04 December 2023

Andrew Wyeth at the thrift shop

If one is ever lucky enough to come across a small oil painting like this while checking out a thrift shop, and if one is clever enough to purchase it, then one is very, very lucky indeed. 

Like many, I only dream of finding a masterpiece in a thrift store, but as I'm not in the habit of scouring them, it's unlikely I'll find anything. But I do have friends who do, and their homes are full of interesting relics from these outings. 

In Europe and America, it's a great pastime to frequent antique fairs and flea markets which I used to do in France when I was younger but not with any real passion. Now, I'm too lazy, and besides, I don't want anything more to clutter my home. But when I read about this story, my envy grows like Pinocchio's nose. 

But I do know one success story. A friend in France picked up a smallish, dark, scruffy looking oil painting in an auction at the Hotel de Ventes in Aix, about fifty years ago. I think he paid about $US150 at the time. As he recounted it years later, all he seemed to think at the time was that it 'possessed a certain something' in it, but when he brought it home and cleaned it up bit he found a small signature in red on the bottom right corner; Renoir. He supposed that it was early, possibly of Renoir's mother. He showed it to Leo Marchutz, our mentor, who looked at it for a long while, then wisely asked, as if to no one: 

"Who else could have done this?" 

I can still this painting in my mind because he had several photos taken of it a few years later when I went to Sotheby's' in New York, to see what it might fetch there. That came to nothing. But I often saw it on a wall in his small home outside of Aix, and indeed with time, it had only seemed to grow more beautiful.
So, although I'm not a great fan of Andrew Wyeth's overall work, I respect him as a fellow artist. This picture, on the other hand, I find very striking, beautiful even the more time I spend looking at it.

Apparently, it was put up for auction recently at Bonham's and even sold for about 150K but the buyer (from Australia) reneged and never paid up. This happens a lot more than one would think in the smaller houses. That's a shame for the woman who bought it at the thrift shop because apparently being of modest means, that money would have changed her situation considerably.

Anyway, I really love this small picture not only because it possesses a particular luminosity in it that sets it apart from so much Painting, but also because there is a formal quality that harkens back to the early Renaissance. Here, there is light, not mere ‘lighting’ like employed for illustrations, but a real luminous set of relationships that create a unity of the whole picture. It is certainly also an upgrade to anything else I've ever seen of Andrew Wyeth's work which has always seemed to me to be more of a fine illustration than spontaneous Painting which I prefer.

As Leo had said about the Renoir, years earlier, I honestly don't imagine that there are (or ever were) too many painters in America capable of creating such complexity in an image.

It's a remarkable little painting.

30 November 2023

Inviting disaster

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 25 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

 Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 25 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

These two studies are from a few weeks back. The weather has been uneven and though there have been evenings when I could have, or should have gone out, perhaps,... but I didn't, I guess because I'm becoming a little bit snooty vis-a-vis the weather conditions, maybe like the apartment dog that refuses to leave the comfort of home for a dog walk when raining, or Heavens! it's snowing and the streets are full of slush. Dogs are hip to to this when they see the husband or wife wrapped up in galoshes and a raincoat. 

I used to go out under almost any kind of sky, but these days, I seem to be patiently awaiting the luminous light like a snob, and as I've said before in these pages I've painted my fair share of grey seas to last me a lifetime. So non! No more sickly Northern skies or bland seas for me. 

But of course, this could all change, like if I were to begin working out in the landscape again, where a pale and dull-looking slate sky compliments the very best of the earthy shrub and will usually always accentuate the arid landscape or lush greenery.

In such earthly spots a painter can exploit a range of orange umbers and red sienna's that are born of the desert sand and ground into the mountains. 

But by the seaside it's the opposite, for these plum reds, yellow pears and lime greens yearn to shed their earthly pigments and want nothing more than to fly away from earth. These tints gravitate to towards the blue-violet spectrum of serenity. 

Like human souls, these colours yearn for celestial height as found in the heavenly blue of stained-glass windows at Chartres, for it's all about being cool.

I like these two pictures, but especially now after a few weeks have passed as I see they've not lost their 'life' for me. As I can say too often in these pages there is no point in creating any picture that, (unlike perishable foods), does not 'live' beyond its execution date. 

One recent thing I've changed is that I picked up some smaller brushes and this has shaken  things up for me in a good way. I felt that I needed to get back into a different way of building up an image. I've seen for some time now that I had become too reliant upon larger sweeping swarths of colour and I wanted to get back to a busier, more frenzied set of planes; more unrestrained frenzy actually. 

This might be because I've spent a lot of time looking at paintings from these earlier years when I began the series from around 2017 and 2018 (as I am indeed putting a book together from all this). 

Here is one from those years to better show what I'm trying to express. This kind of image may not appeal to the general public but hey,,, who cares?

     Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 22 March 2018, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

In this study from March, 2018, there is an almost 'messy' or 'scrappy' aspect to this image. It reveals an expressive struggle between the winning and losing of a picture, and as with any battle, a painter gains more when blood has been drawn. 

But there is something in this study that I want again in my work, this untidy darkness and messy uncertainty that appeals to the insouciance of my personality. I want to go back and re-explore this careless sensuality because I sense that I need a sea change, as it were, from too much smooth sailing. 

And of course, 'Mark-Making' has become a major sub-genre of Contemporary Art in itself, ever since Twombly then Basquiat, who both arrived on the Painting Scene one after the other, and created mayhem for many, but also changed the way the public looked at Art. 

For me, this Mark-Making school is certainly an extension of Abstract Expressionism, and though I do find it sexy and all, it's too temporal. But also, in front of a 'motif' at the beach it's also not a solution for my way of painting. 

For many artist today, 'Mark Making' as 'method' is a whole way of life in studios and schools around the world but for me, it's just a means-to-an-end, not the other way around, because after all, I'm still a figurative painter.  

One cannot change course so easily and my process is still a slow progression. My working system cruises along adroitly like an ocean liner whose course is somewhat set, yet re-configured for changes to the actual currents. 

In summary, this study from 2018, also possesses an adventurous spirit and beckons danger and accidents like at night when I'm crossing over the middle line of a road and inviting failure, disaster even.


24 November 2023

Henri Matisse, and the elegant Autumn


Henri Matisse, When? Somewhere? or somehow!

One of my favourite paintings by Henri Matisse! Certainly not one of his groundbreaking pictures and yet it embodies an elegance so deceptively simple and refined that it would easily be overlooked by today's artistic circles which tend to lean more towards a Post-Modernist messaging.

I have no idea when or where it was done but I might guess somewhere in the South due it's warm light. It feels like Autumn, though a clement one unlike those of the North. Driving through any number of small villages around Provence one could easily stumble upon a village exactly like this one.

It possesses that fresh feeling like he knew exactly when and where to stop working on it. This is special talent and one that most people (generally the public) ever appreciate much less notice, but painters love it. But it's also a rare gift and one that few painters are blessed with.

It's as fresh as if painted last week and it unveils the unique brushwork of the artist, his personal DNA, if you like. But at the same time it also reveals a picture's skeletal innards like that of an X-ray showing a picture's overall health. Is everything in place? Do the parts all work? And does everything function together?

All these things are discreetly hidden away and out of sight, and normally, viewers will not notice any of this anymore than a passenger on a A380 knows much of what goes on inside the fuselage. The art of Painting isn't all airy-fairy, as some think, it's the art of craft just like everything else that's made with human hands. And like any craft, it's an aptitude that comes with both love and discipline for the product (which is actually an odd thing to say about a painting, but I just did).

Looking at it in this moment I imagine it was painted quickly, maybe in just one session perhaps. As a viewer I feel a fleeting sense of haste in it as if a magic wand was waved briskly overhead during its execution. 

There is a French expression that comes to mind: "Jeter la poudre dans les yeux" which dates back to an époque when the king and his entourage swept swiftly through small towns without stopping, their many horse-drawn carriages spewed dust into the villager's eyes, blinding and  dazzling them. Today it basically means to fool someone, snow them with glitter like Trump does. 

And this painting is a marvellous example of a space manipulated with colour. Matisse bewilders me like a magician who has surprised his audience by pulling a red rose out of a wife's ear whilst stealing a billfold from the poor husband's back pocket. 

The colour palette is remarkably simple. I wouldn't be surprised if it were composed of just a few colours; Ultramarine Blue, Madder Lake, Lemon Yellow, Prussian Blue (to make the black) and Titanium White. With so little, so much can be created in the right hands and with an artistic sensibility. And these colours gently appear to caress one another so spontaneously that I'm reminded of Delacroix's description of how the future of Painting would henceforth be based around his notion of 'drawing with colour' (and he was right). This is a kind of drawing disguised as colour that dictates the plan of organisation. 

The whole wall of trees on the right side of the painting appears implausibly uneven and yet it works so well. It has been both flattened and simplified allowing my eyes to keep moving around the picture plane with ease. Below it, a misshapen stone wall recedes like a snake and acts as an anchor for the mass of trees overhead.

The farmhouse on the left pulls the viewer's eyes down into the 'rear' of the picture towards the end of the road. It adroitly guides me down  and around the bend to the right, out of sight. Then, this bright Veronese green/blue thing (a shutter, or oeil de boeuf?) seems to pop up and come as a complete surprise as if Matisse sensed my somnambulant state so he had to wake me up in a hurry. 
Above, a 'Genoise' frames the roof of the farmhouse wall  by giving it weight that might otherwise feel flimsy. It's also an integral colour that fastens the sky and trees back down to the road. 

The colour harmony! Ahhhh,,, so discreet and deceptively simple, it's a great lesson into how colours interact on the colour wheel. It's a sumptuously rich understatement and it almost feels edible.  

As an addendum, I throw this in at the last minute because it reminds me so much of the Matisse though done roughly fifty years earlier. It too, was done in the Autumn and it possesses that same sort of gnarly spontaneity, but it's far more developed as a picture. Today, it appears to me just a less fluid when I compare it to the Matisse, but this is not a slight, just a nuanced observation, perhaps due to the painterly space between the two centuries. 

But, it was one of my favourite things at the Met when I lived in New York. It was also a picture of the rural French countryside that taunted me continually for living my urban life there. 

Alfred Sisley The Road from Versailles to Louveciennes circa 1879

12 November 2023

Hey lighten up!

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 23 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 23 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 23 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Above are three studies from two weeks ago (already!) How this idea of time shakes us down like the local Mafia!! 

We're robbed of it not at gun point, but stabbed a thousand times a day, and not by tiny sharp things but by the very point of our own lives.

After all, does it really matter how we die? All that matters, as the wise guys from the East remind us, is that we should live full and rich lives, but still, what is this point of life? And in this wide world, this is even a most luxurious of questions to ask, for most people don't have the luxury of very much free Time nor the temerity to even pose the question.

In this modern era of such awful wretched human behaviour I confess that I personally feel inadequate in my chosen vocation. Indeed, as an American, I was very fortunate to have had the luxury to even choose my life in the very first place. But lately, yes, like so many friends have revealed to me that, 'everything seems out of whack’. And in America, on top of all that is THE Cheshire Cat of Orange Clowns, that relentless and perfidious cancer cell.  But hey!! I try to remind my friends that Life has always been out of our control ever since man first discovered how to make fire on his own. 

Here in Australia, Aboriginal peoples have lived for thousands of years in relative peace yet at the same time surrounded by the random 'cruelty' of Nature. They view their life’s purpose so differently than Western Man because like other indigenous peoples in the America's, and Asia, the stories they have created to sustain their culture and give their lives meaning is ordered through the behaviour of Nature. We of the West, in contrast, have created stories to maintain an order that mirrors the behaviour of Mankind itself. The Christians went even further by creating a God modeled after Man himself, (go figure). 

Our civilised world has always behaved just out of humankind's control despite everything done to the contrary to rein it in as if it were a horse drawn carriage. To dream otherwise is a fool's errand and a waste of our Time, and our lives.
"Hey, lighten up!" I hear my guardian angel exhort me.

Well, what I really wanted to express is that despite the world around us, many of us still create stories through words and pictures to sustain and maintain our sanity through the vagaries of this difficult world in which we live. Some of us do it through pictures just like the Neanderthals, who decorated their caves about 40,000 years ago. They certainly would have had different dreams than our own, but their figurative language was still as original and vivid as our best painters today. And because of this, painters belong to one of the oldest vocations in the world.      

The five pictures here are all generous gifts from these Springtime skies here in Australia. There is not much else to say about them except that I wanted to capture something of what was 'out there' at the horizon line but also to communicate that feeling to someone else. It's not rocket science as they say. They also might be my own images with which to mirror back at Nature.

The top three and bottom two are all shown in the order in which they were painted, I think.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 27 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 27 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

02 November 2023

Fire Exit


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 18 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 18 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

These are from two weeks ago when there was a fire that began on the outskirts of Byron Bay and made its way all the way up to Brunswick Heads, where I paint, I guess about 15 kms or so. Unfortunately, a wild Southerly was blowing which accentuated the situation. For a week it steadily crept along the beach but then, like a clever dragon, it dove into the peat below the surface, and so for now it's burning underground. Not peep out of it for  a week now, no smoke, no nothing. I didn't know there were peat bogs here, but I suppose they are pretty much everything where there have been forests. Duh.

In any event, I mostly avoid painting when there are fires around because, though it looks beautiful when the sun lights it up, it quickly goes a sepia brown and mucks up everything once the sun sets. It's what some of us call 'local colour', and it can ruin all the natural colours in the sky. So, consequently I avoid it when smoke drifts overhead from anywhere. But it's fire season and it's quite dry already, but hey! It's better than an earthquake cracking open the beach or a ground invasion.

In the top one that was painted first, the smoke still looked kind of sexy pink so I just made a quick study of it to compress these wide colourful stripes like I was a dressmaker working on a pattern. I like it. It's the sort of picture I dream about all the time, a synthesis of this twilight sky. And like the seamstress, I adore the texture that it evokes. As all painters (if they are self-reflective) my pictorial obsessions are always being freed from the bonds of my mysterious childhood. The key is to become aware of them, then exploit them completely. Mine are centred around a sort of graphic sensuality, among a few others. But if one looks at any painter's oeuvre, this is discernible to all clever amateur sleuths of art because the creative fingerprints of our DNA are readily visible. 

The second picture was painted after the smoke switched direction and infected the rest of the sky and sea and all around me. Helicopters were scooping sea water using drums that resembled tiny thimbles hanging by wire perilously below them. For several hours there was a continuous buzzing back and forth in front of me like they were yellow jackets collecting mud on a hot summer day. I painted somewhat blissfully oblivious to the circus around me because there was nothing I could do about any of it.

And tourists too! They all came out with their phones to take selfies, sometimes of me in the background, go figure. I am such an odd relic out there braving the wind, the fires, and whatnot. Painting out there alone on a dune, people passing by hardly know what to think of me even on normal days. 

But this second study opens my imagination now to reveal the stale smokey and diaphanous atmosphere of the night, like in a boudoir of a 1950's film. Perhaps in this sleazy Hollywood hotel, a sulky blonde in a silky negligee stands by an open window, bored, and looking out at nothing.

And in this picture I got a little lost but gradually felt my way around the smokey haze until I found the fire exit, then finished it.  Whew.....

28 October 2023

Divine arrogance, Vive les artistes!



Titian, Portrait of Pope Paul III, 1543, Museo di Capodimonte, Napoli 

There is a wonderful anecdote about Titian that I've always loved. During one of his sessions while he was painting Pope Paul III, he dropped one of his brushes, then he apparently waited until the Pope got out of his chair to pick it up before continuing his work. 

The humility of the Pope is astounding, but the arrogance of the painter is divine. 

Chutzpa! As we say in New York, but then this was a period in history when Court painters were kings in their own right, their currency was their talent. But I suppose that today's contemporary art stars also garner the same status if not the same currency, because status these days is rather cheap.

I once spent two weeks on Capri back in the 1980's while on a painting trip. I found a funky sort of Art Deco hotel overlooking the port where the ferries come in an unfashionable area. It was inexpensive in those days and also quite simple and unpretentious, and I loved it. This was long before Instagram had arrived and declared that stars had been there since before Christ.

The Capodimonte in Napoli, which I discovered on that trip, is a magnificent museum and it houses some of the best of European Painting. 

I would take the ferry into Napoli about every other day or so when I wasn't painting on the other side of the island. This was a great solution for visiting both Capri and Napoli, but also far less stressful than staying in Napoli with a VW. 

I would take the hour long trip across this infamous bay and alight at the port, ready to be a tourist. I prowled around the city and also I went to the Capodimonti several times during that trip, my only one time in Napoli. On one of the top floors one walks into a large room where, I think, I counted about a dozen Titians around all the walls. I was spellbound. 

Among so much beauty there, is also one of my favourite things of all time too, a full length portrait of his daughter Lavinia, whom he used as a model for so many of his larger thematic pictures. It's a real gem, and this small detail of her head, survived decades by living on the inside cover of my small Filofax address book before the arrival of i-cloud. Now, her beatific expression is affixed to one of my tall white IKEA kitchen cabinets along with other relics of my possessive past that randomly decorate my kitchen.

But like so many other jewels hanging on those walls is also one in particular that lives on my computer desktop, a small portrait in profile by one of the greatest Humanist portrait painters of all time, Andrea Mantegna. I cannot resist displaying it here. It's as modern as Matisse but I've already written about these two painters together in the same spirit a few year's back. 

So what the heck, here are a few other things by Mantegna because in this crazy digital world, we need more depictions of real Humanism. I really love these things. They are the best of the best.

And speaking of artists, and the reverence  which they commanded in the cultured life of a great country like France for instance, where painters, writers, musicians and other notables in the sciences, were revered and celebrated enough to grace their bank notes back in the day of the French Franc.

Before the Euro arrived in 2002, Delacroix appeared on the 100 Franc note throughout the 1980's before Cezanne replaced him on the last one before the Euro. Both the writer, Saint-Exupéry and the painter, Quentin de la Tour appeared on the 50 Franc note but I forget when. Debussy on the 20 Franc note, Berlioz on the infamous 10 France note which I remember well, all these were lost to the Euro, alas! 

But on a reassuring note (no pun intended), shoppers are encouraged to caress the beautiful face of Giacometti that graces the 100 Swiss Franc note that came out in 2019.

Vive les artistes!

22 October 2023

a safe dry place


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2018, oil on canvas board, 30 X 30 cm 

I had actually thrown this out into a pile of paintings outside my studio to be torched months ago when I suddenly saw it a few days ago wrinkled a bit and looking the worse for wear. After looking at it briefly, I thought, «Yes, this past week, this is how I’ve felt trying to paint here, so protected, and far from the suffering people everywhere else in the world». So I took this photo and brought the painting inside for keeps.

I'm glad I did. Sometimes I cannot "see" anything in a work, I just see the failure in it. Now, I don't pass this off as anything of great value, but I do see something of which perhaps I had not intended at the time. And this is always a personal thing for any creative person and his/her work. As I often say in these pages; it's Time, the ultimate arbitrator. 

So this scrap of a picture, somewhat mildewed but otherwise intact, will find a safe, dry place inside my studio like it's a stray cat from the cruel hard world outside.

20 October 2023

Paintings speaking softly


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

The other night was one of those perfect painting evenings! The Bloom seemed to go on and on for ages perhaps due to a bit of humidity on the sea surface that blurred the feathered colours that scintillated like when stars shimmer, changing colours against a polished black, moonless sky. I made six studies, four small ones and two larger ones. This one above was one of two larger ones done after the others. 

There was delicacy this night as if I were a watching a young Russian girl dancing to Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird, that thematic, sensual melody winding its way from my palette, up into the clouds like in a Walt Disney cartoon. Whewww.

Anyway, as we say in the Bronx, you hadda be there!

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 14 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

There are certain evenings like this when I have felt that all the anguish of painting pictures in this difficult world, one too full of life and death problems for so many unfortunate souls everywhere, can suddenly dissolve in a second, from time to time. Honestly, this past week has shone a spotlight on the inhumanity of humanity. I don't know anyone who hasn't witnessed a profound emotional response or an opinionated debate, either at home or in the media. As far as I can attest, there are just too many loudmouths with mics in basements all over the world. Hmmmm.

Meanwhile, above, and on earth, unknown to the miseries of so many people, there are lots of painters who still attempt to capture an essence of humanity, coaxing it gently, sometimes with great difficulty from the earth, as if soothing a distressed infant. 

I will not add anything more, I'll let the pictures speak quietly, as often paintings do.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

14 October 2023

Like a snail, leaving a trace

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 3 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here are two of four studies made one night over a week ago. It was a good night, sometimes they just roll in on their own. 

Because they are small they might seem somewhat insignificant but it's what I'm doing in this period, so I don't over-think it, I just roll dice each night in front of the motif. What will they bring? Will I win or lose like on the craps table in Vegas? 

Actually, there is no losing in this creative business since I've wised up enough to learn from every picture, and  each failure.

I like these studies more than the other two which I don't include here. I particularly like them because I feel there is a sense of place and time during that unique moment when I alone experienced their fabrication. They are proof of my existence, both physical and spiritual from that space in time. On even my best days I would be hard pressed to show evidence that I existed, but a painted image is surely proof. 

Elevated slightly up on the dunes I see everything going on. I see the last stragglers of the day who walk the beach and at that hour too, are the bathers who arrive to peel off their clothes and run down to the water's edge jumping into the sea with, or without bathing suits. These days I'm distracted by whales that breach, splashing just offshore and close enough for dogs and kids to see. I'm like the good king who looks out with benevolence upon all living things, animate and otherwise.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 3 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

And those who share this stretch of the beach might see the same sky or perhaps even feel the same way about it, but they won't express it the way I can. Though we may share the same exhilaration at this twilight hour, it is only me who will affix it onto permanence with a cheap canvas board from China that I buy by the box loads. And yet we all share in that moment the weathering sky of our own mortality on this day.

I guess what I'm trying to express is that I'm increasingly attentive to the painting session as a specific moment as well as a specific place. 

In my mind I know I can be quite critical of too many paintings (and painters) these days because I feel that in them I don’t connect with that specific moment in place and time, so consequently, I am nowhere. If I can offer anything to anyone, it’s a specific poetry that’s tied to a place and time.

Yes, I too, wish to make pictures that embody a universal aspect of Painting, something that expresses a world bigger than myself, but I've come to understand that the Universal can only manifest itself if it rises up naturally from a specific work of art. 

I wish for a pictures to leave traces of where, and when they were born. If a painter is lucky enough to be original, this will express itself through the picture because like the snail, a painting should leave a trace.

05 October 2023

Paying attention at dusk


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 20 September 2023 oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 20 September 2023 oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 20 September 2023 oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

I've just picked up an thoughtful book entitled Everyday Zen, by Charlotte Jocko Beck that I've read so many times it looks like an object my dog plays with, if I had a dog that is. Dog-eared, and so full of ink markings that it's still lucky to be alive but needless to say, it's a fave of mine. I normally read a page or two a day. There is enough wisdom in a paragraph to fuel a Tesla to Brisbane and back again. 

She tells the story of being a piano student at Oberlin College.

She walked into her first class with a distinguished teacher who taught with two pianos. "He didn't even say hello. he just sat down at his piano and played five notes, and then he said, 'you do it'. I was supposed to play it just the way he played it. I played it- and he said 'No'. He played it again, and I played it again. Again, he said 'No'. Well, we had an hour of that, and each time he said 'No'.

Now, in the next three months I played about three measures, perhaps a half a minute of music. Now, I had thought I was pretty good: I'd played soloist with little symphony orchestras and yet we did this for three months, and I cried most of those three months. He had all the marks of a real teacher, that tremendous drive and determination to make the student see. And at the end of threes months, one day, he said, 'Good'. What had happened? Finally, I had learned to listen. And as he said, 'if you can hear it, you can play it'. 

She had been playing piano for years but she had not learned how to pay attention, as she writes it.

It's a wonderful anecdote, and an apt one for the art of Painting. I don't think I ever really paid attention until I got into this series at Brunswick Heads. Like a few single notes played on a grand piano, strokes well-placed on a painting reveal how well, or poorly, one is paying attention. I can feel this sensation with each picture but most of the time in each small picture I'm not always paying complete attention. Whatever attention I do possess is too often distracted by small thoughts, thoughts centred on what I'm trying to do, but thoughts all the same, just tangential thoughts. It can 'seem' like I'm paying complete attention because I'm  thinking about certain difficult places in the work but I'm still thinking. Alas. 

But in all this I do know now that when I am plugged into something, I'm absent and this is the place. It happens for everything we do.

But anyway, here are three small studies from last week where I arrived early when the sky hadn't yet 'turned'. The first one usually begins with a gentle Naples Yellow that lingers around before it goes Pink and then to a variety of warm Roses. It's a terrible cliché but these colours always reminds me of different flowers appearing one after the other as they define the 'bloom'. If you need to know what this is, ask any beachcomber to describe it for you. 

The second and third ones (follow in order) announce the Kaleidoscopic development which makes Twilight so extraordinary on every beach around the world, as any beachcomber knows.

25 September 2023

right and wrong, ideas and sensations

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 16 September 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

From a few nights ago came these two studies. The top one feels OK to me but the one below is decidedly wrong for a reason that confuses me. I will try to explain. 

First though, the top one seems to work, if by that, it conveys a sense of truth to nature without being cloying or sentimental (both which I hate) But it has light which I like, and also that favourite feeling of what the Zen Buddhists call 'suchness', a natural kind of spontaneous but holistic perfection of the moment. (Ohhhh, naturally my own understanding) and yet, it's somewhat on the money because I love works of art that exhibit a freshness that feels as if it were created by the wave of a magic wand. This is personal, just my own preference, but I do appreciate laboriously created pieces too, if they work as a unity, no matter how abstracted. 

These are souvenirs of a place, after all. They don't pretend to be 'great works of art', just records of a specific moment. And if they succeed in living for a moment when completed despite their haste, they have a good chance of living on forever like a Haiku by Basho or Issa, two of my faves. What do they say? "Nothing Special".

And although this second study below began with an earnest idea to explore the same thing as the first one, it quickly lost its way like a guy who ate too much for lunch. 

"Trop gourmand", as the French would politely observe. 

I'm not sure where it when wrong but there are just too many elements, and while painting it, I watched my heart sink. 

"It had so much possibility!" 

I thought to myself, because after all, the first one had come out so well.

But now that I spend time looking at it, I wonder if the simple solution isn't just to paint out the cool Emerald Green stripe that runs along the base of the picture plane that indicates the foreground? 

Yes, I'm pretty sure that’s what is needed because actually, I had thrown it in at the very end of the session due to me ‘getting an idea’. That was my error. Like my Haiku heroes, I generally try to avoid ideas or concepts in these quick studies while relying instead upon my senses.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 16 September 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm