Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Russian Play




The painting gets it’s title from the Gershwin song, and I had the version by Chet Baker in mind - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_f_mMJAezM - when I titled it, and I guess I might very well have imagined Baker in himself as a model for the figures depicted- Baker in a heroin-induced daze.

But Not for Me

They're writing songs of love, but not for me.
A lucky star's above, but not for me.
With love to lead the way
I've found more clouds of grey
than any Russian play could guarantee.
I was a fool to fall and get that way;
Heigh-ho! Alas! And also, lack-a-day!
Although I can't dismiss the mem'ry of his kiss,
I guess he's mot for me.
He's knocking on a door, but not for me.
He'll plan a two by four, but not for me.
I know that love's a game;
I'm puzzled, just the same,
was I the moth or flame?
I'm all at sea.
It all began so well, but what an end!
This is the time a feller needs a friend,
when ev'ry happy plot ends with the marriage knot,
and there's no knot for me.

George and Ira Gershwin


It’s part of the same group as “Before the Party”, and “Our Velvet Sorrow”, and was painted at much the same time probably London's Maida Vale.

As with the painting “Our velvet Sorrow” this one features a self conscious melancholy, a certain self-indulgence, and the usual sleeping figures.
I suppose the picture might be described as sentimental, but I hope there’s homour there enough for it not to be stifling. It takes something, not much from children’s books.

The song and the music are connected to the décor and style of the painting which is suggestive of the late 30s to the late forties, roughly when the song is written (1930), vaguely art deco and geometric and with that sense of doom and enclosure that seems so much to typify that period- I think of Dorothy Parker and Kafka (contrast with the 20s and 60s). It’s a period I feel particularly connected to, perhaps because of its internality, also because of its sense of futility

There‘s a cartoonishness about these pictures that I was wary of at the time, but which now I like, perhaps because simply that phase has passed. I like it now because it’s unfussy, but at the time I was uneasy of straying off the fine art tradition.

The picture was shown at London’s Metro Cinema (now defunct) and was something of a success along with 20 monotypes, and marked in my mind my sense of being on top of my art, of having found my voice. This was to do with accepting and knowing that the Fine Art tradition was too serious for me, and that I needed an aesthetic zone which was closer to cabaret or nonsense poetry: black comic, absurd and fun, touching on deepr things, but not absorbed by them.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Giant Bee


The beast was about 3 inches long, I could see its yellow/ black stripeyness fuzzily tickling my chest.

Yes, I awoke up to find a giant bee crawling on my chest.

I’d fallen asleep on the sofa, listening to music, 9.pm now. I lay there trembling, feeling the beasts legs move across my chest.

Peggy was there. She was sarcastic, I shouted “Peggy, there’s a giant bee on my chest.”

No response.

“Peggy,” I shouted again, there’s a giant bee crawling on my chest.

Peggy laughed, "well I’m sure its not even half your size" She was referring, I think, cruelly to some slight weight gain that I have sustained in the last few months.

When we first met I was turned on by Peggy’s sarcasm and unkindness, especially when we spoke about my career as a portrait painter. We met as part of a party at he opening night of an extremely poorly written and performed play, and she had said with a smirk, "I’m sure you’re going to be a great success, the next Michaelangelo," and laughed. This was an especially ignorant joke given that Michelangelo never painted a single portrait, but it nevertheless succeeded in being annoying and erotic: we made love that night, and I forgave her, as I was to do many times thereafter.

“Peggy, you bastard,” I shouted, ‘It’s a giant fucking bee, get the fucker off me!”

And she laughed again, “Haha, you big baby”, so it was with tremendous courage and force of will that I had to shake the thing off myself, it fell heavily to the floor, I leapt up, got a kitchen knife, in one swoop dissecting the monster’ thorax from its abdomen cleanly on the carpet.

I knelt down to in inspect the beast- it was huge; oddly some limbs kept moving after detachment- most alarming. I’ll probably have nightmares about that for some years to come, detached bee parts visiting me in my sleep.

Peggy came in then, as I was kneeling there, “you turned Muslim or something, honey. Think Allah will save you from the killer bees?”. “Oh ha ha, Peggy, more wit.” But she was drinking coffee and munching toast and totally nonchalant, perusing the TV programme, not seeming to care in the least what I thought.

Myself, I got the knife and lifted the two sections of giant bee onto an atlas which was leaning against the sofa, and which I’d been looking just before I dozed off (looking at Finnish lakes, to be precise) and I went up to Peggy. and said, “Here. Huge..”

“Eah,” she said, not bad, “They are showing "The Lord of the Flies” tonight, the original.”

Well, that is my Peggy. All sarcasm and unhelpfulness. She is originally from Oklahoma.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Our Velvet Sorrow


This painting does not exist any more because it was destroyed. It was painted over, I think.

I painted the picture then I felt that the heads were the wrong size (in fact it is not just the heads that are the wrong size but all the bodies are ill-proportioned, and there are innumerable strangenesses in drawing throughout the picture). I attempted to correct the heads some months after the picture was painted. However, this is almost always a foolish thing to try, in my experience, because one part of a picture cannot be isolated from the rest: all the component parts are inter-related, so you end up having to repaint to entire picture or the picture will not be harmonious.

And after meddling with this picture it seemed to get worse and worse, and in the end I painted over it all, dismissing it as a lost cause.

The photo represents the painting in its pre-meddling stage: and it is very popular on Flickr, so I reason that what I perceived to be errors of drawing are indeed the opposite: they are qualities of awkwardness that help contribute to the peculiar atmosphere of the work.

I also reasoned that the picture’s themes had been more r less dealt with in two other pictures, “Before the Party” (http://tadeuszderegowski.blogspot.com/2009/08/before-party.html), and, “A Russian Play” (which has yet to be photographed and put online). The face of the man seated on the bed reminds me of an Indian fellow I used to work with on the London Underground, whose hangdog expression was a source of enormous comfort to me during the freezing night shifts we shared in Shepherd’s Bush Station, London.

I suppose the idea suggested by the title is that of experiencing a sadness that is comfortable and warm and almost pleasurable: perhaps this is the sense of comfort people find in indulging in melancholy films or paintings.

*

There are too many pictures in this room and I don’t regret the absence of the original picture. Some paintings work better as photos than in reality, usually because of failures in paint handling which are diminished on a small scale.

If you want any of the pictures on Flickr then contact me: I need to clear space, and the pictures need good homes: I’m not charging much for them, and they are just gathering dust here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Story in Two Parts - Part Two - in which I Open the Drawer.


The flat has a smell of boiled vegetables. The humming sound of the fridge, the smell of a bed unmade from one room, the sight of a sock discarded in a ball near a door-frame. I enter it: there is a chest of drawers, the drawers in four tiers on the left as I enter. I pull open the top one on the left, it’s heavy and moves jerkily: some handkerchiefs, a leather belt and a pair of sunglasses. I open the second- there is a postcard, it depicts a sunset.

Then I pull the drawer below. It contains a hand. The hand is dry and shriveled and pale: I recoil. I have found my man. I sit and wait.

I wait there for an hour, and I hear voices outside. The man has returned, he is talking to another man. I hear, “It is easy, locks like this, child’s play”, and the lock turn. The door opens. “How much do I owe you?” “Forty pounds”. Then, after a pause, “cheers”.

Then he comes in; measured steps, slow his breathing steady. He walks into the bedroom, his face damp with sweat, his hair too. He is balding unevenly. His jersey has a hole on the front, and I sense something desperate, pathetic about him. “Yes,” he says, “You found me.

“I came to take what is mine.” “Take it’, he says, it’s yours, and opens the drawer and gives me the hand.

The End.

*
The Illustrations in Parts One and Two of Story in Two Parts are from "The Universal Alphabet/ The Girl in the Mirror", a set of little paintings, which can be seen on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/28509471@N05/sets/72157608815122656/

*

Thanks to Neil Endicott for encouragement.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Story in Two Parts - Part One - where I Follow a Man.




I decide to follow him. Actually, it is not really a decision, it is just something I do, I don’t know why.

He walks along the main road: a dirty orange bus and people standing looking at shops, the ambling pace of mid-morning shoppers. There is a small market selling vegetables. I wonder for a moment how much these people earn, they exchange such tiny sums.

We go through a vast covered market, like a railway station, where meat is sold. Huge carcasses hand from racks above giant fridges, ruby dark: there are ranks of pigs heads in the fridges below, then vast glass ice boxes of pigs knuckles, tails and ears, strangely white, all arranged along a concrete corridor beneath the high glass roof. Men with ruddy faces and blood smeared smocks wield giant cleavers, hacking at corpses or standing shouting, “pigs’ trotters, fresh pigs’ trotters”, or “leg of lamb, leg of lamb” as I follow the man, a silhouette among many.

Presently we leave, walking down a narrow street where the buildings are decorated with ornate copulas and domes though the street level is dirty and spoiled I pursue the man through a park; a small park like a square in the way that the buildings, stony, solemn press round it. The grass is soft under my shoes: I’m silent.

I watch; he stops and fumbles in her pocket for something taking out a handkerchief, but as he does so I see something fall to the lawn. But he doesn’t notice: he walks on, not picking it up, blowing his nose, and then replacing the handkerchief in his pocket. I follow him to where he once stood, easily finding there between the blades of grass: a brass Yale key, a door key.

We leave the park, I am about 100 metres behind him. He walks along a narrow road up to a block: it is a tenement and the front door pushes pen without a key. I can see him mount the stairs, the darkness of the interior, and the way the deep gloss paint dark red gleams from the light which passes through from the block back door, and I smell the sharp smell of disinfectant.

I hear his steps on the heavy stair, ascending. Then he arrives at his flat, I presume. I don’t follow him upstairs but it seems that he is not the floor above but the third floor, the penultimate floor.

So I wait there in the lobby just before the back door where a bicycle old and dusty also sits.

I hear the footsteps, as they descend. And I wait until I hear them leave the building.

I rise and mount the stairs myself. There are two flats on each floor. I reach the second. But which door? The first door is newly painted, the surface dark red, and gleaming. The second is black and dirty. I chose the second, I do not know why.

I insert the key. I turn it: it does not turn easily. I turn the key harder, my thumb pressing against the brass of the key: the lock clicks open, I enter.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Two Little Dogs



I was doing my bit as the Victorian Photographer, recording every nuance of nature’s moods, when I came across a fine tree. I stood back to take a picture.

Then I saw the two dogs below. They must have watched me as I walked all the way along the down the lane to where they were, patiently observing me as I framed the the image.

“Hello”, I said, but they just ignored me. I guess I wasn’t the first photographer they’d met coming along that lane.


Monday, October 19, 2009

A Broken Votive Head





The wax has a leathery texture; it feels almost greasy, slightly warm. It cannot be repaired.

The head was bought in Rio in an old baroque church in the centre. It is a votive head: Ironical that now it is the head itself that needs a cure. It was bought along with a votive baby, a hand and a man’s head. The hand and the man’s head too have suffered irreparable fractures.

If we see art as there to sustain forever what in nature decays then the image of a broken sculpture is more shocking perhaps than that of a real wound.

*

I recall here a book: “Warszawa 1945”, a catalogue of images showing the German destruction of Warsaw during the war. The effect of this systematic vandalism seems somehow more alarming than images of dead people: even buildings are mortal! Likewise, in the UK, the destruction of the country house- excellently catalogued here - http://lh.matthewbeckett.com/index.html - is painful.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Foggy Sea


Taken at about 11am, Beiramar. A hazy rain making everything damp, the light very flat and ghostly.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ode To the Artichoke


Ode To The Artichoke

The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales
It remained
Unshakeable,
By its side
The crazy vegetables
Uncurled
Their tendrills and leaf-crowns,
Throbbing bulbs,
In the sub-soil
The carrot
With its red mustaches
Was sleeping,
The grapevine
Hung out to dry its branches
Through which the wine will rise,
The cabbage
Dedicated itself
To trying on skirts,
The oregano
To perfuming the world,
And the sweet
Artichoke
There in the garden,
Dressed like a warrior,
Burnished
Like a proud
Pomegrante.
And one day
Side by side
In big wicker baskets
Walking through the market
To realize their dream
The artichoke army
In formation.
Never was it so military
Like on parade.
The men
In their white shirts
Among the vegetables
Were
The Marshals
Of the artichokes
Lines in close order
Command voices,
And the bang
Of a falling box.

But
Then
Maria
Comes
With her basket
She chooses
An artichoke,
She's not afraid of it.
She examines it, she observes it
Up against the light like it was an egg,
She buys it,
She mixes it up
In her handbag
With a pair of shoes
With a cabbage head and a
Bottle
Of vinegar
Until
She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.

Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Then
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.

Pablo Neruda
Translated by Jodey Bateman


How similar the artichoke is to a rose.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

When All's been Said and Done - an Annie Story

I`m walking down Piccadilly. The weather is atrocious. A wind blows in gusts across Green Park.

Sometimes I hate myself. I have periods of psychic pain. Sometimes I feel as if the world is full of violence, and my mind is just numb from it. At other times I`m overcome by anger, I want to use the energy of that but I can't find an outlet.

Occasionally, I have flashes of Annie. Annie and myself, mostly just talking.We shared a dreadful flat in Camberwell and we were mostly depressed.

So what? We loved each other.

One day Annie awoke and said, "What the fuck is going on?"

"What," I said.

"I mean," said Annie, " What are we doing. It`s all so shit. we aren't`t going anywhere.

"Oh fuck," I said. I was sort of hoping she wouldn`t notice how bad it all was.

We were living in a little flat in Camberwell which we shared with some guys from Morocco who never spoke to us. It was all a bit squalid and strange and neither of us had much in the way of work or money.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Climbing trees

*







I used to climb trees a lot. That was about freedom, of course: freedom from adults.

The top of trees were places they could not come, and I remember defying their pleas for me to come down, specifically the high shrill voices of old woman, tiny specks below calling from the old folks home across the road. I thought I wanted freedom from safety, but I did not really. Surely no-one really enjoys fear, except in the limited sense where they desire the controlled risks of sports or competition. Real fear is an appalling emotion, reckless and reductive.

I did not really understand the dangers inherent in climbing high and, moreover, pride had accompanied my ascent. I would not come down.

When I was high up I could see quite far, almost to the parade of shops on Great Western Road, certainly as far as the silent lawns and ashen Beech trees of the old folks home. Aberdeen is the granite city, and there is the harr besides: everything greyly softened by that shadowless light.

My imagination lent that I was a pirate, on a ship high at the crow’s nest, an image that keyed with my idea of rebellion, escape. I had no eye patch but I did have a dark blue jumper that my mother had knitted and which I considered very piratical. I also had the idea of myself as feline, agile, which in truth I was, as I was unusually adept at climbing and rapid besides, and as pirate rebel I shared the heights with cats alone.

The Chestnut was best: the Lime had been pollarded, so it was just a mass of green shoots, and the stickiness of Lime leaves was not pleasant either. The Maple had no lower branches and those it had above were too tightly packed to make climbing possible. In contrast, the Chestnut occasionally offered the alternation of almost ninety degree stems so desirable to climbers. Its bark was rough enough to grip even on wet days and did not come off.

I hoped it would be possible to go from the Chestnut tree to the Maple, and then across the branches of the Maple to enter my own bedroom window on the first floor. But the Maple branches were too slender, and the two trees too far apart. However, summer after summer I could see their arms nearing and thickening to grasp each other and I looked forward to the day when that mysterious journey from the chestnut to the maple and thence into my room would be possible.

But then when they did strengthen ten years later, and I was 20 and had come back from university one summer I found that they had been cut, pale yellow discs of timber where once limbs had been. My desire to climb across the trees into my bedroom conflicted directly my father’s cathartic need to amputate their branches. He did this in a haphazard way: they resembled the broken forms of painted trees by Vincent van Gogh. This implied a profound desire to do violence against nature*, the chainsaw-massacred trees like crime scenes. It also limited my arboreal wandering.

Another possibility was to go from the Chestnut tree to along the walls bordering our house, which were about 7 foot high, of rough granite but with a course of red bricks at the top. One could walk along the borders of our garden , along the borders of another pair of gardens and then on again. How much they varied, this one orderly, with vegetables in neat lines, the next merely a lawn, the third featuring a huge plastic pool- until one reached the Amatola Hotel, where if you were unlucky a kitchen porter or chef, smoking outside the kitchen back door, would shout and start as if to chase you; something that caused me genuine fear, but which I can now see was merely sport on their part.

*

The trees and my child’s mind showed me a freedom that home and family and school denied. I thought then that I would some day attain the splendour and liberty in real life that my childish imagination had projected. Instead, I find myself at forty unremarkable and compromised, shouting at children to climb down from tall trees.


* I visited a Hungarian family in Lugano, Switzerland. They had a fine house with a garden that was a former orchard and had many fine trees on the slope of the hill overlooking the lake. They also had two dogs. The dogs barked causing frequent altercations with the neighbors. Arguments about the dogs came and went over several months. One weekend the Hungarian family went away on holiday. When they returned, they saw that all the trees in their garden had been cut down by the neighbor. When I visited them, the Hungarian family still had their dogs.



*

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Dreaminess.


The dreaminess was a response to life's general nastiness, an inner migration.

I read once about how people in solitary confinement taught themselves to survive the ordeal by developing fantasies, one of which was called "the hotel". In order to maintain control of his mind, the prisoner would elaborate the fantasy of being a millionaire hotel owner, imagining everything from the bellboy's buttons to the hotels architecture and the streets around it in fantastic detail.

The dreaminess is involuntary. It's an Apollonian state of mind, about self-removal. It's connected to music. When I got the dreaminess I'd hear music in my mind and then the dreaminess was most powerful the music was apocalyptic, distressing. At other times the music was usually melancholy: Neil Young from "After the Gold Rush", or Joy Division. The films that best capture the dreaminess are "Closely Observed Trains" and "My Own Private Idaho", where the dreaminess is transformed into narcolepsy. The author is probably Celine, perhaps Hamsun.

I remember one summer I had a job in a shop in Edinburgh. The under-manager was an ugly hag from Wester Hailes with a drooping lower lip and hideously pink skin and a penchant for nagging in her plebian accent and I spent the whole three months in the dreaminess, never leaving. I survived by anaesthetising myself totally from the monster.

I remember entering the dreaminess when I was walking to school. The tedium of the walk (twice daily, as I lunched with my mother at home) pushed me into the dreaminess and I began to imagine mysterious underground railways or that I had wings to fly so that I could complete the journey more rapidly. Transport and movement have often been a theme of the dreaminess, perhaps because it is a response to confinement and restriction.

At other times, my childhood experience of the dreaminess involved self-transformations into animals, (usually hybrid animals combining the fierce cats with eagles and sharks) or cavalry officers: beings that expressed unassailable will-power, energy and force, qualities my languid mind so clearly lacked.

I have never spoken to anyone about the dreaminess. When I was a child I imagined it to be commonplace: now I am older I have come to realize that few people ever enter it. It feels like being stoned, or that you are in that suspended state of mind usual after waking from a deep sleep. I developed the dreaminess as an antidote to the extreme tedium and restriction of school (I still feel considerable resentment about how my time was wasted there). It is a sort of respite from pain too. In one way it makes one quite powerful because you are unassailable in the dreaminess. On the other hand, it weakens you because you are prevented from confronting the things tht might permit you to change your life: because the dreaminess is involuntary it can come and prevent you from achieving things, like an unwanted dose of morphine.

For example, the dreaminess prevented me from passing my driving test: I found it so nasty to sit with the boorish instructor (why are so many driving instructors such oafs?) that the dreaminess engulfed me and I would go through the lessons as if asleep.

Of course, these people don't know about the dreaminess and think that by being rude or aggressive they can make you "snap out of it".

Ultimately, the dreaminess is a morbid state, and when the dreaminess has been at its strongest is when I've felt closest to suicide. I don't enter it often now because I am lucky and don't so often have to suffer the ennui and nastiness that seemed to colour the first thirty years of my life.

The photo is a detail of a photo of Chantilly by Frederick H. Evans, from The Chateaux of France, from the Archives of Country Life 1897 - 1939, by Marcus Binney (pub. Mitchell Beazley, London, 1994).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Kim's Game, finished picture






A few changes, including the orientation of the picture to reach the final version
(the first version is at the bottom, the latest at the top).

For mysterious reasons that govern these things this picture never "took off", for me, the process leading nowhere surprising, and always polite.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dear Annie...a letter I found.


Here is a letter I found inside a book (Voltaires's Candide). It is undated.

Dear Annie,

It is a long time since I last heard from you: I hope you've been well.

Things have been unusually grim here.

My room is at the end of a long corridor, and overlooks the courtyard. It is small and I have to lie on the bed to take my shoes off. I have a wardrobe, a small desk and a bed.

I sit at the desk and look out the window. Usually I hear little from the courtyard except the sound of water running down the drains. At times the face of one of my neighbours appears in one of the windows, usually a pasty faced woman, with grey hair. I cannot see her features more clearly. There are net curtains on most windows, the atmosphere tranquil, like a Dutch painting and I would not be surpised to see a clog-wearing servant appear with a white smock and bonnet and broom at any moment. Also, twice I saw a siamese cat, perched with absurd elegance on the seat of an old bicycle.

I am fighting the goblins still: we have reached a sort of truce: the room has been deivided in two, we marked the floor with a white chalk: I get the left side, they take the right.The line cuts the bed, but that cannot be helped, at least they aren't shreiking all the time.

I hope to see you soon,

I suppose I wrote the letter some years ago in Camberwell, but it is undated.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Best Cars Are Bristol Cars






This painting is a conversation that has begun happily. Only a few alterations are needed- most obviously a tidying up of the silhouette of the Bristol cars. It's not often a painting begins well like this, it only happens when you don't give a damn, but, of course, not giving a damn isn't something you can just choose to do. You just have to find yourself in that mood somehow.

The texture of paint is particularly likable here. It comes from painting over an old canvas.

Bristol Cars are a hand-built luxury car. They have been manufactured since 1945 and are sold exclusively through their showroom in Kensington High Street, London.

For those who are unfamiliar with this splendid British car company: http://www.bristolcars.co.uk/index2.htm

Friday, October 2, 2009

I do not exist



Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been
contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each
other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

This is Part II of T.S. Eliot's poem, Ash Wednesday (1930) Faber Paperbacks.

The painting is a detail of a recent imaginary portrait.