09 June 2024

tortoise, not the hare


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 7 June 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Finally, the weather has turned and the winter brings a calmer sea often turning pale turquoise then crazy pink in June and July. 

I've had a good week and this one I like particularly because it says what I feel. 

For me, I think the more I paint the easier it becomes to access the bridge to my own emotions.

Let's face it, we all have emotions that sail through us like clouds but to exercise a craft; music, writing, painting, whatever, we develop the means to solidify them and deftly seal them into time for ever. 

As happens often through steady work, large avenues will open up more frequently and they appear to go on endlessly, and like luck, whole vistas of opportunity spring up like giant billboards along the way to beckon us further.

All those visual dreams I've had while walking the twilight beach since first coming here 25 years ago begin to take form. 

Hey! I'm slow! I know that, my path is one of the tortoise not the hare.



04 June 2024

Spartan appeal



Henri Matisse, oil portrait, 1930's? (1869 - 1954)


It's June! Time to fall in love with someone! And how I love this woman! I cannot seem to locate its provenance nor when it was painted but something tells me it was late, perhaps 1930's or 1940's...? 

Henri Matisse was such an innovator, an artist who truly experimented with so many different graphic approaches to representation. I admire him for this even though I might not be crazy about some of his solutions. But I love the many pathways during his artistic lifetime. 

What pulls me into this portrait is the expressive simplicity. The drawing appears to naturally come out of his many austere line drawings made during several decades before his death. I love the Spartan appeal to emotional clarity found in these late portraits. 

The background is a scratchy flat black and reminiscent of a grade school blackboard altered by striking white crosses. The flat portrait seems to stand out by colour alone, the golden head and hair is housed within a wonderful pale broken pink dress. And pink and black are my favourite combinations when paired together one next to the other.

I guess one gets it or they don't. I cannot say anything more about it except that it's the kind of portrait that makes me want to get back to making portraits!  



28 May 2024

Whoa, Whistler, whatever, whenever.....


My apologies in advance for the sloppy presentation of Whistler's work. They were taken years ago from a wonderful book I have had for years entitled Whistler's Nocturnes. 

This first image, just below, is the infamous gouache that caused a scandal and a famous court case in London. The Art critic John Ruskin, in a newspaper, famously wrote, 

“....ill-educated conceit I have seen, and heard, much of cockney impudence before now; but I never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face."

Whoa... If only Trump had such linguistic flair! 

This small but stunning gouache entitled Nocturne in Black and Gold, done in 1875, was the recipient of Ruskin's ire and for which he was sued by Whistler for libel, which Whistler subsequently won.

That it was painted in the 19th century is  astounding, just about as astounding as most of Turner's watercolours in fact. 

Such abstract vision by both these 19th century artists is one of the great teasers from that century.

His love of shadows and the musky dusk of fog left a big impression upon me when I was a student of painting in sunny Provence back in the early 1970's. Like Whistler, I too, had had a more natural affinity for the Northern 'gloom-pleased light' of rain and shade, but like an unhealthy habit, it was gradually forgotten after a few years of living with radiant light. 

And following this, I thought, what the hell,.. here are some of my other favourites by Whistler, of whom one can never get enough.


























































21 May 2024

Sophie's Choice

 

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 13 May 2024, oil on canvas board, 
30 X 25 cm

This from last week, the only one from the evening because I lost the second one due to impatience. I think in seven years here I've only scratched out three disasters and the third one was last week. It was a beauty until it wasn't and it quickly went to CODE BLUE and it couldn't be resuscitated.

Failures are tough to accept but they teach me lessons each time, and to be fair, there are lots of these studies I've killed over time when I realised that they weren't very good anyway. Of the thousands done I think only a small portion are any good. The real lesson is whether or not I'm improving over time. If I'm just making photocopies then I should give up and just play piano. 

Though I know this motif is super simple, with few difficult drawing problems, it's still challenging to create an interesting version each evening. This is all about colour, pushing the foreground into the picture plane towerd the horizon line while bringing the background up to the front using the sea and sky both instantaneously. One can easily stuff that up. 
 
But I do like this one though even if it meant the loss of the second one like in Sophie's Choice. 

But anyway, we are rolling into winter skies now that begin to bloom uncontrollably like bashful nuns at the sight of a handsome priest (and unabashedly pink!) 

It's been raining all over the Southern hemisphere for months now and bringing catastrophic consequences for tens of millions of people on several continents. Brazil has been hard hit especially. A friend just returned recently and told me that his family had lost everything while many in America say that Climate change is fake news. 

I'm grateful I live on a hill.

  

11 May 2024

Court room follies






































 

My hats are off to all these intrepid artists! I was thinking about what a shame it is not to see someone one using an iPad Pro, ..... 

They are all amazing but I think my favorites are the smallest and least finished of them all, the quirky quick sketches by Jonathan Alter who is a journalist at NYT, among other things. From looking at all of the work it's clear that he is the only one working from an i-pad, I believe. Good Choice!

Elizabeth Williams whose simple delivery pleases me a lot. It's cleanly organised and the likeness's are spot on. But I like Bill Hennessy also for the formal structure and the wonderful likeness's of each of the Supreme Court. 

Jake Tapper, a host for CNN, also has a great talent for this business! 

Among the two wildest Expressionitas are Christine Cornell, who I saw on a panel at CNN this past week is a cool woman who lives downtown, and Jane Rosenberg, who I also saw interviewed on MSNBC. Their work is somewhat similar and at times surreal in what they choose to draw but equally important, what they choose to leave out. These are some wild renditions of Donnie Boy!

All of these artists have my respect because of the kind of work it is. They must suit up, show up, and get it on with no excuses! Gotta love that!














05 May 2024

dogfight

 

 Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 30 April 2024, oil on canvas board 30 X 25 cm



               Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 30 April 2024, oil on canvas board 30 X 25 cm


From last week came two interesting studies from me. I had to drag myself out of the house where I was nursing a Cold but I could see from the comfort of my sofa that the sky was showing great promise for that evening and I knew I had to go. 

They reveal something slightly new, a direction towards which I've been leaning recently so I'm pretty happy with them. The weather, sadly, has been so unstable these past few six months that it's been really difficult to navigate the rainy clouds. So when it does look decent, 48 hour Cold or not, I will be out the door. 

My desire these days is to work more freely and without any conceptual constraints that orbit around in my mind. And so, the new commitment is to paint wildly and with abandon, locking onto a visual sensation of colour like in a dogfight with an enemy fighter. I'm on his tail, undeterred by any doubts in my head.

These skies are still always so surprising despite having painted them over and over again, year after year. The only thing that changes, is of course, me.




26 April 2024

Dreyer's English!

 



This is a book for any writer or reader. As I love books about Grammar I jumped on it without hesitation after hearing an interview on RN with the author who was visiting on a book tour. And it's a cracker, as they say here in Australia. A clever, witty New Yorker, and no surprise, he's an editor at Random House.

It's an incisive book full of all the subtleties of both British English and US English.There are lots of differences and similarities between them, relevant and otherwise. As an American living in Australia it took me a long time to navigate these nuanced distinctions. 
 
For pedantic types, reading this book will become an obsession. With plenty of humorous anecdotes he goes into all those pesky rules to follow, or not, concerning everything ones needs to know about creating a coherent idea. Are they two ideas or one sentence? Or both? Is "Or both" even a sentence? And, do I have permission to break a rule, if indeed, it is even a rule in the first place? How to use commas, colons, italics, etc, etc... Myself, I'm always returning to older texts, forever culling and rephrasing sentences, nitpicking endlessly over the smallest details in the sentence structure. And personally, I'm perfectly asstounded by all the spelling mistakes I make. 

And for my Francophone friends up North, in the land where Capitol Punishment is dished out (metaphorically,... S.V.P.) to the illiterate barbarians who invade from The US (mostly  Los Angeles), I say, Bonne Lecture! 



24 April 2024

STOP! when the going is good!

 

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 19 April, 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here are two things from a few nights ago. It's been so rainy that I've not been able to get out very much. Alas,... my spirit goes a little flat without these sessions at the end of the afternoons. But a taste of the winter skies are already present and it's becoming cooler in the evenings though the days are quite mellow yellow. Perfect!

I really like the one above, it borders on the dangerous region of verisimilitude, but Hey! It came out that way, what's a fellow to do? 

It was the first study and I spent more time on it than I usually do. This could be a change for me for the better. I enjoyed it, and it speaks to that particular evening in a specific way which I suppose is the point isn't it? Actually, the point is to have fun, but after that comes the meaning of it all so they say. But I wouldn't do it if I didn't find it fun. I use the word 'fun' as the fun that most children usually have at that period in life. Everything is fun! Or It's a drag! Life was certainly simpler when i was a kid. 

But like for kids, fun implies anything that engages someone of any age, because generally speaking, a child doesn't differentiate between activities the way adults do. Something is either cool (fun) are it isn't, n'est-ce pas?  

The study below came at the end of the session. It was just a sketch of an idea that I loved but I went too far unfortunately. It's OK though, but it isn't the wild, wooly study of feeling that it was after just five minutes! Alas, one day I will learn to just STOP! 

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 19 April 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm



16 April 2024

Grace in all forms


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 10 April 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

I confess that I have an angel whom I call 'Grace' who comes to me at all hours. She's 24/7, like the Police dept, and she's available for a chat or interrogation at any moment of the day. She also comes to me in various disguises, sometimes she's a cat, or a furry dog, a magpie or even a mosquito. She's omniscient, but not an omnivore so there's no problem there. But she's definitely not shy about just showing up whenever I least expect it.

The other evening at the beach she showed up as a magpie, but the day before, as a young bush turkey who hung around me for almost the entire session at the beach. 

But believe me, I'm not the superstitious type, not paranoid nor narcissist (or conspiracist), I'm just a painter who has faith in what the Greek poets used to call the Muses. 

Grace has the voice of Wilma Flintstone, too. When she's judging me with her slightly hoarse voice she's still calm but firm and she can be a little exasperated when I don't pay attention to her messaging. But I trust her, importantly. 

Whatever my mood she will appraise me with an ironic air like I'm six years old and have spilled jam all over my best shirt. She is joyful and full of mirth too, happy but with the mouth from a union guy of the Bronx when needed. But she has a wicked sense of humour too, because I couldn't abide by an angel all stony and cold like in the churches of my youth. Mais non!! But I haven't quite figured all this out yet,,I'm just going with what I understand at the moment.

 
Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 10 April 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

These two pictures are from a few nights ago. Though I don't generally spend a lot of time on these things, these took about twenty minutes each which is a lot for me. There are a little more developed than usual because I'm piling on pigment in layers and trying new things. 

It was a magnificent 'Bloom' yesterday but it didn't last long. There are nights when it can go on till dark but this week they're not there. It could be the small half moon watching benevolently from high overhead that disturbs the light.  

But to be out again and painting at the beach is a great pleasure and privilege, so Grace reminds after each session. 

"Be Grateful, be graceful" 

She says to me every occasion. These are not admonishments, more like gentle mantras in my ear.

Having this motif so close at hand, one that despite its obvious finite boundaries, is still opening up new avenues for the painter in me. And with Grace so close at hand in my life, I'm able to cruise more easily as a person and painter.



30 March 2024

Painters and Pianists




This morning I spent over an hour playing just two measures of a difficult piece by Erik Satie. It took me a short while to get into it but then after I did, time melted away.



It was difficult tempo that had to be burned into my head and fingers through concentrated repetition. By the end I got up and made more coffee and then I suddenly marvelled at how I was able to do this at all because for most of my life I had been so ill-constructed for any kind of concentration. And as a child I could never pay attention for longer than the time it took to scratch my own nose. Unlike today, they didn’t have fancy names for this sort of demeanour back in the 1950's, nor was their any medication for it. But I would have been a fine candidate for it all. The best explanation they had for me was that I was a redhead.(!) 

This kind of concentration on a piece of music even on just a few measures feels so vastly different from how I operate out in a painting session today. 

But why would I want to invest four months of piano practice just to learn a new piece by Erik Satie? Like so many amateur musicians (and mountaineers worldwide) I proclaim, mostly to myself, "because it’s there!!”

Recently, I watched a great interview on YouTube hosted by the musician and journalist, Rick Beato in Atlanta. He talked with Brad Mehldau a pianist who I didn't know, and it was absolutely wonderful. See him (above) playing Blackbird, at the Steinway factory in Hamburg from two years ago. 

Like a great painter Brad Mehldau expands lots of rich relationships in this lovely song by Paul McCartney, the lyrics of which were inspired by the racial tensions in the American South. 

Mehldau plays it with luscious harmonies that he gently weaves out of it like he was making taffy at a country fair. This rendition reminds me of the way Pierre Bonnard painted his pictures; patiently, richly, and ever expanding a whole image as if one were watching fireworks in slow motion. 

My Painting teacher Léo Marchutz, once said that the greater the number of relationships in a work of art, the greater the work of art.

But I bring all this up because at a certain moment in the interview he spoke about the 'flow', and how essential it is when improvising music. He said, "Thought was the enemy of the 'flow'". A cliché for sure, but it's a truth that any creator, athlete, barrister in a court room will attest to, no matter the art form. The flow is how the world of creativity functions.

And it's something I'm always conscious of in both Painting and in the study of music, but also just  playing tennis or even reading a book.
 
But I must confess that this idea of the 'flow' came quite late in my creative life. I recently only began to learn about it specifically through the piano but also in my sessions at the beach over the past six years. With the exception of LSD, this 'flow' had mostly eluded me for most of my life.



Au Chateaunoir, early 1990's, oil on canvas board, 30 X 22 cm


But this older painting (above) is a rare early example of the 'flow' that I've somehow managed to connect with in my painting process. I include it here because it was such a rarity and because for me it has a certain feeling in it, one of a constant musical movement that I recognise. 


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

This painting (above) on the other hand, was randomly selected to reveal the flow in my working process today. But I could have picked any number of these oil studies
(out of hundreds) to reveal the presence of the how the 'flow' was cemented into my way of working on a picture. It's a shame that it came to me so late in life but my mind wasn't able to access it earlier on a steady basis. Alas. 

These paintings always come quickly with little hesitation or thought. I generally set up to work before Dusk when I am assured of the greatest number of colourful changes to come. This rapid procedure insures that I will be pushed out of the thought process as if I were improvising on the piano.

But the painting motif is simple just like the melody for the pianist. This allows the focus to be oriented around the harmonic key changes. And this is how the flow normally begins for both painters and pianists.   
 



27 March 2024

Vincent Van Gogh, the biggest con artist in history!


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 19 March 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here are three things from last week when the sky opened up between weather systems arriving from the Eastern seaboard. It was a lovely 'Bloom' but was a little short-lived as it shut down quickly. But while it lasted, Yes!

There are presented as they were successively painted. This top one, I really liked it right off the bat and for once, I stopped just in time because my guardian angel came to me in the form of a magpie which wandered around my easel while looking straight at me, she gently sang in that warbling kind of way they do here in OZ. So I said, 

"OK, Grace,,, I hear you, and thank you."

So I dutifully stopped work and left it despite my inclination to continue. It had come very quickly and I was grateful because when I haven't been painting out here so regularly I feel nervous. I'm badgered with questions on the 12 minute drive to the beach, (What am I doing? Shouldn't I find something else to paint? I'm too tired, too sore, so maybe I'll stay on the sofa and read). But somehow I almost always seem to show up regardless of ME. And like they say, I'm always taken care of,,, always.

In the second one, the sea had turned pale blue and afterwards when I had finished it felt a little spooky to me. Today it still does. I'm not sure why but maybe the orange sky feels a little too 'bloody'. But as many landscape painters will tell you; 

"Hey! it really looked like this!! No kidding around!"

But actually, I've got news for you, if the viewing public hasn't figured it already, I'll let you in on a big secret hiding in plain sight: All artists are liars! We're all liars, all of us,,,, we're con artists because the motif never really looks like we say it did, ask anyone. Ask Vincent Van Gogh, the biggest liar in Art history! 

Everything we do is distorted (ask Picasso), twisted (ask Chaim Soutine), fanciful (ask Marc Chagall) theatrical, Philip Guston, long-in-the tooth, ask Giacometti.

Everyone of us is a Pinocchio in a hoodie.

But regardless, it was wonderful to be out painting with a small breeze on my face and a rather empty beach save the usual suspects; beach walkers, a few surfers, the late afternoon bathers who finish work and come to jump in for a short splash, then back to family dinners or take-outs, and then Netflix for everyone. This Australian beach life is pretty laid back like most Australians are in general, pretty much everywhere around the world.


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 19 March 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

The last painting (below) was somewhat of an afterthought. The 'Bloom' had almost evaporated but I thought I might eek-out another study from the light traces of colour still imprinted on the sky. 

It's a strange picture that began with such promise but I lost it and my heart sank. Here it is anyway. As I say, all too redundantly here in these pages, only Time will tell if it's true.


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 19 March 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm




19 March 2024

Mail from beyond the grave



           


I just watched a new CNN report about the crash of TWA flight 800 back on the 17th of July 1997.  For so many of us who often flew this route from New York to Paris it hit home as these events always will. They become personalised.

I was back in Aix when it happened and like everyone else I was saddened. But the next year I was again back in Aix that summer and I received a large beaten-up looking envelope from the post office in Queens New York. I opened it not without curiosity and found this letter inside a small plastic bag. Accompanying it was a letter from the Queens Post office explaining that my letter had just been released by the FBI after their investigation into the TWA flight had been terminated and they were therefore allowed to deliver it to me. Shocked as I was happy to receive it under such macabre circumstances, I opened and read it.

It was from a friend with whom I shared a regular correspondence, John Spinks, an artist living in NY. There are several things about this that I need to note about this strange occurrence.

John, by habit, always wrote with a ball-point pen so thus the ink was pretty indelible, as seen in the photo above. On the other hand, had it been a letter from me to him it would not have survived because I have always written by habit, with a fountain pen, using blue/black ink that was almost never indelible. So it would not have survived the Atlantic Ocean. 

When I wrote back to John with a photo of his envelope he was naturally flabbergasted and because he worked principally with collage I believe he turned it into an art work almost immediately.

I am sure that many others received their mail like me after such a long time. Like every tragedy we seem to all be witnesses by varying degrees. 


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 7 March 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm 


In this spirit I offer up this study that was made about two weeks ago. The sea is deep, deep Blue Violet and Emerald Green that despite the bright summer yellow joy, it seems to possess a somber feeling. 

As a child, I remember swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in July and August at the height of the hot summers but this ocean always felt cold and black, like it could never warm up, unlike the Pacific. The Atlantic Ocean felt to me as a kid  like an old witch who could sink a sub for no reason at all.





16 March 2024

Tolstoy and death and painting

 This is a reprint of a small piece I posted almost three years ago. 



11 August 2021

Tolstoy and Christian Martel, peintre de Montpellier et La Drôme 



Christian Martel, (circa 2012) oil on linen, 25 X 20 cm

Christian was a friend for about 30 years before he died suddenly two years ago. The way he died reminded me of the short story by Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, which I read in high school so long ago. Though Christian did not at all live an 'ordinary life', as Tolstoy had described Ivan Ilyich, he did live a discreet and unglamorous life. He devoted himself, and all his resources, always, to his creativity, wherever that led him.  

Like many creative people he was extremely sensitive, so touchy that it became a joke between us when he would lower his head and say 'half-truthfully' 
"Oaui, Oaui,, Coffey la Brute!" 

Sometimes he would not take my calls for months on end until he got over it whatever it was that so upset him. But I did eventually stop teasing him when I finally realised that he was so fragile. I tempered my gregariousness and learned to temper my behaviour. I can be that way with people for whom I have a really great affection. Often, I needed to lay off and tell him: 
"Oui, oui, J'avoue qui je suis un Taquinuer au premier rang! Pardon-moi."

We always made up, that is to say that I always apologised in my light-hearted manner, only then, did we pick up where we had left off, sort of. 

He was a very gifted painter even if I didn't appreciate the skills he had picked up at the Beaux-Arts in Montpellier 500 years earlier while in school. He worked from photos of landscapes and industrial buildings from which he would invent small paintings. I was very critical of this approach to Painting, and let him know it whenever he asked my opinion of something he had done. But I learned to never throw out anything in an unsolicited manner.  Sensing my displeasure in something, he used to explain that they were 'tourist pictures' which sold. And he did support himself with the sales of these pictures, but also by teaching small groups of mostly adults each week. 

I admired him for the life which he had managed to create for himself. Life wasn't easy for him. I knew he struggled as an artist but it was mostly with himself, I believed. He was a survivor of his weird childhood. Me too, which is what bound us together. Our difficulty was fitting into a life where most people seemed to have so many other priorities. We both believed in Art, above else.

He often came and stayed for weeks at a time when I lived at the Bélvèdere in Dieulefit. Each night, we hosted anyone who showed up for dinner. Great wonderful improvised affairs, Summers, Springs and Autumn were a wonderful time outdoor on the terrace. We never ate indoors. We 'rugged up' with extra clothes, as the Aussies say down here. 

So, I have always loved this painting (above). I often told him that too, but he never understood why this one, but not others. It is a complete success as a picture, and now when I stare at it on my desktop, I think of him dead, gone forever. I find it ironic that, for me, this small church became such a great painting because I knew that he loathed churches. In fact, anything, remotely religious he loathed with a passion. Renaissance paintings, icons, statues; lovely and simple, and not even a  Romanesque church on hilltop in Nature could move him. No beauty withstood his rancorous disdain for anything connected to the Church. 

Ma foi!! 
Et Pourtant! Ironically, this little church, lit up from his imagination, is so very very lovely on every pictorial level. For it is unified by every tiny squiggle of colour and detail. It is embalmed in a black/red/purple mix of sky gripping it in place. It is this mass of deep colour which allows that pale blue sliver of artificial town lighting on the right side to work so well. 

It is a great little painting, a marvel of invention! If only I could write him this....from today.

I will not show his other work out of respect for this one picture, though he made so many small lovely things throughout his working life.

I read Ivan Ilyich when I was seventeen years old, when death seemed a million miles away from me. My teacher was an older man, a really nice guy who I liked. He was very moved by this short novella by Tolstoy, and this in turn, moved me. I understand now, at this later stage in my life just what my elder teacher had perhaps felt for the simplicity in this story of a banal life, even worse, a banal death.

And this brings me back to to Christian, who had survived Myeloma Cancer several years earlier only to fall down the narrow winding staircase in his apartment building one night. According to the coroner's report he died of a heart attack as a result of the fall.

I wonder what he would have thought of that ending? Actually,,,, I wonder what any of us would think of our own exits?