Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Leaving crumbs on sheets.

leaving crumbs on sheets.

can't brush them off lightly.

so leaving crumbs on sheets

typing insomnia.

leaving coins on sheets.

"Heads or tales?"
"Your call or thine?"
"What the fuck?"

It won't add up to 'owt.

counting insomnia

nailing down planks.

corpse limbs skewed 
corpse hymns jagged




grieving insomnia

no rest in peace.

scratching stubble on cheeks,

hardly alive,
stumbling undead,

sunkenly eyes mirror
looks unkempt,
hair thinning, 
haggard hangdog look,

turns the tap to cold.
adjusts feeble flow, 
takes a sip,
throat's still dry.
one swallow doesn't make it summer.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Casting off moorings.

I had spent a little less than a month working on portraits, drawn or painted from photos, and then, unannounced, this face emerged.

He stares out of the page, an unsettling presence.

There are stories to imagine, none to tell.

Well as far as I am concerned he was a piece of recreation.

I simply played with colours and forms until it said stop.

I stopped to contemplate what he or it might mean for future acts.

I find working purposefully, in a concentrated manner on study , on technique, tiring but valuable.  I realise that this will be a constant source of frustration but also a challenge and a potential source of satisfaction.

I am not really sure how the idea of completing 30 portraits came about, it just did.

It is this path which arouses my curiosity, which begs me to retrace my steps.  

Taking bearings.

Why, I ask myself, does one image attract at a particular moment? 

There are people who have an eye that I treasure.

There are people who have a way with words that inspire.

There are those photos that come back to me that I go to search for years after.

What determines this toing and froing from, repetitive technical exercise to recreation?

Instinctively, intrinscially motivated moments of studied effort, concentration, intermingle with instintively motivated moments of freely formed, instinctive creativity.

The monster can't appear without the work on portraiture, the monster can't appear without the freedom to create.

Mapping not tracing.

Mapping most often involves taking knowledge of the lines of others inorder to trace one's own steps....

I suppose what I find so wrong about much of classical education is that teachers don't wait for students to naturally and instinctively search for answers, for mastery, to their own personal questions, to map out their own personal paths.

Most of the time creativity is not called for, only unthinking tracing.

I find myself taking screen shots of the artwork of others, as reference, as inspiration.

I find myself watching documentaries retracing the artistic paths of others. 

Moments of serenity, moments of despair....

I think again how objects, images, memories become markers on our maps, moorings for our lives.

I think again how motifs model meaning.

I think about the challenges to accepted motifs and the creation of new forms of art.

I think of how loss of attachment, mooring, meaning, leads us to fearful despair, confusion or outrage.

Tides, waves, lunar movements...

I leave people and portraits and find refuge in landscape.

As I draw, I branch off, my eye drawn around the room.

I glance over at my bookcase and see the  mountaineering section, the aikido section, the Stanislavski and Chekov books on acting, the various tomes concerning educational  research from the past ten years.  Each section represents moments, hours, years of attention, enthusiasm, passion, and its waning.

There are seasons, tides, reverberations, which somehow connect in my thoughts, memories, writing, drawing, painting....

Living for many years on the coast, moving backwards and forwards between two countries separated by the sea, looking at photos from series of annual trips across the channel, the sea is a constant motif in my existence.

“There were profound reasons for his attachment to the sea: he loved it because as a hardworking artist he needed rest, needed to escape from the demanding complexity of phenomena and lie hidden on the bosom of the simple and tremendous; because of a forbidden longing deep within him that ran quite contrary to his life's task and was for that very reason seductive, a longing for the unarticulated and immeasurable, for eternity, for nothingness. To rest in the arms of perfection is the desire of any man intent upon creating excellence; and is not nothingness a form of perfection?” 
― Thomas Mann, Death in Venice and Other Tales

Casting off moorings.

Strangely, time appears for this work, when time before appeared absent.

How is it that after so many years, I find this time to paint? 

Maybe, I have cast off those moorings that were holding me back.

I find a poem on the Mooring image from Wendy Taleo. It finds its place somehow here.

I don't really know why it is that I am pausing here to write a few notes in this "ship's log". 

I had become fed up with words.

They appear here to punctuate the flow.

Monday, April 8, 2019

The big picture.


I hadn't blogged twice in a day for months. Then Maha made a comment on Twitter. It was a response and a appreciative comment to a blog post I shared with her.

The big picture

Sorry this is an inane rant.

So this (the map above) is the (a) big picture.

This is a perspective that I was brought up with.

This is a perspective that I was educated with.

My father was born in 1907, the year on the map of the World.

It's a big world made smaller with all of that pink.

The pink here represents the British Empire.

The pink represents the worldview of some people in 2019, they still hark back to it in their attitudes, arrogance, their bank balances and their politics.




There is this idea that all of this and all of that land belongs to "us" and not to "them".

That is the big picture - power.



Power built on military domination, torture, slavery, expropriation, exploitation, land of hope and glory, "Christianity", Inanity, songs, prayers and lies.





(Altenatively: progress through Chinese Communist Party etc )


There are still people who hold onto an irrational reverence to science being an explanation for all.

[I had a class with people who told me this only a few days ago...]

There are still people who hold onto an irrational hope in strong men being an answer to politics.


There are still people who hold onto an irrational bigotry that white people are innately superior.


There are still people who hold onto an irrational belief in their "god" granting them the right to kill.


There are still people who hold onto an irrational belief that humans are simply men and women and nothing in between.


There are still people who hold onto an irrational belief that Western societies are built on meritocracies or goodwill.


There are still people who hold onto an irrational belief in "individual success", the primacy of the individual.

We love stories of good and evil.


We love ideas of heroes and villains.


We talk of saints and monsters.


The big picture is a comforting lie....for those who like the picture.


We love our myths, our legends, our narratives, our plays with neat beginnings and endings.


Of course now, if we wear rose tinted spectacles,  we might think of pink representing a new trendy, liberal, more caring Britain.

Uncomforting Exceptions to the big picture...

Somewhere in all of that pink there is a little land called Brunei.

"The British" no doubt found support for a pet exotic, a Sultan convenient.

They kept him sweet over the years with Eton, baubles, bullets and flattery.

They oiled the wheels of his Rolls Royces, with the oil that came cheap.

They fêted his presence in their big picture with our majestic Queen.

Now that ex-pink has it in for all the pinks present.

Brunei introduces death by stoning as punishment for gay sex

Big picture of big building.

Post scriptum
Sigh, sometimes, often even, we get sparked by comments and words taken out of context.

(It's been too long a while that Maha and I have not interacted)

Sparks can light candles or bonfires.

I fear that the story in the Guardian about a tiny country and its tyrant will spark more islamophobia and more "big pictures" with more big headlines.

I wonder when we will be able to appreciate the beauty in people's expression of spirituality, or sexuality, the value of all people over that of oil, pf the value of life over material possessions, of the reality of our common humanity, and to accept a more equitable, more complex, less graspable, less controlled, more moving collage.

Post post scriptum.

The big picture is that this post is a mark of individual privilege and servitude- a few data points for those who have access to the means to interpret "big data" and use it for their ends.

Looking at all that blue doesn't make me yearn for the pink but makes me wonder how it will affect the stories people will tell their children...

Footnote and conclusion.

We are indeed slaves to what brings us freedom....

Moments of despair, Glimmers of hope.

I had no words, I could not speak.

"If you don't know what to play, play nothing."
Miles Davis

I glanced darkly at serious sounding tweaks...to those familiar choruses.

Tweaks, to serious sounding choruses.



Dada dada...

Tweets, so many characters... that said it all.

They...that... said it all.

They...that...didn't speak to me.

They...that...didn't speak for them.

I heard not a jot.

Nothing but...

Serious, sounding, tweets.

Tweaks, to serious sounding choruses.


Tweaks, to serious sounding choruses.

To a Skylark

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! 
Bird thou never wert, 
That from Heaven, or near it, 
Pourest thy full heart 
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art. 

Higher still and higher 
From the earth thou springest 
Like a cloud of fire; 
The blue deep thou wingest, 
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest. 

In the golden lightning 
Of the sunken sun, 
O'er which clouds are bright'ning, 
Thou dost float and run; 
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun. 

The pale purple even 
Melts around thy flight; 
Like a star of Heaven, 
In the broad day-light 
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight, 

Keen as are the arrows 
Of that silver sphere, 
Whose intense lamp narrows 
In the white dawn clear 
Until we hardly see, we feel that it is there. 

All the earth and air 
With thy voice is loud, 
As, when night is bare, 
From one lonely cloud 
The moon rains out her beams, and Heaven is overflow'd. 

What thou art we know not; 
What is most like thee? 
From rainbow clouds there flow not 
Drops so bright to see 
As from thy presence showers a rain of melody. 

Like a Poet hidden 
In the light of thought, 
Singing hymns unbidden, 
Till the world is wrought 
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not: 

Like a high-born maiden 
In a palace-tower, 
Soothing her love-laden 
Soul in secret hour 
With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower: 

Like a glow-worm golden 
In a dell of dew, 
Scattering unbeholden 
Its a{:e}real hue 
Among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view: 

Like a rose embower'd 
In its own green leaves, 
By warm winds deflower'd, 
Till the scent it gives 
Makes faint with too much sweet those heavy-winged thieves: 

Sound of vernal showers 
On the twinkling grass, 
Rain-awaken'd flowers, 
All that ever was 
Joyous, and clear, and fresh, thy music doth surpass. 

Teach us, Sprite or Bird, 
What sweet thoughts are thine: 
I have never heard 
Praise of love or wine 
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine. 

Chorus Hymeneal, 
Or triumphal chant, 
Match'd with thine would be all 
But an empty vaunt, 
A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want. 

What objects are the fountains 
Of thy happy strain? 
What fields, or waves, or mountains? 
What shapes of sky or plain? 
What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain? 

With thy clear keen joyance 
Languor cannot be: 
Shadow of annoyance 
Never came near thee: 
Thou lovest: but ne'er knew love's sad satiety. 

Waking or asleep, 
Thou of death must deem 
Things more true and deep 
Than we mortals dream, 
Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream? 

We look before and after, 
And pine for what is not: 
Our sincerest laughter 
With some pain is fraught; 
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought. 

Yet if we could scorn 
Hate, and pride, and fear; 
If we were things born 
Not to shed a tear, 
I know not how thy joy we ever should come near. 

Better than all measures 
Of delightful sound, 
Better than all treasures 
That in books are found, 
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground! 

Teach me half the gladness 
That thy brain must know, 
Such harmonious madness 
From my lips would flow 
The world should listen then, as I am listening now. 

Tweaks, to serious sounding choruses.

Oh, tweets, I regret.

I had no interest in reading them.


The thought of opening up the computer was an anathema to me.

Associated as it is with marks, tables, charts and mail.

Blogging every day? 

I had no words, nothing to write.


Drawing energy from somewhere.

"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." Pablo Picasso.

Drawing everyday, drawing everyday?  Not if it becomes a bind.

I will not be a slave to what brings me freedom.

Drawing prompts can become a bind.

Drawing encouragement?  Yes, gratefully accepted.

Drawing for likes? Not if it becomes a bind.

Drawing commissions? Not if it becomes a bind.

Drawing free-hand.

"Life is the art of drawing without an eraser." - John W. Gardner.

I took to drawing in ink, portraits - fast - one false move of the hand and I ruined everything.

That beautiful child, I stole her image, I destroyed her here.

I am thoughtlessly privileged, she is a distant disposable soul.

I look up at the rough sketch above and I see only its faults when what I was striving to express was beauty.

I feel despair at my clumsiness.

Ugliness, crude ragged strokes, often depressingly scribbled expressionism, always seemed easier.

I am less forgiving now of the child who didn't always hold onto his dreams.  

Dreams are resistant fifty years on...

"This art is still alive to me.

Resistant to academic form, I make do with child-informed imagery.  It has a keen edge."

Now 57, I discover that drawing aged, wrinkled, lined faces is more forgiving.

I have become wrongly or rightly, more forgiving.

I still play with digital filtering, I don't see that as an easy option, years of messing has widened my artistic palette. 

If I am concentrating on ink drawing, or water color, or training my eye, expertise only comes from days and days of practice.

"As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward." Vincent van Gogh 

I return to the challenge of beauty, I find an unlined face.

I see faults in my translation, there are so many aspects to work on.

I remember my mother's hopeless despair at her art:

"Oh it's just useless."

I treasure her drawing.

I find myself becoming more and more aware of the subtlety of touch, of weight, of respecting minimalism, of space, of the blank page. 

I remember a quote about mastery 

I am reminded of a variously attributed quote on music.

"The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between them."

I find sense in what I am doing here and now in writing. 

Taking time to pause, to reflect, to share that reflection with whoever may find meaning in it.

Quiet, Slow, Solitary, Study.

A comment of Gardner Campbell on a post here -  Are we not content ?  comes back to me.

"I want to emphasize....the value and necessity of study."

I go back and study tutorials of Alphonso Dunn and others on Youtube concerning portraiture.

I am reminded of a post here, years back - Stillness in Frenesy.

I take the portrait of the Korean girl, recognised in passing, by my teenage daughter (expert in Korean youth culture) and seek to add color to her bare lines.

The digital palette takes her elsewhere, towards, what I feel I need to express...beauty.

It is no coincidence that I looked to beauty in "nature" for a rest from human ugliness....

Landscape may become a refuge.

“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” 
Vincent Van Gogh

A single image of  Amy Burvall sparks an afternoon of water play.

The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” Pablo Picasso 

Taking a few steps back, redrawing ones lines.

I decide to take a larger format, risk wasting a more expensive paper, and sharpen my pencils.

I draw fairly quickly a portrait outline from a vintage hand-colored photo, chosen deliberately for its clear tonal range and limited color.

I improvise a means to correct my first draft, using an app to superimpose the drawing with the original image.

The problems of proportion, of angle, of position are immediately brought to light. 

I use the digitally composed image to correct my drawing.

This time, I have decided to challenge myself with a water color portrait. 

After all, doing the same old thing is dull!  

An old photo becomes seen in a new light.

I start to wonder about the story, the soul, behind the anonymity of the Googled object.

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Pablo Picasso 

What is behind her expression? What is bound in her tight bow? 

Is there life beyond the dust soiling our net curtains?

No words so much to express...

If I had no time for words, I needed time to express my feelings clearly.

Even silence is too loud a word, being a word.

If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.” Edward Hopper 

I needed water, pigment, line, page, flow, peace.

This act which I had considered an escape, I find myself sharing with students in my work.

This art, far from being irrelevant to scholarship, is intimately connected to my research.

This is what I come back to time and time again here.

It is to care enough for oneself, one's becoming that one is fully present in the here and now.

This, I discover is what "Les maux des mots..." was all about.

It is about freedom.

Freedom from definition, from category, from measure, from market, from seductive hits of likes, friends, impact rating, elite validation.

“I can't change the fact that my paintings don't sell. But the time will come when people will recognize that they are worth more than the value of the paints used in the picture.” 
Vincent van Gogh

So many words in a struggle to express...

I felt so much for Paul Prinsloo recently.

"Despite my broken compass, I walk, questioning. Like Sandra de la Loza and Eduardo Molinari, I am overwhelmed by the complexities of the world I live, work and breathe in. I am looking for ways to consciously inhabit my situation, to find a language to speak about, but also speak to my situation. I craft daily ‘to do’ lists and scribbles on serviettes in an attempt to archive my history, my situation.
In an act of archivist witchcraft I dance naked in this blog, to “unlock and reveal obscured narratives and hidden ghosts” in my life as scholar as archival material. The opening of the archive to my scholarly identity, despair and praxis, is an intentional ritual of scholarly witchcraft, of ‘cruel optimism’ as I shake my compass, and keep walking.

Fear is a broken compass.

Fear is medication that does not work anymore.

Fear is convulsions at night.

Fear is not-knowing and to continue walking"

"And yet, despite the unraveling, and the smell of drowning,  I have to figure a way out of being attached to the very situation or life that is causing the drowning."

This is hope Paul:

“Your profession is not what brings home your weekly paycheck, your profession is what you're put here on earth to do, with such passion and such intensity that it becomes spiritual in calling.” 
Vincent van Gogh

Spinning yarns, following twine.

Now I come to think about it, I see hope everywhere, when not many days ago all I saw was despair.

I see hope in Paul's despair.

How can you not despair when confronted by the ugliness of human cruelty, the avarice of market stall holders, the insanity of  masters of war, the measurement of "learning", the simplification of the wonder and complexity of nature,  the idiocracy of academia, the kleptocracy of those few who seek power over the many?

If forgiveness is all the hope we can cling to, my rage remains for what is done, will be done, to what is being done to those who deserve better.

Anger is an energy.

No Future? Rise UP!

I see hope, beauty and nature in small acts of kindness, the eyes of children, in the generous comments, small stories and images shared freely by my friends and mentors.

"A picture is a poem without words." Horace

I see hope in those who seek escape, in those who demonstrate, who remonstrate, who weep.

If I have been silent here, it means that I am, like Paul,

"overwhelmed by the complexities of the world I live, work and breathe in. I am looking for ways to consciously inhabit my situation, to find a language to speak about, but also speak to my situation."

Words just won't do.

I am present in silence, but I refuse to be a by-stander.

I people a painting of a deserted beach with my children looking out to sea.

While just across the channel, over the page, I draw the children of others drowning.

Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.” Pablo Picasso 

I put together a collage of this, my silent diary.

There, in a struggle for meaning, for forgiveness, for grace, are clumsy touches of sense: feelings of joy, of sadness, loss and despair, glimpses of fleeting beauty....glimmers of hope.