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

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