31 December 2021

the past and present, the known and unknown


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 21 December 2021, oil on canvas board 30 X 25 cm
Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 26 December 2021, oil on canvas board 30 X 25 cm

For the calendar changeover I thought it appropriate to post two pictures representing that of the past year 2021, but also one of the new one, 2022. 

Though they are done just days apart, the top one represents for me, an image, conceptually speaking, created from the the past, one which   seems to feel like something we have all seen before. It relies upon an experience (and knowledge) already understood even if I still like it for what it is.

The bottom one done just days later, feels like a painting born in the future, an image only half-understood in my hand, but forming already in my intuition for some time now. The direction will only become clearer if I continue to take risks in this visual and graphic language of light and space.

Happy New Year everyone, and thank you for stepping into these small pages from time to time. It is greatly appreciated.


23 December 2021

Vincent Van gogh meets an unknown British painter (?)

I wish I could remember just where I picked this up because I was immediately impressed upon first seeing it. It's funny how one can spot a good painting in a flash because it always comes together despite any clunky flaws and wonky technique. In this image above, I like the subtle drawing which hides its discrete sophistication but also because it is intelligently organised in a pictorial way. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Naif, yes, and this reminds me so much of our continuing admiration for Vincent Van Gogh, particularly, as his painting showed up on my telephone yesterday. And wouldn't he be flabbergasted by something as spooky as that???

For me there is a kind of primitive 'plasticity' in both these images reminding me of the landscape elements in Giotto. And here, they have been subordinated to a graphic unity of the whole image. In both pictures each of the elements are barely recognisable as objects in themselves. What I mean to say is that they both possess an almost flagrant disregard for the anatomy of the parts of the paintings. The small trees, the bushes, windows, stairs, the wall of stones, the horse, the human figures (the woman with the large bosoms on the left!) etc, etc. They seem to break every rule in 19th century painting. If by chance, they were books for instance, it might be as if the writers had misspelt and badly punctuated entire stories which were otherwise quite brilliant. 

But the genius of this is that everything works together like a well oiled engine. We are immediately taken into the whole feeling of each of these two paintings. Everything in them is in service to the picture as a whole. There is no proud display of virtuosity or technical arrogance displayed in their details. In both the light is evenly disbursed, avoiding  the dreaded local lighting which, unless one is Vermeer, is virtually impossible to achieve.
As I like to say about Art: 2 + 2 always = 5,
and now there is nothing more to add, just enjoy Christmas.

20 December 2021

REDinc! and the wonders of expression

the church

the faucet

This is the second year I have gone to see the annual Christmas exhibition which the staff at REDinc. puts together each year. These wonderful pictures are artworks by people of all ages who spend time at REDinc, an organisation originally up by parents to give their own children with disabilities a place to explore art in various workshops. For the past two years I end up buying more art work than I have room to hang in my home. But I kind of fall in love with these things, and it is rare I like many paintings I see everywhere. Thankfully, they are very moderately priced.

I have not posted the sizes but most of the them are quite small, around about 30 X 25 cm, the wonderful black dog is about 40 X 40, and the two striped pictures below are about 50 X 40 cm.

Cheryl Bailey, who runs one of the programs gave me a tour and introduced me to a few 'clients' as they are called. But when I walked into the first room and saw the black dog on a wall I just cracked, and I had to have it. The rest of them I picked off one by one as I walked around the large shed. But the black Chihuahua, spoke to me, I loved it immediately, and isn't this what Art is all about?

The Faucet and the Church (as I have named them) were done by a young plumbing apprentice. These two small paintings are, I believe more original than most things I see (online) in galleries anywhere in the world, and that is not hyperbole (which of course I hate). But in each little painting the colour harmonies are exquisite, especially the one which I have called the Church. It reminds me of something that Paul Klee might have made, or possibly may have wished to paint at least. There is a muted harmony of great sophistication and a remarkable clarity of design.  And I haven't a clue what it really represents except a kind of sophisticated icon, but the important thing is that he had a clue what it means.  

The stripes below are by a fellow named Hunter whom I have met several times at the tennis club on Tuesday nights where his father and me play doubles. He is a friendly young man who adores pizza and watching television while his father plays tennis. A real sweetheart, and he was so very stoked that I bought on just one, but two of his paintings.  

18 December 2021

Letting the batter walk


Po√ęt Laval, oil on canvas, 5 Figure, circa November 15? 2018

This morning while looking again at this study I posted a few weeks back I began reflecting upon something that I often feel when working outdoors from a motif in Nature. 

This feeling comes over me that sometimes these paintings are almost pulled out of me, yanked from my will power, from my hands like some force out in the wild landscape resisting my hold over the picture. It is if while driving a car, a ghost suddenly grabs the steering wheel out of my hands.

As writers will often lament when their own characters go AWOL or off-script, so too, do painters when their pictures go out of control.


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 December 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

And this is the curious nature for all creative endeavours. Any task that requires both rigorous discipline but equally spontaneous action is vulnerable. How does a creator know when he or she is really at the helm of their own work or just in the way, and impeding it? Or is this the realm of the Gods?

The painting (just above) is from the other night and I post it because actually, it went where I wanted it to go. I saw it in the sky upon arriving at my spot on the dune and I quickly set up to paint it because in a way, I didn't want any problems. "No backtalk! Do exactly as I say!........... Or else!!!"

Of course I didn't have a 'or else', but I wasn't going to let the canvas board know that. Because I had missed so many evenings due to the rain I felt out of sorts, like a beginner, like I didn't know what I was doing there with an easel and backpack full of materials, and  I was feeling like a fraud which is an awful feeling. So consequently, I didn't want any trouble, and certainly I wasn't looking for trouble!

But it was an 'easy' sky, not at all complicated, one without too much confusion logistically speaking, so I was able to make four studies, one after the other in quick succession. I was not particularly happy with them at the time, but indeed I was happy to be painting with the 'possibility of success' circling around in my mind like a butterfly. And that possibility is essentially what keeps me going; This 'possibility of success', and I know it's like that for most others too.

Here are the others in the order of when they came out of the oven. They are what I would call 'careful pictures', no problem paintings, like what they say about reliable cars: 
"Boring, but they run reasonably well"

Like I said, I wanted some easy wins, some success for the night. In baseball jargon, I was the pitcher who let the batter walk but I was also the batter who just wanted to get on 1st base without striking out.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 December 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm
Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 December 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm
Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 December 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

10 December 2021

Sidney Nolan at Heidi, Vanessa Bell at Charleston

I saw this small gem on my first visit to 'Heidi', the former home of Sunday and John Reed on the outskirts of Melbourne. It is a renovated dairy farm by this powerhouse couple of bohemia in the 1940's. They could easily remind one of another powerhouse couple; Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant who renovated 'Charleston, a farmhouse in Sussex, UK. Charleston was home to the Bloomsbury set, a whole host of various bohemian figures on the edge London society back in the early 1920's. And though both Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant were practicing artists, the Reeds of 'Heidi' were not. They were wealthy, ardent patrons of art around Melbourne after the Second World War. They are still considered the most important benefactors of Modern Art here in Australia though they died in 1981, just ten days apart of one another. 

So Charleston and Heidi, both as a consequence, are full of artwork and are now run as art centers. Heidi however, has many shows during the year of different artists whereas Charleston is a private charitable Trust which maintains the house and gardens uniquely for the Bloomsbury set. 

                                                  self portrait by Vanessa Bell

I have been to Charleston several times over the years as I often went through Sussex. I have been to Heidi twice and it was on my first trip there that I discovered Sidney Nolan, the much venerated Australian artist. Inevitably, being bohemians, there was lots of gossip about the goings at Heidi especially since Melburnians were so very conservative back in the day. In fact, most artists not only fled Melbourne but Australia altogether. 

Sidney Nolan painted his very famous Ned Kelly series there at Heidi. It is an impressive series that I saw in Canberra years. It is so weirdly original, an iconic and memorable Australian motif of a thief no less! 

Over the years I have come to appreciate his creative life. I like so many of these Australian painters who came out of a 'White' Australia in the early part of the 20th century. He like a few others eventually left for London and the continent. He lived the rest of his life there. Apparently when he died in 1992 and his estate owed a fortune in taxes because he had always believed that artists shouldn't have to pay tax! Gotta love him for this alone! 

But it is easy to understand just how isolated these artists were from Modern Art. Australia was very far away, and it stills looms far away in the imaginations of Americans and Europeans. I know because my friends are still amazed that I would slip away from the northern hemisphere.

His work was varied and I cannot say that I relate too to well much of it but he was an artist who dedicated his life to his love of art, and for that too, I love him. 

Yet despite my lack of real enthusiasm for his much of his work, I am really crazy about this small fragment done on wood of the docks at St Kilda back in the 1940's. It is so small, so almost insignificant that I wonder if anyone pays any attention to it, but it holds magic for me. Its calligraphic power is at the heart of Modern Art. It is really seen, and comes from vision, something the Japanese would really appreciate in its direct response to Nature. Nolan found a simple and graphic solution to the motif of the docks. Moreover, the drawing is concise, precise; and its vision is practical. 

addendum; I realise that I already posted about this small work back in 2013! I discovered this by accident when looking for a clean photo of it online. I saw it on Google at L'air de rien and dated back in 2013 when I had taken a photo of it at Heidi, Ha Ha. 

07 December 2021

recent studies under the watchful eyes of la Nina


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 3 December, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here on the East Coast of Australia we are in the capricious hands of 'La Nina' who throws us into a humid cycle of steady rain and wild thunderstorms. All this is somewhat more agreeable than hot summers with the risk of fires.

It has rained so much that I haven't been to work at the beach for weeks until the other night. I felt like a beginner, and this is always good for a painter. But I quickly made a palette and jumped into the sky. 

I brought these two home but for some reason, I wasn't really happy with them. They seemed to me, a little too 19th century, but hey! I was grateful to be out painting again under the perilous protection of a twilight sky. 

I put them up on other social media and my friends seemed to like them, particularly the one at the top which I painted first. So for me, many of these studies are often like wild, untamed beasts; until they are brought home, fed, and nurtured with care, one cannot be sure just what they will turn out to be.  
Meanwhile, I have been in my studio a lot and made some progress on some other large and hairy beasts which I will write about very soon. 

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 3 December, 2021, oil on canvas board,  30 X 25 cm

04 December 2021

Henry Moore the Masseur, facts and feelings


 Reclining Figure, plaster, 1951

This sculpture which I saw in the Clore Gallery at Tate Britain, three years ago simply took my breath away. I confess that I had always had a somewhat lukewarm feeling for his large undulating and sensual bronzes of mostly women. I was never sure how to approach them (but frankly, I have a problem approaching women anyway) I think it was the 'Big Bronziness' of his larger works which made me a little nervous.

I admit that I have never spent a great deal of time looking at his works because I haven't yet fallen in love with any. Generally, I think one needs to fall in love with a work of art in order to generate the necessary curiosity for an artist and their oeuvre. And because I am not a professor, facts will always be subservient to feelings. And since I am a painter (with no apologies) I am only after these feelings that I, alone, can digest for myself. 

So in a sense, I wonder if one needs to fall in love with the work in order to fall in love with the artist? Or, like in so many novels, fall in love with the artist to see their work?

So this large work, Reclining Figure, 1951 made in plaster, I really adore. Being in the tactile material of carved and pressed plaster might somehow be the key because large sculptures made of casted-bronze (by anyone, in fact) seem to inhibit any intimacy with the concept of a work. That is just me, apparently.

Just looking at the head alone (far below) one thinks of Picasso, then of course the body reenforces this idea. Picasso was making things like this one done in 1929 long before Moore made Reclining Figure. This was an age when reality was being questioned in every corner of the industrialised world, from science and medicine, to physics and philosophy, to music and architecture. The visual world of art was also on the front line in these 20th century adventures of human thought.

During the WWII Henry Moore was among a group of several artists who were free to create anything they wished that related to British wartime activities which included anything not made being made by photographic means.

Among other things, he explored caves and tunnels, something he loved doing in his childhood, and he consequently made lots of drawings of people in shelters during the German bombing raids, many of which became ideas for sculptures later on.

Henry drew everyday in later life when he was housebound and going blind according to his daughter, Mary Moore. She described the drawings as "somewhat fantasy, internalised drawings, and things from memory".

My very favourite anecdote about Henry Moore was that when he was a small child he often gave back massages to his mother. So, it makes perfect sense he would become either a sculptor or chiropractor. 

Here, Henry Moore recounts to an interviewer  how he envisions sculpture fitting into the British landscape.

“Looking back I can now see that this was a crucial and potently formative experience, from which so much of my fundamental attitude to sculpture emanates,” he recalled later. “The sense of scale, the feeling for stone, the need to think of sculpture as something essentially monumental: something to be placed out of doors, and, so far as possible, in a way that best reveals its inherent monumentality.”

So though this was never intended for the outdoors Reclining Figure lives comfortably inside a large space in Tate Britain in London.

        Reclining Figure, detail, plaster, 1951

01 December 2021


I cannot find another reason to post this lovely portrait than one out of love for beauty. It came from the NYT a few months ago, I snagged it off the screen then put it on my desktop.

I look at it with curiosity because I begin to see all the relationships that this designer had  going on in this dress. First of all, it is just so visually striking in every regard that it appears, like all greatness, to possess a unity of proportion, texture, colour, design, and purpose. It is at the very height of its craft and a metaphor for so much more with its delicate ruffled sleeves, and those rich yellow polka dots spread out over the chest like wild daisies. Everything speaks of the flower, fragile, tactile, handle with care! The drop from the waist whispers of something chaste, innocent and young.  

But without a doubt, it also evokes the Colonial aesthetic of America's antebellum past, light and darkness, enterprising but fraudulent, inventive and inhuman. This dress reminds me of the black slaves themselves, who served their white masters with far more dignity than their masters deserved. And because slaves had nothing but hand-me-downs from their owners, they resorted to invention by creating much out of so little. American slaves, in the face of such indignities, rose up to make the best of their tragic situation. This dress possesses so much of that spirit. As they say about life when in difficulty "When you get lemons, make lemonade". 

These days white Americans don't realise that Black Americans gave so much more than they ever took from America. It reminds me, as a white man, that some of its richest cultural legacies come from the Afro-American experience. And I could certainly go on and on about this but I promised a faithful reader to try to keep these ideas brief.

But I haven't said anything about the simple, unadorned beauty of this model, especially because she compliments the dress. Her shy pose is also a hint to the past, slightly subservient, gently awaiting instructions, fragile like a flower blooming too early in Spring.

I have no idea who designed and created this as I didn't save the article sadly. Was it a man or woman, or someone in between? (as one must acknowledge these days) Was it a person of colour or white, Asian perhaps, or some beautiful mix of the two, or three even? Of course this only matters for context in the worlds of fashion, economics and socio-political spheres. But for me, as a painter, it is just sensuous  and, dare I say simply "beautiful". Yes, when I see the craft of beauty like this, it gifts me a feeling of some optimism for a future in this world, one all too often ruled by the ignoble and crass.

All this, and more, has the designer revealed to me in this dress. So, to celebrate this first day of December, here is something to remind of us of Springtime which is but a few months aways in reality.