30 November 2020

so there's no brandy? there is always Morandi


When life becomes too difficult to manage, - not that it is ever manageable, say the Buddhists - there is always Morandi to savour. So there is no desert? There is always Morandi! 

There is a book on his life and work resting on my very large coffee table so he is never far from my eye.

I have seen many shows of his work, some small, but others, like the retrospective in Paris back around 2008 at the Musee d'Art Moderne were fairly inclusive, full like a bulging wallet.

"Too many at once reveal his limitations", said a painter friend to me many years ago. I understood what he meant but I didn't agree. Small is quite beautiful even in large doses, especially when it comes to Morandi.

Speaking for myself alone, it seems evident that all painters (artists) are obsessional, and Morandi's interest in the continual arrangement of all these bottles and cups,  borders on an erotic obsession. It's as if he lived in his own harem, where an unlimited variety of shapes and sizes could be possessed by him, and him alone. 

He made landscapes too, though he is really known for his sensual take on the still life, everything made in his studio in a comfortably bourgeois family home which he shared with his sisters in Bologna. His small studio was a room at one end of the home on the second floor. To access it he had to pass through all of his sister's rooms' like what used to be called in New York, a railroad apartment.

This is the one anecdote about him I love the most. The intimacy of a family home inhabited by the adult children who had grown up in it. The intimacy of Morandi, the soft-spoken gentleman he was known to be, gently knocking on each successive door to arrive at his small workplace each day.  An arrangement of such  delicate coziness no doubt found its way into his pictures. 

And when I feel that restlessness coming on I usually reach for any book, but the Morandi seems to always be close at anxious hand.

29 November 2020

fake Trump, fake Cézanne


This appeared on my Instagram feed the other day. Of course, Instagram is a real circus of freaks which I think it's why I like it but also because one can exhibit most anything to their heart's content.

So this arrived as I scrolled one evening, bored with the news because Trump has gone AWOL. The awful sad truth is that I miss Trump! I really didn't see at the time that my addiction for Trump was so out of control. I always understand that my interest in him was out of the perverse fascination for his fakery, everything from his fake hair, his inflated fake bank account, to his fake tan, and dubious golf scores. His was the ultimate reality president show, but you get the point. I know that I am not the only one undergoing a withdrawal from him. Ha Ha.

But just as fake as Trump's whole show (and life) is this Cézanne which comes from where? When I first saw it, it looked like it was done using the software Procreate on an iPad. Then I thought how sad it is that people would believe it to be a genuine Cézanne. Everything is wrong, from the lack of light, to the overall lack of unity, the insipid drawing, the awful colour, etc, etc.  Ouch!

Here is a real Cézanne also done in 1867.

27 November 2020

two pages inside of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 26 November, 2020, oil on canvas, 30 X 25 cm

These came quickly last night and I was glad for it because I had to fight like a fisherman for them. Indeed I do understand Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea so much more as I have aged into Painting. 

A picture can be ruined so easily, enough to make a grown man cry like a child. Thankfully, I haven't lost  many pictures over the past few years. But when I did I raged like Donald Trump. Then I drank it off at night. But that is another lifetime ago.

In the picture below I am finding my way into a place in Painting which has enticed me for a long while. A place where a graphic sense of luminosity has formed from a motif external to myself. It feels like a kind of Expressionism which is tethered by reality. Suddenly, I wonder if moored by reality isn't more apt, and so I hesitate between the two. Moored is a metaphor of the ocean while tethered is one of the air. Ma foi.

The top picture feels more fastened to the past, while the one below lures me into my future.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 26 November, 2020, oil on canvas, 30 X 25 cm

Richard Parkes Bonnigton's ghost hides in the 21st century

I read something recently in a book about Richard Parkes Bonnington which caught my eye. It is from the preface by Carlos Peacock. He writes:

'New movements come about in art when men (and women, my addition) see the world around them in a new way, thinking and feeling about it with a changed perception'..

How cogent, I thought, but actually I had underlined this very sentence two decades ago when I first picked it up in London and read the short biography on the British painter. It was the only thing I had underlined in the whole book. Though it is difficult to see and understand Bonnington in regards to the wisdom in this small sentence, I could certainly see it more clearly in Turner, for instance, who was a small generation ahead of him.

But it led me to think about Painting in our more recent history. More precisely, how can Painting history make peace with Post-Modernist thinking, a young movement raging through Art schools the world over for 50 years now, and, which has upset the proverbial applecart of  art history itself?

Ever since Dada captivated the avant-garde back in the early part of the 20th century, the flux it caused became the leftmotif itself, the raison-etre of its existence. 

But what do we do with it? The humble painter wants to ask knowing full well that flux is what makes the world move, whether we like it or not. Life is flux, and we are in flux if we are to truly be alive. And Art must be in flux.

And skipping ahead, this flux led to Fluxus which became a huge movement itself years back (in the 60’s) and it generously spread its wings into almost every aspect of Contemporary Art today. 

But again, what about Painting?,,, cries the frustrated painter who knows all too well that Painting had weathered Surrealism only to be faced with Cubism! 

Picasso (the original Post-Modernist) who turned reality on its head with Cubism somehow stayed out of the ensuing fray. He was, after all, Picasso, and nobody could touch him (as they say of a mob boss) moreover, and like Jesus he was already an icon at birth, it seems. And then what?,,, the confused painter asks again. Then Picasso ventured into kitsch!

Jackson Pollack, came along just in time with a different kind of kitsch. Painting in the 50's was going kitsch (later to be re-iterated by the clever Jeff Koons) and Pollack arrived to add speed painting to the mix, along with his splattered style. I suppose this was a new perceptual feeling, too. He was certainly the quintessential painter of painters in the rugged terrain of New York Expressionism,  and he set the tone for a masculine bulldozing form of sensuality which survived through the seventies and eighties both in America and Germany.

But yes, de Kooning, Guston, and a few other innovative originals, pushed Painting into new directions. The idea of a painting was still having a rough go of it since the arrival of Post-Modernism. Alas, it has brainwashed whole departments in some of the finest, most distinguished universities in America. The result has left us (students) in a state of cultural nihilism. Can one find  meaningful lust in Donald Judd or Jeff Koons?

Don't get me wrong, I love the absurd, but I am too often offended by the vulgarity of a Postmodernist Art  that it has been around the block too many times. I prefer original absurd, even original kitsch!

I guess the main thrust of my thinking after coming across this underlined sentence is essentially that there are so few really original painters. In a generation they number in the single digits. And so often we cannot see them for so many reasons. But we should cherish them when they do appear. Most of us are so stuck in our ideas and bias’s that we cannot recognise true innovation based in originality. As I have said here before, and to paraphrase Baudelaire, ‘All new and original work first appears to us as ugly’. So how can art lovers be open and critical at the same time?

As always, I throw a bit of my own work out for the lions to feed upon.  I am unafraid of criticism! This painting was done far from the sea but I made a few large things around this time while landlocked in the Drôme region of France and apparently dreaming of the sea before I had even imagined emigrating to Australia a few years later.


La Mer et le Ciel, Dieulefit, 2013, oil on canvas, 150 X 150 cm

25 November 2020

Last installment of Journal 98 Collaboration with François De Asis and Claude Massu

2 June 2000

Arrived at about 11h30. He was waiting for me in the garden. We went down to the studio and in it was so much

work that it was hard to find a pathway through it all. I am amazed by the increasing clutter of paintings in the studio.

First off, I saw two large pictures of the Barrage Zola on the north wall. One very dark, emerald greens and cold blacks linked together by brackish violets. Next to it was one with a very warm color harmony; deep violets moving to oranges and red. Both done in one session. I was amazed by the intensity of both. He had done them just before leaving for Venice.

He then almost immediately began to speak his mind, the reason for which he had wanted me to come visit. While working in Venice he often talked with an old Italian man who lived next door to the spot where he was painting from. One day the old fellow expressed his thoughts to him. Although “interesting”, he said he found Francois’s painting “without form”. Francois seemed to have been really bothered by this small comment. I have the impression that this was perhaps the one worry which lay hidden deep within Francois’s heart, a doubt which springs into action to plague him during moments between his work. And I understood that this one fear might be that no one will ‘see the work’ or come close understanding it.

While painting he is fearless, but his Achilles Heel might very well be this one lurking notion. Actually, I was glad to see it because sometimes, he almost seems too invincible in his convictions about Art and Painting.

Looking at these magnificent paintings and contemplating his words, I wonder to myself something which has been growing inside me in recent years: In the end, mustn’t a painter love Painting, (the canvas) more than he loves Nature, (the motif)?

I saw that Francois has made his own road into Painting, one he hopes is linked to all Painting which has moved him over the years. What else can a painter hope for than that? His ultimate belief in himself will undoubtably leave almost everyone else behind from time to time. Isn’t that what it means to be original? (so much can be said about all this!)

He put another Barrage Zola (same size 30F?) opposite on the easel. It was just as dark but unlike the first two it had been done over many sessions. We looked at it for a while. And yes, the picture felt ‘richer’ and ‘complete’ in its structure as if nothing else was needed. Nothing else could be put into it without being extraneous. Isn’t that what Leo was all about? Cézanne, Van Gogh? This painting was full, satiated with so many painting sessions encased inside of it that it did actually feel like a symphony.

What more could Francois ask than this? That few see it, even like it, or understand it is beyond the painter’s grasp. Once finished, the picture is put out to pasture so to speak. And then, I think of Baudelaire, who said that something which is truly great and original, often appears strange at first viewing.

Looking at all three pictures together was compelling, and I liked them all. The two done in one session possessed a Form not unlike the more ‘worked’ one, just less developed. It was clear however that they were from the ‘same family’ as Leo often observed when we looked at things together.

Maybe, in their own particular, if abbreviated way, they were less like a symphony, just more like a Trio or Quartet.

23 November 2020

Charlotte Joko Beck's cookbook for a healthy mind

From a book which I have read and re-read many times over the past twenty years. Its called Everyday Zen and was written by Charlotte Joko Beck who died in 2011 at the age of 94.

"What is time? Is there time? What can we say about our daily life in connection with time, and with no time,  no-self?

Ordinarily we think of a dharma talk or a concert, or any event in life as having a beginning, a middle, and an end. But at any point in this talk. for instance, if I stop right now, where are the words I've already said? They don't exist. They just don't exist. If I stop at any point in the talk, where are the words that have been said up to that point? they don't exist. And when the talk is over, where is the talk? There is no talk. All that's left are memory traces in our brains. And this memory whatever it is, is fragmentary and incomplete: we remember only parts of any actual experience. The same thing could be said of a concert - in fact we can say the same thing about our whole day, and our whole life. At this very point in time, where is our past life? It doesn't exist."

What struck me even the first time I read this passage was that the creation of a painting is a kind of permanent memory, for lack of a better way to describe it. The experience of time is gone but the product of that time is a sort of souvenir born out of that fleeting experience which she may be describing. The painting might be understood as the tangible result of this creative space spent in the present moment.

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

Music once heard, disappears into sensorial memory. The written word, once read aloud, has the same effect as watching a fireworks display. But a painting can be experienced all at once; continually, forever locked into the present memory of the moment.

More to be revealed...

22 November 2020

mysterious woman, out of reach

I saw this portrait at the Courtauld in London back in 2012 I think. It was painted by a Dutchman who had come to London to paint the many fashionable people of the late 18th and early 19th century when portraits were the way of saying to the rest of the Bourgeoisie "We exist!"

I went back to see it again a few times but it had been moved and was nowhere to be found to my great regret. There are wonderful things at the Courtauld but this was my secret favourite, even over a version of Van Gogh with a bandage over his ear which I love.  

This portrait of a young wife reminds that greatness is not just about painting but in humanity too. For to render such fragile beauty as in this portrait is a great gift. It is spared the often heavy technique which inhabits Rembrandt. 

19 November 2020

Journal 98 Collaboration with François De Asis and Claude Massu (cont)

5 July

He came over to show me proofs just recently pulled for his new book. He wanted to explain just how he worked up these serigraphs as opposed to his paintings. He said he had no interest in simply reproducing these drawings. He doesn’t have the time, nor would he want to waste time, they are simply done, finished, and he moves forward. For him, the serigraphs represent a new and unique ‘interpretation’ of his own paintings.

He interprets each painting by way of many different plates of color. Each one is drawn uniquely for the serigraph. (I think of Leo’s way of making his lithos) They are done with a brush which ‘brings them close’ in feeling to his painting but they are done in monochrome, the colors added later.

7 September.

I went yesterday for a visit. Eliane was sitting in the garden at the table writing some letters. Francois and I went down to the studio which was cluttered with canvases everywhere one looked (more and more!). He had had a good trip to Monterosso and it had been very productive. He was happy, and it showed.... he seemed younger.

He started off showing me the early morning motifs most of which were charged and turbulent. He said that during the whole time in Italy there were only 3 or 4 days when the sea was calm. They are all about size 15F, maybe 20F, and all were done in one session. He explained that he worked every morning from 7h - 10h30. Only after, would he then ‘faire sa toilette’ and have breakfast with Eliane. He seems to work like a diesel engine, always steady and always plowing forward through any doubts or concerns.

One of the canvases was done in a rainstorm which drenched him, and he caught a strep throat. It was a thing of rare beauty, cold emerald green water below violet mountains.

He described these things as ‘le couleur du tableau’ as opposed to the ‘couleur local’.

I could see immediately that all these things came out of his experience with the serigraphs. In fact, some of them looked as if they could almost have been serigraphs. He admitted that they were ‘born from his books’. They looked like colored drawings to me. He showed me some smaller things done from the balcony of his hotel.

Afterwards, we looked at three paintings from a two week stay at Stephane’s in Forcalquier. He wasn’t satisfied with the results. They were huge, I don’t know what size; maybe 70F or 80F..?

I loved them even before he had a chance to straighten them up on the easil. I could see something which was directly close to me... to my sensibility, an emotional feeling I am after perhaps.

They were tremendous images, completely abstract, done of the plateau.. Incredible that someone could pull off such an image from this landscape. He described them as being “scattered with color” not unlike the “couleur du tableau” of which he was speaking earlier. The “couleur du tableau” is done from the sensation, almost a memory, he explained again.

He spends at least an hour preparing his colors before he begins, hence the clarity and organization which I sense in his work. And yet, the crazy, wild brushstrokes, so spontaneous in much his work, seem to contradict the careful planning. I am not sure that most people would share my admiration. He is moving into a realm of Art where few can follow.


18 November 2020

Iterations of dusk, the chariot of the goddess Selene sinks beneath the horizon


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 6 November, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm


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

Variations on a theme of dusk. Though done on different evenings they follow the moments of change in as many of the iterations which I am able to capture. 

As if by ritual, it seems both earth and sky prepare for twilight by yielding to a shower of fine fairy dust until  the arrival of Night driven in a black hearse.

I am there most nights to witness it. Sometimes after working, I languish and await the first few stars to become visible. It is a glorious moment but without fanfare. It is akin to stumbling, unexpectedly upon a field of tiny wildflowers.

This is the head of one of the exhausted horses that draws the chariot of the moon goddess Selene goddess of the night. Having ridden all night it reveals its fatigue. There are two which are part of the Elgin Marbles in The British Museum (Two other horses and Selene’s torso are in the Acropolis Museum, Athens.) In the corners of this pediment, the exact time of day was set by the chariot of Helios, rising at dawn, and the chariot of Selene, sinking beneath the horizon. 

Like many, I have always loved this head exhibited on the far right of the whole group of figures and horses in th British museum. It is, for me, that height of technical perfection coupled with an intuitive feeling, or emotion unique to rare artists and artisans. And so, both dawn and dusk have been celebrated for thousands of years on this earth. I celebrate it too, in my own way on a beach on the North Coast of Australia.

15 November 2020

glorious and unwanted, the tomato surprise!


Tomato Surprise, Dieulefit, circa 2008, oil on canvas, 80 X 50 cm

Almost none of my friends like this painting!! Alas! And I can understand, but with a certain chagrin. I suppose because I like it so very much, and I believe myself to having superior taste, of course! So, why wouldn't others like it as much? 

That is the great mysterious beauty of Art. It is so deeply personal that no one else can feel what you should feel yourself.

And too often when it comes to Painting people can kind of zone out because technique quickly supplants the poetic love of pure feeling (which by the way, no one does when listening to Stevie Wonder or the Rolling Stones, or Mahler, for that matter) 

So Art is that one place where we are free to take what we want and leave the rest. How glorious this is,,, how democratic.

13 November 2020

fingernails scratching the sand, inhaling a flower blossom

 Evening Prayers Brunswick Heads,  10 November 2020,  oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

I had a remarkable experience the other night. I was working on a few studies which came quickly. I made the three of them which are in the following order. 

The wind from the South brought a chill as I worked while I kept an eye out for whales which often breach this time of year. The sea was turbulent and occasional whitecaps formed again and again. Its waves broke upon the shore like long fingernails scratching the sand, and me there, just like a 10 year old, amazed by life itself.

 Evening Prayers Brunswick Heads,  10 November 2020,  oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

When suddenly, within a few minutes the wind dropped, and I couldn't hear it anymore. I realised that the sea too had calmed down, silent, its waves now were more like patterns in a blue woollen jumper, its whitecaps instantly ironed out. I stopped working for about a minute to understand what was happening. I marvelled at all the sudden empty space, the sonorous rest note when one stops at a flower blossom, bending over slightly to inhale it. 


                 Evening Prayers Brunswick Heads,  10 November 2020,  oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

11 November 2020

Proust and the Time Machine

I have the dubious luxury of possessing a few old photos of myself from boarding days which my father had lovingly framed and had hung on his bathroom  walls at the Westbury Hotel where he lived for about a dozen years waiting for my mother to change her mind.

I have a few framed photos of various hockey and football teams from different schools. I look at them now almost vicariously as if from another life time. It's another small body, but that is in fact me even if it is no longer a small young body. The photos have been shuffled about from New York to France, and now they find a home in Australia. I haven't yet hung them up anywhere. They have been orphans mostly propped up in different bathrooms of mine over the years. Starting out at the Westbury Hotel (where the arch-villain in The French Connection was filmed staying), they are reminders to me to never wait for a woman to change her mind. For that matter, never wait on a woman. She had moved on while he hadn't. This is a theme of men and women, it seems, though naturally as a child I was clueless. Meanwhile these photos have become used to waiting around in new and different shaped bathrooms over the years, on different continents, but always bathrooms nonetheless as I remain loyal to that idea alone.

And looking at them recently as I brush my teeth or perform some other bathroom ritual I find myself trying to remember my teammate's names. And weirdly, I can almost remember all of them despite that I can barely remember the name of my current neighbour whom I see often. But these names are glued to distinct memories far beyond the vast desert of what became of my adult life. And of these ghosts I can sometimes pin a first name or family name, and sometimes both. It feels like using Time Machine on my laptop where clicking onto those faces draws up to the murky surface of the present those sepia memories reaching far back into the past. 

Last year I read Swann's Way, the first in Proust's winding path down through his own memory lane and to the first bite of the infamous Madeleine with his grandmother.  We all have them, these elegiac lightning strikes at most odd moments in our often odd days, these odd memories.

Let's see: in the back row starting from the left is Brad Gifford, the next is a blank, Me number 9 in the middle, Charlie Baker, Seqriest Front row: John Lee, Charlie Ebles, Kristopherson the goalie, Belucci, and Greg Bloomfield on the far right.

The photo itself has faded terribly which shows its age. It was the Junior Varsity Hockey team and it was taken in Deerfield Mass. In it, we are all laughing because I remember the photographer had cracked  a  joke to make us smile. (a lesson I learned well, and stored for later in life when taking my own photographs of uptight or shy sitters) I like that I am smiling broadly in this photo circa, 1965, because I somehow lost that smile as I went into the rest of my adolescence and adult life. 

Journal 98 Collaboration with François De Asis and Claude Massu (cont)


22 May 1999

Went yesterday to say hello as I know he has passed by the Château twice since last week.

I found him drawing outside in his garden chair. Eliane close by him in a chaise lounge in the sun and reading. Francois was drawing the huge chestnut tree next to the house. Its flowers, large like ice-cream cones are hitting their zenith. I glanced at the sketchbook to see a wild and woolly circus of lines. I am beginning to notice a kind of symmetry in his drawing which indeed, one finds in Nature but only when really looking hard, I think to myself. Francois has tapped into it like a Japanese Zen painter of a time long ago when communion with Nature was essential for life as an artist. We chatted about my upcoming show.

His neighbor had cut down an immense pine tree some months earlier. The huge western sky caves in every afternoon. Such light which illuminates that entire portion of the terrace is stunning. Francois and Eliane are pleased. It changes everything.

We ambled down to the studio, the long lines of pale purple irises are still robust. In fact everything is alive,.. bursting with life.

In the studio he is working 6-8 hours a day on the serigraph prints for the book with Yves Bonnefoy. Its a cerebral kind of task which invigorates him, so he claims. Each plastic plate is lovingly painted to correspond to a color of his painting. How surprising that in fact his painting, so seemingly spontaneous and unruly, can dovetail into this rigorous print-making process. I always marvel at this concentrated mind. And I see in this just how much he had in common with Leo, whose own temperament was rigorously disciplined.

He showed me a copy of Poésie 98, the review by Yves Bèrgerey which he had just received in the mail. The text is beautifully interlaced with his drawings. Fantastic things! Drawings from Venice, Monterosso, the Alps... He seemed very pleased with it.

He then showed me an album from his first visit to the Alps where his series of the Large Boulder were done. They are squirrelly, seemingly random in explanation, as if his pencil had not been lifted off the page. They are dense with an intensity and relentless probing; crazy peregrinations. They seem obsessional.

His second visit seemed to dispel all the uncertainty of the first because with the greatest simplicity, he carved out images made with brevity. Where before, the thick surface-markings of lead obscure the structure of the drawing, now, the white paper dominates, as if the sun has come out and suddenly swept away the clouds. They are the results of deliberate movements between the hand and the eye..

10 November 2020

sisters of mercy on election day


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 3 November, 2020 oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm 

These two paintings were done back to back though I am not sure which one was made first, probably the one below. Now I realise they were done on election day in America though from the future here in Australian Sydney Time. I was feeling deeply apprehensive about Trump being re-elected and it clouded my otherwise lovely feelings for the sky. But they came quickly with a deliberate confidence unlike the cloudy uncertainty of Joe Biden's transition to power. 

When I feel under the weather, I can easily forget that many, many other people feel anxiety in this time of Trump. 

And these are times of great uncertainty in so many ways. I feel grateful that my small life only seems to concern itself with the uncertainty in the making of a painting because I have developed a new hope that my arrival at this task is possible. I have finally learned after all these years that the struggle is the pleasure. This cannot be said for those living under the roof of uncertainty and fear in Trump's America.


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads,  3 November, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25

08 November 2020

The anecdotal president and J.M.W.Turner

This president has been many things for America, from his dishonesty to all the really stupid things he has done to push our country backwards into a dreamy world constructed of his own personal anecdotal details. He has tried to reshape America into a doctored photograph tacked up on his bedroom wall. He is the anecdotal president, full of baloney, as they used to call it in the more polite America of yesteryear. Now, they just call it s**t, as in s**thole, which also could be one of this president's more infamous insults. He is a moron, a deceitful one, but more like a reptile which is only motivated by fear and greed (but both in the same foul breath). But, yes, everyone knows all that already!

I didn't mean to go off on a tangent. But because this word anecdotal has become le mot de jour in the past few years it got me thinking about Turner. More precisely, it is something which has always bothered me about so many of his paintings, both large, small, in both watercolour and in oil. Under these magnificent mountain skies and seascapes, figures resembling tiny porcelain figurines always seem to litter the surface of the foreground. It has driven me a bit nuts, actually.

Needless to say, I don't like them, and I will admit that perhaps I don't completely understand why he would ruin an otherwise unified painting to include these small things which only distract us (me). Sometimes they are less bothersome, and can even work to place the landscape, or seascape into a certain context like the image below (but very unlike the otherwise splendorous watercolour at the top)

To what purpose do they really serve, a painter can ask? They are habitually well crafted, well depicted, well painted too. And yes, it was an accepted form of classical painting which I suppose, arose from the tradition of depicting classical themes in paintings. The centuries proceeding Turner, both in England and Holland, had produced a ton of these kinds of 'landscapes with figures'. It was a grand genre theme this Man intermingling with Nature, but before, of course, man went to war against it at the start of the Industrial Age, consciously or not. 

Humankind in Harmony with Nature was a big hit with wealthy collectors, and families of great historical power in Britain. They had country manor homes to decorate, city palaces, and often castle estates like Petworth House which is home to a magnificent collection of Turner's work. I have visited it several times over the years, most recently with my dearest friend Niki McCourt who lives in East Sussex.

One thing I love about the British is that they possess a genuine love for their land and wildlife. They take pride in the protection of it through the National Trust which lords over every centimetre of this beautiful nation. Rich or Poor, they love their gardens. Sadly, the almost opposite of our own president and his minions.

So, I think the question for a painter (and the point of all this) is why did Turner fill so many of these paintings and watercolours with extraneous figurines in the foreground? it certainly wasn't because he needed a device to push the middle ground back into the distance. He was far too great a painter who could manipulate with ease any space in his pictures with a small flick of a brush or a wipe of a cloth.

The burning of the House of Parliament 

I wonder if it wasn't simply because wealthy collectors were too used to seeing figures in the foreground, maybe they were too comfortable with them, traditional by nature, and too conventional to see differently. They were not artists after all. And, Turner knew that, he had expenses like everyone else.

So, perhaps towards the end of his life his artistic sensibility, his intuition, was to simply let go of the artifice of these figures in the foreground. He was wealthy enough to truly let go of any financial worries by then. At this point he was also already preoccupied with the idea of the sketch as a work of Art in its own right, and  done rapidly in front of his favourite motifs on the coastline in Sussex or in sensual Venice . 

Below, are some of the later things which reveal his clairvoyance; his intuition which blew him into the 20th century like a hurricane.

02 November 2020

plastics in the Hall of Versailles


Making Art is an American concept. I don’t think anyone anywhere else has ever referred to Art being made in quite the same way. It seems to be part of the vast vernacular of the America landscape. I always feel a bit relieved that I see myself as just a painter who paints pictures. I don’t make Art, thankfully. 

Painting pictures is an easier, a less melodramatic activity. I have always felt a little sorry for really famous contemporary artists who must continually re-invent themselves each couple of seasons in order to please an audience of investment bankers and others on top of the food chain. 

Also, there is something grotesque about American Hubris in every regard except that it is worse in Art in the world of Art-Making where America promotes itself as the Biggest, the Best, the Boldest, and the most Expensive.           

There is an innovative animal in the American spirit for both the good and the bad in our enterprises. It's if it doesn’t matter what is made, but it needs to be made! (And I am not even talking about the current president who, in this regard is in a class by himself) I have often felt that we are in an extremely materialist phase at this moment in time. It's not that Versailles is parked in our living rooms but in our gluttonous minds. 

Over the last century the world has produced many things which have improved our lives. Plastics come to mind, as one example. Yet for all its benefits, of which there are so many, it has after decades of existence also infected our lands, oceans, and waterways not only into every corner of the earth but into almost every microscopic tissue in every mammal and fish on the planet. So melodramatic am I! But it's nevertheless true. And for all the good of industrialisation in our manufacturing, we are left a century later with a hotter planet, and too few cool heads to try and fix ameliorate our situation. 

So what has this got to do with Art? I would postulate that as we assess our carbon imprint upon the planet it behooves us to also try and understand the impact of what our Art has on others. 

Does it make an attempt to connect to others with whom we share this community in both the small and and large senses? Or, is it all solipsistic navel gazing? And personally speaking, I have been guilty of that myself, so I am not throwing stones at the mirrors in the Hall of Versailles.

What interests me intellectually anyway, is what our creative contemporary culture thinks when it makes Art as an activity and livelihood. 

So after that rant, I will offer up a very small painting to contrast with those large ideas which I seem to be clever at juggling upwards into the air but inept at catching as they fall.


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 26 October, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm