06 February 2024

Twin sisters, the taming of the shrews


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 31 January 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads 1 February 2024, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Here are similar studies from two successive nights this last week. I am so grateful to be out there painting again after several months of mushy weather that was not compatible with painting nor with my personality. Yes, one can, and should paint in any weather, but hey! I'm a guy from the Bronx, and as we age we get real fussy, OK?

But honestly, these do not do justice to the 'Blooms' of the past week where the magnanimous gods were so generous to me. And alas, I cannot seem to get anywhere close to rendering their outrageous beauty nor their brazen outlandish elegance. Though they are from different evenings they feel like twin sisters.

These humid days I have to push myself out of the house to paint down at the beach. They may sound awful to someone in the wintry DrĂ´me, like a whiny, curdled old man who exclaims: "I have to go the the beach just 10 minutes away. Yuck!.." Indeed, it would also come off awfully  spoiled to someone living under grey skies of Paris too... Boo Hoo...

But anyway, this is my life, not at all glamorous nor exciting, but not uninteresting and with a touch of bohemian chill. 

So, eventually I gulped an expresso, and before I knew it, I was out the door and leaving my lazy dog of a personality on the couch. 

Arriving at the dunes, I unpacked and quickly made a palette. I generally try to give myself enough time to jump into the sea before painting because this is what really wakes me up. The sea is wonderful of course, but also 'rippy', full of fast moving tidal rips so I'm careful after almost having drowned here about six years ago. But as usual, I then began to paint just as the sky was about to ripen. 

For both of these studies, the same thin, pinky line of clouds were crossing the horizon, it was a classic evening. They both began the other night with an unusually strong acrid yellow in the sky, that colour Van Gogh adored, and it does appear from time to time around here. It's so yellow green that it looks like penicillin growing upon a lemon on the shelf. But quite soon, on both nights, all hell broke loose and colours flew around like embers from a giant fire. Pink turned Purple and then into a pale Prussian Blue almost like a faint shadow. It resembled the deathly hue with which some many painters depicted Christ in early Renaissance renditions of the Pieta. Then, as if dead, this ghostly colour rises into the heavens to evaporate miraculously. The sea below, discreetly follows suit, and honestly, it's so fantastical that at times I cannot distinguish between hallucinations and real life. Is it me or God?

But in any event, these skies feel so alive and so unreal at times that I think I'm going to pee in my shorts.

The downside to all this divine ecstasy is that despite these studies that began so enthusiastically bold, so wildly spontaneous and free, I nonetheless managed to tame them as if they were dangerous circus animals. Oh, what a shame! I fall prey to my inner obsession with formal structure and thereby reducing the picture to thick stripes; careful and sure.

It's not always the case, but it usually happens when I begin to over-work a study. I groan when I feel it kicking in but by then it's almost impossible to correct course. Apparently, there is a policeman living inside me along with the lion trainer. I think I need an angel to intervene.

I close with this short bit of wisdom from one of my only heroes of 20th century American Painting, the great Philip Guston. 

"Everyone destroys marvelous paintings. Five years ago you wiped out what you are about to start tomorrow. 

Where do you put form? It will move around, bellow out and shrink, and sometimes it winds up where it was in the first place. But at the end it feels different, and it had to make the voyage. I am a moralist and cannot accept what has not be paid for, or a form that has not been lived through.

Frustration is one of the great things in art; satisfaction is nothing."

Because I'm a wise guy, a smarty pants of the worst sort, I would add a small twist to this right after the first paragraph. Here goes:

"And today, you will ruin what you will succeed doing in five years hence."  



  1. Your writing is as colorful as the paint you torment.