30 April 2021

The hope of Jack Pot

I am not sure what comes over me but at certain times I am overwhelmed by a desire to clean everything out, most especially in the studio, to make preparations for death. 

Why bother anymore with any material things when it will all end up at the tip or the local charity? 

I know its neurotic yet at the same time I also understand that it's the real spiritual jab at the heart and mind, and one should never ignore, or overlook this stuff however convenient.

I read a review of this book Jack Pot by New York Times editor Jennifer Szalai this evening, and there was something in it which caught my attention. 

Though I am sure its a good read I am in the middle of too many books at the moment to read this one. And I have too many to read in the near future judging by my coffee table.

Yes, it's a mess, but I am a bachelor after all, and an artist; un grand garçon même (so I have been told) and here in my own home, at least, I freely live a life of careless abundance because I can.

Out of a few notables observations of the book Ms. Szalai picks out the following which hit me like a ton on bricks:

A psychologist who specializes in the mental health of the rich says that they are actually at a disadvantage when it comes to happiness. The less moneyed among us can still hold out the hope, even if it gets constantly frustrated, that more money would solve all our problems, while “his clients don’t have that fallacy to cling to.”-

This correlates to my first paragraph about  this acute awareness of death. If even the Ultra-rich cannot stave off the fallacy of Hope  then what bodes for the rest of us? 

A creative person of any kind has a leg up on the rest of us because the pursuit of a solution to a creative problem (aside from doing service to others) is one of the healthiest paths to happiness and fulfilment. In my own case it isn't about more money, it's about more creativity, and it rests in the hope of making a decent painting each day before I die. 

29 April 2021

At the Louvre with Robert Schumann in overalls

I was at the Louvre for my birthday in 2009, and found myself in a passageway which was in the process of being renovated. People were rushing through it to access the galleries. But I couldn't believe just how beautiful were the sheets of drywall reparations placed elegantly around the walls like an exhibition of Zen paintings. 

I had with me a Panasonic video camcorder at the time which compares poorly to the quality of even the average smart phone today, alas, but you get the idea. 

Robert Schumann helps a little to offset the wonkiness of my shooting and editing skills at the time. 

28 April 2021

Winter skies, each day, each moment

Evening Prayers Brunswick Heads, 22 April 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayers Brunswick Heads, 22 April 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

From this past week are just of several different versions from this motif which now slips into a more pschodelic-looking winter coat. They are all so different because everything changes daily, and as I always admit, they are different because I am always so different each afternoon, each moment. 

They are, after all, totally improvised, a fact which is hard to explain away to most people because some pictures look quite ‘realistic’ (for lack of a better word) while others, look like overdose on mushrooms (like the top one). 

But to me, there are all the same, despite me never quite being the same each time I work. I am not a dentist after all, someone, from whom one expects a standardised service, in theory at least, and let’s face it, a root canal must be done with a procedural expertise

Mais non! I am more like an octopus that finds  an innocuous spot somewhere, then fits itself  into the surrounding decor with an uncanny talent for melding colours and shapes with its own body. This is a specimen of great intelligence and discretion. (I would fit the latter adjective but maybe not the former)

In any event, this Autumn brings shorter days (Drat!) but more intense colours (Yea!) Winter skies can be truly hallucinogenic without need of any mushrooms, which I don’t take anymore, anyway. 

It is always special for me to set up my easel, preparing the palette because in that small space, the sky is already whispering to me. By the time I have prepared everything, already, I hear a small song and beginning a picture is a gentle few steps up the keys and up into the sky. 

Come to thing of it, it reminds me a lot of Hangliding. After spreading the glider wings, on the ground, putting in the ribs and struts, arranging a few nuts and bolts, then tightening everything, putting myself into the harness and helmet, strapping myself into the carabiner, I lift the glider and walk carefully to the top of the take-off ramp, secretly I make the sign of the cross, then I begin running down the ramp and I’m picked up quickly and miraculously by the glider with the sharp tug of my harness straps; Suddenly, I am airborne and climbing into the afternoon sky.

There is preparation and faith, then bliss.

Painting is that too.

Evening Prayers Brunswick Heads, 14 April 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayers Brunswick Heads, 14 April 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

25 April 2021

Tracy Emin is desparate to sleep with Eugene Delacroix!


                   Eugene Delacroix, watercolour 

I have had this postcard of the Unmade Bed by Eugene Delacroix for decades. It has somehow enough found a home on every piano I have ever owned, always stuck to the left of where the sheet music rests in plain view. I used to have a postcard of Ray Charles always to the right, but it got lost in the last move. 

'Continuity, in continual change, is always a good thing' I imagine a grandfather telling a young boy of 10.

This watercolour is small but not tiny if I remember correctly, maybe 30 by 20 cm. I have always loved it. It is a complicated subject made from layers of linen, and yet it looks as if it had just blown into the bedroom like a leaf through an open window. It also feels modern, unlike most things done in 1827 France. But strangely, if I look at it in a particular way, without blinking for instance, in order that the eyes don't focus as usual; It somehow reminds me of a Christ figure hanging off Mary's lap in a Pietà painted by Titian. One needs an imagination, that is for sure, but then, this is the realm of Art where magic and mystery are twins. 

Then again, I do see 'things' 'everywhere'. My brother has always confirmed this to me when I forget. 

For instance, driving to the beach to paint not 10 minutes away in the late afternoon, I take a small stretch of the highway. For the past month I saw a dead dog on the left shoulder. And every afternoon I swore I would come back with my truck to remove it and place it in a resting spot on our 100 acres. Every day I forgot until last week when I wrote a note to myself next to the coffee grinder which said simply: DeaD doG.

So the next morning after a coffee I put a tarp in the cab along with some gloves and drove to take care of the deaD doG on the highway. As I slowed down to approach it I pulled into the shoulder lane and stopped in front of a faded black tire on its side with a small thin bit extending from the left side. (!)

I still take the highway each afternoon, and I still see the DeaD doG laying there. Go figure.

Anyway, I used to see the Unmade Bed in the original Atelier Delacroix in the Place Von Furstemberg in Paris, a sweet square behind Le Cafe des Deux Magots where the Americans like to go sit on the sunny terrace contrary to most Parisians who will always go to Cafe Flore just a block backwards on Blvd St Germain.

I used to visit this small intimate studio whenever I was in town. In the old days I believe it had been a small museum run by the city of Paris and it functioned in its own quirky way. But sometime in the 1990's it was pulled into the Réseau des Musées which now includes 1,220 museums all over France, a system basically designed to facilitate the smooth operation between them and allow for National funding from Paris. It was also a skilful way to pillage certain smaller museums of works which it wanted for the larger ones.  

But years before, it was like a postcard from Paris. Entering the modest lobby one would note only the small sign indicating the Atelier Delacroix in a deep blue ink attached to the side of the door. It was a discreet entrance, so much like the man himself.

The aroma of Sauerkraut or Potato Onion Soup hit you immediately and would quickly guide you up to the 1st floor landing after climbing the old stairway in a circular fashion. One stepped out onto the second floor where a woman, the concierge, sold the visitor a small ticket with a blue stripe at one end from an old-styled ticket stall of yesteryear, like at a carnival. Behind her was the Potato Onion soup cooking on a stove.

The building in those days had a worn feeling as did many of the buildings in Paris in the 1970's. The patina in those days even had its own patina. I liked it though, infinitely more than the contemporary museum of today which can sometimes feel like an airport. 

Indeed all of Paris in the 1970's looked a tad gloomy, the ornate buildings had not yet been pressure-cleaned so there was a brackish-looking shadow everywhere, even on sunny days. Paris still looked a little like the city I imagine it did after the war, but the grit really came from the coal-fired plants outside of it. Buildings in New York too, where I grew up in the fifties and sixties, wore a veil of darkness around its own edgy eaves. 

The studio space is sumptuous, and painted red. One went through part of a house to get there, but what a treat when one arrived; this fellow lived well after all! It was full of the artist's paraphernalia, paints and palettes on view, a few large drawing cabinets, glass cabinets which housed drawing pads, etc, etc. There were many original drawings and watercolours hung everywhere. For a young painter from America, it was like Alibaba's cave. And for some reason I usually found myself there at mid-morning in order to enjoy it before it closed at noon (the potato onion soup) but it would again open at 14h.

For a time I went through a period of extreme obsession with Delacroix. I read his diary twice and searched him out in every museum I could, even following him to North Africa though Matisse and Marquet, by then, also played a large part in this travel bug. 

It was irrational now that I look back on that part of my life. My peers in the Art world of that period were all out either in California carving up cars and glueing their parts onto canvas's or in downtown New York, where Punk prowled at night, and painters worked in dark lofts with layers of dark paint preparing for the boom of the 80's. But I was in France, and a cultural orphan, so I dove into life there like it was a swimming pool full of wine or cafe au lait depending on the time of day.

The studio overlooked a large garden which was accessed by a stairway off to the side of the studio. Once there, one could stand admiringly for hours in any season. Now, one can sit and gaze admirably in any season because a few benches have been added. It is a very contemporary space now, very different to what it was in the 70's.

I read in John Rewald's wonderful History of Impressionism that both Renoir and Monet would climb up the wall from the neighbour's place next door to watch Delacroix work through the huge window. He was a giant to this young generation of Romantics, soon to be Impressionists.

Below is a photo of the infamous installation piece by Tracey Emin. I believe it won the prestigious Turner Prize many years back. I guess I include it here because it shows just how cultural values change over generations. It certainly caused a ruckus at the time. What does this Unmade Bed mean today? I find it all interesting to say the least. 

All we have, it seems to me, is our own memory. And what is important in this regard is always deeply personal. This personal memory cannot be transferred to anyone else except through the means of Art. Proust has taught me that. 

The more successful is the Art, the more successful is the transcendence, and this
is what Art is all about.

21 April 2021

Brenna Youngblood meets Derek Chauvin in prison

I had never heard of Brenna Youngblood nor had I seen her paintings until this morning in an article in Hyperallergic, an online Art review.

After a quick zip around Google images to see her work I can see that she is a very visually intelligent and original artist though I don't feel a lot of her abstract work. But this could change with time. She is an L.A. artist and she makes a lot of, what I would call 'themed abstract work' though she herself describes it as 'abstracted realities'. In any case it yells out to the world that she has something to say and she possesses not only the graphic sensibilities to do it, but the force of her person too. 

I found this image above to be arresting, compelling, and I liked it immediately upon first sight. It happens one in a while but isn't frequent. 

It shouts out the way a great painting can; in silence without extraneous fanfare which is so all too frequent. Quite the opposite of Madison Ave, really great art is the steak not the sizzle.

She appears to be unafraid to use and integrate any and all types of objects to convey what she needs to say including in this picture, a sweater which has been attached onto the the surface. She used a spray can of mat black and there is a hint of red underneath to complement the sweater; Keeping it simple!

It is finished off with an étiquette or label hanging from the bottom corner of the picture like one would find in a thrift shop.

In this piece several ideas come forcefully  together like an imploding star. 

So on this day of reckoning in Minnesota I present her remarkable image.

20 April 2021

Vincent Van Gogh, empathy in parts and in the whole

These bits of detail were taken in the National Gallery in London a few years back on an old i-phone so unfortunately they are not well defined but the colour is OK.

This is an early portrait probably a study for the Potato eaters. I have always loved these early things because they reveal so much struggle in his desire to get his drawing 'right', and all this inner strife is what gives the picture such expressive power. 

I can almost imagine him reworking the background on the whole right side of the face. Perhaps the background had been of a light value like on the left?  Maybe he saw that it didn't work so he came back in and re-painted it out and thereby creating a strange but decisive outline of the cheek which appears to give the illusion of a head coming out of a mud bath! This quixotic observation seems more credible when seeing the isolated photo on top.

But as with all of Van Gogh, there is a sense of the unity of the picture as a whole. I cannot think of one which does not possess this crucial aspect of Painting. And where Vincent received this divination is one of the great mysteries and miracles in the history of Art. 

I believe he was born with it, but then developed it by studying really Great Paintings, and really hard. It seems that he was always at study, as we understand from his letters. 

He was a modern workaholic, and also maybe an obsessional compulsive too, but of course, I say that as an amateur doctor only (tut tut!)

My teacher, Léo Marchutz once talked about this mystery regarding Van Gogh in the following manner:

Though he (Léo) was raised as a secular Jew in Nuremberg, I never heard him speak of things either religious or spiritual, and others have confirmed this to me also. Nevertheless, much of his work was centred around the New Testament curiously enough. Léo was speaking about how Vincent, during the last 3 months of his life, had painted a size 30F (92 X 73cm) picture every day, adding, "if that is not some proof that a spirit, or God, whatever one wants to call it, took hold of this poor man and wrung 90 paintings out of him in this time, one picture a day (at least) before his death, then I don't know what to call it." 

These photos have been sitting on my desktop for a long time, disjointedly staring back at me. What I wanted to say is that even in these details, these parts all separately possess a unity in themselves. 

Somehow, oddly enough, it makes me think of an acorn from an Oak tree. The acorn when dropped off and separated from the tree, will, if lucky enough, become another tree. Maybe a bird will pick it, travel away then poop it out on fertile ground, or maybe a squirrel will do the same, without flying, of course. But in that acorn, is everything necessary for it to become another tree, new, but the same. There is an organic process at work which allows for this to happen, as for all things in Nature and in the animal world. There is unity and chaos in Nature but also in Art too when it is really really good. 

And just as something in the acorn understands that it will become a tree one day, so too did something deep inside Vincent also understand that he was destined to become a painter. 

So, in each part there is already a whole. And this is the beauty of Van Gogh among many other things because I haven't even mentioned the human element of expressive empathy in it. And empathy was certainly one of Vincent's strongest emotional components. Not only in his portraits but like other great artists, he was able to express this empathy in all his landscapes as well. Yet curiously with exception of a few cows and birds in the air, he never really painted animals. Is this because he didn't live with a dog or a cat? Though its been a long while since I last read his letters I cannot remember him speaking about domestic animals. More to be revealed. 

17 April 2021

in the bosom of Marcel Proust

I have been reading letters by Proust, letters from a correspondence he had with his upstairs neighbor on the Blvd Haussemann. It is called Letters to the Upstair's Neighbor, translated by one of my favourite authors and translators, Lydia Davis. 

Reading Proust is an undertaking of long proportions, not for the weak-willed. I confess that I have only read Swann's Way in English. I  tried many years ago in France to read it in French. It rested dutifully on my bedside table like a medicine too arduous to take despite the knowledge that it would improve me. I gave up after about fifty pages because I was and am, well,,, weak-willed! 

So this unique little book is a welcome surprise because it is such a concise collection of his letters. (we do not have any of hers which might be a good thing; Who wants to be in the ring with Mike Tyson after all?)  

I like these letters because he gets to the point quickly whilst never losing that meandering visual style, as lovely as it is long. 

Between Henry James and Marcel Proust I'm sure that a few brave souls have died in the middle of chapters, trapped and flattened between the pages, lost like explorers.  

Proust feels to me like watching rowers on the river, gently, effortlessly slicing through glassy water, everything in languid precision. It's an invitation to getting lost but also found somewhere else.

Reading Swann's Way was like being on a luxurious ocean liner of long ago, taking a year off to see the world through the lens of 1st class life. It's the slow world of Hans Castorp and the Buddenbrooks too.

We seem to have sped up so quickly over the past century that many of us can no longer sit still. But have we not also learned that it was  just the wealthy who could? 

They could and did in fact, sit still in yesteryear because they could afford it. Everyone else was running around below deck making sure that enough coal was shovelled into the giant steam engine. How else could the grand bourgeoisie repose in chaise-lounges on the decks of so many boats drifting toward the 1st world war? Suddenly, I think of the marvellous story by Eugene O'Neill that I loved in school, The Hairy Ape.

But this isn't what I wanted to say. I wanted to say that in being close to Proust my nostalgia blooms inside me, and I miss the French. 

Yes, they are a pain in the ass, something to which they freely admit, but they also revere culture; the past, the present and the future possibilities of it. Comme il faut!

Australia is such a new country that it really hasn't succumbed to a sufficient amount of decadence necessary to create such vast culture as is found in France and Europe as a whole. Not even America in historically terms, for culture is inextricably linked with history, long history.

With the exception of the nouveau riche here, Australians are genuinely kind and sensible, (though many would exclude the politicians in that description). In other words, life is so genuinely good for many people here that they haven't yet developed the Parisian lip-curl which comes with l'ennuie of one hundred decades of decadence. 

And I confess that I miss many things, but mostly it is this deep reverence for a cultured and brilliant spirit of mind (l'esprit).

Back in the day, before the Euro, some of France's most celebrated scientists, painters, engineers, and writers graced the different denominations. 

Alas, the French Francs are now gone too.  

As Proust indulged completely it seems, in his past, I cannot afford this luxury. The grass may be greener over yonder, just out of reach, but it doesn't offer a viable way to live life. Believe me, I've tried it. 

Marcel Proust was uniquely great, and he used his delicious memories to fuel his writing. So much for him but what about the rest of us? I cannot live in the Past, how can I live creatively in the present? 

I see that I have alighted here in this paradise by the Pacific ocean, yet my heart and mind is still tethered firmly to Europe. But practically speaking, this is easy today as Wifi permits an endless stream of France Musique and France Culture at any hour. 

And Proust reminds me that one's devotion to Art is at the bosom of the soul. There is no substitute, and it cannot be bought or worn, but lived each day. 

15 April 2021

L'air de rien #170 Terry Riley (best on mushrooms)

Back in 1970, in my first semester in Art school at the University of Denver, I took a drawing class with the San Francisco artist Ken MacDonald. He was a hardcore hippie. 

For the very first class he put this piece on the record player and instructed us to draw, paint, whatever: a recent dream we might have had.

It was quite something, really; and I ran out after class to buy the album and became a Terry Riley fan ever since. This excerpt is from the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

14 April 2021

Autumn anarchy


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 12 April, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm 

The Autumn skies have arrived and they reveal the Winter light. A Southerly brought a chill to the nights which told me I have to get to work on the wood pile. 

This sky is, of course exaggerated, but after a summer of nothing happening in my quiet life I seem to want to throw some hot sauce into it, a little anarchy in any way I can.  

I made three studies the other night. This was the second one done as the sky began to really cook. What is difficult to describe when working on a changing motif like this is that if one doesn't throw enough 'heat' at the canvas the picture will look weak and insipid compared to what's out there. But if one throws too much 'heat' on the picture the motif can suddenly look feeble and faded in comparison. Everything is relative to these two spaces; the motif out there, and the painting on the easel right here. So, I try to remain somewhere in the middle.

11 April 2021

upside down


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 10 April 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

It was a humid evening session. There were families frolicking in the pale glassy sea with an easy surf. 

I wanted to try something a little different so I painted the sea before the sky. I almost never do this but on this day I was feeling antsy to break with my own habits (which do die hard) when it comes to Painting rituals. 

A group of young kids kept coming by to see the progress of the three studies that I eventually made that afternoon. Sweet kids, they were playing pirates in the sand dune not far away. It was Saturday and many of the families were from Brisbane, Melbourne, and the Gold Coast. They are surprised to see a painter on the dunes at the end of the small path but they smell the turpentine long before they see me. Then, often, many will come to up to see what I am up to, the kids especially. It is always very friendly, and they are very polite. Maybe because I seem as exotic and as strange-looking as a Martian. They really don't know what to make of me, which I find amusing. 

I had wanted to leave this picture in a sketchy mode but I went further than I had anticipated. This happens often. Where to stop? 

But I rather like it as a study, maybe it's a harbinger of something to come in the future. Who knows?

I took the three out of the boot of my car this morning to photograph. At one point I looked at this one and I wondered what it would look like upside down. It's kind of interesting.

10 April 2021

The infamous white and gold dress which is really black and blue

I only just came across this fascinating story a few weeks ago when I was reading about the British hiker in Devon who took the photograph of the ship which appeared to be hovering over the English Channel. This in turn took me to a link about optical illusions which again took me to this story about a woman wearing the dress above and below. 

One can readily find the article about this which will explain it easier than me. But the gist of it is this: 

A woman posted a photo of the bride at a wedding who was wearing this dress. It created havoc because many people saw the dress as white and gold while others as blue and black. The story Ballooned from there and began to ricochet around the globe within days.

What interests me in all this is just how it throws much of my own ideas about colour on its head. I could not imagine that people would see such different colours! And of course, this is my own solipsistic way of seeing paintings. I am so used to seeing paintings through what I imagine to be a 'universal' set of eyeballs, as it were. How wrong I could be! 
I understand that the original photo of the woman wearing the dress was removed due to all the exposure, understandably. She was in fact in Jamaica on her honeymoon oblivious to everything when all this blew up. But that is unfortunate because it is really the original photo in this context which reveals the divergent ways that people were seeing the colours, black/ blue or gold and white

Everyone on Twitter wade in on it, all of them expressing very strong opinions on the colours which they were sure that they were seeing.

For instance, I saw the woman wearing a white and gold dress, very clearly, I might add, as did many others. But then, just as many saw a black and blue dress!

So the question it raises for me is exactly how does everyone see a painting? What colours do they really see? 

And I do understand that this example has to do with a photo of colours in a taken in an an artificial environment which is one step away from a direct experience like that of seeing a painting directly, or a woman wearing the dress in person.

But what does it mean for paintings if, according to science that many people have different amounts of  blue components in their retinas?

Anyway, it is interesting story.

(Below is an art from the NYT explaining the phenomena behind this optical illusion. But the dress is in fact a black and blue dress and sold in London for around 49 British Pounds, as illustrated just below.


The mother of the bride wore white and gold. Or was it blue and black?

From a photograph of the dress the bride posted online, there was broad disagreement. A few days after the wedding last weekend on the Scottish island of Colonsay, a member of the wedding band was so frustrated by the lack of consensus that she posted a picture of the dress on Tumblr, and asked her followers for feedback.

“I was just looking for an answer because it was messing with my head,” said Caitlin McNeill, a 21-year-old singer and guitarist.

Within a half-hour, her post attracted some 500 likes and shares. The photo soon migrated to Buzzfeed and Facebook and Twitter, setting off a social media conflagration that few were able to resist.

As the debate caught fire across the Internet — even scientists could not agree on what was causing the discrepancy — media companies rushed to get articles online. Less than a half-hour after Ms. McNeil’s original Tumblr post, Buzzfeed posted a poll: “What Colors Are This Dress?” As of Friday afternoon, it had been viewed more than 28 million times. (White and gold was winning handily.)

09 April 2021

Vincent Van Gogh lives in the Courtauld Institute at Somerset House

This, I confess, is a re-print from 2 December, 2012 which I just came across again today. I wanted to post it anew (just because I can!). Enjoy!

In London recently, I visited the Courtauld Institute at Somerset House. Everywhere, one's attention is split into small bits by so many wonderful things. But it was this self-portrait which hung by itself in a large wood-paneled room which so surprised me. I spent a long time with it and I think because it was alone I was able to completely plug into it. Often paintings hanging side by side in rooms can be a distracting affair. This amazing portrait must have been painted just days after Vincent cut off his ear. I know there is another version with a red background, also with a bandage, but its this one which I find mesmerizing. 

Firstly, I find it so beautifully done with its cool and disjunctive color harmonies prancing around lime yellow. Its a complex painting despite its apparent simplicity at first view. Its so flat, and distinctly drawn from an obsessive love for Japanese portraiture. The prussian blue hat (which also figures in the other portrait) with its almost black fringe acts like a kind of black hole around which everything seems to gravitate. 

Well,.. for me it is extraordinary, beautiful, and yes; perfect. Its a truthful portrait and one can only imagine what the ordinary, uninspired folk of the 19th century  must have seen: Ugliness! It was Baudelaire who once said that often, new and original works of Art can look ugly on first viewing. How vigilant this forces us to be in our contemporary times.

Ultimately what trapped me in front of it for an hour was its Humanity, the deep rich humility of the person which Vincent so apparently possessed. There isn't a hint of sentimentality anywhere, just a plea perhaps to God, that he might be understood. 

08 April 2021

Ugo Rondinone tangos with Samual Beckett


This performance was cogently concise, clearly weird; It's a witty existential display of the absurd which might have pleased André Breton if he hadn't been such a dour sourpuss of a Parisian snob.

I was amazed, and I stayed riveted for about an hour or so walking about in this space through which one was invited to contemplate life. While I was there hardly a dozen people passed through, many of them with wry smiles and confounded looks.

I remember that it was December 9th, and my birthday. I was in Sydney for a few days so I went to the Gallery of New South Wales to contemplate my own passing years by having a cake in the cafeteria. Looking back, all this seems now like an extravagance, ambulating through these public spaces, carefree, and without a worry, watching others do the same. 

Perhaps, this is at the truth of why the piece is so engaging, captivating, and so absurdly serious. What has the pandemic taught us about ourselves? How do we live? Who do we love? What do we really care about as we move too quickly through Life? 

This piece comprised of two clowns made of unknown substances don't move and they only seem to speak through an audio loop playing again and again the same dreary dialogue. It is a play, in fact, and maybe Samual Beckett would have approved had he meandered through this space zoomed up from the 19th century. He might have even asked, 

"Isn't this what theatre is all about?"

07 April 2021

the unknown soldier, an unknown painter

                         120 X 90 cm

This is a painting that my brother picked up in a flea market for $35 a few years back. He hung it in an alcove near the entrance to his home, and I have always coveted it. 

The other evening I went by for dinner with him and I saw that he had taken it down and it leaned against a wall looking like a wounded soldier. I said,

"What's up this this?" to which replied,

"I am getting rid of it". 

"Oh, I said, surprised.

"What, you want it?"

My heart leapt up out of me.

"Really? Wow,, how come?"

"I have too many paintings", he said with a kind of sigh. It's true he collects a lot of paintings and things.

I couldn't believe my luck so to mitigate the arrangement I told him I would just keep it in the interim, to which he agreed. But he is so generous; we both knew that he meant for me to keep it.

So, now it hangs over my piano and I am really happy like a small child who was given a cherished teddy bear.

So being the curious type I became interested in the why, of whom, from where about this painting. Luckily there was a faint telephone number on the backside along with the artist's name written in pencil.

The painter's name is Rich Metcalf and he painted it in 1997. I looked him up but found nothing. I looked up MARKWELL PACIFIC, the subject of the picture which turns out to be some sort of food company which still exists.

Why the fuss? Though it is not easy to discern, the light; the luminosity in this modest oil painting is quite remarkable and it begs the question of whether it was done in a studio or on site. The former seems unlikely, but to make such a thing in a studio would reveal a painter with vision and a lot of talent, but I have not found much of that here in Australia. 

Secondly, I really feel something in front of this picture, and isn't that what it's really all about? It is what makes the art of Painting so rare. It's something which music lovers, book lovers experience all the time but in the world of Painting it is rare, especially in this time we live in today with so much digital distraction.

This picture has a simple quality to it, an unpretentious side which speaks to a frankness I don't often experience in today's art world. Perhaps some would find it kitsch because of its subject matter but I do not. It is actually much nicer than the photo suggests. 

It manifests a specificity loyal to its subject matter but it also floods outward beyond the picture and into the world of Art. What I mean to say is that for me, it has a certain kind of beauty sufficient enough to uproot it from its home in parochial Australia to land it back in Europe where it originally came from. 

Here in Australia only the Aboriginals have an original Art form, the kind created from spiritual myth, and conceived in a space between the landscape and the stars. The rest of Art is basically European, and like a family which intermarries for too long, the results are never good over the long term  

The floral landscape, as little as there is, depicts exactly what one sees around the southern tip of Queensland, it has truth, but without that awful photo-finish that one finds rampant these days, here and elsewhere. The water is that of a river moving gently along without a worry in the world, reflecting the  bright white light of Queensland where only fools go out without sunglasses.

Lastly, it seems sad to me that it could be had for only $35 dollars which represents an hour's work here in Australia for a good paying menial job, of which there are plenty. But it is the way it is, so they say. Perhaps I indulge in Romanticism, but hey! Someone down here has to do it.

So my quest will be to sleuth out this artist, I am sure he is out there somewhere, if even in an unmarked grave like an unknown soldier. More to be revealed.

05 April 2021

hats off to the little guy with a big heart

A visit to a small but wonderful toy store I stumbled upon in Taree when driving to Sydney a few years ago. 

I hope he is still there, but between the fires last year and the floods and pandemic this year he would be hurting. Hats off to the little guy with a big heart.

(update: just saw online that the store shut its doors on 1 November 2018, alas....)

04 April 2021

castles burning at dusk


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 April, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

These three came easily the other night to my surprise. It was a big sky full of clouds looking like castles, many of which were on fire. A sky I dread. But I set up and waited for most of the fires to go out as the sun dropped in the horizon behind me to the west. 

"All this melodrama going on in the sky! You would think that JESUS was arriving on a chariot for Easter!"

I thought this as I set up and gently stepped into the first study (above). The clouds will often dissipate as twilight sets in and the sharp edges of everything soften leaving puddles of colour. By then, I know I am in and my worries have left. The second study didn't photograph well at all. It is much nicer in real life, but this is rare, it's usually the reverse.


    Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 April, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

By the time I pick up a third canvas board (a smaller one) the sky is a gentle giant and it allows me free rein to do as I please with it, and by this time I feel at ease and wished I could keep going but for the falling night. 

If I have any reproach it is that they are studies which harken back to the past. 

It is what it is though because I cannot control what goes on out there. I just set up and try to find a way into a painting, any painting. They come as they do, and I am grateful for their truth.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 April, 2021, oil on canvas      board, 25 X 20 cm

02 April 2021

l'air de rien #61 (Can on a hot tile roof)

I cannot believe it has been 17 years since I made this little video. I think I had a small Canon G7 back then. It had such primitive capabilities compared to what is available today!

I was in a bedroom which gave onto a small terrace on the roof one afternoon, probably reading or taking a snooze on my bed. I loved being there above the faded bustling of the streets below but where also the daily prayer blasted into my life 6 times a day from the mosque minaret almost hovering over me.

But on this afternoon I began to hear the annoying sound of something rhythmically scraping intermittently on the roof outside. So I went out to see this remarkable ballet going on just for me, apparently. 

Of course, I could kick myself for not getting more of it, not doing it better, etc, etc... But maybe it was just meant to be shot in this quick, spontaneous manner, after all. First thought, best thought.

Mais pourtant,,,,