29 October 2013

Susan Sontag on Howard Hodgkin #6

"My pictures tend to destroy each other when they are hung too closely together." Hodgkin has remarked. No wonder. Each picture is, ideally, a maximum seduction. Harder for the picture to make its case if, at the distance from which it is best seen, one is unable to exclude some adjacent solictations. But the viewer may be tempted to solve the problem, abandoning the proper distance from which all the picture's charms may be appreciated to zero in for immersion in sheer cold-bliss -- what Hodkin's pictures can always be counted on to provide.

27 October 2013


When watching 
A boat's wake, is it
Longing or regret? 

25 October 2013

War Horse and Piero

Last night we went to see an amazing production of the very popular War Horse here in London. I saw the film on an airplane last year but I didn't care for it.  Then by chance, I saw a documentary on the making of this theatre production and was so impressed that I had to see it. Well, it is truly great theatre. The life-size horses are so horsey, every twitching of the ears and tail so exquisitely executed by these artists. A remarkable experience and if one finds oneself in London don't miss it.

Meanwhile, at the British Museum there is an exhibition of Shunga, the art of erotic painting in Japan. Very interesting!

I make my bi-annual pilgrimage to see Paolo Uccello and Piero della Francesca at the National Gallery. Of course, there is so much 'Contemporary' Art to see here but I always return to see these things from the past. They are still so remarkable after all these years. So alive, so full of colour and imagination, that I am pulled back each time I come to London. Alas, its hard to find photos because the National Gallery does not permit reproduction of their images. A great shame as I have lots of things to say about them but here is a link to a small talk in front of the Baptism of Christ (at the National Gallery) which is kind of quirky but interesting. Viva la pittura!


24 October 2013

Klee and Maupassant

After a week of driving through Brittany, through marvelous countryside alongside the Atlantic Ocean I ended up at Étretat before taking the boat to England. A week full of clouds and sea, where the weather seemed to change in a blink of an eye. Driving up through the autumnal landscape of Normandy felt like swimming in pages of Maupassant. 

To the Tate Modern this afternoon to see a show of Paul Klee. Some interesting earlier pieces, wonderful color. However, I cannot help but be confused by so much of his work as a whole but I liked this small text of his.

'Formally we used to represent things which were visible, things we either liked to look at or would have liked to have seen. Today we reveal the reality that is behind visible things, thus expressing the belief that the visible world is merely an isolated case in relation to the universe and that there are many more other latent realities. Things appear to assume a broader and more diversified meaning, often seemingly contradicting the rational experience of yesterday. There is a striving to emphasize the essential character of the accidental'.
           Creative Confessions 1920, Paul Klee

22 October 2013


Sucking up the sea
The great elephant
Of Étretat.

20 October 2013


At the ocean
No church bells marking time
Just waves to remember.

18 October 2013

Susan Sontag on Howard Hodgkins #5

The attack on art - for being, just art - has to have been abetted by modernism's peculiar, reductive way of affirming the autonomy of art, which derived much of its energy by denying the idea of hierarchy among kinds of art. Shorn of the support of received ways of discriminating among subjects and destinations, the nature of pictures was inexorably subjectivized; and archly plebeianized.
The two leading assertions in this reduced field of saying this painter. The painter asserts that the pictures don't need to be "explained". The painter explains that the  pictures should, properly be regarded as "things".

16 October 2013


Maybe an artist is just a human being who willfully needs to embrace death each day.

13 October 2013


Autumn wind-
A few stubborn chestnut leaves 
Refuse to fly. 

11 October 2013

gotta love this guy #20 (Saul Leiter)

In No Great Hurry - 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter TRAILER from Tomas Leach on Vimeo.

his artist notebook covers which I really love almost as much as his photographs.

“There are certain people who like to be in the swing of things, but I think I’ve been out of the loop a lot of the time. When Bonnard died, one critic accused him of not participating in the great adventures of Modernism. And Matisse wrote a letter in which he defended Bonnard, saying that when he saw the Bonnards in the Phillips collection, he told Mr. Phillips, ‘Bonnard was the strongest of us all.’
I’m not like those photographers who went up to the top of the mountain and hung over and took a picture that everyone said was impossible and then went home and printed it and sold 4,000 copies of it and then went on and on with one great achievement after another.
Max Kozloff said to me one day, ‘You’re not really a photographer. You do photography, but you do it for your own purposes – your purposes are not the same as others’. I’m not quite sure what he meant, but I like that. I like the way he put it.”
Saul Leiter

09 October 2013

Rococo, Morocco

Its just plain awful to come back to Morocco and to feel that one has repeated the same kinds of drawings one has done on previous trips. Tangiers is a tough town. After a week  here I am glad to be leaving. I have done several hundred drawings like the ones above. They are really sketches in most people's eyes. And they are certainly not pretty little tourist scenes of Moroccan people. They are hard, and difficult to access, just like the life here. 

Many of them are done with a large magic marker. This is new for me, and it provides a kind of sweeping gesture of spontaneity. But also, I have used ink and brush, as well as  a bamboo stick which acts like a quill pen. They are done quickly, often in just a few seconds. I do them in my small, beloved MUJI notebooks.

And now the week is over, and I fly out tonight. What is done is done, as they say.

05 October 2013

Naive in Tangiers

I picked up this marvelous little painting in the Souk, here in Tangiers yesterday. It reminds me of why I like Henri 'Douanier' Rousseau so very much. There is the 'naive' quality to it but, that is an almost condescending way of describing his work. Imagine if Thelonious Monk was described as 'Naif' just because he played off key when he felt like it?

Tangiers, I first visited almost 40 years ago when I arrived on a boat from Marseille with a girlfriend named Michelle. We stayed at a place called the Florida Hotel on the Port, and when we had sex at night she screamed so loudly that at breakfast each morning everyone stared at us. It was a very small hotel.

For me, Morocco is filled with sadness, and the poverty can be overwhelming. I have been back several times to Rabat, Cassblanca, Marrakech and Essaouira to the south. The last time I was here I went to Safi and I swore I wouldn't return... but look! Here am I, once again. Like the runner at the end of a Marathon swearing to himself: 
"This is the very last one!"
And yet, its not but a few weeks later, and one finds him training again for another. 

Besides, its good for the kind of drawings I make; fast and spontaneous, ones with my own sense of the tragic implicitly embedded within them because, as Hemingway once famously said: "One cannot be an artist without first having had an unhappy childhood".

04 October 2013

two very small paintings


                          T. Coffey

                       Alan Roberts

I recently visited the studio of Alan Roberts who runs the Leo Marchutz School in Aix-en-Provence. He brought out two small paintings (maybe 15cm across each) which we had both painted side by side. I had, of course, forgotten them. It was so long ago when we used to go out into the landscape and paint together in the Vaucluse (pre-Peter Mayle). Looking at them together we realized that they must have been done around 1976, winter probably. Its amazing to me how similar they feel yet different, like twins of the same womb but from separate eggs. They smell of "French Impressionism" because we were both so heavily influenced by Cezanne, Pissaro, Monet, Sisley, and Van Gogh... And why not? They were such great teachers. We also had the advantage of working in their own backyards far beyond the pages of an art history book. We went into the landscape of Provence and hoped to learn something about painting. Seeing these small things side by side evokes such memories for me... How fast it all goes by!.... what is there to show for it all?.... et pourtant,... maybe a few paintings in the end... But looking at them together, I confess that I like Alan's more than my own.

03 October 2013


October moon-
The bitter taste of Autumn
In the last melon.

01 October 2013


The red sofa
Belongs to a friend
And its empty.