31 August 2020

hookers enshaded in forgetfulness divine


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 16 August, 2020, oil on canvas board, 20 X 25 cm

Here is small picture from 2 weeks ago which surprised me. It was the last one of three done that night. There is something in the light that I have been chasing after since I first began doing these studies a few years ago. It feels to me today as if it were painted during one long exhaled breath. 

Today what I see in this small picture is an unrealistic, almost fantastic desire for something completely natural, something unadulterated and simple, an image perhaps so unpretentious, so unpresumptuous and bereft of any need of attention that it might almost be invisible if hung on a wall. 

And yes, it's crazy to say such a thing about one's own work but I suppose that I am looking for a purity of feeling in these small pictures and any bit of artifice would be almost a sin. 

And unlike so many pictures in a gallery which hustle the public like hookers, this one seems to hide in its own bashful bliss, alone. It  does not shout at the world looking for praise nor attention, but hovers quietly hiding... "unshaded in forgetfulness divine" to quote John Keats in Ode to Sleep.

Van Gogh and Walt Whitman, lovers of Nature

from the New York Times

A cricket lodged in the oil paint was found during a recent cleaning of this picture done during his stay in St Remy. The letter (above) reveals to me that he must have worked in a frenzy of speed. It isn't hard to imagine.

I love this story as I like so many others about him. I love the humanity of Vincent Van Gogh. But I also love the humility in the making of a picture, an oil painting, something, in one form or other, which humankind has been doing since the very beginning of civilisation. No matter how the 20th century has tried to do rub away Painting, artists will always paint pictures using Nature and memory as their primal sources of imagination. 

Come to think of it, Van Gogh reminds me of Walt Whitman, a kind of American brother just living across the Atlantic Ocean. Though he lived a full life Whitman died just two years after Vincent's short one ended in 1890. Both were idealists, ill-suited for living in a  world ruled by money, and the acquisition of property. Both consecrated their lives to the possibility of poetry; one to words, the other to paint.

29 August 2020

perilous adventures of the sea and into the clouds


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 28 August, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here is a painting from last night. A magnificent sky which bloomed quickly and obliged me to work fast. Unfortunately, one cannot see nor feel the thick paint at the top of the painting due to the i-phone which  misses pale tones, notably yellows. But it's thick as if I am a pastry chef. 

I was happy with it. As I have been writing about the formal aspects which are developing in this series, it has affected how I begin working. Of course, it would, and unlike writing music or a writing short story, beginning a picture is a perilous adventure because mistakes in these paintings are more complex to repair. I see them as studies; quickly done with revealing all the spontaneous decisions then left to the mercy of Time.

27 August 2020

Camus; Sisyphus of love

In the recently published correspondence between Albert Camus and one of his lovers, the actress Maria Casarès, we learn that on the day before his death in a car accident, Camus posted letters to three separate women arranging rendezvous.

I love this anecdote especially because it is so politically incorrect in this age of ours. I like that it reveals the chaotic nature of the human heart and the unpredictable emotions of an artist.

I love that he wrote love letters. But the French are great writers of love, and everything else.

In one letter to his lover Maria Casarès he enclosed a twig of thyme which which reminds me that Rilke once received in a letter from his wife a sprig of heather from Scotland that he contemplated for weeks afterward.

I know that much fond feeling floods the internet, but have I forgotten the emotion just to feel the paper which one's lover has folded in thirds as it comes out of the envelope? And what of the quirky or clean penmanship? Or the stamps licked by one's lover too? The blue ink or black? What about the intoxication one submits to unwillingly for a letter which one has awaited long days or weeks even. 

These are a few things which have evaporated for most of us due to our speedy needs. 

The love letter, this antique vehicle, is not dissimilar to another relic of old France which has it that the best part of sex is climbing the stairs to the bedroom.

His letters were published in Paris not long ago. I almost want to read them but wouldn't it be better to write them myself? 

Again Shakespeare:

Forsake the rose

and blush thyself!

26 August 2020

The transitory and the permanent, Vincent Van Gogh

“Ce qui ne passe pas dans ce qui passe”, 

("That which remains, in what passes")

I am sure that I have already (and recently) spoken of this consequential observation but it continually seems to be something I deem essential in how I look at Painting, mine or others. It comes through Léo Marchutz who read it in a letter from Vincent to his brother.

'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.'

The simplest way into an understanding of this is that it takes me right to his self-portraits. In these portraits he gives his own transitory life a permanence in the most unadulterated fashion. His 'self-expression' takes a back seat to his devotion to his craft as a painter. Because of his profound understanding of portraiture in Art history, his expressive style was assured without a hint of the fraudulent need for the 'self-expression' so prevalent today.

I love how he describes how "the great masters" of the past can be found, "in certain moments", to be in "deep reality". This is wonderful and I think true for an original painter of any period. That "deep reality" of which he speaks is connected to Nature in one way or another. Below I include (with great modesty) a recent study from my series here on the coast of Australia.

St Remy, January 1989

Dr Gachet, Auvers, Spring 1989

                          St Remy, January 1989

 Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 22 June 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

           Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 19 June 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

25 August 2020

Simca, and the right to drive on the left.

'Simca' Dieulefit, August 2013, oil on canvas, 150 X 150 cm

A friend wrote me to say that my recent rants about Post-Modernism seemed "a bit cheeky" as she put it as nicely as she could.

"You have made loads of paintings which might be defined as Post-Modernist, aren't you playing the fool with all these ideas of yours?"

Of course, she is right because I am interested in so much of everything, and I'm flooded with ideas most of the time. But generally I like to stick to Painting, and the question always comes down to whether or not there is a coherent way of expression which suits a particular medium of Painting. 

As I haven't replied to her email but if I did, I would tell her that lots of ideas fly into my head all the time, they mostly fly straight in through one ear and out the other. But others can take up residence inside me like swallows in a draughty barn. They can hang around for months, and years. Some even die in there but it's all good, as they say in Australia.

I would say that I like all sorts of Painting, and am curious about how they work, (when they do), and curious how they don't, (when they don't).

Simca is from a series of large paintings done in France. I was experimenting to see if I could create non-objective-looking pictures, but they had to be images which possessed meaning, however obscure. 

I would explain that I had seen an exhibition one wintry day in Paris about 15 years ago at the Dina Vierny Foundation. It was devoted to the Russian artists at the time of the revolution. There was of course, Malevich for whom I haven't a great fascination, but so also many other graphic artists like Rodchenko and Lyubov Popova for whom I do, and I was thunderstruck that afternoon where I spent the day. I had never seen so much refined humour in such serious work. I thought about it for months afterwards but it would be a few years before I would begin thinking of a new direction for my own painting after what I had seen.

One thing I was sure of was that it would not be too serious in nature because I am not a serious man.  I am more Tati than Tatlin, but I understood that much of this work from Russia had an immense influence on everyone everywhere else around the world. It was a creative wave riding atop the revolutionary tide, for at the beginning, at least, the artists were believers in the possibility of a whole new society, however short-lived. This yielded to other movements like in Paris around the same time, but where Russian artists were springs of hope,  Dada was a cloud of cynicism. (Sacré Bleu! Zeez French!)

But, anyway, I had an idea which has hung from the rafters inside me since then. I still work on these pictures but sadly, they live like orphans in my studio until finished. If my dear old friend doesn't get an email from me she can read this post instead.

23 August 2020

dinner of spicy thoughts

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 19 August, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

The thing about Post-Modernist painting, if I can ask such a thing, is that one has to come up with something better than what Nature has already offered up as a visual language.

In other words did Abstract Expressionism, which directly proceeded Post-Modernism, give us a new way of expressing ourselves? As painters, did it offer a pathway which transcended our desperate need for self-expression?   

Has our pursuit to liberate ourselves, in this post-industrial age limited our goals to that prized commodity of mere self-expression? Don't get me wrong, I love self-expression but not if if it lacks a visual language enabling communication.

Haven't we sold ourselves short in this quest for truth? 

These are questions I eat for dinner most nights.

21 August 2020

Blooming twilight and Formalism in Nature


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 20 August 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

A painting like this done the other night reminds that somewhere deep inside me, is a strong desire to render these often messy studies into something more formal, not symmetrical, but balanced. They are about as 'Greek' as I can imagine, if I stretch the parameters of an Athenian sense of aesthetic.
It's as if I can reduce all of Nature's magnificent beauty down to a canvas board of 25 X 30 cm. A tall order, ha ha. But there is a truth to this understanding inside me. 

After all, I stand at twilight in front of the vast sky and sea in all directions. This is the 'blooming' hour when colours morph away from the shadows of day into the light of night. It is in these instants of 'bloom' when magic ferments.

The study below, which I like very much and consider a success, is entirely different. 
The sky was certainly less balanced than the study above and with an irregular design which provokes a particular feeling in me when I begin working. It might be the changing aspect of the sky which pushes an urgency to find a solution for it. This can lead me to more risk and the capricious rendering is a result of all this. 

But also, I can be very insouçiant in front of such a sky and sea which isn't as easy to figure out in such a short bit of time. My uncertainty is what can create greatness. Left to my own devises in front of a steady designed motif and I shall resort to what I already know. And this rarely results in something new, or maybe even great, in its own way. 

But, I like them both. They were done about ten days apart so they are cousins, so to speak. 

18 August 2020

San Giorgio in Australia

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 12 August 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

These two studies were done within days of one another. They look as though the sea and sky were somewhat the same on both nights. They may indeed have been but what was really the same was my interest in pushing more pure colour with less white paint from the start. In them is more 'body', more substance than I typical use for the sky, in particular. They are quickly put down, and always start with the sky. This is completely different than how I have ever worked in my life. I had always established the 'shadows' before introducing the sky. In this series I jump into the sky first and consequently I was 'fixed' to the 'value' of the 'light', in this case the sky, for the rest of the painting. I am doing the reverse of what I have spent my life doing in painting. This abstract motif is well suited for this kind approach though.
I remember working this way at the very beginning in my earliest days of learning to paint. In Venice I made a small study of San Giorgio back around 1974 from my hotel room. It began to appear across the little white canvas board in very much the same way, as these as if I am conjuring up an image out of some part of my memory. Once put down, it is not touched again. It is finished.

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

And then, there was this study done at the beginning of the series three years ago. I had been working in the studio, far away from a 'motif' so consequently I was aligned too closely with my memory only. It is of a very different conception, one more expressive, more painterly perhaps. I like it as much as the new things because I accept it. It reveals my deepest and often unconscious desire to go back into a childhood of messy play, something that was discouraged in my childhood. And yet, there is the rigour of design; of a contained picture, one coming out of a tradition of landscape albeit wild and free. It's pretty weird in fact.

I have come to understand that only continuous work will reveal the whole story of a painter's life. This is why it is imperative for him/her to keep working everyday if one is fortunate enough to do so. Every day, every new picture is the source of spontaneous pleasure and for me, it is akin to being allowed to return to the child's playroom, and a chance to revisit the scene of the crime, so to speak.

Brunswick Heads Brunswick Heads,  17 March 2018, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

16 August 2020

Giotto's joy of Donkeys and the gift of invention


One of the earliest forms of invention in Painting has to be in Giotto's work. Yes, everyone goes crazy for the Renaissance but it is in Giotto where one first finds the hint of Cézanne. 

What???...What a thing to say!  What rapport??

And I confess that I don't have anything of academic import to support this but through the images and from my own intuition. But it could just be that in Giotto's world of flat abstraction there is a simplicity which left Western Painting until the arrival of Cézanne 500 years later. And in Cézanne, there was a studious desire to return to a simplicity which centred around the shapes of a cube, a ball, and rectangle. He famously described drawing in those simple terms; the Aix landscape in particular, if I am not mistaken. 

And Giotto's simple structures which he created for his figures seem to be bursting out of the Byzantine crypt. 

Inspired by Cézanne, the early Cubist paintings also made a retreat to simple forms necessary to render their own concept of figures and landscapes. 

In both Giotto and Cézanne human figures feel cold and remote from feeling, almost of another of human world. My father had reproductions of Giotto scattered around his bathroom wall and as a child I felt almost scared just looking at their human faces. And yet, the animals are forever sweet and childlike. Indeed, animals throughout the Renaissance Painting world seem to be the chosen symbol for a humanity depicted side by side with human cruelty.

I wonder if anyone has written about this?

There is so much to say. I simply wanted to find an excuse to put up this top picture of these gentle and happy donkeys.

14 August 2020

Mallarmé and the effect of dusk on a man's soul.


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 August 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm


I am not sure which painting (or painter) Mallarmé was thinking of when he made the following observation, (to paraphrase) 

"to paint not the object but the effect it produces might be the essence Modern Painting."

I am always looking at Turner's watercolours which have probably been the biggest inspiration for this series done in Australia.

With lighting speed I chase after these 'effects' of Nature at the end of the day and before nightfall. 

I am more Expressionist than Impressionist. I have already re-iterated this many times over the last few years in these pages. But, I say it again because after both French Impressionism and American Expressionism came a tsunami of copiers, ('followers of', to be less harsh). But still, like after every great new innovation in the Arts, what follows is almost always an imitation of the real thing. Painters develop strong techniques (effects) to compensate for a lack of vision based in personal memory.

I am not an adherent of American Expressionism but I am an adherent of speed, of painting quickly, without hesitation, without monkey mind, and mostly without the cursed 'attention to 'nice painting effects'; the plague of the Painting world. I attack a motif like a scorpion once I have seen something in it with my eyes. From then on, I break down the pillars of my own thought and constraint, and the messiness left at the end of the short session is the picture. These studies rarely take more than 10 or 15 minutes. 

My attention is always focussed upon the canvas board and the unified pictorial image which does not rely on the tricks of the trade in the Painting world at large. And yet, on occasion I can fall into propping up a picture using any means necessary to bring off a painting. 

This same thing happens in the world of Jazz. Followers still imitate the great innovators (with great technique) but turning so much of contemporary Jazz music into pablum. I would need more time to explore this idea which will inevitably upset many people in the art world. Soon!


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2 August 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

11 August 2020

Brooks Brothers and the oasis of Madison avenue.


      Summer for Certain, Dieulefit, circa 2005

When I was a small boy I often visited my father who lived in a hotel in New York. I went mostly on weekends and he would always take me to Brooks Brothers for a tie, or shirt, or a pair of shoes. Though usually it was a tie. 

Looking back on those forays I suppose that he may have been trying to make up for his sudden absence in my life, and perhaps he made other forays to other shops with his other children.  

But for me, it was the ground floor of Brooks Brothers with two large entrances at both Madison Avenue and 44th street to the south which fascinated me. It seemed to be a bright place where the morning sun flooded over the wood floors. The Salespersons were plentiful, and they were constantly hovering around clients. It was good service and they were very kind to young boys like myself. At the center of the floor, as I remember it, were long display cases made of polished wood which extended out into the large room. In them all were narrow slots which housed the ties. Hundreds of colourful ties were lined up for inspection each in their own wooden coffins. I loved roaming these cases and it was certainly then that I became hooked on stripes. Every colour combination, every stripe size. There were more colour combinations than I had ever seen before and I was fascinated. I became an addict for life, and imagined wearing ties for the rest of my life.

And this striped obsession has remained with me since then. I fell into picking up silk samples from India, Turkey, France, Italy, Morocco, and just about everywhere I travelled. I didn't need more than a meter of it. It wasn't to use as bedcovers or for some other utilitarian purpose, it was simply to have in my possession a visual bit of sensual beauty like a man who needs a beautiful woman on his arm at all times. Many have now been lost or been given away but a few still remain to hang over chairs and hooks as faded reminders. Still in glory to themselves they exist.

This all reminds me of an LSD trip to the Nat'l Sand Dune Park in Colorado way back at the end of my freshman year in University. It was miles from anything, an enormous pile of sand at the end of a long valley Southwest of Denver. I was with some college friends and we climbed to the top of it during a June afternoon. We took acid but we forgot to bring water. (This was 1971, after all) At one point, the entire sand dune appeared to be made of millions upon millions of striped snakes. Picking up a handful of sand  then suddenly watching hundreds of brightly coloured snakes slip through our fingers as if in an Oasis in Arabia proved to be a big hit for us. I don't remember much else.