14 February 2023

punished and sent to bed without dinner!

Evening Prayer Brunswick Head, 16 January 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Three dark pictures, taciturn, like naughty children who were punished and sent off to their rooms for misbehaving. They are not happy about it! In fact, they remind me of ME, when I was punished and sent to my room without dinner. Whether we like it or not, it appears that our past will always keep sending us postcards from places long ago that we would rather forget.

But these three were done on a rough and stormy-looking night. In the late afternoon I had driven out to the beach because the sky had looked decent from the house, but darn it, Mother Nature fooled me as it often does because it was overcast. I had had misgivings already when I hit the road and saw the dark sky but, "what the hell", I thought, I had been home all day and wanted to get out. After a ten minute drive I arrived and parked carrying my painting gear up the sweet little path about 60 meters further on to the small dune where I normally paint. The beach was windy and desolate but I set up anyway. My outings there had been sporadic all summer long due to the weather and I really missed these afternoon sessions. 

Though a bit confused by the form of so many clouds all jumbled together into a flat pile, I nonetheless jumped into the first painting above without too much thought and I quickly lost my way,. .. Ha Ha,... and so much for rigorous restraint. Remarkably though, I was able to 'bring it back' and save it by turning it into something I had not at all anticipated. It's now not at all unpleasant but just something very different than what I had had in mind. 

In fact, though surprised, I was reasonably happy with it, but the weather discouraged me from beginning another one from this dark and difficult sky. So I brought out two older studies which I had brought to see if I could also 'bring those back from the dead' and perhaps put them into an acceptable state.  

But there is something about these two older paintings (below) that make them somewhat unusual. When they were done (years earlier) they were not quite right, either just plain boring or perhaps just 'unfinished' or 'unrealised', which was what I actually felt about them. But anyway, they were unacceptable and worthless to me in their present state. No drama, this happens all the time to paintings. Often, paintings will either get better with time or worse. Unlucky paintings might appear great when just finished but over time they quietly fall off the podium and end up in the leprosy ward. Still others might look awful when just painted but improve with age like a bottle of whiskey. It's really out of our earthly hands, and as any artist knows, the Gods regulate all this stuff in the end.

But these two were rather mediocre, somewhat lifeless from the get-go and whether as Dr Frankenstein or Doctor Good, my desire was always to give them a life of their own. 

So over the past few weeks I have begun pulling these poor things off the shelf a few at a time and putting them into the boot of the car with the rest of my painting gear. When I have finished a session and my palette is drenched in colour, and importantly, if the skies seem to vaguely line up with an idea, I will put them on the easel, look at the motif, and throw colour at them to see what comes of it. What is that expression for politician's behaviour so prevalent on CNN roundtables these days? 

"Throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks?" 

After all, I have nothing to lose. Sometimes I pull it off while at others it's a lesson in exasperation. 

But Painting is not a zero-sum game as many seem to understand the rest of life to be, (mostly financiers to be honest). Still, the native American Indians (who are still a wise bunch) often quip: 

"Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you". It has nothing to do with a zero-sum game at all, its simply bad luck.

In any event I am reasonably happy with the first painting below, though there is that bit of scruffy-looking light on the righthand side that I might still tone down ever so gently if I get to it.

But I am really happy with the one below it, for it came out just right, to my complete surprise. And it was ALL just good fortune, really good luck, because this time around, the E.R. doctor inside me managed to revive this cadaver. But I have no idea how I did it. It happened so quickly, perhaps within ten minutes. It was done like in a dream that one quickly forgets upon awakening. It comes at the surprise end of a long trek home.

There is much to say about all this but it will have to wait for the next time to go further into this subject of what constitutes the idea of 'Finish' when considering a painting. 

Anyway, I always learn so much by going deeper and deeper into a picture, almost against my own instinct, like a cave inside myself, deeper and darker, until I feel as if I am back in my childhood bedroom again and still being punished without dinner.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Head, 16 January 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Head, 16 January 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm


  1. « What the hell? » Good for you for persevering. I like the last result the best, and I’ve always been interested in when a painter or any other kind of artist really knows when a work is done. I’ll look forward to that piece!

    1. That is me, by the way—came out as Anonymous, funnily!