Thursday, January 31, 2008


NEWS: My stint as prizewinner-editor of Guardian Women for a week will take place beginning June 9th. So, plenty of time to plan, panic, preen and prevaricate. Of course I'll blag about it closer to the time but go ahead and put it in your diary, why not?
ARTVIEWS: I went to the FROM RUSSIA exhibition at the Royal Academy yesterday. There's been enough in the press about the diplomatic row between Russia and the UK which threatened to cancel this blockbuster but, for once, I agree with Brian Sewell's diatribe concerning the politics behind the show and I even (shock horror!) share his view of some of the paintings, in particular La Danse by Matisse:
"...La Danse is now a classic example of knowledge so repeatedly received and reinforced that it cannot be challenged...
...the colour (so much over-praised) mere filling without modelling, thin paint scrubbed into the canvas, the surface dull and dry..."
(Brian Sewell, Evening Standard 25/01/08)
When I visit exhibitions of works which have acquired sacred status via endless reproduction and the missionary zeal of art critics, I always wonder how much our responses are influenced by "knowledge so repeatedly received and reinforced" and how much we allow ourselves to think, feel and express outside those boundaries.
To me, the actual La Danse is a big let-down. It's like ordering something which looked great in the catalogue but when you receive it, the fabric, the colour, the style are all wrong. As a poster or a book cover, La Danse is perfect. But stand in front of the real thing and the paint is indeed thin, the surface indeed dull and dry, the shapes and colours filled in like paint-by-numbers. The huge size doesn't help - it just looks like a small sketch enlarged with a projector then traced. I love Matisse passionately but I don't worship everything he does and had I been his pupil (I wish!) I would have told him so. His fabulous Red Room, however, did not disappoint my expectations, the real thing being far superior to the reproductions.
Some of the other paintings which emboldened me to squeeze in front of the crowds and stand my ground for quite a while (being short is occasionally an advantage) were Nathan Altman's Portrait of Anna Akhmatova, Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr.Rey, Chagall's Promenade, Picasso's Dryad , Kandinsky's Composition VII , an early Cezanne Young Girl at Piano , Lyubov Popova's Portrait of a Philosopher, Natalia Goncharova's A Smoking Man and several Cubist-Futurist still lifes. The Gauguins looked dull and pedantic - another instance of the actual not living up to the virtual - and the Monets are like a meal consisting only of desserts: makes me crave either a hearty peasant stew or else total abstinence.
Speaking of total abstinence: Malevich's Black Square . It's like a Rorschach test: you can find out a great deal about the people who are looking at it by the way they are looking at it, more than you can know about the picture itself. In front of it, I am among those who can't decide whether to trust their heads or their senses. My head bows in homage to the saintliness of such a radical rejection of everything we think of as art, and to the courage of making that decision at the time it was made, when it truly was radical. Today the art world is one big Olympic sporting event and everyone competes to be the most radical, ie "new". It wasn't like that when Malevich did it. What about my senses? I can't make them agree with my mind. If that black square was made of silk or metal or marble I could stroke it, if it was dug in black soil I could smell it, if it was a room I could enter it. This is paint on canvas hanging on the wall and yet neither a "painting" or a craft object. I rebel against Malevich's severe dictum that I give up the senses' role in art and enter his Suprematist monastery (I take everything personally). Yet I also think he has a point. A point I am unable or unwilling to reach.



Thursday, January 24, 2008


I've been thinking about demons. They have been relegated to the domains of folklore, archeology, psychology, psychiatry, or used as entertaining subjects for fiction and film. Although aware that there are still people who believe in the literal existence of demons, we - the sophisticated and enlightened - distance ourselves from such naivety. If we want to search for the source of negativity, we look within ourselves. Or, if we need help, go to bona fide experts, scientific and/or spiritual, depending on our tastes and our budgets.
Yes, but.
In the past few weeks, I have been more than usually plagued - plagued I tell you - by a sense of being controlled by, yes, forces that do not have my best interests at heart. Hear me out before you decide that I'm denying, avoiding, displacing, projecting, introjecting, not sleeping enough, not getting enough exercise, not being here now, eating the wrong foods or losing my marbles. All those suppositions are reasonable and, possibly but not certainly, correct. But they are not necessarily apt. Apt is the key that fits in the lock that opens the door of your house. Reasonable is realising you left the keys in your other bag, inside the house.
So, in search of aptness and keys, my thinking led me to reject the supposition that it is I, myself, who constantly puts blocks in my progress towards that happy state when I am, or will be, at my best - physically, mentally, spiritually, creatively - energy freely flowing in and out, living and working in a way that feels true. I rejected the sophisticated concept that we are our own worst enemies and that all those self-defeating machinations lie deep inside our teeming Freudian unconscious, to be fished out only after long, arduous and boring introspection.
Instead I started drawing pictures of my demons. The ones who are dead against my reaching the fully functioning, all-systems-go, happy human state. Why are they dead against it? Because they're jealous. Because they're demons and can never ever reach bliss. So they machinate. That's what demons do, they machinate. But, ha ha ha, by drawing pictures of six of the ones who plague me, I have exposed them to ridicule and hence, punctured their power.
It was simple: I just identified the activities or states of mind which take over, against my will and wishes, distracting me from whatever it is I really really want to focus on. Then I visualised what they look like and drew them. Here they are. I'm not going to say what each of them stands for, that's private, but you may recognise them if you happen to have similar demons buggering up your progress towards bliss. Or you might like to try drawing your own demons.
Like I said, this is not reasonable. But it's apt.

Friday, January 11, 2008


I had such a ball creating real live alter-egos for the movie that I want to invite everyone to join
an experiment in multi-dimensionality:

Think of aspects of yourself that you don't express or rarely show in your normal life.
Visualise what they look like, what gender they are, what age, nationality or ethnicity.
Find the clothes, the make-up, the hair-style that fits each of them and put them on.
Stand in front of a mirror and take pictures (or ask someone else to take them) of each of your alter-egos.
Give them names.
Post the pictures on your blog, and/or make a video. Tell us when you've done it.

VoilĂ ! A perfect start to a new year full of possibilities. I can guarantee that you will have fun and that we will all enjoy (and/or be shocked) seeing some of the entities contained within the person known as You. Don't be shy, don't feel guilty for wasting time, don't be ashamed. This is a useful project. I don't know why, but it is. Trust me.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Trapped in Multiple Personalities


(on my Blip TV page it shows up better and bigger, I think)

The cast:
El Chico (speaks Spanish and English)
(speaks only with her eyes)
Madame La Gueule
(speaks French and damages English)
Happy Hank
(speaks slurred English)

I was all tied up with family over the last few weeks and thus neglected to mention the great honour bestowed on me by Ernesto: he included me in his prestigious list of Always Humble Never Neutral 2007 Blogging Awards with an award I will cherish forever: The Life is Multi-Media Life-Achievement Award.

Ernesto, if you're reading this: I hereby dedicate the above multiple personality movie to you, with my thanks.


Thursday, January 03, 2008


A couple are walking down an East Side Manhattan street a few months ago. In a pile of garbage outside a town house between Madison and Park Avenues, they notice a painting. The man turns it over: on the back is the artist's name, a date and the title: Women Washing at the River, Mexico. He takes it home, thinking it would be a sin if some idiot left it to the sanitation department. On the off-chance that the artist might be on the internet, he googles "Natalie d'Arbeloff".
The finder leaves a comment on Blaugustine, asking if I am the painter of the found picture. I reply at once: yes indeed! How, what, where did he see it? We exchange a few emails. I am thunderstruck, gob-smacked and flabbergasted at the destiny, karma or coincidence of this unlikely incident. I find an old, blurred black & white snapshot of the painting and email him a copy. This is it: Women Washing at the River, Mexico
It turns out that he (Mark) and his girlfriend (Daniella) live on the same street as the house where the historic garbage was displayed, the very house where my oldest and dearest friend, Pat Sides, had an apartment where she stayed (when she wasn't traipsing the world) for about thirty years and where she died in 2004. I blogged about her at the time (scroll down to January 9th on the linked page). Pat had several of my early paintings, some of which she was storing for me, including the above. How it ended up on the street so recently I have no idea, but I can hazard a guess based on some facts I do know.
Pat was ill for quite a while and a friend moved in to look after her. After Pat's death, the friend had hoped to stay and take over the lease of the apartment, which was still under a controlled rent agreement and thus very much below the going rate for that swanky neighbourhood. Of course the landlord wanted it back so he could find a new tenant and raise the rent. The friend tried getting legal help so she could stay on but, obviously, didn't succeed. I imagine that the landlord won his case, hired contractors to clear the flat, and they dumped the contents in the garbage. I may never know the real story or what happened to the other works of mine in Pat's home but this one was resurrected, thanks to Mark and Daniella and.......the Universe?
As I have now discovered, via links he sent me, Mark is Mark Mangold, musician, record producer (Indigo and the author behind a site called Pray and Visualise, from which I quote the following, under Prayer 101:
It is important to thank the Universe and show respect and appreciation for your gift of life and for your existence. It is important to ask, not demand, from the Universe in specific terms, that which you seek.
It is important to be in a frame of mind that you have already received and possess that for which you ask and radiate that feeling, to which the Universe will harmonize, like some huge, self-adjusting, infinite, unfathomable holographic grid.

If that's not serendipity, what is?
Mark's partner, Daniella Landelius is also a very interesting artist and designer. The Universe has introduced the three of us via this roundabout route and I am most definitely grateful and looking forward to further delightful discoveries.
May the mysterious Universe bring happy surprises to you all in this new year.