31 May 2020

Richard Anuszkiewicz, and the organisation of beauty

These paintings by Richard Anuszkiewicz whom I have never heard of attract me. And yet I am confronted by my old suspicion of 'Colour Field' paintings. It's true that I have never really liked much from this movement which I believe began in America in the 50's. But I am sure that its roots run back into earlier times. 

Russian non-objective design work from the pre-revolution period have always intrigued me, and Mondrian, who never did except for his early landscapes, which did.

There is my own surprise at finding so much poetic feeling in these constructed paintings. They even remind me of Indian Miniatures but for the obvious difference in sizes. These pictures possess a subtle use of broken colour but when used in these designs, seem restored to their purity. And in this, the Indians also do so well.

My primary attraction must be the colour, but also the way it is used which I find so understated and quite sensuous. These are images which I would find great joy in living with. For me, they are both decorative and they are full of movement. That the artist chose this means of conveying a sense of Life is his personal choice. That is to say that it is new and original in its conception with no real precedence to it. Therefore, there was no historical influence in his choice. He wasn't a painter who fell in love with C├ęzanne and subsequently went on to paint under that influence. No, Richard Anuszkiewicz discovered a kind of novel genre to his credit.

28 May 2020

The watchmaker and the violinist

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 27 May, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 27 May, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

A painter is quite simply someone who cares about Painting in the same way a watchmaker cares about time pieces, or a violinist cares about violins. 

There are painters who don’t care about Painting which is problematic for Painting,  a bit like people who who don’t care about animals but keep them as pets all the same.

It’s a big world and it’s full of a multitude of human activities, most of which are extraordinary. Painting is a discreet one, like composing poetry in the sunlight wherein every mistake, every small and seemingly mundane brushstroke is placed with heroic intent for all the world to see.

25 May 2020

if there is a God she must like colour

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 16 April, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

I just found this study yesterday which I had misplaced and never uploaded to Instagram. Or, maybe I thought weeks ago that it was too kitsch? Either way, I like it today.

Two nights ago the twilight hour exploded with colour. We have had a week of dark cloudy days which simply refused to open up. It has been cold too. An inversion kept frigid air close to the ground and in those circumstances it is just impossible to warm up. I went to visit some friends for a light dinner who live a little higher up in the hills. On the way up I saw smoke from chimneys hugging the trees like blue shawls. 

But two afternoons ago the colour did explode like cannons, painting the sky with fiery clouds every which way one looked. The after-burn was purple pink as seen below. 

I had been in the studio all afternoon because I had given up hope that the beach would open up and allow me to paint down there. But against all odds, it did just that, and I watched from the studio not without deep regret. Alas, "it won't be the last time", so I tried to tell myself. 

I rarely take photos of sunsets as I much prefer to paint them and besides, sunset photos are much too ubiquitous anyway. But this is a view from the studio to the East (to break one's heart) as I would have been facing if I were at the beach painting this night and the sunset is directly behind. I am struck by the similarity of these colours and those of my picture done over  month ago. 

          looking East from my studio

21 May 2020

vaporetti confetti

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 18 May, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This was the first of two pictures done the other night. I arrived a little late so I needed to set up in a hurry. A marvellous pink sky was unfolding over a cloud bank sitting on the horizon while still holding rays of the setting sun behind me. Sometimes, I really do have to catch my breath in front of such beauty. I can feel like an adolescent in love for the first time, each time. 

I made this in about ten minutes which seems absurd to me now when I write about it. But I understand the pace which hastens the fading sky to its death while I work with the urgency of an E.R. doctor.  

As if like the rest of my life, I only seem to thrive when I am pushed to capture something when my life is on the line. Years ago, when I found myself in Venice, I would often ride a vaporetto around for hours and filling up drawing books. I would sit outside in the back where the views opened up in three directions. One has no time to think, one just makes drawings. But so often in those days I was rarely happy so I would rip them into tiny pieces and throw them into the wind like confetti. 

19 May 2020

where the Universal dwells on a ledge

Lately I have been thinking of the Universal aspect of a specific work of Art, and also conversely, the very nature of the specific in a work of Art. Without being too pedantic I am always thinking about what makes a painting work.

Being specific in a painting refers to its solid and concrete nature, both its concept and unity of form. It removes doubt, but  not without poetry. It can be of a political nature, a social or even of a moralistic affirmation. It specifies a place or time, but it can also  be  far removed and away from anyone else's curiosity or understanding. 

Not being specific in painting can also involve  personal or a self-expression that  has little or no meaning outside of the creator's own world. Often Abstract Art falls into this category as in the American Abstract Expressionist Movement which began  the 1940's. A risk of this nonspecific self-expression, in an artistic sense, (on its own terms), is to risk falling off the nihilist cliff. 

On the other hand, I can still ponder yet another kind of painting which is germaine to the previous one but it aspires to an opposite world of Art; one which appeals to the Universal. It is so much concerned with an ideal outside of oneself that it no longer resides in any specific place, but lives in a kind of nether world which only aspires to the past accomplishments of our collective culture. It cannot even be specific to enough to transmit a human emotion. Museums ar full of these kinds of work.

So to aspire to a Universality, (on its own terms) can also place a work of art in limbo by trying to please the past, and by doing so it too, is in limbo. By limbo, I mean -not here - but not there either - nowhere in fact, artistically and conceptually speaking. 

As I proceed out on the this ledge I may as well confess the I have experimented in this nether-world of self-expression and also in an aspiration to the Universal.

Below are two works from the 20th century. The artist is very famous, and his works are in every American museum. I ask the question: What sort of painting is this? And is it a search for the Universal (as in a symbolic kind which many in this movement searched for) or is it just an abstract painting from the American Expressionist School, no meaning, just a play of colour with no concern to form? Is it specific about anything? And two of the biggest questions a painting should always ask are these:

A pedestrian will ask: Does it move me?  
And a painter should always ask: Can this painting teach me anything about Painting, or about Life?

17 May 2020

Cato seizing the thing, before he committed suicide

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 May 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This painting was done a few days ago. It had been raining for several days beforehand, and consequently I hadn't been out to the dune. The sky was stormy as the picture indicates. I only set up because I was desperate to do something, anything! Because even after just a few days of not working there I can start to feel quite wacky inside. So, I set up, but I was not convinced by the light, or lack thereof, as it was blocked up in the West behind me. I knew that any luminosity would likely remain absent.

In any event I made this somewhat quickly before a raincloud arrived and I packed up and got back to the car just as it poured. 

To be honest, I was not unhappy with it, but not unhappy either. I was happy to have gotten out into the windy ocean air in front of a rough sea full with whitecaps as far as I could see. It is a strange drawing but I saw it that way, and I didn't have time to think about it, judging from the dark clouds moving in from the South. It is strange because the upper layer of cloud is so cold in colour, the same for the middle stripe, it was a cool Prussian blue/citron mixed down to almost a pure wisp of grey. And below, the cold unruly sea full of Emerald green with a band of sunlight which kicked in but just for a moment. And after 15 minutes, it was done. 
There was something in the cloud band that bothered me so I scraped off some paint to try to resurrect any light initially there. It's better than it was. Nothing more to say. I was grateful that it came off at all. 

And this brings me to something which Cato said just over 2000 years ago. 

'Seize the thing, and the words will follow,
grasp the subject and the words will follow.'

And it makes me see, as a painter, that when we 'grasp the thing, style will follow.'

Style can never precede the 'thing seized'
any more than the horse comes before the proverbial cart.


one might say:
Seize the thing, and paint will follow. And this is important because the paint rarely proceeds the 'thing', the 'thing' must usually come first.

But this is a long discussion for another night.

14 May 2020

Manon from Nancy in Paris

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 6 May, 2020, 30 X 25 cm

This from last week, came quickly at the end of the session. The sky wasn't quite glowing but there was still something there so I threw up another board and I painted this mostly from memory, if truth be told.

I could hardly see the colours on the palette with my glasses which are outside of my prescription by almost twenty years. There are for long distance, and when the light fades I can no longer focus very well. But, I am attached to them maybe even for sentimental reasons. I had bought them in the Marais when I had gone to Paris to visit a girlfriend years ago but she had dumped me so I decided to stay for a few days in a small hotel I liked in Montparnasse. It was wintertime, and cold and snowing all day when I stopped into the small shop where I found the glasses I would buy and still wear. The saleswoman chatted me up, I think. Her name was Manon and she was from Nancy in the East which I had driven through in 1970 on my Triumph motorcycle while making my way through Europe when I was really even more young and foolish. We talked and talked, went for a drink, then we went for dinner. Much much later I walked the frigid streets all the way to Montparnasse arriving at dawn. It was what youth does. I had a wonderful weekend with Manon of Nancy in Paris, and so when I wear these glasses I sometimes either think of Manon or Paris depending on the mood. 

The light in this small picture also feels quite frigid to me tonight. Everything about it is cold; from the emerald green sea to the pale Prussian blue with a hint of citron over the horizon, and on to the cold pink in the sky above. It is a chilly painting, and right at this moment it transports me back to the memory of a youthful Paris years ago when life seemed simpler.

12 May 2020

une oeuvre est une oeuvre

Tangier, Morocco 2013   

This came from a small MUJI book of drawings made with a bamboo stick and encre de Chine. Working with a small selection of bamboo sticks was as much an adventure as it was to be working in the streets again. I went to Tangiers for a week just to draw again in Morocco. It had been a few years since I had done a trip like this but it was a short one because I was going back to Australia within a few weeks. I somehow had this feeling that I may not be doing these drawing trips for much longer. Indeed, a year later, I decided to settle in Australia after a life in France.

I am never able to really see a work I've made until much later in time. In this case seven years before I looked at these drawings again. I like some of them very much. But I couldn't see something like this until enough time had passed, enough time when I cannot remember anything about it. The feeling is all mine, for sure, and the strokes which create the light could only be done by me. In fact, the great things about this drawing are all mine, but as well, so are its mistakes. 

While one often only speaks of a drawing's successful attributes, a work usually possesses 'mistakes' too. These 'flaws', of which the creator is always somehow aware, are what make a work deeply unique and original. And these are the marks which give a drawing an authenticity which could only be made by just one creator. So to resume; I think an oeuvre is an oeuvre for both its attributes and its mistakes.

09 May 2020

Bonnard, and the possibility of tomorrow


This remarkable self-portrait was the last he made. Old, and having survived the second world war, and having lost his wife (and muse) Marthe, he is in the winter of of his life. 

I saw it in a show in New York years ago at MOMA and I was quite rattled by it, enough that I went back again to be rattled. I was still a young man at the time, and I marvelled at his ruthless and frank depiction of himself. I remember that his eyes looked like the discarded pits from an apricot. It is a haunting portrait, and reminiscent of a Rembrandt at the end of his own life. A painter just keeps refining his work like  all artists do if they survive long enough. Goya comes to mind, and Titian, who painted his last self portrait at the age of 80. And  Tolstoy comes to mind too, in The Death of Ivan Ilyich. I read it when I was 18, and sadly, I didn't have the imagination in youth to understand it at the time.

In this time of haunting sorrow and great social unrest it is these creators who allow me to keep faith and hope in the possibility of tomorrow.

08 May 2020

Putting the earth to sleep

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 5 May 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25

These Autumn twilight skies give birth to colourful postcards. I feel as if I walk the cliffs of kitsch on clear evenings like this. It's a kind of danger but I cannot do otherwise. So much orange and pink! So much melodrama! So much peplum!

I follow the scent of the sky when it begins to turn. Moreover, it's an easy path to climb once a palette has been made.

One imagines the Earth slipping into sleep and especially so, in this time of the Coronavirus. There are no more airplanes overhead so I cannot mark the hour by the flights from Sydney. 

There is a quiet to these days, and the earth surely knows it. They say that pollution has virtually disappeared in the airs over Paris, Beijing, New Delhi, and even L.A. And the Himalayas can be seen from downtown Katmandu! 

The earth is a precious friend. Maybe some of us can now see it that way despite so many hardships during this time. There're may not be many of us, but the painter in me, has always been a friend of the earth. After all, I put it to bed most nights.

07 May 2020

Proust for tea in Tivoli Gardens

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads,  4 May, 2020, oil on canvas board, 35 X 40 cm

This is a very curious picture which came to me seemingly 'zoomed up via a portal' from my early childhood. It isn't uncommon to be working on something when I taste my own 'Madeleine' of which Proust evoked so personally. It arrives through all the senses but this one came through a visual one as if relating to a pictorial memory as a young child in the act of drawing. 

Painting, at times, brings to the fore so many mysterious emotions. One suddenly stops in quiet amazement in its presence. In this small unremarkable picture it happened for me just as I was struggling with a (bad) drawing and with the fast fading light (and colour). I felt my own personal and iconic image raise up inside of me, one which may have no resemblance nor meaning to anyone else. When this happens it is always a wonderful feeling despite whether the picture succeeds or not for its very provenance is one's own precious past which still thrives deeply within. There is no conscious compass to access it. What else to say? I know that everyone who ventures out into hitherto unexplored places can re-discover it for themselves, even for the briefest of moments. Often a love affair brings it out, but that is another story, and another part of the heart. 

When I was four years old I visited Tivoli Gardens with my family who took us to Europe in the summer of '56. I have never forgotten a kind of danish pastry which I ate there, and which I have accessed ever since through my sense of taste. Even in certain Pastry shops in France my olfactory memory takes me right back to Tivoli Gardens. As I have grown older these earliest memories seem to have taken a larger place in my life, a bit like at the end of the day when the tree makes a longer shadow across the flat lawn.

And within any creative act it seems to me that so many rich memories are continually released, again and again, as if one has disturbed a large bush and dozens of butterflies scatter into the air. 

04 May 2020

Gachet, Muguet, and the Lotus Flower


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 1 May, 2020, oil on canas board, 30 X 25 cm

This is from the other night. The skies have been pretty good lately. The Lotus flower opens after sunset, and it remains up there as if floating for the longest time while quietly turning from orange to a cool violet. Then it disappears upward as if watching fireworks but only in very slow motion. There are moments when I feel a small change begin, like the change of seasons I guess. But it happens when the mind begins to question certain aspects the motif. "What if?" it thinks to no one in particular.

It's the first of May and I think of Muguet being offered from one person to the next all over France today. And I always think of Dr Gachet whom Vincent painted with a small glass of Muguet on the table in front of him with his sad eyes. A marvel of the imagination.