30 September 2022

in Ukraine art cannot surpass reality

It isn't often that reality eclipses Conceptual Art as it's usually the other way around. But here it does because unlike Art which is made up from imagination, reality is fact-based. And the facts here are that Putin's Russian dictatorship has tortured, executed, and buried its victims in a mass grave in this sparse-looking pine forest in the Eastern region of Ukraine only recently liberated after eight months of occupation.

(My apologies to the photographer whose credit was lost in translation)

In this photo I was struck by a poignant desolation and how these make-shift crosses mingle haphazardly inside such an empty looking forest. We are so accustomed to seeing graves marked by white crosses in neat rows or marked with simple headstones in a field surrounded by beds of grass. But in this place, grass will surely never grow back. 

Almost in a vision I saw in this forest scene a kind of elegiac portrait in which small crosses are protected by trees, their elders perhaps, barely still alive themselves and undernourished; a ghetto family of trees, burned and ravaged-looking but still hanging on to life, still spared the fate of the cut up crosses identified only by obscure numbers drawn with cheap black markers. 

I try to imagine how Conceptual Art might treat this scene, this aftermath of torture, a war's consequence's, as if anything could still be added or contextualised upon it. It's a heavy theme, a giant subject that over the centuries many, many artists have attempted to convey. 

But this forest scene is not a work of art, it is the result of a brutal war of aggression, fact-based, where even an adjective like 'brutal' feels like a lazy cliché. How to describe what happened here or at any murder scene anywhere? This is what motivates artists, but can it really be done? Picasso's Guernica stands out and it was an instant hit in 1937, and it still is today.

But most Art pales in front of such tragedy as it can often come off too superficial and superfluous. A grave subject can easily be trivialised with the noblest of intentions particularly in the realm of the plastic arts. Otto Dix was an exception, as were certainly others. But I do know of many authors and playwrights who have made a success of it on both paper and stage.

The Holocaust atrocities are presented to the world in a very frank and straight-forward manner, the bare bones of documentation, as it were. How else to explain or contextualise the terror and brutality of genocide with details of what had happened? 

The Nazi genocide has been presented clearly, simply and soberly, allowing the photos and objects themselves to speak the unspeakable. In fact, come to think of it, it was a kind of preemptive precursor to how Conceptual Art pieces would soon be presented themselves. After the war the German artist Joseph Beuys practically invented Conceptual Art in the simplest terms for he was clever and original, an emerdeur first class; inimitable and copied like a xerox machine. 

I have never been to the memorial at Auschwitz-Birkenau but I have always wanted to go, maybe (hopefully) on my next trip in Europe I will remember to finally go.

This forest too, will also be a place of remembrance in Ukraine, not a museum to attend, but a place to go in somber thought and prayer like at Auschwitz-Birkenau and other places of other genocides.


22 September 2022

seven small syllables to shake one's perspective

22 April 2022

I was watching a film the other night wherein two characters are obviously interested in each other and speaking on the telephone split screen. At one point the woman says to the man "I've been thinking of you".... after which a silent desire fills the empty pause.

Just seven syllables like a Haiku, marking a time and place that press this moment, out of all the others, into one's heart. This tiny sentence for any man or woman can set one's sails or break them, and it is the most underrated idiom in the whole wide world of Romance.

It is a poignant space, this place, where two people meet without gravity, with expectations often beyond their earthly hopes and dreams. 

I began to think about the sudden desire that lives within this small set of words as if they were a fragile necklace. They are uttered at the very onset of a love affair, at the front door, but sometimes much later too, if a couple is both lucky and thoughtful. 

But in each case it's an invitation to engage intimately, for it's a clean, embossed calling card that needs a reply, quickly.  

Hopefully, everyone has either received these small words or delivered them softly themselves as if whispered in a chapel or in a bed. 

And though we might seem to live in a world of busy and false expectations, Hi-Fi, Wi-Fi or Hi-Five, there is chance in every busy signal, for Cupid has all our numbers.  

Like a love story at its dark end, dusk too, at the close of each day, seems to poison the light with regretful refrain. 

I have picked out these images because they all share the bare minimum of anecdotal messaging. They speak to me of those six small words while they also place an intimate bookmark of time tracing my own appearance into this fragile part of the day. And they possess an uncertainty too, but not without an idea concrete enough to live within their own brushstrokes. 

10 September 2021

22 December 2021

21 April 2022

21 April 2022

16 July 2022

29 July 2022

30 January 2022

13 January 2020

11 May 2021

20 August 2018

12 September 2022

colours are perception and the greys between them are broken bridges

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 April 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

While driving home from the beach a few weeks back I was watching the deepening dusk turn from violet to Prussian blue, and in those passing moments, the simple and an obvious truth came to me: 

"that the more one paints, the more one sees".

Too simple, and almost a matter of fact, but like a large freckle on one's nose, and after decades of work, one could too easily overlook this fact. From there I reasoned that surely it would be the same for all other crafts, vocations or jobs and what-have-you. 

But just as certainly, it would only concern a commitment for which one would be willing to offer up one's whole life, for this is a choice of great personal investment. And it is reserved only for a vocation which also returns that investment 1000 fold with a clearer understanding of one's own life but possibly an empty bank account too. So curiously, it is not a viable way of life for an investment banker for instance. Mais Non! This only works for artists, artisans, scientists, athletes, writers, musicians, etc, etc,,, creative people for whom money is always a secondary goal. Money is great and essential, but it's still the horse before the cart.

One can spend a lifetime pursuing an answer (or question) that might give meaning to one's life. For most, it is to make a family and raise children, nurturing them well enough to face a difficult and oftentimes cold and unforgiving life. But for a creator, or any another other kind of obsessive oddball, isn't there also another kind of Holy Graal to strive for? It's both a question and answer, and it's something that one hopes might fix one's own flawed life by filling in a gap or those cracks. But maybe too, it's the thing that brings a sense of completion. 

Along these lines, here is a selection of a few images which reveal for me the somewhat disparate means by which one can see and paint the motif. How is a picture painted? It depends on the sky on any given day but also most importantly, it's what one sees in the sky and what one takes from it, rendering it through a visual alchemy.  

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 15 July 2021 oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 4 September 2020 oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

One can bring to a session a mind full of memories and images, or none. But what one does bring is embodied in so much of what one has been seeing and painting for so many years. Painting as a life's work is a cumulative endeavour, and if one isn't getting better at looking and seeing, then one should take up needlepoint, or just look for a new optometrist. 

I know a few wonderful painters whose work, sadly to note, went backwards in their lifetime by retreating from the great originality they had once exhibited. André Derain comes to mind, and he is an artist who went from these paintings below (done in 1906, and 1907, respectively) to the third picture done in Provence. 

AKG Museum in Buffalo, N.Y, 1906

The Guggenheim in Bilbao, 1907, Cassis (The Cap Canaille, pink on the left) 

(full disclosure, I love both of these paintings) These are two innovative pictures built up from within from extraordinary colour harmonies. The drawings in each, though different in conception, are unified and somewhat straight forward. Compare these with this insipid painting below, done in 1930, after he moved to Provence from the Côte d'Azur.

Collection of the Museum of Chicago, 1930 

Though this may be indeed a kind of painting to which many amateurs aspire, it is a step backwards from the exuberant invention of Derain's earlier work when he was considered one of the original Fauvists alongside Henri Matisse. Unlike Matisse who did go forward, propelling French Painting into une idée Moderne by breaking down perspective (one step further than Cézanne) and by expanding the explosion of colour (after Van Gogh), to inviting the New York school of Expressionism to flourish in America several years later, for better and worse.  

Seeing colour is a cumulative endeavour, an acquired taste, as it were. Where I see a peachy yellow cloud, many civilians (non-painters) might see what they think is 'just grey',  a misnomer and already, therein is the problem, for grey in this way doesn't exist at all. Grey is the relative result of any complimentary colours mixed together. And even worse, it's also but a 'perception' created by the eye. Colours are so interconnected in Nature that purity cannot exist because all colours are 'broken'. They are inherently a variation of pear grey, peach grey, plum grey or grape grey. And these colours mutate continually (especially at dusk) as they deepen into the colder tones of night as the colour wheel spins more rapidly. 

So theoretically, a working painter should develop an increasingly richer clarity around the nuances of colour as he/she works out on a motif in Nature because the more one paints, the more one sees.

05 September 2022

M' as tu vu? a catwalk of stripes

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 24 August 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

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

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

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 24 August 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Eight studies from over the past several weeks, a few of which were done on the same day while others, the day before or after, but they all seem to be born from my sometimes not so discreet obsession for most anything striped. I'm sure I have already spoken of my fascination with the main floor of the then, still existing Brooks Brothers, on Madison Avenue at 44th street. My father would take me shopping there when I came to visit him. It was an immense building with at least 10 or 12 floors but I would always get stuck on the large main area downstairs where ties were lovingly squeezed into special long wooden spaces resembling coffins made of dark wood. There were hundreds of them in rows three and four deep and they framed a kind of open square around the center of the room wherein clerks and salesmen (no women yet!) were busy watching for patrons coming in off the street, ready to  pounce. All those wonderful films of the 1940's reveal this exclusive world of white businessmen. Myself, I never needed help and they didn't fuss with me too much, I knew exactly how to appreciate this kaleidoscopic display of visual pleasure just like an epicurean facing a display of pasties at Boulangerie Chambelland in Paris. These multicoloured ties made me crazy in a way I wouldn't understand for another forty year's time. Shapes and sizes of each stripe, a cacophony of colour harmonies that threw themselves at the inchoate painter inside me. It went on and on, and as a young boy it was a visit to Ali Baba's cave of treasures, and I wanted all of them, at once and forever. And though I only enjoyed wearing ties for a few short years thereafter, my early love for this sartorial appendage seems to lurk forever in my unconscious, and in my closet too.

So in the end, these small pictures are just souvenirs of a quiet hour spent at the beach in front of a motif at dusk and far from the Madding Crowd. But curiously, they're also like models on a catwalk whose desires are to be seen with new and flashy outfits.

"M'as tu vu!!!"

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 23 August 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 24 August 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 24 August 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

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