01 December 2020

sex in the afternoon, killing the Buddha softly


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

Recently I have been reading a book entitled Don’t Save Anything which is full of uncollected essays and articles by James Salter. It’s a kind of potpourri of things found and assembled by his wife after his death several years ago. The last few articles were written about France for various magazines and newspapers. This was his bread and butter between short stories.

He loved France like so many people from everywhere, especially of a certain generation post-WW II. As an American, I identify with his longing for the “French life”. Americans have always had a love affair with it, everyone it seems except my mother, who, like most people loved the idea of Paris, but seemed to detest the French personality. And this was always a conundrum for me. Funny enough, I never asked her why, even though there were ample opportunities to do so. She did hate that French waiters resisted her demands for lots of ice for her Jack Daniels. (to be noted -the French unlike Americans, did not have ice machines conveniently located down every hallway) at least in those days.

It occurs to me now that the superiority of the French temperament may well have been a large part of it. Also a particular sort of envy, an insecurity perhaps, which certain Americans can feel around cultured folk like the French. I think one either surrenders to the French, or one secretly (or not), despises them for it. My mother was clearly in the latter on this, unlike me who chose to live there.

But just as clearly, Jim Salter was one of those Americans of the former who  adored and accepted the French, a bit like when dogs meet other dogs in the park. They either wag tails or begin circling each other suspiciously before one of them has to roll over in surrender.

Of course, there is also a lot of jealousy in the American suspicions of the French. And conversely there is a lot of jealousy coming from the French about American’s love affair with the unabashedly can-do puritanical work ethic. Let’s face it what we love about France is its divine decadence. They showed us that sex in the afternoon was entirely plausible. American/British  Capitalism abhorred it, with zero time for this love of pleasure and sensuality, at least for proletariats. The  CEO's led secret lives with quick trips to Paris. But a lot has changed now with so much unemployment everywhere, afternoons are mostly free.

A very wealthy friend of mine who lived for a time in Paris told me about her father’s visits. Driving around a busy and crowded Montparnasse at midnight he would  exclaim gruffly;

“When do these all these people work, anyway?”

But, revenons à nos moutons, (let’s get back to the sheep) as they used to say in Provence many years ago. I really had the reflection this morning that my actual heart and soul is still in Europe. That I know, but I also know that I needed to find something new, a new place where I could discover for myself something unexamined, and not yet painted in a new wayI see so clearly why I had to leave. I was under the shadow of too many ghosts in France and Italy, forget about America. 

Having painted there for such a long time I understood that I no longer wanted to paint as a student of anyone anymore. Nor did I want any master hanging overhead like an old crucifix, not Cézanne, or anyone else, not even my beloved teacher Léo Marchutz. 

They say in Japan, 'When you see the Buddha, Kill it!'
I have always loved that saying. I think even the Buddha used to say it. We must kill even our most beloved teachers with whom we have studied for so long. Otherwise, it is difficult to open up a pathway into our own original path wherever that may lead.

Despite my own attempt to kill off old impulses, my own education in Painting will always be a kind of ghost hanging around me like a street punk. This is the way things are, it seems. 

Any originality I possess blossoms from the work I do. Despite painting these reiterations on the beach at dusk, the same motif, over and over again, something is being ground down in me which is opening up something else, something newer. J'espère bien.


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