All the paintings were executed on, or the photographs downloaded to, orange canvases, for reasons that I cannot now recall, but which should not be misread or misinterpreted as having any symbolic value; I think I just picked them up cheap at a garage sale.
1. Still Life: A Wall at The White House in Washington D.C
As a tourist I have visited DC innumerable times, and taken multiple photographs of all the obvious places, from the Smithsonian to Congress, and of course the White House. The opportunity to draw it, with the building as live model, is not generally available, because Homeland Security proscribes it. I wanted to draw the whole building, but had to make the sketch at speed, as two rifle-toting heroes of Fox News were already descending on me at speed, and it was fortunate that I had a digital copy of the First Amendment on my cell-phone before both parties agreed that I would arrest my drawing in exchange for their not doing the same to me.
2. Cherry Blossom in Kyoto
Think of Japan and you think of the tea ceremony, whose history, and whose enormous influence upon western civilisation, is told in a wonderful book by Kakuzo Okakura entitled "The Book of Tea". But even more sacred than the tea ceremony is Hanami, the going-out en famille to look at the cherry blossom, usually starting in the last week of March, and continuing for about three weeks. I performed Hanami with my friends Jeremy and Miki when I was there pursuing Sei Shōnagon and the Lady Murasaki for a chapter of my book "Travels In Familiar Lands". Miki was the expert, who knew all the best places to see the trees in their full whiteness: the Philosopher's Path between the Ginkakuji and Nanzenji Temples, Maruyama Park beside the Yasaka Shrine (though the blossom had come early there that year and we had already missed the best of it), at the Heian shrine or in Arashiyama. We chose Heian, mostly because you can see even more blossom by taking a boat along the Okazaki Canal, where the cherry trees grow in hyperbolous abundance, but then saw even more the following day, when we visited the Kiyomizudera temple, for the temple in fact, but who could resist even more white cherry blossom. I wanted to capture the intensity of the whiteness rather than the photogenicism of the tree.
One of the lingering memories of my four years in Toronto is of shovelling snow, often several times a day, the first time to get my car off the driveway in order to go to work, the second to get it out of the school parking lot to attend a meeting, and then the parking lot after that meeting, and school again at the end of the day; sometimes two feet of snow can fall in an hour, and then again, and then again, four or five times in a single day. The painting was made from my balcony, on New Year's Eve, while waiting for guests to arrive, who never did, because the blizzard that night made the roads impassable, even for the snow-ploughs.
4. White Canvas
This, I have to confess, is not simply unoriginal but actually plagiarism, though I am uncertain which of several self-acclaimed originals I have plagiarised. Hofmeister’s 1917 “White Canvas” was rejected by the First Paris Dada Exhibition, as it had been rejected by the Salon des Artistes previously, the former finding it much too conventional, the latter much too revolutionary. The Del Prado “White Canvas” of 1922 was much more fastidiously executed, applying accretions of oil in the manner of Rembrandt, but with brushstrokes that were more reminiscent of Franz Hals than van Rein. The 1938 Bernstein was burned by the Nazis, though photographs of it are still in existence; the 1948 “recovery” is marred by the absurdity of the painter’s signature in the bottom right hand corner, though signing in charcoal (an allusion to the burning of the original) does add a touch of bitter irony. Of the dozens of imitators in and since the 1970s, I like the David Irvine in the Chicago Getty Museum best, though this may be a consequence of the custodian’s decision to hang it on a white wall, and without either canvas or explanatory plaque, allowing the painting to come upon you by surprise. Janice Willard’s 2012 “White Canvas”, which won the Tourner Prize, is the one which inspired my version, though I fear that mine may have come out far too white to make its point effectively.
5. Apple Blossom
If the cherry blossom is Japanese, the apple blossom is unquestionably Chinese. For decades I had looked at Chinese water-colour paintings of apple blossoms with envy, wishing I could paint something of the same quality myself, but doing so in a manner that acknowledged my Jewish-European origins, rather than imitating the ethnically Chinese. My earliest attempts used white charcoal, white gouache, white acrylic, white pastel, white crayon, white ink, but none of these had the capacity to catch the texture of the apple blossom; simply they depicted shape, which was important, but also insufficient. Oil, whether applied by brush or palette knife, whether thinned with turpentine or linseed oil, invariably took the blossom beyond its still point, the magnificence of its full flowering, and rendered it porcine, entropied, already rotting. Only when digital art became possible was I at last able to catch the blossom at that still point, the perfection of apple blossom which is the height of the wave, the opening of the flower, the emergence of the sun, the point of harmony and balance in a transitory, ephemeral universe.
6. LA Smog
7. Open Spaces
If Art is now the painting of the inside of the human psyche, then all we can say is that the human psyche has fragmented, then degenerated, then depleted, and finally atrophied to a point of shattering. Van Gogh, the Impressionists, Cubism, the formaldehyde cow - we can trace in linear degrees a decline in culture and civilisation that took 150 years to complete. Until what remains today is the nothingness of the blank canvas, salvaged by the post-modernist irony of text. As to the Emperor, you can find an alternative version of the ancient tale under the title "The Emperor's Gardener" in my collection " The Captive Bride". Most encyclopaedia will tell you that the original belonged to Hans Christian Andersen, published in 1837 in the 3rd volume of his "Fairy Tales Told for Children"; but the very title of that book confirms that the tale is much older, quite probably Chinese. Today, following what I have written in my Obloquy for Samuel Beckett on the page of the Agon Gallery, the tale simply serves as an allegory for the state of modern Art.
Entheos, to save you looking it up, means "the spirit within", in Greek.
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