31 July 2022

Satie and his childish children

Pan Am, Myocum, July 2020 oil on plywood, 180 X 120 cm

In the spirit of Ikigai which will be explained in the next post, here are two recent pictures from my studio. They are larger and they take a bigger place in one's life and wall space. Unlike the Evening Prayers done from the motif, these are 'non-objective' pictures meaning that there is no anecdotal message or story for the viewer. This is pure painting, painting for painting's sake. 
Being a fan of Erik Satie, I think of these paintings in much the same way that he composed many of his own small works. In some of his oeuvre he wanted to create a new genre of music that might appear to be incidental, accidental even. His compositions floated in the background and were to be appreciated while at the same time taking in other aspects of the present moment, a visual or a dreamy reverie. 
Erik Satie, for such an innocuously unpretentious man, inspired so many important and popular composers of the latter half of the 20th century. Our world today would be a different and poorer place without his lighthearted spirit of mirth. Nor would the works of John Cage, Terry Riley, Arvo Pärt and Steve Reich, among many others, be quite the same without Satie. He legitimised the art form of ambient music. Many visual artists during this era were also surfing the same kind of ambient form in art schools and lofts everywhere. 
And the second half of the 20th century brought about movement(s) and connections. Air travel became the obvious means of bringing artists together even faster than ever before. Suddenly fusions of so many different visual and plastic arts converged with science and music, politics and philosophy. Collaborations sprung up everywhere on earth like wild flowers. Being younger, I kind of missed this era by just a few centimetres, like a small boy who couldn't see over a fence because he was too short. 
OK,... but what I really wanted to explore is the idea of Ambient Art, but not like the riotous everyday household of Claes Oldenburg and the POP artists of the 60's. 
Mais non! I am looking for an ambient art that lives among us far more discreetly, one like an old photo of Erik Satie standing silently with an umbrella in a foggy street. 
In these paintings I thirst for an art form that knows its place in the room, one that knows where to place itself on a wall in the world, an art form that doesn't scream out to the poor guest as he or she enters such a space. 
Yet, also I long for an art form that lives and breathes the same air as the guest, one which is full of paint and full of tiny mistakes, one  with simple questions but complex answers too. And when they work, the colours are cousins and the drawing is fresh. There is nothing too extraordinary about them, they resemble those quirky, discordant measures in one of those Gnossiennes by Satie; magnificent and ephemeral but unremarkable all the same. For me that is their charm, these are paintings that inhabit my own walls purely for my own personal pleasure, and hopefully they won't scream at my guests, just surprise them.

Pan Am, Myocum, July 2020 oil on plywood, 220 X 130 cm

30 July 2022

At sea, reeling and feeling....

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 28 July 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 28 July 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

In order of appearance from the other night are four studies which came one after the other in quick succession. It was a great seance because the 'Bloom' seemed to last forever and I left the beach in the dark, alone and happy. 

I had arrived a little earlier than usual at the motif which revealed, in the top picture, a rather quaint-looking placid blue sea under the lemon sky at the very beginning of its pale metamorphosis. 

In the second one down, the colours begin to burn from the heat of the sun dropping behind me in the East. 

In the third one (below), the whole sky implodes with light, and the delicate evening blast appears to weave a structure embossed of mystical proportions. 

Little else to say about them except that the very last one is much more colourful than the photo reveals. In this last picture the evening bloom had evened out considerably and it is at this point when the entire scene appears wrapped in a veil of pink silk. The colour harmony is rich but for the life of me, I couldn't reproduce in photo.

I like them all maybe because I took such pleasure in them but also because the last two (below) were a real struggle but I persevered and I left with the goods like a fisherman who fought mightily with a large and rebellious marlin vanquishing it after an exhausting battle. Mine was quicker and far less tiring of course, but no less satisfying. 

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 28 July 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 28 July 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

20 July 2022

Help! Here comes a GIF! Cyrano de Bergerac exalts!

Being a visual creature I am really surprised that I didn't go into films when I was younger. I sort of know why, but I am still surprised nonetheless from the vantage point in this quixotic future place of today. 

I didn't go to film school because I had no idea who I was, nor did I have any sense that I had anything to say. I was a dreamy romantic, immature and lost, and so naturally I went to Europe to drink wine and read philosophy. 

But as fate would have it, upon arriving there for University I met a painter (Leo Marchutz) in Aix-en-Provence who would change that part of me, some of it, the philosophy bit, but the drinking red wine part didn't change. In any event I became beholden to a new world of visual discipline, one centred around Painting. 

But like other dreamers, I was always going to see films any time I could. Then, when video came out I embraced that world too, and I have made about a hundred brief small things under the nom de guerre L'air de rien. Just for fun, here is a GIF made in Vimeo from one of my one minute videos from the i-phone back in 2018. It doesn't work as a GIF, but hey! It was my first try. I hadn't been into my account there in a long while and it turns out, to my surprise  that they have created many new options for videos posted with their site. One of them allows a user to make GIFS from one's work, quite easily in fact. So, indeed, it opens a whole new field of fun!

À l’Orangerie

But of course, it's a crowded field out there because everyone, it seems, has become a video artist in one small way or another as we now live in a world of visual absurdity, whether we like it or not, whether it's TicTok or not.

But I like it, most of it,,, some of it anyway. Better that people are shooting videos than guns, as we say up here in the Bronx. And of course the smart phone has become the tool of the trade for this explosive bouquet of craziness.

And finally, there is the GIF which arrived not too long ago (but long after the ubiquitous emoji though) and I embraced it quickly, entirely, completely, and besottedly like a young lover in high school. I found an immediate comfort in its innate cryptic wit. A well place GIF is a marvellous thing, a light touch of the quixotic quip, (think of Dorothy Parker in the sack with Marcel Proust).

And the GIF reminded me of an early hero of mine from boarding school. In an English class as an awkward boy of 14 I discovered Cyrano de Bergerac, and my fantasy life changed forever. Using his wicked wit instead of a sword, Cyrano  devastated his rivals, his enemies, and conquered love in an odd ball sort of way.

But I loved him immediately, he became my hero (more about that one day), but henceforth my wit would save me from any scrapes in life, I could be free forever with a sharp tongue. 

I soon discovered that a GIF too, could slice and dice with the just appropriate retort of irony. There is a certain art to it in a dime store sort of way. Emojis, on the other hand,  are tacky and shallow. GIFS are to emojis as Van Gogh is to Julian Schnabel. Responding with a great GIF is a high art form and reveals something intimate about the user that might normally hide behind an insipid text. One can express anger, surprise, laughter or faux sadness (faux everything!) because a GIF's DNA is basically irony. 

"Brevity is the soul of wit"

I forget who said this (Nixon?),,, but it's a truism that survives even our most postmodern cynicism because realistically, the world really does need more irony.

Some of my GIF faves are Spanky, but one needs to be a certain age to understand this, Obama thinking wtf? Robert Redford, ditto for a certain age; and this curiously bent alteration of Robert Redford for those who really appreciate la double entendre. But, lots of other weird ones too, most of which I will keep secret in order to surprise some of you in the near future. Sadly, as you can readily attest, GIFS won't work in this Blog format so the following static image will have to do. 

And yes, we do live in world of disinformation and altered facts, but on the bright side, we live in a world of alteration too, and for this we are indebted to the artists of the early 20th century Europe who forever changed our take on the grand Bourgeoisie who ruled over everyone with their boring mannerisms. I don't often give big shout out to the Surrealists but today I will. 

17 July 2022

simpletons using paintbrushes for crutches

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads,  8 July 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads,  8 July 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

From last week is a curious set of studies. The Winter bloom has kicked in, and with a small moon the light becomes electric both in the East and Western sky.

These all feel a little unfinished which is OK because I think of them as studies anyway. Yet sometimes the motif is so rich with colourful possibilities, and because it changes so quickly, I just want to hop aboard like a commuter catching a red double-deck bus in London. The speed of execution might seem frantic to an observer but to the painter it is just a colourful pin wheel spinning easily always just beyond one's reach. It's also a double-edged sword that slices through both catastrophe and serendipity in one blow. 

These four were done on the same evening. The one just below is my favourite, one that works completely I believe. The others possess elements in each one individually which feel quite sexy and appealing but they don't quite hold up as a 'unified whole' which is always the goal. I cannot remember the order in which they were painted either but my favourite was likely made first judging by the colour of the sea. 

So again, for me, in this series, the trick is to paint quickly, seizing the motif by the throat if one can, and trusting one's intuitive sense of craft which is basically the whole of one's own painting experience, unless of course they're simpletons and they've painted and painted but learned nothing. 

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads,  8 July 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads,  8 July 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

15 July 2022

The Dig and an eternal eye turns towards to the present

This is a film-still that came after the credits for the film THE DIG which came out a few short years ago. I saw it twice because I have always had a crush on Cary Mulligan but also because I loved the story and it's a practical way to spend time in rural 19th century Britain without having to use a Time Machine.

Viewing films by streaming services (this was seen on Netflix) seems to erase the age-old movie theatre habit of watching screen credits slowly unfurl at the end of a film. An old friend joined me for a film a few years back at the theatre in Byron. I was surprised to find out that he insisted on staying for the entire roll out of the screen credits to the very end. I remained in my seat too, of course, but I found it a little vexing to sit through it after feeling ambivalent about the film. He felt the same way but that didn't stop him from dutifully watching it till the end. The film was American Sniper, and it provoked a great, almost visceral argument between us on the drive home. It brought out old differing dialogues about war we've had over decades. 

But hey, this anecdote has nothing to do with The Dig. I only bring it up to explain how I discovered it after the end of the film. I managed to see this still video on the second viewing because I had left the credits rolling as I brushed my teeth before going to bed. My curiosity was piqued; what does it mean?

The camera was set high up above the last scene of the film showing a small table placed in the middle of the now excavated wooden ship buried in the 5th century. The camera slowly recedes further and further away to reveal an eye as seen above, the table becomes the iris which I found to be a wonderful visual idea. But again, what was the meaning?

The iris is bright blue and is situated in the middle of an almond shaped eye evoking a place maybe further afield than Britain,,, Mesopotamia? To me, the eye looks sad, a bit forlorn, perhaps a knowing look of wisdom as if Eternity itself was now awake and checking into to see what is going on in this present moment. 

I can imagine that Eternity would indeed be forlorn if it got a glimpse of what Man has gotten up to over these past millennia. Ouuuuf, as they say in France,,,, It's not a pretty sight despite so many creative marvels made everywhere around the world. This greatness is offset a hundred times over by the fact that there have been too many Donald Trumps and Vladimir Putains reigning over the rest of us disposable mortals.

Eternity cannot not turn a blind eye to this terrible fact that many awful men (and a few awful women, maybe) seek to destroy all that is good and creative on this mother earth.

01 July 2022

Hakuin Ekaku revived from the dead


So again, I find older posts which seem to have great meaning for me.