30 April 2010


Arrived last night from Australia, two long flights and a train to Montelimar. In bed at midnight after a shower. I heard a lone nightingale through the open windows. Tonight will film Jacques Martin's two Chechov pieces. 

20 April 2010


From Paul Valéry

"Perhaps what we call perfection in art....... is no more than the sense of wanting, or finding in a human work that certainty of execution, that inner necessity, that indissoluble, reciprocal union between design and matter which I find in the humblest seashell."

19 April 2010


Right aspiration is what develops in the mind once we understand that freedom of choice is possible. Life is going to unfold however it does: pleasant or unpleasant, disappointing or thrilling, expected or unexpected, all of the above! What a relief it would be to know that whatever wave comes along, we can ride it out with grace. If we got really good at it, we could be like surfers, delighting especially in the most complicated waves.

What Right Aspiration translates to in daily action is the resolve to behave in a way that stretches the limits of conditioned response. If I want to build big biceps, I need to use every opportunity to practice lifting weights. If I want to live in a way that is loving and generous and fearless, then I need to practice overcoming any tendency to be angry or greedy or confused. Life is a terrific gym. Every situation is an opportunity to practice. In formal Buddhist language, this is called the cultivation of nonhatred, nongreed, and nondelusion

--Sylvia Boorstein, Its Easier Than You Think

18 April 2010


"Aragon set to work at once on an essay which he secretly hoped would grow into a book, delivering his text as he wrote it a few pages at a time and discussing each fresh batch with Matisse, who returned his visitor's scrutiny with interest ("He, whose portraits I thought I was drawing, had started to draw mine"). Matisse made nearly three dozen  portrait sketches of Aragon: "The pencil flies over the great sheet of paper fast, as fast as possible, as if it were trying to beat a record..... Matisse does not for one moment glance down at his hand". The sitter did not care for the results at first, claiming they looked nothing like him. Matisse had drawn an invincibly confident interrogator -- debonair, fresh-faced, unmistakably boyish -- when his subject was in fact fort-four year old, then to the point of malnutrition like practically everyone in wartime France, permanently anxious about friends missing or murdered by the Gastopo, and harrowed by thoughts of his own mother, who lay dying far away in the Lot. It took time for Aragon to recognize anything of himself in these drawings, longer still to realize that they captured not one "but thirty of my different selves," and longest of all to acknowledge that Matisse's humorous, glancing, gliding, inimitably casual line had penetrated him to the core.

"Painter and poet were haunted that spring by phantoms neither mentioned and both pretended not to see. Aragon, whose mother died on 2 March, returned to Nice after the funeral to find her ghostly presence looking back at him from Matisse's latest drawing, wearing precisely the expression she had worn on her deathbed. ("I have exactly my mother's mouth, not my own, the mouth of my mother Matisse had never seen"). His own heightened sensitivity made him aware of another spectral comparison, unseen but palpable, a sinister "character called Pain" who lurked in the painter's shadow, goading and jabbing, sometimes retreating to the doorway with a sardonic yawn but always ready to pounce and reclaim his victim. Matisse was often white and withdrawn, wincing from something worse than routine discomfort (which he complained about only occasionally in letters to his daughter). A crisis at the end of march -- fever, dizziness, palpitations -- left him too weak to hold a pencil. He caught pleurisy, and had trouble with his ears. Aragon said he never looked well again. The Preface was completed in late April, a month before Aragon was forced to flee Nice with Elsa, taking a portrait drawing as a present ("I made off with it like a thief", he wrote, "I had the feeling I was dismantling the Louvre") Matisse, who had almost completed the thirty lithographs he planned to accompany Ronsard's poems, was looking forward to two months in Geneva in the summer, overseeing the printing with Skira. "But I felt uneasy," wrote Aragon. "The stranger sneering in the shadows"

Matisse, the Master, Hilary Spurling

17 April 2010


Before we do anything, we should we always ask ourselves whether we will be able to do it properly and complete it. If the answer is no, we should not start. Leaving tasks uncompleted creates a habit for the future. So once we have begun something, we should be sure not to go back on our decision.

Self-confidence is not to be confused with pride. Pride is thinking highly of oneself without good reason. Self-confidence is knowing that one has the ability to do something properly and being determined not to give up.

Ordinary beings are prepared to make a good deal of effort for relatively insignificant ends. We have promised to work for the immensely more important goal of liberating all beings, so we should cultivate great self-confidence, thinking, even if I am the only one to do so, I will benefit all beings.

-The Dalai Lama, A Flash of Lightening in the Dark of Night.

16 April 2010


"I work without a theory.....I am conscious only of the forces I use, and I am driven by an idea that I really only grasp as it grows with a picture."

So, said Matisse, in the thirties, when he was criticized and mocked by various  sections of society. The Artistic Left, (much of the Bloomsbury crowd) in England despised both his work for its bourgeois inclinations and his boring personality. Even Venessa Bell and Duncan Grant who would paint the same subject matter just a few years later. Matisse was vilified by the intellectual French Left because his work didn't possess the 'an idea" as opposed to Picasso whose work presumably did.

Today, Sotheby's in London will auction the paint above. It will go for a great deal of money, which isn't the point, but it is ironic. What is celebrated today will not necessarily be celebrated in 80 years time while the reverse is is often the case.

15 April 2010

Leunig's Wabi-Sabi

The painting's development is taking him by surprise, as if some brilliant other is creating. Energy is returning to the studio. The Zen idea of Wabi-Sabi is happily in play: the value of the unfinished, the impermanent and the imperfect. The words of Picasso have come to light: "I do not search, I find" The artist is creating his way out of trouble. He is making things he has never made before. 

At the end of the day he is exhausted, but in good spirits and he sleeps well. In the morning he rushes out to see what has been created, and lo and behold -- an epiphany of delight from the previous day's struggle greets him and embraces his imagination.  he has forgotten the terrors of descending into the unknown, but at least he knows that in order to create something truly joyous he'll need faith, love and poetic strength enough to lose the plot and do it all over again.

Thank You Michael Leunig for your frank wisdom.

14 April 2010

Leunig's rapture

So in this little breakdown the artist plays and muddles about without restraint, doing reckless things he wouldn't normally consider. He starts to enjoy what his delinquent hand id doing and marvels at the improbable shapes and marks that are appearing in the ruins of his failed and timid work: the way the pink has smeared into the vermillion and the way the pale blues shines through the scratches. To his amazement he starts to find mysteries and tantalizing elements in the disorder. He starts to recognize old visual pleasures and fresh new ones. he sees that his hand has a mind of its own and has painted a bemused face into the otherwise dreary branches of the tree; and the lackluster hills he had attempted are now a sleeping woman who smiles in peaceful rapture. He loves what is being painted. Love and recognition are working together and he's enchanted by the beautiful mess of it all.

part 5

13 April 2010

Leunig's melt

In the privacy of the studio at this point, anger and the need to transgress or lash out may arise. Sudden revengeful and destructive could result in the half-finished painting being vandalized -- perhaps by a few slashes with a brush load of paint or a lighthearted and irreverent doodle into the wet surface with a fingernail. What is there to lose? The painting is already a lost cause -- why not play and experiment in the ruins before tossing it aside? It could be fun. Perhaps a private infantile pleasure might compensate for all the disappointment.

The essential quality  of playing freely is enjoyment. We play to please ourselves. It awakens the sleeping part of our imagination --  and allows the exhausted part to have a much needed sleep: a situation conductive to invention, insight and originality. The true self is free to romp about in pleasure; to dabble like a duck, to take chances and discoveries or mistakes without consequence. In such joyous abandonment inhibitions melt a special sensitivity is primed, windows fly open and a fresh vision becomes possible. Art and love may intertwine and flourish.

part 4

12 April 2010

Leunig's descent

Where lesser artists would call it a day and depart form the squalor, he feels compelled to stay -- as if to stubbornly defend himself from failure. Yet what is happening is a liberation; a stripping away of theory, aspiration and identity -- a humiliation which is strangely enlivening. The ego has come a cropper. He is lost and far from home. Everything he knows is of little use. Instead of an ascent into art heaven as hoped for, there has been a painful descent into wretchedness. The artist has regressed and ended up in the mud with feelings of despair, shame, anxiety, regret and self disgust. He is now beginning to resemble a genius. What the muse has given to him is not an artwork as he had thought, but the hidden doorway into the desolate unknown -- plus enough Eros and daring to enter.

part 3

10 April 2010

Leunig's spark

I will now relate how an artist frequently gets into the unknown --- and the point of this story could equally apply to making a human relationship work as much as to creating an artwork.

The artist in this simplified story is a painter. He gets an idea for a painting. The muse has paid a visit, the light has come on, inspiration has struck -- whatever -- and now the idea must be given form. The urge is powerful, the feeling exuberant and the approach is confident. So the artist gets organized and with high hopes sets about  transcribing the vision, from his mind on to the canvas.

After working for a while he starts to sense that things are sagging somewhat and the painting looks very boring. It has no spirit. It looks competent enough but lacks the spark and mystique that was in his mind at the beginning. Something has been lost in the translation. How odd; it is not transcribing.

So he redoubles his efforts and sets about rescuing the situation, but to his dismay it only seems to get worse. He becomes frustrated and anxious, and works harder to redeem things but it just gets drearier, and the more he tries, the more the life drains out of it. After all his hours of ernest work, it looks ludicrous, pretentious and soulless. What lies before him now is a full-blown expression of his delusional art pomposity. He feels delusional, failed, and foolish. 

At this point, he could scrape the canvas clean and walk away -- or else title the painting "The Wreckage of my Ego" and hang it on his  studio wall as a humbling reminder. Painting teaches much about failure. Instead, as if inspired by divine perversity, he decides to stay with the disaster and to deepen his disturbance. He hangs his head and utters many forlorn words such as  "Oh Shit" or "Oh God,  my God", why has thou forsaken me?" He has spoken  the magic words of surrender; they are the secret passwords, announcing that he is now on his painful journey downwards into the darkness. He feels appalling.

Part 2

09 April 2010


My brother Mark gave me a copy of this article. Micheal Leunig is a wonderfully dark artist whose cartoons appear in The Sydney Morning Herald. Apparently he paints too.
"Knowledge brings power and light but does not necessarily bring wisdom or happiness. It can be a blessing but can also be hoarded  and used to cause harm. Much of what we know is hearsay and mass-minded falsehood. Even accurate information can be like barnacles  and cholesterol --- it can harden, build up and block the flow. It can cramp our lives and become a cause of ignorance and illness. The search for knowledge has a great and noble history and a dark destructive one. Knowledge requires care.

Surely we need times of relief from what we know. We need the pleasure and freedom of negative capability: the capacity to live well with uncertainty and the willingness to say gladly, "I don't know." We might also wonder: does the soul need to know a single thing? Does love know, or is there another form of aliveness available to the inner self?

In my life's work as an artist the creations that I have loved the most -- the pieces of work that have ultimately brought me the greatest happiness and value -- were those usually produced in a strange, uncomfortable state that could be called the "unknown".

Experience has taught me that "not knowing" does wonders for the creative juices. This, of course, implies that I have discovered a reliable means of producing art and that all I have to do is to slip into the unknown and work away at it until the new creation is in the bag. Alas, it is never so easy or pleasant. The truth is that this  fertile state is usually a horrible and painful place to be in. So nasty is that after visiting there you never want to return -- but return you do; again and again; many , many times You can't really get there by intention, you end up there, usually through failure and calamity."

part 1

08 April 2010


I watched half of "The Thief of Baghdad" into the wee early hours the other night.
I remember it from my childhood. There were a few great moments but one especially when the prince meets the princess who had never been seen by any living man, except him, when he steals into her secret garden and was immediately smitten with her. He hides in a tree and when she looks into the pond below she sees his reflection in it and thinks him to be a genie. 

"Who are you?" she asks him.

"I am your slave" he replies quickly (and without a trace of irony! you gotta love the forties!)

07 April 2010


When we study Buddhism, we learn about the view and the meditation as supports for encouraging us to let go of ego and just be with things as they are..... These supports are often likened to a raft. You need the raft to cross the river, to get to the other side; when you get there, you leave the raft behind. That's an interesting image, but in experience its more like the raft gives out on you in the middle of the river and you never really get to solid ground.

-Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are

06 April 2010


Imagine walking along a sidewalk with your arms full of groceries, and  someone roughly bumps into you so that you fall and your groceries are strewn all over the ground. As you rise up from the puddle of broken eggs and tomato juice, you are ready to shout out, "You idiot! What's wrong with you? Are you blind?" But just before you can catch your breath to speak, you see that the person who bumped you is actually blind. He, too, is sprawled in the spilled groceries, and your anger vanishes in an instant, to be replaced by sympathetic concern: "Are you hurt? Can I help you up?"

Our situation is like that. When we clearly realize that the source of disharmony and misery in the world is ignorance, we can open the door of wisdom and compassion. Then we are in a position to heal ourselves and others.

-- B. Alan Wallace, Tibetan Buddhism from the Ground Up 

05 April 2010


It is possible to take our existence as a "sacred world,"  to take this place as open space rather than claustrophobic dark void. It is possible to take a friendly relationship to our ego natures, it is possible to appreciate the aesthetic play of forms in emptiness, and to exist in this place like majestic kings of own consciousness. But to do that, we would have to give up grasping to make everything come out the way we daydream it should. So, suffering is caused by ignorance, or suffering exaggerated by ignorance or ignorant grasping and clinging to our notion of what we think should be, is what causes the "suffering of suffering." The suffering itself is not so bad, its the resentment against suffering that is the real pain.

--Allen Ginsberg, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Vol. 2, #1

04 April 2010


La Honte 150 X 150 cm 1998

So, its Easter. A time of year for Christians, and other curious souls to contemplate the metaphor of sacrifice and death. As well, its the time of year for us to think about re-birth and redemption. This year in particular, we are obliged to think about hypocrisy and molestation. What would Jesus (if he were alive today) think about the present Vatican, its perversions; its obsessive devotion to political power?

Its such a shame for Catholics but I still believe in redemption.

03 April 2010


                    1999                 150 cm X 80 cm

In spiritual life there is no room for compromise. Awakening is not negotiable; we cannot bargain to hold on to things that please us while relinquishing things that do not matter to us. A lukewarm yearning for awakening is not enough to sustain us through difficulties involved in letting go. It is important to understand that anything that can be lost was never truly ours, anything that we deeply cling to only imprisons us.

--Christina Feldman and Jack Kornfield,
Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart

02 April 2010


Buddha was not interested in the elements comprising human beings, nor in metaphysical theories of existence. He was more concerned with how he himself existed in this moment. That was his point. Bread is made from flour. How flour becomes bread when put in the oven was for Buddha the most important thing. How we become enlightened was his main interest. The enlightened person is some perfect, desirable character, for himself and for others. Buddha wanted to know how human beings develop this ideal character -- how various sages in the past became sages. In order to find out how dough became perfect bread, he made it over and over again, until he became quite successful. That was his practice.

--Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

01 April 2010


Le poisson d'Avril creates havoc in small schools all over Europe. In France school children cut out small pieces of colored paper in the shape of fish and slap them on the backs of their comrades in class. This is the day when small devils dance. When the jokers from each and every card pack jump from their tiresome duties, away from the seriousness of all those Kings and Jacks; the sad looking Queens. This is their time to play.

Every year on this day I call my friend Bernard (Poussey) Tessier at the Chateaunoir outside of Aix-en-Provence. Yesterday, I told him that I had returned from Australia but had gone out on a fishing trawler for a week off Spain to catch tuna, telling him that I was calling from the ship's satellite phone...... Last year I said that I had again returned and was actually eating Bouillabaisse at a restaurant in Marseille..... I've learned to pull him along slowly, reeling him in with the delicate care of a nimble fly fisherman. (tirer la langue, faire marcher)