30 September 2011

Party non-political broadcast

I am thinking, for the election, of doing a 30-second youtube animation. With a strident soundtrack of course.
Update: My friend Shaun had a play round with one of the scenes:
Definite possibilities.

28 September 2011

Fucking gold mate

I've ripped these pics (badly) from here. I can't be bothered chopping them up to show properly.

23 September 2011

My work in Cy, the group show at Robert's

The frame was custom made by Mr Paul Craig. I think it turned out a treat.

22 September 2011

20 September 2011

Ten years

Sometime in 1995 – I fondly think of it as April Fool's Day, though it probably wasn't – I started a drawing programme based on my reading of the painting manuals of Cennini, Piero, Alberti, and Leonardo. I was living in this kind of anarchist commune thing just north of Dunedin, you see, and some young guy who'd taken too many psychedelic drugs freaked out and claimed I was the devil. Seriously. 'All he does is sit there and fuck with people's heads,' he cried as he was restrained. (I might be exaggerating slightly, but that's the quote I remember.)

I thought, 'That's true. I suppose it's time I started doing something with my life.' True about sitting around, I mean. I do not resile from fucking with people's heads. Back then, I still tried to persuade people of things. When some idiot says to you, 'Don't worry about the future because, when the UFOs come, they'll save all the vegans,' I felt compelled to tell them exactly why that is a vile proposition.

So, in accordance with the advice I'd read, I set about learning to paint by drawing after the best paintings I could find and from nature. When I left school in 1987, you see, my head was full of silly ideas such as that painting was dead and the only valid art forms for a late capitalist society were punk rock videos and science fiction short stories. So I did art history and philosophy as preparation for writing science fiction. And look how that turned out, ha ha!

Funnily enough, when I left school in 1987, Mum was doing an industrial psychology course and, being of an experimental bent, tried out some measurement tools on me. She was a little dismayed when I scored 0 out of 10 for ambition. That's cos the stupid test measured ambition solely in terms of career success. I am actually quite ambitious, and was then, though that ambition has changed – I want to do the first fresco on Mars, for fuck's sake!

Being a rambling git, I've drifted far from the point. Which I need to take a moment to recollect. Oh yeah! Ten years.

So, around this time 10 years ago, I got a boot up the pants. I thought I had plenty of time for this long-term project, but the start of the resource wars and the turn of western societies towards authoritarianism happened a lot sooner than I expected. And now I'm doing my MFA, rereading all those books I read in the early 90s.

At Massey for the last two and a half years, they've been repeatedly telling me that I'm not really a painter (cos, I suppose, I'm not like the painters they usually deal with) and that my interest in art history is a problem because it makes my work 'anachronistic'. One person told me that my 'attempt to recreate' the avant-garde was 'sentimental romanticism'. I just smiled and nodded. Like I said, I gave up trying to persuade people long ago.

However, I am not trying to 'recreate' the avant-garde as anachronistic escapism, motherfuckers. I AM the avant-garde! It's a genuine contemporary response to the situation I find myself in, using relevant historical models. I mean, really, just imagine putting my pictures with ones from people of equal ability from the periods I work with in a time-travel group exhibition! Ha ha ha, fuck they'd look out of place! It's a ridiculous argument that's simply not worthy of a serious response.

Academic artists broke the avant-garde in the 1960s and 1970s, because all the good artists went into music instead, so we have to rebuild it from scratch. In a vaguely related way, we also have to rebuild painting from scratch more generally. And, you know, we are living in a time of great transition too, just like the early 15th and 20th centuries.

That's how I see it anyway.

But maybe I'm just insane. In the late 90s, I went to a barbecue at a friend's place. This being New Zealand, a friend from boarding school and his mother were there, cos his sister (the butter girl from the ads in the 80s) had just moved into the flat. My friend introduced me to his mother, saying 'Remember him from school?' His mother said, 'That's right! You were the crazy one.'

I didn't know what to say to that. Still don't.

17 September 2011

16 September 2011

Some old drawings

The other day, I pulled out my draft of a graphic novel cos I hadn't looked at it for a while (and I always get a laugh out of it), and I thought it could be kind of relevant to what I'm doing now (but it's not really). If you click on the label at the bottom of the post, you can see scans of the draft (except you can't really cos the google overlords seem to have done something deeply stupid to how they display images, possibly completely ruining the blog format [update a few days later: it seems people have whinged, and they've changed it back]).

But here are some other pics I did as part of the research:

13 September 2011

A political post

I can't stand politics. I think it's an irredeemably nasty business that taints anyone that even comes close to it. Left, right, up, down, forwards, backwards, I don't want a bar of it.

I'm especially dubious about political idealism. I'm dubious about all idealism, but political idealism in particular scares the shit out of me. Those motherfuckers will do anything they like to you, the most horrible brutal things you can imagine, with the best intentions in the world.

Save us from earnest idealists with good intentions! Save us from people who believe in things!

Don't get me wrong. I don't have any problem with cogent analyses of how fucked everything is. No problem with that at all. However, when you take that self-contained abstract model and try applying it directly to the world, you start running into problems.

Let's face it, earnest idealism and good intentions, when applied as policy, do not have a good track record. It's not that they don't have a good track record for success (which they don't). Rather, it's that they just don't have a good track record at all – in any field you care to name. I refer you back to the earlier comment re: scary motherfuckers.

All you artists trying to change the world? You can fuck right off.

As Picabia said, 'If you don't want dirty ideas, change them like shirts!'

12 September 2011

Quote of the day

It is the plea for immortality beyond the illumined wrack where the sun goes to sea, a life within a liquid and diaphanous sun propped out of sight by waves. We can look at the sun at its going, and thither we are drawn in fantasy, forsaking the eastern dark for some low, nocturnal day lit by occidental beams to which the wandering sun returns for plenitude.
The Greeks, too, created myths from such emotion, but neither the sun nor any other elemental power had the exorbitance in that climate to submerge their poetry with over-compulsive longing. Theirs was the full life, theirs the life-giving poetry for which each element of Nature was loved for its seemingly wayward and informal behests. Man will make of them formal gods, statues for the sea and the rain, and even for the momentary lightning, eyeless statues of human stature. As sculpture are the lands, as sculpture the mountains and their vales, as sculpture the promontories and the tesselated seas.
And when Plato again set his thoughts upon the west, upon Atlantis, he was questioning the whole egocentric position on which Greeks and Romans in particular constructed Mediterranean culture. In the Renaissance, that culture attained its potent affirmation: its final affirmation; for already men were moving further west: soon America, soon Copernicus and his theories by which the astronomical foundation of egocentric feeling was destroyed, leading away from grandiose fantasies based upon the senses, leading on to pure science and the industrial age. Science has tracked the western sun: it is true that it does not set.
But what Atlantis is this that we have found?

11 September 2011

How you should endeavour to copy and draw after as few masters as possible

As regular readers have probably gathered by now, my two big influences (or models) are Piero della Francesca and Francis Picabia. I have been big fans of them since I was 22 and 15 respectively. My friends sometimes express surprise at this combination.

Here is Cennino d'Andrea Cennini on the subject:
Now you must forge ahead again, so that you may pursue the course of this theory. You have made your tinted papers; the next thing is to draw.

You should adopt this method. Having first practiced drawing for a while as I have taught you above – that is, on a little panel – take pains and pleasure in constantly copying the best things which you can find done by the hand of great masters. And if you are in a place where great masters have been, so much the better for you [Ha! Thank you industrial capitalism for cheap, high quality colour reproductions!].

But I give you this advice: take care to select the best one every time, and the one who has the greatest reputation [this bit only holds good if the reputation-making process is sound]. And if you go on from day to day, it will be against nature if you do not get some of his style and of his spirit.

For if you undertake to copy after one master today and after another one tomorrow, you will not acquire the style of either one or the other, and you will inevitably, through enthusiasm, become capricious, because each style will be distracting your mind. You will try to work in this man's way today, and in the other's tomorrow, and so you will not get either of them right.

If you follow the course of one man through constant practice, your intelligence will have to be crude indeed for you not to get some nourishment from it. Then you will find, if nature has granted you any imagination at all, that you will eventually acquire a style individual to yourself, and it cannot help being good – because your hand and your mind, being always accustomed to gathering flowers, would ill know how to pluck thorns. [Emphasis added.]

07 September 2011

Rose's birthday present

Rethinking my approach

Yesterday, I had several extremely good conversations with friends. One was part of an ongoing conversation continued yesterday by an impassioned response to this post.

I've been thinking about 'good pictures', pictures generally, in terms of the properties they all share. My friend slapped me around the head repeatedly (virtually) and said (I'm paraphrasing), 'You fucking idiot, the properties of good paintings are different from the properties of good drawings and good photographs and good digital things [for lack of a better term]. For example, good paintings have good paintwork and layers.'

I am a fucking idiot. I've been deliberately conflating painting and drawing, but my friend is completely correct. They should be treated separately as things in their own right. As I said, 'I've been focusing too much on the blurry edges and not paying enough attention to the clearly distinct areas in the middle.'

Alberti defined the good painting in terms of three things. Piero adapted that definition and changed those three things in subtle but highly significant ways. I want to have a go at another reformulation, after modernism.

Of course, we shouldn't really be worrying about this shit. That's allegedly what the art historians, theorists, and critics are for. But they seem to treat painting as indistinguishable from writing (because they got all silly about writing being a visual symbol) and so are completely fucking useless.

I mean, honestly, when I first toddled along to Massey a couple of years ago, I was handed a copy of Foucault's 'Death of the author' and told, with a perfectly straight face, that wherever it said 'author' I should read 'artist'!

I hate the written word, deeply and passionately hate it. It was invented by the priest-kings to oppress us.

06 September 2011

Thundering from the pulpit

I have been enjoying myself immensely recently. I'm immersed in making pictures, putting things together.

I think Rose has found it quite trying. I am at present a completely preoccupied monomaniac. When I am not staring into space and forgetting to do basic things (it's lucky I noticed the fire I inadvertently started in the kitchen last night), I am ranting at her. About everything.

I'll calm down soon. Once I've got these pictures nailed.

Then it will be time to think about what to do next.

05 September 2011

An evolutionary basis for making pictures (and other random blithering)

It looks like, as a species, we've established pretty clearly that, from an evolutionary perspective, carrying around these silly big brains and producing this silly babble (I use the term advisedly) from our mouths was not such a good idea after all.

The birds communicate with each other much better, but then they've been around for a lot longer than we swaggering apes. It's important to remember we're just animals acting out of instinct. None of the findings of our neuroscience would surprise Nietzsche. He realised the rationalisations are just superfluously added on afterwards.

Both your self and your free will are illusions, wild imaginings of your mind, to be enjoyed as such but never taken seriously, no, never taken seriously.

I make pictures because I think they're the only worthwhile contribution our species has made to the world (along with maths and possibly music and architecture – oh, and philosophy and theoretical physics, but just for the laughs). If we didn't make pictures, no-one else would.

And a great picture is such a glorious thing.

This is why I also reckon that, if there's a decision to be made that affects whether a picture gets made or not, that decision is a no-brainer. If it's a question of whether the picture exists or not, of course the picture should exist. Including the bad ones. You don't know till you make it. And the distinction between good and bad is not something that anyone really has any control over anyway.

But that's a story for another day. (The short version is that the concept of control is another wild imagining.)

Like all pure research, art is a field of human endeavour to which the laws of supply and demand do not apply. (From which it follows (with some intervening steps elided) that none of the normal rules apply to artists!) Whether there is a demand for a picture is not a factor in determining whether that picture is produced. It is produced for its own sake – for a rare actual example of a term usually loosely bandied about far too widely: its inherent value.

Nothing else matters. The battle-cry: Lines and colour on a flat surface!

04 September 2011


03 September 2011

Painting technique

As I've been showing the constant stream of visitors to my studio during the last couple of days,* I've been experimenting with technique.

[*This is a joke, just in case you need to be told.]

I reckon painting technique is an impenetrable jungle filled with the full range of deadly traps: spear traps, dart traps, poison traps, pit traps, dead weight traps, etc. If you venture in, you get lost. And you need to be very careful while stumbling around trying to find your way back out again, or you'll end up dead.

Just try putting 'oil painting technique' into a search engine! There are millions and millions of people with completely the wrong end of the stick.

Technique is not an end in itself. I can't stand attempts at virtuosity. I hate them with a deep, fundamental, abiding passion. I stand in front of one of them and am filled with blinding rage, with a very real physical desire to punch the grinning idiot face of the wanker who produced it. Fuck, it makes me so mad. Mad, I tell you! Mad!

But that's beside the point.

I reckon a good painting shares the same properties as a good mathematical proof – elegant simplicity. A good painting, like a good proof, does the most things with the fewest possible elements.

Theoretically, you shouldn't need any more colours than the three main ones the cave painters used. Combinations of them should do everything under the sun. But, of course, there's a difference between a theoretical ideal and mucky reality. I've added a couple of colours, not taken them away.

Hypocritical cunt that I am.

01 September 2011

Dorothy Wight

Among other pictures, I've just started a picture of my grandmother, Dorothy Wight. The figure will be blue and the background yellow.

I'm the the eldest child of her only child. She had a close relationship with each of us. She was a fearsomely intelligent, take no nonsense, extremely funny woman. I effectively left home when I was 12, when I went to boarding school (and never again had a room of my own at the olds'), but I had a model for keeping in touch from writing letters and sending drawings to Nana, which I did for as long as I can recall.

We especially had astronomy, science fiction (along with my mother), and discussions about time travel in common. Nana taught me to look at the stars, and a lot else besides.

I miss her very much. Stupid modern living.
visitors since 29 March 2004.