31 August 2022

Billy Connolly's languor and the dead roses

It's Billy Collins day, I think to myself softly because I'm alone, and for me, this poem seems like a postcard of summer. And it's the last day of summer UP ABOVE, there in the Northern Hemisphere where my childhood once lived. But down here, DOWN-UNDER in Australia, it's the last day of winter. And to prove it, I hear the light buzz of crickets through the open window for the second night running.  

A dear friend whom I knew many years ago gave me this book sometime during our friendship, when we were still friends and shared secrets, before her two boys were killed on a freeway on their way back home to see her and her husband on that cruel hot day of July 23 2010. This day changed them both completely, as it would, of course. I am not sure they have ever recovered from this tragic loss. My friendship died too (her husband was never crazy about me in the first place to be honest, he just put up with me for her sake, which happens a lot more than we imagine) But with her, all the warmth dried up, dried out, desiccated, like frail roses in a dusty drawer over the following year after the incident. It wobbled for a while until I couldn't find anything more to say into her silence in which she now lived. Then I heard that she was cutting people out of her life like an impatient gardener weeding with poison. 

We were replaced by her dead boys' circle of friends, and one cannot argue with any of this, it is what it is, as they say. 

But I think of her sometimes, especially during the summer, and when I pull out this small book of poems. Here is one of my favourites.


I have come back to the couch-

hands behind my head,

legs crossed at the ankles-

to resume my lifelong study 

of the ceiling and its river-like crack,

it's memory of a water stain,

the touch of civilisation 

in the rounded steps of the moulding,

and the lick of time in the flaking plaster.

To move would only ruffle 

the calm surface of the morning,

and disturb shadows of leaves in the windows.

And to throw open a door 

would startle the fish in the pond,

maybe frighten a few birds from a hedge.

Better to stay here,

to occupy the still room of thought,

to listen to the dog breathing on the floor.

Better to count my lucky coins,

or redesign my family coat of arms-

remove the plow and hive, shoo away the bee.

28 August 2022

Lost and found and discovered dept. Tarsila do Amaral


I confess that I had never heard of this marvellous painter until I read in The New York Times that this painting (above), among others, had been stolen, but then recovered by the Brazilian Police. It was a sordid tale of deception by the daughter of an elderly widow whose husband had left her with a great collection of Art. I saw a cool video on VICE News of the recovery by the police unit the moment when they discover the picture, among others, hidden under the bed of one of the thieves.  

It always gives me a strange feeling to see art works being recovered by police from the various arcane hiding places in so many different country's around the world. Of course, it's not hard to understand why people steal works of art, as it's rarely for any other reason than for the money Ha Ha, but there are those rare and curious souls who feel compelled to do it out of an obsession for something which they cannot seem to live without. And this reason is easily the nobler of the two. 

These fragile pictures, like kidnapped orphans, are ripped from their walls, then stashed usually in sordid alcoves, attics, or other unholy places. These delicate works are later found and pulled from behind fake walls and out from under cheap box spring beds, or just left half-abandoned in sheds in the middle of snowy fields. If and when they are lucky enough to be found, they will find themselves back on the bright warmth of a museum wall, or comfy home to the delight of us all. 

I will let "Grampa" Google guide those, curious enough to look further into her life, for it was an interesting one (better than me re-hashing informational notes which I would've picked off the internet anyway, and because I knew nothing about her, with no opinions nor passions). 

For myself, when I first glimpsed this painting (above) I was captivated, and this is rare. I just love the bold colours and the general harmonies that speak to a particular kind of drawing. For me (again), it seemed quite flat at first, but I quickly saw that the 'drawing' comprises several layers of 'distance' all the way back to the horizon line where a small sun (setting or rising?) wears an oversized cape of orange waves. It's clever and sophisticated, yet looks so simple which is a 'tell', and usually means it's a good painting. 

I don't know what those creatures are in the foreground, (beavers most likely) but it doesn't matter because they serve as a way into the picture by creating this foreground which is usually the entry point into a painting. The beavers in the cool blue of the water are warm in colour, as are the rays of the sun, and all this allows for such cool bluish green foliage to sit into the middle ground with a calm, almost like statues. 

I don't know,.... it's a wonderful painting because it hides its talent and explodes with joy. It surprises, and it works. What else can be asked of a painting?

She really deserves a more in-depth text but that will be for another time. I just wanted to pass on my surprise and admiration for such an originally painter.

Below, are some screenshots I clipped from a cute short video made a visually talented staffer at the Museum of Chicago for their show of Tarsila four years ago.

Who cannot love theses colours?

20 August 2022

Margo Robbie, John Keats, and the problems of great beauty


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 17 July 2022, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

This is a picture from a few weeks ago which came up as a surprise because at the time I had felt so uneasy about what I was seeing. The motif appeared too pretty and I was doubtful of making anything from it; in a word, it was too beautiful, too sweet, almost cloyingly so. Ha! 

And in front of such beauty I tend to shrink away like a toad, and that has been the case since childhood, when in the presence of a pretty girl I melted. But later too, older and unwisely, when confronted with the glorious and natural glamour of a woman I would still deconstruct inside.. But, hey!! Great beauty is troubling, it makes nearly everyone tremble even for just a bit. 

I am still someone who admires beauty but from afar, so painting a 'beautiful' woman is impossible for me for all the same reasons. And thankfully my ideas of feminine beauty has evolved from the dreamy adolescent American I used to be.  

But beauty in Painting, is really, really hard to pull off without it appearing sappy or sentimental, desperate or drippy.  

I need the flaws and the marks of originality, the 'imperfections' in a subject. Of course it's all superficial but this is the teleport fantasy world we seem to live in. 

Then there is 'pretty' which has more to do with adolescence and not to compare with real 'beauty' which is in another world altogether. Think of Margo Robbie, whose beauty seems almost unreal. It's hard to imagine someone winning the corporal lottery like this. She is so remarkable that I had to see several of her films before I could trust her cinematic presence and see her sensitive intelligence. She isn't pretty, but beautiful and glamorous, a million miles away from everyone. 

And though the physical beauty of someone can be real, it's almost certainly contingent upon the conventions of the day only with tiny exceptions. As Rita Hayworth said so iconically; "Men go to bed with Gilda but wake up with Rita". 

So, beauty is a complicated subject, and today, more than ever, it's been turned on its head. In the world of Contemporary Art it has been  despised and much maligned, spurned like evil Igor. But hey! We can deal with it! "Beauty is truth", as John Keats so admirably mused so long ago, and he quickly added "Truth, (is) beauty". As a painter I am all in with this poetic truth of his. I know I seem to go on about this for years now, ad infinitum,.. but hey! That's why I have this space! 

But getting back to this particular evening at the beach (because it has put the spotlight on all this talk and thinking about beauty) I see that it created problems for me asI  work from Nature in this contemporary art world. How indeed, does one render its beauty without all the sappy sentimentality that so often goes along with it? Too many painters fail, I know because I have also failed too many times. So for me, it is in the flaws where they are held, these keys to accessing this secret.  

I have often used the analogy of rock climbing with Painting because the painter, like the climber, needs the cracks and fissures, the tiny veins and small scratchy holes allowing him or her, to find their way up an insurmountably steep smooth rock face, which to an observer, might look sweetly innocent. Like the climber I need a subject's flaws to access the means to reveal the ephemeral beauty herein but I am limited to using just a few primary colours and hog-haired brushes. How else can one avoid this sappy sentimentality? What means does an enthralled painter utilise to strip the motif of its superficial sweetness in order to find the real Rita each morning?  

And so my motif at the beach (above) was way too pretty, far too saccharine, and I needed to find a means to reveal its inner beauty without using tricks of the trade or painterly flourishes nor any cosmetic make-up. In the end I invented it by taking bits here while leaving out bits there. Did I succeed? Who knows? I like it, but then, only timeless eternity will tell if it enters into the Pantheon of Beauty and Truth.


16 August 2022

Pan Am, without tummy tucks


Pan Am, Myocum 8 August 2022, oil on plywood, 240 X 120 cm

Another painting from this past week which both pleased and surprised me. I had struggled with it in my attempts to maintain simplicity by not taking it too far away from my original idea. The problem begins when the picture goes rogue, when my mind thinks it needs a facelift or a boob job, throw in a tummy tuck and a nose job too, and before I realise it, it's hardly recognisable anymore. So, keeping it simple, finding an 'out of the box' solution is often the best way to finish a picture and maintain sanity; Occam's razor for  Painters. 

But this picture I like, especially now that it's finished because I was (somewhat) able to stay true to what I had originally desired. But don't get me wrong, I like it sometimes when paintings go rogue, when I lose control over them, when I don't have a clear and solid idea of where I need to go. Herein, is a worthy struggle for all mice and men. For me, problems generally arise when I lack a vision or the necessary clarity to allow for it to veer off on its own with the confidence to follow it home like walking a dog at night without a leash.

Over the years I have certainly had several painting studios full of such orphans that either die slowly, mummified deaths, or those luckier ones who do get face lifts, tummy tucks, and all the rest until they are completely unrecognisable to me.

But in this series Pan AM I am determined to keep it simple (Occam's Razor!), to paint discreet pictures; large, and with simple colour harmonies and and even simpler drawings but that develop more and more relationships, all without losing the unity of the whole composition (Occam's Razor be damned).

11 August 2022

curious critters, Leo Fitzmaurice @ The Sunday Painter in London

I am generally not too wild about a lot of galleries I come across or read about, but I have always been fond of this one; The Sunday Painter, located in South London. It's an eclectic group of painters who began this 'collective' about 20 years ago or so. I have been following it for about a decade and naturally, I was drawn to it for its name. I am after all, the original Sunday Painter!

Being artists and creative Brits, they have followed their own road and their taste is quite original and varied. I have never been there though if I had thought of it four years ago when I had the time in London, I could have, I should have just gone, but it slipped my mind. 

And I am not naturally drawn to most of the artists they show but I respect their curatorial choices which I think are original and worthy. 

But this clever artist, craftsman is wonderful, and so talented. I liked him immediately, who could not? I will let the readers peruse for themselves, at their discretion, all the info found on the gallery's website about Leo Fitzmaurice. For now, enjoy!


08 August 2022

the fine art of illustration


I saw this last week in the NYT, and I just loved this image! This is very strong.

It's a difficult truth but Great illustrators are often so much more talented than even just the good painters these days. They really put them to shame, but then again it is the New York Times which has a stable of the very best of the best of so much.

Not much more to say about it except maybe that where a great illustration hits its mark is always in its graphic punch. This is usually where 'fine artists' seem to fall down. But Subtly, too, is a fine art in the world of illustration and a difficult thing to teach, to learn too. One has it or one doesn't. 

07 August 2022

Really?? No wonder civilians hate Contemporary Art


Yes! I know I am a killjoy when it comes to certain kinds of Contemporary Art. After all, Contemporary Art is a big tent and it has to be because in fact, it is what's going on in today's world of art. But hey! This is too easy of a tried trick, like fast food, of which most is junk and made that way because the Corporate world doesn't care about what the public consumes. And I would say the same about this. High end art galleries and museums and institutions operate the same way. Directors and curators are trying to hang onto their own tenuous jobs in a rough and tumble world of money and crappy content. 

But this particular installation feels tiresome and worn out and even by 1996 it was already a cliché but today it feels like a Hollywood film trying to pull the wool over its audience with cheap effects. Joseph Bueys did all this stuff years earlier and he did it much better.

Alas,,,,, what to do?

04 August 2022

Ikigai and the value of wealth


'reason for being
Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means your 'reason for being. ' 'Iki' in Japanese means 'life,' and 'gai' describes value or worth. Your ikigai is your life purpose or your bliss. It's what brings you joy and inspires you to get out of bed every day.7 May 2021

Ikigai, as explained above, is the Japanese equivalent to the French term raison d’etre, meaning (though slightly more laboriously) the purpose for one's whole being. But anyway, and typically, as with all things Japanese, there is a holistic idea embellished within and it embodies a comprehensive understanding of the Nature of all things. I say this because in America, it seems that there is a great divide between the world of Man as regards to flora and fauna. The American mind conquers Nature in stark contrast to the way of the Japanese which is born of an older culture, one that had been relatively isolated for several thousand years. It seems to me that their own human experience of living in the Natural world of plants and animals has arisen from folding themselves into their own geography. This is an advantage of living on a small island unlike the large continent called the United States. 
But, I am already off track because I really just wanted to speak to this idea Ikigai from a painter's point of view because when I came across it I was reminded of how privileged it is to be a painter in this increasingly hyper-technical world of machines. So many people in the developed world appear to be falling into a funnel of dysfunction due to a lack of any personal pathway in life that is separate from an attachment to these new 'smart' devices. To proceed ahead in life with enough means to provide for housing one's own family, educating their children and having the free time to express themselves creatively is a challenge despite also a living in a world of ease unheard of even 100 years ago.
The privilege of a life lived as any creative person, someone whose devotion places a complete attention to the creative act at all times is an anomaly in this new world of technology. 
But again, I go off on tangents. I suppose what I am asking is just how does one live any creative life, and what sacrifices does one need to make in order that happen? I don't know the answer, I used to think it was just having enough of a material means to get by but now I think it's much more than that.
For me, it means living in a space hovering between both the past and the future, a place where one's own personal history has confronted the fear of death. Because I have no family which is a luxury and a curse, it's a place where the importance of one's day is completely bound up in 24 hour cycles. It's a place where one has enough, and one doesn't need much more. It is enough to work at one's own craft knowing that the fact of failure is paramount in the day. 
I used to have a few things in life, material things but any more desire to acquire has been supplanted by the thirst to just live creatively in the unknowable present. And Painting, like so many other vocations is a perfect vehicle for this endeavour.   
I suppose that being an American naturally means to manifest American Exceptionalism. It means to be bold and courageous, it means carving out a life with little care to the Natural world or of even of one's consequences. But also as an American I was brought up to acquire, yes to create too, but mostly to create more and more money, material wealth. And this is at odds with Ikigai wherein the notion of wealth means something different, something where to have values means everything. With this understanding, is not the wealth of values more important than the value of wealth?
To live as an artist in today's world is enough, more than enough.