Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The roots of a fallen tree

The roots of a fallen tree, oil on card, 10.6 x 8 cm; 54 US$

I haven't painted many things close up for a while.

In his excellent book, "William Nicholson", Samford Schwartz describes a certain type of very closely scrutinised painting of nature, apparantly without artifice, and exemplified most recently by Lucien Freud as tendency particular to British art. He includes Stanley Spencer and the pe-Raphaelites in this current.

An Education (2009): review: 8.5/10

Twickenham, the early 60s and a schoolgirl and her family are enchanted by an older man who offers glamour and an escape from boredom.

Beautifully shot, witty and with marvellous acting.

Is the ending facile?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hotel Mercure, Florianopolis

Hotel Mercure, Florianopolis, oil on canvas, 10 x 15.3 cm; 54 US$

The red in the actual painting contrasts more strongly than is apparant here.

Prince Valiant (1997): review- 6/10

Prince Valiant rescues Excalibur, gets the girl and becomes a Knight of the Round Table.

A film that doesn't take itself too seriously and has many fine fight scenes.

Single White Female (1992): review- 5/10

A lesbian psychopath moves in to share a New York apartment with a female computer programmer who has just separated from her fiancee.

The film begins excellently, and is beautifully shot with a wonderful score.

But it has too few ideas to support its length, and thus becomes wearisome.

White Hunter Black Heart (1990): review- 8/10

In the late forties, an American film director goes to Africa to make a film, but is distracted by the chance of shooting an elephant.

A study of arrogance in various guises- rudeness, racism, insensitivity to others, callousness, vainglory, machismo and disrespect for nature.

These qualities are personified by the white hunter and in others in the colonial society of the hunting station.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Two paintings from Estreito

lOverpass, oil on card, 12.5 x 10 cm

Estreito, Street, oil on card, 10.8 x 10 cm

Two new paintings. For the first time I drove over to the continent to see what I could find for subject matter. It's great to visit unfamiliar neighbourhoods: it's refreshing. I didn't realise how tired I'd got of the familiar streets near my house.

The picture of the overpass was painted first. The second is a response to the confusion of Brazilian streets, with their incredible jumble of telegraph posts, signs, wires and buildings of all sizes and shapes. I shall do a few more like this: they are great fun to paint, and show one that there is a sort of beauty to be found in the visual chaos. It's nice to work very fast and not to fuss with corrections so the effect is lively and fun and fresh.

Calendar (1993): review- 2.5/10

An essay on lost love and Armenian churches by Canadian director Atom Egoyan, who plays a photographer who has visited Armenia to photograph its churches and had a fling with his translator.

Definately arthouse: it probably has something to do with memory, loss, video tape, and the elusiveness of truth.

A film for those who like to sit and ask themselves, "I wonder what this fim is about?": others will find it extremely pretentious.

The Golden Compass (2007): review- 3/10

An orphan is given responsibility for a magical compass which tells the truth.

Extraordinary imagery and animation does not compensate for a lack of emotional connection.

It is impossible to become emotionally involved in the character's dilemmas because the plot is so fussy and their dilemmas so obscurely related.

It's hard to know who this film is really for. From the cast, one presumes it's made for children of about 10-14 years, but the story is surely much too convoluted for them- and the themes of the film hard to relate to (freedom of academics to conduct research is one of them).

Thus, despite the amazing photography and animation, the film is boring.

Fifty Dead Men Walking (2008): review- 6/10

A petty crook becomes an informer for the British while rising in the ranks of the IRA.

Excellent acting, and sometimes wonderfully tense: the relationship between McGartland and Fergus is perfectly described, as is the atmosphere of Catholic housing estates during the troubles.

The film suffers from some Hollywood cliches, however.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Blind Side (2009): review- 4/10

In Memphis lives a blonde wealthy woman with a big house and big hair and gaudy taste and Christian attitudes who speaks to people as if they are dogs. She meets and insists on saving a black boy who has been made homeless, and he joins their family.

None of the characters rise above their status as "types": the result is that the film has a certain sterility, as if the roles have not really been "inhabited" emotionally.

However, the reason the characters are so two-dimensional is that the subject of the film is not how black people think or feel (they scarcely say anything anyway and when they do it is simply to confirm the expectations of white characters).

The true subject of this film is the guilt feelings of rich Southern whites: hence the grimness of Sandra Bullock's demeanor throughout the film: she is on a mission to redeem herself and her culture, and she sets to do this with missionary zeal. There is something de-humanising about this (as if the subject of her zeal and his feelings are irrelevant), and it is appropriate that the means used for the advancement of her black pawn is American football, a peculiarly brutal and humourless sport in which the players' faces are largely hidden by protective helmets.

Five Easy Pieces (1970): review- 7/10

Melancholy, inconclusive film about rejection of relationships; about antagonism, waste and anger.

Nicholsen performs brilliantly as a bad-tempered young man who has abandoned his vocation as a musician and instead does various blue-collar jobs, socialising with people of a much lower class. The film tells how he drives home with his girlfriend to visit his family, maltreating them all.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dancer in the Dark (2000): review- 4/10

Bjork plays a Czech immigrant who is going blind from a congenital disorder. She works in a factory and saves her money to pay for an operation for her son, to prevent him too from going blind. When her landlord tries to steal this money she kills him: she is subsequently found guilty of murder and hung.

The film includes various songs, written and performed by Bjork, and is essentially an anti-capital punishment film.

The film is a mish-mash, featuring shaky camera work, improvised acting, questionable singing, sketchy dancing and a strange limping pace.
At times all this is touching; at others, it is just amateurish. It is also rather too long.

Factotum (2005): review- 9/10

Matt Dillon is magnificently world weary as the struggling writer, stumbling from job to job in St Paul, Minnesota.

This film is Norwegian and there is more than a little of Hamsun's "Hunger" in all this, though the film is based on Bukowski.

Very beautifully shot, with great music too.

Tree, telegraph post

Tree, Telegraph post oil on card, 10 x 13.5 cm

Painted up in the North of the island.

The Adjuster (1992): review-2/10

Interminable drama that suffers from a mistaken sense of its own profundity.

Noah is an insurance inspector while his wife works as a censor for the Canadian board of films, classifying pornography. They live in an uncompleted suburban development. She has warts on the soles of her feet. He helps people assessing their insurace claims, putting them up in a motel.

Meandering, obscure and plotless, it's hard to see who this film is intended for.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fast Food Nation (2006): review- 4/10

Didactic but not unenjoyable film about meat production, Mexicans and student activists in Colorado.

L.A. Confidential (1997): review- 8/10

Intelligent and well acted noir: the rites of passage of an ambitious sergeant, combatting corruption within the LAPD in the 50s.

A little boat moored just off shore

A little boat moored just off shore, Oil on canvas, 11.5 x 9.8 cm; 54 US$ or equivalent.

This painting is much more blue-ish than appears here: the camera has some difficulty in catching certain tones.

Actually the picture is better than this photo suggests (I photographed it various ways and couldn't capture it satisfactorily). The reason for this is that one loses the animation of surface that the paint texture brings, and also because one loses the sense of scale: the picture is small and intimate.

Perhaps the image below is more satisfactory, conveying better the scale of my piece:

I shall lay out all the postcards and photgraph them together tomorrow, to allow comparsion, and show their different sizes.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dorian Gray (2009): review- 6/10

Dorian Gray's soul is corrupted by a hedonistic, cynnical philosophy: the external evidence for this can only be seen in a portrait kept in an attic.

We see Dorian Gray lose his moral sense (at first through lust, later through callousness, anger and murder) but there are no real obstacles to this progress- except for the entreaties of his friends- and this lack of narrative tension means that the plot does not work dramatically.

But the film is a brave one: it is dreamily and elegantly filmed in London.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Urubici: female taste; architecture; 10a Festa Nacional das Hortaliças; Gauchos

Urubici is essentially a single long, straight road with a grand church (see yesterday) at one end and not much at the other and forested mountains all around. It is a cold place for Brazil, and usually gets a tiny bit of snow every year. The population is a mixture of Portuguese, German and Latvian descent, mainly.

We stayed at the Urubici Park Hotel: as before this was enjoyable though they seem to have difficultiues answering emails regarding reservations.

The hotel features a good deal of handicraft work. Indeed, horror vacui seems to have overcome the owner, and every space in the hotel was filled with a hand made affirmation of nature's goodness- though sometimes God gets an affirmation too. I do not know quite why all this horrifies me so.

The Lord is my shepherd: mural on the second floor opposite the stairs.

The manager is a woman: female taste has this peculiarity: this insistant cheefulness, this need for surface decoration. The coming of Easter has obviously excited the manager's creativity, and lent her the opportunity to transform the hotel so it resembles a giant kindergarten.

Throughout Brazil, women - usually those whose children are grown - meet to make such items, which invariably involve representations of flowers and small animals and pieces of cloth. The items are sold in specialist handicraft shops, or exchanged as gifts. I believe such behaviour is not uncommon among the female sex in other countries too.


The town of Urubici features, most interestingly, a small number of attractive Art Deco villas. As I associate this style with seaside towns and cinemas, it seems slightly odd to me in this rustic setting. They are painted in the same ice-cream colours of their cousins in Miami and Southend on Sea. And then there is the main church itself, which I featured here yesterday, which while not strictly Art Deco in my book, is has some of the colourful geometricity associated with the style.

Classic Deco "Sun Motif" as stained glass window.

Such art deco styled buildings can be found also in Florianopolis. I wonder if they are all the product of the same architecture studio?

Some of these buldings are covered in tiles, Portuguese style:


This being Brazil, there is no shortage of religious venues. There has been a veritable wave of new evangelical churches flooding Brazil (Mormons, in pairs like policemen, can be seen patrolling Florianopolis dressed in their trademark black suits despite the heat. I befriended a pair and tried to corrupt them with alchohol: they befriended me and tried to corrupt me with religion: neither side won). This represents disillusion with Catholicism, and a desire for North American cultural values- these new churches are not shy to link material and spiritual success and the style of their pastors is "charismatic".

Saturday night is a slow night, even in Brazillian evangelical churches. Note the tie: evangelical pastors dress like businessmen.


Other local features are some rock carvings (representing quite what is anyone's guess), a trout farm, and various waterfalls.


The Festa Nacional das Hortaliças is a celebration of vegetables:

A particularly impressive display.

There was also, perhaps more excitingly, a rodeo, rock bands and various tents selling country things and a funfair. The rodeo brought a host of Gauchos: rodeo isn't really a Catarinese thing: it's really part of the culture of Rio Grande do Sul. They have a traditional costume of scarves, baggy trousers, hats and knives worn at the belt.

Gaucho culture is much more macho than the culture of Coastal Santa Catarina, which is notable for its gentleness. The police issued some warnings about the knives, and I felt something rough and confrontational in the air.

Two Gaucho ladies.

Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora Mãe dos Homens, Urubici, Santa Catarina, Brazil

I spent the weekend at Urubici in the mountains, a tiny place which contains this marvellous expressionist style Catholic church, which looms above about the small houses around it.

I don't know when it was built: I suspect about 1930: the web tells me just that Padre José Alberto Gonçalves Espíndola was responsible. It is not in a very good state of repair: note the colonies of wasps' nests.

Judging by the empty lots along the main street it seems to me that Urubici was planned with a much larger population in mind than it has: this thesis is supported by the unnecessary, wonderful vastness of this building.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Million Dollar Baby (2004): review- 8.5/10

The rise and fall of a female boxer.

The performances are all excellent, likewise the pacing and photography.

The film includes many engaging vignettes of life in a boxing gym, and is not humourless, though it touches existential themes.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Good Will Hunting (1997): review- 7/10

A maths professor and a psychiatrist act as surrogate mother and father to an orphan-adolescent maths genius, transforming him from an ungrateful, unkind janitor into something else- quite what is a mystery.

Overlong and sentimental but featuring some memorable exchanges

Life or Something Like It (2002): review- 1/10

Even Angelina Jolie's pretty laugh cannot save this dismal, overlong film.

A vagabond predicts the death of a Seattle t.v. reporter in 10 days, prompting her to re-evaluates her life priorities.

Eight recent photos from Itacorubi, Florianópolis

Next, I shall try to get photos of some of the people round here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Moth: tableau and materials

The mask has been worked on slightly to include further modelling of eyes and lips.

Some of the Moths have had slight additions, though they are waiting to fully dry before they recieve the main trasformative element- the addition of antennae, which will be made from the materials seen below:

This tableau ia about 60 cm across: I shall gradually work on additional elements so the final tableau is about 1.5 metres in length.

Inglourious Basterds (2009): review- 7/10

Peculiar film that alternates between sadistic revenge fantasy and spoof. Much of the drama derives from extreme proximity of enemies.

Very leisurely: Pitt's acting is, as usual, utterly flat and unenjoyable: the Nazis are much more fun.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1999): review- 7/10

Middle-class high school students play truant, visiting a glorious Chicago; all the while they are pursued by the school Dean of Students.

Though often very funny, the film too neatly resolves the questions it raises and is therefore less interesting than it might be.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Adam (2009): review- 6/10

Beautifully filmed movie about an engineer with Asberger's Syndrome who pursues a romance with his neighbour, a children's book author.

Occasionally syrupy and somewhat obvious, the film is well acted and lends insights into Asberger's that make it worthwhile.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Precious (2009): review- 3/10

Obese, black Precious is abused in various ways by her poor, morally cretinous family until she is saved by a pretty social worker.

Along the way she steals a huge bucket of fried chicken and fantasises about a male nurse. Oh, and of course she has a baby too... from her own father, who raped her!

Ethically dubious poverty exploitation porn for those who enjoy feeling pity, horror and disgust.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Moth, revisited

Moth as Christ, Christ as Moth

Though I shall work a little more on these pieces, I shall probably not paint them instead leaving them in a less defined state.

"Moth" is a recurring theme for me: I attempted to tackle the theme in monotype two years ago but was not satisfied with the results, then more recently visited it with paper cutouts. The results with the cutouts were nice, but they did not convey the utter horror that these creatures bring me, they were much too cartoonish. This time I intend to combine the moths with other items to make a grand, gothic tableau.

I have picked up from somewhere the idea that moths are Christ symbols: but there seems little evidence to support this as a traditional iconography. I found this, however:

I quote:

"Are we, like the huge Cecropia moth, blundering on in the darkness, oblivious to the universe which is all around us? Are we ignorant to the realities that present themselves in our everyday lives, simply because we aren’t really paying attention to what is going on around us? "

There is also, of course, Thomas Harris's magnificent "The Silence of the Lambs" (one of the cases where the film is greater than the book) where the moth is seen as a symbol of transformation through life, and between sexual conditions. These notions have a pagan ring to me, bringing to mind the Green Man, so beautifully represented in Rosslyn Chapel, Penicuik, near Edinburgh.

Friday, March 5, 2010

There Will be Blood (2007): review- 10/10

Serious, long and vivid: an oilman is consumed by hatred and anger, and conflicts with a strong willed pastor.

The film is exquisitely paced and features beautiful photography and evocative music. The acting is utterly convincing.

Birds and mask: "gesso" experimentation

I'm experimenting with a mixture of P.V.A. glue, water and Plaster of Paris, which is similar to traditional gesso.

The more water in the mix, the more liquid the paste and the longer it takes to dry. Using just glue and plater makes the mix thick and makes it dry extremely fast.

When this "gesso" dries it is slighly malleable, and can be sanded quite happily, leaving quite a smooth surface.

Strips of paper can be dipped in this "gesso" and used like bandages, to help sculpt the piece.

There is something strange about these pieces that is lost with painting.