Monday, February 8, 2010

An opening of the Heart

As a young boy of five I sat next to my father on the back seat of our car and watched the blood gently pulsing out of a wound in his head. He was only partly conscious and he had just had a motorbike accident. I have had a fear of two-wheeled transport ever since but last month, on a little island off the coast of Bali, I managed to overcome it. And that had other unexpected consequences too.
On the island I learned to ride a small 150cc motor scooter, the most widespread and popular form of local transport. Within  a surprisingly short time I was able to take my partner Nicki on board as a passenger. As we bumped and puttered around the winding, decrepit laneways, swerving to avoid chickens, goats and other motor scooters, I would feel her arms around my chest and her left hand resting on my ribcage, warming my heart. It felt like it was the most fun money could buy!
Although we were on vacation, from the first day I started trying to paint some of the exotic and beautiful sights that surrounded us. By the end of the first week I put all my pictures out for review. I had been working in watercolour and had been most fascinated by the wonderful tropical colours of the place. My paintings did have something of this but they also looked a bit wilful and dry to me. So that day I decided to dispense with my paintbox and try to simply draw what was in front of me. Remembering the warmth of Nicki's hand on my heart, I consciously breathed into that place. This resulted in an extraordinary clarity of vision and it allowed me to SEE the complex scene before me: the fishing boats bobbing on the waves, the holiday villas and cafés above the beach and the tangle of tropical shrubbery and trees just behind them. I worked simply in pen & ink, patiently centering myself each time in my heart. By the end of the day, when I took my picture back to our cottage, I saw that it had a quality my other paintings lacked: it had Life! It had feeling, it had something of the lush and sensuous feeling of that tropical beach.
After I had finished, I went to sit under the trees in the terrace of 'Café Bali'. It was late afternoon and, as I looked out across the sea, I could see the huge azure presence of Mt. Agung, Bali's sacred mountain. It was as usual wreathed in gigantic ivory, cream and smoky-grey coloured clouds, that echoed the shape of the mountain.
I felt almost unbearably happy...


Thursday, November 12, 2009

By the Blue Canal

Now that the hot weather has come back to Elwood, I have been painting outside again. Yesterday I was back working by the side of the Elwood Canal. Around 3 pm. schoolchildren from the local Primary School began to pass me on their way home. A couple of perhaps 10-year-old boys were the first to comment. As they passed by my easel, the darker of the two turned and exclaimed: "Wow! AWE-some...!" 
Then a young woman, walking hand-in-hand with her son approached. The little boy looked no more than 3 or 4 years old, a little blond sprite. He sauntered along confidently next to his mother and as he passed by, sang out: "Looking g-OO-d!" with exactly that rising inflection on the last syllable his adult self would have used. 
I felt chuffed. I always listen to and respect the spontaneous opinions of children and afterwards I wrote in my sketchbook: 'In my painting I usually have no preconception of what I want to achieve. I prefer to find my destination through the process of working. It then comes as a revelation, something I am unable to describe but only recognise it when it appears...'


Monday, October 19, 2009

Thursday Night Nudes

'Merran'                                                                  charcoal on paper
This is one of the drawings I am putting in to an exhibition of life-drawings here  in St. Kilda. It is of a beautiful Eurasian woman called Merran, who is herself a talented artist. (I think the best models are often artists themselves). The exhibition will be called 'Thursday Night Nudes', after the life-drawing workshop that runs every Thursday night at the Linden Gallery Arts Center in St. Kilda. This drawing workshop has been going for about sixteen years now, ever since I first came to Melbourne. It has grown and changed over the years and now, I feel,  the level of artistry deserves to be seen publicly.
All six of the exhibitors are regular members of the group, some of them having been there from the beginning. The gallery asked me to write something about why still I practice this old-fashioned discipline now in the 21st century. Here is part of what I wrote: "For me life-drawing is primarily a way to reach out through the eyes and intensely experience the reality, the Separate Reality, of another human being. In this way I rediscover, again and again, the sheer wonder and mystery of being alive, here and now, no matter how grim our collective human situation appears to have become."

'Louisa'                                                        Ink & Wash on Paper

The exhibition will opening on Wedneday the 4th of November at the Jackman Gallery in St. Kilda. ( for details.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Le Berceau d'Amour

On a visit to the N.G.V. (National Gallery of Victoria) I made this copy from an anonymous image of dancing. It was in an exhibition about life at the time of Jane Austen. It reminded me of this quote :-
'Many people relish their moments of aggression. This comes as no surprise in a culture where people rarely dance or sing aloud; where we have the chance to roar only if we are sports fans; where we almost never run or jump or leap or glide for the sheer joy of it, or throw ourselves onto sand or into a freezing lake, or ride impossibly high waves when we are no longer a young surfie; where we no longer sit together telling wild or tender stories; where we look at other people's paintings but don't hold paint in our own hands; where we buy food that has no earth left on it; where we wash the sweet smelling vermix off babies moments after they are born; where we may do a small part of a whole job, but rarely witness anything completed; where our sacred sense of ritual may be reduced to a plastic tree at Christmas time; where community may be only what we see on a small screen; where the whole world may be available to many of us but we complain that we have nothing to do or nowhere to go...'
- Stephanie Dowrick, 'The Universal Heart'

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Café Terrace, Mordialloc

We arrived in Mordialloc, the small fishing port 25 k. south of the City. Thinking I would start a large watercolour, I stretched up some Arches paper on a board. On this cold and beautiful day I was attracted to the view opposite me: people were sitting out on the café terrace above a row of moored fishing boats. Thinking that it would be a good 'warmup' exercise, I started drawing the complex scene in an A4 sketchpad. A few hours later my colleague returned and was ready to leave. I meanwhile had lost track of time and had become completely absorbed by the drawing. On the way, I had stopped to write the following:-  " The experience of seeing clearly while drawing, what I call 'drawing meditation', is of letting go; it is a surrendering to the moment-by-moment NOW of visual connection. It is letting the pen humbly trace the shapes and forms and relationships of what is being seen. It is a feeling of lightness and ease, of getting out of your own way. It is drawing with no ulterior motive or intention, other than that of being present." 
Afterwards, on the drive back, I was surprised to notice a warm, full feeling in my heart and chest. I felt happy; I felt happy to be alive.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Drawing the Eggplant

I SEE birth and death, youth and decay, in the leaves of this humble looking plant, whose extraordinary purple-black fruit is so delicious to eat. Some leaves are bright green, smooth and immaculately shaped; some are clearly older, withered at the edges and torn by their time out in the world, torn by the winds and rain of existence.
So it is with us: youth and age. And are we not, by obsessively fixating on the beauties of youth, attempting to deny the inexorable laws of Nature?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Thought for today

"He who works with his hands is a labourer. 
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist"
- St. Francis of Assisi