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Showing posts from December, 2013

The Porpoise Driven Life

See what I did in the title? I made a pun! On the name of some completely naff self-help spiritual bollocks bestseller from the last decade. I'm actually in St Augustine Florida, the oldest city in the United States (if you discount the claim of Jamestown, Virginia--and all the Indian civilizations and settlements of the millenia preceding both of those). My wife Patty and I have come here for the last three years in a row, and it is full of delightful sightings that don't happen in our urban Chicago neighbourhood. To wit: porpoises curving out of the waters of the bay, glimpsed in groups and singly on our morning walk along the beach in front of our rented condo; osprey overhead, hovering in the air as they hunt for fishy prey, or calling loudly as they fly by with a fish wriggling in their talons:





On our very first stroll yesterday morning, we saw: a pelicanvention (copyright Patty McNair 2013), skimmers, gulls, osprey, sandpipers, and other birds that I don't even know …

The Essential Always Remains Invisible

A few days ago, I went to a memorial service at the Music Institute of Chicago, in Evanston, which is in a fine temple-style Christian Scientist building not far from the campus of Northwestern University:

I was there to commemorate Gertrude Grisham, the mother of a dear friend of my wife Patty who died recently (Gertrude, that is) at the age of 87. Gertrude was a remarkable woman who was born in Austria, came to the States in the 1950s, and then had a career of notable achievements, perhaps the chief one being her decades long post as diction coach for the Chicago Symphony Chorus. The deep affection and gratitude of the musicians who were helped by her was in full evidence on Wednesday night. The Orion Ensemble played two of Gertrude's favourite pieces of chamber music (by Mozart and Mahler), and no fewer than 60 singers from the Chorus took to the stage to sing Brahms and then Handel. There were moving speeches by family and friends, and Austrian wine to drink in the lobby afte…

D.H. Lawrence on Cezanne

I have a book called Poets on Painters which contains essays long and short by many well-known twentieth century writers about artists. Here is the English novelist D. H. Lawrence talking about some of Cezanne's paintings:

Cezanne wanted something that was neither optical nor mechanical nor intellectual. And to introduce into our world of vision something which is neither optical nor mechanical nor intellectual-psychological requires a real revolution. It was a revolution Cezanne began, but which nobody, apparently, has been able to carry on. He wanted to touch the world of substance once more with the intuitive touch, to be aware of it with the intuitive awareness, and to express it in intuitive terms. That is, he wished to displace our present mode of mental-visual consciousness, the consciousness of mental concepts, and substitute a mode of consciousness that was predominantly intuitive, the awareness of touch. In the past the primitives painted intuitively, but in the directi…

My Nelson Mandela Story

All right, I never actually met Nelson Mandela. But his death last week reminded me of something that happened ten years ago, when I was in Cuba. At the end of my third week in Havana, I decided to take a bus to visit the town of Trinidad de Cuba, about 150 miles east in the middle of the country. It’s a Unesco world heritage town because of the high number of well-preserved colonial era buildings, including an ornately decorated church in the centre. Well, on my first evening there, I ended up at a club watching some excellent musicians perform traditional Cuban son. I was sitting quite close to them, and sketching them while they played. This caught the eye of the trumpeter, and when the group finished their set he asked me if I would show him my drawings. When he discovered that I spoke reasonably good Spanish, he invited me to join him and his friends in the town square for an after-concert open air party. My feeling of good fortune and being highly flattered was not remotely dimin…

From the Studio, Part Whatever

At the end of 2010, I began working on a set of 18" x 24" panels, that I posted about here regularly during the first few months of working on them. Gradually, I posted less and less, as I got stuck with them and worked on them less and less. But every six months or so since then, I have taken some of these panels out and worked a little more on them, to the extent that the first coat is now buried beneath many layers of stuff.

Well, god help me, I pulled one of them out today, and worked on it for a day:


If I can recall correctly, the media that I've used over three years are: acrylic paint, acrylic gels and medium, airbrush pigment, gesso, modelling paste, ink, and oil pastel. If I used a texture, or I drew a shape, what I had in mind were things to do with coal, and mining, just the same as the short film I just completed. Some of the abstract marks still derive ultimately from remembered shapes of machinery, pipes, and so on.

For this latest foray, I took out lots o…

Against Spectacular Art

I see a lot of art these days. I see it online, via all the blogs and websites I have bookmarked. I see it in galleries and museums in Chicago, which I visit more regularly since I started writing articles about art for publications like Time Out and Hyperallergic. I see it in the corridors and studios of the building where I have my own studio. It gets tiring sometimes, certainly, but there’s one strain of art in particular that I’m growing very tired of—spectacular art.

By that, I mean objects and two-dimensional works that make a strong visual first impression, most often because they are made from unusual combinations of materials. Examples: portraits made from winding thousands of threads around the heads of pins embedded in a panel, so that the face gradually emerges from the accumulation of the unlikely material. Thousands of post-it notes apparently suspended in mid-air in a forest (created through digitally altered photos). Trompe l’oeuil face painting. Timelapse graffiti. Ins…