22 September 2022

seven small syllables to shake one's perspective




22 April 2022
                                                                 

I was watching a film the other night wherein two characters are obviously interested in each other and speaking on the telephone split screen. At one point the woman says to the man "I've been thinking of you".... after which a silent desire fills the empty pause.

Just seven syllables like a Haiku, marking a time and place that press this moment, out of all the others, into one's heart. This tiny sentence for any man or woman can set one's sails or break them, and it is the most underrated idiom in the whole wide world of Romance.

It is a poignant space, this place, where two people meet without gravity, with expectations often beyond their earthly hopes and dreams. 

I began to think about the sudden desire that lives within this small set of words as if they were a fragile necklace. They are uttered at the very onset of a love affair, at the front door, but sometimes much later too, if a couple is both lucky and thoughtful. 

But in each case it's an invitation to engage intimately, for it's a clean, embossed calling card that needs a reply, quickly.  

Hopefully, everyone has either received these small words or delivered them softly themselves as if whispered in a chapel or in a bed. 

And though we might seem to live in a world of busy and false expectations, Hi-Fi, Wi-Fi or Hi-Five, there is chance in every busy signal, for Cupid has all our numbers.  

Like a love story at its dark end, dusk too, at the close of each day, seems to poison the light with regretful refrain. 

I have picked out these images because they all share the bare minimum of anecdotal messaging. They speak to me of those six small words while they also place an intimate bookmark of time tracing my own appearance into this fragile part of the day. And they possess an uncertainty too, but not without an idea concrete enough to live within their own brushstrokes. 


10 September 2021


22 December 2021


21 April 2022


21 April 2022


16 July 2022


29 July 2022


30 January 2022


13 January 2020


11 May 2021


20 August 2018



12 September 2022

colours are perception and the greys between them are broken bridges




Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 April 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm


While driving home from the beach a few weeks back I was watching the deepening dusk turn from violet to Prussian blue, and in those passing moments, the simple and an obvious truth came to me: 

"that the more one paints, the more one sees".

Too simple, and almost a matter of fact, but like a large freckle on one's nose, and after decades of work, one could too easily overlook this fact. From there I reasoned that surely it would be the same for all other crafts, vocations or jobs and what-have-you. 

But just as certainly, it would only concern a commitment for which one would be willing to offer up one's whole life, for this is a choice of great personal investment. And it is reserved only for a vocation which also returns that investment 1000 fold with a clearer understanding of one's own life but possibly an empty bank account too. So curiously, it is not a viable way of life for an investment banker for instance. Mais Non! This only works for artists, artisans, scientists, athletes, writers, musicians, etc, etc,,, creative people for whom money is always a secondary goal. Money is great and essential, but it's still the cart before the horse.

One can spend a lifetime pursuing an answer (or question) that might give meaning to one's life. For most, it is to make a family and raise children, nurturing them well enough to face a difficult and oftentimes cold and unforgiving life. But for a creator, or any another other kind of obsessive oddball, isn't there also another kind of Holy Graal to strive for? It's both a question and answer, and it's something that one hopes might fix one's own flawed life by filling in a gap or those cracks. But maybe too, it's the thing that brings a sense of completion. 

Along these lines, here is a selection of a few images which reveal for me the somewhat disparate means by which one can see and paint the motif. How is a picture painted? It depends on the sky on any given day but also most importantly, it's what one sees in the sky and what one takes from it, rendering it through a visual alchemy.  


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 15 July 2021 oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 4 September 2020 oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

One can bring to a session a mind full of memories and images, or none. But what one does bring is embodied in so much of what one has been seeing and painting for so many years. Painting as a life's work is a cumulative endeavour, and if one isn't getting better at looking and seeing, then one should take up needlepoint, or just look for a new optometrist. 

I know a few wonderful painters whose work, sadly to note, went backwards in their lifetime by retreating from the great originality they had once exhibited. André Derain comes to mind, and he is an artist who went from these paintings below (done in 1906, and 1907, respectively) to the third picture done in Provence. 


AKG Museum in Buffalo, N.Y, 1906


 
The Guggenheim in Bilbao, 1907, Cassis (The Cap Canaille, pink on the left) 


(full disclosure, I love both of these paintings) These are two innovative pictures built up from within from extraordinary colour harmonies. The drawings in each, though different in conception, are unified and somewhat straight forward. Compare these with this insipid painting below, done in 1930, after he moved to Provence from the Côte d'Azur.
 

Collection of the Museum of Chicago, 1930 

Though this may be indeed a kind of painting to which many amateurs aspire, it is a step backwards from the exuberant invention of Derain's earlier work when he was considered one of the original Fauvists alongside Henri Matisse. Unlike Matisse who did go forward, propelling French Painting into une idée Moderne by breaking down perspective (one step further than Cézanne) and by expanding the explosion of colour (after Van Gogh), to inviting the New York school of Expressionism to flourish in America several years later, for better and worse.  

Seeing colour is a cumulative endeavour, an acquired taste, as it were. Where I see a peachy yellow cloud, many civilians (non-painters) might see what they think is 'just grey',  a misnomer and already, therein is the problem, for grey in this way doesn't exist at all. Grey is the relative result of any complimentary colours mixed together. And even worse, it's also but a 'perception' created by the eye. Colours are so interconnected in Nature that purity cannot exist because all colours are 'broken'. They are inherently a variation of pear grey, peach grey, plum grey or grape grey. And these colours mutate continually (especially at dusk) as they deepen into the colder tones of night as the colour wheel spins more rapidly. 

So theoretically, a working painter should develop an increasingly richer clarity around the nuances of colour as he/she works out on a motif in Nature because the more one paints, the more one sees.


05 September 2022

M' as tu vu? a catwalk of stripes



Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 24 August 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm



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



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


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 24 August 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm


Eight studies from over the past several weeks, a few of which were done on the same day while others, the day before or after, but they all seem to be born from my sometimes not so discreet obsession for most anything striped. I'm sure I have already spoken of my fascination with the main floor of the then, still existing Brooks Brothers, on Madison Avenue at 44th street. My father would take me shopping there when I came to visit him. It was an immense building with at least 10 or 12 floors but I would always get stuck on the large main area downstairs where ties were lovingly squeezed into special long wooden spaces resembling coffins made of dark wood. There were hundreds of them in rows three and four deep and they framed a kind of open square around the center of the room wherein clerks and salesmen (no women yet!) were busy watching for patrons coming in off the street, ready to  pounce. All those wonderful films of the 1940's reveal this exclusive world of white businessmen. Myself, I never needed help and they didn't fuss with me too much, I knew exactly how to appreciate this kaleidoscopic display of visual pleasure just like an epicurean facing a display of pasties at Boulangerie Chambelland in Paris. These multicoloured ties made me crazy in a way I wouldn't understand for another forty year's time. Shapes and sizes of each stripe, a cacophony of colour harmonies that threw themselves at the inchoate painter inside me. It went on and on, and as a young boy it was a visit to Ali Baba's cave of treasures, and I wanted all of them, at once and forever. And though I only enjoyed wearing ties for a few short years thereafter, my early love for this sartorial appendage seems to lurk forever in my unconscious, and in my closet too.

So in the end, these small pictures are just souvenirs of a quiet hour spent at the beach in front of a motif at dusk and far from the Madding Crowd. But curiously, they're also like models on a catwalk whose desires are to be seen with new and flashy outfits.

"M'as tu vu!!!"




Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 23 August 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 24 August 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 24 August 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm



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



31 August 2022

Billy Connolly's languor and the dead roses




It's Billy Collins day, I think to myself softly because I'm alone, and for me, this poem seems like a postcard of summer. And it's the last day of summer UP ABOVE, there in the Northern Hemisphere where my childhood once lived. But down here, DOWN-UNDER in Australia, it's the last day of winter. And to prove it, I hear the light buzz of crickets through the open window for the second night running.  

A dear friend whom I knew many years ago gave me this book sometime during our friendship, when we were still friends and shared secrets, before her two boys were killed on a freeway on their way back home to see her and her husband on that cruel hot day of July 23 2010. This day changed them both completely, as it would, of course. I am not sure they have ever recovered from this tragic loss. My friendship died too (her husband was never crazy about me in the first place to be honest, he just put up with me for her sake, which happens a lot more than we imagine) But with her, all the warmth dried up, dried out, desiccated, like frail roses in a dusty drawer over the following year after the incident. It wobbled for a while until I couldn't find anything more to say into her silence in which she now lived. Then I heard that she was cutting people out of her life like an impatient gardener weeding with poison. 

We were replaced by her dead boys' circle of friends, and one cannot argue with any of this, it is what it is, as they say. 

But I think of her sometimes, especially during the summer, and when I pull out this small book of poems. Here is one of my favourites.


              Languor 

I have come back to the couch-

hands behind my head,

legs crossed at the ankles-


to resume my lifelong study 

of the ceiling and its river-like crack,

it's memory of a water stain,


the touch of civilisation 

in the rounded steps of the moulding,

and the lick of time in the flaking plaster.


To move would only ruffle 

the calm surface of the morning,

and disturb shadows of leaves in the windows.


And to throw open a door 

would startle the fish in the pond,

maybe frighten a few birds from a hedge.


Better to stay here,

to occupy the still room of thought,

to listen to the dog breathing on the floor.



Better to count my lucky coins,

or redesign my family coat of arms-

remove the plow and hive, shoo away the bee.



28 August 2022

Lost and found and discovered dept. Tarsila do Amaral

 



I confess that I had never heard of this marvellous painter until I read in The New York Times that this painting (above), among others, had been stolen, but then recovered by the Brazilian Police. It was a sordid tale of deception by the daughter of an elderly widow whose husband had left her with a great collection of Art. I saw a cool video on VICE News of the recovery by the police unit the moment when they discover the picture, among others, hidden under the bed of one of the thieves.  

It always gives me a strange feeling to see art works being recovered by police from the various arcane hiding places in so many different country's around the world. Of course, it's not hard to understand why people steal works of art, as it's rarely for any other reason than for the money Ha Ha, but there are those rare and curious souls who feel compelled to do it out of an obsession for something which they cannot seem to live without. And this reason is easily the nobler of the two. 


These fragile pictures, like kidnapped orphans, are ripped from their walls, then stashed usually in sordid alcoves, attics, or other unholy places. These delicate works are later found and pulled from behind fake walls and out from under cheap box spring beds, or just left half-abandoned in sheds in the middle of snowy fields. If and when they are lucky enough to be found, they will find themselves back on the bright warmth of a museum wall, or comfy home to the delight of us all. 

I will let "Grampa" Google guide those, curious enough to look further into her life, for it was an interesting one (better than me re-hashing informational notes which I would've picked off the internet anyway, and because I knew nothing about her, with no opinions nor passions). 

For myself, when I first glimpsed this painting (above) I was captivated, and this is rare. I just love the bold colours and the general harmonies that speak to a particular kind of drawing. For me (again), it seemed quite flat at first, but I quickly saw that the 'drawing' comprises several layers of 'distance' all the way back to the horizon line where a small sun (setting or rising?) wears an oversized cape of orange waves. It's clever and sophisticated, yet looks so simple which is a 'tell', and usually means it's a good painting. 

I don't know what those creatures are in the foreground, (beavers most likely) but it doesn't matter because they serve as a way into the picture by creating this foreground which is usually the entry point into a painting. The beavers in the cool blue of the water are warm in colour, as are the rays of the sun, and all this allows for such cool bluish green foliage to sit into the middle ground with a calm, almost like statues. 

I don't know,.... it's a wonderful painting because it hides its talent and explodes with joy. It surprises, and it works. What else can be asked of a painting?

She really deserves a more in-depth text but that will be for another time. I just wanted to pass on my surprise and admiration for such an originally painter.

Below, are some screenshots I clipped from a cute short video made a visually talented staffer at the Museum of Chicago for their show of Tarsila four years ago.






























Who cannot love theses colours?































20 August 2022

Margo Robbie, John Keats, and the problems of great beauty

 

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 July 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This is a picture from a few weeks ago which came up as a surprise because at the time I had felt so uneasy about what I was seeing. The motif appeared too pretty and I was doubtful of coming up with anything from it; in a word, it was too beautiful, sweet, almost cloyingly so. Ha! And in front of such beauty (when it comes to women) I tend to shrink away like a toad. But in Painting, in particular, 'Beauty' is really really hard to pull off without it appearing sappy or sentimental.  

I have never been able to paint a 'beautiful' woman for that same reason. I am someone who admires beauty but at the same time, in Painting, I need the flaws, the marks of originality and 'imperfection'. Outside in the real world I am uncomfortable in front of a beautiful woman anyway, so with a blank canvas and a beautiful woman I am a nervous wreck. And yet I have painted a few women who are very nice looking but just not real beauties who shine for the camera, those lucky gals who seem to live in the outer space of real glamour. 

Of course it's all superficial but this is the teleport fantasy world we seem to live in. And then there is 'pretty' but not to compare with real beauty. Think of Margo Robbie, whose beauty seems almost unreal. It's hard to imagine someone winning the corporal lottery like this. She is so remarkable, I had to see several films before I could trust her cinematic presence and admire her as a great actor with a sensitive intelligence. She isn't pretty, but beautiful and glamorous, a million miles away from everyone. 

And though the physical beauty of someone can be real, it's almost certainly contingent upon the conventions of the day but with tiny exceptions. As Rita Hayworth said so iconically; "Men go to bed with Gilda but wake up with Rita". 

So, beauty is a complicated subject, and today, more than ever, it's been turned on its head. In the world of Contemporary Art it has been even despised and much maligned, spurned like evil Igor. But hey! We can deal with it! "Beauty is truth", as John Keats so admirably mused so long ago, and he quickly added "Truth, beauty". As a painter I am all in with this poetic truth of his. I know I seem to go on about this for years now, ad infinitum,.. but hey! That's why I have this space! 

But getting back to this particular evening at the beach raises all this talk and thinking, because beauty in Nature for a painter is very complicated. How indeed, to render its beauty but without all the sappy sentimentality that so often goes along with it? Too many painters fail, I know because I have failed too many times. So for me, it is in the flaws that hold the keys to accessing this secret.  

I have often used the analogy of rock climbing with Painting because the painter, like the climber, needs the cracks and fissures, the tiny veins and small scratchy holes allowing him or her to find their way up an insurmountably steep smooth rock face which to an observer might look sweetly innocent. Like the climber I need a subject's flaws to access the means to reveal the ephemeral beauty. But I am limited to using just a bunch of primary colours and hog-haired brushes. How can one avoid this sappy sentimentality? What means does an enthralled painter utilise to strip the motif of its superficial sweetness in order to find Rita each morning?  

And so my motif at the beach (above) was way too pretty, far too saccharine, and I needed to find a means to reveal its inner beauty without using tricks of the trade, nor painterly flourishes, no cosmetic make-up. Did I succeed? Who knows? I like it, but then, only timeless eternity will tell if it enters into the Pantheon of Beauty and Truth.