30 January 2024

Mike Sadler vs the bully boys


What has happened to this spoiled generation? But I won't just single out Britain because this weird world of young (and old) humanity appears to be everywhere. 

I was so moved by this story (above) about Mike Sadler and his actions as a clever soldier during WW2. I invite the reader to google him to find out more. It's a remarkable story of bravery and heroism at a time in history when there was already a surplus of these traits overflowing the British borders. 

Was it not because they rose to the challenge of fighting off a crazed German nation, that their lives depended upon it? Boys became men overnight, and the British people became united after a decade of political squabbling. It was, as they say, an existential threat, and they took it on with that stoic British sense of pride. Americans too, faced this threat, and they too lost many young men and young gals, but from the safety of their geographical position. My uncle died flying raids to Germany in a B17. He was barely out of school. Europe, as a whole also lost an entire young generation.

So why are we so different today? Have we all lost our moral compasses? Has our sense of decency been deformed by too much information over the internet?  I don't have the answer. But these two fellows (below), who are the grandchildren of what we have always called 'The Great Generation' of the post WW2 era are certainly poster boys for this weird contemporary world.

"Things change", as the philosophers say, it's the way of Nature, of life, and the world. But how sad it must be for British families who had lost so many sons and daughters during WW2 to have to face Newspaper Headlines depicting these ignoble mugs.

But indeed, there are times for glory and there times for cowardice. We seem to be living in the latter, yet in spite of that, there are unsung angels working everyone around us, hiding in plain sight, as it were, from hospitals to hospices, relief agencies to middle schools, so let us not forget these heroic angels when we come across a pair of unworthy bully boys. 


26 January 2024

The greatest Jazz trio ever; Satie, Monk and Bonnard!

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 28 December 2023, oil on canvas board, 30n X 25 cm

I have hardly been out to the Dunes to paint for  weeks now due to the weather. They had announced a hot dry summer this year, with high risk of fires, but up here on the North Coast of new South Wales it has been wet and wild. So I have been in the studio quite a bit and doing different, larger things. 

But here are studies, (two out of three done that day) which came one after the other a few weeks back when a window of sun opened up. I like them both but didn't include the third because it bored me. These two may be simple but they're not boring, for me anyway. They both seem to open up something from my past but my future too, like I'm standing in the middle of the doorframe.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 28 December 2023, oil on canvas board, 30n X 25 cm

And this idea brings me to music, because with a black coffee each morning, I sit at my piano and practice for a few hours each day purely for the joy of it. I am an amateur and who plays for fun, and I admit it without apologies to all the miseries going on in the world at home an abroad. Though I am mostly learning Jazz harmony, I've also been learning various small things from my favourites composers; Ravel and Satie mostly. Just six weeks ago, I began a new one, Satie's 4th Gnossienne, and I've just finished memorising it. Like so many other amateurs I really do love this process of learning these small works because of how they cement me into the present moment, day after day, after day. And like tennis practice, it's both cerebral and corporal all at once. The body remembers the bits the mind cannot grasp, and vice-versa.

For me, at my age, I make every effort to keep the mind switched on by all means possible. And ditto for the body, for which I also scheme to find opportunities to walk more each day as my heart doctor prescribes. 

So regarding music, I'm still like a child, fascinated and curious, but alas, with an older body. My end goal is just to be able to match any melody in my mind with an improvised harmony. Playing another composer's work has its own rewards but to be able to play what goes in my own heart and mind is another thing altogether. How I envy kids who learn instruments!

So, while practicing a Gnoesienne this morning something occurred to me that also relates to Painting too; To get to one I need to pass through the other. Basically it means that for me to really hear a composer like Thelonious Monk, I need to go through Erik Satie.

Monk and Satie, despite their great differences, are musicians of extreme originality, and they both seem to come from the weirder orbits of their own particular eras much like Vincent Van Gogh from his own.  

What I wanted to say is that I learn the mechanics of harmony from Satie in order to improvise whatever melodies exist in my head and which definitely go more towards Monk who is from my own period.

And this brings me to the world of Painting because as a colourist, I needed to pass through Pierre Bonnard, the great colourist of French Painting to understand colour, but also light too. Other painters will choose other teachers naturally, but we all need to find our own guides into the wild world of Painting and music. In other words, we all have to come from somewhere before we can even go somewhere else, unconsciously, or not.

But for the painter who values colour, Nature is the greatest teacher, but only if one learns to harness its charms. All the answers are in Nature if we, as painters, learn to ask the right questions. Somehow I thinks it's this way in writing Fiction or even writing a ballad too, because like painters using their eyes, writers and composers are also ask questions with their minds and the ears. All creative acts comes from the senses in one form of curiosity or another, and all ask questions of the natural world at large.

So in my roundabout way, I really wanted to say that these two small paintings are in essence, my own two questions of Nature's wild sea and sky here in Australia. Both are formulated by curiosity and craft yet both are also governed by my senses. But in the end, the elusive answer will always be the resulting painting itself.  

To a tourist these paintings might seem similar, but they are discreetly distinct due to the changing delicacies of the sky. A painter, me, in this case, needs to understand just what I really want and need from a motif. If I ask the right questions, I might be led more easily to a a successful painting which is the answer.

And yes, I know, all this may sound terribly obvious,,,, but you know, over time, it really does become even more more obvious.

19 January 2024

Whistler, an American cloud over Britain

James mcNeill Whistler, 1834-1903, (American)
As I'm apt to say in these pages, if a painting doesn’t get better with time, it diminishes (a fact for all Art, I believe). And here is a picture of such spontaneous clarity that it takes one's breath away. I cannot remember where it came from but it's been sitting on my desktop for years now, and I've certainly already written about it previously, but today, I see that there is always more to love about it.

How does a painter render such intimacy within the corners of such a vast and open panorama? The Dutch were brilliant at this style, indeed, they invented it, but with their small brushes,  these small pictures can often feel tight, self-conscious and repressed like their Calvinist lives.

This is clearly a landscape in a more classic vein but it also feels so British, upon whose love for the wild land it reposes. It's a small study and looks to be done out in the fields 'à la Française' and perhaps executed on a hard panel. This horizontal landscape painting gives the sky prominence, as if to say;
"Everything below is in order, now go play in the clouds and have fun".

Whistler's interest, his real love, I believe, are the clouds and sea. This is a painter who, like Turner, and Constable, really loved the 'Northern' sky, the oftentimes savage brutality of stormy spray that allowed these great men to let go and play like children. 

The drawing of the farm (already remarkable) seems to hide shyly away atop a horizon of gentle rustic fields. This is just enough to glue these descending meadows to the playful  sky overhead. Playful and rendered abstractly, these clouds appear like watercolour washes.

More to be revealed.

09 January 2024

An amends to Matisse, craft and technique

Ok I bashed Matisse so much in my last post I've felt a tremor of guilt these past days. Sacré Bleu! So, with a heightened sense of artistic shame, I shall make amends with a few more images from Paris that reveal his remarkable agility in using paint. 

I actually tried to find images that reflected my critical discomfort with some of his work that might sometimes, though infrequently, seem too 'academic' as per my understanding about art. But honestly, I could find little, nothing of consequence that would help further my thinking in this regard. But, I did find one, a still-life below that illustrates my critique, a real clunker. And yet, the truth for any painter is that, he (or she), must endure the occasional clunkers, even if they arrive at great intervals throughout our working lives. But obviously, one doesn't want to fill one's precious life with too many clunkers.

And it's true that I'm a critical person by nature, most definitely suited for speaking about art. And yes, I go after laughably pretentious examples of poor work by phoney desparate-for-success painters. These are often people who have all the accoutrements of 'being an artist' as opposed to being a painter with a diligent application of craft. This is akin to people mistaking 'celebrity' at the Hollywood Oscars for serious actors who employ their thespian craft on stage. Okay,,,, I know,,, I know,,, I can get off target, but hey! It's a new year! And with the new year comes new problems, new critiques!

But lately these days, I have noticed that to be seen as an artist, to be taken seriously as an 'artiste', it definitely helps to look the part; the wild colourful clothes, the wilder haircuts, the adornment of abundant and edgy tattoos! All these things are great for expressing indivuality in this conservative world, but these external identities eventually just fade away with time, just like ours looks (except the tattoos) for these physical artifices cannot in themselves actually produce much substance. Any work executed without some notion for craft will wilt like flowers because one cannot fake the greatness that lies in the ephemeral shadows of permanence. This is especially true when one is armed with just technique, because employed on its own, it's always mistaken for craft. 

So, after all that, here are eight pictures from different periods which show off the immense talents of Matisse, pictures that reveal the mysteries of his craft in full swing. The ninth, and last at the bottom, is what I deem the real clunker, one typical of when his craft doesn't work for him. It kind of sinks of its own weight. But I wanted to include it because I had previously written of this vein deep inside Henry Matisse that could run shallow due to his earnest desire to please a public audience, one which all academic teaching at that time had aspired to please. 

Somehow, in 19th century France, the acquisition of certain painting techniques at the Beaux-Arts was thought to be the integral component for making an artist. And because of this, like so many academic traditions everywhere, The Beaux Arts institution habitually cranked out boring academic painters whose only skills were centred upon this system alone.

But concerning Matisse, I think this 'vein' deep within him retreated just as the wild animal (le fauve) inside, had progressed with more undomesticated artistic appetite. But, alas, (for me only), by the end of his life, to my regret, his cut-outs (wildly adored by the public) became a step backward into the comfort of domesticity. I say this not without deep sympathy because he was not in great health near the end of his life, often bedridden, and so, making cut-outs was an agreeable compromise. He was such a titan that one cannot fathom how he must have felt to be growing weaker while his artistic powers were still aflame. 

Writing about him suddenly makes me want to re-read his biography in two volumes by Hilary Spearling that I read about a decade ago and loved so much. Maybe, I shall order it on Audible, for some kinds of things are best read while others heard. 


the clunker in question