Monday, 29 September 2008

St Mary in the Marsh by Mark Leach

St Mary in the Marsh by Mark Leach
Pastel on board, 70x50cm

is greeting me every time I enter my flat. It has had its place at the far wall of the living room for the past two years. It is my window to elsewhere; it's my window onto the fields where I grew up; not just the fields, but them on a hot high summer afternoon; when you can smell the summer as it hits your skin. The kind of summer I haven't had for a long time; but whenever I get a scent of them, once or twice a year, it is so welcome.

St Mary in the Marsh by Mark Leach
Pastel on board, 70x50cm

But for the past two years, I've got a scent, just a hint, of them whenever I enter my flat. Mark's book, Raw Colour with Pastels, had just been published when I stumbled across it on Amazon: a book on pastel, a book about abstract pastel landscapes. And it was ordered. And it proved important, resourceful, inspiring.

It isn't a how to do book but much more of a biographical account of why pastel and colour matter to this artist. It's a bit similar to a good autobiography that isn't really constructed as such.

So, I learned how to prepare my own grounds with pumice powder and acrylics; how to simplify layers and: how to paint fields, lines, more fields, more lines.

St Mary in the Marsh by Mark Leach (Detail)
Pastel on board, 70x50cm

Really, a lot of the first bits of landscape abstraction have come from that.

I discovered that Mark's paintings were still available in a variety of places - as I said, the book had just been out, and thus many of the paintings were still for sale. More by luck than anything else I stumbled across the site for St Mary in the Marsh. Blindly and wholeheartedly I had fallen in love with it. It was the singular colour of the sky - an otherwise ugly salmon pink which in another life was THE colour of the late 1980s and for good reason still has to make its comeback - , the almost halfway horizon line, the yellow of the field and the splashes of cobalt in the foreground. So I did something I hadn't done ever before: I sent him an email, and in the end bought the painting - I don't think I ever told my parents that I did that. In the process, we exchanged a few emails and I had been planning of visiting him in his studio south of London - even remember researching a tedious set of public transport connections to get there from central London.

Dear Gesa, That is wonderful news! I am so glad you are not disappointed. Always a worrying time for me - the photos can be very misleading. The painting has fond memories for me, so I am very pleased it has found a nice home. All the very best for now.. Mark

On 27 Oct 2006, at 10:48, Gesa Helms wrote:

Dear Mark, I got the paintig last night - a neighbour had signed for it while I was out. You can safely cash the cheque! I love it! It's great and there is no way I will be sending it back - those colours and textures (I will have some technique questions a bit later, if I may). It reminds me a lot of where I grew up - north west Germany with flat fields of wheat and barley on a hot summer day - it's the kind of mood you don't really get on the Scottish West coast, but now it'll be in my living room! So many thanks for this! All my best, Gesa

Brian had just written a post about Mark Leach's book. In this he mentioned that Mark had died in early July. Dear Mark, thank you so much for this painting and for the hint of a hot summer afternoon in Bokel in my flat! And for showing me the possibilities for abstraction in landscape, colour and lines and simple fields to paint the things that matter!

Please see Mark Leach's website here:
And have another look at a good quality shot of St Mary in the Marsh on his website here
An article on Mark's work appeared in the June 2007 edition of the Pastel Journal, with the PDF available here

Sunday, 28 September 2008

It didn't rock her

... so she said after I had sent her some snapshots from the prints I was truly excited about. Well, admittedly, I. only got two small, poor lighting pics sent over IM for a quick look. But nonetheless, it left her very unexcited.

Even to my comment that most of the times still life doesn't rock, really she replied: no, some of them do. LOL.

Print Project 1.1 Orchid and Vase
Orchid and Vase (They do not rock)
Monotype on blotting paper

That leads on to work process: Assignment One of the printmaking is on monotypes; it's set out in such a way that there are four projects: markmaking; masking; textures/different colours; freestyle.

Markmaking made me crash into hurdle #1: mixing ink, keeping ink fluid and getting a good print - it was really about painting on the plate and taking a print. I tried, tried some more and failed some more, and quickly moved to project #2 [which turned out a lot better, see here]; I kept reading on to the freestyle bit and quickly came up with ideas for the four freestyle projects to do, starting sketches, collecting things to include and general plans for that. In the meantime I kept playing around with the inbetween parts: masks, different masks, different colours with different masks, collecting more leaves, seashells and other things for texture etc etc.

So, project 1 was still lacking 'a still life including two objects, negative space and shadows'. After six, seven attempts at various jugs, plants, cafetieres, pears and some more, I had previously given up.

But the inbetween parts meant that I got a clearer idea of colour and contrast with the prints, got to know that dried ink doesn't get fluid again [uhuh... eejit], registration of plate is important so that you get the alignment right and so on. Knew a bit more about the paper, the transfer process, that the clean-up isn't really such a pain...

So, when I then turned to that dreaded still life including two objects I chose colours (orange and green) and objects (orchid) which had worked well in the masked prints. And, heyho: I have a print that does work in terms of composition, it's a reasonably clean print, has two objects, shadows and negative space. Well: it doesn't rock, I agree. But in relative terms it does well. And: it completes the task.

I think the painting on plate bit is too painterly for me; I like the roller, sponge, water stuff better. But more of that later.

Now onto the prints for freestyle, jippieh... good that I have some ideas.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

More of the same 'them'

... new colours, new shapes... slowly getting to grips with the different paper - one is blotting paper, one a Chinese paper.

The orange works very well, but I'm unconvinced by the purple - too muddy, really. Probably the napthol red to blame for that. I want a MAGENTA!

But in the meantime, Kari and Steph were getting close: it's organic and leafy. These are more of the same, and yet different...

Print Project 1.2 003
Masked positive monotype

Print Project 1.2
Ghostprint, 30x40cm

Print Project 1.2
Masked negative monotype

Next task: all of them on one sheet...

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

The sea... in colour

A day out, arriving at low tide and sunshine (well, once in a while):

Troon South Beach

Troon South Beach

Troon South Beach

Now I'm thinking of lines, markings, reflections, more lines in sand and water...

Monday, 22 September 2008

Cy Twombly is Painting Loss (Part 2)

Twombly wasn't really painting loss in Hero and Leandro, or was he? What he did was taking a poem based on Greek mythology and wove a different narrative for it. It was one of loss and sorrow. But nonetheless a far removed one all the same.

Yet, a couple of rooms before Hero and Leandro - and about ten years earlier - he was painting some of his own loss in Nini's Paintings. A series of five huge, 300x260cm tall, canvasses, in response to the sudden death of his gallerist's wife, Nini Pirandello, in 1971.

Cy Twombly, Nini's Painting, 1971, 261x300cm
Oil-based house paint, oil paint, wax crayon and lead pencil on canvas
Kunstmuseum Basel

They are all there is in the room, apart from a bench. They are all part of the same. Tall, wide, repetitive: scrawl upon scrawl upon scrawl on beige canvas. Unlike many of his other series, these five are so similar - it is difficult to discern which preceded the others. There is no numbering, no development. They are all simply Nini's Paintings. And that is important: it doesn't matter. It's melancholic sadness that repeats itself, over and over and over again. Not just across the canvasses, but in layer upon layer.

Much of the commentary on Twombly's work process remarked on such layering right throughout his work - the white housepaint that is used so frequently to undo what was before, e.g. also in the Poems to the Sea, or the centrality of the whites in Hero and Leandro, notably in Hero's drowning. It's gone and still it is there. Joane Eardley's work process was also driven by such layering: of paint, of dirt, of collage - in fact, any collagist actively builds this into her work process: to build up history, narratives, stories through such layering.

In many ways it's probably too neat an image - one of the things I like about collage or mixed media is the fusing of different layers, how they become something new, one, many, rather than staying separate.

Well, and that kind of goes back to mourning. The catalogue's opening paragraph on Nini's Paintings refers to Freud's 1915 essay on Mourning and Melancholia*. How, with any loss, mourning goes through all the previous ones to finally arrive at the most recent. [Well, and his argument is that melancholia occurs if that isn't happening right].

So, there is a layering, recalling, rewriting and perhaps fusing of past experiences. Working the way through the various rounds, experiences of loss... scrawling a name, different names over pages, over and over, whitening them out, adding new ones on top. And at some point the painting is done. Well, done in the sense that it can remain as what it is. And one can look at it.

It's funny. I read most of this when I was back home. But I remember the sheer physicality of those paintings in that room. Me sitting on that bench in the corner, they all around. It was about acknowledging the presence of something important.

Paintings I like? No, they are not pretty nor nice. They are important.

* - Hm, I tried to find a full text version of the text, but didn't; here's a summary of some sort:

Sunday, 21 September 2008

What ARE we???

Prints Project 1.2
Monotype on paper, 15x20cm
Masked negative

Prints Project 1.2
Monotype on paper, 15x20cm

Prints Project 1.2
Monotype on paper, 15x20cm
Masked positive

... besides the first working examples of my masked monotype experiments?

Do you know? They are representations of something, but of what? I've been quickly filling the washing lines spun across my flat, so if you know what they are: leave a comment and the first one with a right answer will get one of them sent.

Now... more printing...

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Hero and Leandro

aka... Cy Twombly is Painting Loss (Part 1)

Ok - I've been carrying this one around with me for a good while, so I reckon it's time to put it on paper. There were two rooms - or rather two series - in the Twombly exhibition that didn 't leave me.

For this first one, I briefly contemplated filing it under my Paintings I like tag. But that doesn't capture it. It doesn't get to it at all. There is something terribly wrong with LIKE in this context. It's far more complicated than LIKING implicates. Liking is niceness; prettiness; oh, that is kinda cutesy.

Well, there is something really aesthetically appealling about the series of four paintings - or rather: pieces of art - that constitute Hero and Leandro. Just looking at them from a distance. A wave, viridian and a dark magenta crimson, rising up on the left...... calming, calming further until it is white nothingness - thick textured off-whites layered atop of each other to the far right of the three pieces in oil. Large paintings they are. Intricately layered in oil with the white and the wave and the green and the dark red. Violent calm it seems to shoutwhisper.

Then. Tucked on as an afterthought a small piece of paper with a scrawled line:
"He's gone, up bubbles all his amorous breath"

- a line from Christopher Marlowe's poem which gave the inspiration.

That's the art.

Cy Twombly, Hero and Leandro, 1981-84
Part 1 168,x200cm,
Part 2 156x205cm
Part 3 156x205cm
Oil, crayon and graphite on canvas
Part 4 42x30cm
Graphite on graph paper
Cy Twombly Gallery, The Menil Collection Houston

The concept? It's so obvious that it sticks; unsticks the beauty of the piece wholeheartedly. Leandro - the lover of Hero - crosses the sea to visit his loved one. One night he drowns. In despair over his death, Hero drowns herself in sorrow and the sea. Do you get it? He dies in a bloody, green wave of powerful mediterranean water. She in contrast simply vanishes into white nothingness, demurely, obediently, the nothingness engulfs her sorrow. I kind of see Kate Blanchet in all her white Lord of the Ring otherworldliness walking into a calm lake, all glowy and sacrificial.

A painting I like? No. Nobody drowns in waves of blood, unless you've been hit over the head beforehand. Your lungs just fill with water, no blood, just no air. And then a body is washed ashore within a couple of hours and not only in three weeks, if one's lucky. I know that bit, and I wish I wouldn't. But that isn't the point. How boringly does he think he can go and construct gender? Yawn... active/ passive, red blood/ white sorrow... C'mon Cy! I'm sure you could have done something a bit better on this one! It's not even an old piece, you did this in the early 1980s! No?!

It's just a shame that it's an awfully attractive - beautiful - series of paintings. Liking? ... far too nice for it.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

A throw of the dice...

... all across a white page. Remember Twombly's mention of Mallarme's thoughts on the role of a blank page as significant for what's written on it?

Have a look here - at Mallarme's A throw of a dice will never abolish chance (1897). It's about space; negative space; blank, white pages; nothingness; and a lingering doubt that after everything

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Don't forget one thing, forget another one

I had been eyeing up my post counter for some time. 2007 had 99 posts, so 2008 would need 100 and the next post would be number 200. I was very good at that, I really was!

But then, some lapse in attention, and here we go. This is post #202. That's a good number also, seeing that I ignore anniversaries etc. That's quite a bit of writing in 15 months. Often I'm not quite sure where this is going, or I for that matter, but the dynamic the whole thing gets from that is rather good for it, I think.

Should I look back and summarise 202 posts? Nay... have a look at the posts on the right-hand side for that matter, and make up your own mind, should you care.

Bedrock and Clouds #7
Bedrock and Clouds #7
Woodcut print on Bockingford

But, here's something I kept quiet about for almost a year: It's a woodprint I did last autumn at a course at the Glasgow Print Studio. Over eight weeks, the Japanese plywood acquired plenty of carving (much in wrong places) and plenty of oily ink. The tactile stuff of carving, inking, and actual printing was just fabulous. I really enjoyed that.


I initially had thought of printmaking merely as an underpainting kind of stage for the mixed media or pastels paintings: get some planes, shapes and colours done to continue working with them. More than 3 colours seemed an excessive amount of detail and forward planning. But it was really enjoyable.

So, in Spring I signed up for a course on Printmaking - to be done in my kitchen. It's a course with the Open College of the Arts. In addition to a messy kitchen I have also acquired an art school student status. Hurray! Mind you: distance and part-time, but nonetheless.

It was a bit slow to get going (or was I?). However, since I've been back home, I've been inking up my kitchen counter to do some monotypes. Well, they are experiments, and to date pretty much all failed experiments: no, that wasn't enough ink; oops, what does that colour do there?; argh, no: that's the ink dried now; oh dear, not enough pressure; hm, too much water, etc, etc. That makes them perfect for using them as base for other things; yet, I'm sure it's not really something my tutor is looking for. So, nothing to show for those just yet.

That much for the now and next, and I'm sure at post #404 there'll be a big tag on PRINTMAKING. And some other things, too?

Oh, and of course: Thank you for reading, commenting and showing me a world of fascinating art along the way. Cheers!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

No - I hadn't forgotten

... about all the found papers. Only got sidetracked by too many other things.

Remember? In May I optimistically announced that anybody who had any papers to send to me should do so URGENTLY as I wanted to finish the books before mid-July.

[Don't know what I'm talking about? Check this post here, or the Found Papers Project tag for a overview]

Well... nothing happened despite my optimism. Well, that's not true: I did get a number more envelopes in the mail. When I was in Berlin, I picked up a rather adorable collection, and for a weekend, everyone kept passing any sort of found paper on to me. Thank you, again!

So, I put them all on my floor last weekend, to kind of get me back amongst them to see what to do with them. I had a few ideas kicking about before I had left in June. But... hm... nothing happened. There were all these papers and I didn't have a clue! A couple of hunches at best but definitely not enough to run with them.

Found papers

To get me at least slowly walking again, I've now uploaded the third book which is finished: well, cut apart, not strung together though. Compared with the two first ones, it's white and a bit sparse, but features some candle smoke, sand and some authentic dirt on the architect's plan.

I did a first trawl through what are somewhere in the region of 25 envelopes of different STUFF, and picked some bits and pieces from them. They are all kind of white too... maybe I'll stick with that non-colour for a bit...

Found Papers Book #3
Found Paper Project Book #3
Mixed media collage on board
45.5 x 9 cm, doublesided
[top row's the backside, bottom row the front]

Well, next weekend I can start walking faster, I reckon. Let's see where to.

On a sunday afternoon

... just after my mum called, unwittingly...

A throwback to nine years ago. A live set on the radio offers this to me:

And with it it conjures up something I've been talking about so much over the summer:

Nine years ago I was in Germany for four months, after 10 months Glasgow after 18 months Germany after 12 months Glasgow - and this was what embodied it in song: Well, well and truly inbetween.

I'm not there that often anymore, but this summer left me arriving in London and there it was again: stuck between the worlds.


A language unspoken

A dream not remembered

A thought not caught


A glimpse

A shadow

A hunch


In her eyes in a blink it is gone

To inbetween that is elsewhere nowhere so everywhere

Thinking about painting prepositions, relationships between things, places, people comes from that. I am still needing to convince myself that it is not presumptious, precious and worthy... or at least: only a little bit. It's rather conceptually romantic. Well: Rilke doesn't really help on that front all that much... grin...

Na, in any case. I'll be sticking with it for a while. I got an idea for it, too:

Taking some detail shots from some of my landscape pastels... To work from, develop, turn into something else. Well: into amongst, inbetween, beyond, outwith and so on... Sure I'll get my head knocked on corners inbetween. May not work, but just as well may...

Cornfield #2 Detail

Cornfield #2 Detail

Pastel/Acrylics on board

Saturday, 13 September 2008

The repitition of agricultural produce

The produce in question: of course the cornfield.

While the last attempt yielded long grasses, it was far too wild and rugged for good German, intensively fertilised corn. So, rather than pursuing Brian's good advice for variation, I veered intensively into the opposite direction: repetition, repitition, repetition (which figures as another point on his list).

So much so that I felt I was doing a caricature rather than a pastel painting. That wasn't a bad feeling, though: I'd love to be able to do them, but again: a lack of illustration skills gets in the way.

Just for memory purposes:

The first attempt at something bigger cornfieldish is here

Cornfields, Acrylics/Pastel on board 35x25cm

This, then is Cornfields # 2

Cornfield #2
Cornfields #2
Pastels/Acrylics on board, 35x25cm

And? Enough repetitive intensity?

Cornfield #2 Detail
Cornfields #2 Detail
Pastels/Acrylics on board, 35x25cm

I think so. But all the same, I notice something majorly wrong with this. Do you see it?

A hint: try to figure out time of day, direction of sun etc - usually the practicalities I don't bother with too much when I pick hues/values I want to. But with this one it struck me afterwards - too much realism gone wrong: The trees are getting full on sun from the left (south east) while the distance is almost in an evening/dust type dullness. Doesn't quite work, does it?

Will fix it, though. And then let cornfields be cornfields for a while.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

On buoancy

... and some more on Twombly and his favoured poems. Thinking about it, it's probably unsurprising that there'll be plenty of Rilke thrown into the paintings of sea, shores, water, seasons, love and loss.

Rainer Maria Rilke. I heard (as mp3s) some of his autumn poems last autumn and then fragments of his work, notably his Letters to a young poet and more poetry came flying from various sides. Part of that was an exploration of how much easier music and visual art is for expressing stuff that otherwise - in written verse - ends up just tediously soppy.

So, joyfully on to the tediously soppy now - thank you, Cy!

Cy Twombly, Untitled, 1987
Bronze, painted with white oil-based paint

There were three fragments of poetry that caught my eye in the exhibition.
First, there was a line, scrawled on the bottom of a bronze sculpture representing a broomstick and various other bits.
"And we who had always
thought of happiness
climbing, would feel
the emotion that almost
startles when happiness falls".
It falls down the stick, doesn't it? Prosaicly, slowly, drib drab like treacle.

Secondly, another line from Rilke
"and in the pond
broken off from the sky
my feeling sinks
as if standing on
It's written across the opening panel of Untitled (A painting in nine parts). "As if standing on fishes." I liked the idea a lot. How comforting, I felt it was. - It was about buoyancy: finding the balancing point of where one would stop sinking any deeper. After all: the fishes would prevent one from sinking. I smiled to myself, went back to read it again towards the end of the exhibition. Bob, bobbing along as you float, halfway in water.

Cy Twombly, Untitled (A Painting in Nine Parts) Untitled, Part I, 1988 Oil, water-based paint,...., 191x109cm

Then, at home, in the catalogue I would read the German line of it which goes
"Und in den abgebrochenen Tag der
Teiche sinke, wie auf Fischen stehend,
mein Gefühl"
I stumbled, sunk. Deeper and deeper. Was there not going to be any buoancy after all? I talked it through with M., she couldn't see anything buoyant in the English verses at all. So I gathered that I must have optimistically misread it. It's a line from the poem Fortschritt - progress. Progress, kind of turned on its head if you think about happiness drib drabbing rather than moving upward. Funny that.

wieder rauscht mein tiefes Leben lauter, als ob es jetzt in breitern Ufern ginge. Immer verwandter werden mir die Dinge und alle Bilder immer angeschauter. Dem Namenlosen fühl ich mich vertrauter: Mit meinen Sinnen, wie mit Vögeln, reiche ich in die windigen Himmel aus der Eiche, und in den abgebrochnen Tag der Teiche sinkt, wie auf Fischen stehend, mein Gefühl.
And an English version is here:

The deep parts of my life pour onward,
as if the river shores were opening out.
I seems that things are more like me now,
that I can see farther into paintings.
I feel closer to what language can't reach.
With my senses, as with birds, I climb
into the windy heaven, out of the oak,and in
the ponds broken off from the sky

my feeling sinks, as if standing on fishes.

(translation by Robert Bly)

And, with this I'm sure it's about buoancy, about stretching upwards and downwards. Standing on fishes must be a good thing, I'm sure.

Now, the third fragment? That's for Hero and Leander.

And I'm sure there must be plenty to be said about such elevation of heroic emotion, a single being cast out in the world, their loneliness and abandon to their inner worlds, emotions and all that. Just as well as I'm sure there's plenty of literary criticism, social sciencey stuff and feminism to take it apart.

Rightfully so, I suppose. And still... all the same, I'm looking forward to the next time I'll be standing on fishes... well... if I keep misreading it as something good, that is ;)

Monday, 8 September 2008

Remember these ones: Coloured Squares

Pale blue on Umber, original oil painting 4”x4”

Green on Green, Original Oil painting 4x4"

Purple on Umber, original oil painting 4”x4”
Various Coloured Squares, 10x10cm in wooden frame
Oil on Canvas board

They were done as part of the early colour investigations before all those fields in oil earlier this year..

I had six of them framed in a wooden, deep, double frame before the exhibition in June. Small squares they are quite impressive that way.

On my list for things to do this autumn was the concerted effort to recoup some of my extortionate framing costs from before the June exhibition.

So, all my paintings - small and large (if they are not going to some local sales/exhibitons) - are being put onto Etsy. I've also promised myself to do the same with the various plein air sketches I've done for the past 18 months or so. Vivien's shop opening prompted me to grit my teeth and write up descriptions for various things. And the first new items to go in are the Coloured Squares.

Here's my shop:

And these are direct links to the six different Coloured Squares:

And, I'm diverging from my straightfoward naming conventions of anything serial. So, rather than merely calling these CS#23 or thereabouts, they are COLOUR on COLOUR.

Dark green on Lime, original oil painting 4”x4”
Dark Green on Lime
Oil on canvas board, 10x10cm

Sunday, 7 September 2008

And another cornfield


This morning I finally took out the easel again after a while. I took out one - the only red! - already prepared greyboard (acrylics and pumice powder).

The bulk of the cornfield still kept me wondering - and the comments I got to my earlier request here pretty much went along the lines: yes, something I'd like to know about also.

Ok. My rationale was to do more persistent, stronger lines rights throughout the field, and to do them in acrylics - in highlights and lowlights.

Cornfields, Pastel/Acrylics on board
WIP: stage 1, underpainting

I then split the field into... hm, well,... really into a side view and a top view, trying to construct it somewhat 3d. While that wasn't the view I had IRL, it still seemed an appropriate way to counter the flatness.

Cornfields, Pastel/Acrylics on board
WIP: stage 2, pastels go on

In went a lot of repetitive marks - lines, about an inch long, overlayed and varied across the field.

Cornfields Detail
Cornfields Detail , Pastel/Acrylics on board
WIP: stage 2, pastels go on

For the foreground, I put in much longer lines. Then I went back in to really work on the negative space by adding a lot of dark values in the foreground - to work on the illusion that one could see into the undergrowth.

Cornfields, Pastel/Acrylics on board
WIP: stage 3 foreground

Well, it's not flat anymore. I did prepare two panels with a similar underpainting. With the second one I'm thinking about constructing the field much more obviously 3d in acrylics before I start with the pastels. Would that work?

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Can you see the time?

How it passes, slowly, quickly, a jump here and then it stands still?

My mind's been running circles around a couple of abstractions: concepts and prepositions - too much post-structuralism to deal with relationality. The connections between things. It's still running, mind you. My first venture into it was the idea of island time when I was on Eigg: moving differently, circular not linear, depending on the tides and the ferry.

Yesterday at lunchtime another representation of it occurred to me. I finally had opened all my mail at work from the past six weeks, had decluttered my inbox - less than a hundred seems to be the definition of that, and finally I turned attention to my calendar. It's a daily one with a piece of art for each day. Stubbornly it proclaimed: Gesa, don't worry, it is only 9 July, you're about to go to Eigg, to Berlin and the summer is ahead of you.

The summer on my office floor.

Can you see the time as it passed?

Paul Klee, Die Zeit, 1933
Watercolour, ink, plaster
with gauze and cotton on wood
approx 40x50cm (?)
Museum Berggruen

Catching time, making it stand still while it falls apart was at the centre - see the clock hands - of a collage piece by Paul Klee I saw in July in Berlin. It's definite timing: five minutes to seven o'clock. It sits across jumbled, skewed rectangled shapes of various shades of yellow, red and brown, fabric, plaster and paint. It's an inconspicious piece amongst to many other great pieces in the exhibition.

And still, it nags you persistently: What to do if time stands still at the wrong moment?? At five to seven.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The virgin, the beautiful, and bright today

... so goes the opening line of Stéphane Mallarmé's The Swan.

I stumbled across it in some of the notes on Cy Twombly's earlier works in the Cycles and Season's exhibition at the Tate Modern. Stumbled across a whole series of white square drawings in pencil with splatters, splashes and markings of white oil paint. Each of them has a horizon line, drawn with a ruler, just a couple of inches below the top.

Cy Twombly Poems to the Sea i-vi (1959)
oil, graphite, wax crayon on paper
approx. 33x31cm
Dia Art Foundation

The series is entitled
Poems to the Sea. I thought of Joan Eardley and of Edwin Morgan's poem to Eardley and Floodtide (see post here).

On the surface Twombly's drawings and Eardley's seascapes don't seem to have all that much in common. One is white - classically white - sparse, restrained with some pencil marks and the faintest hint of colour. Well, for the other one - as Morgan says

All becomes art, and as if it was incensed
By the painter’s brush the sea growls up
In a white flood.
The artist’s cup
Is overflowing with what she dares

To think is joy, caught unawares

[Sorry, but you need to get the link to Morgan reading the poem again, too: here]

So, a whole wall full of these poems to the sea. The commentary remarks the influence of Mallarmé's poetry on these drawings. Notably: a play with words, connotations and sounds.

And it poses the question that if meaning is created by the relationship between words and sounds then surely the blank page on which these sit must be part of that relationality also. So, here the white, blank page for Mallarmé and Twombly.

I went hunting for the poem. Found it in French alongside some discussions on the difficulty of translation.
Le vierge, le vivace et le bel aujoud'hui
Stéphane Mallarmé

Le vierge, le vivace et le bel aujoud'hui
Va-t-il nous déchirer avec un coup d'aile ivre
Ce lac dur oublié que hante sous le givre
Le transparent glacier des vols qui n'ont pas fui!
Un cygne d'autrefois se souvient que c'est lui
Magnifique mais qui sans espoir se délivre
Pour n'avoir pas chanté la region ou vivre
Quand du stérile hiver a resplendi l'ennui.
Tout son col secouera cette blanche agonie
Par l'espace infligée a l'oiseau qui le nie,
Mais non l'horreur du sol où le plumage est pris.
Fantôme qu'à ce lieu son pur éclat assigne,
Il s'immobilise au songe froid de mépris
Que vêt parmi l'exil inutile le Cygne.

And then there's the playfulness of so many translations and renderings, to keep the symbolism, to keep the obscurity, the creation of meaning and sounds and rhyme? John Holcombe's review of existing translations into English (see his site here), and various further attempts are intriguing: it is the play with words, meanings and translations which is fascinating in everyday use alone, but just leaves me speechless when it comes to poetry.

The virgin, the beautiful and bright today.
For us can the rapture of a wing-blow break
Beneath this frosted and forgotten lake
Snowy cascades of flights not fled away?

In past magnificence of another day
The swan remembers its freedom, but cannot make
A song from surroundings but only take
On the sterile dull glint of the winter's stay.

Out of white agony the whole neck lies
In a space inflicted that the bird denies.

Cold and immobile in its feathered being
Not in horror of earth but to brightness gone:
A dream wrapped in scorn, and a phantom, seeing
How futile is exile for the Swan.

(Translation John Holcombe

Cy Twombly Poems to the Sea xix-xxiv (1959)
oil, graphite, wax crayon on paper
approx. 33x31cm

Dia Art Foundation

So. The first post on Twombly is on whiteness, relationality and poetry.

It's the use of words, meanings - almost graffiti-like - that intrigued me in the exhibition. There'll be more on that. There's also some ideas on the playfulness of words and meanings in different languages - how it cannot be translated and the fact that purity of one language is just restrictive.

And having been in Germany for six weeks brought back some of those wonderfully idiosyncratic German words that I had already forgotten about. Like pingelig, Ausgleichssport, Dienstliches, sich so schoen vorfreuen, and many more... funny, can't think of them anymore already...

So many discussions I had on this over the past few months, quite a bit of writing done too. And Twombly's work picks up on that. I think there's something to be done around this. Let me think and write - and possibly eventually paint - on this a little bit more. Soon...

But there were more things in the exhibition. In fact, there were so many things that I did buy the catalogue. Only to add five more kilos to my other 25kgs of luggage to take with me on the final leg back to Glasgow. But that's been well worth it. Let me show you. Soon...

They wrestle with snakes

... not ordinary snakes, no: pythons. I saw them. Not all of them do, but some. I am sure of that.

The certainty came to me on a lunch break last week in London's West End. Lunch at the Victoria & Albert Museum opened my eyes. To Frederic Lord Leighton's Athlete Struggling with a Python.

Leighton's Athlete struggling with a python - study
Sketches of Leighton's 'Athlete struggling with Python'
Bronze, 1877, V&A

So manly, so strong, so determined. Do you see his stare, the muscles on his arms, the strong legs? All enframed by the glittering body of the snake, so smooth, so strong. And still: held at arm's length, they struggle, they stare. Who wins? Because a victory it has to be! The athlete, the snake?

Leighton's Athlete struggling with a python - study
Studies in pencil

So, I went back with the sketchbook, after having watched more wrestling with snakes over the ensuing days. I sketched and giggled. Pictured those academics as snake wrestlers. And giggled some more.

But they do. They wrestle with snakes. At least some of them do.

Conferences, hey.... festivals, road crashes, snake fights... can't help but watch, or participate even? Now, how did it happen that it suddenly looks as if I may be going to Las Vegas next spring after all? I knew there was a problem with watching too closely...

Monday, 1 September 2008

Where are my pastels?

... 80% of the medium has to be (not oil) pastel - that's one of the requirements to enter any painting into the Pastel 100 Competition.

I timed it rather tight with the submission deadline being today. I had this in my diary for a while but the way things turned out, I was in Germany sifting through the murky depths of my rather confused computer to find pictures of what to enter. And I discovered two things

(a) I am a lousy photographer of my own work. Most of the pics are poor snapshots of various Work in Progress stages; and then there's nothing until it's framed. Incredibly useful.

(b) I was running up against the 80% pastel requirement with all the mixed media stuff I was doing. Most of it figures pastel but some rather sparingly so.

Well: there were two likely candidates but no useful photos. So I took my tripod out yesterday and came up - despite the greyest day in Glasgow since about 20 January or thereabouts (or maybe I just luckily missed six weeks of grey?) - with a reasonable setup for taking pictures. My favourite choice was this one from the Colored Sands series.

Colored Sands Series #1

Colored Sands Series #1
Mixed media (acrylics, gouache, graphite, pastel) on board

Do you see the problem???

Exactly: far too many other things on the surface than pastel, notably gouache, bare paper and acrylics. I think even with a 50% requirement this would have been rejected. That only left this one here:

Three Three One
Three three one*
Mixed media (acrylics, pastel) on board

So, the only one I submitted is this one here. It has some acrylic unterpainting which does some nice things in terms of texture. It's the only 80%+ pastel I have. I'm a bit hesitant - even ambivalent - about it. I loved the composition when I finally got to it (see the Study Plains for some talk about it); I also love the lemon yellow and some of the lush marks across the blue fields and the skies.

And still.... I dunno.

Well: it's submitted in the abstract/non-objective category. Having seen the previous years landscape entries, I figured that the judges are firmly with my Dad on the unconditional need for landscapist realism, and seeing that I'm not, I better leave that one alone...

I now also have some good shots of some of the detail in this flickr set (yes, I know, a tripod is a much better option than my shakey, impatient hands). And I need to find a mixed media thingy to submit the glorious Colored Sands #1 to.

*An attempt at a less representational title: is it a landscape? No it isn't!