02 July 2020
01 July 2020
There are many places where Leo speaks of Volume directly. And yet in my memory, I believe he also often spoke of Unity when describing works which he felt manifested Volume, or a unified whole. And, though I have not read through all the transcripts there is something here that raises questions for me. I wonder if the transcripts will reveal them?
ONE NEEDS FAR MORE than just a few paragraphs to explore this idea because for me, there is nuanced distinction between Volume and Unity even though Leo would frequently interchange these words. Leo most certainly used these words to express something vital for all of us. But how did he mean them?
Over time, I have personally come to understand that a painting can possess Unity but may not necessarily manifest Volume. Yet, on the other hand, a painting that manifests Volume will always possess Unity. Of course, this my own idea, and I don’t know what Leo would say about it. There are so many questions that I would like to ask him now, 45 years on, since I became a painter.
BACK TO THIS QUOTE, I think we all understand that he is speaking about the unified whole of a work to which nothing more can be added. But then too, Leo often spoke of a unified surface when speaking about the success or failure of a certain painting.
The second part of the quote could be a bit confusing because this was an improvised discussion, and Leo moved uneasily between German, French, and English. We often knew what he meant, but sometimes, for someone unfamiliar with his manner of speaking, the syntax and semantics had to be disentangled.
BY THE TIME LEO BEGAN WORKING in Tholonet in the 1930’s, one can see from his early oils that his understanding of both Volume and Unity held the paintings as if in a tight grip. His study in the museums would have prepared him for the structure of the Aix landscape, though perhaps the light of Provence would have come as a shock. One can easily picture Leo working out in the landscape because we have a few photographs of this. We could also imagine him painting a group of blue trees together in the hillside. But in that moment, what we wouldn’t discern might be his memory of seeing the extraordinary Volume in The Kiss of Judas by Giotto. We know through all of Leo’s subsequent work of the large imprint of that fresco upon his artistic sensibility. And too, it has a unified surface of which he always spoke with such amazement.
This reminds me of a late afternoon in his studio, probably in the Fall of 1975. We were looking at a large version of Peter with Christ (The Denial of Peter) and I remember saying to him:
“There is something of Giotto in this”
And he looked at me, and replied
“Yes, certainly… there is, but also… there is something in it which is not in Giotto!”
I remember it so clearly, it was one of those moments when he lit up in the autumn of his life.
I THINK ALSO OF HIS OWN LATE ST. VICTOIRES, and the late drawings from Venice from which he made color lithos. In these works there is both Unity of Surface, and Volume of image. Anything extraneous to the organic whole becomes a kind of bricolage, which Leo always abhorred. Bricolage is the term that François de Asis usually employs to describe a painting that doesn’t come together coherently. It is a picture that has been merely stacked up in a disjointed manner, one element after another, with neither visible Unity nor Volume.
So Unity and Volume are both elemental in the work of Leo. But how would he define these words and ideas?
29 June 2020
"Cash burn is not necessarily a bad thing, if the money is being invested in a way that will lead to future growth and profit."
I read this one day a few years back in an article in the Investing section of The New York Times. At that time I was in a period of great worry that I was going through all my savings. I have always had enough to just slip by in my life, but after a few poor financial choices over the years I began to see the bottom of the proverbial barrel. I also remembered what Hemingway once said, or wrote, that "going broke happens slowly at first, then quickly". I used to recount this to friends when discussing money problems but I almost always recounted it with a nervous fear of its irony.
Around this time I was just beginning this series of paintings done at the edge of the Pacific Ocean here in Australia. It has turned into a series, a long-winded one perhaps, but after three years it almost feels like I have been writing a book. A long book, a steady one, and one which has silenced my impatience and fear of failure.
Like a diary the studies are done most everyday, and indeed I have come to see them as paragraphs in a long autobiography. A painter who writes might say: "these are endless waves arriving on the shore".
Just as my confidence has grown in Painting so have my worries about money lessened. Painting is an investment in future growth. It is a byproduct of believing in one's worth, in this case cultural, but hopefully fiscal too. If it's a pipe dream, so be it.
If it is of value I will eventually be compensated. If not, then I will have at least enjoyed myself here on earth. I just have to have enough to keep going, and all will be good.
25 June 2020
24 June 2020
22 June 2020
18 June 2020
Ravel seems to me more like a comfortable armchair of 19th century Romanticism in which no doubt Brahms had certainly napped. Debussy on the other hand, was steering music into the 21th century. So it was no surprise to me that my friend replied that Debussy was the greater artist. Though this conversation was at least thirty years ago, from my diary at the time, I would summarise his thinking thus:
Any avid listener to France Musique receives a large dose of both composers on a regular basis. I had listened a lot to both Ravel and Debussy since arriving in France years earlier. But for me, I have learned to love artists for a variety of different reasons and I don't generally attach my feelings to a hierarchy. I have learned over the years to critique the work by an artist, not the artist himself. It keeps me out of a lot of problems. It is diplomatic, for sure, but also it is a cleaner, more precise way of looking at art. I have found that in all things artistic, roads should never lead to Rome, but away from it. And Rome, as destination, would be a conventional art of little interest.
Vincent Van Gogh, on the other hand, isn't considered in the same light, and he, like Ravel was steeped in the 19th century structure of Painting arriving from both Delacroix and Rembrandt, among so many others including artists from Japan. Yet Vincent Van Gogh opened up the palette to more light than the world had ever seen or experienced beforehand. He was a new lightbulb.
But According to Emile Bernard who knew both Van Gogh and Cézanne, Cézanne had heard of Van Gogh, but thought he was a mad man who made mad paintings. Alors? Quoi faire?
I am someone who detests the word genius, and I never use it. But I do use the words Greatness, Great, Good, OK, and Awful, to describe Art in general, but also people too.
All these years later have given me more clarity to see that greatness comes in different colours, different forms, other even newer tastes. To compare two very great composers is like trying to compare Cézanne to Van Gogh; an apple to a pear.
14 June 2020
At 14 I imagined that I was too old to start but began a few lessons anyway with a teacher at boarding school. I must have been so unteachable and scatter-brained that she lost interest in me and I gave up. At 19 in my second year at University, in the Art School, I thought I would really love try to play piano but I then thought; for sure I am too old, so I gave up again. Much later in New York I exclaimed: Screw Everything! And I bought an old creaky upright which was delivered on my 30th birthday. So now, I have played off and on for 38 years. Yes I have learned to read a little, I have learned a few classical pieces under my belt. Satie especially makes me long for the Moon like a teenage girl in love.
But now I have jumped into the Standards, the old show tunes from my parents youth with an abandon which almost shocks me. I determined to understand enough to enjoy myself which, to be fair, I already do a dozen times over. More to be revealed.
13 June 2020
I was listening to Chopin's Études (Opus 10) this morning as I moved around my house on a small project, all the while I was glancing at the walls at a few pictures which I had framed and recently hung.
And one only has to hear the first measures of a piece of music before one recognises the hand and soul of Frederic Chopin. And so it also is with a painter whose originality is visible for all to see at first glance. It's in the signature of the hand. It cannot be faked.
11 June 2020
10 June 2020
And to find ourselves far away from our teachers, our mentors, our influences; to be out alone in the solitary studio of our own personal creativity is to transcend our teachers. It is a good thing too, even if we are not without with questions, because otherwise we'd find ourselves in a prison full of someone else's ideas.
In the end, to be a painter is a worthwhile activity even if we fall on our face.
When we die, what will we have left to the world? Watch the sunset! I tell myself when I take it all too seriously. Or as Shakespeare said:
"Forsake the rose! and blush thyself!"
08 June 2020
America has changed but not enough, because it has never looked at itself, warts and all. Until we do we are condemned to a mindset of stupidity and shortsightedness. As they say 'the fish rots from the top’.
07 June 2020
I have listened to so many different kinds of music in my life, and it has formed my sensibility over time just as the sheer volume of painting I have looked at, has given me a visual foundation.
I use my own pictures as examples, they are to be judged after all. (Money where your mouth is, so they say) They are mostly from this past year except for the last two which were done at the very beginning of the series three years ago. I approached the project after a long while of working in the studio which is apparent because there is more of 'me' in them, and less Motif than the newer ones.
These are all of the sea and sky. But mostly they are about the sky which is essentially about painting air in fact. There is no material, no handles onto which to grab; no branches, no bricks, no ears, nor noses!
It's colour shaded only in the Divine; it's a luminous hue embalmed in the scent of the palest perfume of light.
And yet, these elements of the picture plane must be joined and reconciled to make up the whole image. The flat 5ths and flat 9ths which transition from one colour to the next should resolve any dissonance in the viewer's mind at the end.
04 June 2020
03 June 2020
02 June 2020
In Ode on a Grecian Urn, Keats said
'Truth is Beauty, and Beauty Truth, that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know'
There are so many reasons why I return, again and again, to this motif at the beach. It is limitless, and also I see innocence, and a purity of heart in this twilight sky. The pink glow at dusk; a young woman's blush, honest and true, hence full of beauty, full of all those things in Nature unblemished by the cruelty of Humankind.