31 December 2023

Happy Zoo Year (you know what I'm talking about if you are in America)


Thank you everyone for your loyal fellowship over this past year. It's been fun reaching out to many of you, some of whom I know, and love, but others, whom I love, but don't know yet. (Hey! W.T.F.!!)

Have a safe but creative year.

Love from Cloudsandsea (forever)

30 December 2023

Marquet, Matisse, McEnroe and Borg


This morning I stumbled across this watercolour while looking for something from Paris back in November, 2018. It's a terrible photo from my phone taken at the Musée Marmottan in Paris. At first glance, I didn't quickly recognise it as a picture by Albert Marquet, yet at the same time it somehow felt so very familiar to me. What was it that I had recognised? Then I perceived that it was that feeling, that artistic sensibility of Marquet uniquely embedded in its DNA through its composition and drawing construction and overall gentle sense of light. 

I am a huge fan of Albert Marquet, I've always been since I began looking at his work. He was an unabashed sensualist, and to whom no doubt, I identified with so ardently. I was drawn in as a humming bird is to the heart of the honeysuckle.

Indeed, in my opinion he was far more of a sensualist than his close and dear friend, Henri Matisse, who achieved superstar status late in his career principally because he was far more of an adventurer in the newer and unexplored regions of Painting. 

To be sure, Marquet was more comfortable within the confines of traditional painting motifs, as is easily seen in this watercolour. And because of this he was a 'steadier' painter than Matisse. What I mean is that his brilliance is even-handed. Perhaps I could explain this in tennis terms, if there are any old timers out there; Marquet was to Matisse as was Björn Borg to Jon McEnroe back in the comfortable world of the base line. Like McEnroe, who expanded the game of serve and volley, Matisse ventures far out of his comfort zone (and our own) but can sometimes miss the mark. When he is on, he is the best, so don't get me wrong, I love Matisse, but because he was so willing to experiment, he naturally failed more, often producing stilted and somewhat academic work. Marquet was never an academic, but he was very attached to older certain traditions.

I became aware of Marquet's painting when I was still a child and without any understanding about art yet I was naturally drawn to his work. Why is that? Why is someone drawn to certain works of art? But whatever it is, isn't it great? Isn't it what keeps art alive in our cultural community? 

Much later in life, I fell in love with his drawings which really got me out into the streets where (and when) I finally realised just how much I had always despised actually drawing from the model indoors. Marquet's spontaneous drawings, along with those of Léo Marchutz, were to become my biggest influence later in life when I found my own assurance with crayon and paper. The most coveted book in my library is a thick catalogue full of his ink drawings from an exhibition I once saw. In these drawings I sense that he is a far superior draftsman than Matisse when using ink and brush, though I would decidedly be in the minority on this. Where Marquet is fluid and somewhat 'Japanese' in a 'zen' sort of spirit, Matisse is stilted and dry, as if trying to still please his Beaux Arts professors. Though later on in his life, Matisse did open up to a more fluid way of drawing, it also became more stylised too, unfortunately.

Anyway, as always, there is so much to say about all of this,,,,,,(sigh). I am harsh concerning Matisse, my ideas disturb because after all, he is a kind God for even the Post-Modernists who grudgingly give him a pass despite his love for the figurative world and his colourful love of joy.

But getting back to this watercolour, it appears so generously indulgent. What I mean is that the black boat next to the bridge is pivotal to its perspective as it steers us through the Venetian light of the sea and which gradually recedes into the distance. 

I love the pale coloured bridge, full of tiny black, ant-like pedestrians who succeed in placing the 'foreground' really up front, in front of everything else. It's enough to push everything else back into the painting. What a solution! This is what it's all about.

And speaking of solution, is it not the reason why some painters really love certain pictures? Our affection isn't always because a particular painting looks good or because it answers something inside us (though these are reasons enough to love a painting), is it not because as painters, we wildly admire the solutions that are solved within the complex parameters of each picture? And is it not like that for any vocation practiced with diligent care?

25 December 2023

Happy Holidaze!


Though the news is grim these days, (remember, it's always been) so my advice is to live well today, be creative, and find gratitude wherever one can.

Much love from Cloudsandsea, always

22 December 2023

John Coltrane and Julie Andrews got married

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

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

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

As I approach the end of another year I try to take stock of a batch of pictures, most of which sit on bookshelves in my living room, an orphanage that only grows larger.

At the start of the new year I have promised these orphans that they will all be varnished in order to protect them against mildew and general mayhem as they grow older. But in the meantime, I will remain a beneficiary of these colourful skies for as long as the Gods continue to bestow their magnanimous light upon me. I keep thinking that there is nothing more I wring from this old rag but the Muses insist that I'm wrong. 

Here are three studies from the 14th of December which all came out so easily and full of  grace, one after the other quarter notes from My Favourite Things that both John Coltrane and Julie Andrews spritely rendered back in the 1960's when Happiness still felt like and real tangible thing.  

I went through that piece three years ago during the Pandemic when I was learning so many Tin-Pan Alley tunes, all of which gave birth to Broadway musicals. I grew up with these things and I came to appreciate the composers from that era; from Jerome Kern to Rogers and Hammerstein, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Lorenz Hart, among so many. These are still great melodies even if today they may seem old-fashioned but thankfully, Jazz musicians reinterpreted them, and re-fashioned an American musical genre completely unique in the world.  

Several years ago, I used to see a gal in New York who I took to a Broadway show, Carmen, I think. Though not an American musical, no matter, because as the lights dimmed, she turned to me and said: "My mother once told me to watch out for guys who invite you to musicals because they're usually always gay." Ha Ha, I laughed. You gotta love that! And she's probably right too. But personally, in my own case, I've always liked the gals, sexually speaking, ever since I was a kid. But it's true that I have a large feminine side to me that could easily confuse others, women, men, and otherwise. It's the problem of living a life of a sensitive and poetic man while navigating a world of playing ice hockey and football along side macho blokes who had never read Walt Whitman. But yes,,, I'm complicated, and I don't really fit on an American shelf. (Dieu merci)

But anyway, though it actually wasn't My Favourite Things that was running through my ears whilst painting these small studies last week, it is nevertheless such a great tune. But the thing is; I always have melodies rippling through my fingers and right down through my feet. Every part of me jiggles and jitters consistently up and down my body when I'm sitting in a meeting and listening to others speak (But hey! Some people chew gum).

As a matter of fact, I think, last week I was looking at Have you Met Miss Jones, by Rogers and Hart. It's a simple tune with a group of a lovely few measures cascading gently down through several keys inside the melody. Just a few delicate passages like these can echo within me for several weeks.

But, what I really wanted to express without taking everyone for a long ride, is that in these three oil studies, there appears to be a connection through feeling, one I really like, and one that I associate with these aforementioned melodious songs. These are, after all, happy pictures, like so many of these songs and though not in vogue these days, they really do exude the joy of a sunset beach.  

I read recently that Marina Abramović made the claim that no genuine art can come out of happiness. Ouch,,,, though I can understand her viewpoint, no doubt, I disagree wholeheartedly. Who is to say where art comes from? (and by whom?). She is a talented and successful Performance Artist but hey! She's also a bit of a smart pants too. The world of art is like a huge circus tent, and every freak, furry and otherwise is welcome to exhibit. 

And I would add that despite what loquaciously proficient Post-Modernists insist upon explaining to us about how the purpose of Art today is to make us think; don't believe it for a second, it's not, because if it were, then one could just as well pick up a book on any selected subject.

And this is because when one is sensitive to the handiwork of any art form; whether it be Painting, Poetry, Architecture, or Music; Rock and Roll, Opera, Show-tunes, Chopin or Satie; the thinking mind dissipates and allows one's heart to open up all the way for the soul to hear. And that my friends, is what Art is really for. 

18 December 2023

tinder box


Always a sucker for really great graphic design, I fell for this instantly. Obviously, It accompanied an article about all the horrors going on in Gaza and in Israel at the moment.

I marvel at the simplicity of the image but also at its complexity at the same time. This innate paradox is something so essential for a art work of any kind because it speaks to the depth of relationships. It also reminds me that brevity is the soul of wit, as some wise guy said somewhere, (probably Oscar Wilde).

In this aesthetic Pantheon, there are great graphic artists but poorer ones too because with talent, like in any art form, there are those lucky enough to possess an original talent, and then there are all the rest.  

The New York Times has the best graphic designers in the business, while their art directors are also the creme of the crop that draw a rich talent pool.  

This is a wonderful image, difficult for sure, and it works best as graphic art, but honestly, I would secretly also like to see it in a museum too.

11 December 2023

A tale of two cities

Untitled, Myocum NSW June, 2017, oil on canvas 150 X 150 cm

In the news this past week there were two articles that caught my attention that concerned the recent sentences handed down by Tribunals in the US and France. Being juxtaposed by arriving in a 24 hour period in the news cycle was jarring.

In the first, it reported that in France, several adolescents received sentences from just a few months to 2 1/2 years for the beheading of a History teacher in the North of France just a few years back. A the killer, an Islamic fanatic (18 at the time) was given the lengthier sentence of 2 1/2 years while the shorter ones were handed out to his younger accomplices who had led the killer to the teacher.

In the US state of Michigan, also just this week, another adolescent (15 at the time of the murders) was given a Life sentence (without parole) for the shooting murders of several of his classmates in his high school. This student had a history mental health issues known to both the school and his parents, who had bought him a new high caliber gun the day before the shootings. 

Though different, both sets of murders are horrendous, but I was appalled at just how light was the one in France, and how heavy was the one in Michigan. 

Sending a teenager to prison for life without parole is just as awful as putting an adolescent into prison in France for the beheading at just 2 1/2 years. 

Crazy, in one word. They both miss the mark. 

One cannot fathom the bottomless pain that both these sets of horrific crimes have spread across so many families and friends of these victims. But in the US, there were also many with serious injuries to students.  

Coincidently, just a few days later (yesterday) while at the gym there doing some exercises, there were two tv monitors on that simultaneously held my attention.

On the left, a report about the horrors going on in Gaza, as we speak.

On the right was a documentary about the last few years of the third Reich revealing footage of Hitler cavorting around the Berghof, his massive Alpine retreat where he apparently slept comfortably in each day and entertained guests late into the nights watching films with fellow Nazis.

"I cannot seem to escape these dual realities", is what I thought to myself. There isn't much for me to add to any go this, I wonder if the Christmas season can wash away some of these dark tales?

04 December 2023

Meeting 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.