13 January 2021

dragons and live serpents crawling upon walls

I don’t want to make boring paintings which hug a wall, attaching to it like a stuffed elk head in a hunting lodge. 

I don't always like to paint anecdotal pictures either but I admit that these two are anecdotal in a weird sort of way though it may seem obscure to many, even myself.

I am not looking for reassurance when I paint, nor do I look for that when viewing pictures either in my home or elsewhere. To seek confirmation, to pursue a verification of my own ideas seems to be a misuse of the moment. And to see Art as a relic, something old, something dead in a glass case in a museum is also a misuse of time. But I can understand why so many people do when looking at Art. Museums are full of things both dead and alive, and too, its visitors are both dead and alive. In the end, it usually comes down to how much imagination we bring to the experience.

A relic of the past is an affirmation that life was, and to some degree is still today somewhat recognisable (even if young people all have tattoos). We want the familiar but to want this familiar is too often to simply want the same, same old. And the same old in Art is boring and dishonest.

After Matisse, why would anyone desire to paint in the manner of  Rembrandt? What is the point? But don't get me wrong I love the OLD too, I love Chardin because I like the OLD but well painted and truthful OLD.  

Ultimately though, I want the NEW, but I don't want the NEW to be badly painted. Museums are too full of bad paintings. I want the NEW to be a grandsons of Monet,  Cezanne, or Morandi even. Is that asking too much?

I want to paint pictures which cling to the walls of my home, creeping around like dragons and serpents with smokey breath. I need to be shaken up. I want paintings to force me to gently tippy-toe around them naked, or in underwear on the way to the kitchen looking for a sweet during the night. I want to risk being bitten otherwise none of it is very interesting. But at the same time I do want to make pictures which will please me to live with in my solitary castle.

Enfin, I want to be eternally surprised. I need for paintings to ask me questions instead of always throwing answers at me with a clunky heavy certitude. 

Why can't artists learn to ask questions to which most answers seem reasonably incomprehensible?

10 January 2021

The whole darn sky, for sale!


This is a study from sometime last year which I wisely stopped myself from finishing. It's most rare that I show this restraint because normally, if I like the start on a painting I will often just grab a quick shot of it whilst still on the easel as proof that miracles still can happen. Then I continue working on it, transforming it into something which it never would have imagined becoming. This one spoke to me and told me to put it aside. 

But, one cannot hold onto all great beginnings, after all. If we did, we might never get beyond the first kiss, the first few delicious dates... and then, we would certainly never move onward to marriage and children would we? 

No, like a painting, we must jump in further, making mistakes along the way with a secret hope that they are repairable, until they aren't. And then comes divorce, and tears, and recriminations from all sides.... but I digress.... I am really trying to just discuss a painting, after all. But you see how things are related? What can start out so beautifully, can equally turn ugly, full of messiness and regrets, the end then, depends on whose point of view. This is a story of Loving and Painting all bound together. 

The start of this painting, though not great, had a germ of pictorial genius in it which I had wanted to keep. 

There was something of it which reminded me of  Japan, and this Nippon fascination, once bitten and smitten, becomes a life-long infection. 

But in it too, there is something truly American, as in  the heyday of large minimalist Painting back in the 1960's when life seemed simpler, more expansive, more happy and optimistic (but only if you were white though).

And come to think of it, this image reveals that voraciously oversized American appetite, the one which can never be satiated, the one which screams for MORE Park sausages mom! 

Finally, this small start of a study, is reminding me of an oversized billboard out on a deserted stretch near a beach somewhere. It brightly advertises the sale of the whole darn, big blue sky! 

09 January 2021

a hint of hope and the angry paintbrush


A rather gloomy-looking sky engulfed me last week as I set up for a session. I was not looking forward to it. It has been raining so much these past weeks that I have not been able to find any convenient skies to enjoy working from. This study was on its way to being a real wreck which would have made me a wreck for the evening.

Then, remarkably, when I was just about to smear and smudge it over with an angry paintbrush I found my way back in to it with a hint of hope. I had nothing to lose, after all, but in those moments one forgets this fact too easily. And I knew that it would put me in a bad mood for the entire drive home in the car. But once there, I would make a cup of tea, sit at the piano, and within no time at all I would again become my usual optimistic self once again. ! Ha Ha... but it's true, mostly.

In any event, I managed to re-arrange the whole graphic drawing for this small study, then thought to myself: well, not great, not even good, but at least I didn't destroy it and leave the beach with a resentment. I put it in the back of the car and went home. It rained for several days afterward and I forgot to remove it which I normally do on the following mornings. Anyway, when I did finally retrieve it days later I was pleasantly surprised with it. I put in a frame and thought,,,, hmm...

And that is a small sketch of the angry paintbrush and the hint of hope which almost got away.

06 January 2021

Evening Prayers, iterations at dusk




These three studies were done on the 26th December, 2020 at Brunswick Heads, N.S.W. They were painted in quick succession starting with the top study, the middle one, then the last.

It isn't rare that I make 3, or even 4 studies, one after the other. A few times I have made 5 and 6, albeit quicker than usual. But generally I make 2 or 3 on most days weather permitting. 

As I paint facing the sea on the east coast, I can only work when the setting sun is behind me unobstructed, in the west. Without it there is little, if any luminosity in the sky, but in the east, in front of me anything goes because I know that with, or without clouds, the sky will be lit up with colour. Of course, one could paint under cloud-cover, rain even, but for this motif to function I need this geographical set-up. 

I am open to all sorts of light. When working in a lush landscape I often prefer a pale, soft grey cashmere sky though it really depends upon the colours in the landscape. Sometimes when working in a forest, one needs the strong sun to pierce the canopy, pasting red rubies on the oak trees in the late afternoon. But there are no rules, thankfully, and this is what makes the Painting experience so unique. It is deeply personal.

So these pictures came one after the other, and all that was required of me was to follow the colours as they descended down through the chromatic steps until reaching a dark dusk. I rarely stay longer because after the 'spectacular bloom', the local colours recompose before the evening catches hold and the Prussian blue sky and the deep azure sea return to the colours of the boring tropical scenery of postcards. 

And anyway, few painters have descended into the realm of darkness, though Whistler quickly comes to mind. He worked in London where the foggy rain has been know to eat up small dogs with opacity. This is difficult Painting.

04 January 2021

Stefan Zweig looks up at Montaigne's tower window for light


Two exceptional writers are conjoined in this small book on Montaigne which Zweig never completely finished before he committed suicide in 1942. 

Both humanists who loved books and whose curiosity led them to investigate life through what they found out about in reality, empirically through themselves. 

Separated by several centuries they both died within a year of one another at the ages of 59 (Montaigne) and (Zweig) 60 years of age.

'For him books are not like men who impose themselves and burden him with their chatter, and of whom is hard to be rid. When you don't call for them they stay put; you can just pick up this one or that, according to your whim: (Zweig)

"Books are my kingdom. And here I seek to reign an absolute lord." (Montaigne)

Books offer him their opinion and he respond with his own. They express their thoughts, and to him arouse further thoughts.  They do not disturb him when he is silent; They only speak when he questions them. Here is his realm. They await his delectation.' (Zweig)

I confess that for the past 6 months I have been struggling through Les Essaies in the original old French, but only because of the old French. It feels like I am a soldier reading my way through a mine field on my belly, and like a good soldier, I persist. 

Zweig is a wonderful writer, so readable, and so clever. I am making my way through all his small novels and short stories. I can highly recommend his The World of Yesterday, a memoir of his flight from Austria before Hitler took over.

02 January 2021

Ian Fairweather, the invisible artist of Shalimar and the Drunken Buddha


The Drunken Buddha, circa 1960, polymer oil based house paint, (approx) 140 X 100 cm

For anyone unfamiliar with Ian Fairweather's work, he was born in Britain in 1891, and after many peregrinations throughout Asia he ended up in Brisbane Australia. It's a stone's throw from where I am currently settled. I will not say too much about him, but Google will inform anyone interested in this extraordinary painter. 

For an 'abstract' painter, I find him infinitely more interesting than the infamous Jackson Pollack who is still considered the reference for 'Abstraction Expressionist Painting', at least in America. Fairweather's outline follows a similar path to Pollack's. They both worked from Nature early on in their careers but eventually subject matter became personalised, increasingly.

I like these two paintings so very much. That is to say, they speak to me in a familiar yet foreign language, one which I do speak but might not completely understand due to a regional dialect which is a little confounding..

It is a shame that Fairweather is not better know outside of Australia. That is a problem with being so far from the Art capitals in America and Europe. At least it certainly was in the 50's when Australia was indeed a cultural backwater. Perhaps that may have changed enough today so that someone of Fairweather's stature might achieve a greater recognition, at least beyond the beaches. Not sure about that, myself, Australia is still very parochial in many ways.

But Fairweather would not have become the painter he became if he had not lived his last years in the isolated Queensland of the 50's and 60's, when Australia was a very different country than today. 

Shalimar, 1962, polymer oil-based house paint, (approx) 250 X 150 cm