24 January 2023

Mondrian in an upside down world

Now without getting too heavy about the following saga, I cannot help but point out that it does reveal one of several cracks which weaken the strength of the Post Modernist foundation over the past 80 years. 

Objective and scientific reliance upon truth has been eroded in almost all aspects of modern life, from the way we receive information to the way we impart it to others, (both our own, but also our entire collective cultural histories too, that have been opened up like autopsies for all to see). One cannot argue with things like this anymore than one can dispute a giant river through the Alps. However in the political world, in a powerhouse like America, the concept of an objective truth has all but evaporated, or at the least, been severely damaged by recent politicians. Feelings are not fact, or so we have been taught to believe, and to push this infantile narrative is mendacious. But, curiously, in the realm of Art, yes, feelings do become facts in this world of creative invention specially when it is convincing. For Art is a world of poetic contrivance, its an inspired state of imagination in contrast to politics and science even. Though to place politics and science in the same sentence would be unfair to scientists.

I am not alone in believing that the culprit of misinformation has been groomed by the internet, perhaps the greatest invention since the printing press back in the 15th century by Johannes Gutenberg. But this has been elevated to an even higher state of alert by the search engine Google and others. The speed of any information circling the globe today is mind-boggling. It is a Yin-Yang situation because  all its fortunes are coupled with equal misfortune. 

Why do I bring this up? It's not exactly  rocket science, but in this venerable world of experts and know-it-alls, there are concrete clues reminding us that these experts are sometimes clueless. For example, This Mondrian had been hung upside down for eighty years before anyone realised it (See below, or better yet, google the story).

The following two gentlemen are looking at the version that is upside-down. The correct version is at the very bottom in this post and this includes a double set of dark blue lines at the top which seem to anchor the image and giving it a sense of gravity when correctly hung (though this is my own random observation). 

Although I prefer it the way he intended it, it is only because I feel better the weight of the picture due to the dark blue line that runs up and down the left side of the painting and  appears to hold everything together. Visually, also, my eyes gravitate more to the left, and they run up the blue line like a heavy column to the imaginary heavy roof that once covered the Parthenon in Athens. 

But hey! It's not the kind of picture that would draw me in enough to really look at in the first place.

{Addendum} this painting is in fact made by using  rolls of coloured tape which have disintegrated to such a state that curators have decided to leave it in its current state for fear of further decay. Thus it will continue to be hung upside down.

17 January 2023

Turner, a king in the realm of wise children

I was sent this small Turner watercolour recently by a mysterious gentleman, a certain Peter Shearer from Cincinnati who collects art and loves it too, apparently. We have mutual friends over there and I believe that he has also visited this small blog space so he obviously knew what interested me, but also  himself too. In any event I thank him for this small gift.

This unpretentious little oeuvre, lacking in any visual presumption is just so perfect and beguiling that I could weep with envy. Its innocence speaks of a rare and simple vision, one which a very insightful young child of rare sensibility might be able to pull off but only on a very lucky and insightful afternoon. 

There is at certain times, that awkward honesty in Turner's voluminous record-keeping of the sea and sky that reveals such playful abstraction that one could possibly (if they knew little or nothing about Art) imagine it done by a child indeed. But this of course, would be a fairly cheap value judgement by smug, smart-alecks who would be ruled by the left side of their brains only, for this is a masterpiece of invention.  

The perfect brilliance of this tiny and unobtrusive little souvenir is beyond description. This child-like innocence belies a profound vision, one that was cultivated by a lifetime of looking at Nature, but also by an enormous talent buried deeply within the structure of its four corners and behind its quiet and simple design. 

But hidden within this simplicity is a foreground, middle ground, and a background, which all together seem to come racing up to the viewer all at once on one plane, like the visual world does in fact. In Painting, this is the art of greatness for it has to be learned through practice but also a generously  extensive understanding of Art History itself. 

It's because normally, our eyes don't allow this to happen due to our incapacity to focus on all planes all at once, and at the same time. It is therefore left to the artist (and innocent eye of a gifted child) to reconfigure that physical impossibility for us viewers. And this sounds way more complicated than I am making it out to be. But put simply: our eyes only reveal to us, at nanoseconds at a time, the entire picture in front of us when we look out at the world at each moment. Normally, we cannot, without practice, see a landscape as painters have learned to make them because they were re-created using a kind of abstraction built by planes that move forward and backward on the two dimensional surface. The painter needs to fashion a foreground, middle ground, and background which are not always apparent to us, because our eyes do not naturally take them in as one. It is why some painters will squint their eyes whilst looking at a landscape in order to see it as one entire thing. But to paint it as one entire thing is an abstract process.

A viewer doesn't realise this because they don't think about it, it's taken for granted. But the painter (and gifted child) seem to understand this, though in different ways, because they know they need to reconfigure a visible world through a sort of connivance of talent and gumption to reconstruct the logic of a landscape in a painted image. For the gifted and clairvoyant child, and a few lucky painters (the visionaries), it's innate, but for most painters it must be learned. I had to learn it for instance, it didn't come naturally to me.

Put another way; the 'Academic Painter', of which there are many prestigious adherents, are trained to paint Nature (landscapes and models) as a compilation of separate parts, attaching them through painting technique alone. But unlike them, the visionary sees everything as an organic whole image all at once in their mind. 

In the Turner above is a great example of seeing the 'motif' of the picture as a unified visual idea. And because an academic painter sees only a picture as pieces to be attached to one another, he/she consequently attempts to tie them all together a bit like a patchwork quilt. But being a visionary, this is not how Turner saw either the motif or the picture, for he saw everything as a whole and he made the necessary sacrifices to reconfigure that whole into the form of a painting. 

11 January 2023

Somehow, Oscar Niemeyer Soares Filho will vanquish fascism

Oscar Niemeyer Soares Filho is my new hero! I went to Brazil about thirty years ago and was suitably dazzled with so much Modernist detail that seemed to be in lurking every little corner or round balcony. And looking down on the mosaic park design from a hotel high above the Copacabana beach front was a joyful sensation and it gave me this crazy unrealistic  optimism for the future of humankind. How did this government, this culture, these people, understand the meaning of such playful beauty? And how were they able to display such civic idealism in a world of limited bureaucratic imagination?? What an adventure! I remember thinking decades ago during my visit.

But watching news of the recent attack on the Congress in Brasilia suddenly awakened in me a complete infatuation and wonder at Niemeyer's design for the entire complex now being so thoughtlessly trashed by the mob. Not only do they not deserve a Democratic system, but neither do they merit Beauty, and that is the mark of a troll.

Ok, these are cheap photos I ripped from Google but I promise you I will go there sometime soon and take my own photos for this space herein! It will be my next pilgrimage because I just love this playfully sedate civic architecture. 

It will be like my trip to see the Taj Mahal already almost forty years ago and which, I should say, several idiot friends had warned me against visiting because that it was a big waste of time. OOOUUPH! These friends, I realised afterward, were the real waste of time because the Taj Mahal was for me, one of the most extraordinary places I had every been in my whole life. 

So like those idiot friends, and those too, who  ransacked the Congress in Washington two years ago, I only pray that these illiterate trolls be sent to Prison for years to contemplate their own furry, smelly feet. 

B.T.W, because I am on the subject, try as I may, I have never been able to see any beauty in the Capitol building in Washington. It has always been a boring, conventional, and ugly bit of cliche architecture for me)

Anyway, one has to love the Brazilians for creating such a remarkable government complex like they did in Brasilia. It's overwhelming in everyway, and it says to the world: We love Life and Art!

02 January 2023

Let them eat cake in Painting Purgatory!


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 July 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This rather tasty-looking study I recently saw in the photo library and liked immediately. I certainly don't remember it at all which doesn't surprise me because I probably didn't think it was very interesting at the time. It feels like the memory of a dream.

But today this drizzly first day of the New Year 2023, I see a delicious design as if made by a pastry chef in Copenhagen. But it's not a clean or polished design, and this gives it charm (or not, depending upon your sensibilities). But it has this fresh shaggy feeling of spontaneous whimsy that despite its plasticity (in the historical, and painterly terms) it presents like a flat rough draft from some colourful planet where people communicate through design only.

I like this flat quality, its been something I have been after for years now. Though 'flat' evokes Matisse, I really mean Cezanne, who seemed to compress his large and complicated pictures like he had run them through a press somewhere in Painting Purgatory. And in a rather convoluted and strange way he revisits all those strangely flat landscapes of the early Renaissance around Florence and Siena but even Giotto too, much earlier near Venice.

I do understand that this is not a picture for the general public, though maybe some clever kids under the age of five might really see it. It's not even a picture for the Art Elite because it has traces of Nature in it. "Mais Non! tut! tut!,,, No Nature s'il vous plait!" This is a just painting for myself.

Its sensual colour harmony is simple. Placed like ribbons, a yellow band and a pink one, are both sandwiched between the pale blue sky above and the deep blue-black of the sea below. At the very base of the picture, like an entrance way or a discreet door mat, is a band of blue green to help offset the warmth and to welcome the eye into the picture plane.

The horizon is clunky! Yes,,,, I know,, Ha Ha,,, viewers wishing for a clean line will be disappointed! Alas,,,,,, and it's rough too, it might feel like it was torn from a page out of one's own dream when they had awakened too quickly. 

But, in the end, aren't all paintings rather dream-like in nature? After all, they exist for each of us individually, and only for such a small moment in our minds. Our reactions to them is also deeply personal and we interpret them according to our own emotional history. They come to us seemingly out of the blue, only to be replaced by other incoming images. What do we remember about the experience of seeing a painting? And what do we retain of our own experiences anyway? Isn't it all dream?

It maybe does seem at first more real for the creators who labour and fret over them while wondering if they are any good in the first place. But then, soon, their creations are replaced by other creations, over and over again, as the cycle of work continues. But in the end, even these artefacts will become dreams, and the artist will hardly ever remember making them in the first place. 

31 December 2022

The Titanic, and the year-end clearance sale of old ideas


Evening Prayer Brunswick heads, 15 December 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick heads, 28 December 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here are two parting images to finish off the year 2022 which has been good to me in terms of creativity. 

The first study is from two weeks ago but the second one came at the very end of the session just the other night after I had cleaned my brushes and was about to clean the palette. But I kept looking up at the sky and seeing something so interesting that I thought I needed to try another, even a quick one; Grab it, and throw it down on the hard rubber mat like they do in Fake Wrestling, or so I imagined, that I imagined at the moment.

The sky had lightened as it will often do after the sun has shot its last rays high up into the back of the sky from the West, and it brightened briefly before descending into the dark night. And having seen this effect so often it almost always makes me think of the Titanic, which towards its final end, went down bow first and leaving the stern to rise up out of the ocean at almost 90 degrees into the starry night air before breaking off, then collapsing back into the black icy waters of the Atlantic. 

(Well,,, enfin.....I guess you had to be there) 

So I rapidly made this study and left it in its current fragile state as a souvenir. I long to be able to get there quicker, more efficiently, and with more ability for each of these studies.

And because it is New Year's Eve, a date where regret seems to seep into our thoughts, and where they too, will turn into tears of champagne and spill out of us. But painters should always dream of tomorrow regardless, because one can always wish that they had learned so much about both Life and Painting so much earlier in their lives. It's a natural regret but not one worth lingering upon because in the future, as we know, anything can happen. And isn't it about clearing out today's ideas to be ready for tomorrow's?  N'est-ce pas?

I wish everyone in these small pages a healthy and creative New Year 2023.

25 December 2022

and so this is Christmas...


         Vittore Carpaccio, The Flight into Egypt

Here is the most wonderful Christmas song anywhere

Thank you John Lennon

So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong

And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas
And what have we done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun

Ans so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

War is over over
If you want it
War is over


22 December 2022

When palettes are fresh like salads each day,

As a painter, when working outdoors, I need to make up a palette of colours each time I work. I cannot say that every other painter does this because we all have different ways of working especially away from one's studio. Other painters will often make up larger quantities at a time or just use tubes or jars chosen from the vast array of premixed colours offered in today's market. 

When working outdoors, I myself, use a very limited palette. It consists of just two blues; Ultramarine and Prussian blue; a rich Magenta Red, Lemon Yellow concentrate, a Cadmium Yellow medium, and Titanium White. With these colours I can pompously say that I could reproduce almost any colour needed. And like a funky-looking witch at midnight I make my own 'black' when needed by using Prussian Blue and other 'secretive ingredients' that cannot be revealed to ordinary civilians (I took an oath). But one secret I did learn many, many years ago came from Cezanne, who though he used black and white on the same palette, would mix both of them in infinitesimal amounts to each of his other colours to help ensure an overall harmony in his pictures. He mixed such tiny amounts to every colour it would be hardly perceptible to the naked eye, but when spread across a French landscape they would absolutely radiate.

Because I set up a spontaneous palette for each session, I tend to limit colours to conform to a simple aesthetic idea drawn from a particular sky and similar to the key signature of a musical score which also loosely cements an idea.

Like an intimate Jazz trio weaving around an old Standard through various keys, there is also an improvised order to a painting palette similar to the main key signature anchoring the musicians enough to freely play in relative harmony. And equally, on the palette, primary colours are mixed to create tertiary ones which usually guarantee an overall harmony once they are all evenly mixed together. Like the royal families of 18th century Europe, political unity was achieved everywhere by the wise intermarriage of their offspring. The same is true of a palette.

But as well, one's palette is extremely personal, it is about as personal and original as a line drawing by just about anyone, and it should be. I know a few painters who have copied their masters's palette, and even after a lifetime of working, they have stayed loyal to it. I don't really understand this myself, but hey! I have another friend who has been painting for sixty years and has never varied any of his colours. I expressed astonishment when he told me this one day a few years back. But in the Painting World, everyone has to follow their own way because, man รต man, Painting is hard thing to do most of the time. And to be fair, I work so small that this improvised procedure can work for me, but to work larger is another ballgame altogether, with far more pitfalls.

Below, is one of Delacroix's palettes which may not reveal much due to its old age but it's a relic of beauty nonetheless, and concerning it, he wrote in his journal at one point:

"My freshly arranged palette, brilliant with contrasting colours, is enough to fire my enthusiasm". 

Maybe,.... but there was a rumour circulating at the time that he took his palette to bed with him at night and though this might be just the vindictive gossip of a scorned lover, it does raise the possibility that his fire was misplaced.

I imagine that Picasso used palettes at the beginning of his career but I have only ever seen photos of him mixing his colours on white porcelain plates which filled up his voluminous homes and where he appeared to paint in nearly every room, prodigiously so.

Over the last five years my palette has evolved only slightly but not too much. It has less colours now and it's shape is larger, just a piece of shiny cut formica glued to a piece of wood because as they say, more real estate is always better. It's heavier than a hand-held one but I don't hold it, it rests on the open tray of the easel when its set up.  

Below are some examples of different palettes on different days and over different years. I used to take photos of them from time to time when they looked interesting but I've since gotten out of the habit. Too often, I will forget my phone. Some show the colours at the beginning while others show them at the end of the session. 

At the bottom, I throw in some cleanly washed aprons (important!) and studies of the surgical gloves which can sometimes be quite sexy too.

(addendum, a few people have told me I should just show these instead of my paintings) (!)

Ladies Watch Out! Jack the Ripper is about!