Thursday, July 30, 2015

Face 600



The experts and the art teachers will always tell you: draw a hundred drawings and paint a hundred pictures as quickly as you can, and learn from the making of them; then throw them all away, and start on the next hundred. Eventually, you never know, you may well get there.

I have never been entirely certain where "there" is, or what benchmarks exist to know it if you do. A wall at the Tate Modern with your name-plaque on it? That may actually be a sign of failure, not success, but who can say? A gallery in touristville offering prints of your work at discount prices, buy two get one free? A marginal reference in a footnote to an obscure PhD thesis in a minor university? Ah, posterity, which, like immortality, is only of any use to you when you are dead.

So I made this drawing when I was eighteen or nineteen, and it didn't look the slightest bit like the girl - a friend of my sister's - who modelled for it; and the eyes do not conform to any known pattern of human symmetry, though of course they may also have been the one thing in the drawing that I got absolutely right. Is the mouth skew-wiff? And is that even how you spell skew-wiff?

To this day, nothing in the world will induce me to follow the advice of the experts and throw it away. I like it. Isn't that good enough?



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Poverty




Christians like to give their children names that reflect their Christian beliefs - Faith, Hope and Charity being the three most oft-used of the graces, though Hannah and Anna and Joanna mean the same: grace. I have simply named this child Poverty. Do I need to say anything more than that?



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The Plumed Serpent




Don't make such a face! Why not a Cubist Quetzalcoatl? If Picasso can make Cubist versions of "The Three Graces", if Braques can become world-famous for painting a Cubist guitar and a Cubist newspaper, why not a Cubist rendering of the great Mesoamerican deity? Aboriginal American Art, long before Whistler or Wyndham Lewis, let alone Carl Andre or Andy Warhol.




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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Escher

Pencil sketch from the late 1970s or perhaps early 1980s. I still have the original in a sketchbook somewhere. As a likeness of Escher it didn’t really work – but the eyes seem to me to be quite haunting and the egg-shape of the mirror works well, even if no mirror in the world was ever made that crookedly! This is a scan of the original, untouched-up. Very small canvas works best.

Down among the abstracts elsewhere in this gallery you will find my "Escher Triangle", which was the result of hundreds of hours spent, trying to work out whether those extraordinary works of his were the consequence of mathematics or illusion, or indeed both. The poor quality of the drawing here is compensated by the degree of hero-worship there, though I remain unconvinced that Art has to be Art in order for it to be "valid".



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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Face 300a

There is a passage in my novel "A Singular Shade of Grey" in which Tomas explains to Nemo his attempt to recreate, or forge in fact, Whistler's "Arrangement in Grey", rooted in Velázquez’s ‘Las Meninas’, but also in Debussy's "Nocturnes", the latter's essay at depicting the colour grey in music. He talks about the difficulty of painting clouds:

"There are no pure-white clouds. Every cloud is grey to some degree, but the greyness is an illusion too, a factor of our looking at it, a consequence of height and distance – relativity theory, though I don’t think Einstein ever investigated this. Clouds get thicker and denser when they gather more water droplets and ice crystals – I paint a lot of clouds so it’s useful to know this. The thicker they get, the more light they scatter, and so less light is able to penetrate them and they consequently appear blacker, though there’s no pure-black either. Only shades of grey. Strange isn’t it, that orange skies and blue skies and red skies and cloudy skies are really all the same grey sky, except that our eyes have the amazing capacity to detect the effect of the photons and the molecules, as though we’ve put lens-filters on, the way they do with cameras. I’m sorry if I’m not explaining this very scientifically. I’m an artist, not a physicist. Like Debussy in his ‘Nocturnes’, like Whistler in his ‘Nocturnes’, I’m interested in how the eye sees, not what the eye sees, the construction not the narrative. Because everything the eye sees is actually grey. Until you break it down into shape and colour, and paint the differences. The trick is in the fastidiousness of looking; or listening, in the case of music."

Writing this was also a starting-point for a new phase of my own painting, and any number of the later portraits in this gallery employ the same basic technique, of establishing the greyness first, and then allowing the shapes that constitute the face to emerge out of them, rather than the other way around, which is the normal approach of portrait-painters. With this portrait, I found the greyness overwhelming to a point of bleakness, especially as it stripped all character and personality from the model I had used, and that represented a failure of the final work, even if I had achieved the primary goal of the painting. But how to return to colour without undermining the investigation-in-grey? By leaving the face uncoloured, but imbuing the hair, which has no character or personality, with precisely that, and thereby illuminating the face. Neither "The Girl With The Yellow Hair" nor "The Girl With Red Lips" could have happened without this preliminary experiment, and after them the African portraits, "The Oldest Woman In The World", and several others.



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Monday, July 27, 2015

The Face of Death

Kovno, June 1940...the largest city in Lithuania, and the centre for its Jewish population of around forty thousand; the yeshiva in the Slobodka quarter was one of Europe's most prestigious institutions of higher Jewish learning, and there were forty synagogues, a number of both Yiddish and Hebrew schools, as well as a Jewish hospital. What made Kovno different from most other central European Jewish communities was that it was the Communists, not the Nazis, who undertook their destruction; it was in June 1940 that Lithuania fell to the Soviets, and only two years later that the Nazis captured the city, and cleared out the Kovno ghetto with their customary efficiency, mostly by firing squad at the Ninth Fort. Kovno became one of the centres for the Jewish Resistance movement, and the source for my account of the resistance in my novel "The Flaming Sword".

The face is of SA Major General Hans Kramer, administrator of the Kovno Ghetto, hand-drawn, from a picture seen somewhere, back in the early 80s when I was playing with the Bernhard-Ari gallery, trying to create some of the drawings and paintings referred to in "The Flaming Sword" and its sequel "A Little Oil & Root".




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Japanese Ladies



I have no idea who made the original of this, a genuine artist of the floating world or simply some outdoor-worker to the kiddie-books industry. Like "Japanese Street", it came from one of those children's colouring books you can buy in any art store, and which, back in the 1990s when my kids were growing up, we often spent rainy Sunday afternoons colouring in with felt pens. Later I took the two I liked best, scanned them, enlarged them, and then produced them as paintings instead of colour-by-numbers. I think the key to the success of this is less the two ladies than the particular share of blue for the dress of the woman standing up, which is repeated in the frame: 78 parts red, 105 parts green, 141 parts blue, though that is of course meaningless, because it entirely depends on which red, blue and green you are using in the first place.


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Face 198a



What could I do? She sat there staring at me, over the rim of those spectacles, as though she knew me, or wanted to get to know me. The hot chocolate was overflowing with whipped cream on my table, complemented by the identical beverage on hers; two kindred souls, who had come to a bookshop to indulge the epicurean rather than the literary, both of us sitting there with our cell-phones, hunting on Amazon.com for cheap, second-hand copies of the books we had selected from the shelves in this expensive store. I finished my book orders and was just calculating the options when the man she was really looking for arrived, with mocha frappuccino and a stale almond croissant. What could I do? I took out my sketchpad and tried to capture, not the woman so much as that look, the scholarly perusal, that expert appraisal, that maybe-another-time. The finished portrait came later, though I guess I have to call this one an unfinished portrait.


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Self-Portrait



This is a companion-piece with "Self-Portrait On A Happy And Creative Occasion". A portrait of the inner life, not the surface of skin and feature let alone the superfice of biography. This is the real inner life, beyond the spiritual and the soulful. This is the elan vital and the carbon of personality. This is the pure gut.

Digital art based on some anatomical drawing found in a school science book. Standard canvas, or larger, digitally constructed. Important when printing to keep the texture of the background, which was achieved by finding photographs of human skin online, and then cutting and pasting sections to make this as authentic as possible. Note the shapes which are entirely natural, integral to the normal human body, but which only become the shapes I have given them because the colouring defines them – shoulders which are feet, feet which are shoulders; the wide-eyed monster at the groin; the intestinal labyrinth; and especially the purple crucifixion with purple crown of thorns of the shoulder-blades and head of what very well be an incubus or a golem rather than a messiah. As I said – a portrait of the inner life, at its deepest!


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Two Men



No one ever believes me, but this was intended as a cartoon about the class system, not about homosexuality.





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This Picture Needs A Title

The patterns used in FLW1 and Human Spectrum 2 re-appear here, but with rather different intention. What exactly that intention was is more difficult to explain. I had just finished the "Self-Portrait On A Happy And Creative Occasion" and was still interested in one of the thoughts that lay behind it, which is that we tend to define ourselves in strictly limited ways, and that these are generally not the ones that define us as we like to think we really are. I am male. I am white. I am heterosexual. I am Anglo-Jewish. I am tall. I am a writer and artist. These are the standard self-definers, convenient around a dinner-table for superficial chit-chat, but not the talismanic, not the emblematic, not the mythological. So this picture needs a title, but in truth it can only have one title: Self-Portrait.







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Self-Portrait On A Happy And Creative Occasion




The brain above is anatomically correct, though perhaps not philosophically or psychologically or theologically. According to the scientists of the brain (I tend to regard philosophy, psychology and theology as three synonyms for the same mysticism), a person who is "left-brained" is more logical, analytical, and objective, while a person who is "right-brained" is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective. They have absolutely no evidence to substantiate this superstition, but quacks have to quack just as bees have to buzz and Pavlov's dog can't stop barking. The truth probably is that the brain works best when it is working at its optimum, which is to say when all parts are active.





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Girl 2a-2b


Which one? I made the cartoon (above left) first, as a very basic, skeletal outline for the portrait; then completed it below - but unlike most preparatory cartoons, this one lingered on with much satisfaction as a finished picture in its own right.























Sunday, July 19, 2015

Nudish




The need to say something about every painting, a need that is driven by the parameters of a blog and not by the drivenness towards paint. But I have absolutely nothing to say about this painting. I remember the girl, or woman as she seemed at the time, though we were both very young. I vaguely remember wanting to capture the image of the painter as well as the model, which is achieved in the ghostly outline at her back. I seem to recall that the intrusiveness of the painting on the wall beside her was something we had been talking about, some intellectual construct about the nature of Art, but the details are long gone. I think her name was Carole, though it might have been Claire. 




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Guitar Ghost




There was a reason for painting this. There has to have been a reason for painting this. I'm sure there was a reason for painting this. Please let there have been a reason for painting this.





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Mark James


Another of the Bernhard Aaronsohn-Ari Ben Aaron pictures for "The Argaman Quintet", Mark is a very minor character in two of the books, "A Little Oil & Root" and "The Hourglass", and frankly, thirty years after inventing him to look like this, I no longer imagine him looking like this at all: far too European, where he was much more Semitic-Middle Eastern, unless that's just the 1960s hair-style.

Interesting too - to me anyway - just how many different ways there are to go about the act of portraiture, and how many times I have changed my approach along the years, as several before and after this one on this blog remind me.






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Homage to Valeriya Kutsan

An entirely new art-form or simply the ancient practice of tatooing given a new expression? As a schoolteacher and as a parent I have watched face-painters making a complete mess of children's faces on a hundred occasions, generally transforming them into Disney characters, because Disney is about as far into adulthood as most human minds are capable of stretching. But why not into Mondrian or Ben Nicholson, as Valeriya Kutsan does, and as Alexander Khokhlov has recorded for posterity (face-paint is pervious to soap, alas) in his splendid photographs.

I tried a number of designs of my own before reverting to imitation. The hair was the most difficult; to be honest, I'm still not convinced I've got the hair right.











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Face 24B



At what point does abstract painting become concrete painting, and vice versa? As I have said elsewhere on this blog, the act of painting is ultimately only the business of making shapes and colouring them in, and those shapes can combine into a mosaic or they can combine into a human body or they can combine into a "Last Supper" or a science fiction fantasy; but they are all still just shapes that have been coloured in.



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Babushka

One of several paintings that owe their origins to the Internet, stumbled on by chance in the course of searching for something else, and seeing an image that took my fancy. With some I made the conscious decision that my painted version should not look like the original, but with this I went the other way, trying to be as accurate as I could; mostly because I loved the colours, which were remarkably difficult to recreate, and the wrinkles, which were even tougher; though not as tough as the ones on the 127-year-old woman.


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Girl 2




The first digital tablet was bought in the early years of the century and lowered the standard of my sketching considerably for several months. This was one of the first, executed from life, trying for a minimal number of marks-on-paper. Fortunately I printed it, because I lost the original when the computer crashed. This is the scan. Small canvas.



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Lost In The Crowd



Another possible cover for "A Singular Shade of Grey". I particularly like the angle of this, a child's-eye-view, looking up into the throng from knee-height; or possibly the dog's-eye-view, though it feels like a very Kafkaesque dog, hemmed in, trapped, looked down on by the world with great contempt. I also like the bourgeois lady's hat, which may be Ascot or may be a cloud, or both, or simply in the clouds, where bourgeois ladies generally live.



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Saturday, July 18, 2015

African Skull




The opening piece for a series of pictures and portraits, responding to my own travels in Africa, but also to the research I undertook for my World Hourglass blog, which left me for many months incapable of painting "Beautiful Woman" or "Still-Life With Full Kitchen Table", or any of the other standard subjects of Art in the Great Complacency of the West. This was intended simply to be a cartoon, but somehow it worked out better than that when I got the shape of the ear all wrong, and then realised, of course, that actually I hadn't.


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CityScape



I made this for the cover of "A Singular Shade of Grey", but then I made "The Grey Thinker" and used that instead. At some point in the novel Nemo wonders why the builders can't simply paint the urban constructions, instead of them leaving them in drab concrete white, which the weather quickly turns into drab concrete grey - and there are enough examples of the success of this in the world that it should be a no-brainer. The same goes for churches - the pillars and walls of mediaeval churches and cathedrals were all highly decorated, whether with the full-scale frescos and altar-pieces and rood screens, or simply by painting the pillars in blues and reds and greens. A touch of primary colour in our lives - is that really so much to ask?



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