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,,,,