28 February 2021

South Beach, Fishers Island, New York, Finding a family of light



    1974, South Beach F.I. N.Y.oil on canvas board 20 X 15 cm

Two, somewhat tiny paintings, (approximately 15 X 12 cm) were both made around 1974, at South Beach, Fishers Island, my favourite beach, a stone's throw from our house, and almost aways empty. The dogs loved it as much as me, as did my brother. I had started painting in France that previous year, learning to paint out in Nature, and these were among the survivors during those weeks in August I spent there.

They interest me today because they reveal something about my deepest feelings for the sea (and deserted beaches). Also they remind me that I have always been emotionally enamoured by light as manifested in the sky, and its corresponding rapport to the sea beneath it. It's as if I became a painter in order to emotionally connect with these feelings.

        1974, South Beach F.I. N.Y.oil on canvas board 20 X 15 cm

Though not having painted much in Nature yet, this tiny picture reveals my deepest desires to penetrate the mysteries of the sea and sky, not as two separate entities but intertwined as one. 

I remember working on masonite at the time which I had clumsily coated with gesso. They were small because, I was, well,,, small, tiny in my ambitions,,,, as if so small, maybe nobody would notice (it's a long story). 

The gessoed masonite gave the surface a cruddy, rough feeling, especially when turps were used over it. I kind of liked it, and still do. The effect was rather dry which also appealed to me and still does. Of course by this time I had been already under the influence of Cézanne's watercolours, and this is apparent in both of these small things. There is a paucity of material which lends itself well to an ephemeral sky.

They are each somewhat different in terms of their drawing conception. The one below is far more sophisticated in that there is a real distance established between the foreground, middle ground and background. It's quite subtle, almost imperceptible which is the way it should be I believe.

The one above might be more modern in that there is no distinct foreground, just a play of light on the sea. One jumps into the picture frame immediately which is what I mean by modern. In it also reveals my early love of Turner's watercolours which I had seen in London.

And this is why I wanted to show them along with these recent things done over the past few days here on a beach in Australia 40 years later. They are family.


26 February 2021

Ambrogio Lorenzetti's dream, Pirandello's garden,

Pirandello's Garden, Chateaunoir, early 1990's

This dates from 1993. I painted it in the early Spring just outside my studio at the Château. I had been trying a new way to get into Nature by working directly against the sun often without any sky.

Pierre Bonnard had taken 'Contre-jour' to a whole new level by the way he worked his pictures over and over, sometimes for years in his studio before releasing them to the public. But the initial graphic design for his pictures were almost always taken from simple drawings done in Contre-Jour. This is what allowed his explosive colour to quietly expand over many sessions. He taught me how to use colour.

I had been doing small studies around the Château, mostly in the forest in the early 90's. These were intimate things done when the afternoon sun created violent blue shadows on the oak trees scattered everywhere on the hill. They are not great but there is a feeling in them which I embraced. 

Châteaunoir, early 1990's

Châteaunoir, early 1990's

Pirandello's Garden (at the top) was supposed to be sold but the buyer, a friend, backed out for some reason or other. I am happy to still have it. 

I see in it something which I had evidently loved so much from the whole Sienese school and which influenced me deeply. 

I am reminded of my great love of the Lorenzetti brothers who made frescoes around Tuscany in the 14th century. There are large works decorating the Museo Civico which I often visited when in Siena. I loved their colours, the simple graphic design, the complete unpretentiousness; the quiet hour of life manifest in everything from the small houses, to the trees, and to the faces in a crowd.

The following small painting I must have had as a postcard on every refrigerator, in every home in which I lived is by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Note the idiosyncratic winter mountain peaks in the foreground! Either stolen from their Flemish colleagues far to the north or just from trips to the Dolomite range north of Venice. In any event, there are the equivalent to an extreme artistic license.

And the colour! The Italians understood the magic of colour! To think that colour went brownish black after the Renaissance! With few exceptions, it seemed to stay that way until the Impressionists came along.

But thankfully, colour was certainly present long before, in places all over Italy.

Double O meets Terry Riley via the Kronos Quartet


25 February 2021

a small picture of large ambitions; the mouse that roared


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 12 February, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Sometimes I really think I should have been a wedding cake designer. I have this thing about pastel colours colliding into one another, paint slithering over itself in esculent pleasure.

There is a delectable something about bleached peach when colluding with lemon yellow pasted over a thin sky. Above these layers is the palest of blue which reaches up and over my head. And,,,, it really does look like this, ask anyone!

The flat sea has crackles in the paint and which whispers of an old patina. But this is caused by accidents during transport which I always encourage. It evokes the past, but over the horizon, is where infinity blurs into a hazy future.

This is a very small picture with large ambitions, a mouse which roars.

22 February 2021

throwing caution to the wind, Open Sesame!

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 18 February, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This was one of three studies last week, done one after the other. I jumped into them quickly and without hesitation. The sky was full of clouds and a bit complicated to render at dusk. But at the same time, the air was full of salt which gave the sky a mistiness that appealed to me quelling my initial fear of dread.

"First thought, best thought" as the wise guys in the East say. 

On other social media this one generated a lot of excitement. I liked that, but somehow I am not convinced of such excitement myself, though I do like it well enough.

When I make pictures that appear more familiar-looking, more comfortable perhaps, studies that conform more to what ‘civilians’ are used to seeing out in the natural world I begin to worry that I am losing my edge. These kinds of things are usually more appreciated than my expressive-looking pictures that are more experimental and actually more interesting. And yet this isn’t necessarily what I am after. But in the end, I can only really paint what the present moment dictates to me.

So it isn't up to me how they come out, though that may sound strange for a painter to admit. Sometimes they are like this, on other days, they are like that. And that is the way it should be, at least for me. 

"Open  Sesame!"

As I open up to each painting session, the session also opens up to me, as does the motif facing me. 

But naturally, I bring myself too. Sometimes I am tired, maybe pre-occupied, the mind is elsewhere, maybe I feel bored, or maybe optimistic. No problem. 

Gauguin once said that one should paint wildly, and with great abandon. That is a tall order for me but I try.

Blossom Dearie in Japan,

20 February 2021

"Stop pouring the tea, the cup is a already full!"


        surveillance camera from a camp in the Antarctic 

What is curiosity? And why is a person curious? I wonder if its opposite has to do with living in a closed system, as if like a house, all its window shuttered, its door shut and sealed off from the outside?

If this is the lack of curiosity, then its opposite might be a house with open windows, curtains fluffing in the breeze, doors open and unlocked, butterflies and bugs alike coming and going with ease?

What happens in our lives that we so easily begin to close our windows? And by doing so do we not cut out the world? Cutting it off as if it is a set of tiny newborn fingers grasping incessantly for something just out beyond us?

Somehow, somewhere along the way it gets lost and we shut down. Is it because of a lack of education, or because of too much, that we turn our backs on the world around us?

Maybe Life becomes too frightening, and we opt only for what our fearful conditioned minds dictate?

Artists (like me) need to be very careful to not become too closed, too smug in our beliefs. I can be guilty of this! My ideas are continually challenged by paintings which I do not like, nor understand. The key to a discriminating eye is to know the difference between the two.

The following is a little anecdotal tale famous in Zen circles. It is the classic story of the celebrated professor of Zen from the big city who treks up to see the lone Zen master way up in the hills living by himself. The Zen master receives the professor politely and serves him tea. As they sit at his humble table the master pours tea into the professor's small cup until it overflows and begins to flow out across the small table. Protesting loudly the professor says: 

"Stop, stop! the cup is already full, can't you see?"

to which the master replies, scolding the poor professor:

"Just like the tea cup your mind is too full to receive anything I have to offer you!!"

The professor instantly became the Monk's student.

I have always loved this tale. As a painter, one can ask just when does one's mind becomes "too full"? At what point does having an abundance of knowledge and experience in a craft like Painting become a hindrance?

I admit that there are areas in my own life where I think I know a lot. I have inherited many ideas from my own education which have sometimes clouded my own original curious thirst for 'otherness'. I can see that it has prevented me from looking at my prejudgements and I would like to change that.

Perhaps, being curious is a porous state of mind, filtering out the inedible from the edible?  Maybe a house with screens on its windows to keep out the bugs but allowing the butterflies? I am not so sure....  

In the meantime, another day, another picture.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 12 February, 2021, oil on  canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

17 February 2021

Abstract painting to be read in airports before visiting the Roman vomitarium.


Here are two paintings which I find repulsive. Ha Ha. But I post them because I came across them recently in the news, because it really, really riles me up around certain subjects like for instance, really bad, really overhyped, and overpriced paintings. 

One of these pictures is by a very, uber-famous European artist whose work sells for millions and millions of dollars. The other is by another very famous American artist whose work also goes for millions but a few less than the European.

I think what amazes me is that these two artists reign at the top of the 'cultural' food chain. And of course, some will say that it comes down to a question of taste or preference. Possibly, in a parallel universe that could be true, but in the real world of art criticism it never has. 

In the snooty world of art; the more expensive insinuates more quality, whereas in the world of literature, more expensive just means more popular, more books sold. Really crumby 'Best Sellers' make a lot of money for an author even when everyone knows that it is crumby writing. But because I don't frequent the world of uber galleries I ponder this question, it is after all, an opaque world.

I think I was so shocked by the awful vulgarity of this one below that I wanted to post it. At least, I say to myself that the one above is actually trying to make a painting which might somehow convey an idea which could possibly  possess a sense of both light and colour commiserate to Painting as we have known it for 2000 years or so.

What is my problem with these two things one might ask? 

In both, there is an absence of colour despite the garish use of the primary ones which seem to scream out of the canvas in a fit of insanity. 

There can be no colour because in fact, there is no light in these two paintings though the one above tries harder than the one below. 

In any event, they remind me of something which Robert Hughes once said about another contemporary artist upon seeing an exhibition of the work.

"It was like visiting a Roman vomitarium"

(as if such a thing existed) but one gets the point. This was years ago, back in the 80's when at least there were art critics with knowledge, courage, and a creative use of vocabulary.

If these pictures were found in  a flea market marked at $40 each, I wouldn't have had to write about them.

14 February 2021

Joseph Brodsky and the light from within in Arezzo, Siena and Venice


I am cleaning up my studio and throwing things away to make room for new work to come in my head. I came across this curious study done maybe around 1975 at the Chateau.

I do remember that it was done completely out of my imagination at the time. During these years I was intently looking at the drawings of MichelAngelo and frescoes of Piero della Francesco when I made these things, and sadly though I made a number of them, only a few survived. But it was an allusive memory which created these early portraits. Where did they come from?

Yes, looking at it today reveals its devotion to a certain delicacy due to my fascination with the watercolours of Cézanne at that time, because I was then living in Cézanne's world around the Le Châteaunoir.

For a long time I thought it too clumsy and confused in its drawing, that the pale colours made no sense.

But in spite of that I never threw it away. It had in fact, survived many, many periodic culls in various studios over the  years. I am glad it survived. 

Today, what I appreciate in it, is its humanity. Despite its poorly conceived face I find a light coming from within, and maybe that is what drew me to Piero della Francesco in the first place.  

When I was small we lived in a very large house with a hundred bathrooms. My father had his own, and he decorated it with portraits by Piero della Francesco using oil paints. A few that I remember from the bathroom walls:

12 February 2021

cranking and wanking in fine homes and not


Evening Prayer, Brunswick Heads, 19 January 2021 oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here is a deceptively simple painting which I had not at all appreciated until the other day when I saw it suddenly hiding behind more glamorous-looking images on my desktop. 

Maybe it’s boring, too boring to say boo to, but seeing it afresh after a month, I find some truth in it which gives it validation, at least in my own eyes.

It has a layered feeling almost like wedding cake. And it feels flat like run through a roller which also appeals to me. 

Despite being done on a wind-swept beach in front of the sea it almost feels like it could have been made on a large table in a studio with a long squeegee full of pre-mixed colours but despite that there seems to be volume in it.

I recently read an article about a Canadian fellow who had been such a prolific doner to a fertility lab that he had ‘fathered’ hundreds of now grown up adults. With the opening up of adotion laws they had all tracked him down and eventually developed relations with him. They even all had a ‘family’ renunion of sorts.

And so I see that by turning out so many of these small studies, sometimes even two or three at a time most days, I sudenly had the outlandish picture of myself as as a kind of sperm donor for small walls all over the Western world.

Maybe even like one does to make babies, I am cranking out so many different little lives into the world by spreading seeds (though no wanking please! heavens!) because this too in a twisted line of thinking,  is also a service of sorts, though for barren walls everywhere across the globe.

And of these small studies, some will live long lives, while others, deemed unworthy, will die shortly, painted over with yet more paint to begin again.  

But the luckier ones will shine in large homes, full of light, and framed with grace, while others, like in unhappy familiess will hide within unhappy dingy walls, cornered equally, between the unpainted cornices and the wallpaper, like awful parents. 

But still others, will thrive in homes much loved and looked after in spite of divorces and deaths, while others will spend the rest of their lives entangled in cobwebs in attics and basements, others will go up in flames and a few will still tragically hang at the end of a rope somewhere.

Some will be loved sentimentally, accepted in spite of their flaws, while others will also be loved but with a certain admiration, and a critical, reverent set of eyes.

Like Tolstoy says in the first line of Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Even so, in the end, as a painter without children, I must still hang onto the idea that I have given life. 

10 February 2021

cocktail hour in a derelict beauty of the desert

If I believed in a bucket list there might be a few places on it. One could be the desert near Bakersfield, California where the dead metal carcasses of jets are lined up in rows like in a cemetery. In truth, I have really always just wanted an old jet to inhabit my life on some acreage somewhere, turning it into a spare bedroom, a study, or a sexy cocktail lounge for friends. A small handful of rich eccentrics  have done this and it provokes a little envy in me. Pinterest is full of wonderful airplane conversions for those curious about this sort of thing.

This photo above, came from the NYT a while back and which I loved immediately, and it has since found a resting place on my desktop because I am a lover of stripes.

In a wishful world it's as if some really cool, clever painter got hold of a fuselage and made this with it. 

Not too much else to say about it, I guess, except it is what it is, and thankfully so. I find such inordinate beauty in such things, and I am grateful that others do too even though the problems of our resulting ecological dysfunction does not enter into it, for better or worst.

It's easy to find a friendly family resemblance to ships tied up in ports and hulking in squalid beauty. Cosmetic maintenance on ships has an obviously different safety requirement than that of airplanes. Who would board a rusting airplane? 

09 February 2021

in Osaka, falling in love

(The following is from my diary in Japan. It is self-explanatory. I have been thinking so much about wanting to return for a trip there. So I have been perusing my old diaries to understand what I was feeling while there.) 

Osaka, 26 April, 2012

Municipal Art Museum

'Yesterday to the Municipal Art museum in the park of the zoo. A grittiest part of town. It is a large colonial-looking building with a well designed garden surrounding it. I arrived with only an hour and half to visit! Typically, I was late because I got a little lost, and the opening hours were shortened to due to something or other. It looked somewhat deserted and a bit sad and lonely, the guards seemed that way too. 

I buzzed through the first few galleries full of funerary objects, already a premonition about this giant, empty place was building in my chest. I did stop with my heart in my eyes when I came across a large wooden structure which housed inside it a smaller wooden house of the 11th century. I could see that it had been re-built over the years. A magnificent sobriety for this mausoleum. In it a kind small banquette not 1.5 meters across where the dead where placed. It's simple design and its proportion reminded me so much of 11th century chapels in France.

The rooms were watched over by an older woman who dutifully stood guard and hardly moved. A curious life, not an easy one, but if one loved history and art, OUI!

Finally I arrived into the last rooms where were housed large screen paintings. Here, my heart really began to race. There were two 6 panelled screens on either side of the entrance in the large room. They were both two meters high and framed simply in black lacquered wood.

One was entitled 

Japanese Cypress Trees by Haseguana Tohaku

with a poem by Kohoe Nobutada.

I have seen many beautiful screens before but rarely have I seen a masterpiece of such direct poetic and technical subtlety.

It is just a forest of trees, fading into the  mountain mist. Still more forest trees climb further up the picture plane surrounded by an emptiness of space. Over it, almost like a kind of delicate graffiti several calligraphic characters are painted freely, flying up and over the picture surface. It seemed hardly believable that such a perfect thing existed in this world of man. I found myself frozen with that antsy kind of attention which feels like I am being rippled with anxiety. It happens rarely, but always in front of such paintings and drawings. 

It is in fact just a mountain scene shrouded in fog, the trees disappearing in the distance. The artist paints with the greatest skill and sensitivity because his technique is as hidden as are his trees which disappear in the fog.

There was companion piece on the other side of the large entrance. It consisted of 6 panels also, and a large poem almost thrown across the empty surface plane. Nice, but not at all the same thing.

I hesitated a long time there, peering at the museum guard who was peering at me. Photography was proscribed and clearly marked everywhere. It was as if she was sure that I would make a move with my large Canon hanging off my left side. Like in a Western, who would make the first move?

I began to prepare the camera settings discreetly at my side and when she turned around I managed to get a shot. Not brilliant but at least a record of this thing which stole my heart. When she turned around again briefly I got another shot of the other one as well.

I wandered outside and made my way back to the hotel stopping for something to eat at a food stall.....'

08 February 2021

Mysterious, uncertain, wavering! Pea soup, Yes!


These are from last night. The skies have been somewhat stormy these past few weeks, indeed it's been a clement summer without that tremendous heat of last year. The days are never stable, they are dictated by bits of rain, sun, and clouds.

So thus by the end of most days, the skies look confused, which leaves a painter confused as well. But I show up to see what there is to do, hoping always, like a priest, to find light somewhere, anywhere. 

I have discovered that if I am patient enough   for the sun to set behind me, then a terrible kind of beauty settles into the sky to the west, in front of me. And this scene of what had been hitherto an unruly set of storm clouds, gently dissolves into a delicate lacework reminding of Holland. 

The light then feels like that of the Northern Hemisphere, greyish with a delicate patina evoking the 17th century. It's not something I am after really, but the joy in painting such a sky is everything. It is this joy above all, eclipsing even the result, which matters the most.

These small paintings came quickly though not in order. The top image was the last one in fact, and my preferred one. The other two are OK, certainly, they had to be painted in order for me to get to the last one. 

Looking at all three right now, I think of a gloomy pea soup. Mysterious, uncertain, wavering!


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 7 February, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 7 February, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

          Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 7 February, 2021, oil on  canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

07 February 2021

memories retained like grains of sand in the end


The absurdity of what I remember, and what I forget, how I remember it, and why I no longer remember it, is the stuff which will certainly put other people to sleep. Come to think of it, it is probably something that Lydia Davis would write about. But being a fan of hers merits that I indulge in all this. 

Who can forget their first kiss after all? Or too, their first bit of intimacy, because these images are almost always framed and hang on select walls in the most revered and storied cells of our memory. 

I do remember these things! But, I can also remember the most banal and mundane of small things. Because I am so weird, for example, I remember how I acquired these towels pictured herein, even if the dates are not precise. I remember the anecdotes around them and I created meaning in them, which to be fair, is strange!

Frankly, I don't know many sane people who would remember such things, nor would they care if they did. But being eccentric, I do. How can I remember these inane, dog-eared memories against the blur of so many others in the tunnel of my life? I don't even remember whole winters of my life.

The first towel above, I have had since 1985, sort of. It had been in the small house which I rented in Le Tholonet between my stays at the Châteaunoir. It was tiny 'cabanon', as they call it in France, two small rooms full of more Provençial charm than comfort. 

Anyway, I somehow made off with this towel, and it has been with me ever since. But on a note of irony, its original owner, and my friend,  came to visit me here in Australia from New Caledonia for a few days last year. Out of the shower one morning I noticed he was using it. Out of the blue, I suddenly asked him if he remembered it. From the look on his face I saw that he didn't understand the question's relevance. I repeated it, but still getting nothing from him, I told him that it was from 'Le Maguy' which was the name of his small cabanon. OK, all he said was "Oh really", then went to put it on the outdoor railing to dry in the morning sun. Anyway, I took a certain ironic comfort in this small exchange after all these years.

The green towel below came from when I lived briefly on Charles Street in Greenwich Village. Where I bought it was irrelevant, but I always remember that I had once put it on the winter radiator in the bathroom which then burned a hole through it like a pair of sunglasses. In this small loft I first began to memorise poems, a habit I still have. By the John (the throne) was Samuel Coleridge's Kubla Khan which had always fascinated me since grade school years before. So, I began learning one line a day, then continued on and on. I still know it as I still know several poems by Keats which I also learned line by line whilst driving around Europe. But this holy towel still reminds me of Coleridge on Charles Street in Greenwich Village. 

The blue floral designed towel came to me one day when I had gone to Decathlon, the French Sporting goods chain store in Les Milles just outside of Aix-en-Provence. It was a hot summer day and I had gone for tennis balls but on a whim I also picked up this towel. I remember it all so clearly, (which I admit is so weird) I opened up the heavy sliding door to my white VW camper van and threw everything into the back of it as the summer heat shot out at me. I am surprised that it survived so many outings to La Roche Platte in Cassis. Long before Instagram, there were already dozens of photos of it, with me and friends on that flat nudist rock on the Presque Isle in the Calanques eating melons. 

This pink and orange towel below is the latest acquisition, and it came to me when a former girlfriend left the house with her young daughter. I was supposed to send it on with her remaining personal items, which I dutifully did, folding and packing everything with great care. But I kept this towel out of selfishness. (I am a towel thief!, enfin!) 

I did so because I love the colours of it but also, I kept it due to a sentimental streak. I had wanted to keep it because during those brief years I had taught her young daughter to swim, braving the rough surf at the beach. These were joyful times. And afterwards, she would dry herself off with it and wear it as sarong all the way back to the car and fall asleep in the back.

She loved swimming with me, holding my hand as we confronted the large waves, sometimes going under them, sometimes jumping over them. "UNDER" I would yell out to her, or "OVER" at the last minute. This is a rough sea and she couldn't get enough of it, she was like a small seal sometimes slipping out of my hands in the force of the waves, and I would panic. I was never without fear of my great responsibility because people here often die on this beach every year. Sometimes the rip was so strong that we had to abandon swimming much to her displeasure but she couldn't know the danger. She knew only the pleasure, such is the innocence of youth.

But with her mother it was Danger and Pleasure mixed together almost as perilous as the Australian surf. What do we remember of these intimate relationships into which we find ourselves swirling around? What is it about these loves which ebb and swell, pullings you under, dropping you off, sometimes even letting you body surf with bliss between the sheets? Where do these memories dwell?

Inevitably like the dangerous sea, the fickle human heart rules. And too often, there is nothing which remains of the love affair but a towel and a few grains of sand.

Isn't that how God speaks to us of our time on earth?

04 February 2021

The compression of Cézanne while the Past and Future plays in the mud

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

This came out of a session last week. It seems quite modern to me compared with the five paintings I posted just the other day. For the most part, they were paintings from a memory of paintings past, at least four of them anyway. And I admit this with full knowledge of the immense pleasure I took in making them.

I am so comfortable working now that I don’t even criticise my own work as it comes out of the oven. I let them come out and play like a well-adjusted parent watching her own children quietly from the kitchen, no worry or drama.

In the same way I allow these images to come forth without judgement nor bitter self-recriminations as I work. But this was never the case for most of my life. It is a new phenomenon.

So this picture was painted on the beach, a great big red and violet cloud bank sitting upon a rectangle of sea. Higher above, layers of yellow and pale Prussian blue stripes seem to be glued onto the canvas board like a collage. It is decidedly a flat painting, all its elements compressed into one plane. I like this aspect because it reminds me of Cézanne, the compression of Cézanne, even though it has little else of Cézanne in it.

Like all of these paintings it was taken from Nature, it was not done in a studio. And yet it reminds me of pictures I have seen over the past 80 years which were made in Expressionist studio settings far away from the a beach. 

I am also happy with it because it reveals to me something from my own future. It happens sometimes as the steady work piles up and I can see patterns which seem to zig-zag through Time. The past shows up a lot in these paintings because that is the nature of my own memory of art history and Painting. But just as surprising, the future also appears to pop out of the blue, suddenly, like a robin sitting in the snow, just like this.