Monday, September 28, 2015



Moçambique, late September 2015, oil on card, 18 x 22 cm


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Getting ready for New York


Pochade carriers ready to be packed,

TED talks are often repellent and in this, below, as usual, the tone is relentlessly self-congratulatory. The American positivity is nauseating. But I found it interesting nonetheless to understand more about zoning and the development of urban leisure spaces in New York.

The pity is that these modern spaces are over-designed. They are too clean and much too unambiguous to invite rich speculations. Being in them is like being in a computer simulation, a sort of Truman Show.

This is a feeling which predominates through much modern design. Idiosyncrasies and historical accidents are removed and what are left are the smooth  surfaces of hotel atriums. Times Square in the fifies has a sort of messy vigour, and looks like New York ought to look: the modern version resembles a pedestrianized street in a provincial Germans city; and has the strange absent character of the faces of those elderly people whose faces have been surgically "improved". There is something missing with the wrinkles and lines- experience.

 I want yellow cabs and bums and squalor and broken stuff as much as I want new. Broken things are interesting and it shows that people are relating to their environment in some way. Modern design is sterile. And I really don't care if Macy's gets more customers.


And here is my calendar. six days to go:

Well here we  are. Scoring off the days.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Collecting; tourist painting; matchbox labels


A series of matchbox labels from 1959, depicting Stalingrad, now Volgograd.

Here the car suggests film noir, perhaps a scene out of The Third Man.

My favourite of the series depicts Joseph Stalin atop a vast plinth, overseeing his citizens who wander  in the Square of the Fallen Fighters.

A closer look at the monster.

 Is this man about to become a victim of the KGB?

Have a look at these triumphs of Marxist-Leninist culture!

 Where some might see drabness, I sense a sort of seriousness, of civic pride and sincerity. This drawing is somewhat amateurish, but surely this only adds to the labels' charms.

There is a gravity in east-European cultural artifacts which seems, in the content of the ingratiating, often infantalising qualities of much of  Western produce, very appealing.*

The Eastern European matchbox producers made many series depicting civic monuments.

When I visit foreign towns it is such an idea that I have in mind - "tourist pictures"- as I call them and  I compile a list of places to go.- representative buildings and places- and attempt to depict them in an authoritative mode.  This is a way of creating collections.*

Famous tourist sites are so often styled in such a way as to contain and channel viewers or visitors perceptions in extremely limited ways. They are acts of urban propaganda, This is most evident- ironically so- in national monuments and grand squares, which in their nationalistic glory are almost identical to each other, much as world flags differ remarkably little in their colours and graphic devices (Brazil, among few, must be praised for the adventurousness of it's design, and New Zealanders on their recent decision to consider new possibilities).

Nonetheless, the simplicity of purpose seen in the idea of working through a list of important paintings is one of the things that appeals to me. With this simplicity of purpose comes a child's eye view of cities- as a series of monuments or important buildings (like the child's vision of history as a series of important dates). This is immensely appealing to those seeking refuge from complexity. This, and the idea of completion. has immense appeal to the artist weary of the open-endedness of artistic research and who is seeking refuge from the apparent randomness inherent in the pursuit of aesthetic victory.

The other element  relating  to tourist painting is that I like is this is the equipment you require is... and a list of the necessary equipment, as if making art were one of those wholesome activities encouraged by the editors of  The Boy's Own Paper and parodied so nicely by Glen Baxtor's cartoons. The list of equipment obviously parallels the list of things to do in all its earnestness. 

Each item has a most specific function and a delightful old fashioned name and is held in a heavy wooden box, which is secured with enormous brass clips. My equipment does not quite fit into one case, alas: I need to carry the pictures in a shoulder bag, but most of it is extremely sturdy, made of ash and bristle and leather and fine stout British materials, I just lack a Pith Helmet.

With these thoughts in mind I pack my bags for New York.

Glen Baxter, from Trundling Grunts, Bloomsbury, 2002


* Observe, by contrast, how Parisian authorities assaulted wonderful Place Vendôme:

From the Guardian, October 23, 2014:

American artist Paul McCarthy is hitting back agains French critics after his provocative "butt plug" was vandalised last week.

Stung by the public backlash against his giant green installation, Tree, which resembled a sex toy, McCarthy has been working on an “aggressive” response as part of an exhibition at the Paris Mint, officials said on Thursday. The Mint, located on the banks of the Seine opposite the Louvre, is to host a working chocolate factory when it reopens on Saturday after a massive three-year renovation.
Vandals cut the cables of the 25-metre (80ft) inflated sculpture in the Place Vendôme last weekend, amid protests from conservative groups. One passer-by was so incensed by the installation, near the Ritz hotel, that he slapped the artist.
McCarthy decided against re-erecting the Tree, which was deflated by security officials, and has instead planned an artistic response. 

**One might attempt to speculate further on the emotions that drive collectors. It strikes me that the desire for completion, the delight in numbers, the pedantry (ah but this is the thirds edition! it is the second with the flaw in the lower left hand corner that is really sought), and the sense of obsession seen in collectors are in opposition to common creative and artistic energies, in which spontaneous responses are enjoyed, which  have unpredictable results, and in which experimentation are usual (we can see this opposition in Perec's novel Life a User's Manual, in the training of Bartlebooth in the art of painting, as a sort of existential exercise to conquer, or control experience.  Bartlebooth then (here I quote from WIKIPEDIA) embarks on a 20-year trip around the world  painting a  watercolour of a different port roughly every two weeks for a total of 500 watercolors. Bartlebooth then sends each painting back to France, where the paper is glued to a support board, and a carefully selected craftsman named Gaspard Winckler (also a resident of 11 rue Simon-Crubellier) cuts it into a jigsaw puzzle. Upon his return, Bartlebooth spends his time solving each jigsaw, re-creating the scene.

It is notable that "Barltebooth displayed at the start a complete lack of natural talent", a natural mediocrity which is only conquered through steady application of process).


Many thanks to S. Mirkowski and Professor J.B. Deregowski for assistance regarding Russian words on the labels.


Monday, September 14, 2015

House, St John's Wood, London; naive painting


House, St John's Wood, oil on card, 65 x 65 cm  NOT FOR SALE

This picture was painted back in 13 years ago in Hamilton Terrace, NW8, in North London. It's  a handsome street with grand Victorian Villas. 

Looking back on the paintings I did then, I sense that they were animated by an idea of how paintings ought to be made and appear, which in their insistent "correctness" might be described as naive

I did not think much about Rousseau at the time, but I see that they share a good deal with his pictures. There is a similar insistence on explanation, completeness. This is expressed through absolute clarity of delineation (note how difficult the natural messiness of foliage becomes to an artist with this mindset!). There is also an underlying sense of certainty about what a picture should do. Thus the images are unambiguous representations, usually placed centrally (none of the messy lopping off of corners or showing only half of a thing that you get in Impressionist art). 

There is a sense of certainty in how a painting ought to be executed technically, Rousseau followed the manufacturing conventions of nineteenth-century Salon painters such as Bouguereau. I had very clear notions of "truthfulness" which I followed rigorously - only working plein air, insisting that the piece was uniform in terms of finish, omitting figures, and ensuring that all parts of the painting "fitted together" (as opposed, for instance to the geometrical discontinuities of Cezanne).  These values often lend naive painting the qualities of furniture. Everything has to be very solid and make complete sense, like a farmhouse chair. Naive paintings are frequently heavily executed.

Behind all this is an absolute clarity as to the role of the artist in society, in which his function is very plainly to present and record for posterity the higher values of the day. I recall that when I was painting this picture I was convinced of the importance of my role as someone sustaining the art of painting (as if it were about to become extinct) and, moreover, the higher values of art. I was enthusiastic about architecture because I could see in it a clear expression of social ideals (married to design and practical skills)- thus my motivations were greater than mere subjectivity. In naive art the subject is chosen for it's obvious consequence (in Rousseau's case, such images as War (1894), or Liberty Inviting the Artists to Exhibit at the 22nd Salon des Independents (1906)). Indeed, Rousseau's art would be pompous were it not for the childishness of his drawing, which takes away the threat inherent in pomposity.

 One might observe that such self-important notions are commonplace among painters, and could be heard from representatives of romantic, modern and postmodern schools. I would suggest, in response, that what distinguishes naive painters is that while romantics might hold similar views of their own importance, their attitudes are coloured by anxiety; and the positions of post-modern artists are usually "ironical" (and extremely tiresomely so as well). There is little posturing among naive painters.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Antonio Carlos, church


Antonio Carlos, church, oil on card, 16 x 18 cm

I drove around, led along a dirt road by a road sign with the word Rússia (who would not have been tempted?) and which led to an enchanting little valley in which a few houses nestled. But in the end I decided to paint the church of Antonio Carlos again.

I worked for an hour. The first picture came out heavily. I destroyed it. The second was blessed with the intelligence the first gave, however, and I painted the second with speedy delight. The afternoon was perfect, or would have been had it not been for the constant barking of dogs. 

Antonio Carlos is pleasant- very orderly for Brazil- with little flowers planted along the road verges, and tidy houses. I don't know what the residents feel about their disorderly compatriots, but I doubt it is respect. 


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Canasvieiras, woods


Woods, Canasvieiras, oil on card, 20 x 18 cm

Broken branches, roots, soil, Canasvieiras, oil on card, 8 x 22 cm

Two more from the ongoing series of the woods. I am happy with the abbreviated style, somewhat angular, like André Derain, and the colouring, which takes a palette that is new for me.

 I feel confident with the larger scale and ready to conquer New York in October.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Biguaçu, popular housing


Biguaçu, popular housing, oil on card, 16 x 18 cm   SOLD

It threatened to rain, and even began to drizzle slightly, but I continued nonetheless, thus exemplifying that often forgotten virtue: persistence.

The light here and up in Tijucas further up the coast always seems flat and bright and fresh, and although it is squalid with rubbish strewn here and there, I feel content working there- when I am left in peace, that is, as the locals seem particularly keen on conversing with me as if I have just arrived from Mars. The British tactic of responding slowly "umm umm", hoping they will take the hint, to their conversational gambits seems only to encourage them.


I have been looking at pictures of India and it seems to me that it might be perfect for painting, with such lovely colours and the general jumble sometimes so incredibly lively and picturesque. 

I detest crowds and filth and disorder, but perhaps a smaller city would be tolerable for a couple of weeks? As it is very cheap there, perhaps I could go for a few months, visiting several such cities and get a solid body of work together. It is a point of some annoyance to me how superficial my trips so often are.

 The main thing would be to find a cheap flight...