31 January 2021

prayers and ablutions in temple Tokyo Mejii Parc, l'air de rien #180

90 portraits in 90 days, self portrait #42


I made a series of self portraits in 1999, doing one a day for a period of 90 days. Many of them were not very good but I wasn't too bothered by that. What interested me was the daily ritual. I am by nature pretty un-disciplined, or at least I had been for most of my life. Who wouldn't like to be a disciplined hard-working artist, lawyer, garage mechanic, engineer or school teacher? Sadly, I was none of the above, I shifted about in various guises before I got serious much later in my life. 

In truth, I was always afraid of Art; creating art specifically speaking. I was an obsessional perfectionist who had great difficulties to finish anything. Alas, that was me then, anyway.

The 90 portraits in 90 days was my foray into a disciplined ritual. I learned a lot about my face naturally. Most of them are not even great likenesses but in most there was something of me under all that paint. There for the most part quite cropped with even a hit of shoulders, barely a line or two to express the neck. I was looking for a direct image, a graphic image almost plastered on the canvas board like a guy glueing a movie poster in the old days.

This one above I always liked. I had at the time a small studio at the Château noir just a hop from my apartment there. There was a skylight so the light was good. I think I made all of these self-portraits in centre-jour which seemed to work in that space. 

More to be revealed.

30 January 2021

small brushstrokes separate the 19th and 21st century


I love this small painting from two weeks ago but I also recognise that many may see it as a picture from the past. Me too, yet because it was done so quickly in just a matter of minutes I also feel that it is a picture from my future too. It came from a chaotic and dark sky, an already muddied palette at the end of the session, but I quickly grabbed another board to see what else could happen.

This one below, on the other hand, is a more modern picture, for me anyway. At times in this series I have moved towards flat graphic shapes delineated by only slight nuances of coloured tones to either bring the planes forward or to push them backwards though the photos don't always show this. Yes, they are 'seascapes', not a term I like, but  at the same time they are also simple flat planes of colour, and this is why I see them as 'arriving from my own future'. I love unified simplicity, and for me this is the future.

I wonder if every creative person doesn't plod along in their chosen craft, failure and success littering their pathway while still yearning for obscure ideas yet to be formed? And it is, of course, always through the work that these ideas become realised.


28 January 2021

Morocco in the shade of Delacroix 25 years on

Now obviously, whoever made these drawings was certainly under the deep spell of Delacroix and it's true, I was fascinated by him and his own voyages to northern Africa.

I went to Morocco the first time to visit my roommate  from university in Aix-en-Provence. It was 1974, a year later, and Michael had joined the Peace Corps with another fellow named Ray. They were stationed in the small town of Midelt in the middle of the country just south of the Atlas mountains where they taught English to uninterested kids. Poor guys, they felt marooned there.

I took the boat with a girlfriend from Marseille to Tangier arriving two days later (which was a long trip, and a long story) but we did arrive in Midelt in the early Spring, maybe Spring break, March, probably.

One thing I remember about the bus ride over the Atlas mountains was Sharon and myself, snuggled and shivering under a thin sleeping bag surrounded by a busload of men wearing djellabas and smelling of goats. They couldn't keep their eyes off of blonde Sharon.

We stayed in Midelt for a few weeks before visiting Fez and Meknes which is what most tourists do in Morocco. We were taken care of by Fatima, the housekeeper of whom I made several watercolours. The food was good but greasy and meaty with few greens anywhere. 

I had brought with me a pack of sepia-red pastels and blocs of plain newsprint. I had no idea what I would do but just jumped into the exotic street scenes everywhere. So many wonderful and amusing anecdotes filled the memory banks of my youth. Now so many years later the memory vaults have been raided  and depleted by age, alas.

Anyone who has been to Morocco knows that wherever one goes, they are followed, mostly by kids, but lots of the other usual suspects. This fact must be accepted.  And because I was also drawing everywhere I went, I was followed by an even bigger circus of misfits. Being an oddball anyway, I was kind of used to it but eventually I was picked up by the local police who didn't know what to do with me with all this drawing business. I was let go after a bit but sternly warned not to draw people! 

My amblings around town with a small backpack of drawing materials led me to meet lots of lovely old men who invited me for tea and let me draw from the protection of their shops. They kept an eye out for the police. My French at that time was OK but somewhat simple. I had been working on it so I could get around and I loved these interactions. My father had taught me to always ask for directions. It was the best way to meet locals and learn a language.

So, these are but a few things which I still possess from that first trip there under the shadow of Delacroix. To be fair, they are far more abbreviated and abstract than anything I have seen of his but that had to do with my own inability to 'make a drawing', certainly as good as his. I was making quick sketches almost in passing. It suited my anxious and impatient nature and became a habit for life.

I was also heavily influenced by Japanese ink drawings at the time and this came out years later. So spontaneity was my first interest whilst working 'out in nature and using a motif'. My teacher in Aix, Léo Marchutz whom I had met two years earlier had also stressed the importance of looking into nature to find a motif from which to work. And everything I seemed to read about at that time concerned this idea of 'seizing the motif' in one's memory. Of course I was also reading Van Gogh's letters at the time which were also very influential.

So this trip and the drawings which came out of it was my first real experience of going off to an unfamiliar place and trying to work from it. Subsequently, I made many other trips to Morocco, much later where I made boatloads of drawings whilst sitting in cafes and sitting in shops. Obviously, Morocco is full of colonial styled cafes with second floor terraces which came in handy to draw from. This was also helpful in colonial Vietnam where I could also see everything at once below in the crowded markets.

Below are a few drawings from Morocco done during several trips to Marrakesh and Essaouira in the 2000's 25 years later for which the same hand was responsible. And that is what I like, that there is the same sensual quality of the handiwork and focus on the luminosity of the page. The great difference of 25 years is also in the fact that the early ones are decidedly 19th and 20th century whereas the late ones are definitely something else though they don't please everyone.

26 January 2021

The ghosts of Nathalie Goldberg and Gustave Flaubert on the beach near Byron Bay at dusk


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 22 January, 2012, oil on canvas board, 25 x 20 cm

A mushy sky greeted me last week, and with a certain hesitation I made several small studies. There was little wind and I had to bring out the bug spray but once I had made the palette of the usual suspects I began to feel more comfortable. 

What always amazes me is that in spite of that initial fear and hesitation of how to begin, the hand begins to move with abandon in those first brushstrokes. 

I am always in awe of great writing so I read a lot of books about 'how to write'. Of course, they are never titled as such but that is basically what they are. Writers, unlike painters on the whole, love to talk about how they write. Painters seem secretive and jealous, almost psychotically paranoid that some inferior art student will steal their style. Mais enfin!

I have read many books on writing by lots of different authors; Annie Dillard (whom I have actually never read), Jim Salter, (of whom I have read everything), Anne Lamott, Stephen King, who wrote a brilliant book about how to write (ditto for Annie Dillard as I have never read his books either) Stanley Fish, who wrote How to Write a Sentence, etc, etc..

Happily there probably aren't a lot of books written by bad writers, unlike in the Painting World which is full of people who paint badly yet when they do try to teach others how they might paint well, can't.

So I come to Nathalie Goldberg who wrote a few books about how to learn to write, one being Writing down the Bones which I liked very much and read more than once. She is an avid proponent, like many, who meets with writing buddies in cafes and other spots to write for a specific time limit. It's about discipline and camaraderie. I know a few people who do it because it is an integral part of a Creative Writing degree everywhere now. Somehow it seems very modern to me, a program suited to our age of rapid-fire communication; cell phones, twitter, zoom, etc, etc.. 

(I suddenly imagine Flaubert writing longhand in his small town of Croisset, Normandy, living by the timetable of La Post Française for connection to the outside world)

In her book Writing Down the Bones she describes just how important it is to keep the hand moving, always moving to keep the mind from hesitation. "Don't stop the movement" she implores her student authors. At least this is what I understood from her, and it has helped me in own Painting enormously because when I feel a hesitation in Painting I remember this advice from Nathalie Goldberg. Of course, it helps that I am chasing the last light of the colourful day instead of working feverishly in a cafe. 

"...there is no time for dillley-dalleying young man!" as an old Irish governess of mine used to always say.

In the end though I was happy with what came out of this session. A hazy sky is a beautiful sky for me, but it is a tricky sky, and needs a leap of poetic speed.

25 January 2021

morning in Tokyo, evening in Grenoble

Lydia Davis, the magnificent COWS next-door


Lydia Davis is not for everyone as I found out a few times over the years when I discovered her, and expressing my admiration by raving to several friends whom I knew to be quite literary. Two of them hated her, one had only read her translation works, and the other didn't know her at all. Enfin!

No matter, I am crazy for her and have read several of her books. I discovered this one online which I liked so much I immediately offered it to a friend who had given me a celebrated book about Animals Something written by an Australian woman living in New York whose title I have forgot. But, I couldn't get into it at all despite its huge worldly success. And I had to pick up another copy of THE COWS again which is OK because I like to support artists of all stripes.

Anyway, this small paperback seems part eccentric bovine research paper, part Zen Japanese poet, but certainly the work of an observant writer (and American poet) who cares deeply for theses creatures and possesses the curiosity necessary to record their lives from a visual perspective while at her kitchen window. 

Lydia Davis  in Paris in 1973

22 January 2021

before and after, the altered, and unaltered cosmetics of beauty



Above, and below are two sets of photos of two pictures done two weeks ago. I had been happy about them, and feeling so confident that I carelessly didn't secure them back onto my easel well enough for transport when packing up so they slipped off and fell into the bushes, sort of. 

After dropping these two (there was a third which was not damaged) I resolved in my head to take them home, let them dry, and repair them cosmetically at a later date. No drama!


So I brought them back a few nights later when the evening light was similar. I started and finished two new ones but afterwards when the palette was rich with all the right colours slurping over it I put these two up one after the other and fixed them cosmetically.

I hesitate to 'touch up' paintings. When I take them off the easel they are generally finished and to my liking. Messy and slurpy they are sometimes, but no bother for me as this is my 'style', if I have a style at all.

And though one needs to be attentive to not disturb the overall light of a picture these were fairly easy. The one below needed an entirely new sky which really does change the painting completely. But I was not loyal to the originals, I just wanted to see if I could bring them back to any life.

And about the same period that I was doing cosmetic surgery on my paintings a most curious thing happened at the White House where Kayleigh Mcenany did her final press conference without any make-up, and it caused quite a stir. 

In Trump world, women are pressured 'to look good' for men. Trump is chauvinist (among a number of other less flattering adjectives) and he liked how Roger Ailes at Fox had turned all the newsreaders into blonde bimbos. But Ailes had simply lifted the formula from Madison Avenue way back in the time of Cleopatra.

I cannot imagine just what this pressure is for women of all ages to have to 'face' the world (and cameras) painted with layers of pigment. As a man, I have never had to think of such a thing.

Kayleigh, obviously an attractive American beauty, (physically speaking), certainly had a make-up girl on call 24/7 but who had evidently ditched the White House before Kayleigh came out to do what must have been her worst, most mendacious speech before disappearing, maybe forever, though probably not. 

But how different is the photo below the first one! I was so struck by it that I made a screen shot at the time. It seems to reveal her inner dysfunction like in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

I sympathise now more than ever with all the poor women who have to live in this world of men defined by FOX's Camera-Ready Beauty school for success. And all those stilettos! 

Full disclosure, though I like a woman wearing a hint of Cleopatra black eye-liner I have always avoided women wearing this kind of pancake make-up which many men like in fact.

Addendum, I am such an idealist that I actually imagined that Kaleigh Mcenany, who many said had been in tears for a week after the storming of the Capitol, simply gave up on Trump. That was it. She had watched him gleefully in front of his TV enjoying the scene and refusing entrities to call out the National Guard to stop it. The penny dropped, and her Christianity revolted even after all that time of devotion to the King Fink. But maybe I give her to much credit, so my friends tell me.

17 January 2021

the transvestite ball at dusk


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

This small study came at the tail end of a session of three pictures the other night. The first two, slightly bigger were OK but it was this one which excited me. I had been ready to pack up when I saw a fleeting image  for this small painting while watching the last of the light over the horizon. I grabbed a small board and made this. It's not that it is even so good but that I really saw some new colour nuances which I wanted to explore. 

Weird things happen at dusk. Colours switch around and can fool you easily. You might be preparing a colour on the palette when suddenly you look back up at the motif and see that it's a different colour altogether. Then you prepare something anew only to see another colour has replaced the first one.

"....that is not this, that is this, that is that...."

Everything is a dance of peachy purple, poppy red yellow, pale yellow grey, everything swirling around in the after-burn of the twilight sky like it's a chorus line of French gals doing the Can-Can on the stage above. I am in the front row looking up, and suddenly, I envision a mad transvestite ball where dancing couples are waltzing above me in a great big hall.

Watching them, I know they are the opposites of what they are, yet when I blink, I see that they are more like they are really not than how they really are. Pretty confusing stuff, and then I am reminded of New York.

I have been to a few drag bars there many years ago, and it's pretty confounding. We both watched spellbound at the nocturnal scene. My friend who took me a few times always advised,

"watch their hands, it's the only tell".

Once, a magnificent black 'woman' in a gold gown stepped out onto a small stage at one point and belted out a lip-synced version of Shirley Bassey's Goldfinger. She brought the house down and blew our minds. I think we were on mushrooms.

And this too, is the mysterious world of Painting where things are fluid, ever transforming themselves, and are never quite what they seem. And when they seem what they are, it isn't always for long.

13 January 2021

dragons and live serpents crawling upon walls

I don’t want to make boring paintings which hug a wall, attaching to it like a stuffed elk head in a hunting lodge. 

I don't always like to paint anecdotal pictures either but I admit that these two are anecdotal in a weird sort of way though it may seem obscure to many, even myself.

I am not looking for reassurance when I paint, nor do I look for that when viewing pictures either in my home or elsewhere. To seek confirmation, to pursue a verification of my own ideas seems to be a misuse of the moment. And to see Art as a relic, something old, something dead in a glass case in a museum is also a misuse of time. But I can understand why so many people do when looking at Art. Museums are full of things both dead and alive, and too, its visitors are both dead and alive. In the end, it usually comes down to how much imagination we bring to the experience.

A relic of the past is an affirmation that life was, and to some degree is still today somewhat recognisable (even if young people all have tattoos). We want the familiar but to want this familiar is too often to simply want the same, same old. And the same old in Art is boring and dishonest.

After Matisse, why would anyone desire to paint in the manner of  Rembrandt? What is the point? But don't get me wrong I love the OLD too, I love Chardin because I like the OLD but well painted and truthful OLD.  

Ultimately though, I want the NEW, but I don't want the NEW to be badly painted. Museums are too full of bad paintings. I want the NEW to be a grandsons of Monet,  Cezanne, or Morandi even. Is that asking too much?

I want to paint pictures which cling to the walls of my home, creeping around like dragons and serpents with smokey breath. I need to be shaken up. I want paintings to force me to gently tippy-toe around them naked, or in underwear on the way to the kitchen looking for a sweet during the night. I want to risk being bitten otherwise none of it is very interesting. But at the same time I do want to make pictures which will please me to live with in my solitary castle.

Enfin, I want to be eternally surprised. I need for paintings to ask me questions instead of always throwing answers at me with a clunky heavy certitude. 

Why can't artists learn to ask questions to which most answers seem reasonably incomprehensible?

10 January 2021

The whole darn sky, for sale!


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 4 January, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This is a study from a few nights ago which I wisely stopped myself from finishing. It's most rare that I show this restraint because normally, if I like the start on a painting I will often just grab a quick shot of it whilst still on the easel as proof that miracles still can happen. Then I continue working on it, transforming it into something which it never would have imagined becoming. This one spoke to me and told me to put it aside. 

But, one cannot hold onto all great beginnings, after all. If we did, we might never get beyond the first kiss, the first few delicious dates... and then, we would certainly never move onward to marriage and children would we? 

No, like a painting, we must jump in further, making mistakes along the way with a secret hope that they are repairable, until they aren't. And then comes divorce, and tears, and recriminations from all sides.... but I digress.... I am really trying to just discuss a painting, after all. But you see how things are related? What can start out so beautifully, can equally turn ugly, full of messiness and regrets, the end then, depends on whose point of view. This is a story of Loving and Painting all bound together. 

The start of this painting, though not great, had a germ of pictorial genius in it which I had wanted to keep. 

There was something of it which reminded me of  Japan, and this Nippon fascination, once bitten and smitten, becomes a life-long infection. 

But in it too, there is something truly American, as in  the heyday of large minimalist Painting back in the 1960's when life seemed simpler, more expansive, more happy and optimistic (but only if you were white though).

And come to think of it, this image reveals that voraciously oversized American appetite, the one which can never be satiated, the one which screams for MORE Park sausages mom! 

Finally, this small start of a study, is reminding me of an oversized billboard out on a deserted stretch near a beach somewhere. It brightly advertises the sale of the whole darn, big blue sky! 

09 January 2021

The angry paintbrush and hint of hope that almost got away


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 28 January 2021, oil on canvas board, 29 X 22 cm

A rather gloomy-looking sky engulfed me last week as I set up for a session. I was not looking forward to it. It has been raining so much these past weeks that I have not been able to find any convenient skies to enjoy working from. Quickly on, this very study was on its way to failure but remarkably just when I was just about to chuck it in and paint over it, smearing and smudging, swearing to, I suddenly found my way in to it with a hint of hope. I had nothing to lose, a fact so easily forgotten or ignored in these dark moments. Also I knew it would put me in a bad mood for the entire drive home. But once there, I would make a cup of tea, sit at the piano, and within no time at all I would again become my usual optimistic self once again. XXXXXXx

In any event, I managed to re-arrange the whole graphic drawing for this small idea and then thought to myself: well, not great, not even good perhaps, but at least I didn’t destroy it leaving it on the beach with a big ball of pain inside. When I had 

It began raining by the time I had finished and packed up getting back to my car to drive home in the rain. It rained for several days afterward and I forgot to remove it from the car which I normally do on the following mornings. Anyway, when I did finally retrieve it days later I was pleasantly surprised with it. I put in a frame and thought,,,, hmm...

And that is a small sketch of the angry paintbrush and a hint of hope that almost got away.

06 January 2021

Evening Prayers, iterations at dusk

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

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

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

These three recent studies were done on the 26th December, 2020 at Brunswick Heads, N.S.W. They were painted in quick succession starting with the top study, the middle one, then the last.

It isn't rare that I make 3, or even 4 studies, one after the other. A few times I have made 5 and 6, albeit quicker than usual. But generally I make 2 or 3 on most days weather permitting. 

As I paint facing the sea on the east coast, I can only work when the setting sun is behind me unobstructed, in the west. Without it there is little, if any luminosity in the sky, but in the east, in front of me anything goes because I know that with, or without clouds, the sky will be lit up with colour. Of course, one could paint under cloud-cover, rain even, but for this motif to function I need this geographical set-up. 

I am open to all sorts of light. When working in a lush landscape I often prefer a pale, soft grey cashmere sky though it really depends upon the colours in the landscape. Sometimes when working in a forest, one needs the strong sun to pierce the canopy, pasting red rubies on the oak trees in the late afternoon. But there are no rules, thankfully, and this is what makes the Painting experience so unique. It is deeply personal.

So these pictures came one after the other, and all that was required of me was to follow the colours as they descended down through the chromatic steps until reaching a dark dusk. I rarely stay longer because after the 'spectacular bloom', the local colours recompose before the evening catches hold and the Prussian blue sky and the deep azure sea return to the colours of the boring tropical scenery of postcards. 

And anyway, few painters have descended into the realm of darkness, though Whistler quickly comes to mind. He worked in London where the foggy rain has been know to eat up small dogs with opacity. This is difficult Painting.

04 January 2021

Stefan Zweig looks up at Montaigne's tower window for light


Two exceptional writers are conjoined in this small book on Montaigne which Zweig never completely finished before he committed suicide in 1942. 

Both humanists who loved books and whose curiosity led them to investigate life through what they found out about in reality, empirically through themselves. 

Separated by several centuries they both died within a year of one another at the ages of 59 (Montaigne) and (Zweig) 60 years of age.

'For him books are not like men who impose themselves and burden him with their chatter, and of whom is hard to be rid. When you don't call for them they stay put; you can just pick up this one or that, according to your whim: (Zweig)

"Books are my kingdom. And here I seek to reign an absolute lord." (Montaigne)

Books offer him their opinion and he respond with his own. They express their thoughts, and to him arouse further thoughts.  They do not disturb him when he is silent; They only speak when he questions them. Here is his realm. They await his delectation.' (Zweig)

I confess that for the past 6 months I have been struggling through Les Essaies in the original old French, but only because of the old French. It feels like I am a soldier reading my way through a mine field on my belly, and like a good soldier, I persist. 

Zweig is a wonderful writer, so readable, and so clever. I am making my way through all his small novels and short stories. I can highly recommend his The World of Yesterday, a memoir of his flight from Austria before Hitler took over.

02 January 2021

Ian Fairweather, the invisible artist of Shalimar and the Drunken Buddha


The Drunken Buddha, circa 1960, polymer oil based house paint, (approx) 140 X 100 cm

For anyone unfamiliar with Ian Fairweather's work, he was born in Britain in 1891, and after many peregrinations throughout Asia he ended up in Brisbane Australia. It's a stone's throw from where I am currently settled. I will not say too much about him, but Google will inform anyone interested in this extraordinary painter. 

For an 'abstract' painter, I find him infinitely more interesting than the infamous Jackson Pollack who is still considered the reference for 'Abstraction Expressionist Painting', at least in America. Fairweather's outline follows a similar path to Pollack's. They both worked from Nature early on in their careers but eventually subject matter became personalised, increasingly.

I like these two paintings so very much. That is to say, they speak to me in a familiar yet foreign language, one which I do speak but might not completely understand due to a regional dialect which is a little confounding..

It is a shame that Fairweather is not better know outside of Australia. That is a problem with being so far from the Art capitals in America and Europe. At least it certainly was in the 50's when Australia was indeed a cultural backwater. Perhaps that may have changed enough today so that someone of Fairweather's stature might achieve a greater recognition, at least beyond the beaches. Not sure about that, myself, Australia is still very parochial in many ways.

But Fairweather would not have become the painter he became if he had not lived his last years in the isolated Queensland of the 50's and 60's, when Australia was a very different country than today. 

Shalimar, 1962, polymer oil-based house paint, (approx) 250 X 150 cm