07 April 2020

the terrible beauty of the Coronavirus and Otto Dix

This is the Covid-19 virus clinging on to fungus in a lab blown up with a microscope I don't know how many times. The virus is all the small pink bits. It's a thing of such rare beauty, and it follows the usual laws of colour harmony in the natural world. The hot pink is on the cool side which compliments the warm green of the fungus. Perfect! In paintings which work warm always compliments cool and vice-versa. When warm greens are placed next to warm reds, the picture will always have problems. 

In my opinion only Otto Dix, the German painter in the middle of the 20th century, managed to break these usually iron-clad rules. He broke them break them by sheer force of his originality.

His work stemmed from his wartime experiences in both WWI and WWII. I wonder if I don't associate the Covid-17 with him because of the terrible beauty in his work?

06 April 2020

for clouds form, then blossom only to die in the course of a day....

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 April, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

The skies have been magnificent since the rain ended last week. The horizon is again full of luminosity and clouds are but a small head of purple hair racing across the sea until it's eaten up by the dusk.

And now we have a lost an hour, but the horizon could not care less. Moreover, human troubles mean nothing to it, for clouds form, then blossom only to die in the course of a day. And while the pandemic rages through the world, here is a painter looking at the evening sky.

04 April 2020

"Oh! The sun is so beautiful in the middle of the summer......"

"Oh! The sun is so beautiful in the middle of the summer. It beats down on your head, and I've know doubt at all that it drives you crazy. But since I am already I simply enjoy it!"
V. VanGogh in a letter to his brother from Arles

Well, I can't say that it beats down upon us more violently here in Australia than in Provence at the height of August, but the sun  sizzles here too. And, the light is somewhat similar, eucalyptus trees appear violet red, then violet blue like the plane trees in Arles. 

But it is looking out over the horizon where the Australian light really differs from the Mediterranean basin. I believe it is only due to the pollution which has infected so much of the coast line from Cassis, all the way down the Amalfi coast, down to Bari, and over to Athens. But further out, the Greek isles are forever happy, and their sunsets are free of a grey fate. 

Here is something from last week which I wasn't sure about, but I like it now. I don't want to be repetitive but I cannot underline enough the joy of working from the sea at sunset. Its possibilities are limitless.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 31 March, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

02 April 2020

Jumping into a painting

Evening Prayer 26 March, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This is another example of jumping into a painting but holding only a vague visual thread in one's fragile mind. But I know that this sort of thing is extremely good for me because it breaks up my habitual way of working. I do risk however, to make some crazy images. I like this one above yet it is certainly out on the limb of uncertainty.

Below, is a Whistler, done probably in the 1890's in England. It is a beautiful example of Painting as cheerful diversion. He was a proponent of "Art for Art's sake" and caused quite a stir for his ideas. He was a man of intelligence but also of sensual and poetic invention. And this is a great example of it. 

31 March 2020

Hands and Clouds

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 26 March, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Alors, this picture can out of a very frustrated painter who could not decide how to treat the vast mess of clouds in the sky. From the start I decided to grab the smallest of ideas which raced through my mind and to run with it. But I couldn't keep up with the changes going on as twilight accelerated which forced me into an idea, or concept, about how I might find my way into it. I was on dangerous ground.

Unless one is Bonington, or one of those magnificent Flemish painters of the 18th century, a sky full of clouds can be a hairy operation for an amateur like myself. There are too many problems with it! It is a lot like the difficulty of drawing hands. Unless one is Van Dyck or Van Gogh, one must be prepared to fail. Or, one paints them like Picasso with a graphic audacity which spins the attention of the viewer away from his mangled hands like a magician distracts his audience.

And these clouds overrun the sky, and they distort the distance which create a host of problems for the painter. How to push the horizon into the painting when overhead, a cacophony of clouds run amuck like children at recess hour.

This is how I felt. My idea was to fail without shame as the Buddhists love to say when beginning many activities:

"I am already dead!" they exclaim.

And I often use that idea when faced with a wall of insecurity like before an important  tennis match I will recite it to myself.

And so the other night, I just let go as if already dead, and something wonderful happened. I had decided to proceed differently, and I found myself on thin ice yet weightless. When I had finished I was very surprised by it. And I suppose, for me, that is the whole point of both creation and participation in art; the element of surprise.

29 March 2020

Iridescence and the possibility of Painting light

Evening Prayer Brunswick heads, 21 March, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This one is from the last week during when the weather blessed us with stellar skies of such iridescence for several days running. It isn't often when the luminosity goes on such steroids but when it does I am so very grateful to be there with my materials.

Sometimes I get a glimpse into what is possible in Painting. 

25 March 2020

Paradise in Coronavirus

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 21 March, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X  25 cm

This picture came to me the other night. An exquisite light full of vibrance awaited me as I arrived at the small dune which I consider my small studio by the sea. Every evening light is different. My imagination  responds to what is present each day. For a few days in a row last week we were graced a with a strong colourful light, one to which I responded with vigour. This was one of the two which I made that night.

In this almost surreal moment of the Coronavirus I feel so very lucky to be here in such a paradise of beauty and space. That I can come down to work each evening is an added gift. 

I understand that this bubble will not last as the economic reality of a severe downturn will follow the virus. So for the moment, one day at a time, I am alive and am painting.

20 March 2020

The anguish and delight of the Lighthouse keeper

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 19 March, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This is from last night. The Autumnal skies are beginning to return to blossom in that  extraordinary Australian way. And, as the raging pandemic roars through Italy where people are in confinement, here, all is peachy, for the time being.

It was one of those skies, unblemished by neither a hint nor hair of cloud! It has been a long while since I have seen the horizon so polished at dusk; its strong line seemed to cut the whole world in two. I finished up in the dark and only wishing I could have continued but for the difficulty of seeing the colours on palette. At dusk, the colours appear to intensify, even as the light, dims gently into night. The sea, already a deep, inky violet bleeds into the sky. By then, stars are visible, and I have difficulty finding my way on the small path back to my car, not 50 meters away. As I am usually the last soul here at this marvellous hour, I often imagine myself to be the guy who turns out the lights when I leave. I am for a small glorious moment a kind of lighthouse keeper for this immense beach.

This painting came quickly when the sky had reached its poetic apogee. I never seem to paint it as I imagine I can, but a solution is always found which almost always pleases and surprises me, all at once. This  narcissism of Nature is both a painter's deep anguish and deep delight.

17 March 2020

Ominous skies, ominous times

Evening Prayer Brunswick Head, 13 March, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

In this time of uncertainty there is nothing better than to keep painting. This picture, as someone on Instagram noted, looks as ominous as the nightly news. But it was only because a Southerly brought in rain and big winds. 

16 March 2020

sexy i-phone 7 and the cloudy horizon

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 March, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

My i-phone 7 usually makes my paintings look much sexier than they really are, but on this rare occasion it does not. I 'shoot' them on the stove top at midday when the light streams in from both sides of the kitchen and there is a no glare. It is pretty amazing that these telephone camera can be so true to colour in the right sort of diffused light. I believe the aperture is 1.8 which is pretty fast indeed, and this often creates too much light. Before I settled on the stovetop spot to shoot the paintings I used the living room with pillows circling the painting break all the light. But anyway, now the stovetop is where I shoot them, and there are bits of paint everywhere on the cast iron burners. 

So this system works great 7 out of 10 times, and with a little fiddling with the filters I  can usually bring up the warmth. But for some reason it rebels against yellow, and I lose its value too often and this picture suffers from that problem. The sky is far richer than it shows, alas,....

But I really liked the session when I painted it because I struggled after almost losing it several times.

15 March 2020

Confession from the Old Man and the Sea

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 11 March, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This picture is from a few nights ago. It was the first of two that evening which I did it so quickly that I hardly remember it. If I were to make a confession, it would be to admit that it didn't even take me 10 minutes to make. Happily, it is like that sometimes. They just seem to show up with the first few brushstrokes only to finish themselves without thinking. The only conscious thought I might have had was to hear a voice inside which said: "STOP". Nothing more is needed in that small universal word. "It is done, start another one" my intuition always seems to say.

Alas, I say that, but maybe it needs an addendum which is that it really took me 45 years to make. And this is the thing about learning a craft which always surprises the creator; Only he, or she, knows what has been invested into a life of Art. 

13 March 2020

Mushy Skies and a writer's woe

  Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 11 March,    2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25

This curious picture came out of a difficult session the other evening. It was the second painting of two, and the sky had kind of turned into MUSH by then. This can sometimes be quite interesting except though, when one has started a picture which goes  one way but suddenly, the MOTIF runs off in another direction. Writers often talk about this as when their characters get away from them. This seems to be an apt way of describing a MOTIF going rogue while in the middle of a painting.

By the time I finished I wasn't at all happy with it yet upon seeing it with distance, in a photo, my thinking has changed, most thankfully.

It is a weird painting in a way, even for me, but I do like it very much. Even better, I like that I like it.

12 March 2020

Timeless Turner

They are few words to add to these images! But of course, I will anyway.  

Painters since Turner have tried to deal with  'unruly' Nature as best as they could while still trying to be tethered to a 'motif'. But I don't believe that any of them came as close to the sheer abstraction of this 'unruliness' of Nature as did Turner. Monet certainly came close, as did some of Morandi's landscapes. And Piet Mondrian pushed the limits of his lovely Northern Landscapes to a point of a certain Non-Objection as did some of de Staal's small studies. I am leaving out a number of other painters too. My teacher Léo Marchutz also pushed his drawings of Venice and St Victoire to the very edge of Turner's artistic stratosphere.


But I really just wanted to throw up some images of Turner which so drive me mad. And it poses the question, yet again, for a painter: Just what was the American Expressionist movement all about, anyway?

10 March 2020

The Wild Side

Evening prayer Brunswick Heads, 1 March, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

A study from last week before the rains arrived and shut off the light. Since then I have been in the studio working on large paintings in a very different avenue. 

In this study however, has a certain life-likeness from which I continually try to flee. But I have almost no control over what I am going to do once I’ve set up and prepared a palette to work. My wild child wishes to go to a more visceral place, a raw zone, a place of simplicity. I find myself seeking the intuitive stab of mark-making yet to be done in front of a motif, and using Nature as eyes. It does work from time to time but it really depends upon what kind of sky is present when I arrive to work. Also, there is this mysterious 'thing', one's wild animal inside which doesn't listen at all to one's conceptual side. This is the world of the wild thing inside everyone, especially artists.

The studies below will not please anyone looking for that 'life-likeness' of which I just wrote about, but for me, they possess everything I am after on a purely emotional level, one stretching all the way back to early childhood. 

They were painted quickly, one after the other, 29 January 2020.

 Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 29 January, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

    Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 29 January,      2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

09 March 2020

Van Gogh and the Borinage of his soul

This is from the British National Museum, if I am not mistaken. I cannot remember exactly where  I took it but I remember seeing it with such a shock because it was not hung with other things by Van Gogh. A shock too, because I had not seen it in a very long time. 

I have always loved these early portraits and the landscapes also done in the North when he was struggling so hard to learn about Painting. They are not considered to be his best works by critics and historians but I think I like them the best. They appeal to my very taciturn insides, but as well, to my love of the Pathos in all things in Art. 

The conception of this portrait is unusual in that it seems to harken back to another time, one closer to those of a German and Flemish sensibility. Almost nun-like in her cloak or habit, the model could be a study  for one of the Potato Eaters, or possibly the wife of a miner painted in the Borinage region of Belgium when poor Vincent was up there trying to save the down-trodden people at a time when he couldn't even save himself. These portraits are straightforward, almost sculpted, and lacking in any virtuosity, painted with a quiet force as if from the hand of master carpenter than one of a painter. They are made from very simple colour harmonies, and the expressive nature found in these subjects, at this time in his life, seem to speak to all of humanity's suffering. They possess a universal appeal to most anyone who can open their hearts to them. 

08 March 2020

melodic lines and drawing

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 March, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

I was at the piano this morning and working on GREEN DOLPHIN STREET from the Fake Book which houses many of the popular Standards in Jazz. So many of them come from the show tunes from Tin Pan alley in New York in the early 20th century. About 6 months ago, I decided to completely focus on these standards by learning how keys interlace with one another to create harmony.

So, I am make progress because I have learned to LOVE the WORK and love the process. Always, before, I had somehow magically wished to just simply play them, badly as it were, because I had not consecrated the time to really do the work involved. Over and over again, I have been repeating measures over and over in various inversions, and gradually they sink in. Anyway, I have learned a lot about both harmony, and also, about my chaotic mind. It is in fact like drawing something, over, and over again until drudgery reaches dedication.  

But my point in all this is really about the MELODY, and just how important it is to have  a great melodic line. Without it, one swims in a sea of feeling which can be nice, but it rarely possesses enough to reach the TRANSCENDENT. And this, is the goal of any search for greatness in the Arts. 

I began to see that a melodic line is to a composer what the drawing is to a painting. Without a drawing, a painting is an ocean of inconclusiveness.  

More to be revealed... 

07 March 2020

Easter Bunny Painting, with love and squalor

 Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 1 March, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

A very curious image which came last week. A friend of mine on Instagram thought it looks like an Easter Bunny, not bad! 

I remember that it was a strange sky that evening, and I wasn't really sure how to deal with it. There was a ceiling of magnificent lime green overhead made up from Prussian blue and citron yellow. It was the catalyst which allowed me to jump into the painting session. There is always a visual catalyst which triggers a painting. Almost always in these pictures done at sunset am I struck by an often subtle collision of colour planes in the sky. It can happen in a split second as I arrive at the small dune where I unpack and prepare for the session. By the time I have prepared some colours on the palette I am ready to pounce. 

Happily, I no longer judge my work until weeks, even months later, until after they have been parked against one another on the shelf for a long moment.

And yes, I can say that I am continually making progress in the process of painting, but the biggest progress is in my attitude. I have become kinder to myself, more accepting of my small failures and mistakes. After all, it's just Painting.

06 March 2020

What is abstract painting?

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 march, oil on canvas, board, 30 X 25 cm

A few nights ago I was lucky enough to pull this off. It was the second study and the light had faded considerably. I was about to clean up the palette and pack my material  because I thought the 'bouquet' had mostly blossomed. But suddenly, to my surprise there was a lingering thread of broken golden/green, of the most subtle hue still stretching across the horizon. I quickly put another canvas board on my easel and managed to put this down. It seems to have everything which I have been looking for in these small studies. There is that ephemeral quality which seems to say: "Yes, I am here, there, I exist, but, maybe not even". And most importantly for me, it does not hide the simple fact that it is just a surface painted over with splotches of various colours. Yes, it is a seascape on a certain level but its drawing is quite abstract.

More to be revealed. As my teacher Léo Marchutz often said (and I paraphrase): 
"Following the path of Nature is limitlessness for a painter".

05 March 2020

Through the window of difficulty

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 29 February, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

A study from the other night which pleases me because it was so difficult, and I was able to find a solution for it. The second of two made that evening.

03 March 2020

painting and pretty girls

Evening Prayer Brunswick heads, 29 February, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

An interesting session the other night which gave me two studies. This was the first one when the light was just beginning to turn. Like almost all of them, it came quickly. I hardly have to time to think, indeed, if I find myself thinking I am screwed. This is one activity which does not pardon fantasies of any kind. Often there are pretty women who come own the path and many of them, surprised at seeing a painter working just up on the dune few metres to their right, will smile quickly, often furtively and even with a hint of embarrassment as if I am an old relic to be seen with sympathy. Ha ha. So, I cannot pay them much attention, or I am dead, so to speak.

01 March 2020

Coronavirus and the migrant issue

Credit...Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

From the NYT today is this photo. Particularly, poignant, and painful is the little girl in the corner bottom right. She appears to be the only one looking at the photographer at the moment of the shot.

With all that seems so unfair in life, here is a life of hell for too many people, including so many children.

And what would happen to these unfortunate people if/when the Coronavirus finds them?

28 February 2020

sleigh-ride into luminosity

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads,  19 February, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

A gentle touch for this picture painted over a week ago. I liked it for its simplicity and its very simple colour harmony. 

Upon arriving at the small dune while unpacking my materials I give a quick look out at the sea. Quite often, I am  seized by a visual idea which pushes me into the session without much hesitation. But at other times I silently groan to myself if the sky looks leaden and absent of any luminosity.  On an evening (like above) it is a sleigh-ride downhill.

27 February 2020

Sisyphus, and the daily painting session.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 20 February, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

I was very happy whilst painting this picture last week. It was a moment when I was pushed through my concepts and thoughts of what I habitually do in front of this motif. Ideally, one would wish for this to happen all the time, but it rarely does. However, it is in the ritual of work; the daily slog  which provokes all of these small insights, and great leaps into a fresh unknown. Sisyphus reminds of this, though sadly for him, it was his daily appointment with his boulder, and a steep hill all day long.

Unfortunately, this painting didn't photograph well. Sometimes that happens. But there is something in it which lit a small fire for me when I was working. 

And it is always for those moments which one paints.

26 February 2020

painting a picture while Trumps screws up the world

Evening Prayer Brunswick heads, 19 February, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

A study from last week which I wasn't really happy with when I had finished it, but a few days later, I came to see it differently. This is the wisdom I have learned so late in life that one needs to do the work; then shut up the brain, put the picture away, and go home for dinner, and read about how Trump screwed up today.

20 February 2020

stripes of sky



Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 16 September 2019, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This picture from last year pleases me for its quiet abstract simplicity and its formal qualities. 

19 February 2020

Clouds on Valentine's Day

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 February, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 February, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

A difficult session this evening due to the Western sky being blocked off with clouds. The Eastern horizon was deprived of much luminosity. I think of these evenings as being 'Northern Skies' because they remind me  so much of what happens, too often, in Northern Europe. The colours seem to run away like animals do when hunters appear. One has to pull tears from stone on nights like these. And yet, because of a rainy week I hadn't been out to work, and I was desperate to make anything on the dunes. 

After even a few days of not painting the Sea and Sky I can become weirdly anxious and insecure. And, I lose confidence in myself. These are such small, modest offerings to the big material world beyond me. It may be  insignificant work in the greater large world of Man and Machines, but there are gifts to myself, at least. Without them I am a miser. 

17 February 2020

Whisper quiet, sea and sky.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 7 February, 2020, oil on canvas     board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 7 February, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Two studies made from the twilight hour when the sky was very hazy, and the colour didn't shine brightly. I make the best of these sessions in spite of small irritation that 'it isn't what I want' sort of mood. Surprisingly, now, with a small 10 days of distance away from it. I find that I like the top one which was actually the second study from the session done after the colours had softened the motif as a whole. 

15 February 2020

Tightrope walking

     Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads,  early 2018, oil on canvas board 20 X 26 cm

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

What a difference two years of work make in a painting series. The palette has lightened up radically, and there is more concern towards the motif instead of towards a more personal and an expressive concern. Simply put, less of me and more of the motif.

There is always a danger, when working from Nature, that one can fall too much in love with the 'Motif' or Nature, creating a sentimental attachment. Yet conversely, one can remain too fixated upon one's own self-expressive feelings and conceptual obsessions  rendering one visually blind in front of what  Nature has to offer.

Myself, I think that the middle ground might feel like walking upon a tightrope to describe the work from Nature. One must not be too close to the sentimental in Nature, while at the same time, one cannot be too pulled into one's self. 

13 February 2020

Australian winter twilight

     Prayer Brunswick Heads, 10 January, 2019, oil on canvas board 40 X 30 cm

A picture from last year, when the Australian winter gives birth to unusually warm and often melodramatic skies. The ocean often turns deep red violet at the peak of its  twilight transformation into the winter night. I am there on the dunes to capture it.

11 February 2020

The austerity of Leo Marchutz

Peter's denial of Christ, tempora on linen, circa 1973

The big problem for me after being Leo’s student is that he didn’t offer a ‘physical’ path forward. He gave his students an understanding of both light, and form derived from the history of painting in the western world. But in his work he reduced the 'materiality' in a very personal way, to the barest of bones on a canvas. And yet, within that world, Leo forms images into a universe both complete and cogent.

So where can a painter proceed after that?
That is my problem, but I presume that it poses a problem for others. Painting is about vision, but it is also a physical and material vocation. And, aside from the problem of ‘the idea’, or content in a picture, there is the equally existential difficulty of rendering that idea on its own terms with the viscosity of paint. 

10 February 2020

the red sea


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 September, 2019, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

There is colour everywhere. I have to work small because Nature's changes move so quickly around the twilight hour. But I have found out to myself that it is possible to capture something, a fragment even of a visual memory. And because I believe that all paintings are invented from one's memory, anything is possible in front of a motif. Sometimes I am able to make 3 and even 4 studies in an hour session before the sky and sea give up their magic.

09 February 2020

Van Gogh's greenish yellow reimagined


Evening Prayer, Brunswick Heads, N.S.W. 7 February, 2020, oil, 30 X 25 cm

The yellow green sky at the top reminds me of the garish light in the painting of the bar in Arles which Van Gogh painted. And yet, this is of natural light at dusk on beach halfway around the world from the south of France. 

I wish I could find something intelligent to say about it but I cannot. It was done quickly, in about 15 minutes perhaps, and was number two out of three painted that evening before the darkness stopped me.