I find the Spanish painter Sorolla to be one of the most technically amazing painters, because of his ability to render water and the beach light so perfectly. The colour… so sensitive and so dazzling in it’s variety…
He gets the joy and freedom (with a touch of melancholy) of being at the beach.
Nobody else (I can think of) in the history of art does it so well. And so many paintings. Hundreds… though I’m not sure of the exact number. But the man was absolutely prolific.
Many of his pictures were painted in from four to six mornings. Many in one or two on the site.
Supposedly he had no patience for slow painting. I know what he means.
Here’s a painting from a series of aerial landscapes of Victoria, Australia by my friend John Fitzgerald. I just love their boldness and clarity. They’re quite large (about 90 x 90cm) and when you see them in real life you actually feel like a bird hovering high above the land. They’re deeply freeing paintings.
Here’s what he says about his work:
My paintings are evocations of the atmosphere and energy that l feel to be true and representative of places that l have come to know. I use local color, but also color, that for me, expresses the mood or essence of a particular place at a particular time. They are based on my own experience’s, feelings/perceptions. They are subjective and personal, but absolutely real for me. I paint from an aerial perspective so that l can go beyond the literal, and imbue the land with a sense of what l perceive to be it’s power, force, presence and monumentality. I am interested in archetypal forms in nature. Forms that are aesthetically similar when viewed in a particular context, but entirely different in their operation;-as in the coast-line, mimicking a horizon line, or a line of hills, when seen from above. For me this geographic form allows me to suggest, in paint, the unity of all elements, atmosphere and earth, physical
and spiritual, and it is from this stand-point of unity that l paint.
He’s going to have an exhibition at some stage in 2012 or early 2013 so I’ll keep you posted when the dates get closer.
Here’s a painting by the Australian painter William Robinson (born Brisbane 1936-). I think he’s one of the best painters in the world currently working.
In his recent work he mainly paints the coastal rainforest of Queensland, Australia. These are not simple, cursory paintings. Paint slapped on. They have a richly painted, subtle surface that has the quality of a natural form like a bird’s nest or a spider’s web. Every square inch is sensitively modulated and to a purpose.
One of the first things you notice is the perspective. Which way am I looking? Up, down or through? The genius of Robinson is that it’s all three and he weaves these together seamlessly just like our own perceptions when looking and experiencing things. This is also related to the visual merging and ‘messiness’ of forms in the Australian bush and it’s an essential characteristic. You’d be lying if you had everything neat and tidy. But it’s not a mess as he ties it all up with a simple elemental composition of circle and partial spheres which create a kind of net tying everything together.
Here’s what he says about his technique.
‘I tend to do a lot of pencil sketches, more scribbles. All my paintings come out of scribbly things I’ve observed and noted. I sketch a painting very loosely on the canvas in charcoal, then leave it to develop in strength; I build up a rapport with this skeleton, then I paint it. Rather than paint all over the canvas, and build a work that way, I start from the top or the side in, and totally finish a section as I go. I often start with the sky – it’s like looking into a person’s eyes, it usually gives me the key the piece is written in. Colour fascinates me, colour is everything. I like to work wet on wet, to go back into the paint when it is wet, rather than scumbling another layer over the top of dry colours. I’m a slow painter, but I am consistent.’
Notice that he finishes the painting in sections which is quite unusual these days. Most artists work over the whole painting simultaneously as I do to create a unity of form mainly. I think it’s incredible that he manages to create visual unity using this method with this particular subject matter. But I suppose by the time he starts putting paint down he’s obviously thoroughly worked through the problems based on the charcoal drawing and many years painting experience. To my mind it can only come from an artist who can clearly perceive the spiritual heart of life. The interconnectedness of every living thing.
They are simply stunning paintings full of light and metaphysical mystery.
Recently when we were in Estonia I sold a couple of landscape paintings and received some commissions (2 flower paintings and a cat painting). It’s always really pleasing when someone likes your work. What a place! I sent the painting to Estonia this week (thankyou to the capable hands of Mari) and it’s now safely in the owner’s hands. I hope she has many happy years with it.
I also discovered a new artist, Lola Liivat (1928-) while I was there, as I met her cousin. She’s one of Estonia’s first (and very few) abstract expressionist artists and she kindly lent me a lavishly illustrated catalogue of her work also containing some very interesting essays translated into English.
The Estonians write in a particularly poetic style which is quite abstract and sometimes difficult to comprehend. The essay was about abstraction in Estonian art and introduced some interesting ideas. The history of modern art is always told like it’s a competition between countries. And France, Russia, Germany and US are the winners as that’s where the major art movements of the 20th modernism originated. Everybody else is provincial. But in this essay by Kaire Nurk she makes the interesting point about abstraction being a style that was taken up as an response to the need for freedom in terms of the historical context of Estonian history. (Estonia was invaded and occupatied by the Soviet Union and the Nazis).
Can you really call a country provincial simply because it doesn’t follow the ‘trends’ at the same time? What do you think?
I was a big fan of the musician/poet/artist Patti Smith when I was a teenager in the 70’s. Many hours were spent lying on the floor with the headphones blaring. I learnt a lot from her. French poetry for one which I had no idea about in my little suburban world. She worshipped Rimbaud.
Recently I read her memoir ‘Just Kids‘ on a plane going to Australia. It details her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe but I found it more interesting learning about how she worked creatively. She worked her butt off basically. And always stayed true to herself. And was fearless. She’s stayed that way too. I prefer her more sensitive, beautiful drawings more these days. Her voice is the voice of the earth but the drawings are from another planet. Though I still like to rock out occasionally to ‘People have the Power’. A great, inspiring song.
Here’s the lyrics from her song ‘Land’ (1975). I was quite surprised by what I had been singing all those years ago. It’s pretty full on but I’m sure Rimbaud would’ve approved. He’s included in a couple of lines.
The boy was in the hallway drinking a glass of tea
From the other end of the hallway a rhythm was generating
Another boy was sliding up the hallway
He merged perfectly with the hallway,
He merged perfectly, the mirror in the hallway
The boy looked at johnny, johnny wanted to run,
But the movie kept moving as planned
The boy took johnny, he pushed him against the locker,
He drove it in, he drove it home, he drove it deep in johnny
The boy disappeared, johnny fell on his knees,
Started crashing his head against the locker,
Started crashing his head against the locker,
Started laughing hysterically
When suddenly johnny gets the feeling he’s being surrounded by
Horses, horses, horses, horses
Coming in in all directions
White shining silver studs with their nose in flames,
He saw horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses.
Do you know how to pony like bony maroney
Do you know how to twist, well it goes like this, it goes like this
Baby mash potato, do the alligator, do the alligator
And you twist the twister like your baby sister
I want your baby sister, give me your baby sister, dig your baby sister
Rise up on her knees, do the sweet pea, do the sweet pee pee,
Roll down on her back, got to lose control, got to lose control,
Got to lose control and then you take control,
Then you’re rolled down on your back and you like it like that,
Like it like that, like it like that, like it like that,
Then you do the watusi, yeah do the watusi
Life is filled with holes, johnny’s laying there, his sperm coffin
Angel looks down at him and says, “oh, pretty boy,
Can’t you show me nothing but surrender ? ”
Johnny gets up, takes off his leather jacket,
Taped to his chest there’s the answer,
You got pen knives and jack knives and
Switchblades preferred, switchblades preferred
Then he cries, then he screams, saying
Life is full of pain, I’m cruisin’ through my brain
And I fill my nose with snow and go rimbaud,
Go rimbaud, go rimbaud,
And go johnny go, and do the watusi, oh do the watusi
There’s a little place, a place called space
It’s a pretty little place, it’s across the tracks,
Across the tracks and the name of the place is you like it like that,
You like it like that, you like it like that, you like it like that,
And the name of the band is the
Twistelettes, twistelettes, twistelettes, twistelettes,
Twistelettes, twistelettes, twistelettes, twistelettes
Baby calm down, better calm down,
In the night, in the eye of the forest
There’s a mare black and shining with yellow hair,
I put my fingers through her silken hair and found a stair,
I didn’t waste time, I just walked right up and saw that
Up there — there is a sea
Up there — there is a sea
Up there — there is a sea
The sea’s the possibility
There is no land but the land
(up there is just a sea of possibilities)
There is no sea but the sea
(up there is a wall of possibilities)
There is no keeper but the key
(up there there are several walls of possibilities)
Except for one who seizes possibilities, one who seizes possibilities.
I seize the first possibility, is the sea around me
I was standing there with my legs spread like a sailor
(in a sea of possibilities) I felt his hand on my knee
(on the screen)
And I looked at johnny and handed him a branch of cold flame
(in the heart of man)
The waves were coming in like arabian stallions
Gradually lapping into sea horses
He picked up the blade and he pressed it against his smooth throat
And let it deep in
Dip in to the sea, to the sea of possibilities
It started hardening
Dip in to the sea, to the sea of possibilities
It started hardening in my hand
And I felt the arrows of desire
I put my hand inside his cranium, oh we had such a brainiac-amour
But no more, no more, I gotta move from my mind to the area
(go rimbaud go rimbaud go rimbaud)
And go johnny go and do the watusi,
Yeah do the watusi, do the watusi …
Shined open coiled snakes white and shiny twirling and encircling
Our lives are now entwined, we will fall yes we’re together twining
Your nerves, your mane of the black shining horse
And my fingers all entwined through the air,
I could feel it, it was the hair going through my fingers,
(I feel it I feel it I feel it I feel it)
The hairs were like wires going through my body
I I that’s how i
That’s how i
(at that tower of babel they knew what they were after)
(they knew what they were after)
[everything on the current] moved up
I tried to stop it, but it was too warm, too unbelievably smooth,
Like playing in the sea, in the sea of possibility, the possibility
Was a blade, a shiny blade, I hold the key to the sea of possibilities
There’s no land but the land
Looked at my hands, and there’s a red stream
That went streaming through the sands like fingers,
Like arteries, like fingers
(how much fits between the eyes of a horse? )
He lay, pressing it against his throat (your eyes)
He opened his throat (your eyes)
His vocal chords started shooting like (of a horse) mad pituitary glands
The scream he made (and my heart) was so high (my heart) pitched that nobody heard,
No one heard that cry,
No one heard (johnny) the butterfly flapping in his throat,
Nobody heard, he was on that bed, it was like a sea of jelly,
And so he seized the first
(his vocal chords shot up)
(like mad pituitary glands)
It was a black tube, he felt himself disintegrate
(there is nothing happening at all)
And go inside the black tube, so when he looked out into the steep
Saw this sweet young thing (fender one)
Humping on the parking meter, leaning on the parking meter
In the sheets
There was a man
To the simple
Rock & roll
Eugene Von Guerard ‘Tower Hill’ 1855 Oil on Canvas
I caught up with a painting buddy in Melbourne recently and we went to an exhibition of Eugene Von Guerard’s (1811-1901) paintings and drawings at NGV Australia. We had a great time talking about everything except the Von Guerard paintings and probably annoyed everyone in the gallery who were so quiet and pious in their viewing. Strange. Does it have to be that quiet?
‘Nature Revealed’ is the title of the exhibition. I don’t know whether it’s quite true of his paintings for me but it’s a very comprehensive and enjoyable exhibition of his work. Originally born in Austria he came to Australia in 1852 to join in on the gold rush in Victoria like thousands of others from all over the world. Didn’t discover much gold but he did discover the landscape and decided painting commisions for rich pastoralists was more lucrative.
Most Victorians are quite familiar with his paintings from childhood as he painted much of the Victorian landscape in his 19th century German picturesque style. We had ‘Woodlands’ (1869) at home which I loved.
It’s highly detailed painting. Kind of naive. Sometimes it seems like a scene from somewhere on the Nile. I don’t think he got the Australian light right but he tried. It’s too soft by half but he did get the colour of the sea occasionally and made a great attempt at the flora and fauna. This has so much accuracy that for example the painting at the top was used as a botanical template over a century later when the government wanted to reforest the area with native flora. Good on you Von Guerard.
Take a look at ‘Nature Revealed’ if you happen to be in Melbourne and are into landscape painting. And if you can’t be there during it’s run, there’s a few permanently on display at the same gallery. Also his ‘View of Geelong’ at Geelong Art Gallery is worth taking a trip for.
Eugene Von Guerard: Nature Revealed
National Gallery of Victoria, Federation Square, Melbourne
Dates: 16th April – 7th August 2011
In fact, I thought my calling was to be a painter.
Gosta Adrian-Nilsson ‘Skapelsen’ 1918 Oil on Canvas
Recently we visited the fantastic Prince Waldemarsudde’s museum on the island of Djurgården in Stockholm as it’s always a beautiful place to go even if you don’t think much of the exhibitions. This time they were having a retrospective of the Swedish artist Gosta Adrian-Nilsson or GAN (1884-1965). No I’d never heard of him either. But what a revelation it was. Cubist paintings which absolutely dazzled with colour and light. They shot out of the dimly lit gallery and splintered into your mind.
GAN was a pioneer of futurism and cubism in Sweden in the 1910’s and 20’s and the exhibition featured about 125 of his paintings, drawings, collages and sketches. They’re beautifully made (paint still gleaming and fresh) compared to a painter such as Picasso and being a closeted gay man many of the paintings had a masked homo-erotic aspect. Sailors, athletes, beautiful young men all in a cubist symphony of form. I just loved the groups of sailors in their uniforms. (And I must say the uniforms in Sweden are the best I’ve seen. All the police, army, train inspectors, whoever are dressed in very stylish uniforms. They’re scary and cool at the same time. A bit like GAN’s paintings.) Though there’s whimsicalness in his paintings too that became more obvious in his illustrations and children’s book later in his life.
Many painters picked up cubism and abandoned it and GAN did too. Though for the early part of the 20th century it was a style that seemed to embody for many artists a way they could express a changed sense of speed, dimension, new visual complexity and ideas in their environments. But the cubist line is definitely not a sensuous one.
I painted cubistically for a little while- to try to understand it. But it’s like painting with a straight jacket on. You simply can’t express yourself fully in that style. It’s the opposite of expressionism which is my natural home. (Though they are both after more reality- one tries to understand reality by analysing space. The other by uncovering emotional truth. )
It’s a fantastic show and well worth seeing if you happen to be in Stockholm. The catalogue was entirely in Swedish but I bought it anyway as the pictures are good quality reproductions. Though he should have a wider audience, so it was a shame the curator didn’t produce something in English.
Paul Cezanne ‘Mont Sainte Victoire’ 1898-1902 Hermitage Museum, Russia
Sometimes you forget how much you loved particular artists. Recently I saw one of Cezanne’s Mont St Victoire paintings on the internet and I remembered how much his paintings influenced my art aspirations when I was young.
From his paintings I realised that landscape could be serious and not just full of chocolate box sentiments. Chocolate box sentiments are all fine and dandy but they’re all about human desire rather than the landscape itself which is what I was interested in discovering.
I think I could relate to Cezanne’s later paintings so much because the light is so bright. Similar to Australia. The blue skies. The kind of shimmering heat that affects your perceptions.
When I was at art school you were always taught that Cezanne wanted to “treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone” You can see the geometrical perceptions more obviously in his still life paintings such as the one below.
Paul Cezanne ‘Still Life’ 1893
Look at the spherical shapes of the vase and apples and the strong diagonals which create triangular shapes subliminally. If you look closely you see the broken brushwork of the impressionists. But it is so solid (unlike the impressionists) because of the structural (geometrical) stress in all the objects in the picture. The colour strengthens this. Even the tablecloth structure is stressed not the texture. It’s all about the essential structure of form and impressing this upon the viewer. Even air has form and structure according to Cezanne. But you see it more obviously in the later work and the watercolours.
In the painting at the top Cezanne flattens space, not so much like a japanese print, but to create a space where everything is unified in multiple dimensions and structure. The air, mountain, trees, buildings are all made of the same stuff. The geometry is not really obvious but embodied in his small, faceted brushstrokes which together create this kind of force field of matter and colour simultaneously. It’s almost abstract.
They are still incredible, powerful paintings. Picasso and Braque thought so especially and took off into cubism using Cezanne as a basis for their own work.