Friday, February 28, 2014

Painting the de-constructed picture.....

The following photographs chart the first stages of painting this image of an unmade image, which is also a geometric abstraction based on both the form and space of the picture frame.  Based on careful direct observation of the collage with a clear directional natural light from a window on the left, I have tried  to balance both the build up and breakdown of the absent/present picture/s. The key thing at this stage is to get the warm/cool complementary chromatic browns and greys and the tonal balance to resonate and to paint both positive and negative shapes equally without trying to represent anything realistically - it's a painting not a collage - it must work as a painting and be about oil paint even though it seems to be about paper - one media commenting on another - one real illusion referencing another illusory reality. 

In between bouts of oil painting I have been patching up the cracked plaster in the bathroom - another deeply satisfying process. It seems ironic that if this work is done really well it is invisible - it negates itself strangely - its presence is its absence. The patches of fresh plaster below still need to be painted white, but the muted warm creams, whites and silver tones are aesthetically pleasing just as they are, like white linen, porcelain and polished silver on a dinner table. 

These ordinary activities involve effort, concentration and a state of calm, still focus over relatively short or long periods of time.  Could these be valid, useful objects of meditation like the breath in Anapanasati or the various subjects for reflection in the Satipantthana Sutta ? 

Anapansati Sutta from Access to Insight website

Clearly regular formal sitting meditation is complemented by other skilful means. Can art like language be a form in which calm and insight can be experienced, embodied and communicated?

The sculpture below, from the Cinquantenaire museum in Brussels is a 12th cen. stone representation of the Buddha in meditation from Cambodia with Mucalinda, the the Naga king, sheltering him from the rain. It is one of the most animate inanimate objects I have ever seen.  Balancing both a vertical and horizontal movement in the enfolded relationship between the snake and the human form it appears to  be alive - to almost breath - to be, to paraphrase Elliot, a still point in the turning world, the point of intersection between time and the timeless....... 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Serial collage 6 - final stage and drawing...

During the break I have finally managed to get one of the collages ready to work from and today started to work on the drawing stage from observation.  I want to balance the processes of building up and breaking down, of accretion and erosion, accumulation and dissipation, assertion and negation, positive and negative, form and space. 

I am surprised by just how much colour there really is in the subtle nuances of grey, brown, pale yellows, cream and white and how rich the tonal and warm/cool resonance can be. I really like the challenge of this muted palette and its quietness.  

The final collage above is slightly more three dimensional than the penultimate stage of the collage below and the white tape, torn paper and mounted edges help to create more shadow and  shallow relief.  

Also framed up three more in the series with 2cm deep box frames which make the painting feel like an object as well as a surface and also develop and extend the idea of the frame beyond the tromp l'oeil  paper edges and actual perimeter of wooden surface with its real shadow and into boundaries between  the actual frame and the wall.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ramayana in Brussels from Delhi

On Sunday went to the Musee Cinquantenaire to see ‘Ramayana, Indian Miniature Art from the National Museum, New Delhi.' 
There were 101 small paintings illustrating the entire story in various styles from between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries framed and 'boxed' in an arrangement that followed a clockwise sequence around the temporary walls of the small room usually used for the collection of works from India but adapted and specially lit for this exhibition.  
Hali Magazine's December the 5th edition 2013 explains the Ramayana as:
  'One of the classic Hindu epics of India- a story of courage, loyalty, friendship and justice with deep religious significance which has been a great source of inspiration for artists throughout the centuries. Originally written in Sanskrit by the poet Valmiki more than two thousand years ago, the Ramayana tells of the many adventures and ordeals endured by the Rama during his fourteen years of exile. Banished to the forest, a long and laborious search for his beloved wife Sita who has been abducted by the cunning ten-headed demon king Ravana ensues, with help from his half-brother Lakshmana and an army of monkeys led by the monkey general Hanuman.  Many Indians see the hero Rama as a deity and still venerate him as one of the ten reincarnations of the god Vishnu' 
In December in the National Museum in Delhi I saw many beautiful tiny paintings with the same jewel like rich colour and tonal resonance and intense observation of natural forms in trees, rocks, birds, animals, flowers and plants, a quality of line and pattern pulsating with life and movement and full of human drama and storytelling. All these qualities can be seen in the painting below of squirrels in a plane tree with its soft rounded purple grey rocks and pale dusty brown squirrels, sandy coloured sky and golden autumn leaves. 

Squirrels in a Plane Tree attempting to gain hold of the tree.
Attributed to Abu’l Hasan, 1605-08 Johnson Album

What I find particularly interesting is the framing of interior and exterior spaces within the conventions of the frame on the page, which is very evident with scenes set in architectural spaces. Palaces and courtyards with terraces, loggias, windows and doors all serve this purpose in extraordinarily imaginative and creative ways. 

The painting below from the exhibition has what appears to be two small Hindu temples inside the larger mogul style palace complex. The 'herringbone' perspective and isometric projections of walls, windows and doors serve to frame the processional movement of repeated motifs in a pattern white, red, yellow and black elements both into and through the space in a curving S shape. 

Bharata returning to Ayodhya with Rama’s padukas (sandals)
Based on the story of Adhyatma Ramayana
Jaipur-Datia mixed style, Rajasthan, mid 18th century
Artist: Guman
Paper 30.5 x 41 cm

Friday, February 21, 2014

Reworking an old canvas with new energy....

Started today to rework this approx. 150x100 cms oil and charcoal on canvas painting in the art studio. I began painting it a couple of years ago and then left it to one side with the intention of returning to it sooner rather than later. It is quite strange picking it up again where I left off - its like meeting an old friend and continuing a conversation after many years as if it was only yesterday.  

The charcoal study below which I made recently has helped to rekindle interest and plot an approach to working on the central of the three spinal columns. I want to explore the relationship between these three curving columns of vertebrae  and the rhythms and patterns of the the rib cages and joints as they repeat. There is a fair bit of built up impasto in the central figure and transparent washes on the drawing in the two flanking forms which I would like to retain and also develop with further layers and super-impositions and counter rhythms. I don't quite know how it will all resolve yet - if it does at all this time around - but I want to keep the marks and paint fresh, alive and spontaneous - if this is possible with a skeleton !  


This is the state of play when I left off painting this afternoon.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ascetic Aesthetic

Saw the Zurbaran exhibition at the Bozar in Brussels with friends and colleagues on Sunday. The Caravaggesque dramatic play of light and shadows across fabric and flesh, contrasting deep almost black shadows with pale translucent skin and crisp white linen folds with dark warm browns and cool greys resonated in the best works. Occasionally there are intense reds, pale pinks, dusty blues and golden ochre in the expressively creased and animated surfaces of different fabrics from rough woollen cowls to rich brocades and embroidered vestments. This sensual and aesthetic delight in the tactile, visual characteristics of various material forms transmuted into painterly qualities contrasts with the ascetic other-worldly gazes of the Dominican and Franciscan contemplatives who have renounced the world and seem to be almost exclusively focused on transcendent spiritual realities that appear dramatically immanent to them in the objective world they inhabit, which is presented to us within the conventions of the picture frame.  

 Fracisco de Zurbaran.  St Francis. 1660

Despite some rather sickly, saccharine and unconvincing representations of the Baby Jesus and some frankly bizzare representations of cherubim and seraphim as disembodied babies heads in clusters like balloons at a children's party, usually designed to support a floating Virgin Mary, there were a significant number of paintings that held ones attention, the most powerful of which dealt with the existential realities of suffering and death and these pinned one to the space in front of the painting to engage in a parallel fixed contemplative gaze. 

Elsewhere the small, familiar, unassuming and ordinary objects of everyday life, a flower, a silver platter, a basket of fruit, and a cup of water and saucer, were charged with an intense silence and stillness that transformed the simple act of observation into a meditation on the ultimate nature of time and space. 

A Cup of Water and a Rose, 1630
Francisco de Zubaran

Saturday, February 15, 2014

'Dem Dry Bones.........'

Finished the chalk and charcoal drawing below last week ...........

Intro 1
Ezekiel connected dem dry bones,
Ezekiel connected dem dry bones,
Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones,
Now hear the word of the Lord.
Verse 1
Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
Shin bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
Neck bone connected to the head bone
Now hear the word of the Lord.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Now hear the word of the Lord.
Intro 2
Ezekiel disconnected dem dry bones,
Ezekiel disconnected dem dry bones,
Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones,
Now hear the word of the Lord.
Verse 2
Head bone (dis)connected from the neck bone
Neck bone connected from the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected from the back bone
Back bone connected from the knee bone
Knee bone connected from the shin bone
Shin bone connected from the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected from the heel bone
Heel bone connected from the foot bone
Foot bone connected from the toe bone
Now hear the word of the Lord.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again.
Now hear the word of the Lord.
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.
Now hear the word of the Lord.

Text from

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Articulate spaces and eloquent silences....

Listening yesterday evening to a BBC radio 4 programme about the late English composer John Tavener I was struck by something he said in a recorded interview about the relationship between music and ikons, sound and images.  

  This quality of stillness is something that I think is essential to any music that aspires to the sacred and I think the analogy with the Ikon is a very striking one because the Ikon changes you. By looking at the Ikon one is changed, by looking at the Ikon one is reduced to ones knees - and this is the quality that all sacred art has - this quality of silence. I want the music to be a kind of sounding Ikon 

Tavener's religious and musical influences were clearly wide ranging from his Prebyterian roots to his interest in modern music, like Stravinsky, and medieval Western religious music, Eastern orthodox chants and liturgy and Indian musical traditions.

The American composer John Cage, famous for his iconic minimalist piece 4'33", also talked about silence in his book of lectures and writing entitled 'Silence' ( Wesleyan University Press 1961) and here in a youtube recorded interview uploaded in 2007. 

When I hear what we call music it seems to me that someone is talking and talking about his feelings or about his ideas of relationships, but when I hear traffic,  the sound of traffic here on Sixth Avenue for instance, I don't have the feeling that anyone is talking. I have the feeling that the sound is acting and I love the activity of sound. What it does is gets louder and quieter, it gets higher and lower, and it gets longer and shorter, it does all these things, which I am completely satisfied with that I don't need the sound to 'talk' to me. We don't see much difference between time and space. We don't know where one begins and the other stops - so that most of the arts we think of as being in time and most of the arts we think of as being in space. 

Marcel Duchamp, for instance, began thinking of time, I mean thinking of music, as being not a time art but a space art and he made a piece called 'sculpture musicale' which means different sounds coming from different places and lasting, producing a scupture whch is sonorous and which remains. People expect listening to be more than listening and so sometimes they speak of inner listening or the meaning of sound. 

When I talk about music it finally comes to people's minds that I am talking about sound that doesn't mean anything, that is not inner but is just outer, and they say, these people that understand that finally say, - 'you mean its just sounds' thinking that for something to just be a sound is to be useless, whereas I love sounds, just as they are and I have no need for them to be anything more than what they are. I don't want them to be psychological, I don't want them to pretend to be a bucket or the president or that its in love with another sound, (laughing) I just want it to be a sound and I am not so stupid either. 

There was a German philosopher, he is very well known, Immanuel Kant and he said there are two things that don't have to mean anything, one is music and the other is laughter (laughing)..... don't have to mean anything that is in order to give us very deep pleasure (addressing the cat) and you know that don't you... (laughing)

The sound experience which I prefer to all others is the experience of silence  and the silence almost everywhere in the world now is traffic; if you listen to Beethoven or to Mozart you see that there always the same but if you listen to traffic you see that its always different.   

The following description of the last moments of the Greek Poet C. P. Cavafy, resonate for me, with what Elliot calls in 'The Four Quartets', 'the point of intersection of the timeless with time' which Luang Por Ajahn Sumedho has referred to in his Dhamma talks in relation to the 'deathless', 'unconditioned', 'unborn' or 'uncreated'.   

He continued to live in Alexandria until his death, from cancer of the larynx, in 1933. It is recorded that he received the Holy Communion of the Orthodox Church shortly before dying, and that his last motion was to draw a circle on a blank sheet of paper and then place a period in the middle of the circle. 

C. P. Cavafy. Collected Poems, Edited by George Savidis. 

Greek (possibly Corinthian) Kylix from 400BC 

Spontaneous beach pebble art made in Crete a few years ago


Serial collage cont. Part 5