30 April 2022

Close cousins, Art and Science.

          Georges Seurat, The Morning Walk, 1885

I was thinking this morning while practicing the piano about just why some people are more of an artist than a scientist though both are equally are highly esteemed in my mind. They say it has to do with right vs left brain but even that seems almost too abstract,  too irrelevant an explanation.

I was thinking about it because in this Post-Modern academic world-view an artist is expected ‘to say something’, to comment from their own perspective, to assert a point of view about something. But for someone, a painter in my case, who simply desires to see Nature out in the world away from self or point of view, it can be a letdown for the viewer who expects this ‘discussion’ about Nature, either as an interrogation or affirmation. But for the painter (me) who is not generally interested in this kind of dialogue using Art, there is no other purpose to the work of art than to behold it, to be swept away by its expression  of personal truth. The meaning of it is in the transfer of a feeling from one person to another.

So a painter, in this long vertiginous line of landscape painting; in the West, the East, and in the wild worlds of Africa and beyond, I am loathe to question or affirm ideas that I might have about the Natural world, rather, it is my wish to simply express it visually. And as a painter I desire more than anything to run naked into the motif, exploring it fully, like a teenager kissing their first beau, or belle, for the very first time.

A scientist, on the other hand, wants to poke it, turn it over, and open it up like a frog's heart or a new thesis. It's a different exploration, and it gives up different results. The scientist seeks an understanding of Nature through facts whilst the painter seeks out an artistic solution to the aesthetic challenge posed by the those facts in Nature. They are both searching for a concrete resolution to their respective curiosities. And both are looking for order too, as they get lost in the sublime irrationality of the natural world.

So this makes me think of Leonardo da Vinci, who both as an artist and scientist explored the natural world with an erudite curiosity, designing all sorts of practical things for humankind, but at the same time, painting the mysteries of a smile.

Science and Art are close cousins, and they have been since the beginning of time, and they also appear to eye one another with suspicion and envy, just like cousins. But, this is good because it provokes a friendly sense of competition. There have been many, many moments in history when Science has poached artists away and seduced them with its base medals. Pointillism, at the end of the 19th century in Paris comes to mind, when Georges Seurat thought he had found the Holy Graal by devising a system to create paintings using tiny fragments of color. It was an interesting concept, and he made some beautiful pictures at the beginning of this voyage but less so in his later pictures, many of which are his most famous. La Grand Jatte was painted when he was barely twenty five. Sadly, he died way too young at the age of thirty-one. He was so very gifted that it's hard to imagine what he might have done with his immensely generous gifts. His earlier pictures are sublime. They possess a sensual intuition unlike La Grand Jatte (just below), which feels contrived and systematic, more like an illustration than a picture that truly lives and breathes life. It's as if he made it in a laboratory instead of a studio. But below are some of the smaller pictures, studies, some of them that are wonderful. 


La Grand Jatte, 1886

Seurat almost pulled in old Pissarro, who himself was fascinated by what could be possible with a more systematic use of coulers on canvas. But it didn’t last long for he quietly went back to his own squirrelly brushstrokes. 

But Seurat did indeed create a school of sorts, and his doctrine was rigorously pursued by Signac and other followers. Unfortunately, none of them had the genuine gift of the young Georges Seurat.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that a Scientific approach in creating Art will always be inferior due to the lack of the inherent intuitive, irrational nature of the artistic way. But that does not mean that a scientist cannot rely upon his/her own artistic intuition to solve problems in their own Scientific realm because intuition moves easily throughout all creative endeavors

And Painting is about developing an intuition based on empirical knowledge about how the visual world operates, and it can never be rational.

21 April 2022

vaulted ceilings of sky

These are a few studies from this past week. The Autumn skies are upon us but there has been  so much rain they've been hidden.

These two were done under a sky in full bloom, so much so that I decided to ignore the sea below. Now, a friend has informed me that she understood the blue violet at the base of each study to be the sea,... alas, ... Mais Non! 

But hey!, it doesn't matter because these studies must stand up in the original architecture of their own abstract conception. In essence, they need to stand on their own, and not from any outside visual bias.

I was happy with them when I finished and began to clean up and pack my things at the beach. It was a magnificent twilight, and I could have kept working but the palette wasn't easy to see nor to differentiate colors. But what a light to behold! Standing at the beach at the end of a short painting session I sometimes I feel like a child walking into a great cathedral for the very first time. In spite of the vaulted ceilings the space seems to go on forever in one's young imagination. And the beach too, only limited by the far ends of the horizon on either side feels limitless. But it does have limits, and the painter himself must create them, define them, through the drawing. This is where one's own sense of abstraction is so vital, but it requires originality. This 'seascape' genre is a rundown motif, like an old whore; used, and abused by generations of painters, and it can rob one of all their noble intentions in front of such magnificence. The lessons are limitless too if one is original. And to be fair, many of my studies are not. But sometimes they reveal something new, and for this reason I come back for more.

But anyway, these are open pictures, that is to say that there is no earthly boundary unlike studies made using the sea at the base of the picture frame. I hope these open up something new for me.

Evening Prayer 11 April 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer 11 April 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

18 April 2022

Donald Baechler's war zones of paint where angels slug it out


I have always had a soft spot for this artist so it is sad to hear of his death last week at the age of 65.

I really loved his quixotic and weird pictorial imagination which he used in a multitude of different ways. I knew his paintings and drawings but he also made sculptures too. He was certainly painter's painter, and by that I mean that his first love was always the expressive graphic punch of an original image while using lots of paint. And painters love both originality and lots of paint.

His canvas's often resembled delicate war zones where angels slugged it out in the airy open. This is not a tortured Edvard Munch, this is a guy who clearly had fun in his studio and hopefully, and (presumably) in his New York life. I always felt a little envious of his unrestrained creativity, his devil-may-care insouciance.   

His imagination, though playful and childlike, also resembled an autistic playground as well. He made lots of wild-looking cartoons out of every kind of household object, and he must have watched a lot of television as a kid too. And as the actor Jim Curry had reportedly learned many of his cartoon voices and sounds from and 60's television, then so did Donald Baechler, who filled his own head with the same cartoons from this golden era of American camp.

But his visual focus was mostly always like a direct hit at the viewer. His ideas, always just out of reach of our rational expectations, seemed also rooted in the depths of art history. At times Byzantine, at times Cycladic, but sometimes just a hop and a skip from Disney World.

One of my very favorite paintings is called Deep North (just below). He manages to create a world of allegory, both rational (in pictorial terms) and absurd. The stern zen master might approve.


In these earlier works from the 1970's and 80's there is a visual clarity so unlike the often shoddy ambiguity of his contemporary, Jean-Michel Basquiat though I admit it is really unfair to compare artists. I say this because I gradually came to appreciate the visual poetry of some of Basquiat's work but too often, I felt this quality was lost in his undisciplined approach to his chosen craft (Painting). And also in Basquiat's work, I miss the concise, visual acuity that I find in Donald Baechler's work which is always his strong point. But don't get me wrong, I do like ambiguity, but not the unclear and mushy, disguised as ambiguous, which I find inferior.

One can see this difference in all sorts of paintings throughout history. Some painters indulge in a kind of mushiness, maybe out of a lack of drawing skills, maybe a fear of conviction but one rarely feels that with Donald Baechler. Even if one doesn’t appreciate his content, it is at least clear. Here are just a few more of my favourite things…

11 April 2022

Australian citizenship! And a pot pourri of immigrants!

And so I have become an Australian citizen! It happened the other day in a large sports arena with 104 other celebrants. It didn't take long, we were all given a small plastic Australian flag and a young potted tree to take home to plant firmly into a bit of soil. We all (ensemble) recited an oath of allegiance, a short verse of just several sentences (with or without the tricky word of God in it), and that was that! At one point they played the national anthem to which almost none of us knew the words but we fumbled through with an awkward giddiness.

Normally, these ceremonies are smaller, more intimate affairs but because of COVID we were sort of bunched up together like asparagus into a large sports arena. But I really loved it. I loved seeing all the different colored people, hearing all the different colored accents, and seeing the casual attire which most of these new citizens had already adopted. Casual is putting it kindly in some cases. I am sure that in Melbourne or Sydney the celebrants would have spiffed up a lot more, probably but maybe not. In Paris or Aix-en-Provence, for the same kind of ceremony à la Mairie, everyone would have been in the Monday’s best for sure. 

The day beforehand I had even bought an iron to straighten out a selection of shirts that I had in mind. But in the end, the elegant pale blue-striped one (from Paris) had obviously hung so long on a curved wooden hanger that it didn’t need anything done to it. I wore a pair of leather loafers (also from Paris) and a thin pair of faded deep green trousers (from GAP!). I had even thought of wearing a tie (an Armani from Barneys) but changed my mind at the last minute. I bring these items up only because I almost never wear anything around here but cargo pants, tee-shirts and flip-flops. But I still receive looks of forlorn from these lovely ties every time I go into the closet. So all these poor, chic items of clothing either live in a state of sad rejection or just hibernation in this seaside resort of Byron Bay. The dark grey jacket that I did bring with me just in case, was left in the front seat of my little Toyota Corolla as soon as I caught a glimpse of people filing into the Arena. But in the end, I still looked like a lawyer shopping for fruit in the Marais on a Sunday morning,,, Hey, what can you do? 

But I do love Australia, maybe even because Australians (as they say themselves) “don’t give a rat’s ass) what others think of them. Well,,,, sort of,,,, unless they've been drinking and hear something flippant, then watch out mate. But hey, these are tough people! Best to avoid pubs if you're worried about getting a thump, or just learn to keep your mouth shut like me. And it's easy to let one's one sartorial sense slip down the rabbit hole here Down Under because in the end, nobody cares like they do in New York, Paris or god forbid, L.A! In Mullumbimby, one could walk around in pajamas (clean hopefully) and nobody would blink. 

So after eight years here I am finally a citizen. But it wouldn't surprise me too, if I went back to Europe for a while because  Museums beckon me and my social circle here seems to retreat like the Arctic, further every few months.

But at the ceremony, I did know a few people notably, my barber Yuri (below on the right) who came with his friend Manu, both from Italy (but there is a Russian connection somewhere which I wouldn't ask about in the current world climate). As you can see he has certain sartorial flair (being Italian!) with an obvious penchant for contemporary tattoo mix. They, like me, are now Australians. In a few days I will pay Yuri a visit to have my hair cut and give him this photo.


08 April 2022

Moissac, home to deities and devils hiding everywhere in plain sight

So, I picked up this small book in the Aix market from a bookseller about 40 years ago. It’s one of those little French booklets that one doesn’t get around to reading until one actually goes to the place written about on the cover. And because I haven’t been to Moissac I haven’t read the booklet either! Ha ha.

Sadly, I have neither spent too much time meandering around the rich region of Southwest France. Apparently though, this abbey first came into being in either the 6th or 7th century depending on whose account you believe. It was originally a Benedictine abbey. 

It sits squarely on the ‘route aux etoiles' de Compostelle. The Tympanum alone is one of the most revered of all Romanesque churches in France.

         The prophet Jeremiah on the South portal

So, I haven’t read this booklet but its cover has always been visible to me because I always found a place for it between other books so the cover was prominently displayed in my every home over the years. The head of the prophet Jeremiah (above) is so compelling that I have wanted it close by me at all times. 

But Jeremiah is just one jewel because there are many sculpted portraits around this abbey which endear one. Being Romanesque, it is full of devils and dragon-like creatures, saints and sinners, drunkards and farmers, all drinking up the earth's wares. There are all sorts of animals hanging off columns and holding up arches, and flying from ceilings. With a pair of binoculars, the Romanesque Church is a cornucopia of bestiary delight for the energetic traveler.

Sadly, through sheer obstinate prejudice against religion in this Post-Modernist world many people cannot see the formal and humanist beauty in churches like this. I have known one or two painters, and many people, who fastidiously avoid angels like vampires avoid garlic and mirrors. But being an artist of another type (and with another education altogether) I do not judge Art framed by contextual constraints. My visual education allowed me to see (and feel) an Art unrestrained by contextual content. For me, Beauty became the guide, and as a painter, it was achieved through means of both light and form. Ultimately though, for me, Beauty is Truth, and Truth Beauty, as John Keats alluded to in his famous poem Ode to a Grecian Urn. And that certainly does not preclude Beauty from what a layman might think of as Ugly, for it is certainly not the opposite of verisimilitude in the world of Painting. When something is truthful it is beautiful like when something's beautiful it is truthful regardless of any contextual housing. 

But because a Tympanum is Christian, it doesn't exclude a similarity to a Tympanum on a wing of a Temple in Southern India. Beauty in Art hides out in the open, everywhere, just like the human heart of Humanity. It is ever-present, discoverable like a mouse on the desktop, but only if one is not blinded by too many ideas, religious or otherwise.

But I didn't want to get into all that! I know  I seem to have developed my own personal rant regarding this subject of the Post-Modern influence upon students of Art. But Hey! I was simply moved by the spirit of this head on the cover of the booklet. And one can ask oneself continually as a creator; How was this done? What hand made this? And what kind of mind created this? What we do know is that these were anonymous craftsmen, stone carvers whose lives and those of their families, moved about rural Europe looking for work. And, they carried not only the tools of trade but also a rich artistic sensibility honed by tradition around in their rucksacks. Whole communities were born around the construction of an abbey as large as the one at Moissac. For instance, it took 500 years to complete Chartres Cathedral through all the wars, pestilence and political upheavals. How many generations? Maybe fifty? Give or take a few family men? Imagine the cohesive vision entailed in this long project?