Day Nine of the 4,200 mile road-trip from Key West to Bodega Bay, the tip of Florida to the founding point of California. We skipped Grand Canyon because it's just too touristy, did Bryce and Zion and Red instead - just as spectacular! 6 hours and 390 miles of unbroken driving, and the colourful emptiness of the Utah and Arizona and Nevada Canyons simply bleeds out as you go down deeper into what is not yet Hell, though at 115 degrees Fahrenheit it isn't surprising that they call it Death Valley.
Three weeks travelling through Central America together, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica; hours upon hours where she sat in the front seat, because car sickness is less that way, and I in the back, talking to her in semophore through the reflections in the wing-mirror. It became symbolic of the journey, and I was determined to capture the image for all time; only cameras wobble when you're driving over pot-holes and the mountain tracks through rain-forests, so it would have to be in paint, and wait till I got home.
It proved to be the most technically challenging picture I have ever undertaken. Hundreds of hours, to make sure of every pixel, dotted at 800% magnification like one of those mediaeval miniaturists, digital pointillisme... I had a printer download it to cork-board and gave it to her as a birthday present, three full years after the event.
Face 198a was responsible for this. As recounted on that page (click here), but I don't need to re-tell it here... there was her, and the books, and the hot chocolate (at a Barnes & Noble in America you absolutely have to drink their hot chocolate, not their coffee), and me sketching, and then that cliff-hanger moment in my tale: "when the man she was really looking for arrived, with mocha frappuccino and a stale almond croissant". Ah but the look on his face, when he saw her, looking at me, and me, looking at her, and...
Somebody's photograph, found in a newspaper, copied as a sketch, then painted - if I could I would tell you the name of the photograher, and say thank you.
Somebody's life, lived in a refugee camp, very sketchy, greyer than I have painted it - if I could I would tell you the name of the person, and say sorry on all our behalves (not even halves; our 2.5 per cents, which is about the most of GDP we ever give to help these starving fellow-humans, while making several more than that per cent back in GNP out of their exploitation)
My first attempt at a crucifixion, though clearly others had done the job before me, in Life as well as Art, so the number 2 in parenthesis seemed only appropriate when I couldn't work out how to make the symbol for infinity on my computer. The objective was to describe the journey of evolution, from algae among the sea-weed, through apes on the shoreline, to Perfected Man, but somehow Imperfect Man got in the way, and it ended up as this, all wilderness and tortured, murdered bodies. An Immaculate Conception, but alas not even an Immaculate Failure.
To assist the blogger in creating a blog in an organised manner, the designers create a widget called "labels", and you can name them yourself, and even place a page under more than one label. So, for this blog, I have separated the pieces into "Abstracts" and "Drawings", "Pictures" and "Portraits", with separate labels for specific series such as "The Artist Was Bored", "The Digital Art Gallery", and a label of their own for the "Cartoons". All very useful to the librarian and the museum archivist, as it is to the tourist.
Shall I then confess that I hate these labels? My copy of Dostoievski's "The Brothers Karamazov" is not on my bookshelf alongside Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot novels, even though both are murder mysteries; nor is it on my Russian shelf, which is mostly 20th century, but does include Pushkin, Nabokov and Tolstoy, as well as a critique of the early paintings of Modigliani; the Dostoievski is next to Camus, Herman Melville, Kazantsakis and Nietzsche, on my Philosophy shelf, though Sartre is not there, because he is in my French Literature section, as is Victor Serge, though Serge is actually Russian (and yes, you are correct, I often have difficulty locating particular books).
Where do I place Face 1b then, in the labeling of this blog? It is not a portrait - I made up the face entirely from my imagination, though it is perfectly possible that a woman who looks exactly like this exists somewhere in the world, and maybe I saw her, and the image embedded itself in my psyche. But it was not painted as a portrait: it was doodled in a meeting when I was, as usual, bored: plain white paper, odd shapes in odd colours, random, abstract, coloured in. At some point it began to look like a face, so I let it; and then, later, scanned it, gave it a black background, finished it, named it. So is it an "Abstract", a "Drawing", a "Picture" or a "Portrait"? Does it count as "The Artist Was Bored" even though it is not modeled on someone else's work, like all the others in that series? And is not everything in this gallery "Digital Art"? I have placed it in "Portraits", only because that is where most people looking would expect it to be placed, though in fact a "Portrait" is the one thing that it most definitely is not.
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.
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?
Robert Hughes, the supremo of modern art critics, 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, or objects, or artefacts, or ikons, confined within a space that in reality extends beyond the painting, trapped in that space by nature of being framed inside a canvas that is itself fixed upon a fragment of a wall. No grey thinking there!
Walking around the Rodin Museum in Paris, on the umpteenth of many occasions, I was reminded of that intricate distinction, and wondered what Hughes might 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 may very well include Rodin's thinker, or perhaps a picture of itself.
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 why would they? 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.