27 May 2011

Something in Auckland to go to

Tee hee

On appearances alone the probability of sexual content [in French impetuosity] cannot be overlooked as the phallic shape thrusts into an opening defined by the looping lines and concentric bands. The title causes some pause by attributing impetuosity to the female, but that may have been Picabia's intent. In fact, the male part can be seen, not as the aggressive element, but as a dumb, defenceless form drawn into a trap bristling with aggressive objects.

Whatever Picabia's intent with French impetuosity, this watercolour does appear to be charged with sexual content which had become a major ingredient of his work since early 1913. Then and later those themes revealed a man who sometimes viewed himself as a passive victim of sex, but was more often burdened with an insatible desire for woman as mother, muse, and mistress.

Yet his paintings rarely operated as indulgent autobiographical documents; the conditions of his personal life were transformed into abstract compositions suggestive of more universal longings, frustration, and despair.
Now, if you can be arsed, go and read the quote in this post, except where it says 'lyric poetry' read 'Picabia's abstract paintings of 1913–14'. (It is also worth noting in this context that Apollinaire made 'an intriguing, unexplained reference' to Picabia's 'painted poems' in his article 'Simultanisme-Libbrettisme' in June 1914.)

It is always nice to have one of one's mad theories confirmed. It makes up for when others get destroyed.

And, incidentally, this transformation of the quotidian into the universal is a major connection between Picabia and Piero – that and certain stylistic affinities.

24 May 2011


One of my supervisors sent me an email last night offering an 'amendment to [my] interpretation' in this post:
I do take issue with your (as always creative) interpretation of the supervisor's meeting in which speaking of the process of making your Goya homage came up. I thought the notion of you painstakingly describing the painstaking process of making these works was brought into our conversation but I never would advocate you making some performance of this or reading or whatever. I just think [we] both were thinking your writing should keep playing a role in the midst of your pictorial experiments (as it usually does).

This is not to cross sabres or be pedantic but to make a minor amendment to your statement so that you perhaps aren't really thinking we ALWAYS are advocating absurdly unsuitable paths for your artmaking.


In poetry, physics, practical life, there is nothing ... that is any longer moored to a certainty, nothing that is forbidden, nothing that cannot be stood on its head and glorified. The indefinite, the uncertain, the paradoxical is the scarlet paradise of intellectual intoxication.

Anarchy? No. It is the triumph of discrimination, the beatification of paradox, the sanctification of man by man...

Nothing that lasts is of value ... That which changes perpetually lives perpetually. Incessant dying and renewing, incessant metamorphosis, incessant contradiction...

I desire as many personalities as I have moods ... I desire to be ephemeral, protean...

I find my greatest joy in my estrangements ... I desire to become unfamiliar to myself ... I cling to nothing, hope for nothing. I am a perpetual minute.

23 May 2011

And again

More hijinks

One evening around July [1912], after numerous cocktails with Claude Debussy at the Bar de la Paix, Picabia proposed to Apollinaire that they drive to Boulogne and take the boat to England, where Gabrielle was vacationing. The poet immediately agreed, noting that they should have no trouble since he spoke English. The next morning they arrived, famished owing to the inability of English waiters to understand Apollinaire's particular dialect, which he described as 'ancient Irish'. [Picabia wrote later: 'That trip is still one of my best memories. I never had such a gay, witty, and enterprising companion as Apollinaire.']

After an amusing adventure or two in English nightclubs, Apollinaire and the Picabias returned to France, pausing for dinner in Boulogne where Gabrielle recalls a serious discussion about 'pure painting'. In her memory, Apollinaire recoiled from the prospect of totally abstract art, calling it 'an inhuman art, unintelligible to the sentiment which risks remaining purely decorative'. 'Are blue and red unintelligible?' responded Picabia; 'Are not the circle and the triangle, volumes and colours, as intelligible as this table?'

Gabrielle also wrote:
I think I should point out that it was as a result of this trip, and despite these apparent misunderstandings, that Apollinaire modified some of his points of view and added to his "meditations esthetiques", which had not yet been published in book form, several corrections regarding the history and evolution of the new painting ... In Picabia he had discovered an aspect of that evolution which he found rather disquieting, but the strength and impetus of which he could not deny.

Here's another quote from Gabrielle, about visiting Barcelona on her honeymoon:
We had brought some of those pastilles that make you lose all sensation of scale and distance. Francis wanted to play a joke on [his young cousin] Manolo, but with such unfortunate results that the poor boy mistook a window for a door and nearly broke his leg.

A footnote

During the early twentieth century, smoking clubs were not uncommon for the 'social' use of opium among well-to-do Parisians, and both Picabia and Apollinaire participated in them (conversations with Mme. Buffet-Picabia, October 1962). That practice was apparently more important for Picabia and continued by him until ca. 1918–19.

Efforts by this author to detect an influence of the drug in Picabia's art have failed to isolate any demonstrable feature in either the conception or execution of his paintings.

The effect of opium on artistic creation is largely unexplored.

20 May 2011


18 May 2011

More Piero

If Piero bore psychological consequences of his father's aggressive behaviours, they are not discernible to us today. The son did construct a life that replicated his father's behaviour of labouring to elevate himself from his modest beginnings.

Piero is important in the history of painting and mathematics because he strove to surpass customary conceptions of painting and to record his geometric and mathematical calculations. He was neither the product of his family ambience nor Florentine inventions in perspective and naturalistic depictions of the human body.

His cultural production has a curious dual nature of the traditional and the innovative. His meticulous scientific reconstructions of space and humans were often placed in traditional altarpieces. His writings on painting, mathematics, and geometry reveal a striving for meticulous precision and original constructions, but he betrays his modest origins in his use of the dialect of San Sepolcro and lack of elegance. Such a duality is not customarily a choice of the individual but a result of the circumstances of one's formation.

Quote of the day

Gabrielle Buffet has recalled that, when she first met Picabia [in September 1908], he was bored with his past work; small drawings of monstrous figures and abstract designs* flowed from his pen, and he talked animatedly about liberating art, about producing 'painting situated within pure imagination which recreates the world of forms according to one's desire and imagination'.

Though initially astonished by Picabia's application of that idea to painting, her study with Vincent d'Indy had already exposed her to similar theories in music. That fostered a stimulating intellectual rapport between Gabrielle and Francis which flourished alongside a headlong romance.**

As his personal and artistic aims became focused, Picabia took dramatic action to cast off the past and start off anew. In the course of a few months he broke with the Galerie Haussmann, auctioned off all his older paintings, jilted a mistress of long standing, and married Gabrielle Buffet.





This! is what Massey is good for. I ask for this (a classic text on Picabia that I've waited quite a few years to read), and the University of Newcastle in New South Wales sends it to me. Ha ha ha ha!

This is why I call Masters a really expensive library card. It's not as if Massey is good for anything else. They've got far too narrow a conception of what art can be to be a proper art school. They're actively hostile to any other conception. For example, I have been quite clear throughout my time there that I'm interested in using pictorial means to construct and convey meaning. And yet, at my second supervisors' meeting, when they actually looked at what I was doing for once and I was talking about what was going on in a particular Goya picture, one of them suggested that my final work could be a spoken performance or written description of the Goya pictures!

Yes, as a cunt out, it was quite funny, and there's a good classical precedent (ekphrasis), but still.

But I digress.

I've only got this Picabia book for a few weeks (during which time I've got a conflicting priority), so I'll have to drop the Piero for the meantime, even though I'm right in the middle of something.

But David, you may ask, you're copying Goya for your Masters, shouldn't you be reading about him, rather than Piero and Picabia? And isn't Piero and Picabia a rather odd combination anyway?

Well might you ask!

(PS Do you like my innovative punctuation in the first word there? It's meant to indicate a vocal emphasis, upraised finger, and slight widening of the eyes.)

17 May 2011

Some maths

In the early 15th century, there were no standard weights or measures. This meant that people had to quickly and accurately estimate proportions, areas, and volumes.

They also had to carry out quite complex mathematical operations several times a day, just to go about their everyday lives.

In his book On the abacus, Piero gives an exercise:
There are two men who want to barter; one of them has cloth and the other has wool. The piece of cloth is worth 15 ducats and he puts it up for barter at 20 and also wants one-third in money. And a cento of wool is worth 7 ducats in money. What price must [the man with wool] put it up for barter so that neither will be cheated?

This is the kind of thing you'd have to do in your head, on the spot, in public, while bargaining with an opponent.

You'd do it using the rule of three, which Piero gives as follows:
The rule of three says that the thing one wants to know must be multiplied by that which is not similar and the result it produces must be divided by the other; and the result is of the nature of that which is not similar, and the divisor is always similar to the thing one wants to know.

That clear?

I think it's fair to say to that your average person in the 15th century West had a set of skills that your average person in the early 21st century West doesn't. As Michael Baxandall has pointed out, this has implications for how they looked at pictures, particularly early perspective pictures.

15 May 2011


I have a couple of friends who are complete audiophile obsessives. Oh, the hours I've spent trying to discern the difference between speaker cables! Nope, not sure. Swap them back and listen to the track again. And the same for each separate component.

One of these guys, Paul, builds his own valve amps and turntables. The other, Steve, with another friend of ours, built his own Altec speakers.

Here are Paul's Altec speakers in his listening room (yes, listening room):

This, apparently, is a 6SN7 driving 300b SE, whatever the fuck that means:

This is a home-built Garrard 301:

This is a home-built Lenco L75 (I think):

As Paul puts it, 'Extreme terror using Altec speaker systems!'

Here's Steve's listening room, with the homemade Altecs:

Crazy motherfuckers.

14 May 2011

Road trip

We saw a sign:

We followed the signs:

And we arrived:

12 May 2011

Two emails from Massey this morning

One reads:
Artist’s Talk
Andrew McLeod
Auckland-based artist & musician

Friday 13 May
12 – 1 pm

Lecture Theatre 10A02
Museum Building
Massey University

All are welcome

The other reads:
There has recently been a number of thefts recorded on the Massey campus and specifically in Fine Art studios.

We in the school are concerned about this and are are looking at increased measures including a keypad on the door of the postgraduate floor in Block 2.

We do ask however that everyone takes the necessary precautions against theft by using lockers and ensuring that valuables including phones, books and equipment are not left unattended in studio spaces.

Please contact security if you see anyone who may be in the buildings without necessary authorisation.

10 May 2011

Quote of the day

Highly significant for Piero is that he emerged from a family unskilled in the figurative arts. Rather than being totally enveloped within the inherited procedures of a family of painters or a strong local artistic tradition that provided a set of procedures, Piero matured in an artisan family with mercantile aspirations; his father sought to distance himself and his children from the family's origins as leather-tanning artisans. With this orientation Piero early adopted the practice of careful reflection evident in all his paintings and writings, and rejected the habitual practice of local painters of accepting repair work and minor commissions.

09 May 2011


Here are a lot of crappy photos of a story a friend of my Mum's made for me when she was living in Paris. I think I was about 4. It made a big impression on me then, and it still does now (hence the number of pics):

07 May 2011

05 May 2011

And his house is on fire

Two copies of Goya and some trash talking by Ensor

My fighting spirit kept me at Les XX, but even within the group I was surrounded by hostility and excessively criticised (even though the benefits of some of my experiments had spread across the group). I enjoyed painting masks. My predilection for them has never left me. I could thus reflect in a philosophical way on the hypocritical, hidden, calculated, and sneaky faces of all the cowards who were crushed by my disapproving evolutions. It was a carefully chosen path. He logically required excessive or hefty colours. He reflected the calculated criticism of colleagues. The ignorance, the bad faith, the incompetence of the critics, the low and narrow-minded attacks from ex-imitators helped me greatly in continuing down this exceptional path of light and extravagance where imitators and pasticheurs dared not follow me.

I always had to contend with unfortunate circumstances at the Salons of L'Essor and Les XX. My experiments were pure, absolutely personal; my imitators numerous and malicious. Subsequently, my development was interpreted condescendingly. Yet my vision was personal and new, and I was able to work in the most diverse genres, for I always understood the importance of light and invariably the line was influenced accordingly. This personal vision has no doubt maintained me in the higher spheres.

I was incorrectly characterised as an Impressionist, a pleinarist, devoted to light colours. The form of the light, the transformations that it imposes upon the line, has never been understood before me. It was not considered to be important, and the painter did not trust what he observed. I was indifferent to the Impressionist movement. Edouard Manet never succeeded in transcending the old masters. Nice, bright, and distinguished colours, contrasting with large opposing fields, as in Japanese art. A great elegance of line, but a total absence of the effect of light. In other words, too much of a meretrician! My enquiry is also far removed from the great fluencies of Claude Monet, a jovial and sensual painter, and user of thick pastes. Accomplished colourist. Plump maker of paintings. Rather vulgar vision. Except for the 'cathedrals'.

The experiments of the pointelleurs left me cold. They merely wanted to capture the vibration of light. They coldly and methodically placed their stipples in between two correct but cool lines. The uniform and all too restrictive procedure is not conducive to further experimentation. This explains the absolute lack of personality in their work. The pointelleurs succeeded in capturing just one facet of light: i.e. its vibration. The formal aspect is not discussed. My experiments and vision are different from those of the aforementioned artists.

I daresay I am an exceptional painter.

04 May 2011


The Common-Sense Nihilist Party endorses Hone Harawira in the upcoming general election.

It is nicely stretched

For heaven's sake: and it was her mother

02 May 2011

The flat and round painter

Once upon a time there was a painter-chap who painted his paintings in the air – not plain flat figures with flat paintbrushes on flat canvas, which were painted so flat that they looked really flat and plain – but he painted round figures round in the air.

So he painted a queen. She had an enormous velvet skirt on her legs, and a crown on her head, and a shock of hair under the crown, which looked like a cake, so beautifully was it done. And her graceful arms with slim fingers and the big brilliant rings on her fingers moved, as the fingers of a queen used to move.

Then the wind came and blew Her Majesty the Queen away, and the painter observed this display with anxious eyes. The queen wobbled and bubbled in the air., and swayed and waved just as the air under her waved and swayed. Suddenly she grew quite thick round the middle, blew herself up, burst, and fell in two pieces. The skirt with the legs by itself, and the bosom with the crown by themselves. When the painter-chap saw this, he got very serious, and painted, in a great hurry, a page-boy in the air. Not a plain flat page-boy with flat paintbrush on flat canvas who was painted so flat that he looked really flat and plain, but he painted a round page-boy round in the air. He had a tightly fitting dress on his legs, and big longing eyes under his page-crop, and his fingers were as graceful matches.

Then the wind came and blew the page-boy in the direction of the queen who had burst. He trembled and scrambled in the air, and he shivered and schwittered, like the air under him schwittered and shivered. And his eyes and fingers were longing to put the queen in order again. Therefore, he kicked his little legs in the air so that he might get ahead a bit more quickly, and he slipped several times and fell, for it was cold, and the air was slippery with ice.

Suddenly, as he reached the parted parts of the departing queen, he grew thick round the middle, blew himself up, burst, and fell in two pieces.

The tightly fitting dress with legs by itself, and the longing eyes with the fingers by themselves, for he was quite near his beloved queen.

Now, his legs and his fingers had still kept the direction of the fast chase. And thus his legs put themselves under the fat bosom of the queen, and the longing eyes with the match fingers put themselves on top of her enormous skirt, and they grew on there.

But it looked so horrible that the painter, full of fright, decided to paint himself in the air in order to rearrange them in the right order; for his brush was not long enough.

He did not paint himself plainly flat with a flat brush on flat canvas like the other painters who used to paint plain, flat figures – as you already know – on flat canvases, which were painted so flat that they really looked flat and plain, but he painted himself with his round brush round in the air. Then the wind came and blew him in the direction of the two figures. He kicked his legs in the air as much as he could, because he wanted to get to the place of the accident quickly; he slipped several times and fell, because nobody had strewn ashes on the air.

Suddenly as he reached the two figures, he grew quite round in the middle, blew himself up, and burst not in two pieces, but in so many small parts that he could no longer be seen, and with him burst the ability of the painters to paint round figures round in the air with round brushes.

Therefore, painters now paint plain, flat figures with flat brushes on flat canvas.

– Kurt Schwitters, 1941

01 May 2011

On the lack of time travelling tourists

Okay, so one of the standard arguments against time travel goes something like this. Let's say at some point in the future time travel is invented. It doesn't matter when. Unless the civilisation that produced the inventor is suddenly wiped out immediately after the invention, people from that civilisation would start travelling in time.

Every single future person from that point on who travels into the past to witness a certain historical event, such as the crucifixion of Jesus, was at that historical event. However, billions of time travelling tourists didn't attend all the big significant historical events.

You'd think someone would've noticed if they had.

The only reason, the argument goes, they aren't there is because at no point in the future does anyone invent time travel.

Now, the problem with this argument is that it assumes that time is one fixed block-like whole. That isn't, however, necessarily the way the world is. Consider instead that time is fluid, made up of multiple, dynamic, interacting timelines. The way that modern physics tends to see it.

In this model, a time machine is an alternate world creator. Every trip into the past splits off a separate timeline. Therefore, even if a civilisation builds time machine factories producing billions of time machines over thousands of years, each such time machine is at the centre of a conglomeration – or nest – of timelines it's created.

Or to put it another way, from the perspective of one particular world (such as ours) out of the infinity of alternates there can only ever be one time machine in operation, not billions.

Logically, it should be mine.
visitors since 29 March 2004.