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May, 2009

The Painters’ Desire

May 30th, 2009

"Spring Meadow", oil on mat board, 20cm x 16cm, 2009
"Spring Meadow", oil on mat board specifically prepared for oil, 20cm x 16cm, 2009

What are the effects of the painter’s desires? What about the motivations leading to the perceptions and execution of a particular work. At what point do conviction and a sense of purpose come into play?

In asking these sorts of questions we come to realize that we cannot separate the painter from life. The life of the painters, their thinking and ideas, what they eat for breakfast and so on come first. Technique and style we find to be of only secondary concern.

A painter arrives at the moment of making a brushstroke as a consequence of living. The past that constitutes that life invokes itself in the stroke. If the painter is of one piece each of these brushstrokes contribute to a painting that speaks to us as a complete statement. That is to say we have then something felt and seen as a unified whole.

It feels strange to write these words. Is it not self-evident, these things? Well, no. They are routinely overlooked and misunderstood even as they appear to have been questioned in depth.

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Rules for Painters

Originally posted on April, 17, 2009

"Ventoux Spring", oil on canvas, 30cm x 24cm, 2009
"Ventoux Spring", oil on canvas, 30cm x 24cm, 2009

The rule that there are no rules is the appeal of what some understand as the Zen approach: the anytime anything goes ethic, or non-ethic as it were. We get into difficulty, it seems to me as painters by applying this “beat? philosophy (i.e. this is not classic Zen) in a rigid manner. Properly understood the Zen perspective gives the latitude to “think? in terms of right and wrong in a limited domain such as painting; This, even though the world at large is seen to be beyond right and wrong when it is not put into a frame. But without some form of intellectualizing each painting’s outcome is as precarious as a throw of the dice.

“The superior man understands what is right, the inferior man understands what sells.? (Confucius)

In the changing conditions of today, there are certainly no silver bullets. Things have been difficult for painters for some time and will continue for the foreseeable future. All is not doom and gloom however. Think back to the adverse conditions which the impressionists faced: having to flee France for safety, the destruction of paintings, extreme financial conditions and so on.

Galleries in France seem to be threatened by the internet. I have not had this expressed directly by gallery owners. It is simply an observation of their reactions when I bang up the subject. As difficult survival has been for most of them recently this reaction is easy enough to understand.

I hold out hope that I’ll find that one gallery that I want to associate with. I believe it is best to work only with a single gallery. Also, it is important that the relationship is a good fit. It will not work otherwise.

Published in french as Règles pour les peintres

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Provence Paintings

Originally posted on April, 13, 2009

"Walk to the Ventoux" oil on mat board, 20cm x 16cm, 2009
"Walk to the Ventoux" oil on mat board specifically prepared for oil, 20cm x 16cm, 2009

With the explosion of visual images over the last one hundred and fifty years it is as if our brains moved from the cortex to the receptors in our eyes. Like it or not the holographic reality that we live in is created visually. From cradle to grave we are nurtured in a way so seductive we gladly give our all to it. Long live the zietgeist!

I can remember clearly as a young boy the time and place this state of affairs became evident to me. This occurred in a very personal and intimate way. It changed my life and I have not been the same since. I was 4 months past my 13th birthday. Certain areas in Provence around Mount Ventoux trigger the emotions associated with this understanding. It is a very comfortable mental place for me. As I get a better grasp of its meaning I become even more comfortable. And so it goes.

My apologies for the rather ecliptic manner of expressing these thoughts; it is unfortunate that in this area our limitations in verbal expression become most acute. Visually I’m slowly approaching these feelings, very slowly. Expressing this in terms of paint will no doubt involve much work and certainly some grace from the powers that be. Please wish me well.

Each year in March, my wife Françoise and I head south. The last three years we went to Picasso country on the Midi. Going and coming there we would stop for a couple of days close to the Mount Ventoux. This year we spent 3 weeks there. Even though the weather could have been more cooperative I came back with a lot small paintings, sketches and photographs which will help me develop some themes I have begun working on. I have found that for me it takes a long time before I do a good work motivated by a particular area. (It is just like that for me, but this is a subject for another time.) In the coming weeks I’ll share some of the paintings. The one shown here is quite small. I have found that if you are going to stretch your creativity one of the best way to do it is to work either much smaller or larger than your normal “comfortable? sizes. It forces you to both look and work differently. For me it is all about finding that fine edge between reflection and experience. As we better understand the relationship between things we understand that our painting has little to do with these things. It is about relationships.

Published in french as Peintures de Provence

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Poetic integrity

Originally posted on March, 13, 2009

It has never failed to amaze me how we become stuck in our ruts. Most of us change slowly if ever. I’ve done a fair amount of travelling. And at one time I was inclined to talk to many people. Numerous times I’ve found people living close to a scenic wonder they have never seen. When I say close that could be Montana where people are found who have not been to Glacier National Park. I kid you not. I found several people in Montana who had not been to this mind blowing natural splendor.

The point I want to make requires a strong qualification. I lived in the US most of my life. I’ve been living in France 15 years. One of the first things I observed in French people was a natural or genetic interest in art and painting. I was flabbergasted. Here there is much more apparent interest in painting than in the US, much more. Notice that I said apparent! The interest I fear is somewhat superficial. I have found many who knew very little about the history of art in France. Many were not familiar with the names of major French painters of the recent past. And these individuals are actively engaged in the arts.

Let us take a glance back to before the First World War. The integrity of the French painters was intact. You have innovation along with a tradition. After the war the School of Paris managed to install itself as the only paradigm. It becomes the only game in town. Today, this spirit continues in France although there are cracks in the façade. Its influence on art in the world at large outside France is near zero. Quite a radical turn of events when you think about it! What could have possibly happened to bring this about?

The questions from this point quickly multiply. Answers are in short supply. The balance, in any case, between poetic and literal expression was lost.

A painting does not begin with an idea. If it does I believed the artist has lost his way. If a painting is to be successful it becomes an object: a work of art that create experience. Ideas come into play as a result or a by product of that experience.

If a painting conveys immediate experience there is a huge hole in the modernist theory that form is content. I have written on these pages that there is NO content. Just experience! And after that initial experience we have ideas as to its meaning which may or may not have occurred to the artist.

So what happened? I think that in the aftermath of the horror of the war we find pundits establishing the modern day equivalent of the Academy. Along with that we have the professionalization of the art, with that the ideal that the creative person was an active moral force in society was lost. Before this there was a certain respect for someone dedicating their life to artistic production. What followed was a withdrawal of that respect. Degrees and “official” recognition become necessary for survival. Respect is no longer possible.

Coming back to what I said. I said that this apparent interest was superficial. I believe that along with the professionalization of the arts you also lose something in society. Most in our society become twice removed from the reading and the experiencing of poetic expression. It is somewhat ironic that in the US this professionalization took place only within the last 30 or 40 years. How this will play out is anyone’s guess. I’m encouraged by the vitality I see in some young painters. Can they keep it up? It is not easy in today’s social climate.

What is my point? I guess I’m being my provocative self. The artist today is entering a precarious economic situation if he or she is not an established artist. Along with this challenge is a big, big caveat. There is unprecedented potential for real creative change at both the aesthetic and as a consequence the social level.

Published in french as Integrité poétique

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