31 March 2023

Maurice Ravel and his blood brothers


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 25 July 2021, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 7 May 2019, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 23 February 2019, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

OK, I have been looking through photos this week because I am selecting a few new images for more postcards. It's purely a vanity project because as we all know, hardly anyone buys or sends postcards anymore, alas,,, and stamps are frightfully expensive too. But hey! I do it for myself because I like both sending and receiving them through Snail Mail, (and because we only live once). 

Already, I have a series of twelve different  cards but I'll add an additional six to make eighteen which will be a happy, round number. These things are important despite what some may think.

So, I came across these studies the other day and I was intrigued with them. They probably wouldn't make successful postcards as they don't look commercially viable though I may do them anyway just for fun. I would love to imagine them stuck with funky magnets on different fridge doors all over the world.

I have also been listening to Maurice Ravel for weeks now while at the same at time perusing all these studies. And I have also been studying a small piece he wrote called Prelude 1913. It was written for students to play as part of their entrance exams into the Conservatory in Paris. As I understood it they were given this piece an hour before the exam and expected to play it before the judges in a giant hall. It's but a tiny fragment of a musical idea, just 1:15 minutes long but it embodies a host of ideas that seem to spring out of it like poppies in Spring. And like a pulse, after just a few measures into it, one can already hear Ravel's own heartbeat coursing through its bloodstream.

And for a painter this is like a fingerprint as when seeing a small fragment by Van Gogh and being able to feel the artist's handiwork within the paint.

But anyway, I still struggle to get this little Prelude right, but its among other pieces I'm learning too so it takes time. 

Over the past year at the very end of each day, I've gotten into the curious habit of playing this Prelude 1913 before getting into bed at night. It's the last act before sleep, after I've locked my doors, shut off the lights and brushed my teeth, I'll sit at the piano, conveniently situated on the way to my small bedroom. There I run through it a few times while reworking small passages here and there that are problematic. I know it by heart of course, but knowing it well, isn't playing it well. It's a fragile piece and it needs a delicate and a soft touch, something I feel I've never had. I think I wear a catcher's mitt on my left hand.

But anyway, Ravel has a way of getting under one's skin and into one's nervous system. Music appears to do that to everyone. Indeed, I think all of humanity sings a billion different melodies all at once. It's one of those distinctive things that make us all human even whilst under the worst of circumstances. It's a lot like laughter. 

Ravel's mellifluous harmonies, like certain kinds of large paintings by Emile Bonnard can also infect one's soul in a particular sort of way, as say, Picasso or Gershwin might in another way altogether. 

Ravel's music, like many in the Romantic tradition, is infused with emotion. It has been criticised by some as being "too sweet", perhaps too "impassioned" or "sentimental". But "Sacré Bleu"! I say,,,, though I can see what they mean when compared to Debussy with whom he is mightily compared. But I don't care, as with apples and pears, I will eat both. And I will always be aligned with those of great feeling in all things Artistic. A Robert Wilson fan, never,,, but Mahler, yes,,, forever.

That's the way I am, and the proof of this is in these three pictures above for they are exercises in pure sensuality. 

Ever since I was a kid I only ever wanted to play with anything that made slurpy marks, anything at all,,,, gravy and mash potatoes on my plate, mud puddles on my way to school, then finger-paint at school and everything afterward. Working in oils was the stepping stone to real Painting, and into the Renaissance of my father's art books.

Yet the personal obsessive question for me has always remained the same;.. and that is:

How do I convey this emotional feeling through Art? If I am not attempting that then what the heck I am doing?

So for me, like Ravel's music, these three pictures are constructed as a bridge to the human heart, to feeling, but not to sentimentality.

25 March 2023

Darn! some daze, it's nothing but questions!


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 22 January 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here are some recent studies which prompted a few thoughts for me to contemplate. 

Firstly, I was thinking that from the very earliest brushstrokes, when beginning a picture, one problem is already present. This problem, like for any novelist or filmmaker, is about how to move coherently towards the solution to end each picture. But indeed, this solution is already linked, inchoate, to every particular individual part in the making of the picture. 

Secondly, how do I paint an image which is so personal and so specific and well-defined, yet not too myopic or solipsistically personal for others to feel and perhaps appreciate?

Because Painting can be such an immediate and emotionally charged art form, it often evokes unique and visceral feelings for different kinds of people. Indeed the world of Art often feels like a wild and untamed Pacific Ocean of creative juice to me. So, how do we, as painters, transcend our own bubble of experience, rendering it poetically communicable to others? Or do we just say,
"There it is, tough shit if you don't get"

So thus, how do we as painters (like great novelists), create a 'fictional world', one within this constraint, and one that can be  cleverly exploited to fully express what we need to express, not just to ourselves, but to others as well?

And if so, how do painters visually communicate? Are we communicating an idea or a feeling? And which is better? Are they the same, or not? There are always so many questions! Too many, really,,, enough to make one crazy when one is just sitting around looking at butterflies and not working..... but questions persist.

If a picture doesn't work for a viewer, is it because the painter fails or because the viewer does? And if it's the painter's fault, is it because it's a poorly-made picture due to his/her technique, or is it just a poor idea?  

But what indeed is a poor idea? Is it one that communicates only a 'photocopy' of the original motif (or idea?) either in one's own imagination, or taken out from Nature? But these are different sources and they can create different problems. 

But if the viewer is at fault, (is this even possible?) is it because they plausibly do not do not have the knowledge or experience to understand a painting? In this case, one could certainly imagine a violinmaker explaining to an amateur the virtues of his newest creation. 

But pushing this question further (as an obsessional naturally would) ask if an idea, for instance, is born from a visual memory or a conceptual rumination? Is an idea born from an experience of using one's eyes out on a motif with the aid of one's memory? Is this what one might would call a visual memory or is this what one might call direct contact with Nature? Is this plain-air painting? (I really detest this expression though I am not sure exactly why).

Ouch, too many questions this week!

But anyway, these three are from January. I liked them then, and still do over a month later. I remember these two below quite well and I see that I was pursuing my persistent obsession of making a flat image from this three dimensional motif out in Nature. On some days this idea is stronger than others because some skies naturally lend themselves more to this idea while others hold onto their more anecdotal elements and render them more 'traditional'.

The one at the top I also like because of the drip of paint inadvertently confusing what could be called the 'drawing', adding another question to the whole darn thing!

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 18 January 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

         Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 18 January 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm