31 October 2021

"Listen Mack, Don't fuck with Nature!"


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2019 ????, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

This is what happens when I get fed up with a picture and decide to throw in the proverbial towel. In disgust, I take my brush and squish the paint about the surface like bully at school. It helps dispel that feeling of defeat. In this case though I really liked what happened, and was happy with my own disgust. But it rarely works like this.

This must have happened about two years ago. It sort speaks to the mystery of the creative process because although it's hardly a successful little thing, there is something in it I have come to appreciate after not having seen it for two years, like hooking up with an old friend after a fight.

It's weak though because there really isn't an answer to all that pink, and the colour harmony is skewed as a result. There should be a resolution to both the chilly pink and to the cold pale Prussian blue. If I were still at the beach at a certain hour I would quickly find a solution, one certainly found in the colour of the sea to avoid screwing with the sky. 

So, out of curiosity, I thought to go online to look for a colour wheel to see what might work to correct it. Of course, there are a gazillion colour wheels out there, none of which are very precise except from Adobe which I include below. It's pretty interesting because it allows one to find colours one likes, then offers up the means with which to play around  using the many combinations of compliments, tertiaries, etc, etc,,. Maybe  lots of painters work like this but it's a new experience for me.

So I moved the little circle around enough to find this (close) pink below, then clicked on the split-complimentary option. Remarkably, it shows two options of the compliment, one on the warmer side, the other on the cooler. But both are 'married' (because they now are a mixed couple!) The cool option resembles the classic Veronese Green one finds in the Art store while the other one, a lovely warm yellow green is easily made on the palette while working. 

The beauty of working out in Nature is that it always shows the painter ALL of his/her options regarding colour. (no need for Adobe!) And Nature also provides a complete set of instructions when the painter opens his/her own optic senses to look at the motif as a whole unit. Like in Nature, as in the Painting world, everything is connected, especially colours, and even if they are on the opposite side of the colour wheel. And Nature will always confirm this to the painter. 

So the entire surface of my own small study needs a bit of both pink and green mixed into it in order to fully harmonise the image as a whole and give it a final resolution. And this resolution is widespread in many successful creative endeavours. 

For instance, in music (in the West) from Bach to Blues, Satie to Stravinsky; musical expression (after taking us on a melodic voyage) most always finds a resolution back to its Tonic, or Root base. 

Even Schoenberg's great piano works found resolution at the very end of the piece though his melodic illogic confounded the public early on. So perhaps the end of the musical piece is for the painter, the whole totality of the painting surface as it connects each millimetre together like a vast oriental rug. Music is a linear activity unlike that of seeing a picture which hits one in the gut all at once, for good or ill, or maybe just indifference, which is worst. (More to be revealed about this interesting subject)     

But the old formula, ii V I is a given in Western tonality, And in the world of painting it is no different. From Indian miniatures to the Fauves and to Picasso, one of the integral qualities of a successful painting is colour. Another is Form (but for another day) 

But all this organisation needs to be done at the outset of a painting. It is almost impossible to 'add on colours' in order to repair a faulty colour harmony already programmed in its own particular and original DNA. It can be done, (of course) but then it becomes a VERY different painting altogether though not inferior. It's really hard to do. The Dutch did this sort of thing perfectly well in the 'perfect 18th century', but then, they were masters at the craft of Painting. Their idea of perfection was a different beast than ours today, thankfully.

Perhaps cosmetic surgery is an apt analogy to Painting. When you change the chin line, you will need to also lift everything else as a result. A little botox here means a little more botox down there, ad infinitum,, 

The lesson? As we say in the Bronx:

"Listen Mack, Don't fuck with Nature!"


28 October 2021

Tauromachie and the art of graceful death

1 April 2018

1 April 2018

1 April 2018

Here is a curious set of photos of a painting that I (unusually) decided to document with three photos. In front of such a sky, I often used to attack the canvas board fast and hard. It is partly from impatience, but mostly from anxiety. After all, I am painting a portrait of the sea at dusk. Though my methods have changed a little over the past two years I still thrust myself upon the poor canvas, sometimes with force.

I came across these photos while searching through the phone for something else. The modern smart phone seems to be a collective coffin where thousands of digital moments are joyfully captured but then banished to die in one cyber folder or another, unlikely to be ever seen again. 

But looking at these, I was suddenly reminded me of La Tauromachie, the art of bull fighting. The ideal death for the bull in this 'sport' is  the quick one. When performed perfectly, it is considered a great art for aficionados of the ring. The matador must get it right in the first go-round or he will lose the crowd, then his reputation. 

He must insert his sword (espada) into a narrow space between the shoulders of the charging bull directly into the racing heart of the beast. The bull must die within an instant, but if he misses, it's a mess and he has failed. The crowd will hate him before he hates himself.

Years ago, a friend took me to two bullfights, one in Nimes and the other in Arles. Like many tourists, I was both horrified and fascinated. My friend Michael had been to many fights and he explained what was supposed to happen. In Nimes, I saw the first one, and I stayed for the afternoon watching several fights, my discomfort was overwhelmed by my fasciation. 

It sounds incorrect to call this a fight (certainly not a sport) because it is neither. It felt to me, a ceremony, a violent and bloody one centred around the bull's death for the benefit of the people attending. 

But a year later I went again with my same friend. We went to Arles, and when the first bull came charging out to the roar of the crowd, I said to my Michael;

"I'll see you in the bar in a few hours"

and I left. Watching the first bull come rushing out into the noisy arena I suddenly realised that I didn't want to see this all over again. I didn't need to, I was curious the first time, but the second one brought nothing more. My own decision to leave was as quick and intuitive as the killing of the bull.
It seems to me now that this picture was painted with the same assertive aggression as that of the bullfighter who gets one chance only to kill the bull in the glory of an afternoon.

The painter also attempts to capture the death of an afternoon. And this too, is also a quest for glory, a small bloodless one, solitary and anonymous.  

26 October 2021

Turner, Monet, and Bonnard: Back to the Future!


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 22 March 2018 oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here is another painting quite similar to the one I posted last week. I have no date for it but it seems to have the same feeling about it so I imagine it was done around that time. 

It's messy, frightfully so! And yet, I find something in it which is so strange, so compelling, almost artistically psychopathic, to be honest. Looking at it from afar I imagine a painter in desperation at not being able to get it all down right. It's scratched and scraped and looks like a hobo who needs to get out of the rain. But I love all this stilted imperfection of haste, it is a map of the battle scars, bitten by the wind on the sand dunes. Sadly though, most do not see it this way. They say to me:



I shrug and say little, "It is what it is".

But I really see now that this is my own personal voyage into in a landscape through a kind of Expressionism, and through Nature. And again, I see this from afar (at least two years late) but it strikes me as something so solitary, so tactilely alive, and so very awkward, that it is either a really good little painting or just a big flop. 

Suddenly, I am prompted to think of In a Landscape, the beautiful and harmonic piano piece by John Cage. It is a simple chordal melody repeated over and over again for several minutes.

I might view it in two respects. I can certainly view it from the latter perspective if I didn't know anything about Painting in a contemporary sense. But, as I am a painter who is searching for an answer to how Painting can evolve from its current unrestricted state of chaos, I could find something in this image which might hold a few keys. This always brings me back to an idea I have held deeply inside; It is one that wants to tether or moor Abstract Expressionism to Nature in a coherent way. I use Abstraction instead of Non-Objective to describe the latter half of the 20th century instead of the earlier half of it, because there is a nuanced difference between Kandinsky and Pollock. And I don't say "back to Nature" because Abstract Expressionism was never about Nature as far as I know. It was never tethered or moored in the first place in this American school of Painting though it was in France through the work of The Fauves in the early 30’s and 40’s.

Turner, Monet and Bonnard, all point to various  places somewhere out there in the future for me. Is there anyone interested in this voyage? Why do I pick these artists and not others? There are many others I could have added to this list but few who have melded the luminosity of colour with the simplicity of form (drawing).

Personally, I do believe it's possible to forge a pathway through the chaotic state of Painting in our age. But instead of looking around at what others are doing, I look backwards to them, for therein lies an answer for me and maybe others.

Below, is a strange and remarkable Bonnard! In it, one could learn so much about both form and colour. I recognise that I take a real risk by posting my own small effort on the same page as this mighty giant but it is, as they say: for educational purposes only!

When one adds Bonnard into this dogfight it can get really wild and I could write ten pages on this image alone but I always like to be brief so I will cut it off here while acknowledging that it could go on ad infinitum.

24 October 2021

Sophie Calle, Le bathrobe forever!

Sophie Calle forever; I was late to the party in which Sophie Calle bloomed as an artist, woman, and humanist. She eluded my radar for so long. I was too ill-equipped to look at (or understand) her Performance Art because I had seen so much really dreadful Performance Art that I had almost become allergic to it after a certain point. Although I did see some really wonderful stuff here and there, most of it seemed really dumb. And so with that confession I admit that I was myself, blind, deaf and dumb to Sophie Calle until about 20 years ago.

But happily, I have become a fervent, ardent, and besotted admirer of hers, along with many other men (and women too, most certainly). 

She has so many talents that it is hard to know how to begin to describe her as an artist and writer among so many other talents. I will not even try to get into them here. No doubt, she is well known to readers even in this small cubby hole of a corner. 

I have had this small book Les histories vraies for a few years and I re-read from time to time to remind me that there are other wonderful oddballs out there in the world. Her gentle irony avoids the harsh spotlight of so many Performance Artists though she is very well known in artistic circles most everywhere. 

Like other sensitive, curious, and perceptive artists, she sees what is under the shabby rug underfoot because she bothers to lift it up and look. 

A friend of mine, an art critic, who has a very politically-oriented take on art, once referred to Sophie Calle (with a slight smirk) as 'bourgeoise'. Though Ms.Calle is Parisian, and though she has painted a picture of a friendly and comfortable childhood in an affluent neighbourhood, her curious and eccentric sensibility is anything but 'bourgeoise'. Maybe, like so many comfortable families it was a conventional upbringing, but lucky for her that she prospered from a sense of security and balance which allowed her the freedom to go crazy in her creativity. 

She seems to approach her artistic life as a grey empty vessel allowing her a kind of invisibility in order to be fully present without prejudice. It's an unusual way to proceed out in this big, bad but strangely wonderful world, and yes, very zen, it seems to me. And I really like this about her. She approaches her projects as an open page, not dictated by a plate full of concepts but a mind full of questions and a vulnerable heart. 

In her work, so unpredictably varied, she bravely, stoically, ventures forth in search of poetic meaning. I imagine a woman exploring all the levels of life, like in a tall hotel, up and down all the stairwells and elevators, back and forth on each of its floors, invisible to everyone, she is only betrayed by the passing scent of her perfume.  

"I was eighteen. He opened the door. He was wearing a long white spongey bathrobe. He was my first lover. For an entire year he never showed himself nude from the front, hiding his sex. Only his backside. Even the mornings, if it was light, he arose, he turned carefully around to put on the bathrobe. When he left me he left the bathrobe."

21 October 2021

Marguerite Matisse and bombs pour le dîner


Here is a marvellous portrait by Matisse which I have always loved. Painted in 1951 it was one of the very last portraits he made before his transition to scissors. It looks like it could have been painted quickly, maybe in one or two sessions at most. 

Despite lacking any facial features, it feels expressive in a complete way, similar perhaps to how we can experience antique Greek statues which have lost many of their features. Where there is unity, there is timelessness. But for just that reason, and because it is a painting, it may not be a favourite of the public. Was he aware that he was saying goodbye to a whole way of life, one full of worldly activity and recognition? Could he know that he would soon become infirm and henceforth confined to his small but sunny bedroom in Nice? He died in 1954, just a few years after painting this portrait but only after a prolific love affair with a pair of scissors while trapped in his home.

A few years ago I read the wonderful biography of Henri Matisse by Hillary Spurling. It is comprised  of two volumes; Matisse the Unknown, and Matisse the Master, I highly recommend them both. In these generous books she opens up the stately doors of a conservative 19th century France allowing us to meander freely throughout its transition into a modern age where art played a pivotal role. 

People forget how mocked and disparaged Matisse was for much of his early career. Another great painter suffered the same fate; Paul Cézanne. So when I wanted to throw a bomb into a boring dinner party in France I would accuse:

"France really hates painters." "Vous detestez les peintres!"

The table would go silent, then I would invariably need to develop my argument by proving it with examples. Essentially, the French love ideas way too much to appreciate Painting! Ha Ha.. They are intellectuals after all, and logic, verbal and literary communication are paramount for its cultural prestige. If it weren't for the Americans (I point out) who came over after the first World War with buckets of cash, along with their quaint curiosity, nobody would have looked at Matisse or Picasso. Thus went some of my argument etc, etc... 

The British love Painting (I do go on), as do the Dutch and the Danes, the Belgians, and the Germans too, though both latter nations are equally mad about Contemporary Conceptual Art. The French, on the other hand, are mad for literature and poetry. They adore contemporary architecture and cool opera. But more than anything, they use wordplay to convey an emotional state through an idea. And conversation skills are a must in France, especially so in Paris!! Their passion is really for ideas which is why they are more at home with Conceptual Art, far more than with paintings which cut through ideas. They love Robert Wilson not Robert Johnson. But I won't try to convince anyone here of all this, not now anyway.

These bombs were always fun for me, and it was often done in French which naturally added its own drama. My success was usually dependant upon just how much or little wine I had consumed during the meal.  

But this is an idea I still believe more than ever, even today, so many years later. Unlike Americans, the French, though they are eloquent speakers, are just never comfortable expressing feelings about themselves, except in French cinema and books of course. Their passion hides behind their reserve. La pudeur is a fine and sophisticated quality which the French possess in boatloads unlike us Americans. Their passions are for ideas, ideals! And we all love and cherish them for this.

My favourite Matisse portrait is one he painted of his daughter Marguerite among many he made. This one is in Paris at the Musée Picasso though I could swear that I have seen it at the Musée de Grenoble too. It was painted between 1906-7. It is so simply done that it takes my breath away. Its colour harmony is simple, just like the drawing. For me, it is just the feeling of it which keeps me looking with astonishment. It has an almost primitive kind of expression as if it were done on a farm somewhere in rural France by an amateur painter. This is perhaps why I like it so much; its complete lack of pretension. In fact, Matisse, unlike so many painters, was without pretence.  

Marguerite was in the Resistance during the war when she was tortured by the Gestapo. She was very lucky to live through it. She was always painted with a ribbon or scarf around her neck to hide a scar from the tracheotomy she had endured early in childhood. This portrait was done almost fifty years before the one above.

Matisse made a remarkable voyage of his life. 

19 October 2021

Metro in Aleppo

I picked this up from Google somewhere a few years back and it has sat on my desktop ever since. I wanted to use it somehow in a painting but haven't yet. Put simply, it inspired me. I love the colours, the lime green and warm yellowy pale pink. I like the drawing of a simple demarcated line too, its absurd graphic certainty seems to change its mind, zigging one way then zagging another. 

It appears to be an arbitrary boundary, somewhat artificially drawn up by a cynical colonel or a Contemporary artist in New York. The ISIS soldier is dressed in existential black (and chic) Islamic sartorial cool. He seems to be contemplating the meaning of this image just like a tourist in the Louvre. 

What could he possibly be thinking? Or even feeling for that matter, whilst gazing at this marvellously obscure image, the kind of which one would love to see in the Paris Metro?

If I remember vaguely, it was taken around the time that ISIS was destroying the age-old monuments around Aleppo. Like everyone else, I was upset. But then the whole war was upsetting because of all the pointless killing everywhere. At the time I also remember feeling  that all the large Powers were responsible; the Americans, the British, The French, Russians, Saudi's, the lot. 

I remember how fooled I was by the younger Assad who often came to France and spoke intelligently on News shows with a suave European sensibility. Like many others at the time I thought to myself: 

"I am sure that he will be a more sensible 'dictator' than his ruthless father." 

But how wrong I was, how wrong we all were.... He was a beast who slaughtered his own women and children.

Then, ISIS arrived to finish off History. The awful thing about this destruction was that it was hard to lament the wreckage of the monuments while so many civilians were being murdered. I regret not visiting Syria when I had the chance back in the 1980's. 

17 October 2021

Van Gogh at the optometrist.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 16 April 2018 oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

A real curiosity done sometime in 2019, maybe a July painting of a winter storm though it's hard to tell. But I came across it the other day and it started a small dialogue in my head.  

To be fair, it is a bit of wreck if one judges it by technical virtuosity alone, which of course it lacks in a conventional sense. But when I saw it again a long while, I was surprised at how well it conveyed the feeling of stormy clouds over the dark mysterious sea. Though I don't remember most of these small pictures, I do remember this one because I couldn't get the picture unified for the longest time until out of frustration, I took a larger brush and began sweeping it with circles as if I were using a broom. To my surprise, it worked so I stopped, and just let it be. Curiously, what holds the picture together are the pink bits of open sky in both the right and left hand corners. Like fingers, these bits of pink  grasp the large form, and they hold it firmly in place.

The effect of the picture is immediate. It's in your face, whether you like it or not. It seems flat, as if the massive and menacing clouds have been pressed into time, immobile, yet full of ruptured energy. It might even appear 'ugly' at first. But as Baudelaire once said:

"All truly great and original paintings often appear ugly at first". 

He could have been speaking of Van Gogh, but also Stravinsky. And I feel confident enough that he could be speaking about this image too. 

I want to paint things truly alive, almost breathing fire. In front of a picture, I wonder if I don't just desperately desire to feel that 'poof' of a feeling, as if one is at the optometrist when given the glaucoma test. In a fraction of a second the machine punches out air at high speed against your eyeball testing for pressure on the cornea. In the painting above I want that intense sensation thrown at the viewer in the same way. 'Poof', either one gets it or one doesn't. If one doesn't then either the picture isn't successful, or the viewer isn't. 

If I had not painted this picture, I believe I would still approach it with some surprise which is the only way I could express it. And though it was done in a decidedly European manner, it feels like an image which might have been done by a Japanese Zen monk who also happened to study Painting in the South of France! It shows an unusual aspect of Nature but from a very particular perspective; close up, and cropped. It doesn't manifest Concept (anathema to Zen) nor a conventional viewpoint. Yet it is a natural subject. It is a set of clouds mushrooming over a sea at dusk in an almost miniature scale as if chosen by a 75mm telephoto lens. It possesses a curious abstraction, maybe a bit too strange for most people's taste though. It reminds me of the music of Thelonious Monk; off kilter, and in your face, primitive and primeval, where technique is disguised as an autistic child.
It also made me think about what constitutes "being a painting". In this age of contemporariness, is it a mere momento? or perhaps a souvenir, or just out of date? 

But if an image conveys a feeling of the subject matter (the motif) like Monk, then, is it not at least partially successful? When I use the word feeling in discussing painting I never stray far from thinking of Vincent Van Gogh. We love him for his beautiful, terrible, and overarching uncontrollable feeling, as if he lived within an earthquake. 

He also seemed to have lifted the verisimilitude off the three dimensions of a theatrical stage by compressing them into a two dimensional drama on canvas.

He was a slave to his unabashed devotion in giving viewers his own sense of reality in pure and emotional terms. So though I don't compare myself to him, I do hold his work up as a model of how it can be done. It has been that way ever since I first read his letters at the important time when I was beginning to paint. He was certainly my greatest influence. 

12 October 2021

Pantone's Yellow Submarine!


This top image is a cropped detail from a painting done last week. I wanted to look at this simple space where the two colours meet. It's very small because the painting itself is only 25 X 20 cm

I am just crazy about this set of colours for no other reason on earth than the pleasure they offer me. What else can I admit? I have loved this rich yellow since I was a kid, and long before I began using Crayons. It still evokes in me that fuzzy feeling that I hope others might also carry in their own dreamy hearts. Although I do absolutely hate the hyperbolic (really!!!) I would say nonetheless that it could very well be a string in our human DNA to love this colour! 

But it should never be used in a painting in its pure form as it would be too strong, like ingesting too many tarte-aux-citrons at a lengthy Sunday lunch. 

This colour, like for all colours on a painting surface, needs to be ('broken') or it will likely explode. 

Somehow, I remember that a Pantone Yellow had been declared the colour of the year for 2021. Not sure how they decided that but it shared the honour with the company's Ultimate Grey as well.

What really interests me about this news is that they present these two colours together. This is a very painterly decision on their part and unusual because for me, I only really see colours in pairs, as in complimentary pairs. It is wonderful that they present both their Ultimate Grey and Pantone Yellow as an ensemble. 

nothing special, Dieulefit, August, 2012, oil on canvas, 150 X 150 cm

This picture above was painted almost a decade ago. It was conceived around these two colours and it reveals my own great affection for Yellow and Grey. But as a painter I prefer them both slightly broken with a little of each infecting the other. It marries them and allows for a harmonisation. The grey here is rather warm so that it compliments the 'cool' yellow because in the world of Painting, warm always compliments cool, and vice versa.

It is clear that this Pantone Yellow is cool, cold really, as this Ultimate Grey. Personally, I imagine that maybe the cooler hue of all colours almost always seems to work better for any commercial application of these bright pure colours. They tend to shout out clashing and attracting attention at any cost, which is of course the purpose of advertising, though not always aligned with pictorial artistry.

Concerning the small detail (top) the 'grey' sky is in fact a pale warm grey transition between the yellow to the faint, pale Prussian Blue higher up barely perceptible. And because it was painted at the beach in natural light, the harmony was my idea, my colour scheme, and it came from observance not convenience. It was an empirical choice.

And (below) still another detail which includes a bit more of the painting, while further below at bottom, the full painting from which they all came.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 5 October, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

08 October 2021

IKEA and a bachelor life in Australia


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 5 October 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 5 October 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here are two old pictures which I re-worked a few nights ago at the beach. I had brought them there to see if I could 'make something of them'. I didn't want to 'repair' them in the studio because I needed the beach, the sea, and the sky, something to cling onto with colour and light even if to wasn't the same. And also I knew I would have a palette already made, wet and messy; a painter's dream.

I have been organising all these paintings, (the entire  lot), over the past week because they had not been properly filed chronologically. In fact, not just my kitchen but the entire house has become a flop house for these things. I had chosen to store them here in the house because it is cleaner and receives warmth in the winter months preventing mildew which is a huge problem in this humid climate. The separate studio is problematic in this regard.

Over four + years, these studies have been filling up the IKEA bookshelves in my living room. But before they get there, they need to dry so they lay in shoe racks in my kitchen where the sun pours forth in all seasons. Then due to laziness on my part they begin to inhabit every horizontal surface available until it drives me crazy enough to put them away every so often. I make so many of them most weeks they seem to multiply like mice. So I needed to gradually displace the books with the paintings in the IKEA shelves in the living room. Though the books are not happy with this arrangement the paintings decidedly are. What can you do? It isn't difficult to understand why I am a bachelor. 

Thus, having re-organised all the paintings, needless to say, I Have found many, (many older ones from 2017 and 2018 in particular) that are inferior for a variety of reasons. Mostly though, because they are just not very good! they are not 'realised', is one way I can describe it. They might be undeveloped, or the sea is wrong, or the sky is all wrong, or the light has been pushed into a dark cave; any number of reasons really. When paintings don't work, they don't for any number of reasons which a discerning eye can readily see. But when paintings work, they work for a multitude of often discreet and subtle reasons which may not be visible to many outside of the world of Painting.

In this case of doing so many each week they just feel like 'exercises' and I probably should not really share them to polite society. Of course, the problem is that I make a lot of these paintings as exercises. There are certainly over a thousand by now but I haven't yet counted them all.

So the point is that I don't go out to the beach most evenings to make masterpieces but to just paint. Luckily though, they are sometimes masterpieces, small and compact but it's rare. I go out there to feel the wind, watch the waves, see what the sky is doing and I mix a palette. That part of it is pretty simple and quite agreeable. The work too, can be simple and agreeable most of the time except when it isn't. 

Yesterday, I thought to put a few of these into the boot of the car with the idea of taking them to the beach. I figured that I could work as usual on some new ones, then at the end when I had a palette full of colours I could put the pictures up to see what I could add, 'correct them', investigate possibilities.

These two above, are the first two 'trials' and I was quite happily surprised by what it felt like to come back into a dry painting with fresh new oils. They are not great by any means but they open up something a new avenue for me. Painters like that.

07 October 2021

a field of flowers each night


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 5 October, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 5 October, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 5 October, 2021, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm.

To my great surprise, these small studies rose up and out from the sea as if they were a field of daisies, violets, bluebells and bellflowers. It made a magnificent 'bloom' last night, but for some reason I almost resisted going out to work. I had been in the studio in the afternoon and found myself full of doubts about the motif.

"What more I can I possibly generate from this motif anyway?"

It may have been precipitated by a remark a friend had made earlier in the day when he said,

"You should move on from these little paintings and work on your big ones."

I knew he liked the things done in the studio much more than I was doing at the beach. And who was he anyway to be telling me anything? At the time I was not really bothered by the remark except that I had had a difficult session on the night prior, one which without words, pretty much told me the very same thing. It's one thing when some else makes a critical remark about your work (or life), but another thing altogether when your own work speaks directly to you through itself! Ha ha.

But in the end, all I needed was a great session, an evening 'bloom', blushing wildly for me alone to replenish my curiosity anew for the motif. After all, it is for me alone, and similar to this diary, maybe the results will please others, but the pleasure of ‘doing’ is all mine, mine alone. 

04 October 2021

Erik Satie meets Einstein as a pear

I have been learning a few of these pieces in the last year. It's an exercise in patience, something I have developed studying music late in life. They are not difficult at all except that to memorise them requires diligence, a cousin to discipline. But I am getting there, the body (fingers) has a wonderful memory mechanism almost oblivious to what goes on in one's head. Play them play them play them is the only way up the mountainside!

In many of Satie's small compositions there is no indication of time or measures. The small black and white notes are only held together by a cohesion of the harmonic line. They appear as small birds alighting briefly on telephone wires, flitting upward and dropping below seemingly at random in the winter sky. 

For Satie, like Einstein, Time doesn't exist, it was created by Humankind to create order out of a dis-ordered and natural world.

The Buddha-wise-guys in the East also share this understanding. Time is but a concept to measure and quantify passing moments. 

Time for a composer is a way to arrange a framework within which the musician and singer can operate, and unlike our ticking clock it is arbitrary. It is a composer's choice, a kind of map with which to navigate a musical idea. 

Here is a remake of the original Parade for which Satie created the music. A lovely 'carte postale' from some of the infamous Avant-garde. And it is interesting to note that it was made during a time when French, British, Belgian, American soldiers, and other poor souls from colonial outposts were being sent to their deaths daily in the first World War, a war which they all, at the time, imagined to be the last great war.

More to be revealed.

01 October 2021

Cézanne meets Mondrian meets Rothko

This morning I was looking at a catalogue for an old Cézanne watercolour show and I was reminded of something I have often felt when looking back on my early years in Aix. 

It was difficult for me as a young painter when just starting out to spend so much time trying to learn from the late work of Cézanne, his watercolours in particular. They are unfinished and abbreviated, and trying to understand them might be like a young student of Mathematics stumbling upon a set of cryptic notes from Einstein at Princeton. 

I have seen this difficulty with many other painters as well. I saw that it is a perilous path to jumpstart an influence solely pushed by the later stages of a painter's work (evolution). 

Of course every artist is different but I definitely wouldn't say this about Vincent Van Gogh's work. He is an exception, and exceptional. One could learn from any chapter of his life's oeuvre. The early work revealed his scrabble to grapple with how to draw, then to discover the surface of a picture plane. His later work is so full of harmonious colour that one could learn everything from just looking at him alone. But he is very unusual, (remarkable) both as artist and teacher. Of course, there are no real answers to any of this because it's my own observation, regarding my own path. 

The problem is that in this case with Cézanne, he had already painted most of his whole life before arriving at these watercolours. And possibly, it may have been his austere drawings done throughout his working life that actually prefigured the spare watercolours later on. There just isn't enough information in these late things to glean, and forge a pathway forward for a young painter. By copying these things, work would just resemble 'late Cézanne' and wouldn't contribute to the student's originality.

I can see the beauty in this abbreviated watercolour (above) but I cannot see that it can help me by studying it. I suspect also that many of these 'unfinished' drawings and watercolours were simply just left for a reason only known to Cezanne. He certainly could have gone further but he stopped, why? Only he knows, but maybe he has cited reasons for it somewhere in his letters. Yet it may be that he just stopped because he liked what he had achieved, and he didn't want to ruin something which he might want to remember later on. Who knows? I am not scholar but a student of Cézanne.

The same goes for Mondrian, whose work at the end of his life is barely recognisable compared with his earlier things done as a young painter. Trying to learn something from his work at the end of his life would be extremely difficult and a trying experience. Maybe not impossible, but Olympian in any case. Why bother? 

I think (in my own case regarding Cézanne) it's because as a student painter, it was like I was trying to read the last chapters of a book without first knowing what came beforehand. So as a result, I was merely copying a style, (for lack of a better description), and I was bypassing the messiness (and failure) of all the work that everyone needs to slog through  in order to discover their own originality. Like anything, it's a lot of pure labour.

Fortunately, I was never too crazy about Cézanne's watercolours so I didn't spend too much time with them. They did not appeal to my messy and aesthetic nature. 

Regarding the picture below, I would ask; how could a painter learn from this Mondrian? It's not rhetorical, it's a serious question. What could I take from this late work of Mondrian? And what I could make out of it, and into something of my very own? Maybe something, but I fear I would be like a marathon runner who jumped into the race at the 20 mile mark.

I actually do really appreciate this particular Mondrian though it wasn't always the case. I don't understand it, but its power and emotion appeal to me for many of the same reasons I love Russian Revolutionary Art. The emotional impact here seems to deliver like squeezing water from stone.

I don't have answers to this but of course I like to throw out ideas. It seems to me that that Painting had come to the end of the road by early part of the 20th century. Painters, as they still were in those days (unlike today, where whole different means have opened up to express an idea, or a feeling) were desperate to create something wholly new. Many of them went into the realm of pure feeling, while others locked into the way of design and science, even. 

And below, a painting by Mondrian done around the time of his transition into his late work (like above). It certainly possesses a Cubist sensibility, but it's still mystery how one could learn from this work.

More to be revealed.