31 March 2022

Thomas Aquinas at the Pharmacy

At some point in my otherwise mundane morning of running errands at the pharmacy, it crossed my mind while waiting at the counter that we all need Greatness in Art because without it we have no guidelines, no markers to judge Art. And I am speaking of an Art of equally horizontal and vertical means. 

Without Greatness (decidedly with a capital G) we are like voyagers at sea on a cloudy night without the North Star guiding us. And I know this may sound quite strained to point out but I fear that this cannot be underlined enough.

And in the sphere of politics and leadership it is also indeed relevant. Look at the invasion of Ukraine by the dictator of Russia. This is as much a travesty of human behavior as is an atrocious work of Art. I do not understand why journalists and politicians in the West call it a war, for it is an invasion, a war is declared by two, (or three parties). Ukraine never declared war on Russia but it defends itself like a small Morandi in the corner of large museum wing.

So what is Greatness? In Artistic terms one can think of what Thomas Aquinas wrote regarding Art way back in the 13th century.

“Art is the measuring stick for Art”, he wrote.

It speaks volumes of the whole big damn sky of  everything under the Tuscan sun, and yet, he declared nothing more or nothing less with such acute brevity so many centuries ago. He means that Greatness will dictate Greatness as sternly as quality begets qualityBut we have to understand Greatness and quality first. And for that we need an education, in this case an education in Art.

And what happens if we lose sight of it and we get lost? Like maybe getting on the wrong train to somewhere other than where one intends. Or, getting on the right train but suddenly thwarted by thugs or terrorists even? 

What if this derailment begins, like in a game of Chinese Whispers, as Greatness only to end up as Suffering Suckatash at the end after having going around the dinner table? This is what happens when education fails us and disintegrates leaving its roots to rot away over successive generations. It becomes the Blind Leading the Blind. And if you don't believe me, look around at any Art school.

But what if, through Capitalism itself, Greatness just slinks away from the table altogether when money is disguised as the arbiter of both Greatness and Quality?

What happens to us when we no longer know how to recognize a really good book because we have forgotten how to read one? And what about Painting? Have we forgotten how to look and feel, just because we have forgotten how to see? 

And what happens to us morally when we fail to act against tyrants even if we have been tyrants ourselves in the past?

All this went through my mind whilst waiting for my prescription to be filled at the counter this morning.

27 March 2022

three sisters at dusk

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 16 March, 2022, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 1 March, 2022, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

  Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 16 March, 2022, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Three recent studies on successive nights though something doesn't quite add up as the skies look too different. Well, I will let the accountant sort it out when I die.

I was really happy with the bottom one. I was when I painted it and still am thankfully. It speaks to an emotion that I often feel in front of such clouds just after dusk when everything lightens up a bit, softens and the colors diffuse with a gentle elegance. 

The middle one was a bit of a surprise because generally I avoid these types cotton candy clouds by waiting them out. But this time I jumped in like a small child at the county fair devouring what I could as fast as I could. 

The top one is simple, perhaps a little facile because I really wasn't inspired by it. Ans not having been out too much due to the weather, I felt a desperate sense that I needed to DO SOMETHING, anything at the beach in fact. So, it is a study of the sky in the simplest of ways.


26 March 2022

Because we need miracles in this time of Putin madness.

  • Annonciation, Chateaunoir, August 1998, oil on canvas, 150 X 150 cm
This painting came to me as if in a dream and I quickly put it down as a sketch but then liked it so much in this state that I left it as is. And for that, I am grateful for I have destroyed hundreds of paintings by trying to 'finish' them, making them 'better'.

In this time of Putin madness there is indeed a need for many miracles. Like most everyone else who is rational and somewhat Humanist, I am appalled that this is happening in Ukraine. But then, there are so many places around the globe where such irrational violence explodes that one can feel helpless. The war in Sudan still rages and refugees are the first victims. But there is also Aleppo destroyed a few years ago, and Myanmar, Chechnya, etc etc... It's all 12th century madness, and needless, all of it.

I will not bore you further with my own disgust except to say that I only wish the entire 'West' might have risen up to condemn the United States invasion of Iraq, just twenty years ago with the same vigor with which they have deplored the Russian invasion into the lives of the peaceful people of Ukraine. Bush, Chaney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and so many other hardcore American imperialists never faced any consequences for what they did to Iraq. 

And so, this simple picture is about a miracle, an inhuman kind of miracle, because Humankind needs more than a human answer to this life. 

15 March 2022

fairy tales forlorn


This study was done sometime in 2019 and I probably didn't like it then when it was painted but I see it once in a while while looking for paintings in the photo files. I understand now that it is something remarkable for me and thankfully I don't worry about what others think of it.

The skies have been very tormented and full of water over the last few months. It's a sky that is difficult to 'get' which is why I see something special in this one. I got it, something anyway. It works, and probably took 15 minutes or so, maybe twenty at the outside. And yet it expresses everything I feel in front of a sky like this. And because it was done so long ago, (relatively speaking) for a painter's life is measured in dog time; at ten, they are already old, so a picture made three years ago is mature, and this does allow me distance to judge it fairly.

But it isn't just the feeling of the tormented sky but also the brooding dark sea that I freely appreciate. It is the way that both the sea and sky seem to be glued on very same plane, flattened like two dried flowers and compressed into a book of fairy tales by a young girl who locked them in a coffin between two pages. 

Honestly, I think it is one of the most successful things I have made in this series. Though it wouldn't appeal to a mass public, other painters might see something in it. And I secretly wish that I had the formula to make others like this today because I feel like a beginner again.

13 March 2022

Life on the fragile lawn


What is it about the Russian war on Ukraine that grabs us all so viscerally here in the West?  We haven't gotten too worked up about what Putin has done in Chechnya or in Syria, or for that matter in the Sudan. I am not trying to blame any of us but the question keeps coming home to me over the past two weeks. 

I think it's because these are Europeans who are being bombed, and refugees are trying to escape it all like ants over the lawn at a kid's picnic party. It's close to home, too close for us, too close to WW2. 

And also, maybe this digital world of today opens up wide lens to reveal a life, for all living things on earth, to appear so unbearably fragile. At any capricious moment, missiles from afar could rip everything from us, our neighbours, our pets, our homes, both modest or spectacular, the churches and theatres, all our cultural history in bricks and mortar are split apart in a mere instant.

It isn't just man's beastly behavior, but Mother Earth's too, for she can wreak similar destruction upon all living things. Eclipsed by the War in Ukraine is the Decimation of whole towns on the East coast of Australia by flooding. Floods heights never seen before have left thousands of families homeless in the past two weeks. Because of the War no one elsewhere was aware of this disaster, otherwise it would have been bigger news for those in the Climate Change milieu or elsewhere. 

In any case, humans are in just as fragile a place as ants on the lawn, but with less organic wisdom I think. My apologies to the photographer whose name I don't know, who took this amazing image in Lismore last week. 
(Addendum, photo by Kirran Shah)

09 March 2022

The wounded sea

The Wounded Sea, 2012-2013 Poët Laval, oil on canvas, 150 X 150 cm

This is painting from 2012-2013 when I had a large studio in Poët Laval which is land-locked and about 150 km away from the Mediterranean Sea. I made a series of these pictures and as they evolved I realised that they were about the dying sea. I often went for swims when I went down to Marseille or Cassis to see friends. On one particular trip just off Marseille on a rocky promenade at the end of an ally way within the city friend took me down for a swim one evening in late June. I was horrified by so much litter everwhere, broken bottles, plastic cups and what not everywhere on the large set of flat rocks. And yet being a Friday evening there were lots of locals making picnics and spread out over the rocks. The red sun was sinking gently into the sea to the West. Rosé and beer were being consumed. Cigarette butts were everywhere in various states of decays and broken glass too. I found it depressing. We jumped into the sea and swam out a ways but the refus seemed to follow me. Plastic bags like colourful and large jelly fish were floating everywhere around me. Though the view back up to the buildings on the Corniche was picturesque at sunset the water was filthy. 

At home a few days later I began making these images, abstract in a certain way but realistic in my own mind. Many of them are accompanied by a thin black strip running up one side of the canvas. People have asked me what is that about? For me it was a way to set off the light in the rest of the painting but also represented the black armband that in olden days long gone, People wore them on their sleeves to mark the mourning after the death of a loved one. In Italy and in my early days in Aix I often saw men and women wearing them in the streets, in shops and cafes and it was fairly commonplace. But I had never seen them worn in America although they certainly were. Here, Franklin Delano Roosevelt wearing on after the death of his mother. 

Her too is Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia wearing one in a portrait from 1614.

And below, a British physician Richard Norris Wolfenden wearing one in 1905. 

But here in Australia there is a larger historical debate about culture in Australia at the end of the 20th century. The "Black Arm Band" debate concerns the issue of whether or not the History of Australian's founding were based on fact or fiction. Many scholars believed it was fiction so they wore black arm bands to protest the "fictional" views promulgated by so many politicians on the other side of the aisle.  

And so in this picture, among a few others done at the same time, I turned to this idea to find a graphic symbol to complete my thoughts about the wounded sea around us.