Luz Silenciosa

Luz Silenciosa is a film by Mexican director Carlos Reygadas. I saw it last night and I think it is a very beautiful film - really unlike anything I have seen before. I did think of Dreyer's Ordet but Reygadas' use of the specific qualities of place (northern Mexico) and people (the Menonite community) create a totaly unique environment and mood which give the film a great intensity.
Here is the trailer, though I feel it is important to say that there is no musical soundtrack in the actual film.

A bit less time in the studio over last few days. A number of smaller paintings are underway characterized by a central lens or viewing hole which is usually oval in shape. Here is one in process:

A studio view taken yesterday. "Luz silenciosa" coming into the studio at last, after weeks of dullness and rain:

Finally, to all those who visit this blog, very best wishes for 2009!


Territories IV (Rameau)

Studio view this morning with Territories IV.

It's taken a while to get this one how I want. Dark light, the sense of energized space, the criss cross of shadows forming a dense lattice etc. It measures 125x105cm.

A detail...


Territories XVII

Territories XVII (...and I watched you disappear), 1999-2008, oil & spray paint on canvas, 65x54cm

Studio view with Territories XVII...


In process - territories (shift)

This is one of the paintings currently underway at the moment. Quite airy, light and thinly painted. It measures approximately 125x105cm.


Territories III

Some paintings are more of a mystery (even for me) in terms of where they come from: their source. The space is almost urban...very dense. A urgent state of mind: the dominant yellow. This painting really is a place in its own right. A slightly earlier version was reproduced in the blog recently.

In process...medio día



Hopefully, this blog gives a glimpse of the processes surrounding my work as a painter. All manner of things might be reflected on, and in many ways the blog functions as a kind of online notebook. I won't be able to respond to all comments within the blog itself so for any extended comments, questions or reflections I suggest sending me an email (to the address on the left) and I will be happy to reply!


End of Autumn...Francis Ponge

A naked chestnut tree that I saw this afternoon on a walk in Zalla.

It has been one of the wettest autumns I can remember. Everyday it rains. I miss the sunlight. And nothing moves me more than those sharp sunny days of autumn with a light full of contrast and clarity. I am posting here The end of autumn by Francis Ponge. He knew how to approach the things of this world, disecting them and opening them up into new configurations, making us see things afresh:

The End Of Autumn

All of autumn, in the end, is nothing but a cold infusion. Dead leaves of every sort steep in the rain. No fermentation, no production of alcohol: we’ll have to wait until spring to judge the effects of a cold compress on a wooden leg.
Sorting the ballots is a disorderly procedure. All the doors of the polling place slam open and shut. Throw it out! Throw it all out! Nature rips up her manuscripts, demolishes her bookshelves furiously clubs down her last fruit.
Then she abruptly gets up from her work table. She suddenly seems immense: hatless, head in the fog. Swinging her arms, she rapturously breathes in the icy, intellectually clarifying wind. Days are short, night falls fast; there’s no time for comedy.
The earth, in the stratosphere with the other heavenly bodies, looks serious again. The lit up part is narrower, encroached on by valleys of shadow. Its shoes, like tramp’s, soak up water and make music.
In this frog-farm, this salubrious amphibiguity, everything regains strength, leaps from stone to stone, changes pasture. Streams proliferate.
This is what’s called a good clean-up, with no respect for convention! Dressed or naked, soaked to the marrow.
And it doesn’t dry up right away, it goes on and on. Three months of salutary reflection with no bathrobe, or loofah, no vascular reaction. But its sturdy constitution resists.
So, when the little buds begin to jut out, they know what they’re doing, what it’s all about. That’s why they come out so cautiously, red-faced, benumbed, they know what lies ahead.
But thereby hangs another tale, perhaps from the black rule, though it smells different, I’ll now use to draw the line under this one.

Translated from French by C.K. Williams in Francis Ponge – Selected Poems.

Esta mañana...


Territories XVIII

Territories XVII (Spinoza), 2008, oil on linen, 80x70cm

In process - territories (pink)

In process - esta mañana

Things seen - Corot

I first saw paintings by Corot when I was still a student in London. The silver light and lightness of touch always make an impression on me. More recently I have been looking at his drawings. Here are a couple...a lesson in economy of means (but what scale they have!):

Sketch book (1857), landscape with tall trees with a horseman, a figure reading amidst trees and a sketch of a head.

Landscape with a figure near a tree, pen & brown ink, 20.6x16cm, circa 1852.



I have spent the last few days acquiring new stretchers, linen & materials and preparing things for new paintings. Work already underway - images to follow soon. Meanwhile here's a painting from last year that I have been looking at again: Dispersal 2007, Oil, Enamel & Acrylic on Linen, 80 x 63 cm.


Things seen - Richard Gorman

Richard Gorman uses a very reduced yet suggestive vocabulary to create subtly playful paintings. Certain forms are constantly explored and reworked through minor changes in the configurations. Here are two images he sent me today, Overlapper 1 & 2, 2008, both oil on linen, 80cm x 80cm.


Bethany drawing VII

Back in 2004 I spent a couple of very productive months doing a residency at the Albers Foundation in Connecticut. The works on paper produced there marked a turning point and I'm still harvesting the fruits of that stay in one way or another. Here is one of the drawings I made there: Bethany drawing VII, 2004, coloured pencil & graphite on paper, 46x38cm.


Oker III

Sorting through my digital archive again today. Came across this image of a painting I made last year and haven't seen for a good while "Oker III, 2007, oil on canvas, 50x45cm (it's currently consigned to Rubicon Gallery in Dublin). It never ceases to amaze me how important it is to hide works away for a time. When seen afresh it is then one knows if they are really completed or not.
I'm very pleased with this one.

Things seen - Milton Avery

Green sea, 1958, oil on canvas, 18x24"

Blue bay and dunes, 1961, oil on canvas, 40x50


The consolation

The concert accordion. Joseph Petric. The Baroque: Rameau, Padre Antonio Soler and J.S. Bach. Countless times I have listened to these recordings. They are a marvel…a consolation. The accordion – its sound world is delicate and complex: the sound from an anonymous street corner somewhere in Paris or Buenos Aires yet like the organ can express a wide range of tonal depths (more intimately perhaps). Petric’s recording of Luciano Berio’s Sequenza XIII for accordion is a particular favourite, what journeys take place in that piece. Just the other day I read this in E.M. Cioran’s Notebooks 1957-1972:

“25 December - The sign that I like a fragment of music, that it addresses that which is deepest in me, is the desire I feel when I hear it, to turn out the light, if it is night or to close the shutters if it is day. As if I were listening in a tomb. I usually listen to Bach in this way. Bach, over the years, my most faithful companion”


From NYC

A younger artist I got to know recently, Fernando Villena , sent me this image he took the other day of St. Patrick's cathedral in New York (look at the colour of that sky). Fernando currently lives and works between New York & Bilbao.


Things read - Franz kafka

"Uncertainty, aridity, peace - all things will resolve themselves into these and pass away"

- Franz Kafka, Diaries 1914

In process - territories yellow & blue

15/11 two updated images of these two paintings in process. Now to "rest" them for a while.


Things read - Georges Braque

"The aim is not to reconstitute an anecdotal fact but to constitute a pictorial fact"

- Georges Braque

Stock of appearances - Francis Ponge

"The sea, until she nears her limits, is a simple thing, repeating herself wave by wave. But you cannot approach the simplest things in nature without a good many formalities, the thickest things without a bit of thinning out. This - and also because he resents their oppressive immensity - is why man rushes to the edges or the intersections of the great things he wishes to define. For reason, plunged in the bosom of uniformity, gets perilously tossed about and runs into short supply: a mind in search of concepts must, to begin with, lay in stock of appearances."

Francis Ponge, Seashores 1942, trans. Margaret Guiton, in Selected Poems.


Carlos Reygadas - Batalla en el cielo

Still from Batalla en el cielo.

Yesterday evening, I saw for the first time “Batalla en el cielo” (Battle in heaven) a film by Mexican Director Carlos Reygadas made in 2006. Reygadas was a student of international law, specialising in “armed conflicts”, but decided to take up film making.

The film has a raw existential quality which is contrasted with a very carefully constructed visual language reminiscent of Robert Bresson in some ways but impregnated with the almost surreal reality of urban Mexico. There is no fabrication in the cinema of Reygadas; no sets, no professional actors (as in the cinema of Bresson, Pasolini and others), nothing false and no spectacle. Reygadas uses the raw material of reality itself, Mexican reality, but not as a realist. Reality, under the cinematic gaze, undergoes a transformation, a transfiguration and acquires new meanings in an increasingly dreamlike world. Reygadas has said that he wants to show the inner life of the characters in his films not through the use of actors and conventional acting “skills” but through the cinematic process itself which is used to present and emphasize the physicality of the characters and how they experience things physically. The environments in which the characters move are of equal importance and are an extension of their inner states. The plot or story is of secondary importance, a typical feature of today’s dominant commercial cinema according to Reygadas.

This film has been controversial, mostly because there are numerous explicit sex scenes. The sex is not simulated either but real. Reygadas insists that he wishes to portray sex in the same way as eating or other everyday activities. Consequently, it is stripped of any glamour or pornographic intentions. Sex as provocation is usually a facile endeavour, and though here it does have a certain logic as a ritual of communion, it remains a problematic element. Everything in this film becomes part of the cinematic texture: one scene in particular is memorable, through a window we see Ana the female protagonist straddled over Marcos, the male protagonist, engaged in the sexual act. The camera then moves slowly away and begins a 360-degree pan revealing the urban landscape, rooftops, aerials, terraces etc…finally the camera returns to the window through which we see them both again, lying on the bed after the sexual act. It is difficult to say why but there is great tension in this moment of the film. Cars, traffic jams, the metro, buildings, interiors, faces, bodies, landscapes, the Mexican national flag, a catholic pilgrimage through city streets, the Our Lady of Guadalupe basilica etc are all part of the dense fabric that is Mexico city and which through a style of contrast reflect the fractured nature of Mexican society and experience.

An interview can be found here (in spanish) with the director.


Samuel Beckett and George Duthuit

"He congratulates Bonnard for having, in his last works, 'gone beyond possessive space in every shape and form, far from surveys and bounds, to the point where all possession is dissolved'. I agree that there is a long cry from Bonnard to that impoverished painting, 'authentically fruitless, incapable of any image whatsoever', to which you aspire, and towards which too, who knows, unconsciously perhaps, Masson tends. But must we really deplore the painting that admits 'the things and creatures of spring, resplendent with desire and affirmation, ephemeral no doubt, but immortally reiterant', not in order to benefit by them, not in order to enjoy them, but in order that what is tolerable and radient in the world may continue? Are we really to deplore the painting that is a rallying, among the things of time that pass and hurry us away, towards a time that endures and gives increase?"

Samuel Beckett and George Duthuit (second dialogue)

Things seen - Liubov Popova

Composition, circa 1921, oil on wood panel, 9.5" x 7".

Liubov Popova. A painter that has always been very important for me since my student days.


Extreme painting

From the ground the course that a painter follows often branches out in different directions. It is only from a distance that one can see clearly how the paths might cross, join up, merge into each other or suddenly stop at a dead end. One way to navigate these paths is to think ones way along them “philosophically”. Things in themselves - the core - that which lies at the heart of what the painter is trying to embody is often best approached not by looking at it directly but by knowing clearly where one does not want to go: avoiding expressionism, avoiding programmatic approaches, avoiding theoretical distractions, avoiding narrative, avoiding deconstruction, avoiding taking the picture plane for granted etc. In other words, preserve at all costs an open space for painting where it can unfold and reveal its precarious nature. It means committing oneself fully and without compromise to the possibilities of the medium itself and here I don’t mean the closed self-referential trap of a certain modernism but that way of experiencing things in the real world through the specific qualities of the medium itself by engaging with what only it, painting, can do. Ultimately, the desire to form a vital relationship with things in themselves, has its primal source in an underlying existential anxiety. That anxiety in which time, for us at least (and time is perhaps only a limitation of our consciousness), consumes everything, and turns it into pure oblivion. The irony for a painter is that against this vast, impersonal, overwhelming force of the universe he or she at once holds up images or objects of great specificity and uniqueness; the momentary reflection in a window, a shadow in a corner of a room, a view through some birch trees etc. This transformational value given to the mundane experience of the everyday and the apparently unimportant objects that surround us is one of the main features of our contemporary sensibility and is already beautifully expressed in Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s The Lord Chandos Letter, of 1902.

In this sense, extremism is not about transgression as such, nor necessarily the embracing of excess and decadent subjects and in my mind it is certainly not the absolutist or fundamentalist approaches to art such as so-called “radical” painting etc. Extremism is when there is the greatest tension between ones initial motivation on the one hand and all the means by which one tries to manifest this on the other (even when this runs the risk of total failure). Extremism is the ceaseless pushing of the medium and extracting what it has to offer in its most advanced manifestations. While there is always the attempt (humble rather than heroic) to come to terms with the anxiety of existence one should never underestimate pleasure in painting and the fragilty of this pleasure only makes it more poignant and serious.


Things seen - Jasper Johns

Green Angel (1990) by Jasper Johns. This painting always confounds me (as does much of Jasper Johns). I saw the big JJ show Jasper Johns. An Allegory of Painting, a couple of years ago at the Kunstmuseum Basel. The first room with a selection of small early drawings was were I spent most time. Occasionally people have told me that aspects of my painting are reminiscent of his work, especially the interlocking/overlapping forms etc. I find this particular painting very odd; the miroesque forms...especially the "eye" in the top left corner! I do find the way Johns builds up an image/surface interesting...though the finished painting can seem quite cold and distant.


Cy Twombly - (updated post)

Last night I attended the opening of the big Cy Twombly exhibition at the Guggenheim in Bilbao. He is undoubtedly an important artist. Certain works were stunning, but I was tired, too many cups of coffee during the day and a few glasses of cava had put me into daze. The installation didn't convince me either and along with the crowds there, it was impossible to see things properly...still, I enjoyed chatting to a few friends before I escaped and made my way home. I will go back and see it properly soon ( I need to work out what I really think of Twombly).

01/11/08 - Thinking back to the Twombly show I feel uncomfortable with the installation. I don't know who was ultimately responsible... I have seen more more considered installations of his work in the past. Here is an image of a show called "Blooming, a scattering of Blossoms and other things" which was at the Musée d´Art Contemporain in Avignon which looks much better:


Things said - Robert Bresson

robert bresson, procès de jeanne d'arc 1962

"the domain of cinematography is the domain of the unsayable" (robert bresson from le monde, march 14, 1967 found in robert bresson: a spiritual style in film by joseph cunneen, 2003)

This could apply to painting for me: the realm of my painting is the realm of the unsayable.


Things seen - Georges Seurat

Seurat. Scaffolding, 1886-87. Divisions. Dark light. The figure. Intersections.

Things seen - Pierre Bonnard

Chris Ashley an artist and writer based in San Francisco sent me this image he had found of a drawing by Pierre Bonnard, study for "The Door into the Garden" 1924, pencil and watercolor on paper, 15.5 x 12 cm, private collection. I'm still taking on board just how important Bonnard is for me...this wonderful drawing was unfamiliar to me until now.