31 August 2021

On the palette, Puccini, loved Pink !

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, c, oil on canvas board,  25 X 20 cm

Recently, I was speaking with another painter whom I vaguely know. She questioned why I would go to work outdoors to paint pictures. She wasn’t closed to it, but she was surprised that I still go out day after day to make a picture of the same place at the same time. 

I like her, and I know that she isn’t a snob so I tried my best to explain that I don’t go out each evening to make a picture as much as I go out to enjoy myself, to take pleasure in the challenge of painting. That I get a picture at the end is great but not necessarily the point. 

I needed to articulate for her that it is a way to open up to the palette wheel of Nature careening around us in constant motion. At the close of day, it comes to boil, a crescendo like the third act of a Puccini opera. And yes, it can  be quite melodramatic, bordering on the kitsch even, but to be there at dusk is to bath in great pleasure. When one takes command of one’s own palette of colours, one is entirely free in ways 

that only Art can witness.

They say that only after years of writing an author might find his/her voice, that they might discover a narrative style unique and original to himself/herself. And this is the same for a painter but only if they are fortunate enough to work through years of disapointment and failure and come out the other side.

This painter didn’t respond for a while, but seemed to ponder my clumsy attempt at talking about how Nature is our teacher when we’re working outdoors and in front of a motif that eventually becomes our teacher. And access to this teacher is through using our eyes first and foremost.


30 August 2021

Je m'en fous, French cool on Mars

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

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 20 August, 2021, oil on canvas board,  30 X 25 cm

These studies are from this past week. I like them both but especially the one below. Even immediately after I painted it, I liked it, but this can be a dangerous sign that it mightn't be all that I had imagined, self-satisfaction can bode badly for art. But today, I still like it, though it didn't photograph very well. 

It was an idea which gave me lots of optimism, but problems too, and I struggled. But only at the end would the drawing, much to my surprise,  melt into the red surface of Mars.

This is what I am looking for, and just as the pianist, with a mind full of melodies, must search for the appropriate harmonic resolution, the painter, also seeks a solution for his visual idea. There is nothing fancy about it, there is no intellectual wizardry nor any concept to save him.  

Curiously, these two studies appear somewhat 'insouciant' like certain characters one sees about every 2 minutes in a Parisian cafe. Their self-assurance is expansive and relaxed, their flaws are unrestrained, flamboyant even. And if these small pictures had lips they would curl up slightly (Je m'en fous), and like the truly cool French, they would wear their imperfections with pride, arrogance even. And since I am going overboard on all this, I would add that what these pictures lack in a certain technical prowess, they gain in authenticity through sartorial surprise. (like zee French! Ha Ha!)

In the end, I am always after an authentic experience when I work, and so the result will rarely be technically virtuous, something that people often fail to grasp. 

28 August 2021

The bumble bee in Pierre Bonnard's tree


          Judas Tree, circa 1990, oil on canvas board, 25 X 15 cm

This is a small thing done in the field at Canto Grilet (across from the Châteaunoir) sometime back in the early nineties. I painted a series there one year, but this was my favourite. There were three or four mature Judas trees in the field that spring to life each May. The Judas tree is named for that scoundrel of Christianity who was said to have hung himself from it.

I always loved this small study because it's so wild, up-close, and in your face, as if I had dove into it like a bumble bee. 

I also remember thinking that I loved it because it made my heart sing. I had touched something inside me that I had longed for ever since I began working outdoors. After all, I never really wanted to paint like an Impressionist which is an easy trap to fall into here in the South of France. But I had to slog it out in the landscape long enough to find something that could really move me. I think I wanted to dissolve distance in a quiet sort of way.

But actually, I first had to learn to paint! The only way to learn was to go out and make lots of really bad paintings. Even when one thinks they have finally "got it", they rarely  do, even after being in the game for a long time. Great is alway one step ahead, and that's a good thing too because the best painting is ALWAYS the next painting, it is the one I'll do tomorrow which of course, now brings us to the PAST.

This painting by Alfred Sisley at the Met has always haunted me. It's entitled The Road from Versailles to Louveciennes, 1879, (and one can only imagine what it might look like today).

When in New York, I ventured uptown just to look at it, mostly on Friday evenings when it was open late. It drove crazy, and looking at it today, again, it still does.  

Google tells me that Sisley made 471 paintings in his lifetime. Not a great deal compared to what so many contemporary artists crank out these days but it's a different world; faster and less discerning perhaps. Sisley spent long hours on each picture outdoors, preferring to finish his work on the motif unlike other Impressionists who went back to the studio. 

He was an exceptionally modern painter who survived the dusty, dogmatic schooling of the Beaux Arts. Regarding painters and their work, he said that "every picture reveals a specific place in it which the artist has fallen in love". 

An interesting observation which I would like to contemplate a little before writing about because I see it somewhat differently. There will always be places in a picture of which the painter will be fond for any number of reasons, some, because they are wonderfully worked areas, whilst others, because they reveal the painter's flaws, mistakes even. The painter never forgets those spots for if he hasn't repaired them, he will have to live with them forever. Indeed!

He also said; "I like all those painters who have a strong feeling for Nature". 
That's for sure, I wholeheartedly agree with that. 

This painting has a tactile and spontaneous application of the paint which means that hidden under his British reserve there was also a passionate Frenchman (he was a dual national).

What I hadn't learned already from Vincent Van Gogh's visceral sensuality I learned from this modest picture. Long before Vincent, Sisley's sky had revealed both clouds and air to be living entities. It had nothing to do with the world of permanence so often evoked in Cézanne's austere pictures. This is a sky of stormy emotion, one that erupts, then dissipates within hours. 

It looks like an early winter landscape to me just before the November chill. The large tree on the left, (in the relative foreground) wiggles and writhes like an old oak resisting the change of seasons; holding on, and holding off, with all its might to its last leaves. The tree to the right of the figures might be an elm, or mulberry, who knows? But unlike the great oak, it has accepted its fate and surrendered its colour. I love that it has been rendered with such lightness of touch. Painted with a rough hog's hair brush then scratched out with a stick even. Its faded leaves are  a lovely grey, and winter lives in its branches. Threadbare, one can almost see through it.

If one covers the entire foreground below the horizon line, one would be left with a picture of a sky and trees, for the most part, and suddenly, it might have been painted by Pierre Bonnard, a Bonnard in a big hurry though. But writing this, and looking at it continually, I might amend that and say that maybe the entire painting could have been done by Bonnard even if the foreground feels more Sisley. The tree (aforementioned on the left) feels so Bonnard! It's hard to describe just why, but it has something to do with the utter lack of pretension in it. It is painted with wild, childlike freedom, so charismatically Pierre Bonnard. Sisley was more of a technician than Bonnard but that it not a slight to either of them. In fact, this picture is rather atypical for Sisley, who is usually a smooth operator with a flawless sense of drawing, loyal perhaps to the older tenets of Impressionism, barely 30 years ahead of the younger, more pictorially modern and adventurous Bonnard. 

And finally, showing my work next to Sisley's might seem a tad presumptuous, or quite pretentious of me (though someone already did find this Blog pretentious, in fact). But, despite all this it has been posted with great humility and a reverence for this often overlooked hero of Impressionism.

25 August 2021

un ange qui passe ici, mais peut-être, pas par là


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 August, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This past week has again left me with that sinking feeling that that Painting is an indulgent escape from a world in which there is just too much suffering, where existential uncertainty cloaks the world. 

I am thinking of Afghanistan this week. But there are so many disasters going on around the globe at any given moment one cannot escape their shadows. If it isn't Afghanistan, then it's Yemen, or Central America, India, or Manhattan even. Before the extraordinary invention of the smart phone we could live in a smaller world by choice, selectively choosing the size of our own windows. Disasters for the most part existed elsewhere, out there, and beyond if we were so lucky. Inside our own cosy lives we only feigned interest in death and destruction by maybe watching Samual Beckett's dark work in the comfort of a protected theatre. Basically, we want to avoid all this really existential stuff if we can. This has been our survival technique. 

This life of Painting (or Art) in the face of so much suffering has been a re-occurring problem for me. I think everyone has to deal with it in their own way, and some people are just more sensitive about this than others. And yet there are people, many even, who are happily oblivious to it.

In my first year in France, we read a few books and essays in French Literature, one essay was by André Gide. He wrote, as I remember years later, something which shook me to the core, (I paraphrase) -if there were even just one person left to suffer on earth, he would (could) not allow himself any happiness- (Ok, he was heavy,  like so many writers of the early 20th century France and smoked too many Gauloises) but this hit me over the head because it confirmed so many messages which I had received from my own childhood. And it surfaced every time I exercised a creative endeavour. But one cannot live like this, and I was suitably neurotic as a result. Then I changed (when I got sober), and I have learned to let go of this kind of thinking. But I am still sensitive like many people. How can we live sanely with a full heart in this cruel world?

So now, I do paint, but without all the guilt of my youth. How did I imagine that I was so powerful that I change the world anyway?? This is work for the Gods.

A woman in France wrote of the painting above: 'Un ange qui passe' which I found quite lovely and appropriate. The French have a saying that when a conversation ends, leaving everyone with a slightly awkward pause like there isn't anything more to add, then 'an angel has passed'. 

This (top one) was done last week. It was the last one of three studies made that evening. I enjoyed working it mostly because I had no idea what I was doing unlike the two (below) which were made barely 20 minutes earlier. In those two it was easy getting to the heart of the picture (the drawing), and I was able to finish them somewhat quickly.

But because of such uncertainty in pulling off this small study (top), it felt so much more rewarding for me. It is also clearly superior to the other two. 

Too often, in Painting there is always this moment of terrible uncertainty when one feels that they don't know what they are doing, fearful of destroying what they might be lucky enough to have already started but then clueless how to proceed, how to finish, how to put an end to it for God's sake!!

Unlike composing music or writing stories, one cannot erase or crumple a piece of A4 paper to begin over. Canvas is capricious. The mistakes one makes, if one is clever enough to hide them, simply become 'issues of style'. 

A painting done quickly is even more fragile. It becomes a divine craft propelling the artist forward without a compass but for their own intuition. It is a worthy vocation for anyone despite the state of the world. I have to believe this.


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 August, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 August, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

21 August 2021

#metoo meets the Taliban


The terrible reality that some men, women, and children live in a country which is considered free, while others live in another country that is subjected to the insanity of despotic, patriarchal, and religious fanaticism. 

This downfall reminds me that in America, we have our own version of the Taliban, certainly less retro-primitive than that of Afghanistan but a patriarchal class of businessmen who prey upon women wearing black suits and designer sunglasses. In Palace hotels these high-flying men abuse and exploit women exerting their positions of power in very much the same way as the Taliban men. 

As much as I admire what Biden is doing for America, he seems to have stuffed up bigly. The Right-Wing crucifixion of him in the Media is comical, but also disingenuous and malevolent, an alternate reality. The truth is that no war ends well, it's never neatly tied up with a blue ribbon around it and a bow on top. It was always going to be a disaster, but it's true that they could have prevented at least some of the mayhem.

Trump never gave a s**t about the people of Afghanistan, and to pretend otherwise only adds to his list of lies and skullduggery.     

And as we know, it is always the poor and the powerless who suffer the most. At the moment it is the Afghan people who are stuck between a sword and a hard rock. It is impossible for Westerners to know what the women of Afghanistan are feeling and thinking in these days. Is it back to wearing a Burkha? Can the year 2021 co-exist with the 12th century? And as many in contemporary America seem to have great difficulty at self-examination, they still have the luxury of that self-examination.  In Afghanistan, the Taliban men have a license to hate women. 

Like everyone else, I wait, and wait, watching the news, fearing the worst, but praying for some unrealistic outcome to somehow magically unfold.

Over the past twenty years art has not exactly flourished in Afghanistan but it has found a place in Graffiti on city walls everywhere. Below are some interesting examples. They will certainly disappear soon.

19 August 2021

Sails open up and the groundhog digs in


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


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 13 August, 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here are two things (above) done over the last few days. I loved working them, I was really into something but at the same time I felt that I didn't get it in the end. To my surprise they were well liked by friends on social media. 

This is always interesting because for most of my life I never showed anything for the most part. People love to criticise Instagram and Facebook, but for a painter living far from 'the madding crowd', to reference Thomas Hardy, I marvel continually at being able to post an image made just the day before, an image that will travel with light-speed the world-over. 

But anyway, these two were worked over for almost the whole session, barely an hour or so on successive evenings. One can tell that the weather was a little damp and the haziness brought on a delicious fragmentation of muted colours. I did enjoy myself but I also felt they were taking me on a pleasant side excursion from the actual destination. 

Maybe, it is because I have several different painters inside me. I should be glad for that though even if it poses confusion from time to time. These painterly peregrinations lead me all of the place and remind me of what writers often say:

"What I really want to say is...." 

But as long as one keeps working, one cannot complain. It would be awful to be stuck. And I have often been stuck for long periods at a time. One good thing about ageing is that one cares so much less about so much more. 

Below, are two very different studies, small and worked. And again, they don't quite get there either, but they do reveal another side of my mindset. As I freely admit, I never know what I will do until I actually begin to start painting. It almost always depends on the motif. But in these two, there is already a desire, my grand idea behind the entire series, to reduce this motif to a formal structure unlike the two above where I've freely opened up the sails and surf the waves, spinnakers galore. 

These, on the other hand, lent themselves to more formal simplicity and I suppose that when I sense that happening, I dig in like a groundhog.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 16 August, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 16 August, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

17 August 2021

Manet's flowers, an intimacy unseen in the rest of his oeuvre.

I was never a big fan of Manet as a painter. Sacré Bleu! Oh Sacrilege!! 

Of course, I saw his large things as a child and was impressed, but when I became a painter he slipped away from my circle of heroes. As a child I had seen things at the Met in New York, and yes, I was amazed by the virtuosity of his handiwork. He was a real painter in the French Academic tradition even if broke that tradition with his modern content.

I read the wonderful History of Impressionism by John Rewald, in my third year in France when I moved to the Châteaunoir in the Springtime. I had lived in Aix for two years before that. It was just about then when I finally fell in love with Provence. It usually takes most people about 24 hours, but me, it took 2 years. Believe it or not, I was uncomfortable under so much big blue sky. I was much much happier in the dismal white light of the drizzly North, but that too is another story, for another day. 

But, I did fall in love with the rugged landscape that first Spring through a visceral, olfactory flood of flowers and bark, pine needles and dank soil, as if Rosemary, Thyme, and Sage all rode the Mistral like a bronco up and down the hills and into the forest behind the Châteaunoir. I had never experienced Nature so powerfully, and it was inextricably linked up, arm in arm, with the paintings I was reading about that year. These were paintings made by men (and a few women) who went out to commit their lives to Nature in every season, under every bit of weather.

I took to walking through the oak forest in the park of the Châteaunoir each afternoon. I was an American from the City and the suburbs, and I had never lived so closely to Nature before. It was a revelation. Each morning at an old table in the rustic kitchen I read The History of Impressionism, and in just a few weeks time, I began to find myself back in the 19th century of stage coaches and lamp lights à la Française. It wasn't the Wild West but it was wild. I had only studied the Italian Renaissance in High School so I barely knew anything about French Painting except for so many clichés. I delved into the roots of Modern Painting leading me through the Barbizon where I met Daubigny, Dupré, Millet, all of whom I liked until meeting Manet like a brick wall. He possesses such a loud voice in the history of French Painting that it is impossible to avoid him. But by that time, I was already under the spell of my teacher Léo Marchutz who had led me to other, and different heroes of French Painting during that time; Corot, Degas, Daumier and before Cézanne and Van Gogh.

I was beginning to learn about how a picture is organically formed from the very inception instead of just being pieced together, one element after the next, added on, as it were. The French say Bricolage for such things which are randomly assembled (any which way), and put together one piece at a time. There is a grand history of this kind of Painting to be sure. But at this time, Léo was already teaching me about how a picture can also be sprung to life from a vision as an organic whole. Consequently, this changed forever the way I would look at Painting, art even, as a whole.

I only bring this all up at this point to reveal why I have posted these flower arrangements by Manet. Because though I don't always feel it in his large and grander paintings (done for the Salon, the notoriety, and the prizes) these small things are so much greater in my eyes than so many of the larger pictures, Déjeuner sur l'Herbe, for instance. Although I have so much respect for these large works by Manet, it is for these small and unpretentious pictures that I harbour a real passion.

They are simple and without so much of the  artifice I found in his most celebrated works. They possess for me that straight-forward simplicity of 'Zen suchness' which those wise guys in the East often talk about while in the presence of simple and elegant greatness.

I understand that they were done at the end of his life and he was not always well. They are all smallish (certainly not bigger than maybe 40 X 30 cm) They were executed without a lot of correction, and fiddling about, more or less) It was under the guidance of his two younger disciples (a description that may be too strong) Monet and Renoir, who both pushed Manet to work directly in front of Nature, to ignore his predilection for a clean and finished look.  

I have always loved these things since I first saw them in Paris, at what is now the Quai D'Orsay museum. They used to be in the comfortable and cluttered Jeu de Palme. But wherever, they feel just right, expressing just enough, but nothing more. These are creatures which hide their own creator, and they seem to whisper that they live on their own oxygen in the absence of the artist. 

They are beautifully painted! I use the word 'beautifully' in defiance of the shadow of Post-Modernist orthodoxy, under which we are all now subjected to live and paint. HA HA. But it'a shame that beauty, as an idea, has been so cut up and maligned these past decades. Enfin. As they say these days, it is what is, (until it isn't anymore)


14 August 2021

Titian, teasing our modern age of moral certainty where metaphor is dead

Here is an interesting article by Holland Carter in the NYT.
It is pretty self-explanatory so I will not add anything except to say that for me, Painting lives in the domain of Metaphor, and Metaphor is the driving force in Art. Where Metaphor is not present, Painting becomes mere technique, almost always exploited by Politicians (the Church of the olden days) but also now, it has been commandeered by social scientists, (of the New Age) who have hijacked Art to freely message any, and every number of issues of our contemporary life. 

I know it sounds like I am against Contemporary Art. I am not, but what I am against is the exploitation of Art (as metaphor) used to push agendas (social, political, gender, and politically correct whatever-have-you). For me, all of this today, is the same social machinery of propaganda which the Church used to hold Art in its Christian grip for hundreds of years. And yet of course, extraordinary Painting came out of it nonetheless. And certainly, it will be the case for this era too, no doubt. The question is: will we survive this current zeitgeist of moral superiority?   

If we still have a habitable earth upon which to live, thrive, and create by the year A.D. 2100, there will surely be magnificent objets d'art in this world but they may not come from the current system of the art school/gallery and corporate elite. Rather, they might just spring up like wildflowers from a chaotic and untilled underground. 

11 August 2021

Tolstoy and Christian Martel, peintre de Montpellier et La Drôme

Christian Martel, (circa 2012) oil on linen, 25 X 20 cm

Christian was a friend for about 30 years before he died suddenly two years ago. The way he died reminded me of the short story by Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, which I read in high school so long ago. Though Christian did not at all live an 'ordinary life', as Tolstoy had described Ivan Ilyich, he did live a discreet and unglamorous life. He devoted himself, and all his resources, always, to his creativity, wherever that led him.  

Like many creative people he was extremely sensitive, so touchy that it became a joke between us when he would lower his head and say 'half-truthfully' 
"Oaui, Oaui,, Coffey la Brute!" 

Sometimes he would not take my calls for months on end until he got over it whatever it was that so upset him. But I did eventually stop teasing him when I finally realised that he was so fragile. I tempered my gregariousness and learned to temper my behaviour. I can be that way with people for whom I have a really great affection. Often, I needed to lay off and tell him: 
"Oui, oui, J'avoue qui je suis un Taquinuer au premier rang! Pardon-moi."

We always made up, that is to say that I always apologised in my light-hearted manner, only then, did we pick up where we had left off, sort of. 

He was a very gifted painter even if I didn't appreciate the skills he had picked up at the Beaux-Arts in Montpellier 500 years earlier while in school. He worked from photos of landscapes and industrial buildings from which he would invent small paintings. I was very critical of this approach to Painting, and let him know it whenever he asked my opinion of something he had done. But I learned to never throw out anything in an unsolicited manner.  Sensing my displeasure in something, he used to explain that they were 'tourist pictures' which sold. And he did support himself with the sales of these pictures, but also by teaching small groups of mostly adults each week. 

I admired him for the life which he had managed to create for himself. Life wasn't easy for him. I knew he struggled as an artist but it was mostly with himself, I believed. He was a survivor of his weird childhood. Me too, which is what bound us together. Our difficulty was fitting into a life where most people seemed to have so many other priorities. We both believed in Art, above else.

He often came and stayed for weeks at a time when I lived at the Bélvèdere in Dieulefit. Each night, we hosted anyone who showed up for dinner. Great wonderful improvised affairs, Summers, Springs and Autumn were a wonderful time outdoor on the terrace. We never ate indoors. We 'rugged up' with extra clothes, as the Aussies say down here. 

So, I have always loved this painting (above). I often told him that too, but he never understood why this one, but not others. It is a complete success as a picture, and now when I stare at it on my desktop, I think of him dead, gone forever. I find it ironic that, for me, this small church became such a great painting because I knew that he loathed churches. In fact, anything, remotely religious he loathed with a passion. Renaissance paintings, icons, statues; lovely and simple, and not even a  Romanesque church on hilltop in Nature could move him. No beauty withstood his rancorous disdain for anything connected to the Church. 

Ma foi!! 
Et Pourtant! Ironically, this little church, lit up from his imagination, is so very very lovely on every pictorial level. For it is unified by every tiny squiggle of colour and detail. It is embalmed in a black/red/purple mix of sky gripping it in place. It is this mass of deep colour which allows that pale blue sliver of artificial town lighting on the right side to work so well. 

It is a great little painting, a marvel of invention! If only I could write him this....from today.

I will not show his other work out of respect for this one picture, though he made so many small lovely things throughout his working life.

I read Ivan Ilyich when I was seventeen years old, when death seemed a million miles away from me. My teacher was an older man, a really nice guy who I liked. He was very moved by this short novella by Tolstoy, and this in turn, moved me. I understand now, at this later stage in my life just what my elder teacher had perhaps felt for the simplicity in this story of a banal life, even worse, a banal death.

And this brings me back to to Christian, who had survived Myeloma Cancer several years earlier only to fall down the narrow winding staircase in his apartment building one night. According to the coroner's report he died of a heart attack as a result of the fall.

I wonder what he would have thought of that ending? Actually,,,, I wonder what any of us would think of our own exits?

06 August 2021

Potpourri from last week, à la Carte de Jour, S.V.P! Form and Fear!


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

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 22 July 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

These are from a little over a week ago. The top two both have a more formal sensibility compared to the other two below which seem to be more concerned with a kind of verisimilitude to the motif. As I always say, I am never quite sure what kind of mood I will find myself in at the start of each session. Just as one arrives at a restaurant, so much of what interests me will be included on the menu 'de jour' each new evening. It's always then just a matter of choice. 

The top two present a clear horizon so it lends itself to a clean, and more formal structure. Increasingly, I like this, I mean, I like what it brings out in me. Sometimes the motif feels like a simple design of broad bands lined up ready to be painted. (this is especially true in the picture just above, in warm pale pinks and blue violets. It's as if I want to reduce Nature down to simple patterns like one might see in a French shop specialising in exotic linens designs (tissu en lin). I have been to such shops in Paris, in a quarter below Montmartre around Pigalle, where one is transported to another world of refined sensuality. 

But, the studies below, done within days of the top two, reveal a surface of uncertainty, a hesitation, more risk perhaps, but certainly more scratched and scribbled, for one feels both the search for Form, and the Fear of failure. And yet, one can see in each of these that they are born of the same hand, from the same loyalty to a graphic unity which might lead to real volume one day.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 22 July 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 22 July 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

05 August 2021

Venice! beauty and the beast! unsettling the settled.


I saw this on Instagram recently and found it so insane, so beguiling! It's the kind of photo which makes most well-intentioned and cultured folk cringe with disdain. It offends their well-educated sensibilities, and of course I can understand their horror! But at the same time I am so amazed by the photo that I am filled with a strange and perverted kind of joy. But you should have read the thread of comments on Instagram! My grandmother would have blushed!

It is a riotous and sublime juxtaposition of so many elements that it almost possesses all the qualities of what I deem superior in Art; That is to say; a maximum number of relationships  constructed through abstract means. And let's not forget irony.

Could one imagine a film wherein Time has been turned upside down, inside out, and the great Venetian painter, Titian, steps out of his studio and onto a terrace to find this strange white beast of unimaginable origin drifting gently up through the green lagoon of Venice like Moby Dick! 

I do have a friend, François de Asis who has been going to Venice to paint every Spring since the 1970's. That'a a long time, and it is a lot of work because he churns them out rapidly, (sort of like Monet but at high speed scrubbing). He always stays at the Pensione  da CiCi in the Dorsoduro quarter not far from La Saluté (which is figured on the right side of the photo). He awakened one morning many years ago to see a line of tourists peering into his bedroom. He stepped out on the small balcony giving off the back side of the Canal facing the Giudecca to wave at the people, who themselves, were waving back from their private decks, hundreds of them, stacked up one upon the other, symmetrically, like a beehive.

So being the painter that he is, he began drawing the scene from inside of his bedroom. There were done rapidly in bright pastels, simple, and abbreviated. But when he showed them to me just a few years later he seemed like someone showing off baby photos with exuberant pride and excitement, (Aren't they crazy?) (Comme ils sont fou!) he exclaimed with abandon). And they were, at least to me, who knows his work, and his excitement.

So, this photo is so very extraordinary that I do not know where to place my own excitement! Secretly, of course, I love also that it will infuriate almost everyone of my 'cultured' friends, a little like when I send weird photos of Donald Trump to my liberal friends who always write back telling me how awful he is. Ha Ha, like duh! for of course he is! That's the point of all these weird photos of him! Alas, too many people (friends included) lack enough irony to find the absurdity of it all, except of course, my brother Mark, with whom I often trade these kinds things. But he is also from New York, where Seinfeld comes from. And it's true that I like to unsettle the settled.