01 December 2021

Narcissus



I cannot find another reason to post this lovely portrait than one out of love for beauty. It came from the NYT a few months ago, I snagged it off the screen then put it on my desktop.

I look at it with curiosity because I begin to see all the relationships that this designer had  going on in this dress. First of all, it is just so visually striking in every regard that it appears, like all greatness, to possess a unity of proportion, texture, colour, design, and purpose. It is at the very height of its craft and a metaphor for so much more with its delicate ruffled sleeves, and those rich yellow polka dots spread out over the chest like wild daisies. Everything speaks of the flower, fragile, tactile, handle with care! The drop from the waist whispers of something chaste, innocent and young.  

But without a doubt, it also evokes the Colonial aesthetic of America's antebellum past, light and darkness, enterprising but fraudulent, inventive and inhuman. This dress reminds me of the black slaves themselves, who served their white masters with far more dignity than their masters deserved. And because slaves had nothing but hand-me-downs from their owners, they resorted to invention by creating so much out of so little. American slaves, in the face of such indignities, rose up to make the best of their poor lives. This dress possesses so much of that spirit. "When they give you lemons, make lemonade" as they say about life when in difficulty. 

These days white Americans don't realise that Black Americans gave so much more than they ever took from America. It reminds me, as a white man, that some of its richest cultural legacies come from the Afro-American experience. And I could certainly go on and on about this but I promised a faithful reader to try to keep these ideas brief.

But I haven't said anything about the simple, unadorned beauty of this model, especially because she compliments the dress. Her shy pose is also a hint to the past, slightly subservient, gently awaiting instructions, fragile like a flower blooming too early in Spring.

I have no idea who designed and created this as I didn't save the article sadly. Was it a man or woman, or someone in between? (as one must acknowledge these days) Was it a person of colour or white, Asian perhaps, or some beautiful mix of the two, or three even? Of course this only matters for context in the worlds of fashion, economics and socio-political spheres. But for me, as a painter, it is just sensuous  and, dare I say simply "beautiful". Yes, when I see the craft of beauty like this, it gifts me a feeling of some optimism for a future in this world, one all too often ruled by the ignoble and crass.

All this, and more, has the designer explained to me in this dress. So, to celebrate this first day of December, here is something to remind of us of Springtime which is but a few months aways in reality.


29 November 2021

Cambodia genocide


I think I tried to post this a million years ago in this Blog space but it never worked due to technical problems. I made it nine years ago (so Vimeo reminds me). I went to Cambodia around 2005 on one of my drawing trips to Vietnam and I loved it. But it seems sad to me for a few reasons. The main one was that Pol Pot had killed off so much of the male population as well as most of the University trained citizens, both women and men. But then the children were not spared either. Phenom Penh was a poor city and people despaired even after so many years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. At the museum I made these photos and found myself wanting to make a slide show of it but it took me several years to face it. The beautiful music of Arvo Part accompanies these pictures. I regret a little that his music has since become so popular, so ubiquitous everywhere, but then, he deserves success. 

I re-watched this recently, as I have a number of times over the years. It always hits me hard. And it's always in the most fragile place where I cannot protect myself from that terrible pain in front of such cruelty that one sees in the dark corners of humanity. When seeing this I always need a box of tissues nearby.


26 November 2021

the bumbling tourist discovers Basho the invisible



It's an awful photo of Basho, the famous and iconic figure of Japanese literature, but I love the MacDonald's empty cup. I snapped it in the brutal morning light whilst running to catch a train. 

On my first trip to Japan I was in Kyoto for about five days staying in a small suburb a few metro stops away from the city center by JapanRail. Before going into the city I used to go for a coffee in a small tea shop in a nondescript plaza next to the station. In the small plaza was this statue which I had noticed and walked by each day but didn't pay much heed until the very last one when I was leaving to go south. I casually wondered over to look at it more closely and to my surprise, I saw that it was Basho, the great haiku poet! There was a small plaque next it explaining that he had lived in this very Kyoto suburb back in the 17th century.

I have always venerated Basho and read every Haiku he wrote several times over. I have lived with his tattered books, slept with them, and taken them from continent to continent, dog-eared and falling apart, and so the irony of stumbling upon this statue on the very last day is rich. But being a die-hard fan of his, did not keep me from being a blind bumbling tourist.

                In Kyoto 
             hearing the Cuckoo
              I long for Kyoto  


translated by Jane Hirshfield

25 November 2021

A faked painting! Alas!

 

                    Châteaunoir, Octobre 2018 

There is something wrong with this small study. It was done in the forest of the Chateaunoir during my last trip there in the October month of 2018 which I wrote about the other day.

But I do find it intriguing, just deficient in a most essential way. It has a kind of flash that advertises a certain skill, as if it might be a good painting, but honestly, it really doesn't come together as a whole and it lacks integrity because of this. It is a faked painting! It appears to be more than it poses to be, and like the British say: 

"It's mutton all dressed up as Lamb!" 

But curiously, most people might be more seduced by it than the one below which is far more unified yet it would not draw the same interest from the public. It's a painter's painting.

It is unified but probably too 'painterly' for the public to accept as a landscape which it is, for it was done at the end of the day below Poet Laval. I went several late afternoons to paint in a field and I loved painting there. Incredibly, I wasn't painting landscapes around Dieulefit when I lived there, this kills me to think of it.

The Autumn and Winter months are divine in terms of colour. None of those distracting greens everywhere, just mysterious violets.

I had not seen the painting below since I made it three years ago, I had liked it then but I really like it now. It is so 'Expressionist' in feeling it confirms my thinking that I secretly wish to re-moor the entire school of 'American Expressionism' back to Nature, back to the laws of Nature more specifically (even though the American Expressionist School was not derived from Nature, as we know it). This would be a Herculean task by any means, so it is just on my wish-list, my to-do list for someday, a bucket-list of sorts.

The person who might like this picture would be someone who loves the expressive nature of paint and painting. This would most likely exclude a vast majority of the public who expect a more sentimental verisimilitude in a 'Landscape' painting. Alas!


               Poët Laval November 2018 35 X 27 cm

22 November 2021

Châteaunoir, still a souvenir in painting

 


When I was back in France three years ago I put together the very minimal things I would need to step out and work in Nature, a palette, easel, and bought some colours and brushes. I had not anticipated to paint at all. I was going over to 'write' and 'think' (ha ha). For some reason I didn't imagine making a small, ambulant studio in the back of the small Citroen C3 I had rented. Though I did write I also spent a great deal of time driving around France, all the time in fact. And naturally, I watched the foliage cycle through the colour wheel into early winter. In Grignan where I was based I gratefully watched snow accumulate on the roads one night before heading back to London at the end of November.

But late October I stayed at the Châteaunoir where Charlotte Tessier kindly lent me her apartment off the courtyard. It was so familiar, all of it; the smell of all those pine trees especially after a rain, St. Victoire looming like a grandfather in the East, lots of cats though not as many, nor as friendly in my day. Even Mazout (heating oil) not used in decades had somehow lodged its unique odour into the kitchen walls and tiles. I knew I was back in France. All of it,  brought on so many memories, nostalgic yes, but not at all cloying or sad as I had moved on. All these memories are like finding old photos in a desk drawer. That was then, this is now. I was left feeling like I wanted to keep moving and this is good because it means I had changed. Unlike so many people, I always seemed to be someone with one foot still dragging the past with me. 

I loved being there but I was also happy to leave. On the upside, I was connecting with so many old and dear friends, especially being close to Poussey (the owner) with whom I had coffee every day just like in the old days. 

During that 10 days or so I walked a lot on the paths which all end up at the top of the plateau. And I set up to paint just for fun. I was curious to see how I would conceive a small picture in the cacophonous riot of the forest around the infamous and much celebrated Châteaunoir. I found it difficult but not without great pleasure. And as I regularly exclaimed so many years ago whilst painting in that forest: 

"What am I doing?? This is way too complicated!!"


Mixing this palette of these forest colours was fun too, so different than the one I prepare in here Australia.  



I did make a few things I liked during that visit but because I have changed so much these past years, my work is different. I am much more concerned with the graphic surface of the painting these days even though it doesn't sometimes look that way in my studies done at the beach. I had wanted to move in that direction, I can see it in so much of the work done twenty years ago, but I seemed to be still chained to old ideas. 

The top painting, (above) is made up of splotches of colour without too much concern for the drawing (though the drawing is in the splotches) whereas the one below (here) is conceived as much by the colours as through the drawing. They are different and both seem to me (and as they did at the time) not quite paintings but souvenirs. There is nothing wrong with that. More than ever, I am after the conveyance of feeling, technique be damned. 





19 November 2021

Pipe-bomb dreams; Bush's criminal war on Iraq, trauma twenty years on



These photos by James Hill are from an article in the New York Times that appeared today, 19 November 2021. 

It is hard to fathom a fraction of the suffering caused by, not only the Right Wing of the Republican Party, but the cowardly or ignorant Democrats, and the large population of under-educated Americans who all united to back the destruction of Iraq back in 2003. (even against Trump, I refused to vote for Hilary Clinton because of her support for this war)

All for nothing, except to make money for the American arms industries which created endless profit and conflict in the Middle East. All that killing and maiming for what end? 

American soldiers and Iraqis citizens all suffered the same fate, the same shallow grave. But unlike the Iraqi people, the American soldiers at least for the most part, were shuffled through various hospitals with basic medical care.

Amazingly, not one of these politicians or policy advisors ever faced any consequences for this war crime. Indeed, America today is now the land of the free (of consequences) if one is powerful and white. 

And so, almost twenty years on, refugees are still on the move to flee a once prosperous region. And yes, Iraq was run by a dictator, but its citizens lived in a relatively safe country, a society with universities and hospitals and a robust economy. What did America offer the people of Iraq? Pipe-bomb dreams?

These refugees from the Middle East will join the millions more already on the move from climate change. It has proved to become a prolonged version of World War II. 

Will we ever have get decent, intelligent and wise leaders?












18 November 2021

a painter gets it right or dies

                                                                                MBG

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 8 September, 2018, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

GGS
Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads,  9 September, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm


As the iconic Rod Serling would say at the opening of each episode of the Twilight Zone; "For your perusal", here are two very different kinds of images, both done virtually three years apart. Once in a while I stumble across pictures seemingly lost in a digital twilight zone somewhere that surprise me. And this early one (top) from 2018, did it for me. I see a freshness in it but also a certain conviction and an 'assured insouciance'. Though I vaguely remember painting it three years ago, I do remember seeing it the day after when I pulled it from the boot of my car to take a photo of it. Once in a great while a painter gets to say to himself: "Tiens!" 

What I like about it is the complete unity of expression (of feeling) as if the motif were seen, felt, ingested even, then hurled out upon this modest little board with a magical wand. 

I see no thought process involved it (though of course there was). It makes me think of how much I appreciate the frank conviction of a child's painting, one which is seen (somewhere in that imagination) then pushed out with glee. But I sense also that it is the kind of picture which only my close friends in Aix would really appreciate. To others with too much art education it risks to look silly. But Hey!!

The later picture which I include as its compliment, was done three years later and possesses a certain sophistication compared to the aforementioned study. I like this equally but for different reasons. It was one of those hazy skies which almost obscure the pale clouds at the very end of the day. The small, orange, raspy traces of sunlight almost feel glued upon the delicate sky. I remember thinking about them before putting them down. Specifically thinking: 

"YOU"RE GONNA STUFF THIS UP!" 

One doesn't get a second chance if one mucks it up, but if they do, they must keep going until  another solution is found. But then, it becomes a different painting! The thing is, though I wasn't by any means paralysed with fear, I still had to stop and think before putting these small wafts of orange down. In the painting above, there was no thinking, no thought, just an intuitive movement like one made by a child. 

Writers always talk about the 'shitty first draft', and when I read that I think: 

"Boy are they lucky!" 

A painter doesn't have that luxury to get to do a shitty first draft. (Well,,, maybe Basquiat or Twombly, but then they make a different kind of painting altogether). They make studio pictures which are altogether a different kind of beast (more on that another time).

A painter must get it right or go off and suffer an ignoble death someplace. But then he must also rise up again like Lazarus and return to fix it. One needs a lot of talent for this sort of thing, but maybe just divine intervention. As I noted a week or two ago, only the Dutch were very good at this, but they have been dead too long to return.

I always hope to have this experience of the first painting, but I am equally grateful for that of the second. Thinking or no thinking, thought or no thought, divine or profane, what counts is the result.  



15 November 2021

Halong Bay Vietnam, a few drawings from 2004

 








These quick drawings came from a day trip out to the islands in Halong Bay on my first trip to Vietnam in 2004. I wish I had done an overnight trip on these boats at the time as I could have filled a few notebooks. These unusual islands are fun to draw from, top-heavy, and rise up from the surface tall and beefy like dinosaurs. 

It was a sunny day so I felt lucky because it had been raining a lot the whole week when I went up to the north from Hanoi. I stayed in Haiphong in a large Soviet-style hotel which was huge and empty. Each floor was as high as a New York office lobby. The walls everywhere were polished cheap-looking rose marble, something one would see at Trump Tower. I must have been the only guest staying there because there was no sign of a living soul anywhere, and no heating, just cold, stern-looking employees eyeing me with little emotion.

The drawings are pretty simple, child-like, and crude and they look handmade because the boat was continually rocking from side to side. I had a pair of gym shorts and jumped into the chilly sea when we had stopped for lunch. Millions of people live on boats in Vietnam as well as the rest of Asia. They never shop on land because the shop comes to them bringing all their supplies. Because I am a landlubber, I remember being very moved by their very difficult and particular life on the sea, whole families tied up to other boats and anchored together for better or worse. 



































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14 November 2021

Christina Zenato, elephant heart of the blue sea

 


So what can one say about this incredible photo? I took it off the internet (where else?) and it has been sitting on my desktop ever since. I keep this photo parked on the uncluttered upper left hand corner along with other favourites I like to keep close.  

With the extraordinary technical advances in photography, both above and below ground, we humans, seem to be the fortunate beneficiaries of these new and popular technologies. 

Drones now drop bombs but also shoot photos. 

This looks like a family nap on a friendly afternoon. Isn't a relief to know that elephants chill? And of course a photo says a thousand words but this prompts in me a brief reflection of just how connected we all really are. Almost all beings on this earth look for connection in one fashion or another.

Christina Zenato began removing hooks from sharks in the Bahamas over twenty years ago and she has befriended many of these sharks, some of which come daily for a pet. This is remarkable. Who would have imagined this 100 years ago when Humankind was basically at war with the animal world? Unless it was a pet, it was a commodity, nothing more. 




How far we have come, most of us anyway. When I see these elephants sleeping, all cozy next to one another, all touching and connected as a whole unit, I am reminded of the importance of family. Our social order extends outward from there to other human beings and the animal world. When others suffer, it has an affect upon us whether or not we even realise it. Whether they are immigrants trapped between borders at the onset of a European winter or just people squatting around the corner in an old car which won't start.

Since I was a child, I have been indoctrinated with this idea that as human beings, we are notches above the animal world, above all the terrible violence which goes on for survival. Religions have instilled in us this idea of the separation between us and the 'beasts' outside.

Now, I think it has become so apparent to so many of us around this world that it is really the opposite. The animal world seems to possess more 'human' heart than do humans.



11 November 2021

Gainsbourg, whaddya gonna do about it?



I used to regularly drive to Grenoble to stay with friends who live in La Tronche, normally an hour and 45 minutes by autoroute from Dieulefit.

Once in while when I wasn't rushed I would take one of the roads up over the mountains by way of Seyne and Aspre-sur-Buechs arriving into Grenoble from the South. It was obviously longer by more than two hours, but every time I made the trip it took my breath away. It's a lovely drive, as are so many, all over France. Driving anywhere in France is a joy even if its ecologically unsound. 

My life here in Australia is one without breathtaking drives though I am sure there are many, especially out West. But it's different because Outback Australia is mostly a rugged empty landscape, extraordinary; yes, but like Mars maybe. I haven't yet done a road trip but I have been to the Northern Territory and seen the Big Country below Darwin. These are Aboriginal lands full of cave drawings from a prehistoric time. But the drawings are not really old, authentically so, because they have been 'refreshed' over time by tribal guardians of these sacred sites. This disappointed me when I visited. I expected to see the real handiwork which I quickly realised was impossible. Who wants to see graffiti iterations refreshed over these walls?  


Australia is huge, and getting anyway on this continent takes time and resources. Distance is measured by gallons and gallons of both water and petrol. The Outback is a spectacular but empty and remote landscape, a place where one faces one's own insignificance under the stars. 

But to travel in Europe (throughout France for instance) is always to make an acquaintance with oneself through one's relationship to a collective historical and cultural past. And to be honest, as a white guy from Europe, I really miss a landscape full of historical relics, and I often feel a dislocation from my European cultural roots in this regard.
 
On my way to Grenoble I used to drive by this old stone house La Maison des Cantonniers, tagged, but repainted over with two delicious  hues of cold green. I normally abhor Graffiti but I am occasionally amazed to find a secret delight in it (but don't tell anyone!), and in this case, I kind of like it. Here, one can see that the owner (I presume) had tried to paint over the original graffiti with an Emerald Green. This colour harmony between the tags seem to pull the building back into the vegetation, back into the forest, like an abstract glove from the Bronx. And all this paint feels like an intrusion from another land, another culture, another people altogether. And it's meant to be. It looks like the artiste/vandal, came back over it with a coat of pale Veronese green. Somehow, I can imagine this colourful tug-of-war going on and on for decades.
 
Otherwise, it's a beautiful, intelligently proportioned building with a substantially high roof gable. It sits aside a small road on a bend situated absolutely in the middle of nowhere. It is always a surprise to see it again and again over the years, like a cousin at a family reunion each year. 

I find that people are generally tolerant of graffiti until it comes to their own neighbourhood. Graffiti, like cockroaches in a home, usually ends up taking over the neighbourhood. For me, it almost always destroys the personal and aesthetic pleasure I take in the unadulterated emptiness of everyday urban experiences. An eroded old brick wall doesn't need anything added to it, neither does the old enormous cement facade of a factory building dating from the 1930's. But hey! I am just an old white guy from another era.

Basically, all graffiti says: 
"F**K You ! I'm here ! Whaddya gonna do about it??"

Graffiti is angry because it's political. Who can argue that there isn't enough to be angry about in this world? Better to respond with a spray can than a gun I think.

But there is one great exception to my bias in this debate and it is on the rue de Verneuil in Paris, where the late Serge Gainsbourg lived. It was always a stupefying experience to walk by his home and now it seems even more extraordinary. Here are various iterations which, like the Aboriginal caves, are apparently always touched up. 











05 November 2021

Corot, Corot, I know, I know,,,, gentle gloom

                                                                          TMF

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 3 November, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Dark rainy springtime clouds have been visiting us for weeks now. Only a smattering of sunny days have allowed me to get to the beach to make anything. But happily, it has forced me into the studio to face my real inner demons.

These two studies are not great, but I was relieved to get out to work. The top one feels "too 19th century", as we say, but it is what it is. I accept it gratefully because I never know what I will make of a particular evening, from a particular light. Every session is an unknown destination. 

Last night was mostly clear with the usual bit of fuzz over the horizon line. They are out of order, the one below was done first, and I spent too long on it. 

The first one above was painted after the sun had set behind me, mellowing out the colours. It is my preferred time to work as I often say in these pages. It is that "Corot" moment when all the ardor of the passed day is seeping out, when one is left with sensuous grey forms still clasping fragile breath. Sometimes it feels like I'm trying to pick up a flower blossom, glued to the wooden deck after a rain.

A lingering light diffuses these gentle forms evenly as dusk penetrates the evening air, infecting it with its own gentle gloom. And the painter searches for meaning in these soft nuances of the twilight sky. 

The only problem is technical; how to still see the palette with this onslaught of the night? It is a great shame because although the colours on the palette are not easy to see, the sky still radiates with delicate light. 

The last image is a detail from the picture below. There are many paintings to be done from this idea. Somedays indeed, I come close to just painting the sky and ignoring the sea underneath, completely.

                      KMF
Evening prayer Brunswick Heads, 3 November, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm



31 October 2021

"Listen Mack, Don't fuck with Nature!"

 

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

This is what happens when I get fed up with a picture and decide to throw in the proverbial towel. In disgust, I take my brush and squish the paint about the surface like bully at school. It helps dispel that feeling of defeat. In this case though I really liked what happened, and was happy with my own disgust. But it rarely works like this.

This must have happened about two years ago. It sort speaks to the mystery of the creative process because although it's hardly a successful little thing, there is something in it I have come to appreciate after not having seen it for two years, like hooking up with an old friend after having had a fight.

It's weak though because there really isn't an answer to all that pink, and the colour harmony is skewed as a result. There should be a resolution to both the chilly pink and to the cold pale Prussian blue. If I were still at the beach at a certain hour I would quickly find a solution, one certainly found in the colour of the sea to avoid screwing with the sky. 

So, out of curiosity, I thought to go online to look for a colour wheel to see what might work to correct it. Of course, there are a gazillion colour wheels out there, none of which are very precise, except from Abode which I include below. It's pretty interesting because it allows one to find colours one likes, then the means with which to play around with the combinations of compliments, tertiaries, etc, etc,,. Maybe  lots of painters work like this but it's a new experience for me.

So I moved the little circle around enough to find this (close) pink below, then clicked on the split-complimentary option. Remarkably, it shows two options of the compliment, one on the warmer side, the other on the cooler. But both are 'married' (because they now are a mixed couple!) The cool option resembles the classic Veronese Green one finds in the Art store while the other one, a lovely warm yellow green is easily made on the palette while working. 

The beauty of working out in Nature is that it always shows the painter ALL of his/her options regarding colour. (no need for Adobe!) And Nature also provides a complete set of instructions when the painter opens his/her own optic senses to look at the motif as a whole unit. Like in Nature, as in the Painting world, everything is connected, especially colours, even if they are opposites. And Nature always confirms this to the painter. 

So the entire surface of my own small study needs a bit of both pink and green mixed into it to fully harmonise the image as a whole and giving it a final resolution. And this resolution is widespread in many successful creative endeavours. 

For instance, in music (in the West) from Bach to Blues, Satie to Stravinsky; musical expression (after taking us on a melodic voyage) most always finds a resolution back to its Tonic, or Root base. 

Even Schoenberg's great piano works found resolution at the very end of the piece though his melodic illogic confounded the public early on. So perhaps the end of the musical piece is for the painter, the whole totality of the painting surface as it connects each millimetre together like a vast oriental rug. Music is a linear activity unlike that of seeing a picture which hits one in the gut all at once, for good or ill, or maybe just indifference, which is worst. (More to be revealed about this interesting subject)     

But the old formula, ii V I is a given in Western tonality, And in the world of painting it is no different. From Indian miniatures to the Fauves and to Picasso, one of the integral qualities of a successful painting is colour. Another is Form (but for another day) 

But all this organisation needs to be done at the outset of a painting. It is almost impossible to 'add on colours' in order to repair a faulty colour harmony already programmed in its own particular and original DNA. It can be done, (of course) but then it becomes a VERY different painting altogether though not inferior. It's really hard to do. The Dutch did this sort of thing perfectly well in the 'perfect 18th century', but then, they were masters of the craft of Painting. Their idea of perfection was a different beast than ours today, thankfully.

Perhaps cosmetic surgery is an apt analogy to Painting. When you change the chin line, you will need to also lift everything else as a result. A little botox here means a little more botox down there, ad infinitum,, 

The lesson? As we say in the Bronx:

"Listen Mack, Don't fuck with Nature!"

 





28 October 2021

Tauromachie and the art of graceful death











Here is a curious set of photos of a painting that I (unusually) decided to document with three photos. In front of such a sky, I often used to attack the canvas board fast and hard. It is partly from impatience, but mostly from anxiety. After all, I am painting a portrait of the sea at dusk. Though my methods have changed a little over the past two years I still thrust myself upon the poor canvas, sometimes with force.

I came across these photos while searching through the phone for something else. The modern smart phone seems to be a collective coffin where thousands of digital moments are joyfully captured but then banished to die in one cyber folder or another, unlikely to be ever seen again. 

But looking at these, I was suddenly reminded me of La Tauromachie, the art of bull fighting. The ideal death for the bull in this 'sport' is  the quick one. When performed perfectly, it is considered a great art for aficionados of the ring. The matador must get it right in the first go-round or he will lose the crowd, then his reputation. 

He must insert his sword (espada) into a narrow space between the shoulders of the charging bull directly into the racing heart of the beast. The bull must die within an instant, but if he misses, it's a mess and he has failed. The crowd will hate him before he hates himself.

Years ago, a friend took me to two bullfights, one in Nimes and the other in Arles. Like many tourists, I was both horrified and fascinated. My friend Michael had been to many fights and he explained what was supposed to happen. In Nimes, I saw the first one, and I stayed for the afternoon watching several fights, my discomfort was overwhelmed by my fasciation. 

It sounds incorrect to call this a fight (certainly not a sport) because it is neither. It felt to me, a ceremony, a violent and bloody one centred around the bull's death for the benefit of the people attending. 

But a year later I went again with my same friend. We went to Arles, and when the first bull came charging out to the roar of the crowd, I said to my Michael;

"I'll see you in the bar in a few hours"

and I left. Watching the first bull come rushing out into the noisy arena I suddenly realised that I didn't want to see this all over again. I didn't need to, I was curious the first time, but the second one brought nothing more. My own decision to leave was as quick and intuitive as the killing of the bull.
 
It seems to me now that this picture was painted with the same assertive aggression as that of the bullfighter who gets one chance only to kill the bull in the glory of an afternoon.

The painter also attempts to capture the death of an afternoon. And this too, is also a quest for glory, a small bloodless one, solitary and anonymous.  
 

26 October 2021

Turner, Monet, and Bonnard: Back to the Future!

                                                                              EAF

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2019? oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here is another painting quite similar to the one I posted last week. I have no date for it but it seems to have the same feeling about it so I imagine it was done around that time. 

It's messy, frightfully so! And yet, I find something in it which is so strange, so compelling, almost artistically psychopathic, to be honest. Looking at it from afar I imagine a painter in desperation at not being able to get it all down right. It's scratched and scraped and looks like a hobo who needs to get out of the rain. But I love all this stilted imperfection of haste, it is a map of the battle scars, bitten by the wind on the sand dunes. Sadly though, most do not see it this way. They say to me:

"WHAT’S WITH THAT SCRATCH OVER THERE??”

“AND THAT SPLOTCH OVER HERE!!…. FOR GOD"S SAKE MAN, PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER!!"

I shrug and say little, "It is what it is".

But I really see now that this is my own personal voyage into in a landscape through a kind of Expressionism, and through Nature. And again, I see this from afar (at least two years late) but it strikes me as something so solitary, so tactilely alive, and so very awkward, that it is either a really good little painting or just a big flop. 

Suddenly, I am prompted to think of In a Landscape, the beautiful and harmonic piano piece by John Cage. It is a simple chordal melody repeated over and over again for several minutes.

I might view it in two respects. I can certainly view it from the latter perspective if I didn't know anything about Painting in a contemporary sense. But, as I am a painter who is searching for an answer to how Painting can evolve from its current unrestricted state of chaos, I could find something in this image which might hold a few keys. This always brings me back to an idea I have held deeply inside; It is one that wants to tether or moor Abstract Expressionism to Nature in a coherent way. I use Abstraction instead of Non-Objective to describe the latter half of the 20th century instead of the earlier half of it, because there is a nuanced difference between Kandinsky and Pollock. And I don't say "back to Nature" because Abstract Expressionism was never about Nature as far as I know. It was never tethered or moored in the first place in this American school of Painting though it was in France through the work of The Fauves in the early 30’s and 40’s.

Turner, Monet and Bonnard, all point to various  places somewhere out there in the future for me. Is there anyone interested in this voyage? Why do I pick these artists and not others? There are many others I could have added to this list but few who have melded the luminosity of colour with the simplicity of form (drawing).

Personally, I do believe it's possible to forge a pathway through the chaotic state of Painting in our age. But instead of looking around at what others are doing, I look backwards to them, for therein lies an answer for me and maybe others.

Below, is a strange and remarkable Bonnard! In it, one could learn so much about both form and colour. I recognise that I take a real risk by posting my own small effort on the same page as this mighty giant but it is, as they say: for educational purposes only!

When one adds Bonnard into this dogfight it can get really wild and I could write ten pages on this image alone but I always like to be brief so I will cut it off here while acknowledging that it could go on ad infinitum.




24 October 2021

Sophie Calle, Le bathrobe forever!





Sophie Calle forever; I was late to the party in which Sophie Calle bloomed as an artist, woman, and humanist. She eluded my radar for so long. I was too ill-equipped to look at (or understand) her Performance Art because I had seen so much really dreadful Performance Art that I had almost become allergic to it after a certain point. Although I did see some really wonderful stuff here and there, most of it seemed really dumb. And so with that confession I admit that I was myself, blind, deaf and dumb to Sophie Calle until about 20 years ago.

But happily, I have become a fervent, ardent, and besotted admirer of hers, along with many other men (and women too, most certainly). 

She has so many talents that it is hard to know how to begin to describe her as an artist and writer among so many other talents. I will not even try to get into them here. No doubt, she is well known to readers even in this small cubby hole of a corner. 

I have had this small book Les histories vraies for a few years and I re-read from time to time to remind me that there are other wonderful oddballs out there in the world. Her gentle irony avoids the harsh spotlight of so many Performance Artists though she is very well known in artistic circles most everywhere. 

Like other sensitive, curious, and perceptive artists, she sees what is under the shabby rug underfoot because she bothers to lift it up and look. 

A friend of mine, an art critic, who has a very politically-oriented take on art, once referred to Sophie Calle (with a slight smirk) as 'bourgeoise'. Though Ms.Calle is Parisian, and though she has painted a picture of a friendly and comfortable childhood in an affluent neighbourhood, her curious and eccentric sensibility is anything but 'bourgeoise'. Maybe, like so many comfortable families it was a conventional upbringing, but lucky for her that she prospered from a sense of security and balance which allowed her the freedom to go crazy in her creativity. 

She seems to approach her artistic life as a grey empty vessel allowing her a kind of invisibility in order to be fully present without prejudice. It's an unusual way to proceed out in this big, bad but strangely wonderful world, and yes, very zen, it seems to me. And I really like this about her. She approaches her projects as an open page, not dictated by a plate full of concepts but a mind full of questions and a vulnerable heart. 

In her work, so unpredictably varied, she bravely, stoically, ventures forth in search of poetic meaning. I imagine a woman exploring all the levels of life, like in a tall hotel, up and down all the stairwells and elevators, back and forth on each of its floors, invisible to everyone, she is only betrayed by the passing scent of her perfume.  



"I was eighteen. He opened the door. He was wearing a long white spongey bathrobe. He was my first lover. For an entire year he never showed himself nude from the front, hiding his sex. Only his backside. Even the mornings, if it was light, he arose, he turned carefully around to put on the bathrobe. When he left me he left the bathrobe."