29 August 2019

Richard Serra, terra nullius,

Mr. Serra’s “Tilted Arc”; which raised a storm of controversy after it was installed in 1981 in downtown Manhattan. It was removed in 1989

Richard Serra is back in the New York Times with a new and weighty piece about his show currently at Gagosian gallery in New York.

I remember when this piece was put into place in a plaza in downtown Manhattan. It raised my blood pressure then and as it did for many others at the time. It was a cultural fight over terra nullius which spilled out on to the sidewalk. Only the elite art establishment, including wealthy patrons and galleries, attacked those who opposed it. And, to be fair, it was an ill-advised purchase by the city of New York. I remember Leo Castelli hurling insults at those who opposed it by claiming that if the Pope had listened to the rabble of people, there would be no Sistine Chapel. It appalled me then, as it still does today to hear such disingenuous babble.

Cutting a plaza in two with a rusty steel wall of weight has nothing to do with anything that Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. This rusty steel wall was in fact a barrier which separated one side of the plaza from the other. It did what war does to people, it cut the plaza into two spaces, cutting the people into two. Before that, it had been a place where Secretaries and workers would take their lunches; an open and sunny hour of their day. It had always been an open walkway so rare in New York City.

Maybe this was Richard Serra's idea at its conception. I do not know. But, I still see it as an elitist view which directly hindered 
the daily life of everyday people. One can, and one should ask the question: What is the purpose of public art if it imposes a war on ordinary people and makes their lives worse?  

Obviously, I feel that this piece was a terrible mistake, and it should never have been put into this plaza. Although Serra sued the city of New York, the piece, after much legal manoeuvring, was removed in 1989. There many were  people who lamented this decision but the great majority of them presumably, were able to return to Greenwich, Southampton, and other sunny and grassy spaces. Serra's works have already found homes in these spacious properties.

The Nazis burned books and paintings (as well as any vestige of Jewish life) in their attempt to control and close off the freedom of thought for citizens in Third Reich Germany. And, it may be a leap for most, but I see in this case, a parallel into how an elite, intellectual class tried to close off a physical space cutting it in half back in 1981. There was a 'gaslighting' of dialogue. It was a case of intellectual and cultural superiority ruling over the lives of ordinary people. What is really egregious is that it was pushed by the very people who made money on the deal.

As I understand it, Richard Serra has never changed his opinion about the whole affair, and his large work is popular. I am left with questions: Does an art work create harmony or intend to destroy it? Is a work dissonant for good reason or by arbitrary whim? Does a public  work look down on the public or does it allow them to look upward? Whose space is public space anyway? Is this aesthetic Form over Function? 

25 August 2019

death and drawing in Essaouira, Morocco

I put this up today because it has sat on my desktop now for years and I still marvel at the fact that I made it. I remember that it was on my first trip to Essaouira in 2006, maybe? But I love the drawing because it was one of several hundreds I made one week working in the streets and sitting in cafes. I love it because I didn't look at it until after I had left and returned to France to open up all the drawing books. At that time I was crazy for the small blank books which Muji made (and still does). They are quite small 10 X 15 cm, and contain a lovely off white colored thin paper. Small suited me because I was so insecure about going off to Morocco and thinking that I could make something of worth. Looking back, I can understand it. Nonetheless, I still like the intimacy of a small drawing. When framed in a very large white mat they gently pull the viewer into to themselves allowing for the most personal visitation. No room for anyone else to press in, to elbow one out of this affectionate, almost confidential rapport. But I do like large paintings too, don't get me wrong. But the seduction of small drawings
lined up on a long wall, each separated by  space just large enough to breath is for an art lover, a kind of catnip of sorts.

But, the drawing in question took my by surprise because it seemed that Death itself had so casually walked by me, and I had obediently drawn it like everything else which moved in the street. There was almost an erotic element to the experience.  And, I love that Death is so casual, so cool,  so nonchalant, so careless like a woman on the prowl in this drawing. 

A friend of mine (a devout and practicing Buddhist) bought it from the show which I subsequently made months later. I was happy for him to have it. Sadly, a few years later he died very quickly of Cancer. I still have a photo of him which I snapped on SKYPE when we were chatting away and months before he even knew that he was ill, and that he was to die soon enough. 

24 August 2019

Turner, the fisherman

At the Tate Clore Gallery a few years back I found my way to the watercolors, many of which are sacred to me, certainly to so many others.

His sketchbooks reveal his often messy, but immediate approach to working in front of the landscape (the motif).

I read a biography of Turner long ago but didn't retain much, but one story impressed me a lot. Apparently, Turner loved fishing, and he could often be found by the small river next Petworth, I believe, or if not, another of his patron's palatial homes. A grandson of the owner would often join Turner at the river and watch him fish with his small rod. He recounted this to the biographer as a grown man. He only saw Turner 'work' once because apparently he fished a lot. But one day, as storm clouds approached on the distant horizon he watched Turner take out his small watercolor book, and satchel of material. He then soaked his paper, dried it crudely with the cuff of his sleeve, then he scrubbed the paper with a brush full of color in a sloppy fashion. He proceeded to work like this for about 30 minutes, back and forth with his fingers, brush, and sleeve until suddenly appeared a set of hills in the distance with wild-looking dark clouds running across the small page of his watercolor book. As a child he was entranced at this event.

I often associate the image of the fisherman and the painter. Afterward all, it is an activity done mostly in solitude at the mercy of all sorts of weather. And both painter and fisherman (and fisherwomen) go out bravely to see what the gods will offer up to them. It is always a surprise for both fisherman and painter. 

Sometimes walking back from the small dune carrying my painting pack and easel, where I have worked under the wild weather, I too, feel like the Old Man and the Sea.

23 August 2019

reprint of a simple tale

18 December 2009

skating on thin ice

Snow this morning, everywhere a white rug! Apropos, I was just speaking with my Dutch friend Joyce about the snow, ice and other winter things when she  asked me out of the blue if I had ever ice-skated? I replied that I used to play ice-hockey when in school. "Oh really" she said "why am I not surprised, you seem to do everything". I laughed, and suddenly remembered a story of me going to visit an old girlfriend in Amsterdam which I then recounted to her over the telephone. 
"It was winter, (I began) and we had planned to go ice-skating. She wanted to present me to one of her dearest friends at an outside rink. She had asked me well in advance did I know how to ice-skate? I assured her this was no problemo. Ha Ha. On the day in question, I cannot remember why, but we had been quarreling when we arrived at the rink and watched the Dutch skate swimmingly around the large oval. A devious inspiration manifested in my childish brain. I nudged my girlfriend over to me to indicate that there was a small problem. She looked at me as if expecting a complaint of a blister on my foot, or something equally as inane but I lowered my head appropriately to discretely inform her that I had lied, that in fact,... I did not know how to skate after all! Naturally (naturellement), she became annoyed with me, I could tell she was angry at the deception. "How could you lie to me?" she cried out loud.... it was the lie which upset her more than the fact that I would now embarrass her in front her old friend acting like a spastic.Shaking her head, she took off to begin circling the oval while I lumbered around the sides making myself ridiculous, Charlie Chaplin being in my mind. She looked over from time to time with exasperation as I fumbled around making a fool (imbecile) of myself. This went on for about ten minutes until I decided that I had gotten my revenge as silly as it was..... Poor girl, I wasn't an easy boyfriend. When I think about it now, I realize that to be in a couple, is to be in a state of war always. Usually though, its operating at the most subtle of layers  

Hell, Its no wonder I'm a bachelor.

21 August 2019

Rothko writing in TheTiger's Eye, a cultural journal published 1947

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads  (circa 2017)

From "The ides of Art: The attitudes of Ten Artists on their Art and Contemporanousness"

A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening  in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky and unfeeling act to send it out into the world. How often it must be permanently impaired by the eyes of the vulgar and the cruelty of the impotent who would extend their affliction universally!

17 August 2019

Dieulefit pottery painted at the Châteaunoir

This small painting seems to have disappeared in the rubble of all my things strewn everywhere and nowhere. A shame because someone wanted to buy it. It represents a small chapter recently in which I was painting random things on random tablecloths but at specific moments each day. These were small things which brought me big pleasures. I feel too far away from this ritual to attempt it again, but who knows. I am looking around for some new visual projects to slide into. In the meantime I keep at this twilight sea and clouds. From yesterday evening; Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 August, 2019

16 August 2019

Erik Satie and Igor Stravinsky (reprint)

23 September 2016

Igor Stravinsky on Eric Satie 

He was certainly the oddest person I have ever known, but the most rare and consistently witty person, too. I had a great liking for him and he appreciated my friendliness, I think, and liked me in return. With his piece-nez, umbrella, and galoshes he looked a perfect schoolmaster, but he looked just as much like one without theses accoutrements. He spoke very softly, hardly opening his mouth, but he delivered each word in an inimitable, precise way. His handwriting recalls his speech to me: it is exact, drawn. His manuscripts were like him also, which is to say as the French say 'fin'. No one ever saw him wash, he had a horror of soap. Instead he was forever rubbing his fingers with pumice. He was always very poor, poor by conviction, I think. He lived in a poor section and his neighborhood seemed to appreciate his coming among them: He was greatly respected by them. His apartment was also very poor. It did not have a bed but only a hammock. In winter Satie would fill bottles of hot water and put them flat in a row underneath his hammock. It looked like some strange kind of Marimba I 
remember once when someone had promised him somme money he replied:
"Monsieur, what you have said did not fall a deaf". His sarcasm depended on French classic  usages. The first time I heard Socrate, at a séance where he played it for a few of us, he turned around at the end and said in perfect bourgeosie: "Voila, messieurs, dames."

Because I have been learning the Gymnodpédies and Gnossiennes I could not resit putting this old post up again.

14 August 2019


11 June 2012


For a better view
The cat jumps
Onto the table.

13 August 2019

Velázquez, and the souvenir of youth

I know it's not fashionable in this Contemporary world of Art to go on about feelings and such, but I do anyway, because I can.

Instead of looking at a painting, then feeling it, a Post-Modernist education has us locked into heady thought about its sociological and ethnographical meaning, one far removed from its aesthetic qualities. The context of a work has become more important than the picture itself. 

Art works have braved several thousand years of both the Church and the Academy, yet have remarkably survived these cultural restraints, but just barely. The hand of the artistic act, the original vision somehow survives despite everything.

At this moment in time we are at the mercy of a Post-Modernist educational system more powerful than that of the French Salon in the late 19th century. It teaches young minds to think instead of feel. And the result seems to be that students can analyse art but not conceive it anymore. Worse, conformity reigns as much today as it did in the 19th century. 

I am reminded of all this when I came across the portrait of a young girl by Velásquez. It is a magnificent picture, as alive today as it was when painted back in the 17th Century. Did she perhaps grow up? Maybe not, possibly she died in a riding accident, or maybe she was just married off to an older Marquis in the Spanish countryside somewhere. Perhaps she lived to the old age of 60? I am sure that Wikipedia could answer these questions. But the fact is, though long gone, her image is still here today reminding us that this moment here now, is all we have. Like all art, though not exciting, it is but a souvenir of a moment, but in this case at least, an extraordinary one of great beauty and feeling.

Because I am a painter, I think also of my own Evening Prayers as just souvenirs. Certainly not as extraordinary but full of feeling nonetheless because when they work, (which is not always) they too, become a reminder of the what the sea and sky looked like this night at dusk. 

And like the young girl, this evening has also come and gone, a mere memory, a blip of time. But like waves and young girls, these evenings will keep on coming no matter who is still left there to marvel at them.

Maybe, we have to hit a certain age to appreciate this fact. Maybe too, this is the reason why so many older people walk the beach at dusk.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 28 April, 2019, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

12 August 2019

cemetery reprint from February 2103 , just because...


                       White cemetery

                      My bathroom sink

                    Where ants come to die.

11 August 2019

picasso, and others

Picasso, in my opinion, made a lot of truly awful paintings. (Yikes! Will be lynched?) But, I also feel that he made some real gems in the most inventive way perhaps not seen since the Cycladic art of the Greek islands 3000 years ago. And this was his greatness. 

In this picture there is unity of both colour harmony, and drawing in very the 19th century French Romantic tradition. It has a weirdly plastic yet flat feeling about it. This paradox gives it a mystery, and a timeless quality. There is nothing conventional in it, no conformity, thank god. I believe that it is a portrait of Dora Maar.

And, above all I feel great humanity in it.

One day (if I were a curator, for instance)
I would make a whole show of full-sized portraits, imagine a room with this picture (above) next to Dr Gachet, next Mme Cézanne, next to a Titian, next to a Goya, next to a Modigliani, next to a Sargent, next to a Matisse, etc, etc...The most important question for a painter is this:

What do they all share, if they share anything at all?

09 August 2019

stolen work by the Nazis, Van Gogh!

I stumbled upon this organisation (The monumentsmenfoundation.org) last week through an obituary in the NY Times about Harry Ettlinger, a remarkable man who led an interesting life before, during, and after  World War Two. I had no idea that there were  so many really great things still unaccounted
for. I was astounded to see a Cézanne in this list below which I had never seen before. But also, so many other truly great things, most notably a Van Gogh portrait of himself on the road to Tarascon! And I wonder if he had perhaps made a copy or two; different versions? It seems strange for such an iconic image to be packed away somewhere on a dirty secret of a wall for a select audience of thieves. (this would make a great story or film) And how did they get such a vivid and colourful photo of it in 1945? What's the story around this strange anecdotal detail? Would they all be discretely hung in Palazzos or in bank vaults in Switzerland? Maybe covered in grime and stored in an attic somewhere, or (really, really covered in lots of grime) and hanging in a run-down and dingy antique shop somewhere in La Creuse region of France?