29 June 2022

doubt is our passion


Evening Prayers, Brunswick Heads, 25 June 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This delicious study came to me the other day because each week Facebook throws up memories on a certain day of the month from years past, almost always on the same day of the month, hence, June 25 2020, 2019, 2018, etc, etc going back five or six years. It's an interesting window, a commercial one no doubt but one which I have come to appreciate over time as one can see old things anew. So, to my surprise, this one came up the other day and it really gave me  a jolt. 

Since I began this series I have struggled at times (most of it) to find something from this motif which really knocks my socks off and will carry me to the stars. To be honest, I schlep through so much muddy failure that I have sometimes felt like a German soldier stuck outside of Stalingrad during Hitler's failed attempt to conquer it in 1944. Thankfully, it's subtropical here, but failure is still always failure. 

And yet once in a while, I do manage to succeed beyond my own still obscure and yet to-be-detected visual ideas, my inchoate longings "to settle things once and for all" in this creative loop. This one study has everything I have been looking for in the motif. How to describe that feeling? I am suddenly reminded of something Henry James once said:

"We work in the dark, we do what we can, we give what we have , our doubt is our passion, and passion is our task -- the rest is the madness of art."

What I do like, most importantly, is that there is nothing in it which bothers me, there is no fault with it, all the ingrediants have come together as when a chef has created the perfect meal. Its colours are right and they are balanced in both value and hue, and these create 'the drawing' of the picture which has given us just enough of any idea to understand what we are looking at out in Nature.  And yet it is fluid so unlike a realistic likeness which, frozen in time, cannot breath into the wind nor exhale the clouds. The picture is also flattened, compressed like an excited candy bar, wrapper and all. This flat quality is everything I have been secretly coveting since finally 'seeing' Matisse only a just few decades ago. As a painter I came to him late in my life because I didn't know how to jump off Van Gogh's cliff and survive. 

Moreover, I see all of my painting heroes in this small unpretentious study. Of course, I am grateful that I am the author of it, but if I saw it anywhere, on any wall, celebrated or otherwise, I would run to it like a child does to a happy and furry dog. I just love the immediate feeling of joy in this painting. It sings, and I can say this because it is so rare that I have been able to get it right for myself. It is the feeling of surreal clouds at sunset, and for at least once in my life, I managed to get it right. And, it is not locked to the horizon line but can exist beyond it.

But I do not expect anyone else to feel the same exuberance or surprise as me yet at the same time I would certainly wish for it because for me this is what Painting is about; a communication of non-verbal feelings, not about relaying messages. I think this kind of art lives in the shade of humanism and no longer under the shadow of the Church. Today, messaging is best communicated by tweet.

Painting like any other art form is a uniquely personal experience so unlike the messaging of ideas too often shared cerebrally, almost with banal excess and without much of a commitment to any emotional investment. 

Painting and non-fiction literature have so much in common despite their different means of conveyance. A good picture is like great fiction because it’s invented, made up. And every novelist knows that fiction, like a great painting, has more truth in it than real life.

19 June 2022

rose perfume upside down


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 15 June 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

A couple of wonderful evenings of late as I rediscover the winter skies again. This past week the seas have been pale turquoise and the sky goes pink, the colour of perfume. I made six or seven studies over the course of those few days but for fun, I decided to turn this painting (above) upside down to look at it. It's interesting, with perhaps more visual logic than in its original state (below).  

One could say that what is true isn't always real, and in Painting, what is real isn't always true. But the most important thing in Painting is whether or not an image works, real or otherwise. In other words, how does it stand up to time, upside down or not.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 15 June 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

15 June 2022

'Twas beauty that killed the beast

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, June 9 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Well, well, the weather has changed, most thankfully! After I don't remember how many months of incessant rain, the skies are mostly clear, and I am again allowed to work at the beach at twilight. As we approach the winter solstice here on the east coast of Australia the afternoons close up like heavy iron doors each day before 17h. But by the end of next week the days will again grow longer allowing us more light-filled afternoons (hooray!)

When I returned to the motif last week for a string of good days to paint I felt like a novice again, a beginner as if I knew nothing. But because I love the Zen painters of Japan, I can also again love embracing 'beginner mind'. When I know too much about Painting (or anything else) I become a smarty pants, and this is deadly for any artist.

And so I approached the motif with a lot of trepidation but also with excitement too, like a young child. These four studies all came quickly over the last week. What they share is a pale turquoise sea right before the onset of dusk. Many of the other studies dig into the deep violet sea which comes afterward as the twilight deepens into the dark drama of mystery before nightfall. But these in particular have something in them which I really like; They seem to possess that incredible 'lightness of being', (to steal the title of Milan Kundera's brilliant book of yesteryear) and this pleases me, especially the one just above. I am always amazed and grateful that this motif is the gift that keeps on giving and giving, giving ever more generously. 

Of course it's the same motif I first approached five years ago, and its behaviour hasn't altered an iota. What has changed is me, because I am a better painter, because I see better now. And that is what a good and hardy motif can teach even a mediocre painter. 

Somewhere, some French painter of the recent past has said (or must have) something like the following: 

"One tames a motif over time with persistant work from it."

Could it have been Monet? Bonnard? Maybe even Cezanne or Van Gogh who might have written down such a thing but in any event, it was, and is still a modern thought. And so it occurs to me (who is a smarty pants in the end) that maybe this idea is a little backwards. Indeed, if it's even real in the first place or perhaps just a figment of my imagination from having read so much correspondance between painters over the years. But nonetheless, it does occur to me that it may very well be backwards because I have come to understand that it isn't me who has tamed the beast, but the beast who has tamed me. It is the motif which dictates what choices I make and how I will proceed because of them.  

And this reminded me of that famous line at the end of King Kong when the poor beast has fallen 60 stories to its death, a journalist remarks 

"Well, I guess the planes finally got him in the end!" 

to which the film producer responds

"Nah, it wasn't the planes that got him, 'twas Beauty that killed the beast"  

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, June 8 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, June 6 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, June 10 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

01 June 2022

sloppy coherence


        Around Siena, oil on canvas board, 35 X 27 cm

To continue the idea of the last posting, here is a small study made back around in 1986 while in Tuscany on a trip. It's sloppy but there is a feeling in it which I have always liked. Most importantly though it has a feeling in my own painterly sensibility which has endured all this time. Despite its sloppiness there is the universal feeling of Siena under the dry and terrible heat of August. 

The following studies go back a few short years in this Evening Prayer series that I embarked upon in December 2017 and which has remarkably endured for five years. I include them here because they share a certain coherence with all my earlier work. Sloppy still, yes for sure, but hopefully they possess the most crucial element in Painting; that of Unity, which demands the sacrifice and the submission of all the separate parts of a picture to the integrity of whole image. It is at the heart of the French Romantic tradition developed in the second half of the 19th century. And this was my chief education going into both the 20th and 21st centuries. 

3 September 2019 oil on canvas board, 30 X X 25 cm

23 December 2018 oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

29 February 2020, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

       28 March 2021, oil on canvas board 30 X 25 cm