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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Nature, Solitude and Creativity

My four wheels crunched and slid as I slowed the 4x4 to a halt in the thick mud.  Perched, wings arched and shoulders hunched like a vampiric character from the dark ages, a large raptor squatted over his prey on a craggy outcrop a mere two meters from the roadside. Breakfast, it seemed was to be a large puffadder, freshly killed and still twitching in his hand sized talons.
I let the vehicle idle as I watched, captivated by the raw power and beauty of the final moments of the age old game of life and death that was playing itself out in front of me. The eagle, nervous by my presence cast wary glances in my direction while he adjusted his grip on his meal. A few minutes passed and he (or possibly she?) effortlessly launched into the air to find a higher roost, the snake swinging, dead, beneath the spread wings.
Breathless with the special moment I alone had witnessed, I paused and with fresh eyes looked around at where I was. The muddy mountain track wound and twisted through the hills behind me and in front of me curved around the mountain to cross the river atop a vast and plunging waterfall.  Not a human settlement, or indeed any indication of human habitation as far as the eye could see in every direction.  The bush covered hills below me dropped away into a riverine forested valley than ran on to a typical Transkei estuary and then the sea in the distance. All around wild, wild, wild.
Awed by the magnificence I drank it all in before inevitably forcing myself to move on. I was sick and needed to get myself back to civilisation to get the antibiotics I needed to get well. As the morning passed with me driving alone through the mud and rivers and rock and bush out to find the nearest town across the border, I was surprised by the thoughts that circled my mind like birds of prey riding the thermals in the sky. Firstly I was overcome with such a feeling of passion for this place and it's nature and it's people, and secondly, as much as the solitude of the moment and the trip had been special, I was reminded so vividly, that experiences, unless shared with someone (and preferably someone special) are selfish moments and lack richness in terms of real human value. Lastly I was stunned, by the huge creative injection it gave me. At that moment I wanted so badly to stop right there and draw and paint and create ... it charged my creative battery to overload; but much much more than that I wanted to be holding someone's hand and say "Look at that! Isn't it beautiful?"

Sunday, January 9, 2011

These are a few of my favourite things:

I've been thinking about which my favourite paintings are, so in no particular order:

* Was it a Dream
* A Beautiful Dream
* Eros & Psyche
* Set Fire to Everything I see
* Arcadia
* Tatooed Tears
* Cilift Skin
* Take Heart
* Intuition of a Soul
* Sonnet 24

* Vacant Stare

Letting these ones go (where they have gone) was a little bit bitter sweet.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Songs on the Eve of Destruction - Exhibition Notes

I promised a summary of the exhibition. Here it is:

Mercia, owner of the gallery Essensual Art in Clarens went to a huge amount of trouble for this exhibition (food, wine, lighting, advertising, publicising etc.) and I am hugely grateful.

Doors opened at 7:00pm on the 18th December.

My notes for the exhibition were as follows:
"One of the frequent comments I get about these paintings is "I like it, but it's quite dark",as though I might have somehow not noticed that they are, and the implication being that that is a pity.
The other comment is "I prefer your zebras". :)
And yes, I do get that these paintings are quite dark. I painted them that way ...and I understand why one might prefer wildlife paintings.
But would you be surprised if I told you that the other consideration for this series of paintings was to call it "Hope"?
This is a segment of life through my eyes. The subject matter, the tone, the expression is sometimes serious. As is life.
Life is tragic. Life is not frivolous, Life is painful, Life is ironic, Life is broken, Life is, as Thomas Hobbes said "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short".
But what I hope you see is that although these paintings are sombre, they are not hopeless.
There is beauty in life, and even in the darkest tragedy there is life, there is some light. In life there can be rebirth and salvation. There is always hope. Sometimes we break ourselves against that hope, sometimes that hope can break one, but there is still hope. See if you can find the hope in each painting. Sometimes it's obvious, but sometimes one has to look hard to find it.
As for the titles, I leave that to you to read what you want into them. Clues to the exhibition title refer rather obliquely to a number of interpretive eves which all hold hands. This is about the Eve's in my life, and, by extension, in our life.  The biblical implication is not unintended. These paintings are songs about the night before apocalyptic life events, songs about you as Eves and Adams, songs about the effect of beautiful and destructive relationships generally and specifically, songs of solitude, but above all are songs about the core meaning of Eve, which is in essence "life".
Having said all of that, I have tried to not be pretentious in my work. I don't want to be something I am not. I have painted what I sincerely felt and yes often that reflects tragedy. I have tried to be as honest as I dare. Painting is my sounding board in life, my therapist, and the intuitive viewer becomes an almost unintended voyeur to that counselling session. I have given a nod to the old masters in the style of my work at times, but I have tried not to be a slave to them. Some were painted quickly and spontaneously and some were over months ... all I believe are connected in that they come from the same part of me, a part which is yes, mostly dark, but with a little light of hope."
(I chose this peice as the opening music - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bI9akyHz_wc&feature=related )

Just at the entrance to the gallery (outside) was this painting. It's called "A Savage Fragile Thing" and it's about 120cm x 60cm in size. This painting was my interpretation of a photo a friend sent me to paint.  It's a photo of her own back. She is quite a wild and lovely lady who has had quite an equally wild and in some ways tragic life, and I wanted to capture some of that nature in the painting. It was also my first real attempt at glazing and I was trying to create the impression that their was light inside her body ... a glow.

Immediatly on entering they were met with the main wall on which these three paintings were spot illuminated. "Moonlight Sonata", "Sister Ray Gets the Gospel" and "Maid of Orleans" - I believe it made quite an impact.  In chalk, on the charcoal covered wall, below Sister Ray, in big writing were scrawled the words to that poem I wrote "Adams Lament" in big writing (There were art quotes all over the walls).
For simplicity sake I'll describe the paintings clockwise around the gallery as they were positioned.

This one, "Wuthering Heights" was on immediate left on coming through the doors. It's tall; 1 and a half meters high and a half meter wide. Unfortunately I don't seem to have a good photo of it. The title has reference to the Emily Bronte novel , but also to the Kate Bush song of the same title and theme. In this painting I wanted a mixture of loneliness, coldness, starkness and ghostliness that IS Wuthering Heights, but also to capture something poignant and sad and of passion, hidden just below the surface.

Hidden on the wall, just to the right of this was this little painting, "This Kiss",.  It was done for the Petite exhibition but I was already working toward my theme and so could use it for this one too. This is a simple little painting, quite rough really, but I think conveys a feeling of sensuousness, privacy, initmacy and mystery that portrays the value I place in a kiss. Again, I have no good photo of this one.

These three zebra ones were stacked in a vertical display in this order.  They really are all sister paintings. Someone asked me on the night what the significance of the animals interspersed with people is. Zebra's are special to me. Apart from being facinating to look at, I find them particularly soulful animals ... particularly their eyes, which are big, deep and dark and moist and have such luscious eyelashes; so I have sort of adopted them to represent 'the soul' in my art. They are also a mixture of dark and light. The butterflies represent hope, rebirth and life.

This next one, "Marching On", may not seem to fit with the rest. It may not look like it belongs in the Songs on the Eve of Destruction lineup, but I decided it did belong because,Eve means life, and there wasn't much that I had done that said "life". Eve is a mother. Eve ... mother ... birth .... the cycle of life repeated ... life marching on.Also, we all live, as it were, one moment away from death, every one of us living on the eve of destruction from the moment we are born.
My son Joshua as a baby was the model for this

"Take Heart" 20cm x 20cm. Buffalo to me are a symbol of strength, fortitude and loyalty (probably a bit of a cliche, but thats what they mean to me). I love this painting. It's one of my favourites ... it's better in real life. 

This next one, Vanilla Twilight has buffalo in it too.  Its long. 160cm x 40cm I think. I wanted to convey the peace that the song it was named after makes me feel. It was supposed to show longing too, but it just ended up feeling better with a small smile on her face. Maybe the longing is rooted in the fact that she only smiles when she dreams and feels the longing when awake. I don't know. But it is peaceful to look at and I find myself looking at the lighting on her body and being happy with it. I know that the composition is quite strange, but I like that. :)  There was quite a lot of glazing and layering in this painting, and if you look at it in real life it feels like flesh and light.

"Stolen Child" (50cm x 100cm). This painting just sort of evolved ... it started out as one painting and ended up as another.  I had this idea of what I wanted to do and just couldn't pull it together. Eventually I was stuck with this weird figure reaching toward this dissembodied zebra head, and it looked like two seperate paintings. I couldn't think how I could tie them together, and then the ghosted outlines popped into my head.  I still find it a disturbing painting, but at least it works compositionally (is that even a word?) in an uncomfortable way.

"Moonlight Sonata" 120cm x 60cm took me forever to paint. It literally happened and evolved over months, and it has layers and layers of meaning and symbolism.
I really struggled painting the face because of the odd lighting. I am particularly happy with the way the red robe worked out.

"Sister Ray Gets the Gospel" is really big compared to most paintings I do. 150cm long by 75cm wide doesn't sound big, but put it on a wall and it looks huge.  I decided to use the nun and wanted to make a little religious statement at the same time. I thought the idea of a nun being converted was amusing so that was my angle. The light on her face represents enlightenment; the reflection of that light is her righteousness; her back is to the dark and she is facing the light. It's actually quite a literal in a way, but not purely in a religious sense. Typical nun = someone devoutly committed to the wrong cause (to the igonrant they appear to have hope but actually ...). A nun who "gets" the gospel = a nun who actually has hope. Its about hoping for a life of truth ... not having to live a lie ... about turning toward light, away from darkness. 

"Maid of Orleans" (120cm x 60cm) is a reference to Joan of Arc as you probably know. This painting also has quite a bit of symbolism within it and is about thisEve as a warrior, defender, executioner ... but not about her as delivering justice.This Eve is the antipathy of Justice. Justice usually has a blindfold and scales right? What does this Eve have covered vs uncovered? She sees but she doesn't hear or speak and where are her scales?
  But ... she does have a sword and an executioners block! Can you see the decaying courts and circuses in the background? Sonnet 24 is quite small actually. Its only 60cm x 40cm. I love this painting.  If you  know Shakespear's sonnet it's all about eyes and them being the windows through which to view the heart. The title is therefore obviously in conflict with the painting's subject whose eyes are covered. 

"Here with Me" is a painting of emotion I was feeling. The imagery says everything it needs to. Glazing glazing glazing!

 Painted smile on a sad face; unhappy harlequin. The message in "Arcadia" is not very subtle is it?  This is a painting about facades, about having to pretend to be something you really are not, about smiling for a world that is happy to not see beyond the painted smile. That would rather pretend that the smile is real because it makes it easier to deal with you. People would rather ingnore the truth, so painted smiles have to remain in place. "How are you?". "Im fine". "Great!"  The effect of the song Arcadia was the same for me. It made me happy because it was so sad.

I did this self portrait some time ago, and had it sent back from Tanzania  for the exhibition because it belonged in the exhibition with the others although it wasnt painted for it. I don't think there is too much point in telling you how I was feeling when I painted this ... it's rather obvious. This is a painting that I can see people want to say something when they see but they are too scared to. It makes me want to laugh in a really horrible sarcastic way and scream "SAY IT!!!! SPIT IT OUT!!!!"

"Communication" (120cm x 60cm). Hmmmm. Obviously an ironic title considering the sewed up mouth.  Simple message. Trauma resulting from forced silence. Communication is forbidden, and no communication is painful. The desolate wasteland behind, a horizon on fire,  also tell the story. The tragedy in the eyes.  Once again this is just me painting how I feel. This is a cold pace to be. Technically its a well painted piece, and it speaks to people. 

"Such a Shame" (80cm x 60cm).

"Vacant Stare". 20cm x 20cm.  Still one of the best pieces I've ever painted really.  Remember the poem that inspired it?  A German lady whom I'd never met said to me, while looking at the painting and not knowing I was the artist, "can you imagine what those eyes have seen to be accusing the viewer so much?". It's a horrible poem I know. The painting too is horrible in it's honesty.

"Imperfect Storm". This is a rubbish photo but the best one I have.  It was nicely framed and looked damn nice.  This is the one I sold for R7 for kicks.  The lady who bought it was apparently very very pleased. :)

The last two?  Refer to previous posts about them.  They were placed on the center table next to the visitors book. These two are quite 'old' now, but fit the exhibition well.  If they don't sell in the last week of the exhibition I will ask Mercia to ship them to me and I will have them nicely framed. I'm proud of these two paintings. They are lovely in their own right, and properly framed will be spectacular I think.

I seriously loved the evening. It was low key enough for me to not feel as though I was the center of attention all the time (a blessing) and yet complimentary enough for me not to feel silly having done it.

Will I do another one?  Yes. In time.  I would like to do one in Durban next if possible.  What will it be about.  Lets wait and see. the moment I decide I will let you know.

Thanks again to Mercia for helping me have this awesome experience.