Monday, October 12, 2015

Fallingwater

One of the great Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, in the Laurel mountains of southern Pennsylvania. I went there with Nina, because Nina is an architect who is also an acolyte of FLW, which meant that I got to see the place through the eye of somebody who really understood what we were looking at. The colours all belong to FLW's palette, achieved by scouring the Internet for stained glass windows he had made, and other designs as well as buildings, and opening them in a paint programme that included a colour editor; the variations in quantities of primary colour mixed with pigment turned out to be minimal, and I used the median for my construction. In addition, if you zoom in, you will see various pieces of FLW that are not part of Fallingwater, but which I added or incorporated to make the greater homage.

A longer essay on FLW can be found in "Travels In Familiar Lands"; or will be found, as the book is not yet published.




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Monday, August 10, 2015

The Girl with the Yellow Hair

She was three rows in front of me at a public lecture on something architectural that I was attending because a friend was one of the panellists; three rows, and six seats along that row, so that I mostly only saw the back of her head, the deeply blonde hair that might have been natural, but probably wasn't. In front of us was a table for the four panellists, so inevitably her head was turning all the time, as speakers alternated the answering of the forum's questions. A quarter turned, with the arc lights catching the edges of her profile like sunlight, and she could have passed for nineteen; half turned, and now the arc lights cast shadows, of hair and nose and that very precise placement of her hand against her face, but with only a single finger making contact, and then only brushing the upper lip, she could not have been a day under thirty, with a clear sense of what she would look like at forty-five. At the end of the event she got up, as we all did, and my friend introduced her to me, her older sister, and I knew that my friend had celebrated fifty not a month before, and I remembered that she had told me that her sister was dying of some obscure lymphatic cancer, and had only months to live. How to capture all of those ages that were concurrent and simultaneous in her, in a picture that had to fix one particular profile, one particular set of light and shadows? How to convey the monumental sadness of so much beauty being on the verge of disappearing from the world?


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The Grey Thinker

One of the great modern art critics - I think it was Robert Hughes, but I'm not certain - once wrote about the distinction between sculpture and painting, that the former is integral to itself, a completed object that stands in its own space, and can stand in any space, home or gallery, indoors or outside, alone or surrounded, and it remains what it is, an isolated creation that one can walk around, a context unto itself; while a painting is a mere fragment, an incompleteness, a part of a landscape, a person's face without a body, or only part of a body in a space that extends beyond the painting, or objects, artefacts, ikons, trapped in space by nature of being framed inside a canvas that is itself fixed upon a wall.

Walking around the Rodin Museum in Paris, on the umpteenth of many occasions, I was reminded of that intricate distinction, and wondered what Hughes would have said about the painting of a sculpture. Do both definitions apply simultaneously? The painting unquestionably limits the context, and the sculpture can only be viewed from a single angle, and yet the sculpture is still a context that is integral to itself, the thinker who is not Rodin's thinker, but who is looking at a book of paintings that could possibly include Rodin's thinker, or maybe even a picture of itself.



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African Child 2

Is there something psychological in the fact that most of my portraits focus towards the left hand side of the canvas; or is it unconsciously political in some obscure manner? Do left-handed people do the opposite? Do politically conservative people do the opposite? These, it seems to me, are the truly, profoundly, deeply, universally insignificant and unimportant questions that no academic has ever bothered to ask, let alone try to answer. And yet, who knows, maybe it matters.

Maybe the children of Africa matter too. Not terribly many people seem to be asking that question either, and those who do, like the current British Foreign Minister, simply answer it by wanting to send all the refugees from Africa home again, while the UK Department for International Development wants to find new ways to rob Africa of its resources, out-source slavery back to the continent, and seek better opportunities for UK companies to get rich by pretending to help the continent. "Britain will boost investment into promising businesses in Africa and South Asia to create jobs, stimulate growth and end dependency on aid," is the slogan on its website. Which businesses do they have in mind? The international arms trade? The planting of still more cotton for export, so that when drought and famine come the locals have nothing they can eat? We'll drill your oil for you? Or maybe they are thinking more like the Americans, who just want to open branches of Macdonalds and Starbucks and sell cellphones anywhere they can.

And maybe I just answered the question in my opening paragraph after all.


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The oldest woman in the world at 127

As a Brit, I have tried to follow some of my compatriot artists down the years. Turner, rather than Gainsborough or Reynolds - Whistler called him ‘the greatest creator of mystery in art’, and a visit to the Tate Gallery, where there is an entire section dedicated to his work, is one of the great art experiences in the world. I was fortunate to know Tom Merrifield, briefly and vaguely, but it included visits to his Hampstead studio and the purchase of a wonderful painting at a time when his name was still better known as a ballet dancer; I only wish I had bought one of his extraordinary sculptures too. Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth and Jacob Epstein even more so, but they were already completely unaffordable before I saw her garden in St Ives or Moore's miniature grand canyons everywhere or spent hours wondering whether Epstein learned from Rodin or Rodin from Epstein in the Whitechapel Gallery. Mark Gertler was a genius of impersonation, and he impersonated every style and genre anybody else ever thought up, but never managed to invent one of his own. And then there was Lucien Freud, who started as a genius and simply went on getting better.

The painting on this page is not a Lucien Freud, though the influence is surely obvious, and it recurs in many of my paintings. There is verisimilitude, which is what most artists seek when they offer to sketch you outside the bistro in Montmartre or at the art flea-market by Whitestone Pond on a Sunday morning; simple lines, light shading, and most importantly a strong resemblance to the sitter. This is a sketch of me, you can tell your friends, and they can look at it, and say, yes, it certainly looks enough like you to pass, but it isn't really very good, as Art, is it? Verisimilitude is what one gets much more effectively when one points a camera.

What Freud is after, it seems to me, is exactly what his grandfather was after, only the latter used the psychiatric couch to get into the hinterland of the human self and psyche, where the grandson was more interested in fibre and tissue, muscle and gland, not the moving parts of ego but those of tendon and cartilage; though both in their own ways got down to the bone, and revealed levels of the human that nobody had ever touched before.




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Sangre de Christo




A church, somewhere, it truly doesn't matter where. The lines of pews are abstracted out, because the pews don't matter, nor the individuals who might sit or genuflect in them; but abstracted out in primary colours, the blue and red and yellow which are the fundamental pigments from which the infinite variety of natural creation is rendered possible, but also the blue of sea and sky, the yellow of sun and moon, the red of blood, which is life, but also death; and all of this held earth-bound, or at least earthed, by the merest touch of green. What matters is not the location, nor the worshippers, but the space of stillness, the communal organisation, the ingress into the inner world, which could happen just as easily in a synagogue, a mosque, a mandir, a pagoda, an ashram. What matters is not the Cross either, the sado-masochistic symbol of yet one more martyred Jew, whose blood is among the millions frescoed on that wall. What matters, only, exclusively, is the light, which Christianity has spent two thousand years darkening, and yet still has the power to illuminate.



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African Child

Botswana, 1978

The first sight of the aloes
reminded me of Israel,
and the first thought of Israel
of a desert and a war.
It is curious the way
experiences fester.






There were no harvests gathered,
no banks were overflowing;

only the barest scrubland
and groups of naked children.
The lightest touch of poetry
would have undermined this starkness.

Their money is called “Pula”
(by those who can afford it).
“Pula” - a Setswana word
meaning simply “may it rain”.
Only the poorest people
can spend wishes that freely.


From "Welcome To My World, Selected Poems 1973-2013" (The Argaman Press, 2013)


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