31 December 2021

the past and present, the known and unknown


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 21 December 2021, oil on canvas board 30 X 25 cm
Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 26 December 2021, oil on canvas board 30 X 25 cm

For the calendar changeover I thought it appropriate to post two pictures representing that of the past year 2021, but also one of the new one, 2022. 

Though they are done just days apart, the top one represents for me, an image, conceptually speaking, created from the the past, one which   seems to feel like something we have all seen before. It relies upon an experience (and knowledge) already understood even if I still like it for what it is.

The bottom one done just days later, feels like a painting born in the future, an image only half-understood in my hand, but forming already in my intuition for some time now. The direction will only become clearer if I continue to take risks in this visual and graphic language of light and space.

Happy New Year everyone, and thank you for stepping into these small pages from time to time. It is greatly appreciated.


23 December 2021

Vincent Van gogh meets an unknown British painter (?)

I wish I could remember just where I picked this up because I was immediately impressed upon first seeing it. It's funny how one can spot a good painting in a flash because it always comes together despite any clunky flaws and wonky technique. In this image above, I like the subtle drawing which hides its discrete sophistication but also because it is intelligently organised in a pictorial way. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Naif, yes, and this reminds me so much of our continuing admiration for Vincent Van Gogh, particularly, as his painting showed up on my telephone yesterday. And wouldn't he be flabbergasted by something as spooky as that???

For me there is a kind of primitive 'plasticity' in both these images reminding me of the landscape elements in Giotto. And here, they have been subordinated to a graphic unity of the whole image. In both pictures each of the elements are barely recognisable as objects in themselves. What I mean to say is that they both possess an almost flagrant disregard for the anatomy of the parts of the paintings. The small trees, the bushes, windows, stairs, the wall of stones, the horse, the human figures (the woman with the large bosoms on the left!) etc, etc. They seem to break every rule in 19th century painting. If by chance, they were books for instance, it might be as if the writers had misspelt and badly punctuated entire stories which were otherwise quite brilliant. 

But the genius of this is that everything works together like a well oiled engine. We are immediately taken into the whole feeling of each of these two paintings. Everything in them is in service to the picture as a whole. There is no proud display of virtuosity or technical arrogance displayed in their details. In both the light is evenly disbursed, avoiding  the dreaded local lighting which, unless one is Vermeer, is virtually impossible to achieve.
As I like to say about Art: 2 + 2 always = 5,
and now there is nothing more to add, just enjoy Christmas.

20 December 2021

REDinc! and the wonders of expression

the church

the faucet

This is the second year I have gone to see the annual Christmas exhibition which the staff at REDinc. puts together each year. These wonderful pictures are artworks by people of all ages who spend time at REDinc, an organisation originally up by parents to give their own children with disabilities a place to explore art in various workshops. For the past two years I end up buying more art work than I have room to hang in my home. But I kind of fall in love with these things, and it is rare I like many paintings I see everywhere. Thankfully, they are very moderately priced.

I have not posted the sizes but most of the them are quite small, around about 30 X 25 cm, the wonderful black dog is about 40 X 40, and the two striped pictures below are about 50 X 40 cm.

Cheryl Bailey, who runs one of the programs gave me a tour and introduced me to a few 'clients' as they are called. But when I walked into the first room and saw the black dog on a wall I just cracked, and I had to have it. The rest of them I picked off one by one as I walked around the large shed. But the black Chihuahua, spoke to me, I loved it immediately, and isn't this what Art is all about?

The Faucet and the Church (as I have named them) were done by a young plumbing apprentice. These two small paintings are, I believe more original than most things I see (online) in galleries anywhere in the world, and that is not hyperbole (which of course I hate). But in each little painting the colour harmonies are exquisite, especially the one which I have called the Church. It reminds me of something that Paul Klee might have made, or possibly may have wished to paint at least. There is a muted harmony of great sophistication and a remarkable clarity of design.  And I haven't a clue what it really represents except a kind of sophisticated icon, but the important thing is that he had a clue what it means.  

The stripes below are by a fellow named Hunter whom I have met several times at the tennis club on Tuesday nights where his father and me play doubles. He is a friendly young man who adores pizza and watching television while his father plays tennis. A real sweetheart, and he was so very stoked that I bought on just one, but two of his paintings.  

18 December 2021

Letting the batter walk


Poët Laval, oil on canvas, 5 Figure, circa November 15? 2018

This morning while looking again at this study I posted a few weeks back I began reflecting upon something that I often feel when working outdoors from a motif in Nature. 

This feeling comes over me that sometimes these paintings are almost pulled out of me, yanked from my will power, from my hands like some force out in the wild landscape resisting my hold over the picture. It is if while driving a car, a ghost suddenly grabs the steering wheel out of my hands.

As writers will often lament when their own characters go AWOL or off-script, so too, do painters when their pictures go out of control.


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 December 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

And this is the curious nature for all creative endeavours. Any task that requires both rigorous discipline but equally spontaneous action is vulnerable. How does a creator know when he or she is really at the helm of their own work or just in the way, and impeding it? Or is this the realm of the Gods?

The painting (just above) is from the other night and I post it because actually, it went where I wanted it to go. I saw it in the sky upon arriving at my spot on the dune and I quickly set up to paint it because in a way, I didn't want any problems. "No backtalk! Do exactly as I say!........... Or else!!!"

Of course I didn't have a 'or else', but I wasn't going to let the canvas board know that. Because I had missed so many evenings due to the rain I felt out of sorts, like a beginner, like I didn't know what I was doing there with an easel and backpack full of materials, and  I was feeling like a fraud which is an awful feeling. So consequently, I didn't want any trouble, and certainly I wasn't looking for trouble!

But it was an 'easy' sky, not at all complicated, one without too much confusion logistically speaking, so I was able to make four studies, one after the other in quick succession. I was not particularly happy with them at the time, but indeed I was happy to be painting with the 'possibility of success' circling around in my mind like a butterfly. And that possibility is essentially what keeps me going; This 'possibility of success', and I know it's like that for most others too.

Here are the others in the order of when they came out of the oven. They are what I would call 'careful pictures', no problem paintings, like what they say about reliable cars: 
"Boring, but they run reasonably well"

Like I said, I wanted some easy wins, some success for the night. In baseball jargon, I was the pitcher who let the batter walk but I was also the batter who just wanted to get on 1st base without striking out.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 December 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm
Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 December 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm
Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 December 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

10 December 2021

Sidney Nolan at Heidi, Vanessa Bell at Charleston

I saw this small gem on my first visit to 'Heidi', the former home of Sunday and John Reed on the outskirts of Melbourne. It is a renovated dairy farm by this powerhouse couple of bohemia in the 1940's. They could easily remind one of another powerhouse couple; Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant who renovated 'Charleston, a farmhouse in Sussex, UK. Charleston was home to the Bloomsbury set, a whole host of various bohemian figures on the edge London society back in the early 1920's. And though both Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant were practicing artists, the Reeds of 'Heidi' were not. They were wealthy, ardent patrons of art around Melbourne after the Second World War. They are still considered the most important benefactors of Modern Art here in Australia though they died in 1981, just ten days apart of one another. 

So Charleston and Heidi, both as a consequence, are full of artwork and are now run as art centers. Heidi however, has many shows during the year of different artists whereas Charleston is a private charitable Trust which maintains the house and gardens uniquely for the Bloomsbury set. 

                                                  self portrait by Vanessa Bell

I have been to Charleston several times over the years as I often went through Sussex. I have been to Heidi twice and it was on my first trip there that I discovered Sidney Nolan, the much venerated Australian artist. Inevitably, being bohemians, there was lots of gossip about the goings at Heidi especially since Melburnians were so very conservative back in the day. In fact, most artists not only fled Melbourne but Australia altogether. 

Sidney Nolan painted his very famous Ned Kelly series there at Heidi. It is an impressive series that I saw in Canberra years. It is so weirdly original, an iconic and memorable Australian motif of a thief no less! 

Over the years I have come to appreciate his creative life. I like so many of these Australian painters who came out of a 'White' Australia in the early part of the 20th century. He like a few others eventually left for London and the continent. He lived the rest of his life there. Apparently when he died in 1992 and his estate owed a fortune in taxes because he had always believed that artists shouldn't have to pay tax! Gotta love him for this alone! 

But it is easy to understand just how isolated these artists were from Modern Art. Australia was very far away, and it stills looms far away in the imaginations of Americans and Europeans. I know because my friends are still amazed that I would slip away from the northern hemisphere.

His work was varied and I cannot say that I relate too to well much of it but he was an artist who dedicated his life to his love of art, and for that too, I love him. 

Yet despite my lack of real enthusiasm for his much of his work, I am really crazy about this small fragment done on wood of the docks at St Kilda back in the 1940's. It is so small, so almost insignificant that I wonder if anyone pays any attention to it, but it holds magic for me. Its calligraphic power is at the heart of Modern Art. It is really seen, and comes from vision, something the Japanese would really appreciate in its direct response to Nature. Nolan found a simple and graphic solution to the motif of the docks. Moreover, the drawing is concise, precise; and its vision is practical. 

addendum; I realise that I already posted about this small work back in 2013! I discovered this by accident when looking for a clean photo of it online. I saw it on Google at L'air de rien and dated back in 2013 when I had taken a photo of it at Heidi, Ha Ha. 

07 December 2021

recent studies under the watchful eyes of la Nina


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 3 December, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here on the East Coast of Australia we are in the capricious hands of 'La Nina' who throws us into a humid cycle of steady rain and wild thunderstorms. All this is somewhat more agreeable than hot summers with the risk of fires.

It has rained so much that I haven't been to work at the beach for weeks until the other night. I felt like a beginner, and this is always good for a painter. But I quickly made a palette and jumped into the sky. 

I brought these two home but for some reason, I wasn't really happy with them. They seemed to me, a little too 19th century, but hey! I was grateful to be out painting again under the perilous protection of a twilight sky. 

I put them up on other social media and my friends seemed to like them, particularly the one at the top which I painted first. So for me, many of these studies are often like wild, untamed beasts; until they are brought home, fed, and nurtured with care, one cannot be sure just what they will turn out to be.  
Meanwhile, I have been in my studio a lot and made some progress on some other large and hairy beasts which I will write about very soon. 

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 3 December, 2021, oil on canvas board,  30 X 25 cm

04 December 2021

Henry Moore the Masseur, facts and feelings


 Reclining Figure, plaster, 1951

This sculpture which I saw in the Clore Gallery at Tate Britain, three years ago simply took my breath away. I confess that I had always had a somewhat lukewarm feeling for his large undulating and sensual bronzes of mostly women. I was never sure how to approach them (but frankly, I have a problem approaching women anyway) I think it was the 'Big Bronziness' of his larger works which made me a little nervous.

I admit that I have never spent a great deal of time looking at his works because I haven't yet fallen in love with any. Generally, I think one needs to fall in love with a work of art in order to generate the necessary curiosity for an artist and their oeuvre. And because I am not a professor, facts will always be subservient to feelings. And since I am a painter (with no apologies) I am only after these feelings that I, alone, can digest for myself. 

So in a sense, I wonder if one needs to fall in love with the work in order to fall in love with the artist? Or, like in so many novels, fall in love with the artist to see their work?

So this large work, Reclining Figure, 1951 made in plaster, I really adore. Being in the tactile material of carved and pressed plaster might somehow be the key because large sculptures made of casted-bronze (by anyone, in fact) seem to inhibit any intimacy with the concept of a work. That is just me, apparently.

Just looking at the head alone (far below) one thinks of Picasso, then of course the body reenforces this idea. Picasso was making things like this one done in 1929 long before Moore made Reclining Figure. This was an age when reality was being questioned in every corner of the industrialised world, from science and medicine, to physics and philosophy, to music and architecture. The visual world of art was also on the front line in these 20th century adventures of human thought.

During the WWII Henry Moore was among a group of several artists who were free to create anything they wished that related to British wartime activities which included anything not made being made by photographic means.

Among other things, he explored caves and tunnels, something he loved doing in his childhood, and he consequently made lots of drawings of people in shelters during the German bombing raids, many of which became ideas for sculptures later on.

Henry drew everyday in later life when he was housebound and going blind according to his daughter, Mary Moore. She described the drawings as "somewhat fantasy, internalised drawings, and things from memory".

My very favourite anecdote about Henry Moore was that when he was a small child he often gave back massages to his mother. So, it makes perfect sense he would become either a sculptor or chiropractor. 

Here, Henry Moore recounts to an interviewer  how he envisions sculpture fitting into the British landscape.

“Looking back I can now see that this was a crucial and potently formative experience, from which so much of my fundamental attitude to sculpture emanates,” he recalled later. “The sense of scale, the feeling for stone, the need to think of sculpture as something essentially monumental: something to be placed out of doors, and, so far as possible, in a way that best reveals its inherent monumentality.”

So though this was never intended for the outdoors Reclining Figure lives comfortably inside a large space in Tate Britain in London.

        Reclining Figure, detail, plaster, 1951

01 December 2021


I cannot find another reason to post this lovely portrait than one out of love for beauty. It came from the NYT a few months ago, I snagged it off the screen then put it on my desktop.

I look at it with curiosity because I begin to see all the relationships that this designer had  going on in this dress. First of all, it is just so visually striking in every regard that it appears, like all greatness, to possess a unity of proportion, texture, colour, design, and purpose. It is at the very height of its craft and a metaphor for so much more with its delicate ruffled sleeves, and those rich yellow polka dots spread out over the chest like wild daisies. Everything speaks of the flower, fragile, tactile, handle with care! The drop from the waist whispers of something chaste, innocent and young.  

But without a doubt, it also evokes the Colonial aesthetic of America's antebellum past, light and darkness, enterprising but fraudulent, inventive and inhuman. This dress reminds me of the black slaves themselves, who served their white masters with far more dignity than their masters deserved. And because slaves had nothing but hand-me-downs from their owners, they resorted to invention by creating much out of so little. American slaves, in the face of such indignities, rose up to make the best of their tragic situation. This dress possesses so much of that spirit. As they say about life when in difficulty "When you get lemons, make lemonade". 

These days white Americans don't realise that Black Americans gave so much more than they ever took from America. It reminds me, as a white man, that some of its richest cultural legacies come from the Afro-American experience. And I could certainly go on and on about this but I promised a faithful reader to try to keep these ideas brief.

But I haven't said anything about the simple, unadorned beauty of this model, especially because she compliments the dress. Her shy pose is also a hint to the past, slightly subservient, gently awaiting instructions, fragile like a flower blooming too early in Spring.

I have no idea who designed and created this as I didn't save the article sadly. Was it a man or woman, or someone in between? (as one must acknowledge these days) Was it a person of colour or white, Asian perhaps, or some beautiful mix of the two, or three even? Of course this only matters for context in the worlds of fashion, economics and socio-political spheres. But for me, as a painter, it is just sensuous  and, dare I say simply "beautiful". Yes, when I see the craft of beauty like this, it gifts me a feeling of some optimism for a future in this world, one all too often ruled by the ignoble and crass.

All this, and more, has the designer revealed to me in this dress. So, to celebrate this first day of December, here is something to remind of us of Springtime which is but a few months aways in reality.

29 November 2021

Cambodia genocide

I think I tried to post this a million years ago in this Blog space but it never worked due to technical problems. I made it nine years ago (so Vimeo reminds me). I went to Cambodia around 2005 on one of my drawing trips to Vietnam and I loved it. But it seems sad to me for a few reasons. The main one was that Pol Pot had killed off so much of the male population as well as most of the University trained citizens, both women and men. But then the children were not spared either. Phenom Penh was a poor city and people despaired even after so many years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. At the museum I made these photos and found myself wanting to make a slide show of it but it took me several years to face it. The beautiful music of Arvo Part accompanies these pictures. I regret a little that his music has since become so popular, so ubiquitous everywhere, but then, he deserves success. 

I re-watched this recently, as I have a number of times over the years. It always hits me hard. And it's always in the most fragile place where I cannot protect myself from that terrible pain in front of such cruelty that one sees in the dark corners of humanity. When seeing this I always need a box of tissues nearby.

26 November 2021

the bumbling tourist discovers Basho the invisible

It's an awful photo of Basho, the famous and iconic figure of Japanese literature, but I love the MacDonald's empty cup. I snapped it in the brutal morning light whilst running to catch a train. 

On my first trip to Japan I was in Kyoto for about five days staying in a small suburb a few metro stops away from the city center by JapanRail. Before going into the city I used to go for a coffee in a small tea shop in a nondescript plaza next to the station. In the small plaza was this statue which I had noticed and walked by each day but didn't pay much heed until the very last one when I was leaving to go south. I casually wondered over to look at it more closely and to my surprise, I saw that it was Basho, the great haiku poet! There was a small plaque next it explaining that he had lived in this very Kyoto suburb back in the 17th century.

I have always venerated Basho and read every Haiku he wrote several times over. I have lived with his tattered books, slept with them, and taken them from continent to continent, dog-eared and falling apart, and so the irony of stumbling upon this statue on the very last day is rich. But being a die-hard fan of his, did not keep me from being a blind bumbling tourist.

                In Kyoto 
             hearing the Cuckoo
              I long for Kyoto  

translated by Jane Hirshfield

25 November 2021

A faked painting! Alas!


                    Châteaunoir, Octobre 2018 

There is something wrong with this small study. It was done in the forest of the Chateaunoir during my last trip there in the October month of 2018 which I wrote about the other day.

But I do find it intriguing, just deficient in a most essential way. It has a kind of flash that advertises a certain skill, as if it might be a good painting, but honestly, it really doesn't come together as a whole and it lacks integrity because of this. It is a faked painting! It appears to be more than it poses to be, and like the British say: 

"It's mutton all dressed up as Lamb!" 

But curiously, most people might be more seduced by it than the one below which is far more unified yet it would not draw the same interest from the public. It's a painter's painting.

It is unified but probably too 'painterly' for the public to accept as a landscape which it is, for it was done at the end of the day below Poet Laval. I went several late afternoons to paint in a field and I loved painting there. Incredibly, I wasn't painting landscapes around Dieulefit when I lived there, this kills me to think of it.

The Autumn and Winter months are divine in terms of colour. None of those distracting greens everywhere, just mysterious violets.

I had not seen the painting below since I made it three years ago, I had liked it then but I really like it now. It is so 'Expressionist' in feeling it confirms my thinking that I secretly wish to re-moor the entire school of 'American Expressionism' back to Nature, back to the laws of Nature more specifically (even though the American Expressionist School was not derived from Nature, as we know it). This would be a Herculean task by any means, so it is just on my wish-list, my to-do list for someday, a bucket-list of sorts.

The person who might like this picture would be someone who loves the expressive nature of paint and painting. This would most likely exclude a vast majority of the public who expect a more sentimental verisimilitude in a 'Landscape' painting. Alas!

               Poët Laval November 2018 35 X 27 cm

22 November 2021

Châteaunoir, still a souvenir in painting


When I was back in France three years ago I put together the very minimal things I would need to step out and work in Nature, a palette, easel, and bought some colours and brushes. I had not anticipated to paint at all. I was going over to 'write' and 'think' (ha ha). For some reason I couldn't foresee making an ambulant studio in the boot of the small Citroen C3 I had rented. Though I did write I mostly spent a great deal of time driving around France, all the time in fact. And naturally I watched the foliage cycle through the colour wheel into early winter. In Grignan where I was based I gratefully watched snow accumulate on the roads one night before heading back to London at the end of November.

But late October I stayed at the Châteaunoir where Charlotte Tessier kindly lent me her apartment off the courtyard. It was so familiar, all of it; the smell of all those pine and oak trees especially after a rain, St. Victoire looming like a grandfather in the East, lots of cats though not as many, nor as friendly in my day. Even Mazout (heating oil) not used in decades had somehow lodged its unique scent into the kitchen walls and tiles permeating one's sleep. Through my all senses I   had returned back to Aix and my youth. All of it brought on so many memories, nostalgic yes, but not at all cloying or sad as I had moved on. All these memories though are like finding old photos in a desk drawer. That was then, this is now. I was left feeling like I wanted to keep moving, and this was good because it means I had changed. Unlike so many people, I had always seemed to be someone with a club foot still dragging the past with me in discomfort. 

On the upside, I was connecting with so many old and dear friends, especially being so close to Poussey (the owner), with whom I had coffee every day just like in the old days. And yet, as much as I loved being there I was also happy to leave, to keep moving forward.

During those 10 days or so I walked a lot on those familiar paths which all seem to end up at the top of the plateau. And I set up to paint just for fun. I was curious to see how I might conceive a small picture in the riot of  colour around the infamous and much celebrated Châteaunoir. I found it difficult, but not without great pleasure. And as I regularly exclaimed so many years ago whilst painting in that forest: "What am I doing?? This is way too complicated!!"

Mixing this palette of these forest colours was fun too, so different than the one I prepare in here Australia.  

I did make a few things I liked during that visit, but because I have changed so much these past years, my work is different. These days I am much more concerned with the graphic surface of the painting even though it doesn't sometimes look that way in my studies at the beach. I had always wanted to move in that direction and I could see it in so much of the work done twenty years ago. But I seemed to be still chained to old ideas. 

The top painting, (above) is made up of splotches of colour without too much concern for the drawing (though the drawing is in the splotches) whereas the one below is conceived equally by the colours and drawing. They are different but both seem to me, as they did at the time, not quite paintings but more souvenirs. There is nothing wrong with that. More than ever, I am after the conveyance of feeling, technique be damned. And souvenirs are keepsakes. 

19 November 2021

Pipe-bomb dreams; Bush's criminal war on Iraq, trauma twenty years on

These photos by James Hill are from an article in the New York Times that appeared today, 19 November 2021. 

It is hard to fathom a fraction of the suffering caused by, not only the Right Wing of the Republican Party, but the cowardly or ignorant Democrats, and the large population of under-educated Americans who all united to back the destruction of Iraq back in 2003. (even against Trump, I refused to vote for Hilary Clinton because of her support for this war)

All for nothing, except to make money for the American arms industries which created endless profit and conflict in the Middle East. All that killing and maiming for what end? 

American soldiers and Iraqis citizens all suffered the same fate, the same shallow grave. But unlike the Iraqi people, the American soldiers at least for the most part, were shuffled through various hospitals with basic medical care.

Amazingly, not one of these politicians or policy advisors ever faced any consequences for this war crime. Indeed, America today is now the land of the free (of consequences) if one is powerful and white. 

And so, almost twenty years on, refugees are still on the move to flee a once prosperous region. And yes, Iraq was run by a dictator, but its citizens lived in a relatively safe country, a society with universities and hospitals and a robust economy. What did America offer the people of Iraq? Pipe-bomb dreams?

These refugees from the Middle East will join the millions more already on the move from climate change. It has proved to become a prolonged version of World War II. 

Will we ever have get decent, intelligent and wise leaders?

18 November 2021

a painter gets it right or dies


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 1 September, 2018, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads,  9 September, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

As the iconic Rod Serling would say at the opening of each episode of the Twilight Zone; "For your perusal", here are two very different kinds of images, both done virtually three years apart. Once in a while I stumble across pictures seemingly lost in a digital twilight zone somewhere that surprise me. And this early one (top) from 2018, did it for me. I see a freshness in it but also a certain conviction and an 'assured insouciance'. Though I vaguely remember painting it three years ago, I do remember seeing it the day after when I pulled it from the boot of my car to take a photo of it. Once in a great while a painter gets to say to himself: "Tiens!" 

What I like about it is the complete unity of expression (of feeling) as if the motif were seen, felt, ingested even, then hurled out upon this modest little board with a magical wand. 

I see no thought process involved it (though of course there was). It makes me think of how much I appreciate the frank conviction of a child's painting, one which is seen (somewhere in that imagination) then pushed out with glee. But I sense also that it is the kind of picture which only my close friends in Aix would really appreciate. To others with too much art education it risks to look silly. But Hey!!

The later picture which I include as its compliment, was done three years later and possesses a certain sophistication compared to the aforementioned study. I like this equally but for different reasons. It was one of those hazy skies which almost obscure the pale clouds at the very end of the day. The small, orange, raspy traces of sunlight almost feel glued upon the delicate sky. I remember thinking about them before putting them down. Specifically thinking: 


One doesn't get a second chance if one mucks it up, but if they do, they must keep going until  another solution is found. But then, it becomes a different painting! The thing is, though I wasn't by any means paralysed with fear, I still had to stop and think before putting these small wafts of orange down. In the painting above, there was no thinking, no thought, just an intuitive movement like one made by a child. 

Writers always talk about the 'shitty first draft', and when I read that I think: 

"Boy are they lucky!" 

A painter doesn't have that luxury to get to do a shitty first draft. (Well,,, maybe Basquiat or Twombly, but then they make a different kind of painting altogether). They make studio pictures which are altogether a different kind of beast (more on that another time).

A painter must get it right or go off and suffer an ignoble death someplace. But then he must also rise up again like Lazarus and return to fix it. One needs a lot of talent for this sort of thing, but maybe just divine intervention. As I noted a week or two ago, only the Dutch were very good at this, but they have been dead too long to return.

I always hope to have this experience of the first painting, but I am equally grateful for that of the second. Thinking or no thinking, thought or no thought, divine or profane, what counts is the result.  

15 November 2021

Halong Bay Vietnam, a few drawings from 2004


These quick drawings came from a day trip out to the islands in Halong Bay on my first trip to Vietnam in 2004. I wish I had done an overnight trip on these boats at the time as I could have filled a few notebooks. These unusual islands are fun to draw from, top-heavy, and rise up from the surface tall and beefy like dinosaurs. 

It was a sunny day so I felt lucky because it had been raining a lot the whole week when I went up to the north from Hanoi. I stayed in Haiphong in a large Soviet-style hotel which was huge and empty. Each floor was as high as a New York office lobby. The walls everywhere were polished cheap-looking rose marble, something one would see at Trump Tower. I must have been the only guest staying there because there was no sign of a living soul anywhere, and no heating, just cold, stern-looking employees eyeing me with little emotion.

The drawings are pretty simple, child-like, and crude and they look handmade because the boat was continually rocking from side to side. I had a pair of gym shorts and jumped into the chilly sea when we had stopped for lunch. Millions of people live on boats in Vietnam as well as the rest of Asia. They never shop on land because the shop comes to them bringing all their supplies. Because I am a landlubber, I remember being very moved by their very difficult and particular life on the sea, whole families tied up to other boats and anchored together for better or worse.