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.