explain what people were really asking for with all this
'Yes, but,,, Yes, but,,, Yes, but,,,' questions of theirs.
She said that 'Yes, butt' was simply the mating call for other assholes.
Makes perfect sense to me now.
So then Chaos theory, and its fractal universe sent me a larger tee shirt, and after a lifetime of doubt I was finally, and quite suddenly free, comfortable in my own skin in this world of fractal infinity. I had found the Holy Graal of uncertainty!
And Art is a kind of illogical infinity isn' it?
For me, Art (Painting, in my case) is not about Logic. A painting defies logic as does any work of Art. In any event it should never confirm logic, that would be the worst thing besides of course, sentimentality.
More to be revealed ...
09 December 2020
07 December 2020