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Oil Painting & Health

June 29th, 2011

No need today to point out that solvents are not good for you. Particularly if you expose yourself to them several hours on a daily basis. It was probably 25 years ago that I had an interesting conversation with a Winsor & Newton rep. about solvents. He was himself a painter and lost fellow painters to lung cancer. It was actually before this time that I had stopped painting oils for health reasons. But everytime my health improved I would do some oil painting. And always I searched for a long term solution. I never found one that was satisfactory. Nothing for me replaced oil and turpentine. So, a couple of years ago I stopped painting. Again for health reasons. And, ultimately, the solution was simple. Stop using solvents. I told myself that I would give it one year. I began painting with oil straight from the tube with only linseed or safflower oil used to moisten and clean the brush. I’m heading into my ninth month and am begining to feel pretty good about the results. I have a personal exhibit in August and want to show fresh work. So, wish me luck. Soon, I’ll take some photos and start posting them.

Published in french as Peinture à l’huile et santé


Comment and Answer : The Truth of the Painter

December 9th, 2010

Anne says :

The truth, where is it? The truth what is it ?
Large question indeed.
Is not the truth subjective ?
Physically, it depends upon the point of view.
For exemple, Is a photography a true representation of reality? It is rather the vision of it that the photographer has wanted to give by not putting into it the garbage which is just outside the shot. The notion of in the field of vision / outside the field is already an interpretation witting or unwitting of the “Truth”.
Psychologically, the truth is even more subjective ?
Two persons will live a given situation in two very different ways. And however this experience is one (in the meaning unique) and therefore it has a priori only one truth. This makes me think about factual truth. After all a fact is a fact, unquestionable, confirmed.
But though, in history, the historical thought based upon real facts is in constant evolution. In science, the verity of to day will not be the truth of to morrow.! The discovery of a new “scientifical truth” will shake the truth.
I think we need to ask ourselves the question of the truth that we accept: our own truth, the one of our family, of our kin, of our colleague, of our culture, of our time. And for art, with my poor knowledge in this area, I think that the essential is that the artist respects hi truth, his own truth in the instant he is creating ( so “be true towards yourself”).
I agree with Corot about the truth of the first impression.
We finally come back most of the time to our first impression about people, about the landscape, about the content of our plate (here visual), about our future housing, about our work, about the work what we are looking at.

Denis responds :

Thank you Anne for your thoughtful remarks.

Here is the bottom line for me, I believe that what we see and what we think about that experience is important. We arrive at an understanding of what the words we use to describe and explain things represent. When they arrive at the point of becoming abstractions we can then get those words into perspective. In this context, it is not the things we know that create problems for us … it is the things we know that are not so. A poor grasp of abstract thought or abstract words compounds those problems. (I’ll write more about this probblem in a future article.) Art is largely about a good grasp of the tradition of painting and problem solving, not the pursuit of abstractions such as our common understanding of the word truth.

As you see, Anne, I am short on answers, long on questions. I trust that my studies and intuition lead me to good ones. This, I believe is the path of a painter.

Ciao, Denis,

Published in french as Commentaire et réponse sur “La vérité du peintre”


The painter’s Truth

November 30th, 2010

I understand that being “politically correct” in much of todays world precludes delving very deeply into philosophical matters. Has this affected the way we think and talk about art? I believe that perhaps this is the case. What do you think?

In the middle of the 19th century, Sainte Beuve summed up the current state of affairs thus: “The beautiful, the true, the good is a fine slogan and yet it is specious. If I had a slogan it would be the true, the true alone. And not the beautiful and the good get along as well as they can.” He was, I believe, speaking to the importance beginning to be placed on scientific and artistic truth. He was close to the painters. Corot was to talk about the importance of the first impression, truth and accuracy. Odd, considering he was so adept at fitting his impressions to classical notions of composition and design.

Truth. Exactly what is it? Does it have a connection with “to thine own self be true”? Is it enough to follow the current opinions flavored with the latest ideas as to the meaning of truth? How is a painter to know what to paint? Is it really as simple as truth or fiction?


Most painters blindly follow the zietgeist. “You must be free and unique like no others.” This is not freedom. If you are not free you would not know the truth if it bit you on the arse. Freedom is a precondition for the painter or any creative individual.

Published in french as La vérité du peintre


Slave to Paint Part II

October 31st, 2009

"Modern Houses", oil on linen, 46cm x 36cm, 2009
"Modern Houses", oil on linen, 46cm x 36cm, 2009

The other day my wife read on FriendFeed that “a society without a stable arts base is a parking lot”. I do not know who it was that said that but they nailed it. I began writing this blog (first article posted originally in April 2007) with this essential core thought. I mean what in the hell are we thinking of. Art is today exactly whatever you want it to be from a pile of rocks, a dead cat, to you name it, n’importe quoi.

Many art pundits tell us that Marcel Duchamp is responsible for this state of affairs. They imply that exhibiting a urinal and signing it “R. Mutt” started this slide to nothingness. What utterly simplistic bullshit. Having said that, understanding what has gone on over the last couple of hundred years with European Culture is not easy. I do not by any means consider myself an intellectual but I am a thinker with good intuitive instincts. It has literally taken me at least 50 years of continual reading and pondering to just begin getting my mental teeth on the problem. This blog is an attempt at clarification. For these fifty years I have been a slave to this pursuit: paint is the symbolic medium and writing an exercise in understanding.

Interestingly, the interest as measured by traffic to this site is significantly weighted to French readership. The English visits are very low. Reading anything from this is difficult at best. (For one thing I live in France). However, I am very thankful to have a strong French following. Having said that, my purpose in writing is not strong reader following. I am attempting to learn how to talk about things I am beginning to recognize as important. Understanding seems to be the name of the game. Making money and fame have never been the goal of honest painters.

Published in french as Esclave de la peinture Partie II


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