17 May 2023

Henri Michaux meets Brunswick Heads

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

Ouch, two dark studies from a murky sky, a night wherein I worked without holding much hope. In fact, when I had arrived at the beach the sky looked unpleasant already as if in a bad mood. Naturally, this put me in a bad mood too.

But I was there, so,... I unpacked and cautiously made a palette, then immediately felt uninspired. 

But these strange things did come out of the session so I dutifully packed them up. The larger one above was slightly damaged due to my clumsiness when it partially dropped into the sand. I did what I could to clean it off a few days later when it had dried, but alas, it bears the scars in the upper right corner.

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

I think what I like about the larger one above at top, is that it comprises an element of which my old friend Fran├žois de Asis calls 'les signes' which became quite a movement when the Belgian artist, Henri Michaux (1899 - 1984) filled his abstract paintings with what he labeled 'les Signes' (literally translated as ('marks'). This evidently expressed an early fascination with what has now exploded onto the Painting scene and is commonly known today as 'mark making', which corners a copious field of its own in the Contemporary Art school's curriculum worldwide.
His oeuvre was never my cup of tea, though Fran├žois liked it, and seemed to take away something from it for his own painting. That's the way the history of Painting works; taking this, discarding that, stealing this, and destroying that....etc, etc,,,

Michaux, part Tachiste, part Surrealist, part poet, he was nonetheless quite cerebral (naturally, because he's French), and I am sure that he invented this style of working long before Pollack began making his own pictures by splattering enamel onto a canvas from the paint store.

Some examples of Henri Michaux;

and this figurative curiosity I really, really like;

But anyway, though my painting above is not a non-objective picture like so much of Michaux's, nor do they manifest the philosophical XXXXX maxim to the arbitrary dictates of surrealism, there are nonetheless, four or five streams of different marking textures everywhere in it, as indicated in the very 'drawing' of the painting. I am glad for this, for it confirms that I am more classical a painter than what came out of the Impressionists and Cezanne. This is to say that although I can work in their spirit at times, I am really more 'Renaissance' in the attention I can pay to the various kinds of natural surfaces appearing in this world of elements (i.e. stone surfaces as opposed to water, or metal as opposed to the human skin, air to hair, etc, etc,..) 

The later Cezanne, and perhaps all the true Modernists onward from the Impressionists to Matisse and the Fauves, approached every painting surface like a mosaic of brush strokes, often wildly uneven at times, but fluently distributed, regardless of Natural's tactile diversity (a kind of visual version of Darwin's theory of evolution though in a purely abstract and visual context). This technical side of Modernism is one of the less discussed aspects of it, maybe because it's not part of the larger, more theoretically seductive side of its social contours. To be honest, I only just came up with it for myself while writing this. I think because it's a painter's issue, not one for the larger, historical discussion which critics generally like to swim around in. 

But,, whoa, this is a big conversation, more than I had wanted to chew off! I would need a whole chapter of examples and documentation to further explore it. But because  I am a painter, not an academic nor critic (in the worldly and economically driven sense) it might be above my pay grade as they say these days. Basically, I'm really only interested in my own understanding of Painting and Art as holistic ideas selfishly  for myself. How to create and make things that work successfully on a two-dimensional surface is always the real deal for me. 

But anyway, getting back to these two particular images of mine, I was curious about how these marks and brushstrokes have an antecedent in the history of Painting, and how, even if I don't always live in this older world, I like to dip my toes in it from time to time.


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