06 June 2023

"What's not to like???" Uncle Boris in front of Art.


I picked this off Instagram several months ago and I'm wondering how I can qualify my ardent affection for it? What can I say? As the jazz guys used in yesteryear: 

"If you can't dig, I can't help ya"

But in the meantime I don't know who the artist is, alas.

What do I like about it?? Always a good question! i like that it was designed in a colourful wonky kind of paper/plastic seal. It has a curious sort of unity that relates all the different elements together almost like it could be a clever flag for a really cool but homeless community of graphic designers.

The colour harmony works well as do the shapes and sizes of each of these coloured pieces.

"What's not to like??" as my Uncle Boris from Odessa would say with a shrug?

Looking at it, I begin to wonder if its origin isn't from a simplified design blown up from an image on Photoshop or Illustrator then put through a filter rendering it, then spitting it out in chunky pieces of colour and zoomed in.

But hey!,,,, what do I know?,,,,, I'm just a guy from Odessa.

31 May 2023

My audience is me and Monet

 Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 April 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

I have been peeking at this picture for weeks now and wondering why it has such a hold over me ever since I found it in the photo library and dropped it on the desktop. Since then it seems to stare back at me. 

My diary tells me that it was raining a lot last year in this first week of April 2022 when the picture was made, and also that I had only had just three days of sun at the beach. The 'Blooms' were good but short and they dropped off quickly like Russian dancers at the end of their number when they hastily vanish off stage in darkness. It also tells me that I am preoccupied by the war in Ukraine. What would I have thought then if I knew of the destruction to come over the next year? But I am listening to Brahms's Intermezzo a lot that week, maybe to sooth my heart but it tells me almost nothing about this painting.     

But this week, about a year later, I see something in it I really like. It occurs to me though, that like so many of my things, it may be just too simple, possibly too boring for most viewers in this synthetic visual world of today. This contemporary scene is really congested with so many charged images and ideas that I wonder if such simplicity can compete with a public whose taste runs towards entertainment.

In truth, I typically paint for a small circle of friends, but in the end, my audience is really me. Recently, I was asked by someone about why I could keep working from the same motif over and over again for several years at a time to which I found myself replying like true a mountaineer:
"I climb this mountain because it's there".

And to a great degree this is the truth, though like many truths it is somewhat nuanced. When I paint for me, I also mean, for all the great painters, all the ghosts whom I admire, both still alive and deceased. 

In the French film I loved from long ago, "Tous Les Matins du Monde", a master cellist, broken-hearted after the death of his daughter, he retires to become a recluse and he refuses to play for the Court of King Louis XIV. He tells a young protegé who badgered him about why he wouldn't play for the Court that he plays only for the dead and the unborn yet to come. I've thought about this line for many years now because I, too, feel a supranatural connection with all the masters who came before me and to those as yet unborn who will follow. I am surely not alone, I imagine that many different arts and crafts exert the same spell over each of their practitioners. 

This of course, may scream of either megalomania or high melodrama, but truthfully, I was sincerely moved by this idea since I heard it in the film and it still stirs something inside of me. It spoke to me about an historical lineage, or tradition, something that for an American is confusing because we appear to operate in an open, circular system which, depending upon the vocation, spits out the past with an ease that shocks the rest of the world. Europeans, Japanese, Africans, Native Americans, all the older cultures of the world around us find our obsession with this American 'Manifest Destiny' a little too scary. We Americans seem too comfortable at habitually disposing our past in order to fabricate our dreams for the future which never arrive in this present moment. (More about this next time especially about how it has shaped the American Art of the 20th century). 

But here, I should be really thinking about Art on a bigger scale, one that has a voluminous history, a world-wide one that has formed us, informed us, it has shaped how we think and feel, unconsciously, or by consciously ignoring it.

So, I like to think of my own quiet and discreet work, as linked to the past also but in as many ways as I can impregnate it with contemporary ideas, relics, and even feelings too, for they are also part of our cultural DNA since time immemorial. 

And I think a lot about where I might fit into this lineage of Art too. Leo, my teacher, always described this history like a large and special family, one that criss-crosses religions and cultures, histories and geographies and up and down through time, a family large enough where its members share familial traits, even mannerisms across continents. This idea too, has worked inside me for decades. 

Thus, I hope this little study which I like very much, can squeeze itself into the lineage of Painting History and find kinship with other larger works, ones certainly more grand and more visibly available in museums everywhere than in my small home on the Pacific coast of Australia.  

And just as I think of myself as linked into a communal past, I am also plugged into this mysterious place where I believe Painting can still go into the future. For somehow, I have this crazy idea that Painting could be re-attached to Nature if one can find the abstract means to navigate through the conceptual mine fields strewn over the contemporary landscape. 

As I write this my thinking drifts over to someone like Claude Monet whose acute vision was formed by working from Nature from an early age. His vision certainly expanded as much as his waistline during his life, and by the end he was able to create one of the mightiest works ever made by a painter; Les Nymphéas at the Orangerie in Paris. There he fused Nature to Art, compressing it into eight large, large, large, curved panels.   

After seeing them a painter might feel appropriately discouraged. But he/she really should feel that discouragement, perhaps even devastation by the truth, the beauty, and grandeur of such a work. Next to it we are so small which is exactly as I think it should be. 

My little offering above is a fragment, but if it's a tiny fragment from such greatness, then I should happy.

25 May 2023

Henri Matisse, truly modern


Henri Matisse, Collioure, 1914, oil on canvas

I have always loved this painting by Henri Matisse. It’s an unusual one even in his own oeuvre, and I am curious about how he arrived at it. The drawing for it is tight, sober, but also extremely ambiguous indicating a set of open French doors. Once through them and looking outwards, it appears to be the night and a beguiling invitation to somewhere mysterious.

I like it for its light that emanates from every millimetre of its surface and this is because the 'drawing' for the idea of this picture is so 'right' and truthful. I am tempted to say perfect, but that is too much like the word 'genius', which today I try to avoid like I do a brown snake. 

Matisse created this dark opening that gently draws one outward into perhaps a late Spring evening where nightingales and wisteria compete for our attention. Would this be an invitation by the painter himself to gently 'leave the world unseen' as Keats had proffered in Ode To A Nightingale? Or was it an appeal for the viewer to make their own journey inwards to a nocturnal place inside oneself? And I am curious if he ever wrote about this picture?

Its colour harmony appears so simple yet it’s a sophisticated ensemble of muted tones arranged from a limited palette chosen from a place of sharp austerity.   

Once outdoors, the deep black violet sky sinks back into the night due to the light of the door frame on the left and the curtained one(?) at the right side, but also that bright vermilion blue green of the interior wall(?), if that is what it is, floats upon the surface of the painting in the foreground.

It is evident that this picture seems to be a bridge over which the latter-half of 20th Century Painting would cross. I am sure that it led directly to the large spaciously non-objective work of someone like Barnett Neuman, but also many of his friends at the 8th street clubhouse in New York, a rambunctiously artistic place in downtown New York City, back in the late 1940's and 1950's. It was a cauldron of raucous investigation (and celebration) into the possibilities for a new kind of American Art to emerge (right away!) because this was an impatient moment in America. 

Yes, sure, American painters took from Europe all the ideas they could they muster from artists throughout Europe, but somehow luminosity got lost in the mix. Perhaps the young Americans were so anxious to break down the conventionally conservative status quo after World War Two that they forgot about Light, that essential element without which paintings wouldn't open up large like an old camera lens.

Being Americans, even if just new arrivals, they did what Americans know how to do; break and destroy, then rebuild in their own image. This sounds cynical on my part but I think it's true. America seems to bring out the very best in humanity, but also the very worst too. And Art is no exception to this argument.

But hey! This is my own idea, everyone else gets to investigate for themselves, and they should. But certainly this is a big topic for another time. 

Yet, this wonderful picture by Matisse speaks to me, and to many others too, no doubt. And in its own way, it also broke down conventions in 1920's France. But it did not forsake light in the process. 

Matisse painted hundreds of 'window' pictures over his lifetime, mostly they were bright and joyful, full of colour, but this one is unusual. It's a nocturnal picture painted just before the outset of World War One, and though one could envision the comforts of a well-lit interior, a protected place perhaps, it might also foresee the dark madness to come.

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 François 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 François 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.


04 May 2023

Maurice Denis, finds simplicity and grace in this painting

I have always loved this painting! But curiously I have never really be a fan of Maurice Denis who was one of the Les Nabis, the group whose more notable members included Eduard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard. He was certainly prolific but so much of his grand figurative works seems confused to me. 
Les Nabis (according to Professor Google) comes from the Hebrew and Arab term for Prophets. I had always understand that they were interested in Symbolism and the Occult, which is why I always assumed that both Vuillard and Bonnard, who were the truly great painters in this collective, fled the group to follow their own paths to glory.

But anyway, this wonderful picture above is a gem I think. And it's precisely so because it holds a vision that really opens up outwardly through the window of nature by abstract means unlike the conceptual approach prescribed by Les Nabis

I like it so much not just because it works, but also because it captures that lonely and somewhat poetic winter moment when one finds oneself in a darkening valley chill and separated from the last bit of sun just out of reach in the Western sky. But it also evokes nostalgic memories from the France of my youth where scenes like this were commonplace. 

In this painting is a composition of a set of farmhouses and small road all lit up together in contre-jour against a dark, earthy landscape of warm pale hue. It's a strange sort of motif, almost a bit wonky but very original. I like it’s unique drawing, which is in fact at the root of it’s originality. Something in the buildings tells me that it was done somewhere in the north. The cedar trees(?) or perhaps they are cypress trees, all woolly and unkept, climbing in a straight line to the top of the ridge. The four blue, thin clouds above, appear to be the only 'cool' colours in the whole composition of an otherwise bland warmth. The yellow sky in this pictorial context should almost feel exuberant but it doesn't really, it's a winter sky all the same and it speaks to the cold night coming swiftly. 

The following idea has been attributed to Denis one which I had never seen before but like very much. It's a frank description of Modernity in a Painting world before it became captive to the Contextual prison in which much of the Art World has become trapped.

“A painting — before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or some anecdote — is essentially a flat surface covered with colours arranged in a certain order.”

30 April 2023

boob jobs


Evening Prayers Brunswick Heads, 2 March 2019, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

 Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads,2 March 2019, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm (restored 15 April 2023)

Here are four images that comprise two earlier pictures and the subsequent restoration of them
both. I say restoration, but I might just say that there were properly finished at a later date because I was never happy with them the first time around. But I write restoration because they were kicking around in the back of my small Toyota for months before I grabbed them one day to 'finish' at the beach after a session. But by then they were pretty scuffed up and in need of an overhaul, more than just a boob job to make them seem more desirable.

This is a shame because I had mostly liked the 'ideas' in each of them, especially the one below which is essentially just four wide bands of colour, three for the sky, and a dark one for the sea below.

I think at the time, which was miles and miles ago, I didn't worry about 'a finish' as much as I do now. This, I feel somehow is usually the reverse of the process in a series of work for a painter. Usually at a painter's start things begin a little tight but then go crazier with later on in life. But Hey!... 

I usually stopped working on a picture when I felt 'it had arrived' at a good place in my imagination. That is to say that it accomplished the purpose of a painting session by having created an image from my imagination while using my eyes, and which I found wholly pleasurable. Whether or not that represented reality for someone else was somewhat secondary. For me the question was; Had I caught something in what I had seen? 

So although I feel the top painting, the one with the purple line of cloud stretching beneath the warm yellow band of sky was certainly finished after the initial session, I had also been unhappy with the sea. Had it been too monotonous or otherwise deficient technically speaking? In any event, I put in the boot of the car where it got bounced about and roughed up for about a year, and by then it needed to see a surgeon.  

The result of this operation changed its form and colour entirely. But I was pleasantly surprised nonetheless, and reasonably happy with it. 

This one directly below, is a shame because I had loved the way the four bands of colour expanded across the picture plane like elastic; the palest Prussian blue, then a rich (but broken) pink, then violet underneath, giving the whole sky a certain kind of weight.

To finish it, I had imagined only a small bit definition work around the horizon line that had needed cleaning up. But alas,... that too, had suffered at the hands of the boot and it too went under the surgeon's brush. I wasn't overwhelmed by the result.

Though I did enjoy this work of cosmetic surgery, I also regretted too, because I think like so many surgeons must feel deep in their hearts and behind their credit cards, that really, the boobs had been perfectly fine the way they were before surgery.  

But there are lessons to be learned all around. One, like boobs, skies, no matter what the configuration, are almost always quite beautiful in their natural state. And two, like an ex. of mine had constantly harangued me, just keep the car clean.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 11 March 2019, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

  Evening Prayers Brunswick Heads, 11 March 2019, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm (restored 15 April 2023)

23 April 2023

The murder site

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 11 April 2023, oil on can canvas, 
30 x 25 cm

Recently, after looking at these posts, a friend exclaimed that I was "apparently an analytical painter". This surprised me so I thought about it for a while. Then I responded.

"The way I paint is quickly and without thought, like a murder committed out of passion. Maybe I had pre-meditated it beforehand, or not, but it was still an act of speed and 'thoughtlessness'.

"Like a murder," I continued, "it's only afterward when the cops have come in to block everything out, to figure out the Who, the What, and the Why, do I go into Police headquarters and spill the beans."  

This, I explained to my friend, who then looked at me extremely puzzled. 

In Painting, it's rarely what one paints, but how one paints.  

16 April 2023

Morocco, carrots to donkeys and barking dogs

The other day I was looking at some drawings I had made in Morocco during several trips there many years ago. This prompted some interesting thoughts about those drawing trips I undertook during that time, light years away now.

They were an adventure in lots of ways, but also kind of difficult too because I was spending all my time just drawing in the streets, and in Morocco, after a few weeks of this, one can easily be worn down. I rarely did anything but draw on these trips except to visit a few museums and rug sellers of course. And like the 'economical' means with which I drew, so too, were my small hotels and cafes as well. I moved with a quiet simplicity through life there.

I drew in all the big cities, Marrakech, Fez, Rabat, Casablanca and Tangiers. But I liked Essaouiria the best for its easygoing atmosphere on the Atlantic coast, and it's where I would invariably end up each trip. 

There I got to know woman who worked at The Alliance Française which was located in a large and lovely Riad in th middle of town. This French woman had come to Essaouiria from Paris a few years earlier and she was very happy with the move. She was curious about my drawings too so I suggested that she show them to her boss for possibly a small exhibition which I knew they set up regularly. I gave her a small book to show him. A few days later we met at a cafe and she told me that he didn't think a show would work for one reason or another. But I sensed that there was more to the story so I boldly pressed her on what he had thought of the drawings. With a Parisian shrug, she confessed that he hated them. I was briefly stung by the remark but then curious for an explanation so I asked, "Alors?". She went on to say that they were too depressing and too dark, apparently.

"OK", I thought" after pause, so I let it drop.

But it did suddenly give me a shock, and it shook me out of my solipsistic and dreamy notion about myself, one quite removed from the big world outside.  

And yes, I could understood that maybe they appeared dark and depressing to others, though I couldn't be sure, because for me, they simply revealed the hard truth of what we call, The Third World. To me, they are real, "juste", as the French might say.

Of course, many tourists and visitors do not see this side because they are chauffeured around in luxury mini-vans going from one luxury Riad to the next Palace, then onward to chic restaurants all over Morocco just because they can. The exchange rates are most advantageous in the Third World. 

So I had to suddenly reckon with the fact that these drawings of mine are not happy postcards of Morocco, nor are they for everyone.

But "Hey!"... I am drawn to sorrow like a donkey to a carrot, too late to change! 

But aside from this entire previous dialogue, there was this realisation that I was sensing, I was ruminating, really, as I looked at the drawings the other day. 

What it was, was the notion that I could somehow 'see' their faces as if they were imprinted in my mind even before I had started drawing from them.... And yet these drawing were made so quickly that this seems almost impossible to imagine.

But it created the impression that I could see the specific feeling behind the face of each person whom I was about to draw, as if I had already grabbed their expression in my imagination nano-seconds before commencing, and this seemed crucial to allowing me to draw them in the first place. Whew...Wow...

Curiously though, I never really spent much time thinking about this part of the process. I just went out into the streets and worked quickly, without thinking, as I was taught by Léo, my teacher many years earlier. 

No thought, so Zen,... and yet, something in this way of working moved me enough to keep going, day after day, week after week.

So yes, they rarely look happy because Moroccans are always working like dogs, and just like donkeys, they rarely look happy. It is a hard life and I am always attracted to these forlorn lives, forever, for I am not after vanity but humanity.

09 April 2023

Easter and the Muses


I have loved this one holy moment of the Christian year all throughout my life. Brought up Catholic, though quite casually, I only knew the inside of a church like a tourist.

Much later, when I discovered the Churches of Europe I was opened up to Art through this idea of redemption and rebirth, two Christian ideas that I hold dear today as a painter.

Redemption, because I was allowed to forgive my worst enemy: Myself. And Rebirth, because I now understand in these later chapters of my life that each new day is a joy to live because of Painting, but also so much else. I am also grateful because previously this enemy wouldn't have allowed for this.

It was during my time living in France that I came to appreciate France Musique, a station that offered up a feast of Bach and Handel during this week after Palm Sunday. One can be irreligious yet still be in thrall to great spiritual mysteries that one finds in all things Artistic, notably, Chartres Cathedral but also Claude Monet in the Orangeries in Paris.

So, despite this awful cliché, I've found that flexible space between the Spiritual and the Artistic. On the one hand, I had to pass through the Spirit to become a painter, but on the other, I needed Painting to bring me to the Spirit. 

So with thankfulness, I offer up my favourite spot in the whole world over these past six years, a small dune by the sea where I come to drink from the golden chalice of the Muses. It's a good life and I am grateful. 


02 April 2023

April 1st, Trump and Obama


I cannot remember where I picked this up but it has had a place on my desktop for a while now. And what better time than to post it than on April Fool's day.

Whoever painted it has a strangely cool sense of originality, as well as a great graphic sense for drawing (and likeness). It reminds me of those fantastic paintings that adorn Barber shops all over Africa (and even in parts of inner city America brought by migrants). 

A picture like this always reminds me that for me, originality is everything. It is because it means that something is real, flawed perhaps, but real. And as originality can reveal creator's defects, it will also reveal the unforeseen assets as yet discovered deep inside a creator.

Years ago, I remember reading about the actor and painter Martin Mull whose paintings are wonderful, quirky, and yes, very original. He had gone to Rhode Island School of Design back in the late 1960's. He recounts in his book that there was a fellow student who was obsessed with Vincent Van Gogh, who wanted nothing more than to paint just like him. He showed up in class even dressed a bit like the great artist wearing baggy soiled clothes and wooden clogs on his feet, (which were becoming the rage in France when I was there in  the 1970's). According to Mull, his paintings were wild and unstructured and left the class amused and befuddled. He seemed desperate to find his own style by channeling Vincent Van Gogh. Exasperated, one day, the teacher took him aside and asked him to paint a self-portrait while patiently explaining to this student that any 'flaws' or 'mistakes' that were revealed in it were in fact going to be his 'style'.   

I don't remember the end of the story but Martin Mull certainly took this lesson to heart because he wrote about it many years later on. 

This story impresses me even now so many years later for it speaks to the truth of living an 'inside' life, not an 'outward' one. This is essential for a creative person, especially painters. And though some painters find sartorial bliss by showing themselves off in wild clothes and pyjamas, Being a 'M'as tu vu?' is dangerous for an artist. 

So in this spirit I share this curious and crazy portrait of two American ex-presidents. One, who possessed class (and style), the other one, so obviously desperate for both. One happily smiling, the other just trying to.... Go figure.

31 March 2023

Maurice Ravel and his blood brothers


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

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 7 May 2019, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 23 February 2019, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

OK, I have been looking through photos this week because I am selecting a few new images for more postcards. It's purely a vanity project because as we all know, hardly anyone buys or sends postcards anymore, alas,,, and stamps are frightfully expensive too. But hey! I do it for myself because I like both sending and receiving them through Snail Mail, (and because we only live once). 

Already, I have a series of twelve different  cards but I'll add an additional six to make eighteen which will be a happy, round number. These things are important despite what some may think.

So, I came across these studies the other day and I was intrigued with them. They probably wouldn't make successful postcards as they don't look commercially viable though I may do them anyway just for fun. I would love to imagine them stuck with funky magnets on different fridge doors all over the world.

I have also been listening to Maurice Ravel for weeks now while at the same at time perusing all these studies. And I have also been studying a small piece he wrote called Prelude 1913. It was written for students to play as part of their entrance exams into the Conservatory in Paris. As I understood it they were given this piece an hour before the exam and expected to play it before the judges in a giant hall. It's but a tiny fragment of a musical idea, just 1:15 minutes long but it embodies a host of ideas that seem to spring out of it like poppies in Spring. And like a pulse, after just a few measures into it, one can already hear Ravel's own heartbeat coursing through its bloodstream.

And for a painter this is like a fingerprint as when seeing a small fragment by Van Gogh and being able to feel the artist's handiwork within the paint.

But anyway, I still struggle to get this little Prelude right, but its among other pieces I'm learning too so it takes time. 

Over the past year at the very end of each day, I've gotten into the curious habit of playing this Prelude 1913 before getting into bed at night. It's the last act before sleep, after I've locked my doors, shut off the lights and brushed my teeth, I'll sit at the piano, conveniently situated on the way to my small bedroom. There I run through it a few times while reworking small passages here and there that are problematic. I know it by heart of course, but knowing it well, isn't playing it well. It's a fragile piece and it needs a delicate and a soft touch, something I feel I've never had. I think I wear a catcher's mitt on my left hand.

But anyway, Ravel has a way of getting under one's skin and into one's nervous system. Music appears to do that to everyone. Indeed, I think all of humanity sings a billion different melodies all at once. It's one of those distinctive things that make us all human even whilst under the worst of circumstances. It's a lot like laughter. 

Ravel's mellifluous harmonies, like certain kinds of large paintings by Emile Bonnard can also infect one's soul in a particular sort of way, as say, Picasso or Gershwin might in another way altogether. 

Ravel's music, like many in the Romantic tradition, is infused with emotion. It has been criticised by some as being "too sweet", perhaps too "impassioned" or "sentimental". But "Sacré Bleu"! I say,,,, though I can see what they mean when compared to Debussy with whom he is mightily compared. But I don't care, as with apples and pears, I will eat both. And I will always be aligned with those of great feeling in all things Artistic. A Robert Wilson fan, never,,, but Mahler, yes,,, forever.

That's the way I am, and the proof of this is in these three pictures above for they are exercises in pure sensuality. 

Ever since I was a kid I only ever wanted to play with anything that made slurpy marks, anything at all,,,, gravy and mash potatoes on my plate, mud puddles on my way to school, then finger-paint at school and everything afterward. Working in oils was the stepping stone to real Painting, and into the Renaissance of my father's art books.

Yet the personal obsessive question for me has always remained the same;.. and that is:

How do I convey this emotional feeling through Art? If I am not attempting that then what the heck I am doing?

So for me, like Ravel's music, these three pictures are constructed as a bridge to the human heart, to feeling, but not to sentimentality.

25 March 2023

Darn! some daze, it's nothing but questions!


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 22 January 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here are some recent studies which prompted a few thoughts for me to contemplate. 

Firstly, I was thinking that from the very earliest brushstrokes, when beginning a picture, one problem is already present. This problem, like for any novelist or filmmaker, is about how to move coherently towards the solution to end each picture. But indeed, this solution is already linked, inchoate, to every particular individual part in the making of the picture. 

Secondly, how do I paint an image which is so personal and so specific and well-defined, yet not too myopic or solipsistically personal for others to feel and perhaps appreciate?

Because Painting can be such an immediate and emotionally charged art form, it often evokes unique and visceral feelings for different kinds of people. Indeed the world of Art often feels like a wild and untamed Pacific Ocean of creative juice to me. So, how do we, as painters, transcend our own bubble of experience, rendering it poetically communicable to others? Or do we just say,
"There it is, tough shit if you don't get"

So thus, how do we as painters (like great novelists), create a 'fictional world', one within this constraint, and one that can be  cleverly exploited to fully express what we need to express, not just to ourselves, but to others as well?

And if so, how do painters visually communicate? Are we communicating an idea or a feeling? And which is better? Are they the same, or not? There are always so many questions! Too many, really,,, enough to make one crazy when one is just sitting around looking at butterflies and not working..... but questions persist.

If a picture doesn't work for a viewer, is it because the painter fails or because the viewer does? And if it's the painter's fault, is it because it's a poorly-made picture due to his/her technique, or is it just a poor idea?  

But what indeed is a poor idea? Is it one that communicates only a 'photocopy' of the original motif (or idea?) either in one's own imagination, or taken out from Nature? But these are different sources and they can create different problems. 

But if the viewer is at fault, (is this even possible?) is it because they plausibly do not do not have the knowledge or experience to understand a painting? In this case, one could certainly imagine a violinmaker explaining to an amateur the virtues of his newest creation. 

But pushing this question further (as an obsessional naturally would) ask if an idea, for instance, is born from a visual memory or a conceptual rumination? Is an idea born from an experience of using one's eyes out on a motif with the aid of one's memory? Is this what one might would call a visual memory or is this what one might call direct contact with Nature? Is this plain-air painting? (I really detest this expression though I am not sure exactly why).

Ouch, too many questions this week!

But anyway, these three are from January. I liked them then, and still do over a month later. I remember these two below quite well and I see that I was pursuing my persistent obsession of making a flat image from this three dimensional motif out in Nature. On some days this idea is stronger than others because some skies naturally lend themselves more to this idea while others hold onto their more anecdotal elements and render them more 'traditional'.

The one at the top I also like because of the drip of paint inadvertently confusing what could be called the 'drawing', adding another question to the whole darn thing!

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

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