30 April 2020

running with the fauves

Evening Prayer Brunswick heads, 25 April, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This came at the end of a session last week. It was the third study out of four. I have been feeling a little like a wild animal which tries to be obedient so much of the time. Under certain skies, which are already so sensuous, I find myself to be a painter from previous century who desires to capture sky, to meet it with my own sensuality. A certain sky brings out a certain part of me. Each study, each day, and each session is different, even when the weather makes every day look like a copy of its predecessor. And then there is the 'me' factor because I am different each day, and present myself to the same motif in a different mood. And then I break out that obedience I run like a fauve. And thus, a painting like this arrives quickly, almost passionately after weeks of a much more sensual obedience. 

I am lucky because I like so many things that I am making these days. This was not the case for too much of my life. I was never satisfied with paintings, never satisfied with much in my life. Happily, all of that changed just a few years back. I enjoy the act of painting more than ever.

24 April 2020

That which remains in that which passes

I enclose a recent note from my dearest friend and painter John Gasparach. It is his response to my asking about an expression which Léo often used when articulating a very particular aspect of Art's essence. I could not remember it correctly.

"Ce qui ne passe pas dans ce qui passe"

("That which remains in that which passes")

A remark made by Gavarni (19th century French artist) whom Van Gogh admired. Van Gogh refers to and cites this phrase a number of times in his letters to Theo. Here is one example:
(from one of Vincent's letters, the following)
‘I think that if one has tried to follow the great masters attentively, one finds them all back at certain moments, deep in reality, I mean one will see their so-called creations in reality if one has similar eyes, a similar sentiment, as they had. And I do believe that if the critics and connoisseurs were better acquainted with nature, their judgment would be more correct than it is now, when the routine is to live among pictures, and to compare them mutually. Which of course, as one side of the question, is good in itself, but lacks a solid foundation if one begins to forget nature and looks only superficially. Can’t you understand that I am perhaps not wrong in this, and to say what I mean even more clearly, isn’t it a pity that you,   for instance, seldom or hardly ever go into those cottages or associate with those people or see that sentiment in the landscape which is painted in the pictures you like best? I do not say that you can do this in your position, just because one must look much and long at nature before one becomes convinced that the most touching things the great masters have painted still originate in life and reality itself. A basis of sound poetry which exists eternally as a fact and can be found if one digs and seeks deeply enough.
“Ce qui ne passe pas dans ce qui passe”, it exists.

I would guess Leo encountered this phrase of Gavarni in Van Gogh’s Letters since it was so important to Vincent.

The School is shut, we work now with all of our students ‘on line’ since they have all returned to the United States. This has freed me up to paint everyday at Chateaunoir in the forest of pine & oak. I’ve never felt better in my life (which is a terrible thing to say given the situation of our world).

Sorry I missed your call. Try again if you can.


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 April, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

20 April 2020

great painters are idiots! (and they should be)

A great painting defies gravity, and it must possess a quality of surprise. And I confess that I only wish that I would rise to this idea idiocy more often in my own work but I don't.

The paintings above came from a recent article in the NYT about what artists are getting up to during this time of confinement. I have no idea what to think about them except that they are so original that they make me think of Baudelaire when he said that all original work seems ugly at first sight. These are truly original things. They certainly surprise also. Sadly I have lost his name but he lives and works in New York. 

I had originally begun this text last week before seeing these paintings but realised that they possessed that thing of which I was wanting to say.

It seems to me that most painters are already 
half crazy enough to be painters in the very first place, that confinement or not, we are out of the conventional loops. 

I find that too many paintings of our own time, but also throughout the past are simply exercises in re-affirmations of what we already know. Indeed, Painting has become far too intelligent, and it has robbed us all of that element of surprise. Contemporary Art has become so smart that it needs to be explained to us all through reams of catalogue space and big heavy books.

And yes, I throw some of my own work in with this idea, I am not perfect. But, once in a while I just want to be hit with a freight train feeling.

19 April 2020

Claude Monet and Alice Hoschedé in Venice 1908

In October 1908 Monet and his companion Alice went to Venice for the first time on a painting trip. It was to be the first of two trips there. I have been reading the correspondance between Alice Hoschedé and her daughter back in France in Giverny. They exchanged letters each day without fail. In them Alice describes their days in Venice, the weather, the hotel food, the damp cold  or heat or Monet's mood, due to either the rain or the wind. They are charming postcards left to us from a bygone era when the world was very different in so many ways. Venice was even back then full of tourists, albeit quite well-heeled travellers compared with today. 

In this small fragment she describes being in a gondola with Monet in the lagoon at dusk when the lights are suddenly lit up everywhere to their amazement. 

She describes also sitting in the gondola while Monet worked every day on certain motifs. She had to be very still. Ha Ha... Great to imagine Monet painting some of these pictures from a gondola.

18 April 2020

Morandi and me

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

This is a curious picture, full of a gentle feeling like when one wears Cashmere. I don't thing about other painters when out working in front of this motif. Myself, yes, I often have the previous day's pictures' still simmering in my head, but other painters? No, never. And I am glad for that. Yet in looking at it now 3 weeks later I am thinking of just how much Giorgio Morandi has infected my artistic sensibilities over these 60 years or so. He was one of the first painters I immediately responded to as a child. My father had lots of Art books and several about Morandi. And I looked with a great fascination at how his small and intimate oil paintings seemed so alive to me. My father was a painter too, but in a halfhearted sort of way. He had lots of talent but also a life which kept him from the discipline of being an artist. He did paint wonderful and life-like portraits all over his bathroom wall (with oil paint) Piero della Francesca, Mantegna, Masaccio, and others. It was wild, and I was amazed that he would do such a thing. But my parents had their own bathrooms.

So, in this picture, done so far away from Bologna, I can see the quiet atmosphere of Morandi. And while his pictures of bottles, cups and jars live in a small protected and confined space, there is an inverse connection to my own, done out in the open sea and big sky. It is through the soft luminosity and sensual touch.

17 April 2020

a submission to the painting not to the Motif

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

Bonnard once said a wonderful thing about Painting. Pierre Bonnard, along with Paul Cezanne, was a most patient painter. He worked and reworked his pictures for months and years on end until he arrived at that special depth of colour he so desired, enough that allowed him to quit the picture. Cézanne, it was said, might wait up to an hour between strokes of his brush. He once famously said, that his concentration should be so acute 'as to make my eyes bleed'.

But, Bonnard said something which spoke deeply to me when I was a student. He said, and I translate loosely from the French:

"Everyone speaks about this submission to Nature (to the Motif), but there is equally, the submission to the picture." 

I have never been too loyal to the 'Motif'. I use it only to garner enough information to make the painting. I am a sloppy expressive painter who likes all the drippy mistakes, but only as by-products in my quest to get a picture finished, never as an end itself.

So once a picture has been started it is a race to finish it before either the 'Motif' peters out, or I do. Moreover, once a picture has been started I am only ever interested in the picture itself, the canvas embodiment of my creative act.

16 April 2020

paradise in a pandemic

In this time of pandemic people around the world are worried about everything. But most of the world population is already locked in some form of poverty or another. The Third World cannot make enough money to live in the best of times. And in the West self medication has replaced a spiritual solution. Now with the sharp loss of incomes and jobs scarce in the West, people will begin to know what the poor of the world have been going through all this time. It will not be a pretty picture.

I am living out this pandemic in a kind of paradise here on the north coast of Australia. Instead of feeling guilt about that good fortune, I practice gratitude at every opportunity I can. It is all I can do for the moment. But the economic toll whose bell never ceases, will toll for me too soon enough. 

What to do?? For the first time in my own small life I now have no Plan B except to keep painting each day both in the studio and at the beach. 

I used to be a worrier. I used to joke that when I was still in my mother's womb I asked GOD to please make me a WARRIOR for this next new life I was about to begin. He must have misunderstood me because I came out a WORRIER. But I have changed, and now I do not worry as a habit. I have too much to do before those same bells will toll for me too. In the meantime I paint.

Evening Prayer Brunswick heads, 11 April, 2020, oil on canvas board. 30 X 25 cm

13 April 2020

Brokenness, and the hands of Theloneous Monk

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 11 April, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

To convey an emotion from one human to another, it seems to me, is the whole point of Art. Of course, I live in the world of Contemporary Art, an age of political science and sociological precedence in all things artistic. This is a world wherein Art has been fused into an engine fuelled by philosophy, advertising, and irony.

I am no longer an emotional man which basically means that I don't rely upon my emotions to make decisions in my life. But I used to be.

But in saying that, I am an extremely emotional painter, and in fact passionate around all things artistic. I love Elgar's Nimrod, and Brahms' Intermezzo's and I love both Monk and Jerome Kern, and in another life Tim Buckley.

I love the sensuality of oil paint, I always have, and sometimes I wonder if I should have been a pastry chef. I love all of Piero della Francesca's work. But I retreat from the overly ambitious and exuberant passion of Jackson Pollack, ditto for de Kooning and Twombly, but only after a brief seduction. Safe to say that I am uneasy around too much exuberant emotion. And yet, in all my paintings I am decidedly in favour of a sensuality and unabashed feeling. And I have always been this way in my work. 

In the painting above I realised that the fierce red cloud had been started with a stab of the brush and continued leftward because I do have a habit of working from right to left in this series. 

I liked it immediately upon making the brush stroke. That I left it thus means that I was happy with the abrupt, discordant addition it made to the painting. On another day I might have easily re-worked it to make an ordered and more symmetrical unity to the picture. Thankfully I didn't for I like the brokenness of it. It says: 

"This is a painting made from a human hand"

It's 'brokenness' cuts any pretence of the desire for a perfection which seems to hang  over a creator's life like a sword.

11 April 2020

cri de coeur devant la mer méchante et tumultueuse

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 29 March, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

An interesting study from 2 weeks ago when we were covered over with crazy clouds from the South. I found the whole session incredibly difficult and was at the door of failure. To my surprise I shut it just as quickly and finished the painting. I like it very much because I had come so close to disaster. 

It is my spontaneous cri de coeur at the dark and difficult weather change in the middle of a painting.

07 April 2020

the terrible beauty of the Coronavirus and Otto Dix

This is the Covid-19 virus clinging on to fungus in a lab magnified with a microscope I don't know how many times. The virus is all the small pink bits. It's a thing of such rare beauty, and amazingly, it follows the usual laws of colour harmony in the natural world. The hot pink colour looks a bit like Magenta or Fuchsia which compliments the warm-green of the fungus and it is perfect harmony. In paintings which succeed, warm always compliments cool, and vice-versa. When warm greens are placed next to warm reds, the picture will always have problems unless the painter is extremely clever.

In my opinion Otto Dix was one clever guy. The German painter in the middle of the 20th century, managed to break these usually iron-clad rules in a most particular fashion. He broke them by the sheer force of his originality.

His work stemmed from his wartime experiences in both WWI and WWII. I wonder if I associate the Covid-17 with him also because of the terrible beauty in his work?

06 April 2020

for clouds form, then blossom only to die in the course of a day...

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 1 April, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

The skies have been magnificent since the rain ended last week. The horizon is again full of luminosity and clouds are but a small head of purple hair racing across the sea until it's eaten up by the dusk.

And now we have a lost an hour, but the horizon could not care less. Moreover, human troubles mean nothing to it, for clouds form, then blossom only to die in the course of a day. And while the pandemic rages through the world, here is a painter looking at the evening sky.

04 April 2020

"Oh! The sun is so beautiful in the middle of the summer......"

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 31 March 2020, 30 X 25 cm oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

"Oh! The sun is so beautiful in the middle of the summer. It beats down on your head, and I've know doubt at all that it drives you crazy. But since I am already I simply enjoy it!"
V. VanGogh in a letter to his brother from Arles

Well, I can't say that it beats down upon us more violently here in Australia than in Provence at the height of August, but the sun  sizzles here too. And, the light is somewhat similar, eucalyptus trees appear violet red, then violet blue like the plane trees in Arles. 

But it is looking out over the horizon where the Australian light really differs from the Mediterranean basin. I believe it is only due to the pollution which has infected so much of the coast line from Cassis, all the way down the Amalfi coast, down to Bari, and over to Athens. But further out, the Greek isles are forever happy, and their sunsets are free of a grey fate. 

Here is something from last week which I wasn't sure about, but I like it now. I don't want to be repetitive but I cannot underline enough the joy of working from the sea at sunset. Its possibilities are limitless.

02 April 2020

Jumping into a painting

Evening Prayer 26 March, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This is another example of jumping into a painting but holding only a vague visual thread in one's fragile mind. But I know that this sort of thing is extremely good for me because it breaks up my habitual way of working. I do risk however, to make some crazy images. I like this one above yet it is certainly out on the limb of uncertainty.

Below, is a Whistler, done probably in the 1890's in England. It is a beautiful example of Painting as cheerful diversion. He was a proponent of "Art for Art's sake" and caused quite a stir for his ideas. He was a man of intelligence but also of sensual and poetic invention. And this is a great example of it.