31 December 2020

2020, somewhere else, confetti flies


This was posted exactly 10 years ago, and so I thought it appropriate to re-post again. It was made near the very beginning of this Blog which over the years has miraculously survived somehow.

It was also at a period when I was writing Haiku like a mad monk. I was alive to everything, all interactions, large and small, each day, and into the evening while I slept. Everything had a meaning,  connected by a spider web of  ideas and relationships both real and unreal. I was like a creature on the hunt for poetic protein, prowling the visual world through the muck of mundane and into the sublime.

My mind was a large bedroom into which butterflies flooded in and out all day long through the tall French windows. I wish I could find my way back into that space again. Maybe soon... maybe next year, maybe tomorrow.

30 December 2020

'the greater the doubt, the greater the artist', maybe, hopefully

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 21 December, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

I was speaking to an old friend yesterday, a long conversation via Messenger which has now become my go-to mode of communication.

She has been at work as an artist for about 40 years. In my mind she has always been a tireless worker, always at it, day and night, and yet a rich successful career has eluded her. 

"...you know Christopher, I have been working for 40 years now and it seems to me that I still don't know what I am doing!"

I laughed because I had heard this from her many times before. I told her that artists, writers, musicians, etc, etc, who cannot admit this sort of thing are probably not very good at all. An artist who never questions him/herself, who knows nothing of the gnawing doubt deep inside one's skin would surely make very insipid Art. But to work through it all is the key to a happy daily routine, in most cases, anyway. Moreover, Art doesn't generally come out of technical schools, it comes out of recess period between classes.

I often think this to myself:

'the greater the doubt, the greater the artist'.

But then, I quickly think that maybe this is dangerous ground, I should not be making such broad pronouncements. But I have read of great painters who have claimed that in their twilight years they have only  just begun to understand Painting even as their teeth and hair are falling out. Delacroix comes to mind.

Doubt can be a healthy thing in all things, even brain surgeons have loads of it except when they are deep at work inside the brain of human cosmos. The thing for me is that when I am working doubt usually disappears, and this is always the proof that the routine is everything.

29 December 2020

Halloween, tricks or treats of painting


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

A magnificent sky for Halloween almost two months ago which I struggled with like a fisherman with a tough catch. I lost it several times but reeled it back in each time to my surprise. 

It was a strange light 

28 December 2020

Leica magic and the Trump escalator


I recently met a guy from Melbourne, who with his wife,  spent his holiday in America a few years back. They were in New York the week that Trump rode down the now infamous escalator ride at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy for President. He and his wife  had been shopping in midtown, when on a whim they popped into Trump Tower.

Just a few minutes in the lobby of Trump Tower this great-looking couple were quickly approached by a woman who asked them if they wanted to make a few bucks, $50, to be precise for an hour's work. They agreed immediately, and were taken to the second floor landing, then into a large empty retail space hidden from view with brown paper over the windows. There were about a hundred other people there waiting around, some lucky to have chairs. They had no idea what was going on. At a small table another woman, a bright blonde, sized them up quickly and handed them two tee shirts from large boxes behind. 

"...these are all a little bigger, just put them over your shirts"

She said. The white tee shirts emblazoned with 'TRUMP Make America Great Againwritten in red. They had only a faint clue who he was as a reality television star. 

A big muscular guy in a black suit handed them both a $50 note from a roll in his pocket and told them told them to go over by the wall and indicated to the other side of the room where they were to wait before being called.

After about an hour of waiting around uncomfortably  the bright blonde moved to the center of the room threw up her hand and yelled out for everyone to listen up. She then explained was expected of all of them, and in a few moments they were all trotted out 'to mingle'.

Some people were given signs with 'Trump for President!' scrawled with different coloured magic markers. Others, wearing tee-shirts, were instructed to go down to the lobby, the rest were told to stay on the first floor to cheer as Trump rode down the escalator. The couple were given a place (as were others along the balustrade, on the landing.)  

They had been instructed to cheer, clap and shout loudly as rode downwards.

"Trump! Trump! Trump!"  

The guy told me it was funny but also really weird because Trump was in fact, really weird. He went right by them without looking, focussed on the lobby below, then began waving casually to nothing in particular, just space. It was a ragtag-looking crowd as if they were all extras (they were) from some old Italian B film where the actors were yelling out their lines not in sync with the film.

And so that was it. It went by "like a dream" he kept saying. Ivanka introduced her father, then Trump gave his speech. 

About an hour later, they were in front of painting by Jackson Pollock at MOMA and still laughing about the whole thing. Lucky them, I thought. A story for their grandkids. And, they kept the tee-shirts as souvenirs.

26 December 2020

scattered rose petals after a storm


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

This is an old painting from April 2020 which I just saw on my cluttered desktop but suddenly 'saw again' which is a very nice thing for a painter. It means that the painting still lives, it still succeeds, at least for me anyway. And I am the most important person to please in this small cottage of a life I live. But hey! It's a great cottage.

It's not a picture that will knock your socks off but it is a decent replication of my session on that small dune up here on the North Coast of New South Wales in Australia. It is what I saw and felt, even without knowing what I saw or how I felt, but it's the painting afterward which tells me what I was seeing and feeling.

This is the marvellous thing about Painting from a motif over and over again. Perhaps like an actor on stage doing his/her 986th performance, the character has developed a life of its own even beyond the actor. As I wrote recently about Keith Jarrett; he said that he had no idea what he was going to play before he went on stage to perform solo, in Cologne, Paris, Antibes, etc, etc,,, When one listens to those recordings it is confounding to understand this.

But a painting, perhaps like a recording, is after, all a souvenir of 'an event', an experience empirically lived. This is something that has become clearer to me in recent years. On a simple level it is about making a picture which if good enough, can outlive its creator. On a deeper level it is not about that at all. It is really about  having the painting experience in front of an ever-changing Nature which the painter is simply graced to witness, and work from.

In my own case, I work lightning fast, partly because I am anxious by nature, but also because 'my motif' is the 'hour of the wolf', the twitching hour of dusk between day and night. It is when the colours are at their zenith which suits my nature.

I don't pretend that these pictures are great, high points of the zeitgeist today, but they are 'souvenirs' of a moment when I lived and worked there in front of the sea and the sky during a painting session. It isn't much in the grand scheme of things but it is a painter's work. I have learned from so many different types of craftsman  about this, not just painters, writers, and musicians.

This is just my small story, but like all stories, it leaves its own colourful traces like scattered rose petals after a storm.

24 December 2020

Trump's wall; beauty and revulsion in one last gasp.

Having just read in the Times that Trump's wall is being constructed with a feverish speed to get as much of it done as possible, one presumes before his ejection from office in a mere 28 days, I couldn't help but think of an eminent American sculptor who faced a firestorm of a very different nature, contextually speaking.

I wondered if photos of Trump's wall cutting through a virgin landscape in the American Southwest wouldn't give Richard Serra a frisson of sorts?

I have already written in these pages about his Tilted Arc which was conceived for Foley Square in downtown Manhattan back in the early 1980's. It was finally removed, dismantled, and put into storage after a much rancorous debate, equally as bitter as Trump's wall. Then, it pitted the working class against the elite and monied Art world of the city. 

"Holding the site hostage" is how one journalist put it.

Foley Square with Richard Serra's Tilted Arc, 1980's

To be fair, Serra simply created a large public sculpture for a very large open space in downtown New York. The fault was clearly with the United States General Services Administrations which commissioned the piece on the recommendations by The National Endowment for the Arts 'panel of art experts'. There doesn't seem to have been a report which might have looked at the ramifications of this placement. Too much hubris, perhaps?

At the time, I was in New York, and I took a strong stand against it not because I found it ugly (on the contrary) but because I found it was inappropriate for the space. Why carve up one of the most precious commodities in New York: open space? Though I was bothered by the discourse at the time (which hasn't changed much, in fact) I hated that ideas like 'beauty' and 'ugliness’ were dredged up out of the closet and used to malign one group against another in this community fight. It seemed to trivialise and debase a discourse which was, and is always, a real and important consideration about what is public art.

Sadly, it allowed an 'art elite' to savage the 'proletariats' who simply didn't want the sculpture there. It was an ugly fight, and for me, this was a political one not an aesthetic one, or it should have been.

When everyone seems to look so closely at beauty, by using it as a standard of measurement for judging Art, inversely, eyesight falters, and suddenly, everyone needs a new pair of eyeglasses.

That I can find beauty in rusted steel is not a paradox but an integral part of the mystery of Art. But by putting a wall of steel in a public space like this corrupted the  sculpture in a strange way. In a practical and civic sense, it felt to me at the time like it bordered on Architectural Fascism. This is a tough thing to say being a lover of Art, but I still feel that way, maybe even more so, as no doubt, it would have quickly become home to graffiti artists.

This leads us to Trump's war on immigrants and his own Moby Dick of a rusting steel wall which cuts North America in two. Most people on both sides of the wall detest it in every way. This is about politics, not Art, after all. But 'land artists' out West, will they see a great graphic beauty beyond the abhorrent ideas behind it?  A  conundrum for Art lovers: is our taste dictated, or confirmed by ideology?

Imagine a fluid Trump Wall in another, gentler age: Christo's Running Fence in Marin County California, 1976. 

To see Trump's Wall for what it is (as a national barrier to keep foreigners out) is politics, and far outside the realm of Art which is surely to bring people together.

Do we  see a wall of steel scarring the natural landscape or do we see something artistic? Is an artist ever free from the straight-jacket of politics, and should he/she ever be?

What would both Christo and is wife Jeanne-Claude think of Trump's Wall? And Richard Serra?

Too many questions, Happy Christmas everyone!

Foley Square 1985 with the sculpture

21 December 2020

through the window pane, the Irish wolfhound stares back


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 8 December, 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This was done as indicated by the date on the 8th of December. It was an unusual sea, flat, very light, and sliver blue. The kind of sea I hate to paint. It looks so smooth it makes me think of a glass slipper, for some reason. But I like that certain weather conditions push me away from convenience. I know that Degas once said that if Painting wasn't really difficult, it wouldn't be fun. 

Ha! Painting is Difficult enough without added complexities. Degas had almost too much skill it seems to me. In fact, he should just shut up! 

Though I recognise his greatness, I find myself repelled by much of his work with the exception of some of his early portraits, mono-types, drawings, and lots, actually.

It's an emotional thing. One can love a vastly inferior work of Art and at the same time detest a great one. But one needs to be clear about one's understanding in these critical matters. Indeed, one needs to be critical, whilst at the same time ones needs to hear the beating of one's own heart in front of a picture. Tricky, but then again it's my vocation. Plainly, I can love awful things for certain reasons and dislike great things for other uncertain reasons. 
In Degas, I dislike his cold superiority, for instance. He's is just too talented!! In his perfected and oft-times, antiseptic approach to expression, a deathly white light pervades his dancers (in gouache) like a marble crypt.

But of course, he was a draughtsman sans pareil as they say in France. Mais quand même! !

I am not a gollum against greatness, obviously. And I could equally find wretched things to say about some of Cézanne's work. His perfection performed with great patience can be maddening too, especially knowing that he truly did warp speed Painting into the 20th century though one wouldn't know that after Andy Warhol.

However, an example of a great draughtsman who I do adore is Toulouse Lautrec. I love his sloppiness; his assuredness, his carefree belief in his talents which allowed him to achieve anything he wished in oil, gouaches, pen and ink. His work is decidedly imperfect by nature.

Imagine looking into a room through a window from the outside. In the room is a large Irish wolfhound staring back at you. Degas' technique is a clean, clear window pane, allowing the dog's moist mouth to glisten like a Vélazquez. But through Lautrec's filthy glass the dog appears almost out of focus, as smudged and hazy as the filthy window pane. But the wolfhound in the room behind each window is still the same dog staring back at you.

This is just taste, thankfully. What I like doesn't have anything to do with you, nor you with me. What does count in this is the acquisition of a good eye which is not the same thing as good taste. One is intuition, the other is prejudice. 

18 December 2020

Bosnian war, they cut off noses don't they?


They cut off noses in Bosnia-Herzegovina, don't they?, August, 1995 oil on canvas, 80 X 50 cm

Many years ago I made a small series of paintings in which I tried to express some of the horror I felt when reading about the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina. These pictures are so dark that I never even put them on my walls almost because somehow, I was too shy about showing this side of myself to anyone. It suddenly seemed too personal, not something I wished for anyone to see. It was a modesty, an embarrassment, but mostly though, just shame which the French call la pudeur.

Back in 1995, though I was in a different place and I just wanted to see if I could render such darkness in certain formal terms. I didn't want to indulge in wild black, nihilist abstractions which could mean little but reveal my own solipsistic demons. I did not want to create an image exploiting the theme of war out of some dubious politically-correct motive, that is to say, making an incoherent image to randomly slap a sexy war-torn cliché of a title on it. I absolutely did not want to sentimentalise it with too much frothy formality, a technically proficient realism one sees in museums from previous wars to glorify patriotic heroism (but I would not have been technically capable of this, anyway).

Of course I am analysing all of this 25 years later. I was thinking of none of this at that time. I just wanted to express an idea simply, without fanfare, without anything which could derail the immediacy of a pictorial idea.

I didn't fuss about how to do it, I painted it quickly with an idea which came from a clipping in the newspaper about the Serbs cutting off Muslim noses. At the same time, it made me think about all the rhinos and elephants of Africa whose tusks have been removed with a chain saw. 

For me, Painting is always using metaphor, but only an accurate metaphor for both the surface of the picture and its content. If the metaphor is apt, then it can hopefully become real enough in plastic terms to convey emotion.

As I was packing up to leave my large house in Dieulefit during this brief period I received lots of friends who came by to bid me adieu, and who were a little incredulous that I was actually leaving. Amongst them was an old friend who brought her new beau who was a therapist living in nearby in Poët-Célard.
We were in the studio where I was packing things up in quiet desperation, as one does when moving. I had put about 4 or 5 of these dark things around the empty studio walls when they showed up. The 'beau', whose name I have forgotten, was very interested in them. We looked at them together and after about 5 minutes we noticed that he was silently weeping, discreetly. And for the first time in my life I witnessed something one rarely seen as a painter; someone was actually weeping over my own work, and in my presence. Then consequently, I became moved by his tears, and all I could do was remain quiet, very awkwardly quiet. 

He confessed that it had never before happened to him,  this overt show of emotion in front of a painting. He was a therapist trained to a certain degree in stoicism, empathic yes, but stoic nonetheless. And, like for most of us, music, films, dance, books, and theatre demand an emotional response, but rarely in front of a painted image, (though I've heard of those who shed tears for Rothko). And, the painter should ask: why wouldn't it be that way for Painting too? Oui!    

Then, afterwards over tea in the garden, he more fully expressed what had happened for him. I became so moved by all his movement that I told him to pick out a painting for himself to take home as a souvenir of our meeting. He picked out a small landscape done many years earlier from Le Tholonet. 

After they left I remember thinking that the reason I feel such difficulty showing these things is that they are really all about my own childhood. They are about all the pain I had sealed away in my crypt of pride for so much of life. Why would I show that off to anyone? La pudeur, de rigeur!

I painted these dark things while at the Châteaunoir in my studio in the blazing summer heat. On one of the walls I had pinned up newspaper clippings about the war, one of which, a young Muslim child who was kissing the tombstone of his father killed by the Serbs. It was the visual inspiration for all the paintings done that summer.

15 December 2020

RED Inc where dreams are made in paint

My friend  (and ex-wife) Cheryl Bailey invited me to the annual art exhibition for disabled clients at RED inc, an organisation in Mullumbimby where she works. She is a painter herself but became an art therapist a few years ago, and she has really found her calling in working with these clients. I call them clients, but I should call them artists and painters first. And creative types with obsessional natures are all a bit disabled to one degree or another aren't they? 

The opening began at 18h so I wanted to get there on time to see it, then leave to go paint on the beach somewhat quickly thereafter. I am very glad to have gotten to the reception early this year as I missed last year's show altogether and I deeply regretted it after seeing pictures my brother had bought there. My other regret is that I didn't have enough time to meet all of the painters, though I did meet a few who painted the pictures I bought. 

RED inc is a series of two spaces, a small house in front, but behind, a very large shed where Cheryl and others run the program. It was full of pictures for sale, chocker-block as they say in Australia. I ran through it somewhat rapidly and immediately fell in love with so many things that I was super grateful to be early and on time just for once. Everything was available for sale, and I think it sold out later on. The paintings were very, very inexpensive so I went a little wild and bought all these paintings below.

There is something in each of these pictures that I would wish to steal and hide away in a secret part of me for later use in my own work. They say that to copy or imitate is the highest form of flattery, so though I wouldn't exactly copy them, I would worship their dynamic originality, their audaciously bold conviction. And like so many people around here who use crystals to straighten out their spiritual ways, I, too, would hope to be infected by their quiet imperfect-perfection.

Who could not fall in love with the pinkness of this happy pig at the top? His/Her serious black eyes seem to say to us: 

"Please don't eat me."

What can be said of the image below, a graphic solution to dystopia? or for that matter, above? with the Disney characters floating discreetly within?

And this image below? Isn't it a kind of austere national flag? But with the flourish of painterly indecision floating existentially overhead? A cloud, yes, but also a sign which says about this country that they welcome poets and painters, transgenders too. It says that this nation welcomes all other outcasts who normally don't fit in elsewhere.

And this simple landscape below, probably invented in a studio, but it's a place seen often by the painter, again, and again, and used empirically in this picture. I love the large white overpainting which takes place over the whole lower third. It says, maybe,
"I didn't like the way the bottom looked as a green tropical foreground so I painted it white." 

And this is an expressive coup de genie, I think. This,  a very painterly solution to dealing with what doesn't yet work in the painter's mind of his/her picture. This artist chose to just simply paint it out with a large glacier-like slab of snow white. A clever solution worthy of an Italian surrealist. Fantastic!

12 December 2020

Mandelbrot the Magnificent who bicycles into the modern world

I first became aware of the Mandelbrot set and the popular Chaos theory a few years ago. I was over for drinks at Virginia's at Thomas in Comps, just up a few hills from where I lived in Dieulefit. I was speaking to Patricia an old friend of hers from Edinburgh, a scientist whom I met there during the summer months and liked. She suggested I read the book entitled CHAOS by the New York Times science editor, at the time. I have forgotten his name.

And so I did, and I was glued to it for about a week straight. A great read, it explains in very simple terms the history and the impact that Chaos theory has had upon the scientific world at large. My memory of it today however, reminds me that all indigenous peoples around this planet since the beginning of time have certainly lived by Chaos theory. 

It isn't a long book but I always like to take my time whilst reading, reading anything actually, even straight news. I am a daydreamer, and this state interrupts me all the time so I can inspect my own feelings about the subject at hand. 

"What are my real ideas about all this?", I ask myself between sentences.

Worse, any pretext is enough for me to pause between pages to inspect an ant or a wasp climbing up my arm, and which itself, would be inspecting me... but, anyway.

In boarding school they tried to speed me up with reading exercises and such. But was I to be trained for a love for Law or Tolstoy? 

Anyway, I am still a slowpoke when it comes to reading but I read a lot, all the time in fact. I am currently reading a small book (among others) entitled Mandelbrot the Magnificent by Liz Ziemska which is actually a fanciful novel about his early childhood in France, and quite good. He was the earliest proponent of Chaos theory, the inventor of the whole motherlode.



In school I loved the idea of Maths and Geometry but I was really, really crumby at all of it. My grades were almost as awful as my ability to concentrate. My mind was disorganised but it could also be randomly focused like in some parallel universe where poets lived like pirates  terrorising conventional thinking. I was able to see and feel relationships everywhere, and I also had a good visual memory despite the brain of Swiss Cheese. I always aced those IQ tests which demanded quick responses to pattern recognition and visual relationships. I am still good at them. I was pre-selected to be a poet of sorts, but a poor Maths student.

Imagine that poet being told to find the fastest route around a triangle? This poet will almost always find the slowest route, the scenic route, spending time at both A and B before heading home to C. Like a wayward baseball player, having hit a home run, the crowd goes nuts as he leisurely waltzes around the bases before eventually arriving at home plate with a sort of autistic hesitation, a pas de deux without the deux, but with a certain flair. 

the equation of infinity by Mandelbrot with the help of IBM

I had a close friend years ago who was actually murdered by a mutual colleague. A lovely guy, my friend, but the murderer was a nutcase, and he now lives in a psychiatric ward in Grafton instead of prison where he really should be. But that is another story.

My dear friend John grew up in Northern Ireland and he too, went to boarding school. He was a first class raconteur, and very funny. He once described to me the Sporting Competition which his school hosted at the end of each year before the summer holiday. He boasted about winning the bicycle race one of those years.

But the bicycle race he won was particular in that the first prize went to the clever fellow who managed to take the longest route possible before arriving at the finish line after all the other competitors. In fact, the goal was to come in last place. The rules stipulated that every participant had to keep moving in a forward direction only, however slow, while not touching the ground with one's feet. Obviously collisions disqualified any and all participants. 

It would have been a painful 50 yards long and the width of a football field so it would have taken forever too, but it must have been hilarious to watch. And John, who managed to win the slowest bike race in his school's sporting competition was indeed proud for many years thereafter. 

Watching the race from above (which one can easily do these days with a drone) would have revealed a strange side of Mandelbrot's theory of infinity. But back in the 1950's, and high above, one might have seen the competitors crawling about like ladybugs in a field manifesting Mandelbrot's idea of expanding fractal design. 

The CHAOS theory for me, is a repudiation of Euclid's rigid hold over the way we perceive finite distance and space, as if we all live in a cube created by Marcel Marceau.

Distance is really infinite when one looks at it from the perspective of say, an ant, a ladybug, or especially a poet. But this is my own quick description which might not please a science professor. 

You see, my problem with MATHS was that I never accepted that 99.99999999, etc, etc,,, that needed to  be systematically rounded off to the nearest 100. Every student at school had to deal with it. Personally, it made me crazy because it was like being condemned to wearing a tee shirt which was too small, too tight and uncomfortable. I would always be pulling on it with infinite displeasure. So all this left me anxious and uneasy, especially around what I deemed to be a convenient solution for conforming dunderheads all around me. I was someone who created complications out of everything so I thought I was special!


And I was the terminal "Yes, but" sort of student. "Yes, but,,,,,, Yes, but,,,,,, Yes, But,,,,,," 

I was the Doubting Thomas of students, poking my poetic insistence into solid concrete theories. I drove my teachers to distraction. 

Funny enough, not too long ago, I heard a woman explain what people were really asking for with all this 

'Yes, but,,, Yes, but,,, Yes, but,,,' questions of theirs.

She said that 'Yes, butt' was simply the mating call for other assholes. 

Makes perfect sense to me now.

So then Chaos theory, and its fractal universe sent me a larger tee shirt, and after a lifetime of doubt I was finally, and quite suddenly free, comfortable in my own skin in this world of fractal infinity. I had found the Holy Graal of uncertainty!

And Art is a kind of illogical infinity isn' it?  

For me, Art (Painting, in my case) is not about Logic.  A painting defies logic as does any work of Art. In any event it should never confirm logic, that would be the worst thing besides of course, sentimentality

More to be revealed ...

09 December 2020

ribs crack open while time flies with uncertainty

This was made in the few months after my first trip to Japan. I had moved out of my home and sold it on the 11th of April 2012. It's hard to believe it has been 8 years ago, already. As they say, time flies, somewhere anyway.

What are we left with? Memories? Dreams? Certainly lots of reflections which only engender even more reflections, and possibly more dreams. 

I knew that immediately after moving out that I wanted to turn myself upside down, inside out if possible, not exactly a pause, but a shake-up between chapters of a life which I had hitherto written in my head. So, I decided to go to  Japan where I had never been before. I had initially thought to go back to India on a drawing trip but the visa was too troublesome to procure, and India would have given me a headache anyway. Japan was the perfect place, a place I wish I had gone when I was younger in fact. I left for a month.

When I returned to France I rented a small place not far from where I had lived, a few villages away. I knew the owners only socially to be lovers of art. There was a small garden just down below the house where I spent my mornings writing and making these gouaches. There was a small brook which gurgled right through the garden so it was very, very perfect. When I had arrived at the end of May everything was green, and separated by poppies. Crickets flooded the evening air. Soon enough though, the summer kicked in and the cigales were grinding the afternoons down to tiny pebbles. 

Then summer gave way to autumn before I made my was back to London, then on to Australia by early November. It was a strange period, I was feeling vaguely anxious living in France without a fixed abode, something new. This uncertainty of where I might end up was gnawing away deep inside of me, barely audible.  But at the same time it felt like being at the bow of a large boat on a crossing to somewhere new and foreign, the wind and waves slapping me incessantly. I felt alive.

And it was this state of uncertainty which gave rise to these small gouaches which I made during those two summers in Montbrison. There is something very Japanese about them, I think because everything about Japan seemed to crack my ribs wide open as if ready for open heart surgery. 

Japan is unlike anywhere in the civilised world. An island whose culture remained mostly intact for 3000 years on its own. One could really fall in love with Japan.

And because I wanted to explore more of my heart I went back the next year and brought gouaches with me to work on the road.

It would be two years before I decided to make Australia my home. 

07 December 2020

Post Colonial clothes line


When I packed up to leave France several years back I left a few things scattered in various homes. This drawing is one of my favourites and had graced walls in Aix then Dieulefit. But now it lives on a wall in the home of a friend in Poët Laval, in the Drôme. 

I had done many drawings of this young woman in Aix when I used to drew with a soft pencil into small empty notebooks which I had found in India. They were exercise books for children in school, and each page numbered to a hundred. I used to I pick these kinds of things up everywhere on my travels. I loved the dusty stationary stores in Greece, Italy, Morocco, Turkey, Vietnam, and India too. They were inexpensive, and had a rather post-colonial kind of edge to them as if connected back in time just 40 or 50 years. They often possessed a faint, musky, airless odour when I opened their pliable covers. Releasing these pages within  seemed like I had discovered an ancient crypt. 

This was part of the drawing deal for me as I hate blank white sheets of drawing paper. I don't know if it goes back to some ideal of perfection from my own early schooling but I only use off-white, preferably even previously printed paper. I have used all sorts of agendas from various countries which seem to spark my imagination. But the idea of a blank, clothes-clean white almost makes me shrivel up into a fear of procrastination.

06 December 2020

Bonnard sketch's of 1917-18, surviving the war, outliving the chicken

I love these seemingly simple pencil drawings by Bonnard. A painter can ask; in a single one image, how does one juxtapose a soldier on a horse along side a military truck, possibly an ambulance? A pair of soldiers sitting on a stoop in front of a small shop? A cavalry soldier on a horse in the middle of a bombarded street? And ditto for a group of civilians standing in the ruins of their old neighbourhood?

They are all rendered with great sensitivity, but at the same time, they are also highly technical solutions to the problems of space and perspective which has haunted every artist until the arrival of Contemporary Art a few years back. Most important, is the element of humanity present. 

They are small jewels, these delicate things! I found them in a book years ago which I open up from time to time. Would perhaps a woman in front of her jewellery box feel the same joy before an evening out?

Remarkably, they are made with only a skinny lead pencil, and done perhaps inside a small drawing book. They surprise; exploding with a blooming chaos of wild lines, yet too, a clarity sharpened through the sniper's scope. 

Drawing, as mundane and unpretentious an act as cooking an omelette for one's dinner (et pourtant). Drawings live on, past the meal, outliving the chicken, and surviving the cook by several generations. This is Art after all.