30 November 2013


Here at the beach
The wrinkled legs run
Waves into sea.

Cousin Jules

Here is a trailer for a documentary film shot over several small years and released in 1973. It was made by Dominique Benicheti who filmed his cousin Jules with his wife at their farm in the region of Burgundy, France. I am impatient to see this film which was re-mastered digitally, and is now making the rounds in New York. It looks wonderful. 
Ah,,, zeez French,... so slow, so sensual!

28 November 2013

Saul Leiter, 1923 - 2013

There is a man who sells melons at the market just in front of the Palais de Justice in Aix-en-Provence. He has been there for 40 years at least, and I remember him from so many years ago alongside his mother who has since passed on. He had hair then and was slim, (ditto for me). Now he is round, and alone, but still presides over large tables filled with melons during the summer months. He sang out a musical phrase which was belted out in his youth, and, which he still does because I heard it in August. 

...'Toute les bonnes choses ont fin… les melons de Cavaillon!...venez vite, toute les bonne choses ont fin...les bons melons de Cavaillion...venez vite'

(All good things must end, the melons of Cavaillion, come quick, all good things must end, the melons of Cavaillion...come quick)

It was sung out in a thick provençial accent over the noisy din of the crowded market place, just one of many voices, but a beautiful one which has stayed in my imagination for all these years. 

And today, I find out that Saul Leiter has died in New York. He was not just another  great photographer in the vein of Henri-Cartier Bresson but an original himself. I love  the painterly feel of 'messiness' in his images, and of course he painted as well. He was an unpretentious 'nuts-and-bolts' kind of craftsman (like Bresson) whose poetic images are simple, and fused with subtle color harmonies. He just went out with his camera everyday and shot what pleased him, no bullshit. But he wasn't just a craftsman, but an artist with a camera, and his wonderful eye. 

(check this link for an interesting interview  with Tomas Leach, the Director of the film In No Great Hurry which was made recently)


25 November 2013

fun for a minute!

1 Minute Video: Life in a Bucket from George Humphreys on Vimeo.

Joyce Cary, Art and Reality

I picked this book up many years ago and raced through it too quickly as I am often prone to do with many meaningful things in life. I gave away my copy years ago but while perusing Ebay recently I found another one and immediately bought it. Joyce Cary was a very interesting man. He painted, and he became a writer after a long career in the Diplomatic Corps of the British Empire in Africa. He created the infamous character of Gulley Jimson in his very funny novel "The Horse's Mouth written in 1944. It was made into that marvelous film starring Alec Guinness who wrote the screenplay.

I have been going through this book again, and still find it full of intriguing insights as he explores the delicate subjects of art, education and cultural meaning. I don't always agree with him, but I find his ideas are sharp and full of conviction. I wonder how he might confront the Post-Modern aesthetic of today's Academic world for instance?  
He died in 1957 and this book of essays was published posthumously in 1958. 

Chapter X, (Value and Meaning)

  The growth of every soul is mysterious and full of chances. It is the dream of every Utopian to throw luck out of the world - the luck of birth, of brains, of fate - to make all destinies equal. That is a dream that can't be realized. The world is inescapably shot through with luck, because it is also shot through with freedom. It is in the field given over to luck, the field of the unconditioned, that the free soul operates, and one man's art is another's luck, one teacher's prejudice is the making or the ruin of a poet. 
  Luck remains and children will always have a different abilities, different kinds of home, different fates, in experience. But it is still the duty of government and parents to battle with luck, to try to give the equal chance. And the front of that battle is education. The education of the writer is necessarily the education offered to other children, and what I am arguing is that it can't be too good, too definite. You can't preserve his youthful intuition. The child poet and writer, in my own experience, loses his powers even more quickly than the child painter. For he starts his education in the arts of the word, he is getting ideas about life, while the other is still being allowed to amuse himself with a cloud box.
  No one, in short, escapes a conceptual and technical education in the use of words and ideas, and the only question is, how good  should it be. I'm saying that it should be as good as possible. For the chance of destroying an original genius by too much scholarship, too rigid a conceptual drill, is much less than  that of leaving  him, when  at least he is ready to do mature work, with a muddled mind and a feeble grasp of elementary technique. 
  The most sensible critic of the artistic education agrees to the absolute necessity of factual and conceptual knowledge and a dogmatic framework to give these facts value and meaning. But he says the trouble is not there but in the bias of the teachers who convey their own prejudices, who try to form their pupils's tastes, to bring them to be little copies of their teachers. This, he says, is the real disaster in academic education, not only for artists, but musicians, writers, architects. The old men who have a grip on all the schools, on all the universities, hate the original mind. They can't understand it and, as pedants, they hate what they can't understand. Why not then get rid of bias and find teachers without it? let them teach without bias. let them teach the facts, suggest a meaning for the facts, offer a theory to explain them, but not as an irrefutable dogma. For instance, let them say of poetry, "This is Wordsworth's theory about good writing, but it was not the Pope's. Take your chance.' or of history , "this is how Marx explains the march of events, and this is the Cambridge history. Here are the arguments, make up your own mind.'
  There is a lot of truth and sense in this argument. For most teaching, especially in the arts, has a good deal of bias. The fact that students catch their tastes as well as their ideas from their teachers, that the pupils of an art school copy the style of some dominant master, is a commonplace. And there is no doubt it is a pretty  common cause why some of them never form an original idea or style. But can your teacher hides his bias? If he does, will he be any good as a teacher? Is not the good teacher precisely a man of strong convictions who can them over?

21 November 2013

Mica and Myla

This is very interesting:

At first, artist Mica Angela Hendricks didn’t want her four-year-old daughter near her new sketchbook. She is serious about her art, and she knew little Myla would want to scribble all over the pages. Then, her daughter said the words that changed everything. “If you can’t share, we’ll have to take it away.”
She had used her own mother’s words against her, and now Mica had no choice but to indulge Myla. She let her daughter finish one of her sketches, and pretty soon, they had a whole collection of collaborations.

This may be cruel but I think the mother should be very, very grateful to her daughter. These drawings have been moved from mere illustration up to a whole other level of imagination.  

Here is the site of these two clever women:

addendum, Piero della Francesca

This incredible detail eluded me the other day. In a way it looks even better by itself

20 November 2013


Mathilde de l'Ecotais from Romain de l'Ecotais on Vimeo.

Great Books # 3 (The Hare with Amber Eyes)

I know, I know,... I always seem to be the last person to 'discover' the latest author of renown. However, this is a beautifully written Memoir, and its hard to put down.

19 November 2013

Jiang Qing and the fairy cave

This is a photograph taken by Mao Zedong’s fourth wife, Jiang Qing, and sold just recently for $64,000. 
Entitled ”Fairy Cave on Lushan Mountain,” it was taken in 1961 during a trip that Mao and his wife took to Lushan, a mountainous region in the southeastern Chinese province of Jiangxi. 

Regardless of who took it, or where it came from, I find it quite extraordinary. It makes one wonder about education in the end, because I don't think that a school can teach 'art':  Its a gift located in that space separating a human being with the Natural world which encloses each of us here on earth. It can arrive at any moment, to anyone, and isn't that what makes it all so interesting?

18 November 2013

Piero della Francesca, up close

Twice a year I make a pilgrimage to see this painting which hangs in an alcove in the Sainsbury Collection of the National Gallery in London. One sees it on approach from down the vast hallway. Just to its right hangs The Nativity which is also a rare beauty, but that's for another day. This wonderful painting is haunting, and I am just one of many lovers of Piero della Francesca who come to marvel at its strange beauty. And isn't all beauty strange? If it weren't; what would separate it from all which is essentially banal and vulgar? It comes to my mind that somehow Beauty is seen to be perfection, and this seems vulgar to me because I don't believe that perfection exists. What makes this so beautiful for me is that it is so realized, and so original. Realized because it completely unites an artist's personal expression with that of the visual world as he personally meets it each day. In a similar vein Baudelaire once famously said that all original works of art look ugly at first.
I am always amazed by the three women to the left, especially the one looking directly at the viewer (the painter).
And the color! The bright harmonies which seem to sing out after 500 years.

This panel was the central section of a polyptych. It may be one of Piero's earliest extant works. Side panels and a predella were painted in the early 1460s, by Matteo di Giovanni (active 1452; died 1495). The altarpiece was in the chapel of Saint John the Baptist in the Camaldolese abbey (now cathedral) of Piero's native town, Borgo Sansepolcro. The town, visible in the distance to the left of Christ, may be meant for Borgo Sansepolcro: the landscape certainly evokes the local area.

The dove symbolises the Holy Spirit. It is foreshortened to form a shape like the clouds. God the Father, the third member of the Trinity, may originally have been represented in a roundel above this panel.

16 November 2013

foot loose and fancy free

At the end of a recent boat trip across the Channel, those of us with cars below were waiting in the stairwell on the top deck for the announcement to descend and take charge of our vehicles. The crossing had been easy and smooth, we had left Dieppe under a wet twilight sky but in Newhaven the stars were out. They had announced twice already for passengers 'on foot' to disembark ahead of those with vehicles so we waited about 10 minutes. An attractive French stewardess was making the rounds asking passengers 'on foot' to  quickly make their way down and disembark  ahead of the cars and trucks. She came by me and asked:

"Are you a 'foot' person?"
I smiled and replied:
"Yes, but that's a long story"
She smiled back and continued on her way through the rest of the crowd. 

14 November 2013

Uccello, encore!

Below, are the two other versions which are part of a triptych by Paolo Uccello. The top one is from Paris and the bottom one from The Uffizi in Florence. I have simply lifted the two texts from Wikipedia for simplicity sake.

The bottom text is a biography of Uccello for those patient enough to get to it. I mean,... how many other people get crazy for looking at paintings?

To be honest, I am less enamored with these two other versions, and to be fair, it may very well be that I am so in love with the version in the National Gallery which I know so much better as I have not seen the other two in many years. Also, it's only the National Gallery which has produced on its website this superb photograph of very high resolution which enabling me to pick details from it the other day. Lastly, I wonder if it has not been cleaned in the not too distant past? If so, it is a really marvelous job. And, looking at all three together, I cannot help the feeling that one of them is the real beauty at the Prince's Ball accompanied by her two plain sisters.  
Which one do you prefer?

The Uffizi panel was probably designed to be the central painting of the triptych and is the only one signed by the artist. The sequence most widely agreed among art historians is: London, Uffizi, Louvre, although others have been proposed. They may represent different times of day: dawn (London), mid-day (Florence) and dusk (Paris) - the battle lasted eight hours.
The panels were a subject in the BBC series "The Private Life of a Masterpiece", 2005.
This painting is just the central panel of a large triptych painted by Paolo Uccello approximately in 1438, now dispersed and divided between the Uffizi, the National Gallery in London and the Louvre in Paris.
The cycle depicts three events occurred during the Battle of San Romano that took place in 1432 between Florence and Siena and that marked the glorious victory of Florence. The work was commissioned by the wealthy Bartolini family but in 1492 it was included already in the inventory of Lorenzo de’ Medici, known as “the Magnificent”.
What makes this cycle a masterpiece is the bold and experimental use of the perspectivewho made Uccello famous.
The panel of the Uffizi depicts the unhorsing of Bernardino della Ciarda, leader of Sienese mercenaries. The soldier is the man on the white horse just in the center, hit by an enemy spear. The composition is very crowded, but despite that the atmosphere is somewhat unreal and the knights look like fake dummies of a medieval tournament. Paolo Uccello is more interested in the perspective and its application than in the human feelings.
The naturalistic details, the hunting scenes in the background, the finicky description of the armors and the horses remind us of the fairy-tale gothic aestethics. Paolo Uccello is indeed an important transition artist, fully in love with the Renaissance revolution of Renaissance but winking at the gothic tradition.
The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello has been recently restored, but in November 2012 it has been replaced in the hall #7 of the Early Renaissance.

In the London painting, Niccolò da Tolentino, with his large gold and red patterned hat, is seen leading the Florentine cavalry. He had a reputation for recklessness, and doesn't even wear a helmet, though he sent two messengers (the departure of the two messengers, depicted centre, top) to tell his allied army of Attendolo to hurry to his aid as he is facing a superior force.[3] In the foreground, broken lances and a dead soldier are carefully aligned, so as to create an impression of perspective. The three paintings were designed to be hung high on three different walls of a room, and the perspective designed with that height in mind, which accounts for many apparent anomalies in the perspective when seen in photos or at normal gallery height.

Many areas of the paintings were covered with gold and silver leaf. While the gold leaf, such as that found on the decorations of the bridles, has remained bright, the silver leaf, found particularly on the armour of the soldiers, has oxidized to a dull grey or black. The original impression of the burnished silver would have been dazzling. All of the paintings, especially that in the Louvre, have suffered from time and early restoration, and many areas have lost their modelling.[2]

1397 – December 10, 1475

An Italian painter, born in Florence, Uccello was notable for his pioneering work on visual perspective in art. Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574) wrote in his book Lives of the Artists that Uccello was obsessed by his interest in perspective and would stay up all night in his study trying to grasp the exact vanishing point. He used perspective in order to create a feeling of depth in his paintings and not, as his contemporaries, to narrate different or succeeding stories.

Uccello worked in the Late Gothic tradition, and emphasized colour and pageantry rather than the Classical realism that other artists were pioneering. His style is best described as idiosyncratic, and he left no school of followers, though he had some influence on twentieth century art and literary criticism. He trained in the workshop of the sculptor, Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378 – 1455), where he started a life-long friendship with the influential Donatello (1386 – 1466).

His masterwork, once called Battle of Sant’Egidio of 1416, but now known as, Battle of San Romano, is a triptych, now dispersed to the Uffizi Gallery, the National Gallery of London and the Louvre in Paris. The works were once owned by Lorenzo the Magnificent of the Medici family (1449 – 1492). It depicts a 1432 battle between Florence and Siena, in which both sides claimed to be victorious; but at the center of the Uffizi panel, is the Florentine condottiero, Niccolò da Tolentino unseating the Sienese leader. Also in the Uffizi Gallery is his, Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds, a 1446 work from the hospital of San Martino alla Scala.

Working mainly around Florence, he painted works for the church of Santa Trinita, the Santa Maria Maggiore, the Church of San Miniato, the church of Santa Maria Novella and the Duomo (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore). He then moved to Venice, working in the Basilica di San Marco, also in the Cathedral of Prato, in Bologna and later in Padua, then Urbino. It is said that he would also travel at the invitation of Donatello. Uccello even named his son, Donato, after the master sculptor. His last known painting is a famous piece, The Hunt in the Forest, from 1470.

Uccello’s legacy, especially through his influence of perspective reached many great artists, including, Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519), Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1529) and Piero della Francesca (1412 – 1492). He also taught his daughter, Antonia (1446 – 1491) to paint and draw, but her work is not documented; only that she was a Carmelite nun.

(This text has been adapted from the www.wikipedia.org entry on Paolo Uccello, available under GNU Free Documentation license.)

13 November 2013

Stories we tell

This is such a great film! Sarah Polley's very touching portrait of a family secret as seen by each of her siblings and a cast of friends. An intelligent film, full of poetry which stayed with me for days after seeing it. She is a most gifted artist. See it if you can!

12 November 2013

I don't blame anyone

Watching images out of the Philippines I feel sick at heart. How can we possibly help people who are in such suffering across the world, or even just next door? Every bit of photographic information is shared at such perverse speeds which place tragedies such as this next to Hollywood stars catwalking on a balmy evening. On it goes, and we are all part of it here in the industrialized world. I don't blame anyone for this is the incredible world in which we live.

I made this painting (above) in back in August. I had in mind a kind of 'homage to the sea' in face of man's obvious negligence towards it. A black band serves as a kind of grieving symbol like the armbands often worn in France when a loved one has passed away. It gives the surface a meaning for me, both philosophically and pictorially. I don't know how else to express my sadness for the people of the Philippines in this moment. It isn't much but, it is.