28 October 2023

Divine arrogance, Vive les artistes!



Titian, Portrait of Pope Paul III, 1543, Museo di Capodimonte, Napoli 

There is a wonderful anecdote about Titian that I've always loved. During one of his sessions while he was painting Pope Paul III, he dropped one of his brushes, then he apparently waited until the Pope got out of his chair to pick it up before continuing his work. 

The humility of the Pope is astounding, but the arrogance of the painter is divine. 

Chutzpa! As we say in New York, but then this was a period in history when Court painters were kings in their own right, their currency was their talent. But I suppose that today's contemporary art stars also garner the same status if not the same currency, because status these days is rather cheap.

I once spent two weeks on Capri back in the 1980's while on a painting trip. I found a funky sort of Art Deco hotel overlooking the port where the ferries come in an unfashionable area. It was inexpensive in those days and also quite simple and unpretentious, and I loved it. This was long before Instagram had arrived and declared that stars had been there since before Christ.

The Capodimonte in Napoli, which I discovered on that trip, is a magnificent museum and it houses some of the best of European Painting. 

I would take the ferry into Napoli about every other day or so when I wasn't painting on the other side of the island. This was a great solution for visiting both Capri and Napoli, but also far less stressful than staying in Napoli with a VW. 

I would take the hour long trip across this infamous bay and alight at the port, ready to be a tourist. I prowled around the city and also I went to the Capodimonti several times during that trip, my only one time in Napoli. On one of the top floors one walks into a large room where, I think, I counted about a dozen Titians around all the walls. I was spellbound. 

Among so much beauty there, is also one of my favourite things of all time too, a full length portrait of his daughter Lavinia, whom he used as a model for so many of his larger thematic pictures. It's a real gem, and this small detail of her head, survived decades by living on the inside cover of my small Filofax address book before the arrival of i-cloud. Now, her beatific expression is affixed to one of my tall white IKEA kitchen cabinets along with other relics of my possessive past that randomly decorate my kitchen.

But like so many other jewels hanging on those walls is also one in particular that lives on my computer desktop, a small portrait in profile by one of the greatest Humanist portrait painters of all time, Andrea Mantegna. I cannot resist displaying it here. It's as modern as Matisse but I've already written about these two painters together in the same spirit a few year's back. 

So what the heck, here are a few other things by Mantegna because in this crazy digital world, we need more depictions of real Humanism. I really love these things. They are the best of the best.

And speaking of artists, and the reverence  which they commanded in the cultured life of a great country like France for instance, where painters, writers, musicians and other notables in the sciences, were revered and celebrated enough to grace their bank notes back in the day of the French Franc.

Before the Euro arrived in 2002, Delacroix appeared on the 100 Franc note throughout the 1980's before Cezanne replaced him on the last one before the Euro. Both the writer, Saint-ExupĂ©ry and the painter, Quentin de la Tour appeared on the 50 Franc note but I forget when. Debussy on the 20 Franc note, Berlioz on the infamous 10 France note which I remember well, all these were lost to the Euro, alas! 

But on a reassuring note (no pun intended), shoppers are encouraged to caress the beautiful face of Giacometti that graces the 100 Swiss Franc note that came out in 2019.

Vive les artistes!

22 October 2023

a safe dry place


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 2018, oil on canvas board, 30 X 30 cm 

I had actually thrown this out into a pile of paintings outside my studio to be torched months ago when I suddenly saw it a few days ago wrinkled a bit and looking the worse for wear. After looking at it briefly, I thought, «Yes, this past week, this is how I’ve felt trying to paint here, so protected, and far from the suffering people everywhere else in the world». So I took this photo and brought the painting inside for keeps.

I'm glad I did. Sometimes I cannot "see" anything in a work, I just see the failure in it. Now, I don't pass this off as anything of great value, but I do see something of which perhaps I had not intended at the time. And this is always a personal thing for any creative person and his/her work. As I often say in these pages; it's Time, the ultimate arbitrator. 

So this scrap of a picture, somewhat mildewed but otherwise intact, will find a safe, dry place inside my studio like it's a stray cat from the cruel hard world outside.

20 October 2023

Paintings speaking softly


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

The other night was one of those perfect painting evenings! The Bloom seemed to go on and on for ages perhaps due to a bit of humidity on the sea surface that blurred the feathered colours that scintillated like when stars shimmer, changing colours against a polished black, moonless sky. I made six studies, four small ones and two larger ones. This one above was one of two larger ones done after the others. 

There was delicacy this night as if I were a watching a young Russian girl dancing to Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird, that thematic, sensual melody winding its way from my palette, up into the clouds like in a Walt Disney cartoon. Whewww.

Anyway, as we say in the Bronx, you hadda be there!

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 14 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

There are certain evenings like this when I have felt that all the anguish of painting pictures in this difficult world, one too full of life and death problems for so many unfortunate souls everywhere, can suddenly dissolve in a second, from time to time. Honestly, this past week has shone a spotlight on the inhumanity of humanity. I don't know anyone who hasn't witnessed a profound emotional response or an opinionated debate, either at home or in the media. As far as I can attest, there are just too many loudmouths with mics in basements all over the world. Hmmmm.

Meanwhile, above, and on earth, unknown to the miseries of so many people, there are lots of painters who still attempt to capture an essence of humanity, coaxing it gently, sometimes with great difficulty from the earth, as if soothing a distressed infant. 

I will not add anything more, I'll let the pictures speak quietly, as often paintings do.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 14 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

14 October 2023

Like a snail, leaving a trace

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 3 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here are two of four studies made one night over a week ago. It was a good night, sometimes they just roll in on their own. 

Because they are small they might seem somewhat insignificant but it's what I'm doing in this period, so I don't over-think it, I just roll dice each night in front of the motif. What will they bring? Will I win or lose like on the craps table in Vegas? 

Actually, there is no losing in this creative business since I've wised up enough to learn from every picture, and  each failure.

I like these studies more than the other two which I don't include here. I particularly like them because I feel there is a sense of place and time during that unique moment when I alone experienced their fabrication. They are proof of my existence, both physical and spiritual from that space in time. On even my best days I would be hard pressed to show evidence that I existed, but a painted image is surely proof. 

Elevated slightly up on the dunes I see everything going on. I see the last stragglers of the day who walk the beach and at that hour too, are the bathers who arrive to peel off their clothes and run down to the water's edge jumping into the sea with, or without bathing suits. These days I'm distracted by whales that breach, splashing just offshore and close enough for dogs and kids to see. I'm like the good king who looks out with benevolence upon all living things, animate and otherwise.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 3 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

And those who share this stretch of the beach might see the same sky or perhaps even feel the same way about it, but they won't express it the way I can. Though we may share the same exhilaration at this twilight hour, it is only me who will affix it onto permanence with a cheap canvas board from China that I buy by the box loads. And yet we all share in that moment the weathering sky of our own mortality on this day.

I guess what I'm trying to express is that I'm increasingly attentive to the painting session as a specific moment as well as a specific place. 

In my mind I know I can be quite critical of too many paintings (and painters) these days because I feel that in them I don’t connect with that specific moment in place and time, so consequently, I am nowhere. If I can offer anything to anyone, it’s a specific poetry that’s tied to a place and time.

Yes, I too, wish to make pictures that embody a universal aspect of Painting, something that expresses a world bigger than myself, but I've come to understand that the Universal can only manifest itself if it rises up naturally from a specific work of art. 

I wish for a pictures to leave traces of where, and when they were born. If a painter is lucky enough to be original, this will express itself through the picture because like the snail, a painting should leave a trace.

05 October 2023

Paying attention at dusk


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 20 September 2023 oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 20 September 2023 oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 20 September 2023 oil on canvas board, 25 X 20 cm

I've just picked up a thoughtful book entitled Everyday Zen, by Charlotte Jocko Beck, one that I've read so many times it looks like my dog's play toy, if I were to have a dog that is. Dog-eared, and so full of ink markings that it's still lucky to be alive but needless to say, it's a fave of mine. I normally read a page or two a day. There is enough wisdom in a paragraph to fuel a Tesla to Brisbane and back again. 

She tells the story of being a piano student at Oberlin College.

She walked into her first class with a distinguished teacher who taught with two pianos. "He didn't even say hello, he just sat down at his piano and played five notes, and then he said, 'you do it'. I was supposed to play it just the way he played it. I played it- and he said 'No'. He played it again, and I played it again. Again, he said 'No'. Well, we had an hour of that, and each time he said 'No'.

Now, in the next three months I played about three measures, perhaps a half a minute of music. Now, I had thought I was pretty good: I'd played soloist with little symphony orchestras and yet we did this for three months, and I cried most of those three months. He had all the marks of a real teacher, that tremendous drive and determination to make the student see. And at the end of threes months, one day, he said, 'Good'. What had happened? Finally, I had learned to listen. And as he said, 'if you can hear it, you can play it'. 

She had been playing piano for years but she had not learned how to pay attention, as she writes it.

It's a wonderful anecdote, and an apt one for the art of Painting. I don't think I ever really paid attention until I got into this series at Brunswick Heads. Like a few single notes played on a grand piano, strokes well-placed on a painting reveal how well, or poorly, one is paying attention. I can feel this sensation with each picture but most of the time in each small picture I'm not always paying complete attention. Whatever attention I do possess is too often distracted by small thoughts, thoughts centred on what I'm trying to do, but thoughts all the same, just tangential thoughts. It can 'seem' like I'm paying complete attention because I'm  thinking about certain difficult places in the work but I'm still thinking. Alas. 

But in all this I do know now that when I'm plugged into something, I'm absent and this is the place. It can happen in everything we do intimately, from sex to tennis and back to painting.

But anyway, here are three small studies from last week where I arrived early when the sky hadn't yet 'turned'. The first one usually begins with a gentle Naples Yellow that lingers around before it goes Pink and then to a variety of warm Roses. It's a terrible clichĂ© but these colours always reminds me of different flowers appearing one after the other as they define the 'bloom'. If you need to know what this is, ask any beachcomber to describe it for you. 

The second and third ones (follow in order) announce the Kaleidoscopic development which makes Twilight so extraordinary on every beach around the world, as every beachcomber knows.