Sunday, January 31, 2010


The stalk is about an inch long. I found it near the bus stop.

That lime green colour is charming. I should like to have a room one day large enough to allow such a bright shade without it becoming overpowering.

Some say the British are afraid of colour but it isn't true. They often use very strong colours to decorate rooms.

Papier-mâché birds - stage 2 - leg surgery

Bird with leg implantations.

I am using polyfilla to help make the birds' surfaces smooth for painting.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Bird

The birds observe the leg surgery: Woodpecker's abdomen has been opened: he will subsequently recieve the wire implantation, which will then be bent to form limbs.

The Consultant Surgeon and Assistant Surgeon discuss procedure.

The Birds do not always balance easily. This Hornbill has cheated using blu-tack to hold on. Perhaps I will need to made a little base for him- I hope not, as this strikes me as inelegant.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The contents of a box 3; The British Grenadiers

My English Language teaching business cards. These are left all over the place to get private students.

From a distance they look a little like Warhol's famous soup cans.

Here they can be seen in formation, ready to march conquer Santa Catarina. I hear the rousing song of the British Grenadiers!

Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules
Of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these.
But of all the world's brave heroes, there's none that can compare.
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadiers.

Whene'er we are commanded to storm the palisades,
Our leaders march with fusees, and we with hand grenades.
We throw them from the glacis, about the enemies' ears.
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadiers.

Then let us fill a bumper, and drink a health of those
Who carry caps and pouches, and wear the loupèd clothes*.
May they and their commanders live happy all their years.
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadiers.

I particularly like, "we throw them from the glacis, about the enemies' ears".

*I cannot understand what "loupèd clothes" are, though "loup" derives from the French for wolf, which suggests clothes made of wolfskin, perhaps?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Papier-mâché birds; toys and sculpure

Here's a collection of papier mache birds I've been working on over the last few days.

The thing is to find the right degree of anthropomorphism: the right balance between bird and suggested human characteristics for them to be fun.

They need to dry a little before I can work more into them, making their surfaces more even and improving their tails and beaks. Later they will be painted.


At what point does a toy become a sculpture? At the point at which it is too precious or serious looking to be played with, I guess.*

Play is regarded with tremendous suspicion in our culture though it lies beneath so many artistic endeavors. I suspect play is regarded with suspicion because it is regarded as the opposite of work, and Western societies are very much in thrall to the Protestant Capitalist ethos, whereby all activities must have a known, profitable end- to the extent that people are encouraged to feel bad about themselves when they aren't working, no matter how unfulfilling the jobs available to them are.

*Alexander Calder is an exception to this. Paul Klee, like Picasso, is playful but you couldn't really play with his works. Perhaps readers have other examples?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The contents of a box 2; Ten paper clips

The contents of a box 2

The photo above contains, from top left, clockwise:

1. Liquorice box, top and base (Paris, 2002)
2. Safety pin (probably British, c. 2000)
3. Orange plastic covered paper clip (probably British, c. 2000)
4. Screw eye (probably British, c. 2000)
5. Saftey pin (probably British, c. 2000)
6. Safety pin (probably British, c. 2000)
7. Two Clip-frame clips (London, 2003)

Ten paper clips

The items "speak" more loudly when placed beside other similar items.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Writer

The Panty-thief, Pen and Ink drawing, 10 x 12 cm

He excuses himself at dinner to go to the lavatory. He walks up the stairs along the corridor as if to go to the lavatory but passes it, instead finding his way to your and your wife's bedroom door. He pushes the door: it swings open: no-one there. He can hear the voices: distant laughter from the dining room downstairs.

He enters: trepidation. A sudden creaking of the floor under his shoe makes him gittery. He sees the chest of drawers on the other side of the bed, so far! He walks round the bed to reach it then, after pausing momentarily, pulls open the top drawer, peering inside. Yes!, he sighs, relieved. He sees a gorgeous array of costly pastel silk and lace: your wife's knickers. His palms are damp as he hurriedly selects a pair. He cannot resist stroking his delerious cheek for a joyful second with those panties before placing them in his side pocket, then scuttling from the room. He stops at the bathroom briefly before descending.

He returns to the the dinner table. You are entertaining the other guests with an anecdote about one of the directors of your company and scarcely noticed the guest's absence. He is a small, nervous man: insignificant. You do not sense that he is breathing heavily, nor see the beads of perspiration on his forehead.

Who is he? He is a contemporary novellist or a journalist, probably an Englishman.

The Contents of a Box - 1

One of several boxes contain things which cannot be thrown out, nor which have any immediate use: items in limbo.

Clockwise from lower left-

1. Wooden box, which used to contain figs (Maida Vale, London, 2004?)
2. Cut Pieces of paper used as stencils for monotypes (Florianopolis, 2009)
3. Plastic Key, used for stretching canvases (Maida Vale, London, 2005)
4. Brackets used to hang pictures (Maida Vale, London, 2003)
5. Nuts (Florianopolis, 2007)
6. Bolts (Florianopolis, 2007)
7. Little screws used for brackets (Edgware Road, London, 2004)
8. Two Shells (Florianopolis, 2009)
9. Spiral shell fossil (gift from unknown donor, London, 2003)
10. Pencil eraser (Aberdeen, 2000?)
11. Part of a scalpel blade (Florianopolis, 2006)
12. Little scissors (Florianopolis, 2007)
13. Device for attaching telephone wire to skirting board (unknown)
14. Part of telephone wire (Florianopolis, c. 2008)
15. Small box of staples (Aberdeen, 2003)
16. Crumpled pieces of chocolate wrapping (Florianopolis, 2009)
17. Dennis the Menace Badge (Finsbury Park, London, 2008)
18. Two little strips of grey paper (Florianopolis, 2010)
19. Cat's Eye Bicycle Torch (Florianopolis, 2009)
20. Batteries (Florianopolis, 2009)
21. E45 Skin Cream (Aberdeen, 200?)
22. Rubber Body Parts (Bermondsey, London 2003)
23. Brackets used to hang pictures (Egdware Road, 2004- see little screws above)
24. Device used in Flower Arranging to help anchor stalks (Florianopolis, 2007)
25. "Stopper" used to close a tube (unknown provenance)
26. Two Brazilian coins * 5o and 10 centavos (Florianopolis, 200?)
27. Brown plastic "button" of uncertain function (unknown).
28. China Doll's Head (Copenhagen, 2004)

*N.B. the terrible design quality of Brasillian coinage.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Secret

The Secret - detail, pen and ink

Here is a detail of a drawing for you to enjoy.

The art I that I really like is all about revealing secrets, opening drawers, peering inside wardrobes: art as psychological prying; the sick delight in going through another persons wallet, their purse, their diaries; touching things you know only they touch; not knowing if they will suspect that someone has read their letter or slipped their hand into their pocket.

Drawing is, for me, a way of accessing this condition of revelation. It's more intimate, closer than my painting which always has a faintly official feel about it- a public art form: robust, designed for places where respectability, a public face is of import.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Trees behind a fence

Trees behind a fence, 35 x 40 cm, oil on canvas

A small painting (35 x 40 cm), again impressionist in method. I painted it plein air, listening to Roxy Music from the car.

I am priming some board to use as a support for a series of small pictures, about A5 in size. These will be readily affordable to collectors and easy to post. As my pricing is geared to the Brazillian market the pictures are particularly good value to overseas buyers: they will cost 100 Brazillian Reals (about 55US$ , 40 Euros, or 34 UK pounds) not including post and packing. Anyone interested should simply email me for details.

I can arrange framing- it is cleap to get good framing here and worth considering. It would probably cost an addtional 50 Reals, but I would have to check.

I believe in making art affordable, and available to those who are interested.

There exists a great deal of price snobbery in the art world- even a low priced paiting is unaffordable for most people. I think this has the net effect of damaging sales, leading to lower sales overall because it dissuades potential new buyers from entering the market. It seems to me wrong and, more importantly, foolish that an educated person on an average income, such as scoolteacher or book editor, should be unable to afford to purchase original works because of the art worlds pricing structure, which exists to maintain the prices already established artists and sustain the idea of "exclusivity".

The average jobbing artist, who is not a star, then, fails to sell and their work remains in storage for years on end because the galleries, and art world in general have conspired to maintian prices and failed to nurture a low-medium price market.

Or so things appear to me. Perhaps readers have another take on it?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Forest and Swamp -stage 5; painting and tradition

“If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

To revive and sustain Western painting we have to ask, "What is it for?" "Whose ends should it serve?" How to revive it will follow as a consequence.

Too many painters are replying to these questions with, "it should survive because it has a glorious tradition", or "because I like doing it," as if these were ends in themselves, neglecting the obvious fact that the tradition is a creation of express political and social purposes. With their reply comes asceticism and aesthetic obscurity.

How painting can compete with speedier, noisier media is another question. Perhaps the best way for it to cope is to use the new media and to try to use its slowness and reflectiveness as a means of increasing viewer attention and concentrations, offering painting as an alternative to the frequent superficiality of faster media.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bad art, discussion 2

Here are some criteria for judging whether a work of art is bad (it leads ultimately to the paradox that some bad art is better at being bad art than other bad art- i.e. "this is the best bit of bad art I've ever seen). I shall concentrate on painting, sometime venturing into other media for the hell of it.

1. Technical failure. The work cannot be seen. A film that has not been processed. It is disintegrating, toxic and will cause ill-health. It is a painting that is falling apart. Jackson's Pollock's work falls into this category.* A good work of art is not generally going to kill you or destroy itself or anything else (firework displays being an exception and of course some art is necessarily organic, such as garden design).

2. Technical failure. There are failures of execution which marr appreciation of the art piece: the paint is fugitive, the sound has gone, the record is so muffled it is unlistenable. Now, of course, some appreciate the crackles on old 78rpm records, and the cracks in varnish. This leads onto the question of what we should be appreciating. It wasn't the intention of Rembrandt, for instance, that we should like his work partly because of the yellowy varnish surfaces, or Fats Waller because the recordings have that muffled sound. Does that matter to anyone other than restorers?

3. Technical failure in execution. In painting, discernable errors in drawing, description of items, colours, tones etc. These are usually identifiable if the artist is obviously part of a school. If the artist is very "over there", it's hard to know how to judge: David Hume knows, however.**

4. Lapses in taste: ugly. Paintings with horrible colours, instruments out of tune. Lack of understanding of overall composition: imbalance, inharmonious. Ill matching colours, lack of sensitivity: a subjective category.

5. Lapses in taste: disgust. Can a painting of a turd be a masterpiece? As a Robert Crumb fan I hover in uncertainty. Salvador Dali attempted to make work that appalled the viewer- he is regarded with suspicion by critics but has mass appeal (apart from his Civil War paintings, where the sense of disgust has an obviously moral aim). Orwell does an excellent job on this unpleasant artist***

6. Lapses in Judgement: ethics. Is it possible to make a great, openly racist work of art? Norman Rockwell made some anti-racist art which is horribly patronising (but then, condescension was his forte). Generally negative sentiments translate uncomfortably into art. It's surprising how few works of art offer negative criticism of the ethical or political views of another group (political cartoons are another story). Books can do this more effectively, but there is always the risk that we start to feel sorry for the victim, because to be effective, a characterisation has to be built on an artists capacity for sympathy for his subject- good or ill.

The patriotism of other nationalities is remarkably irritating: American patriotism particularly so (or is that just me?- I think it's the sheer bone-headedness behind it- I've had conversations with Americans in which they plainly believe they were solely responsible for victory in Europe 1945, as if the Russian contribution was some sort of irrelevant sideshow. They also believe they invented television, the dolts****).

7. Too sexy. Porno is out. Even beautifully made porno images are out. I think this is because sexual stimulation denies reflective mental processes. I'm not against anyone beating the bishop or paddling the pink canoe but endowing those instincts with profundity is mere foolishness (see the abuse of dairy products in "Last Tango in Paris").

8. Moronism: the subject. The picture transmits stupidity. This is one of the defining qualities of the Daily Painters work (see yesterday). Stupidity is incuriousity: lack of interest in the subject : we get, slavish copies of snapshots. We also get subject matter that has an obvious quality- a tourist landmark, a thing that is already considered beautiful (paintings of roses are necessarily beautiful), it is a significant person, a significant place. It is a significant moment (paintings made from graduation photos), or even a combination of the three- a significant person in a significant moment in a significant place (!).

But the significant moment is always a positive, tasteful one. There are no paintings of the significant moment when grandmother drove her car off the cliff, or your sister’s appearance in court testifying against her ex-husband on battery charges, or, "my first amputation". This marks one of the differences between serious art and popular, which is that popular is so circumspect- it refuses to examine anything that might be a potential source of discovery or self-knowledge. It mollifies (there is an exception to this in the form of popular Catholic Votive paintings, which often feature sick people or people involved in tragedies).

9. Moronism: the medium. The medium is used uninventively, without delight. This is one of those "you can't define it but you know it when you see it" qualities: a superlative painter like Magritte used oil paint in the 20s with a deliberate heaviness, taken from commercial art. Again, see yesterday's Daily Painters.

10. Cliche.

11. Banality. The picture is unable to excite the emotions. Being sensibly brought up I was taught never to dismiss things as "boring", because usually that was merely an indication of my lack of energy or discipline in making the necessary effort to get into the book, film or conversation. Boring means lack of surprises and of emotional engagement. Looking at Daily Painters, I wonder, "why they are doing this thing?" I can detect no strong interest in anything: this is dispiriting. It suggests that for the Daily Painters art exists primarily as an activity to fill up remaining time before death (I think here of Bartlebooth, Perec's watercolourist hero, in "Life A User's Manual").

There's an argument here about alienation and capitalism a la Greenberg (see his wonderful essay on Kitsch*****). I think the argument is that the workers are so alienated from their labour that they are unable to spontaneously create anything, and even unconsciously seek to transform freely creative activities such as painting into a routinous line work, in which a certain amount has to be done each day for presentation to the line manager (in the case of Daily Painters, the electronic site host).


*When I was 16 I was taken to the Kroller-Muller Institute in Holland by a colleague of my father's. My companion, a jolly Dutch woman, and I were discussing modern art, and it's value. Frustrated with my refusal to accept that it was all rubbish, and to indicate her disgust with Jackson Pollock in particular, to my horror she stretched her arm towards the Pollock painting in front of us, broke a piece off it and stuffed it in my pocket. The piece was about half a centimetre across.

I told this story to a friend of mine, and he said he'd had exactly the same experience with another person.



**** John Logie Baird, UK, 1925.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bad art, "Daily Painters", discussion.

What precisely is wrong with these artists' works? They call themselves “daily painters”, and they produce, like me, a work of art most days. http: //

There are the usual suspects- some porn-kitsch, a clown (not weeping!), sunny fruit, pets, sunsets.

The world of daily painting has some connection both with the "traditional" gallery art of 19th century genres (still life, nudes, moody portraits) and links to the family photo album, with paintings (copied mainly from snaps, I suspect) of people on holiday.

The notion of artistic purpose shown is very conservative and in both groups of pictures (traditional / holiday snap) a stern editing of reality is taking place serving to exclude any possible offence or unpleasantness (ironical that the net affect of this censorship is actually the opposite intended- revulsion!). They also sometimes have a delightful quality of edging very close to being reasonably good art, then turning away into the abyss of Readers Digest coyness. This is comical but ultimately dispiriting: looking at Daily Painters is a bad thing to do for your mental health because it's an imaginatively reductive experience.

As regards drawing and technical qualities Daily Painters are often awkward- but then so is the work of many wonderful painters. Lack of technincal ability does hamper the the Daily Painters, however: they are camera-dependent in ways that good figuarive artists are not: there are few imaginative flights and little inventiveness when it comes to using the medium of paint itself. Their world is pedestrian.

Their more serious failing usually is "spiritual". That is, there is a lack of examination as to the nature of reality- they present too sunny a vision of life, they are sentimental. An imposition is taking place, they feel "dishonest". But these are not self-consciously subjective pieces either: they reek of propaganda, a banal propaganda for the beauty of places, people or dogs(!). Yet some might argue that they are not sentimental enough, they lack the verve of a Landseer stag.

They do not succeed as classicizing, idealising art in the tradition of say, David, or Piero della Francesca. Quite why this is is hard to say, but I'd suggest that the reason lies beneath the painting, in the individual artist's lack of awareness of the falseness, or banality of their own world view. The artists lack either the skill to propagandise successfully, or the self-consciousness that might lead to greater ambition.

Is it mistaken to discuss art in terms of "honesty"? All art is artifice, surely? That makes sense, but there has to be a correspondence between the art work and something inside us or the world for it to have meaning. A painting of a smiling Stalin kissing a small girl is unpleasant because it offends our sense of the truth, not necessarily because it need be badly made.

I don’t have anything expressly against Obama (indeed, given the nature of his work, he seems about as nice as these people can be) but such images as these make me cringe

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tyre Shop- Stage 3

It started to rain and I got utterly soaked. I worked back into this without blacks or browns: this freshend it up. I don't think it needs too much more work, just some attention to details of the telegraph posts, wires and kerbs.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Little Yellow Tree, Impressionism

I return to the woods, this time without black paint. The shadows contrast less harshly with the foliage than the one I did a few days ago (see below).

It is so hot here that painting outside for much over an hour outside is arduous.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Sea, Impressionist painting.

An impressionist painting, painted plein air in one session and using a palette without black or brown paints. The effect is shrill to my tastes. The pastel colours give a Walt Disney feel- I'm not sure I really like that.

If God is present, then it is in the details:

It's enjoyable painting the sea: how it reflects light and changes in the course of an hour. I'd reccomend for mental patients.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Peggy Screams

It’s 9 pm. Peggy’s had her usual run of triple whiskies: I watch her as I type. It’s plainly not good for her; she sways as she crosses the apartment. I imagine her blackened liver and wince.

She goes and sips sips sips on the balcony watching the cranes (we -rather I, because it was my idea- bought this waterside place- and it's good to stand on the balcony and watch the cranes and the people milling about from the restaurants below) which is a dangerous place to be if you are solidly drunk: you could so easily just trip and crash over the balcony fencing, tumbling to a certain death, or at best ending up in a hospital forever, showing little more life than a crushed cabbage. But Peggy’s so obstinate that when I entreat, “Peggy darling, pleased please take care it’s a long way from the balcony to the ground!” she just shrugs it off with a bland mid-western “mmmmhmm”.

She’s listening to Simon and Garfunkel, and I watch her get up- she usually has a bath about this time…she’s got a clean towel, and I see she’s bought some new shampoo. I can’t see what this one is: it’s in a small golden box, which itself probably cost fifty quid to produce. The last shampoo was made of cucumbers and walnuts and ox musk (no kidding). The soap Peggy uses isn’t normal either. Instead, she buys this creamy/gritty stuff which is called cleanser. It’s made from moringa seed extract. It’s just for your nose, maybe your cheeks too, though it’s best not to use it at all: I used it to wash my hands once and Peggy didn’t speak to me for a week. If you want to wash the rest of your body Peggy style you have to use another product, which is called Body Cleanser and is made of seaweed and parts of an Amazonian cactus.

Anyway, she’s wandering into the bathroom and I hear this terrible piercing scream.

“Oh fuck! oh fuck!” she cries.

“What is it darling!” I respond immediately, leaping out of my computer chair.

“Look”, says Peggy, between gasps. She’s rigid with fear, melodramatically tensed up, like one of those petrified forms from Pompeii, and I have to stifle a giggle.

“What?” I say, lovingly.

“That”, yells Peggy in a cross between a moan and a yell, pointing.

I peer in the deep yellow light of the bathroom, scouring with my eyes round the bath, searching.

“No there!, THERE!" she shouts.

And yes, sure enough, there it sits, miniscule, helpess and meek: a teeny brown spider. I gently scoop it up with my fingertips and free it on the balcony.

This is a follow up to these posts: and

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More about Peggy

I suppose, like me, being a reasonably sensitive person, you were appalled by Peggy’s heartless response to the gigantic and extremely dangerous insect that landed on my chest when I was sleeping like some sort of nightmarish apparition, threatening the very fundaments of my mental and physical health.

Peggy’s family, in the not so distant past, were Germans. The came from Pomerania and settled in Oklahoma, where they opened a small chemists- Bienenzüchter’s- which later translated, not entirely accurately, in a patriotic - or perhaps cowardly, given local pressures? - gesture into “Feelgood’s Drugstore” during the First World War and which still stands, serving ices, coffee, preserved food, and remedies on the corner of 8th and Main Streets, Choctaw, OK.

After the World War Two, the cheapness of motor cars facilitating, Peggy’s parents' moved from the cramped flat above the shop to a suburb, where she grew up with two sisters and no obvious misfortunes. They attended the local Lutheran church with clockwork regularly (happily insensate to its teachings), and tried to earn as much money as possible while simultaneously spending as little. The children attended the local high school and graduated with neither honours nor shame. They were not especially respected or liked, nor disliked either- they were quite the sort of people essential to sustain any normal, working community.

Perhaps seeing the lines of moaning, malingering Choctawans bleating for cold remedies or listening to them griping about minor complaints, affected young Peggy as she helped in the family shop at weekends, without respite, year after year, all the while her school friends were skipping or constructing elaborate picnics for their dollies, or later experimentally necking with other pustulous adolescents under the bushes of the nearby park? Did the endless work of stocking shelves, breaking down boxes, mopping spillages and running little local errands, while painfully mindful of her schoolchums’ frivolities, make her bitter; unusually indifferent to the distress of others? Did the business at the pharmacy counter teach her to regard human suffering as nothing more than a potential source for commercial gain?

I cannot say. And I detected no callous traits in her parents when I met them- indeed, they seemed rather conscientious people: sympathetic, if a little earnest.


I sit here, writing this now on the computer this cool evening. Peggy is over at the drinks trolley (again!): more whisky than ice, that’s for sure.

This is a follow up to The Giant Bee, posted here on October 30 last year:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dog, fleas, heat.

It is early evening but still it's hot for this hirsute dog: his fleas seem to be giving him no end of grief.

The complete sequence of 25 images is here:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tyre Shop- stage two; Forest and Swamp- stage four

The photo quality here leaves something to be desired. The problem of photographing oils is the reflectivity of the paint- this is especially a problem with wet and dark paint.

It has been delightful to return to these two paintings, which I feel I have managed to continue without losing some of their original energies. The essential difficulty is, I believe, that of finding the right balance between responding to the subject and responding to the painting of the subject.

In the initial, sketch, stage one responds rapidly and directly to the subject, scarcely paying much attention to the results on the canvas. In subsequent stages one tends to study the subject less, and the painting more. This is perhaps why the paintings risk becoming duller as they are worked upon- painting becomes an editorial act involving removal and ordering, not a response to the stimulus of a motif.

Ergo , my recurring fascination with rapid methods, that deny ready editing- monotype and pen and ink, as below.

As a means of depicting the sort of rubbishy architecture they construct along the roads here without the least shame paints are much better. This is because the buildings are so disorderly that using an uneditable medium to record them would lead to an impossible visual chaos on the page: contrawise paints allow one to do the editing needed to make sense of the Brazilian architectural landscape.

With ink I generally have been focusing on trees and nature things where precision isn't essential for the image to be comprehensible.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The lights have gone out.

The lights have gone out. Actually, the internet went off first of all. I was watching “Of Mice and Men” when the screen went dead. I thought it was because I’d hit the cable with my foot but then I found the lights out too.

An hour later I’m stalking myself in the apartment: quiet. There are no lights in the corridors of the block. I go downstairs negotiating the blackened steps to see if there was a notice about the electricity being shut off for maintenance, but nothing. Near the notice board I see the electo-magnetic closer that holds the block’s front door shut has stopped working- the door swings, to and fro, an inch or two from a breeze outside.

I feel this sadness about everything. I make some coffee. The stove is a gas stove: I light it with a match. Everything happens very slowly. The kettle heats the water; the coffee percolates with a faint bubbling sound, I stand around. I dd milk. I don’t want coffee but I can’t think of anything left to do. It’s 5pm.

It’s not a great feeling, that listlessness, like a sort of Richard Brautigan feeling, like in “Trout Fishing in America”.

I’m not fed up enough to do anything radical, that’s part of the problem I guess.

The trees in the distance from the balcony are softly green in the drizzle that everywhere outside smothers. I shuffle from the kitchen to the balcony an back again holding my cup. For a moment I think of listening to some music but then I remember about the electricity. It’s sort of not quite raining. I lack the will to go out.

A girl with big boobs comes to the window of a flat in the block opposite. I watch her for a moment, then creep back into the flat. I know if she caught me looking she’d know I was looking would be just because of her boobs. It doesn’t help that she’s wearing the most diminutive vest-top imaginable. I guess her boobs are her main thing. I peer from within the room and see that’s she’s gone.


It’s spitting with rain now and I stand on the balcony again hearing the birds chirp and the workmen on the site across the road. They’re banging on something. The sound echoes between the blocks. The light in the flat is wan.


I have a feeling that now is a very bad time to be alive. Everything seems to be going wrong.


Illustration: "Unknown Feelings", Monotype, 2009

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Betty's Cat

What splendid, aristocratic beasts: I'm not in the least surprised the Egyptians worshipped them.

Indeed, what is more astonishing is that these fine creatures haven't been adopted by other religions. I suppose the cat is too independent, too elegant and too self- contained a beast to satisfy Christians, who instead went for the lamb as a symbol. I understand why: it is because Christians believe, or hope "the meek shall inherit the earth", and those little white lambs seem so well to convey that quality, existing just to be turned into cutlets by Welshmen.

Myself, I'd rather live under the jurisdiction of cats (not that it's likely they'd want the administrative bother!). I've never seen much virtue in meekness, a mousey quality at best.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


The paper was rather small, barely much larger than A4, so next time I'll get a bigger piece, probably A1. I felt cramped when working so small and I feat the image seems cramped too.

I really need a little table too: it's uncomfortable supporting the board on ones knees.

The thing is to be to know which elements to exclude: to aim for simplicity and concision: you have to take your time, to have a plan, so as not to be overwhelmed by nature's abundance. It takes enormous concentration and I'm not surprised the Chinese masters would pray before working.

Evidence of the gesture lends energy, but shouldn't obscure description- there has to be a tension between illustration and abstraction.

It's important not to panic when things don't quite go right, but almost impossible not to.

Ink Tools, perversity

I've unearthed these- some were inherited from kind Dr Bednarowski- they are at least 50 years old and reassuringly weighty.

I have to get a board to affix the paper to so it doesn't buckle. Ink is very high risk: potentially any slip can lead to a wasted piece of paper. But I tend to think best when I think quickly.

The longer I take to decide something the worse it is for me, but the perversity of my nature is such that I have always yearned to make art that represents not flux and fluency but the opposite- stasis, authority, tradition: the art of the imperium.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Buenos Aires: some photos, some thoughts.

Perhaps it was the time of year -the Christmas week always being an odd time to visit places- but I found Buenos Aires a strangely unenjoyable place.

Architecturally, it's a grid plan, and the grid is pursued with a heartlessness- extending relentlessly for miles- in a way that I've only seen before in mid-western US cities: the effect on the walker is quite alarmingly tedious. The city turns away from the seafront, moreover, and is fairly flat so one feels bored, as if stuck in the middle of the sort of huge, worthy, but dull nineteenth century "classic" novel used to torture sixth form pupils in the better schools everywhere.

There is a good lot of grand but somehow joyless 19th century and equally doctrinaire modernist architecture. I felt at times, indeed, that the place was a composite of the dullest parts of Barcelona, New York or Paris. As so often is the case with 19th century building, the individual details (carvings, scrolls, ironwork, sculptures) detail are better than the sum of the parts- hence, Buenos Aires' cemetery cities are more delightful than the streets surrounding them (Recoleta comparing well to the best of the London seven, but less happily to leafier , more generously spaced Pere Lachaise, Paris). *

I visited a modern art museum, and although there was a permanent collection of Latin American pre-war modernism- Botero, Kahlo, Cavalcanti- the main draw of the place, supposedly, was a show of late Warhol, and this seems to confirm the lack of individuality of Buenos Aires - for it is as if every city must have a large white museum of modern art and in it a Warhol collection, an obligatory genuflection to that least lovable US artist.

Also bizarre, to me, were glimpses of Argentineans dressing with hilarious accuracy in English styles (or more precisely, given that they were generally Ralph Lauren clothes, American interpretations of them). And it was not just the clothing, but the way women had a horsey masculinity, and the men a cultivated insouciance (with jackets deliberately crumpled, I’m sure) that was so amazingly English: indeed so uncannily did their faces resemble faces I'd seen in Kensington or Fulham that I had to go up close to listen to confirm that they were indeed Argentineans- they even had the same craggy, excentric faces of the British patrician classes. I saw such types crossing on the ferry and in Palermo, very self-satisfied and grumpy looking.

In other aspects, the place has a gloomy air- the closed shops (including Harrods!), the old, battered cars, and grilled meat meat meat- that least imaginative of diets- everywhere (it convincing me of the value of vegetarianism for at least it inspires the imagination, and reinforces the truism that good cuisine comes not from an abundance of available good natural produce, but the opposite- its scarcity- so that cooks are forced to think imaginatively about how to make the few available things as tasty as possible).

The decline was particularly apparent around La Boca, where women walk up and down the filthy streets with their unwashed brats past smashed cars and bunches of shirtless men playing loud ugly music; youths shout at strangers and flinging fireworks at the hapless tourists who are effectively confined to a few metres of "tango heritage" restaurants. There is some wonderful graffiti among all this, however.

I regret to be so negative about Buenos Aires- I know that Portenos have not had an easy last half-century- and I'd emphasize how pleasant they were to deal with.

*The comparasion of cemeteries deserves a blog to itself- if readers know of one, please let me know.

Some recent photos from Montevideo and Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay

The fantastic old cars and buildings makes wandering round these wonderful Uruguayan cities feels like being in a Tintin book (say "The Broken Ear").

Montevideo is especially charming, with a fine selection of art noveau and deco buildings. The streets are well planted with mature trees and the cty is beautifully located with ready views of the sea. There are pleasant street fairs selling old books, bric-a-brac, paintings and jewellery. The atmosphere is unhurried and feels somehow like an English seaside town, and like many English seaside towns is rather in need of renovation in parts.

One of the things which is especially delightful about it is that tourism- which must constitute a major part of their economy- is so lightly mediated. In the UK, for instance, anything old has a little sign attached to it "teaching" the passerby all about it; nothing is left to chance, and before leaving any designated "tourist" premises, you are fed through some tiresome gift shop or other.

Service in Uruguay is generally good, in an old fashioned, unobtrusive way: the waters wear black and white uniforms as they should and don't attempt to make friends with you. The food is excellent too, and these things are very cheap.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Annual Review: Flickr, Blogger, Twitter.

As promised back in August, here is a review of my activities on the Internet.


Flickr now contains almost a complete catalogue of images (monoprints, drawings and paintings) by me. There remain to be photographed pictures which are in the UK, and some others of questionable merit in folios here.

Flickr has proven to be the most valuable of Internet resources for making sustained contacts. In August I had abour 200 contacts: now I can boast 380, a considerable increase. A handful of these contacts post encouraging critical commentary, and I can sense the slow beginnings of Internet friendships there. This is in stark contrast to the superficiality of Twitter (see below).


There are now eight followers on Blogger plus, judging from the counters, two or three other regular visitors.

I believe that changing the tone of the Blogger entries, making them more based on direct personal experience would increase the number of followers. I don't feel any enthusiasm for this as I find the idea tasteless and intrusive. I shall continue the mix of entries as figure in the last 6 months- i.e. short stories and bits and pieces about art and techniques, and observations about Brazil and her culture. There are other blogs offering more obviously biographocal content if that is what readers are after.

There is something apparantly unsystematic about the course the entries follow. However, forcing a more deliberate structure on the blog would, I fear, rob it of spontanaity and I therefore request readers to show patience with the occasionally haphazard nature of entries.


I posted, using a variety of keywords, 381 "Tweets" (revoltingly twee language).

Any item posted on Twitter gets immediately between 10 and 15 "hits". the number of "followers" on Twitter increased to 42,an increase of 20.

However, this did not seem to result in a corresponding increase in Blogger or Flickr followers, and never in feedback, as if the Twitter effect is rapid and superficial- in contrast to postings on Flickr (which generate responses). But Twitter takes up little time, so it seems worth continuing with despite my reservations.


The following year is largely an open book- I shall finish the oil paintings that are underway, then start working with ink- I miss its starkness and decisiveness.

I will continue to show work on the three above sites as in the last half year, and report again in August.

If readers have suggestions / feedback, please let me know.

Happy New Year!