31 January 2022

The Uninhabitable Earth, the unbearable brightness of seeing

                                                  Roy Liechtenstein, 1960's

I have been reading The Uninhabitable Earth, a dystopian assessment of a future life here on earth by David Wallis-Ellis. Honestly, living through all this information feels not only like being drowned into a dark funnel of hopelessness but also like being attacked by ten thousand Asian hornets at once. So why read it? Because I am fascinated by history, all kinds of histories about nations, cultures and people. But this feels like reading a history book about a place (our planet Earth) but in reverse, because most of it hasn't yet happened. Though we are already experiencing the planet's revolt at our behaviour, the worst is yet to come, increasingly within a hundred years time according to this author and many many others.

To be honest, I am actually listening to it in Audible which is a first for me. I am glad too, because it seems less lonely hearing the author's gentle voice describe the horrors just down the road. Reading it, on the other hand, alone in my dread, and creasing the book's poor paper pages with dog ears as I habitually do, might, I fear be too shattering and leave me in fetal position for days on end. Yes, I dramatise, but hey! This is serious shit, as the kids say these days.  

Would I recommend it? I am not sure because I have been sleeping badly now for a week. My heart seems to be revved up several hundred RPM like a two cylinder Yahama trail bike, and I awaken in the morning with that lost feeling I sometimes used to have with a hangover. In fact, it was indirectly recommended to me by the fellow who wrote and directed Don't Look Up when he spoke of it in an interview with Ari Melber a few weeks back. He described it as the catalyst for writing the screenplay. For him it was THE metaphor for climate change.

So, regarding Climate Change, I am not sure I would recommend it to anyone who wishes to maintain a fairytale version of how everything should, and will work out in the end. When an Aussie says to me (about anything) 

"She'll be right mate"

I know to run for the hills.

But, I am older, and thus will not see the more unpleasant changes coming to us all relatively soon. Though I am a pessimist by nature, not willingly, but out of an early childhood habit, it's confusing enough to face my own eventual demise, but the surreal prognosis of Earth's rapid transformation is mind-bending. It renders everything, well,,, just mute, silent like deep space.

Politically, it's my feeling that most deniers of Climate Change, (even surrogates of the fossil fuel industry) have basically surrendered the fight to save Earth. The smarter ones see it but deny its seriousness because basically they have surmised that it's inevitable, and it surpasses their imagination for any solutions, so they have given up. And for the dumber ones like Trump, this simply bypasses their own insular circuitry. But in the end, most of them are all hoping for the best while a few of the delusional wing (with money) still hope to get to Mars in time. But the really wealthy are all building fortresses in the mountains of Idaho and the Swiss Alps so to mitigate the consequences of it all. Most problems the rest of us have are a mere inconvenience for the truly Rich. But even they, with their deep pockets, cannot envision anything beyond their children's children's children's lives. For them, spreadsheets don't spread that far. 

Imagine Van Gogh's Starry Night ending up as a slide show in an underground luxury bunker in Idaho?

But lastly, I cannot get the ludicrous idea that Putin will probably wage war in Ukraine within weeks possibly, as if that is really so important? Mind you, the Idiot Bush Jr. also waged a senseless war twenty years ago and wreaking havoc for no apparent reason at all. But knowing that this planet has stage four cancer makes one want to stand up atop the dinner table, naked if need be, and scold all these people while brandishing celery stalks in their faces. 

Being bombarded with crisscrossing world events that distract us from the real existential crisis raises everything to a heightened surreality. And this is perfectly rendered in the marvellous black comedy Don't Look Up.

Here is what is still on offer on earth here at sea level. These were done in the past week at the beach.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 28 January 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 23 January 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

27 January 2022

Lee Godie, Cézanne's niece!

Overlooked No More: Lee

Godie, Eccentric Chicago Street


A self-described Impressionist, she hawked her art on Michigan Avenue in the 1970s and ’80s and lived mostly outdoors. But her work is in museums.

If you can access this article on the NY Times

for a wonderful story. Enjoy!



26 January 2022

Marcus Aurelius comes to Australia!


Above is a repost from 2, April 2012. I noticed in the Stats file that someone had accessed it recently so I was curious to see it. I retrieved it from the archives in Google Blogger and I liked it, especially accompanied by the drawings, both recto and verso. They were made in a small sketch pad I used to use often from one of the ubiquitous Muji stores in Paris. Their thin paper, slightly yellowed and inexpensively bound in a small softcover book  have a good feel and I used to buy them by the dozen.

What surprised me, upon re-reading it is that during those weeks I was in the middle of big move out of the Belvedere in Dieulefit. I had sold it and had to be out on by 12th of April 2012, so like everyone who has ever moved house I was losing lots of weight by the day, and also I felt quite frazzled. There was one day in particular when I looked out from the top floor of this big house and almost jumped out the window because I had thought of all that I still needed to do, and I didn't believe I could get it done. But I did, of course, mostly alone. Even years later when I imagined that my current problems and tasks were overwhelming me, I would still remember that moment on the top floor and remind myself that if I could make that move, I could do anything. Ha Ha,,,, 

But it did become a marker for me, in a funny kind of way, for a while anyway. Since then of course, almost ten years later, there have been other 'overwhelming tasks' which have sort of replaced that one. But as we all know, this is what life is all about when moving on from problems and 'dramas' which feel way too complicated in the moment. We forget that fact too readily because mostly, they are just perceived that way by a fragile mindset in the very moment.

About this time I had been reading Marcus Aurelius's Meditations each morning with coffee. And for about a year or so I created another account called Meditations by Marcus Aurelius in which I noted his wisdom down as entrees and accompanied them with photos or drawings of my own content. It was a fun habit and not too time consuming but also allowing me to read and transcribe his delicious thoughts about life. What amazed me when I came across this entry is that even despite my frazzled 'mindset' during my move, I still kept these two blogs up, indeed, it must have become a kind of life buoy for me. 

Now ten years on, I marvel at how his musings and metaphors, his original viewpoints, and his friendly wisdom have continued to shape my own desire to behave more like a thoughtful man. I have absorbed his words and metaphors no doubt though maybe not his wisdom, but his deliberate stance for the Good, edging always closer towards more human light, has been his great gift to me, and certainly to so many others over 2000 years. 

24 January 2022

the tiny hand of God

This lovely small thing has just been auctioned off in New York. It belonged to the descendants a family whose forbearers had commissioned Auguste Rodin to make this marble sculpture to mark the gravesite of their young child. 

When one needs money, you can blame the family for selling it? But there was a small kerfuffle of cultural diplomacy shuffling about beforehand to see if it could remain in Pennsylvania where I believe it had been for 150 years. (And, nobody shuffles quite like museum directors when it comes to works of art from family estates) Alas, it was sold to a private collector (who can blame him or her?) And, what a work to admire with friends over a bottle of cognac!

An exquisite work, unpretentious and without any flash of flair which Rodin sometimes indulged in (and why not?) for he was one of the greatest of the all the greats! One can see him taking great care to sculpt such a small, modest commission. Carved deftly out of white marble but posed in such way that its light seems to still radiate outwards as if polishing the space surrounding it.

19 January 2022

A cynic's take on the the Challenger explosion and the myths of marriage

150 X 150 cm

Here is a curiosity that was in the works back in France around 2013 in the studio at Poet Laval. I think it's still in France somewhere in one of my stashes. At the time I would have presumed it to be too indulgent in an easy expressive kind of way. But last week when I found it while going through i-photo I saw something I liked. It strikes me now as a metaphor for those sweet associations of roses but also the inchoate suffering revealed by their dripping death. OK, I know, I know, I have a dark way of seeing the end of everything, but hey...

I often wondered how a love story would look (in a film or book) if one was introduced to the couple in the first scene but at their last meeting when the couple were enduring one another for coffee, tea, or something stronger. In other words we see the penultimate end of the relationship before the author flashes us back through time to the lovey-dovey first dates, the kisses and and caresses, all the lurking promises.

So, this painting sort of opens up this bit of literary manoeuvring for me. I see that it's a painting about endings. I am a cynic for sure but let's admit it, don't most relationships and marriages end up like the Challenger rocket?

16 January 2022

Churchill assassinated by fire



I saw these two paintings a few years ago in Sydney at the NSW Gallery and snapped some hasty photos with an old i-phone. I am ashamed of the poor quality because in fact my photos taken in museums are usually well made and measured. The top one above is by the Welsh painter, Augustus John (1878 - 1961). I do not believe he came to Australia so I am not sure how his pictures ended up here. I liked this painting immediately because of its spontaneity and almost sloppy execution which can reveal in this case a real artistic intuition though it isn't the rule by any means. It's called Welsh Mountains appropriately enough, and was painted in 1911.

This one below was painted by Graham Sutherland (1903 -1980) and (surprise), was also titled Welsh Mountains. It was done between 1937 - 38 so the panel told me. What I find interesting is that just roughly 27 years separates the two pictures and yet what a great difference in evolution. The John painting evokes an Impressionist sensibility while this one below represents the Surrealist movement sweeping through France and Britain between the two wars. This Sutherland,( below, is pretty wild and it begs the questions to me whether or not he painted outdoors or in the studio. I imagine it was done in his studio but this is just a guess. After asking "Grandpa" as I have  come  to affectionately call Google) I realise that he probably did it, as well as many others in his studio, from watercolour sketches done on site. 

He was also portrait painter in the somewhat realist manner, which are very different from this landscape. And he was indeed commissioned to paint Churchill's portrait by the Parliament at the time, and was subsequently presented to him on his 80th birthday. Alas, he and his wife hated it so much that they destroyed 26 years later. Rumour has it that it ended up in the fireplace. But anyway, that's the way it sometimes goes in life, always up in smoke.


and the now assassinated portrait 

06 January 2022

Mexico, magic and surprise


I love this image! The photo is a bit wonky from the sun flare on the upper right corner but one gets the picture as they say. If I remember, it was from the Living section in the Times and focused on homes around the world. This woman's home is somewhere in Mexico, and the reason I love it so much is that it reveals the playful nature of its citizens. I love her for ascending her open turquoise stairway in a rich golden yellow dress. And I love the thick deep Madder Lake stripes which climb the walls as if for no reason at all except to surprise.

How is it possible that I have never been to Mexico?? Truth be told, I actually thought of going there to buy a mess of a villa in Marida 9 years ago when I sold out of France. But as fate would have it, I decided to settle here in Australia, a safe and unadventurous decision. But big part of me was really up for a wild and wacky adventure in a land I knew nothing about.  It was just my cup of tea to explore another country and culture for my last chapter in life. But anyway, I am reasonably happy here, and this is already a lot when I look around the world today. Australia is a wonderful place to live and I feel privileged to be here.

And yet I think Mexico will be on my next country to visit list and looking at this photo is to see a painting. It is a joyous-looking home and gift for the eyes, a real surprise! 

04 January 2022

Richard Serra and Pierre Soulages, dark cousins

L'enfance, oil on canvas, 1997 150 X 150 cm

This is a painting I made back in 1997 when I was in my small studio at the Châteaunoir, eons ago before I left Aix for the Drôme. I am not sure what I could say about it except that I was certainly trying to address dark issues from my own early life which we now refer to as Family of Origin problems, Hmmmm. 

These days, the contemporary method for expressing angst and existential discontent appears to make a beeline straight to the pigment generically known as Black. Most painters (because most of the original ones are quite neurotic) will at some point in their lives make a tour through the dark landscape inside themselves. The less original, but no less crazy, just paint the surface black or bitumen à la Pierre Soulages, or even Richard Serra. For painters, it does seem to be the contemporary go-to solution, though sadly it offers little inspiration in the long run because these paintings will live on, seemingly paralysed in a state of mourning, crucified, as it were on empty walls in lonely wings of great museums all over the world. And adramatic and satisfying as it may seem in the very moment of 'self-expressive execution', it's still a cliché and it is unsuccessful in the long run. It is a cheap fix as my auto mechanic would say.

And one could say I am being pretentious, presumptuous to rip and riff through such heavy weights in the Art world, but hey! These things have to be articulated even if few want to hear it. Being critical in this art world today is a lot like being a dentist where one can use sharp, precise tools to cause pain. Ha Ha. But I speak as a painter who loves colour after all, and Painting is about the totality of colour in the natural world.

Pierre Soulages, 163 X 181 cm 2004

Richard Serra, 1978 from installation at SFMOMA

These things I have posted by them are deliberate adventures into their dark headspace and I really don't even know how I would begin discussing them if I were to have the unfortunate task of having to write reviews of each.

I have seen both of these artist's works up close over the years in various museums around the world, yet I can never shake the feeling that this is all shallow work, and moreover, even they, capable and well educated as they both are, should know better, are better than this work. They should know better than play us all for fools (at least Soulages should, because he comes from a great Painting tradition in France).

Because of this shallow trick of indulging in so much ubiquitous black, I am never allowed access to an enduring emotion from their work. (OK Black is bleak, I get it,,,,) City sophisticates in Paris and New York express more existential disdain by simply wearing black, morning, noon and night.   

So for the artist the question comes down to just how does one express this terrible darkness and angst which most stoic souls spend all their lives trying to hide? What is the creative solution without the systematic cliché?

Going to the pigment black, to keep it simple, is basically just a cliché, a hollow one, incapable of expressing the horror at so much cruelty and suffering in the world. (I am trying not be redundant) but personally, I cannot feel this work by either of these two artists for this very reason. Their abstractions, though so heavy, they still don't possess enough weight, and they certainly don't expand any more understanding of their own personal plights. Nothing opens up or goes out from their work, it's a closed circuit at the edge of a black hole sucking in everything around them.

Yet despite these condemnations, I will say that I have also seen Soulages in a bright light, and also with great success. I went to the tiny town of Conques, where years ago, I found his stained glass designs for the magnificent church there to be both imaginative and appropriate to the space. This small church in Conques is such an extraordinary example of Romanesque Art that failing this task would be a cruel fate for any contemporary artist. His response to this unique church was secular and sober. It's  austerity compliments both our own age but that of 12th century France too. And what if his large paintings opened up his own airy inner light by exposing it to the world?

Soulages exhibits the black existential fact that Life (for so many French intellectuals) is something heavy, something which weighs down our soul as we go about our daily lives.

There is no joie-de vivre here. And yet curiously, the French in so many ways, do live a light-hearted life full of mirth and epicurean joy. This is also a problem I have with Soulage's work. Creatively speaking, he employs a one dimensional and predictable solution to this cultural paradox which is way too complex for his efforts. And b.t.w, where is the necessary irony in this work that seems so obviously lacking to the rest of us modern and secular souls? 

Richard Serra's work, on the other hand, often exhibits a muscular American force, the cultural equivalent to the doctrine of American Manifest Destiny which has pro-pulsed American might forcibly outward and onto to the world at large whether it was even desired or not (though to be fair in the 19th century, it probably was).

Symbolically speaking, with these large black drawings he seems to declare his own personal disgust with the American dream, and yet his own oversized steel sculptures appear to be the artistic extension of that same expansive American doctrine, one which his black drawings privately disdain. So it's conflictual; it's a paradox, an American one, not a nuanced French one. His dark pessimism in these drawings is also an unveiled desire to push that blackness outward to an unsuspecting world.

But getting back to my almost insignificant painting, I had wanted to relate an anecdotal idea in a visual way, a pictorial, poetic and sensual way, perhaps inviting someone else into it as a question, not an answer. 

A few years back, a friend made a comment about my work after a recent trip to Paris where museums are infinitely more important than stadiums. She had spent a few days wandering museums and galleries looking at everything. Upon her return she said to me, 

"What I like about your paintings is that they feel like surprises, questions in fact, not responses..... they are like you in fact, always full of questions!" She went on,

"Everything I see these days feels to me so oversized, so heavy, and so full of answers. There are way too many affirmations, commenting on such and such, opinions and declarations about life!,,,, everyone wants to hit you over the head with ideas and statements!"

"It drives me crazy!.... (ça me rend folle!!)"

I have always appreciated this observation because deeply inside, I have always felt the same way. I like that quality in other art I see and feel and intuitively I was trying to express that same idea in these "non-objective" paintings I was doing at the time. 

So I guess my biggest criticism with Soulages and Serra is that their work acts too often like walls which keep us all out. In French they say about someone with a big personality, and often slightly pejorative (and its usually about men) "Il a une grande gueule" (he's a bigmouth) And their work, like so much these days, certainly possesses 'une gueule'. Maybe that it is the nature of the Art world today, where to get ahead, to get anywhere, to be seen, to be heard, one needs 'une grand geuele'...
And even if they would never admit it, (this is after all about self-expression) they may as well have a sign outside that says "Keep Out", and this is a problem for me because the whole nature of Art concerns the opposite; it is an invitation out to the world at large.