31 July 2021

Lucian Freud and Caroline Blackwell, but God too


I love these two portraits of Caroline Blackwell by Lucian Freud, and they are everything I love in a portrait but are so very different in many ways. They both exemplify a rigorous discipline to detail, yet they haven't been damaged by any loss of unity, pictorial or graphic. 

Lucian Freund had a very colourful love-life, to say the least, and I believe that Caroline Blackwell was his first of many wives.

These are early pictures, so unlike his paint-laden portraits which came later. This top one is perhaps the earliest, and it is quite stylised, but not without real feeling for what it means to be human, as empathy comes to mind. Because of the cat, held firmly in her right hand, it feels like a whimsical cartoon, the poor cat! (there is obviously a hidden joke here somewhere, maybe, even an erotic one). 

The British can get away with this eccentric wry humour in Art, but it's a reminder too, that the Brits really love Painting (unlike the French!) (But that is another story for another day).

The portrait below is my real favourite. It is as good as Portraiture can ever get. Like a hummingbird, a modern spirit of Holbein seems to hover around all its ephemeral details. 

There is so much to say about it but I won't, not today anyway, another day perhaps. It's the kind of rare portrait which simply leaves one without those bothersome words when looking at Art. But, I will cite what Freud once said about Painting:

“An artist should appear in his work no more than God in nature. The man is nothing; the work is everything.” 

Happy August everyone!
and XXX from the seaside here in Australia!

29 July 2021

In the shadow of Cézanne, beauty is still difficult

Jannina, Prince street, New York, 1983, oil on canvas, 40 X 40 cm

I recently found this portrait in a pile of old paintings from France. I threw it up on Instagram for the fun of it and to my surprise it was a big hit among friends and distant fans. 

She was a friend who sat for me one winter day. Although it was started with a wash of oil, it's apparent that I left it in its early state because even by then everything was already in it. 

I understand that it screams of Cézanne, as if I were making a watercolour after him. I didn't think too much of it for a long time so it kicked around various studios I have had over the years. But today, I see that despite all that 'Cézanne business', it possesses a remarkable presence of expression. Jannina was, and still is, a very beautiful woman. It's a beauty which I always find difficult working from but fortunately, she had a dose of sadness too, which allowed me a way in. 

So despite that it is haunted by Cézanne, I like it anyway because, after all, his influence over me loomed large in those early years in France, but also later too for a time.

28 July 2021

Christian Boltanski meets Joseph Beuys

I read a few days ago that Christian Boltanski had died. In reflecting on his oeuvre which I alway found more interesting than that of his collaborator and partner, Annette Messager, also much more compelling than most Conceptual Art I see around the world. I realised that he is an artist, and this seems so very different than just being a painter. Not to denigrate painters but it's  important to differentiate the widening gap between creators of such different sensibilities.

As a painter, I seem to just be riding my bicycle through the visual world of terra firma as Conceptual artists fly high above in Gulfstreams. Indeed, the gulf between these two worlds has grown. And though I may sound like I do not like Conceptual Art as whole, that is not at all the case. I am often as critical of it in the same way that I am critical of Painting being done now as well as everything else done in the past. To use one's critical sense is essential for being a creator. But its true that it's easy for me to criticise so much Conceptual Art today mainly because it is so prevalent everywhere. Basically there is so much more of it to criticise. 

Being so different than traditional Painting it engages different aspects of our senses. Painting has usually always been a visual experience, anecdotal at times, but also extremely cerebral even if cluttered with religious symbology. 

By the early 20th century, a new liberated and sophisticated mind had invited both the Dada and Surrealist movements into a cerebral celebration of what we now call Modern Art. But by now in just the first two decades of the 21 century, it has fragmented into a hundred different directions.

Without getting too far ahead of myself, I really just wanted to look at some images which I saw in the News about Christian Boltanski's obituary. These works are very striking, visually speaking, and I respond to them as a painter. Of course, there are visual but they are meant to express so much more than that, too. 

Boltanski used old, discarded clothing from everywhere, it seems, to create these giant installations. For me, they are extremely powerful, and I only wish that I could have seen them in their original settings, when and where they were exhibited. This one, just below is from a museum in Japan (Sakayoma), the one below it, is from the Grand Palais I think.

I love the simplicity of this last one especially, (just above). Formally speaking it is a circular pyramid, though I am sure there is a more technical name for it. This 'pile' of used clothing shaped together in the Grand Palais is a visual powder keg of ideas which cannot leave a viewer ambivalent. Yes, it is a statement, or message, of a kind, but also it's so much more. What I appreciate is that I am allowed me into this 'message' through a visual experience. It is at first and foremost, a visual experience; a celebration of something though I am still unsure of what exactly. It is not just a message (ambiguous as it may be). 

I did not finish art school so many years ago but back in the 1970's, it could hardly have mattered because Conceptual Art was only just taking off everywhere about then, at least in the popular art world. Joseph Beuys, who was certainly one of the very first Conceptual artists, had already claimed a large following in Avant-garde circles. But his work, for me, was too clinical, too Germanic, a sledge hammer of ideas, and just too hard for me to digest back when I was younger. That is why I find Christian Boltanski's pieces so interesting, so pleasing, perhaps. I am able to take in his large pieces through my senses, visually at first, and only then can I ruminate freely on their contextual message as (deliciously obscure as I find them). 

These installations certainly don't hit me over the head like Beuys, or so much Conceptual work being done at the moment. They don't rely solely upon a message, however clever or obscure. 

The problem is also, (as always) that throughout history, innovators originate the ideas of art only to be followed by the hordes of insipid students and academics who then create large bodies of work which lack the force and originality of the original innovators. And this is particularly true in Conceptual Art because so any schools in today's world crank out art students infected with so many of the same ideas. 

22 July 2021

When Prussian Blue meets Pink


Evening Prayer Brunswick heads, 18 July, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm


Evening Prayer Brunswick heads, 18 July, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm


Evening Prayer Brunswick heads, 18 July, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

These three studies reveal the successive changes a few days ago. I arrived to find a bright silver yellow sea beneath a blossoming pink and yellow sky, and indeed, the smooth silky sea looked like I could have skated over it. The beach was "crowded" which means, maybe but 300 people spread up and down for as far as one can see here. Most of them were hippies who spilled out from the drumming circle back up on the lawns behind the beach. Each Sunday afternoon is their moment of glory. In the summer months it is nearly impossible to park on a Sunday which upsets many locals. I take it in stride, they are hippies! And they celebrate their youth, why begrudge them?

The top painting came quickly, without hesitation, which always makes me happy because it means that I have switched on immediately and no longer worry about where my mind is going. The orange and violet band looked like it was on fire. 

The second one reveals the quick transition of dusk as the sea began to gently warm up and the band grows cooler into an intense blue violet. The sky begins to meld quietly as the blue violet seems to crawl up into a pink layer. Colours and shapes move quickly, but in a weird sort of way, they also move at a snail's pace like the planet.  

The third painting is a curious one because I wanted to shake things up a little by just using washes. The evening sea at this point had turned a muddy orange, the sky has been invaded by a rising band of pale Prussian Blue like the curtain at the end of a play, but instead of going down, it rises into the night.

It is a tricky thing at this time in the evening. I have yet to figure it out, even after all this time. It needs a spacial, graphic solution, but I cannot seem to get it right. 

18 July 2021

Anatomy of a crime, 15th July, 2021


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 July 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 July 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 July 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

My painter friend Liz Graham-Yool, who lives in the Aveyron region of France, remarked today on Instagram about two pictures I had posted yesterday and today, done on the 15th of July. She wrote that it was interesting to see the great transformations going on between these skies existing in two paintings from the same afternoon.

So, I thought it would be interesting to show all six of them done that day (in order from top to bottom here) to better give an idea of the transitions. These are actually very small studies 25 X 20 cm, so it's feasible to make several quickly at the twilight hour. This is the point after all.

I had arrived earlier than usual because I was supposed to meet a friend in Brunswick Heads for a tea but he stood me up (he forgot, haha) so I went out to the beach about 15h30. I mixed a palette and set up. Then I jumped into the two lemon yellow skies above. Although it was early for my taste, the skies sort of spoke to me already. Whispering to me, was really more like it.

The next one (third one) clearly begins to show the change over the horizon from deep yellow to pink violet. I decided to leave it in its unfinished state because it said everything already.

The fourth and fifth studies show the motif transforming into the colour of raspberry jam. The warmth of the sky had invaded the sea turning it deep Madder Red. 

In the sixth one, (below, below!) the sun was now buried behind me, and dusk had saturated the sky leaving a wide silk scarf of purple and pink. The sea below, glowed like embers in a fireplace, reflecting the sky overhead. 

And that was it, for me, on the 15th of July, 2021.


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 July 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 July 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 July 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

17 July 2021

Julie Beaufils et l'éternité

I was recently led down a rabbit hole through perusing the contents of an ARTFORUM email. I  enjoy these peregrinations. Like Alice, I too, like to fall gently through hitherto unknown rabbit holes.

I was reading about the hugely successful Californian artist, Laura Owens, who is currently showing her work in Arles at the Vincent Van Gogh Foundation (or something like that). A few Parisian artists were also mentioned in the article, one of whom was Julie Beaufils.

So I continued further along, down into the Rabbit Hole, and discovered the work of Julie Beaufils, specifically in a YouTube video in which speaks (naturally) about her work. It's curious work, I would like to see it on walls to really be able to experience it, but it's clear that she is a painter with great feeling and ideas.

What prompts this small post is that in the YouTube clip I saw, (Artist Says: Julie Beaufils for Gallery Weekend Beijing), she says something I have never heard during my visits to so many web sites, blogs, videos, and what not, concerning other contemporary artists.

It is under three minutes so it's easy to watch, (and the piano music is a sweet knock-off of Yann Thierson's work for the Amélie). 

What struck me was that I heard Julie talk about how her work would be viewed, felt, looked at, perhaps understood, perhaps not, in the future. She cited ten years, then fifteen years as examples. I have never before heard anyone ruminate in this way about their own work, and I found it refreshingly honest. She pondered whether her work would have meaning in the future for someone else who might come from a different culture.

Essentially, her question is; Does this work have Universal Appeal? I am so happy to hear this sensitive woman, of the younger generation, ask these kinds of questions.  

This idea of The Universal was so important in my own education which I received from Léo Marchutz. Because his ideas of art were so vast his sentences would extend over centuries at a time pulling together Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Thomas Hardy all together, easily, and freely.  

So, I really liked hearing Ms. Beaufils discuss her work in a time not yet arrived. 

14 July 2021

Tweed Regional Gallery, Le Salon des Refusés!


 Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 10 July, 2021 oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

                   Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 10 July, 2021 oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

These are from the other night. It was a difficult sky and I had to grit my teeth to find a way through it. But patience is the key, and I waited until I found a hand-hold in the cloud bank.

It was one of those very melodramatic skies which stops people in their tracks to grab their phones for a photo. And why not? These are amazing skies.

But I rarely take photos of skies myself. For some reason, I always feel like the result will be just a colourful photo, nothing more. Nice, but something too far removed from the experience.

But by the same token, I cannot imagine that others would find anything more in my skies than perhaps that. But I don't paint for others in the same way as one might show off a photograph to others. I paint for myself. It's a purely selfish act.

Painting a sky requires a decent colour sense and certain drawing skills but nothing like those needed to work from the figure. Painting the melodrama of these kinds of skies needs an anxious spirit too, for they must be done super fast, at least, this is how I work. I consider all these to be 'studies'. Consequently, they often possess an unfinished feeling, and one either understands that and appreciates it, or these pictures will have little meaning for them. 

I recently proposed to make an exhibition of about 120 of these paintings on several long walls of about 96 meters total. The Regional Gallery is a beautiful contemporary space made of glass and steel, and I would have been very happy to see these pictures there. Alas, it was rejected because they felt the work wasn't good enough. After much thought, I realised that they didn't understand this idea of 'the unfinish'. If they had, they would have enjoyed the 'mistakes'; the splotches, and unintended marks and weird brush strokes which give them character but most importantly, their unity too. Then again, realistically speaking, they just probably thought the work was inferior.

I had written what I thought was an interesting proposal for a show which included a diverse selection of paintings as well.

They didn't understand that I am a kind of Expressionist, though an anchored one, one moored onto a spot in front of a motif outdoors from which to glean enough pictorial information with my eyes in order to make a palette, then a picture. Naturally, the work is messy and full of air, big wind and full of life too, hopefully, even when they don't succeed. I work quickly, and quite spontaneously like an Expressionist of yesteryear, but I work from a motif at the beach not enclosed in a dark studio of my mind alone.

After an initial sense of disappointment, I came away from the experience with a curious sense of relief weirdly enough. It not only freed me from worries of being accepted in the art world at large, but also freed me from this parochial community of regional Australia. 

While it is alway nice to be respected by others for one's own work, it is secondary to possessing one's own self-respect, something with which I am sufficiently supplied. 

I imagine now weeks later that perhaps they didn't like the work because they couldn't see it, or was it that they couldn't see the work because they didn't like it? 

But then another reason is that I am too old, not emerging enough, not enough sizzle and too much old steak. Alas, it is what it is, as they say.

Either way, I need to look abroad for a show. 

13 July 2021

I can't breathe, is context everything? part 1

Is context everything? Is it the essential ingredient of Contemporary Art? 

I think of this often when perusing articles about contemporary art which sometimes seems like a big inflated balloon of contextual ideas and images dispersing in the wind.

Being ultra discreet in my person, as the French put it. Though I do believe in my own artistic vision I do not place that high enough  to imagine that I am more important than the art work which I am making, certainly not contextualised to the point where I (my person) has superseded the art work. 

I understand that many people would not agree with me. My education was different, which is the only way I can explain it. Unlike many of my generation I was told to avoid the zeitgeist  and not to seek to be part of it. To ride it like a wave? Or be the guy who makes the wave(s)? Are they mutually exclusive?

Without a context (it seems) a work of art cannot breathe in today's world, it cannot come to a life of its own. (I am not trying to be cheeky in saying this just because of the I can't breathe movement which I support completely)

What I mean by this is that I only wish to make something which bypasses the contextual thought process. I want to make an image which lives on its own, without any ideas which keep it propped up. My desire is always to make an image which can render the viewer mute of words. I think that is one of the main purposes of 'Art' as we think of it even as a utilitarian object. 

In front of a Japanese 18th century rice container bowl one doesn't need to say anything. Nor does one need to comment in front of this Van Gogh. What is to say anyway?

I have often broached this idea over the past eleven years of writing in this blog and my thinking has certainly changed over this period  as well. My thinking has primarily changed by the the activity of Painting but also by contemplation of painting, and by looking at everything. One can never look enough at everything in the Painting world whether one likes it or not. For a painter, this is always an education of the mind and the eye.

And curiously, this brings me back to this idea of the role context plays in art today, specifically, Contemporary Art. 

Yes, certainly, I live in a world far from the contemporary artist whose preoccupation is with social issues, gender issues, race issues, among so many these days. And yes, I was brought up a privileged white male from the sleepy world of the fifties. And, (to piss nearly everyone off) I studied almost exclusively the art of Western "civilation". But all this does not at all make me insensitive to the pressing issues in our life today of which there are so many. It just means that my priorities are very different than many others. 

In regards to this idea of context in Art I was thinking recently of the Renaissance, but also earlier even; Giotto, for instance. Whether Giotto was a religious man or not I know nothing (but I'm sure that one could find out easily enough) When I look at Giotto's paintings (frescoes) I see the painter Giotto, not the religious or spiritual Giotto, just the painter. When specifically, I see his angels careening around his deep Ultramarine Blue skies, I do not see them as religious or spiritual, but just as elements in a complex, (and far out) composition rendered with a coloured medium. Yes, they are angels, and they are crucial to the contextual subject of the composition but for me as a painter, they are but elements ingeniously conceived, and primarily appreciated as Painting (Art for Art's sake) not as an illustration for a story. But saying that, I do also appreciate his painting as extraordinary illustrations in the Christian story. 

On the other side of the coin is the religious person who sees only the story, not the Painting. 

I always think of Giotto as 'other worldly' because of the way he renders the human face. I first saw his images in my father's art books as a child and I was frightened by the severe expressions on the faces of the figures on the page. I still am.

And so I this brings me to my old friend Christian Martel, a painter from Montpellier who sadly died two years ago. Having been brought up under the twin dark shadows of his village Rémuzat and the Catholic church, he  never developed an appreciation for any works depicting Christian images, no matter how well painted or beautifully conceived. We once drove together through Rémuzat (Drôme) years ago, a sad-looking place hidden in a steep valley. He explained that in the winter it received no more than 30 minutes of sunshine. Ouch! Suddenly, I fully understood a lot about him from just that quick drive through his childhood village. But anyway, he hated anything to do with Christianity, like not a few of my French friends. 

"Oooof,,, Je ne peux pas les supporter ces choses!" He would declare with an obstinately when I tried to show him bits of a Titian or an obscure wooden crucifixion from 14th century Spain. I learned early on to stay away from the subject which was difficult because though I was not emotionally connected to religion, I seem to be obsessed with Art.

Unlike so many these days, I was taught to look at Art primarily through the senses, through the eyes, not by my intellect prowess.  

And I was taught that the work is everything. There should be no explanations necessary, nothing with which to prop it up. Everything is in place for it to be complete in itself. Like a lotus flower, it is perfect. I have been educated to search for a replication of that perfection in every artistic endeavour I pursued. 

A tall order! One quite impossible to achieve yet, like a lighthouse, it guides me home. 

Music, poetry, theatre, sculpture, cinema, and architecture, are all things to be sensually savoured.  

So the question still lingers: How did clever messaging, much like advertising, take up so much room in the world of Art since the 1950's? 

            Barbara Kruger


                           Richard Bell from Australia


                               Jenny Holzer

So, today we live in the aftermath of the contextually contradicted messaging of Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer and Richard Bell among so many, many others. These are catchy and subversive worlds which mirror the Madison Avenue of yesteryear. But hey! It is what it is, and Jenny Holzer is the cleverest of the three.

I do often find them clever and interesting but only in my mind, and it never lingers long. The problem for me is this Art has been reduced to messaging; political, social, and emotional tag lines which do not last.

So questions come up for me. Does Art have the power to change culture and/or society? Can people be moved to change their ideas about life from art? 

More to be revealed...

10 July 2021

Evening Prayers 5 July, 2021


       Evening Prayers Brunswick Heads, 5 July, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

     Evening Prayers Brunswick Heads, 5 July, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

      Evening Prayers Brunswick Heads, 5 July, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

After a few weeks of rain the sky seems to be settling down again. It has been cold though it doesn't change my habits. There isn't a lot to say about these except that now, looking at them, I perceive that they have something of the winter chill in them. The colours somehow never seem to warm up on the canvas board, the palette hovers over the cool side.

I like the top one very much. The other two are OK; interesting maybe, but they don't set the armchair on fire. Anyway, I just always try to keep working whilst not thinking in the moment about whether or not they are any 'good' or not. There is not enough time for that. And once that voice begins to chatter, the dreaded duality kicks in, and I am no longer free to be 'absent' in the moment. The Zen wise guys from the East always warn against this.

Suddenly, I see the pictures as pupils who the school teacher tries to discipline during recess hour. Like the teacher, I have no real control over what comes up while painting. For me that is the beauty of it all and why I paint in front of a changing Nature. Like the wild pupils, the paintings come out just as the moment demands they come out. Later on, of course I begin to see them, really see them, then judge them too. 

But I am more like the benevolent school teacher who looks upon his unruly pupils with a great empathy and patience. I have learned this slowly over time. When a picture is right, even if it appears unfinished, and unruly, it's done. 

Patience is everything.

06 July 2021

Kamrooz Aram and Yuji Agematsu, To be (gifted) or not to be, that is the question!

 Kamrooz Aram’s “Maghreb Drapery” (2020), a diptych filled with wax-pencil arabesques, in the group show “Field of Vision.”

Credit...Kamrooz Aram and Peter Blum Gallery

Here are two different kinds of artists which captured my interest the other day. I picked them off the NYT. I am not sure what it is about them that I felt, except perhaps a sense of organic unity in their expression. And their content expresses vastly different pictorial ideas. Even better!

In Aram's diptych of Arabesques's, there is a musical harmony which seems grounded in the muted  palette of colours. They are together but also separate. I have tried to look at them apart from one another but they don't appear to work. They possess a symbiotic identity much like two similar siblings.

Yuji Agematsu’s “zip: 11.01.18 … 11.30.18” (detail), from 2018, a series of sculptural assemblages displayed in “vitrines” made from the cellophane wrappers from cigarette packs.
Credit...Yuji Agematsu and Miguel Abreu Gallery

Yuji Agematsu offers up a selection of off-beat assemblages which exhale the sensibilities of Japan. They, too feel unified in a very real and organised way and this comes always (I think to myself) because it was created by someone with an innate sense of Form.  Originally from Japan he emigrated to New York a few decades ago. He collects street debris from daily walks and carefully archives them in those small paper cellophane packets he carries. Using these, he creates his own miniature world of eccentric light humour. 

With so many people now making "ART" everywhere, there is inevitably a lot of interesting work being done but which doesn't necessarily possess the mysterious and concretely organic element of Form. Is it is cultural? Is it educational? Why do some people naturally 'have it' while so many others struggle to find it? But fake it, when they don't find it?

Writing this down suddenly takes me to another place of discussion, though quite related.

I recently came across the work of two painters. They are a couple in fact, and he has the reputation, but she does not. Yet to see even one image of hers is to understand that her work is vastly superior to his. She possesses the gift, the innate thing which makes a painter, a painter. He, on the other hand, (and though being a teacher with the reputation) lacks this quality. His work only swims around the globe of the gift while hers lives in the center of it like a goldfish. How to explain?? 

Some people just have it while others spend years trying to acquire it in vain. 

I am happy that everyone tries to acquire it, that a world of people enjoy making art, but often there isn't an understanding of just what separates a gifted artist from all the others.

The conundrum!

05 July 2021

The dog who was left behind


This is a photo of a one dog being rescued from its cage at the pound while the other looks on with great sadness. I made a screen shot of it off of a short video from DODO on Instagram. 

In a short sequence, for barely an instant, it reveals that terrible pain of some living being being left alone, incarcerated at an animal rescue shelter. 

The look on that dog's face is so,,, well, human! I don't know why it struck me so viscerally but it did. There you have it. We all live in a prison of sorts, and we are all left behind somewhere in that particular part of our brains. No matter whether we are all dogs, babies or small children. Life is suffering for us all. 

02 July 2021

Sarajevo and Auschwitz 1944 and 1994


I may have posted this many years ago but I thought to put it up again. I came across it recently as I put some order into my laptop. 

I made a series of pictures back in 1994 around this conflict in the Balkans. It moved me to say something at that time. Could I convey a sense of dark drama? I don't know if I did with this but I like it anyway. 

I am in the middle of another large series of pictures in my studio which I will post soon. They are hard to call finished, so I keep tinkering.