28 October 2022

ants and termites know better than us


(This is a reposting from 2015 of a wonderful documentary of David Attenborough I saw in France)

7 March 2015

life in the undergrowth...

Sliding into my sofa earlier than usual I watched this remarkable BBC show presented by David Attenborough. Of course, I had seen   small pieces of his things over the years; his comfortable, easy-going voice isn't hard to miss if one watches the BBC from time to time. 

What really knocked my socks off this evening was a show about certain types of ants and certain termites which live just inches under our feet. The footage from these shows reveal just how marvelous photographic technology has truly become. Inside their nests one can witness the frenetic movement of these tiny creatures which seem to be guided by some very mysterious force. Millions of legs and claws move like giant rivers through the undergrowth and work in complete harmony. How do they know these things? What intelligence guides them? 

The segment on the termites of South Africa showed us tall, thin, sail-like mounds dotting the landscape as far as the eye could see.  They appeared like sailboats all running the same sea. Attenborough explained that they were all, in fact, oriented on a north/south axis and built using magnetic fields by these particular termites. The large sail-like sides are exposed to morning sun which heat the colony deep inside after a cold desert night. As the sun drifts overhead into the scorching mid-day, the sail-like home provided little surface overhead so as to keep the colony cool during the daytime heat.
Another type of termite builds large mountainous homes, the walls of which are porous allowing wind to pass through them  which circulates the stale air deep down inside, pulling it up to expel it on the other porous side.  All this remarkable wisdom utilized by some of our tiniest neighbors here on earth. Its a world of eat and be eaten for sure, (devour and brutalize really), but its a world of the mysterious and collective wisdom which somehow seems to elude us humans beings. What happened in Evolution that we have missed something so special?
Or, am I just too naive?

27 October 2022

Marina deBris, an ocean of motion

Photo credit JANIE BARRETT

I am rarely convinced by many outdoor public sculpture events so it was a nice surprise to see this piece by Marina DeBris entitled, A Drop in the Ocean, in Sydney's Sculpture by the Sea 2022. Her large piece is weird, for sure in an uncompromising way, almost strange enough for me to really appreciate. I like weird work, it means there is something there. It is a statement, or rendering, if you will, of the human imprint upon our planet, and in a beguiling sort of way, it possesses that "je ne sais quoi"... as les Francais say, (or en Anglais, just, W.T.F)


I think the best way to visit an outdoor Sculpture Festival, (or maybe any Contemporary Art Exhibit) would be to accompany a child, up to say about 15 years old. Anything older, and they would be watching their phones or looking at the opposite sex, but under that age is perfect,... curious perfect. Kids ask all the right questions without worry, or complication, which around Contemporary Art can indeed be complicated. The pragmatic side of a young, inquisitive child is a remarkable thing, often poetic too. But I really like kids (who doesn't?) kids usually get me, because I'm a kid too. Adults are mostly the problem in this world, not the kids. But hey! Let's not stray too far off track! 


Back to the piece, it is rather curious-looking and not so unpleasant possibly because of its contextual relationship to the sea just meters away. How would it look sitting in the Simpson desert for instance? Does it really represent a drop, (as inferred in the title of the proverbial drop of water in the ocean?) or, does it also mimic the form of fishing nets full of all that is scarfed up from the deep sea and lifted with cranes onto the oversized fishing trawlers? But I like both metaphors around this work, and do we not also accept all the plastic wreckage in it because we are so inured to it from our many walks on the beach?


Australians are beachcombers, surfers and swimmers, sunset walkers, fishermen and fisherwomen who revere the sea and the sanctity of water. They respect it, fear it, and they are polite to it. One almost never sees a cigarette butt on its beaches. Almost never have I have seen a plastic bottle floating in the sea though this might be just foolishly anecdotal on my part as I tend to see the glass half-full. Australians take all this ecology business very seriously but saying that, plastic trash is still the ubiquitous enemy in all seas both here and abroad.  


Finally I wonder if one might imagine this sculpture as a uniquely Australian art work as it might reference an idea of European immigration, which until but six or seven decades ago, was facilitated principally over the seas to settle this extraordinary continent. And, how might it reference The Indigenous First People here since time immemorial? These are very questions for seeing Art in the 21st century.


Thankfully this piece has universal appeal and will likely speak not only to the dry world out yonder but to the interior of this beautiful land and its First People too.


23 October 2022

Anna Karenina at dusk

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 26 April 2019, oil on canvas board 25 X 20 cm

An interesting thing I've noticed recently is that when I put up 'older' paintings (2017-2018) for instance, on Instagram or Facebook, viewers react almost like they've never seen them before. But to be fair, back then, even just three years ago, I didn't have a lot of viewers.

But what is interesting for me, is that these little studies still 'hold up', that is to say, they still look fresh to me, and to others too. This is a good sign and it speaks well for one's work although these are by no means great,,,, good maybe,,, and interesting at the very least, but not great, just decent enough to stand up against Time. They are too small to be considered great (if indeed, they are even any good at all) because, it seems to me that only more substantial sized works of art can truly be considered 'great'. There are exceptions when one thinks of poetry perhaps, or even some short stories. But still,,, Tolstoy's superb novella, The Forged Coupon, will always be eclipsed by his grandly great and epic novel Anna Karenina.  

But anyway, during these years 2017-2019, I was still coming out of my 'Expressionist' period for lack of a better term, which essentially meant spending most of my time in the studio where the use of my eyes was memory-based as opposed to being out in front of a motif in the wilds of Nature. And at this time I was also only beginning to 're-learn' how 'to see' again, 'to respond' again to this changing colour wheel of a motif at dusk.

But in any event, I still like the 'hybrid nature' of these studies for they seem to reveal a confusion in this Painter's mind by the fluctuations of past memory to the present sensations.

What some viewers don't always get is that these things are often crudely put together because they are rapid and spontaneous collisions of pigment under the colourful constraints of a changing set of elements. This is where the collective memory of everything I've loved in Painting now fuses with what goes on out under the twilight sky. If these studies fail it is because they slip off the delicate knife-edge that separates 'realism' and 'fantasy'.

                                                                        16 July 2018

4 August 2018

2 September 2018

2 September 2018

5 September 2018

5 September 2018

5 September 2018

10 September 2018

                                                                      27 December 2018

                                                                            23 March 2018

14 October 2022

Fuwa-Fuwa, and a smart start to art

And now for something different! Anyone who has ever visited Japan will smile at these colourful sandwiches made from assorted fruit and burrowed into a thick creamy mix with yoghurt between two slices of milk bread. One finds them all over Japan in various guises depending upon the seasons. Called Fuwa-Fuwa, (fluffy like a cloud) they are as beautiful to look at as they are yummy to eat.

And so the NYT recently did an article about a small place on the lower East Side called Izakaya that makes them for lucky New Yorkers living downtown, and there, the chef, and co-owner from Sapporo, uses Mascarpone instead of yogurt to make them even creamier. I confess that it isn't so often that I imagine myself meandering around New York but when I read about a place like this I want to immediately fly up there from Australia and parachute into the kitchen.

This photo above, which I clipped as a screenshot from the NYT, has been sitting on my desktop for a month or so, poised for me like an errant, exotic and bright-coloured stamp on a collector's desk. It seems to wait and wait for SOMETHING to happen to it, indeed, ANYTHING but to be stuck on the desktop. My desktop is the purgatory of colourful things, assembled in this nether world of flat space, timeless, awaiting me to do something about it, to take some form of action. Anything!

So, indeed, SOMETHING has happened to this image of a Fuwa-Fuwa, resembling a postage stamp. In fact, it's still happening, at least until I finish this painting which I began last week. By then, I can indeed say that something has happened, and it will be smartly relegated to the past tense as a finished painting. Whew.....!

It's another large one and crazier than anything I have attempted. I wouldn't normally post an unfinished painting except that this is so viscerally connected to the image of the Fuwa-Fuwa above. But I had not even associated this painting to it until I began writing this post today. But, as usual, one's Painting Mind always initiates a visual surprise when one is plugged into Painting Memory, 24/7. And in this case it comes out as a kind of weird circus of colourful circles. The mind works in mysterious ways. Go figure!

More to be revealed.   


13 October 2022

Pan Am and Stravinsky, a contextual conundrum

Pan Am,  September 18, 2022 Myocum N.S.W. oil on plywood, 240 X 120 cm

Here is a new curiosity done a few weeks back that I propped up in a corner of the studio because I wasn't sure if it was finished (or was I not happy with it?). But after a while I quietly realised it was both OK and finished. Regretfully, it does not photograph well because the scale reduces it to almost nothing to look at.

I suppose it has as much in it for me to be happy about as it has for me to regret, for perfectionism runs too deeply within me for it to be otherwise. And yet, I am happy that I have decided not to go back in to 'make it better, more perfect'. This is progress, not perfection as they say.

Yes, (and though it is unfashionable) I am after an expression of Joy and Wonder in these things even if I don't consider myself joyful or full of wonder though I might show these things to the world. But then, Art is about invention, imagination, the possibility of success, maybe even rising to a place above one's talents despite all odds. And doesn't the same go for us in our daily lives, this marching through life as such terribly fragile and imperfect human beings?

I guess this series Pan Am is really about the invention of joy. They make me think so much of Stravinsky's entire oeuvre. But I wouldn't make reference to that in the title because then viewers would be looking for it in the work. That can be an awful contextual conundrum for an author.

What actually does pre-occupy my painterly intuition is to create pictures as full of as many relationships as I can pictorially utilise in a work. And this aspect of painting is crucial, it's almost the whole point, it seems to me. To create a whole, a unity of expression, as fully realised as one possibly can, this is the raison d'etre of Painting, indeed, of  all Art.

And though this image may look loud in a certain rambunctious and colourful way on first view, it sinks back into discreet corner like a Labrador after a big run outdoors.  

09 October 2022

a pot pourri of the painter's psyche.

These Evening Prayers were all painted over the past few months, randomly chosen for their stronger contrasts perhaps, but quite simply, I just wanted to see how these paintings would look vertically, just for fun,,,, why else? It was easily done and they were rotated to the right or left without too much thought. 

They are interesting because quite suddenly, they seem foreign to me, standing up tall like gangly teenagers, while me, the middle-aged parent gawks with surprise.

Except one, are all rotated just one turn, but this image, upside down, feels more like something from an amusement park. 
By playing with all these images in this way, I was allowed to experience not only the light differently, but the colour too, notably, the way colours interact with each other so differently in a vertical format.

Also, the gravitational aspect of them pulls the eye a little bit towards one lateral side or the other and makes them feel a bit wonky, and this is also destabilising in a weirdly positive way for me.

This was an experiment solely for pleasure as I said because I wanted to experience these images in a new way and indeed, it seems apparent there are lots of stripes in this painter's psyche.

07 October 2022

Henri Cartier-Bresson kool as a kukumber!

Call me unrealistic but I have never liked ‘effects’, as in 'slick painting effects' or excessive 'photoshop effects'. From Texas style vulgarity to Madison Avenue Advertising, to music, art, or ubiquitously with photography, whose use of so many 'after-effects' and 'highlighting' with programs (like the previously mentioned Photoshop) or Lightroom where photos seem almost downright pornographic, which is to say, way too much information. 

The following images by Henri Cartier Bresson reveal a land rich with pictorial relationships unified by the light of the natural world. And because of that, these images possess an almost magical verity created as if by some mysterious godly muse, but in fact, they are really just the result of a craft in the hands of a master.

But, it’s in the world of Painting where I find this random and artificial use of lighting so grotesque for it becomes a barrier into a world of the sublime. And this isn't a new thing in the history of Painting, it’s been around for centuries because it relies upon the general public's insatiable desire for artifice and a perceived technical prowess. This is the real problem. There is nothing wrong with a competent technique obviously but when that is all there is on the menu it makes for a poor meal. 

To be fair, few people in any period have understand what really great Painting is all about (which has everything to do with natural light). And this immediately reminds me of Baudelaire's remark when he said (and I paraphrase) that upon viewing a great work of art it almost always appears UGLY at first sight. And aside from a very small and select group of rich intellectuals, if there is anything we know about the public, they are habitually adverse to what is conventionally considered UGLY. One only has to think of poor Vincent Van Gogh. Considered crazy and without any discernible talent he received ZERO interest from a general public made up of a bored and conventional Grande Bourgeoisie. Only a small coterie of artists and writers among a few artistically switched-on luminaries understood his natural genius. Even C├ęzanne, who was thought to be a crude painter himself and vilified in his native Aix, thought Vincent was nuts, "le fou d'Arles", he wrote to Emile Bernard who knew both painters.

So the question of technique (perceived and otherwise) has always been a problem in the creative world. And so much of today's artistic world has been taken over by Social Media for good or ill that it seems to be changed forever. I fear that it has infected the general public's aesthetic sensibilities for the worse. But the grandfather of all, for good and ill, is the evolution of Technology in the Arts. 

Because today we rely upon machines to do so very much for us, it also naturally opens up fractures in the foundation of our artistic sensibilities. We judge everything so differently now, through different lenses, different cultures, and disparate ideas of aesthetics, and yet, is there not a thread of something which can bind us all?

Are we (or have we already?) moved into a machine-made aesthetic of a new order? This would be terrible of course, but quite possibly it has already taken root in our limited senses. In the future will machines make music and paintings easier to fabricate in the same way they already do for sex and war? Will the sensibilities of a human being even be needed?

Technology has helped to create such great music yet so much of it now made by 'musicians' who have barely learned how to read music. No Worries! as they say! Hit the right buttons Bro! It's cool, kool as a kukumber my main man!  


I suppose what really prompted this personal diatribe is that I hate that photography has been carjacked by the boring and conventional.  Everyone, it seems, now uses something to "jazz up" their photos, and I think it's really a great shame just as I do in the Painting World where white paint is splattered around a canvas to confuse the viewer into believing it's light, the very essence of Painting. 

Where is Henri Cartier-Bresson when we need him most?

04 October 2022

Panicked ! Francis Ford Coppola make pasta sauce.

Untitled, Dieulefit, 2005?, oil on plywood, 100 X 100 cm

I was thinking this morning about all the craziness which seems to rule our minds these days, and it occurred to me that among many things that might relieve this fact of modern life, even just temporarily, are paintings. But naturally, I would say this, not just because I am a painter but because I believe in the power of paintings to undo many of the knots in our souls (temporarily,,,, maybe,,, but at least for a moment). And aren't moments by moments how we experience life? Like they say, Time was invented, but life is lived from moment to moment, breath to breath, like watching a cloud change shapes.    

But for those lucky people who have a few paintings on their walls which they really adore and look at even for a few moments during the day, why it can shift the mind and be balm for the soul.

The problem with this is that for most people these days, paintings are near the bottom of their priority list. It's just the way it is these days. There are too many other balms for our should out there.

Yet poetry can do this too because for someone who loves poetry, even just a small reading can shift one's thinking if only for a short space of time.

I guess what I am saying is that it is Art that can bring relief from all sorts of madness both inside and out of us. Longer relief than a latte or MacDonalds burger. 

I live by this idea but I do understand that most others do not. I make pictures for myself first and foremost, asking "Are they any good?" and after a while, "How do they make me feel?" I ask always, "Are they anecdotes or antidotes to this present moment?". 

Whenever I lived in a city, any city but mostly NY, and whenever I had the BLUES (which was a lot) I would fly up to the Met by subway as fast as I could. Normally I enjoy spending many moments in museums anyway, but when I felt that PANIC rise inside I always knew where find to relief. But I confess that I would also usually grab a fat cheesy New York pizza slice (or two) from the small shop on 79th street at the top of the entrance to the subway. (Hey we gotta do everything we can when we cannot seem to shake  the Blues).

But it really took me a long time before I was able 'to paint my panic away'. It took a very long time because most of my panic, in fact, arose from the fact that I was indeed panicked because I couldn't paint! A real conundrum.

What got me out of this was when I began these non-objective pictures which housed barely any context at all. Though they were not entirely without an idea of the slimmest sort, they were really about the paint, squirting it, mixing it, diluting it, brushing it on any surface and just feeling the thick paint as the brush mopped it around the palette.

And I have also always believed in the emotional drive of a painting, how it speaks to a viewer, what it says and how it says it. I mean, if a viewer's sensibility cannot be soothed or squeezed, charged and lit up like a light bulb, what's the point? 

I know the Art world is now a large tent (as it should be) but the Painting World, slightly more narrowly refined, in a certain way (and as it also should be), occupies a far smaller space in that tent. And yet somehow the quality of the paint itself sets it miles apart from all the other weirdos on the block (in the tent I mean). For Art should always be for, and about weirdos, for the sensitive and very curious among us, no matter how poor is our dress code, or how crazy or inane our tics truly are, if a painter is original, then all will be good, or at the very least OK.

But I want to exclaim, to shout out to the bustling people in the office buildings above me; Painting is a sensual affair! It may not be too fashionable in this photo-world-of-realism but for me, it's in my DNA, I cannot help but to feel this. Fortunately, I know other weirdos like me (and there are many of us skulking about). Painting is a visceral (and visual) experience not a contextual message. It's an act of the holy kind, it's enough to heal a painter's anxiety just by mixing a palette of thick paints. It might be enough to heal the insanity of a viewer just long enough to keep him or her from jumping onto a subway track.  

And like a cook, when unduly anxious or full of panic, enters into a kitchen to make a dish it's an act of faith, for the cook knows that stress will melt like butter after slicing and dicing  and mixing and mashing one's own meal. Francis Ford Coppola was known to make pasta sauce from scratch in his trailer on the film set where he retreated when he was really stressed during a film shoot. 

And like the cook, the risk of failure for a painter is also great, for paint like food, once mixed cannot be returned to its original state, so when a painter fails, it ends up in the trash but in the cook's case, it's thrown out the window for the chickens. 

And what about writers! I won't even start! They are a notoriously unhappy lot, and big drinkers too. They find solace in books and bars apparently. 

But in paint, the redemptive magnificence is totally real for the painter. For civilians there is always a trip to the museum.