Saturday, December 18, 2010


Whether you celebrate this season with different images or with no images at all, my warmest wishes go out to you all and may your spirit be moved by all the beautiful things in the universe, visible and invisible.

Meanwhile, I sent a submission to the latest >LANGUAGE>PLACE CARNIVAL and am very pleased that it's there now (video of my stay in Tavira, Portugal) under the heading Slipping Boundaries, amongst the other wonderful entries on Nicolette Wong's blog Meditations in an Emergency.

I have made a firm resolution to return to La Vie en Rosé  as soon as the New Year kicks in and you have my authorisation to remind of this resolution, loudly and clearly.


Sunday, December 12, 2010


when everything accuses:


The calendar, the weather, the people streaming in and out of shops, the seasonal cards arriving already, the Things To Finish This Year list I made last year and all the lists I've ever whole life suddenly seems like one big end-of-year guilt-ridden apology to myself and others: 


No. Not true that I'm sorry. Can't be true. If it were true I wouldn't keep on being late. Lateness must be a state I enjoy. A state I prefer to the state of punctuality, the state of finishing things, the state of satisfaction. Lateness must be what I'm really good at. If I annoy, disappoint or inconvenience others with my lateness, my unfinishedness, that's their problem, isn't it? And if I disappoint, enrage, inconvenience myself that's my problem, isn't it? 

Yes. That is my problem.

(I did the drawing below using the wondrous HARMONY application created by Mr.doob, Ricardo Cabello).

To round off my last post, I must say something about Snow which I have just finished reading. I now have no doubt that the mythological KA or double was present in the author's mind when he worked out the structure of this book. 

First of all, the fictional narrator 'Orhan' is the double of the real author, Orhan Pamuk. Secondly, Orhan tells the story based on his dead friend Ka's diaries and re-traces Ka's journey, trying to see things as the poet did four years ago. The 'double' theme is taken up again in the close relationship between the two teen-age boys, Necip and Fazil, who read each other's minds. After Necip is shot, Fazil says to Ka: "It's possible that Necip's soul is now living inside my body.

Other instances of doubling, as well as of duplicity, are scattered throughout the story. This is particulary intriguing to me because I was searching for the lesson implied in my dream. I have yet to figure that out but never mind the dream - was I impressed by Snow

Impressed, yes. It's an impressive achievement. If it was a sculpture, it would be a public monument standing in a town square. A realistic sculpture but with modernist touches, lots of intricately crafted detail and symbols. Was I moved by it? No. Its monumentality, its intention to be an important novel creates a distance like those barriers not letting you get too near valuable works of art in a museum. While I admire Pamuk's grasp of the complex politics and beliefs of his compatriots and the tremendous skill with which he weaves them into a story, he doesn't make me care about individual characters. Apart from being told repeatedly that Ka's love-object, Ipek, is stunningly beautiful, what do I know about her personality? It has less substance than the snowflakes which dominate the setting. I feel the same about the other protagonists (perhaps Necip is the exception). They are all actors on a stage, reading their roles, and once I've left this theatre, I forget them. The other factor which alienates me from this novel is the surfeit of information: too much, too much! Just when my attention is captured by an incident or conversation, I'm immediately pulled away to look at something else, some irrelevant detail. This is infuriating.

Voilà. I'm obviously not going to join the ranks of those who adore Orhan Pamuk's writing but I will, definitely, take my hat off to him.


Monday, November 29, 2010


At about 2 am a couple of days ago I pulled out a book on Egyptian mythology from the shelf where it sits with many other books about ancient Egypt. As you know if you're a regular visitor here, I feel an intimate familarity with ancient Egyptian culture, art and ambiance, even though I have no actual connection to Egypt. It's one of those déja vu things, if you believe in reincarnation, or simply affinity if you don't. Anyway I suddenly wanted to re-read about the Ka.

In art the ka was portrayed in several ways: a person identical to the person whom it was associated with, as a shadowy figure, as a person with two upraised arms on his head.........The ka is a manifestation of vital energy........The ka could also be seen as the conscience or guide of each individual, urging kindness, quietude, honor and compassion......In images and statues of the ka, they are depicted as their owner in an idealized state of youth, vigor and beauty......The ka is the origin and giver of all the Egyptians saw as desirable, especially eternal life.

EventuaIly I went to bed and had this dream: I was watching a panel of critics discussing a book which was either called SNOW or had that word in the title. The people on the panel were very c0mplimentary about it but one of them began arguing vehemently. She was a gnarled old woman with a prominent nose and mouth and dusky skin colour. She was sarcastic about books and films portraying Jewish subjects in banal ways and I thought she meant that SNOW was one of these. But her tone suddenly changed and she began to praise it warmly, saying it wasn't like any of the others. 

That's all I remember but the dream was extremely vivid, as if I'd been watching a live debate on television. When I woke up I immediately turned on the computer and googled snow to see if there is a book by that name. There is: it's SNOW by Orhan Panuk. I'd never heard of it (shame on me) so I read a summary of the plot:

Pamuk's hero is a dried-up poet named Kerim Alakusoglu, conveniently abbreviated to Ka: Ka in kar in Kars. (The word for snow in Turkish is Kar). 

Though most of the early part of the story is told in the third person from Ka's point of view, an omniscient narrator sometimes makes his presence known, posing as a friend of Ka's who is telling the story based on Ka's journals and correspondence. This narrator sometimes provides the reader with information before Ka knows it or foreshadows later events in the story.

As if that wasn't enough synchronicity, I wanted to find out if there was yet another link in the dream to ponder, so I googled snow together with Jewish . I got Phoebe Snow (real name Phoebe Ann Laub) a jazz/blues singer, best known for her 1975 hit The Poetry Man, a video of which I found here . Pamuk's character in SNOW is a 'poetry man' - Phoebe Snow is Jewish but changed her name (her double, her KA).

What are all those dream and real connections trying to tell me? What do you make of this sequence of serial synchronicities:

1. Ancient Egyptian KA or double> 2. dream: discussion about book called SNOW> 3. dream: old woman with dusky skin dismisses banal Jewish productions>4. in reality SNOW is book by Orhan Panuk >5. main character is poet called KA> 6. in the book KA has a 'double' called Orhan Panuk >7. Turkish word for snow is Kar >8. singer Phoebe SNOW is Jewish, her real ('double') surname is Traub 9. another doubling: she has become a Buddhist> 10. her skin colour is dusky: people have thought she is black>11. her hit song was The Poetry Man

I have, of course, ordered Panuk's book SNOW

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I stayed on in Florence for a year after we all left the Villa Ulivi but that story will go into my autobio when I get around to filling in the many blanks in time and space. Right now we're talking about my Papa. In the photo below he's arriving at an airport - I'm not sure where or when - but it's so characteristic of him: the eternal traveller, always arriving or leaving 

My father had many theories and one which he wrote, re-wrote and talked a great deal about over the years was called: The Focus of Perception . It was the basis for his next project and also influenced his observations of people in general. Here are some edited quotes which I've selected from his notes:

The premise of The Focus of Perception is that the mind contains a mechanism or process similar to a camera lens which, by its aperture and angle, determines the way people, situations and events are perceived and thus one's emotional and intellectual responses to them. This process is psychological, not visual, but the camera is a useful metaphor to describe it. 

Not only do we contradict one another, but we also tend to contradict ourselves. Human contradiction and its effects, whether on a personal or a global scale, might be better understood if the Focus of Perception was observed in action within one's self and in others' behavior and attitudes. Relationships, whether between individuals, groups or nations, often undergo a cavalcade of contradictory states, affirmations and negations, depending on the angle at which the Focus is set, how wide the angle is and whether it is static or fluctuating. 

There is a great difference between understanding another person through their focus and trying to understand them only through one's own. In the absence of a strong motivation - such as love, a specific goal, or the desire for truth - we see no reason to change our Focus of Perception and we passively accept whatever focus is provided by our upbringing, environment, or the winds of fashion. But if we become aware of our focal position in relation to others, it becomes possible to change what had seemed immutable in ourselves.

We are prisoners within the boundaries of our current focus only if we accept to be imprisoned in this optic. To change one's focal position, it is necessary first of all to change it on a specific subject or problem: to make a leap. This might result in moving to a position diametrically opposed to our current stance. With further small steps, a change may occur in our perception of the particular issue, and thence a gradual opening of our understanding of the larger picture.

Sacha's new undertaking, although rooted in the above premise, took shape in a less theoretical way. He called it Who Do You Think You Are . This happens to be the name of a current television series but I'm fairly sure they don't know that my father thought of the title long ago. Anyway the TV series is about celebrities looking into their genealogical history. Sacha's project was something else entirely. 

He began by contacting three people: Françoise Sagan, whose slim first novel Bonjour Tristesse  had propelled her to instant fame; Art Buchwald, the witty satirist whose regular column in the Washington Post my father loved; and Gipsy Rose Lee, the burlesque stripper/actress. When his project was described to them they agreed to take part. There was no connection between these three and I have no idea what prompted Sacha to choose them as subjects for his enquiry. 

He recorded audio interviews with each of them, asking them to describe how they saw themselves. Separate interviews were then arranged with some of their friends, acquaintances and colleagues, to record their own views of these individuals. The aim of the exercise was to demonstrate that the image we have of ourselves frequently contradicts the impressions others have of us. No conclusions or judgements were offered as to which views were the 'truer' ones. We were simply asked to consider the possibility that 'who we think we are' is open to many interpretations. 

In one of those amazing synchronicities that the blogosphere occasionally generates, Jean in her perceptive review of Summertime by J.M. Coetzee, seems to have tuned into my father's thinking and into what I was about to blog concerning it. She wrote on 19 November:

It's something we could all do: speculate on how our intimates might describe us. But, think about it, put yourself there... I can quickly see that I'd do one of two things: construct a rosy, seamless image - the wish-fulfilment version, or go way the other way and indulge my darkest fantasies of how they all disliked and despised me really. 

The audio interviews were only the preliminary stage: Sacha's intention was to make a film, if funding could be raised. This didn't happen and Who DoYou Think You Are was shelved and forgotten. But at least the memory of it now lives on, here in this tiny corner of cyberspace. 

Before ending this flashback into some of my father's creative adventures, there's one more I must mention: the thirteen minute film, Report on Love , a comic commentary on the Kinsey Report, produced and directed by Sacha in 1955.

When Dr. Kinsey first heard of the film he prepared to sue, without having seen it. But after a preview was arranged especially for him at Indiana University (where he was Professor of Zoology) he changed his mind and the film went ahead, screened in cinemas across the USA as the 'featurette' along with major films; it was even nominated for an Academy Award. Below is a write-up from Picture Week in New York. 

I have a copy of the film on VHS tape and watched it again a few days ago. It is extremely dated conceptually and technically but quite clever, combining animation and live action. Light-weight stuff compared to Sacha's other projects but I think he was hoping this one would achieve commercial success. It didn't, but so what? It was not gold but a little glitter never hurt anyone. 

Friday, November 19, 2010


To give you some idea of how Sacha's concept was presented to the students, I've done the rough sketch/montage below but it's nowhere near accurate. Why didn't anyone think of keeping a photographic record of the whole experience? Too busy, I guess. 

My father had gathered an enthusiastic team of volunteers and everyone pitched in with ideas and work. Two giant wooden spools were built by a local carpenter and a very long roll of canvas was wound around them. With the spools positioned an appropriate distance apart, mounted on spindles and rotated by two people standing at either end, hidden by curtains, the sequence of images painted on the canvas slowly unrolled before the audience.

The students - no more than about five or ten at a time - sat on high-backed chairs in one of the large, beautiful rooms of the house. In dim light, a recorded narration and music were played, paced to match the unwinding canvas. A film, without film technology. There were no computers, no PowerPoint, no DVDs or CDs at the time but the performance was all the more intriguing for being so low-tech and DIY. 

Where is that recording of the House of Contrasts script? I don't know, but I do have a copy of some of the text. Where is that huge roll of canvas? Possibly in Rome, in storage, unless destroyed. And who painted it? slight assistance from an Italian multi-media artist and conversationalist. 

When I first walked into the Villa Ulivi, I was astonished by the buzz of creative activity. My mother and little brother had arrived from New York as well as several relatives from France, recruited to help with the proceedings. There were also the Italian crew and of course my older sister Annie (autobio P.16) a key player in my father's scheme. Annie was working at the time for a student travel company in New York and it was she who organised the visits of students to the House of Contrasts, as well as taking them to meet leading personalities on the Italian cultural scene. There she met her future husband, the writer Gerardo Guerrieri, but that's yet another story. 

My main role was to illustrate Sacha's Dante-esque script on that huge roll of canvas but I had insisted, even before seeing it, that I would need help. So my father found and somehow - unbelievably - managed to persuade a very busy artist/architect/designer to be my 'collaborator'. This collaboration was the most enjoyable I've ever experienced but it consisted almost entirely of talking. 

Before coming to Italy, I did not know that talking could be an art-form or that a mere verbal exchange could be a performance, with all the colour, magic and mystery of opera. Or that it could actually be a substitute for action. All Italians can talk this way but some are more gifted than others and Giorgio was a genius at it. I don't remember a word of what we talked about but it must have concerned the task we were supposed to be working on. Did Giorgio ever apply brush to canvas? I don't remember that either but he did have great ideas. 

The canvas had to be ready for the first presentation of the summer and Giorgio was very busy with his multiple activities so I found myself inevitably and urgently responsible for covering that six-foot tall and endlessly wide ribbon of canvas with interpretations of Sacha's verbal panorama of hellish and heavenly stereotypes. I think I used a lot of red and black in painting the hellish and a lot of pastel hues for the heavenly but apart from that, don't ask me what the finished work looked like because it has entirely escaped my memory.

What I do remember nostalgically was the table at mealtimes. There were usually at least a dozen people around the long, chunky table and much laughter and animated talk while huge bowls of pasta and fresh green salad were devoured and glasses were refilled with the local wine. Outside on the stone terrace small green lizards dozed in the sun. My little brother loved the lizards and imitated their shy, watchful concentration. Here he is at that time, making like a lizard at Villa Ulivi, the House of Contrasts. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Fast forwarding, skipping over Sacha's South American and other ventures because I want to focus on the more off-beat things his restless imagination drove him to undertake. Come to think of it, everything he undertook was off the beaten track. 

Here he is in Florence - I don't know who took the above photo but it strikingly captures him in inward-turned, isolated mood, oblivious to his surroundings. Whatever the triggers which could set off his recurrent bouts of melancholy, Sacha's response was always to leave, move, travel far away and begin something new. In this instance New York was the place he left and the something new was an idea he conceived - perhaps on the way from one city to the next - for which a special house in special surroundings was required. Once an idea had taken root in my father's mind it began growing instantly, spreading antennae in all directions and locating with extraordinary serendipity all the elements needed for its realisation. Thus he found the special house in the special surroundings: it was called Villa Ulivi, within walking distance of the heart of Florence - you could see the Duomo from the rooftop terrace. 

How Sacha came to discover this magnificent fifteenth century residence I do not know but he did, and it happened to be for rent, and so he rented it for several months. Apart from a photo of my recently resurrected painting (see January 20, 2010) of cypress trees in the garden, the only picture I can find of the villa is the black and white snapshot below. Yesterday, on the off-chance, I googled Villa Ulivi and...what do you know?...the Villa is alive and well and has become a hotel (I borrowed the colour picture of the house from their website). A very nice hotel apparently but I don't recognise the current interior decoration. When Sacha moved in, and later on all our family, there was very little furniture, only a few beautiful, darkly austere Renaissance antiques.

Sacha named his project The House of Contrasts. Here's a summary, taken from a description written after the event: 

It was proposed that a demonstration of positive and negative stereotyped views about each other held by two cultures, American and European, presented in dramatic fashion and in uninterrupted succession, could produce an enlightening psychological shock. This shock would help to crystallize one's own manner of seeing and perhaps also come a step closer to the goal: a kinder and more tolerant understanding of one person, or one nation, towards another.

The experiment was tested on groups of American college students on a cultural tour of Italy. A Florentine villa was the setting for the demonstration and the script, narration, music and graphic presentation was prepared by voluntary collaboration between American and Europeans. The stereotype views were shown in allegorical fashion, inspired by Dante: the negative clichés were 'Inferno' while the positive ones were 'Contrastland'. The reactions, opinions and criticisms of each group of students who visited the House of Contrasts were tape-recorded to serve as valuable records for further exploration of this theme. 

I was in New York pursuing my art education when my father's idea and Villa Ulivi got together and the House of Contrasts began to take shape. At first I resisted his urging me to come and work on the visual presentation - I felt it would distract me from my own path. But Sacha's power of persuasion was hard to resist, especially when it offered such an intriguing situation in such tempting surroundings.

I'd better continue this in another post, otherwise I'm just going to be at this computer all night. Part 3 coming up next - is anyone still here? 


Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Young Sacha from a photograph  NdA 2003. Acrylic on canvas. 40 cm X 30 cm 
I had decided to post something on October 30th, the fourteenth anniversary of my father's final departure (1996) but I've been finding it really hard to get down to blogging recently. It could be the blogging blues, which we all experience from time to time, or it could be the advancing dark dreariness of winter, or it could be that I'm concentrating on other things. 

Whatever the reason for this twelve-day delay, I will now write this post for Sacha, my dear father Alexander d'Arbeloff (not the same person as Alex V. d'Arbeloff who died in July 2008 - see my blog post July 9, 2008).

I mentioned Sacha on this page of my ongoing autobiography - yes, the autobio will be updated: it's on my to-be-continued list so of course it will be continued - and also blogged about him on October 23, 2003 but such a many-sided individual can't be summed up in a few family memories or an obituary - he deserves a whole book to himself. I wouldn't be the person to write it but there's no doubt that he had a tremendous influence on me and certain things in his story stand out particularly sharply in my mind. 

Sacha had already undergone several life-shaking traumas by the time he was in his teens: boiling water from a samovar accidentally spilled on his chest when he was a child. Confusing (or repressed) memories of intense family upheavals. Seeing dead bodies on the streets of Baku during chaotic political riots. Escaping from Russia during dramatic circumstances of the revolution. A hyper-sensitive and deeply introspective young man, it's not surprising that he then had a nervous breakdown - or what we would now call clinical depression - and was sent to a sanatorium. There are a lot of blanks and question marks in the information we tried to gather about those years in Sacha's life but I do know that after some temporary periods in Switzerland and the U.S.A. he stayed in Paris and became involved in cinema and publishing.

The film-maker and film historian Kevin Brownlow when researching his book Napoleon, about Abel Gance's film of that name, interviewed Sacha in the 1980s about his role in that production (my father's comments are on pp 99-101 of Brownlow's book). Briefly: a small film company was formed by Sacha and his cousin, Jacques Grinieff and other associates. Eventually, they were able to raise the funds to make Abel Gance's ground-breaking movie. By then my father had resigned from the company but Grinieff went on to become a film producer in America.  (Many many moons later, in New York, Uncle Jacques gave me a job adapting film scripts. But that's another story).

After the cinema experience, Sacha decided to publish a magazine. It was called AUDACES  (boldness in the plural: boldnesses?) Below is the cover of one 1934 issue. The magazine was a mix of current events - eg: article by J.B.Priestley about an ominous fascist demonstration in Manchester. Themed interviews - eg: What role have men played in your life? answered by actresses Colette, Gaby Morlay and others. How they judge - Judges talking about their experiences. Some comic pieces. A sensational crime story. Lots of pictures of women in 'seductive' poses. Photo-montages of people in the news. Cinema reviews etc.

I don't know how long Sacha persisted in the magazine venture but apparently it was successful. It must have been around this time in Paris that he also wrote and published two novels under the pseudonym Alexandre Darlaine. One was: Il Etait Une Fois Une Femme et Une Jeune Fille (There was once a woman and a young girl). The other was titled Crépuscule de la Raison (Twilight of reason). I have a very time-scarred copy of the first. The latter was turned into a play but was never performed, although many years later, probably in the 1960s or 1970s, the well-known Italian sound-track composer, Mario Nascimbene, composed two pieces of music for it - I'm unsure about dates but I do have these music sheets: Chanson de Florine  and Scène Florine et Daniel.
Sacha's novels were poetic, romantic, melancholy - more reveries than stories. I'm incapable of judging them objectively because I know that they were about his view of Blanche, my mother, and their relationship, however fictionalised.

My aim with this post is not to analyse my father's personality but simply to present some of the achievements of his life that are little known. I'm getting the references together for Part Two so don't go away. 


Sunday, October 24, 2010


I have a thing about apples, not so much about eating them as painting them. I like eating them too but that's nothing to do with my attraction to them as models. There's something basic, down to earth and yet mysterious about the shape and colour of an apple and, if you want to dwell on the mysterious, of course there's all that mythological apple-lore. The fact that I happen to have an Apple computer is neither here or there. 

Every so often I go back to painting an apple in order to try and capture what else  is going on: what is Appleness? What's happening when my eyes and consciousness meet this apple? What is there that isn't obvious? 

Here's my latest apple, finished yesterday, painted entirely with a palette knife. My model was just one apple placed on a slanting drawing board, supported by a bit of BluTak so it wouldn't roll down. The lower apple is not another apple but the top one repeated. 

Appleness  Oil on canvas. 41 cm X 30 cm  October 2010

And this one, painted a few years ago in the same spirit of exploration.

Yellow apple in space  Acrylic on wood.  46 cm X 28.5 cm

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Here they are, the things I saw in my studio out of which I composed the painting Frames of Reference.

Whether based on life or imagination, artists are always composing, assembling, organising selected fragments into something more than the sum of their parts. Not only artists - isn't everyone engaged in the same task, within the composition-factory that is the mind? Our memories, opinions, beliefs, the story of our lives - isn't all this a carefully constructed composition that we create and re-arrange daily, a work-in-progress? 

How about this for an experiment: 

Identify a number of things which you consider to be most significant in shaping your life, your self. Give them each a visual form - could be symbols, photos, cut-outs, whatever - doesn't have to be literal. Assemble these fragments into a composition of some kind. Publish it to your blog. Discuss! 


Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Unless I see something else that needs changing (and I may) Frames of Reference (formerly known as Prism, formerly known as My DNA ) is done. Here it is along with a close-up of the top left-hand corner where I've painted a version of the whole snapshot of my parents which was the basis for the two central figures.

I believe this painting is about different dimensions of space and time and maybe multiple universes but any and all interpretations are welcome.

Frames of Reference  October 2010  Oil on canvas. 121cm X 91cm


Do you have typical days, when the pattern of the previous day is repeated almost identically, like wallpaper ? Can you remember all details of the pattern? Here's one of mine.

Got up about 10 am when the phone rang. I usually set the alarm clock for an optimistic 7:30 but since I rarely get to bed before 3 or 4 am, when it rings I switch it off, reasoning that I deserve another couple of hours. Mornings are something I would like to be better acquainted with and enjoy the benefits of more often. My mornings are blurry, foggy, indecisive. Decisions like: should I turn on the computer or have breakfast loom unresolved. Breakfast won today so I shuffled to the kitchen wearing pyjamas and red bathrobe - this is a very old mumsy robe which I must get rid of. Something jazzier and more morning-friendly is required, as long as it doesn't have a belt. I hate belted robes so don't get me one if you're thinking of it. 

Breakfast is two wholewheat mini-pitta (from Marks & Spencer) toasted in the toaster then spread with unsalted butter and a couple of slices of Emmental. An apple, a clementine, a cup of maté, no sugar or honey. While consuming this petit déjeuner I read yesterday's newspaper, the Independent. Because my morning brain is foggy, I read everything, even if I'm not interested. I have been known to read the advertisements for cars, which I have no interest in whatsoever. Droning in my blurry consciousness is a robot voice which sounds, I'm afraid, like Stephen Hawking, insisting that I should stop this robotic behaviour and Get On With The Day. 

Eventually I obey and shuffle to the bathroom. No, first I turn on the computer to check email and to find out if there are any comments here on the blog. Well, overnight somebody in another time zone might have commented, innit? Bugger, no new comments. Quick peek at my stats: not much traffic there either. Shit. But wait: the stats say I've had 699 visitors so far this month - 699 and October has just begun! That's more people than I've met in my entire life, probably. Okay maybe it's not 699 visitors but 699 visits. Even if it's only 300 people that's still more real people than I actually know. So what if they don't comment? They have visited this space and I should be gleeful. I am gleeful. I make a couple of administrative phone calls.Then I put some laundry in the washing machine. Then I go in the bathroom. 

Bathroom business takes quite a while. I need to stand in the shower for at least ten minutes even though that's terribly wasteful, ecologically speaking, because only hot water running down the back of my neck dispels the brain fog. I dress in my painting clothes, old striped purple top and blue no-Yoga Yoga trousers and then it's face-the-face time: in magnifying mirror on bedroom window-sill I examine my morning mug and adjust whatever can be adjusted, which is not much. A bit of concealer under the eyes, some plucking of stray hairs, lipstick. Now I'm ready for the day. It's about 2 pm.

I go upstairs to my studio and confront The Painting (DNA/Prism/Frames of Reference). I stand back and examine what still needs to be done. While I'm working I notice how much painting ressembles carpentry or construction in general. All about fitting this into that, balancing, assessing, eliminating, concealing, revealing. It's not glamorous or inspirational, it's just work - if some mystery or chemistry subsequently occurs between viewer and finished canvas, that's a bonus. I work until about 5 pm then go downstairs and make coffee, eat a couple of biscuits and a clementine. Quick look at email then back upstairs. More work on the painting until daylight starts to fade. Very annoyed that the days are getting shorter. Have to stop, the colours are wrong under electric light. The painting still needs more work, I'll do it tomorrow. It's about 7 pm.

I start preparing dinner, my only real meal of the day. I've got some organic beef and a lot of vegetables. I rarely eat beef but when I do, I like to make a hearty dish and tonight a casserole suits the approach of winter. I'm a good cook, if I say so myself, unschooled but creative within a limited range. Occasionally I'll follow a recipe but mostly I improvise, throwing together flavours I like. Turn the oven on to 200C and while it heats up, sauté the beef chunks in a bit of olive oil with a chopped red onion, garlic, chopped ginger, a red pepper. Add spices: cumin, coriander, thyme, black pepper, salt. A dash of red wine and stir on high heat until the meat is well-browned. The oven is ready so transfer the contents of the pan into a deep earthenware pot, add more red wine then pile in the rest of the chopped vegetables: carrots, new potatoes, parsnips, courgette, baby corn. Put the lid on the pot and bung the thing in the oven. It will take an hour and a half/two hours. Meanwhile I nibble a few black olives and drink cold coffee in a tall glass with ice cubes and a dash of port, the real Portuguese Port from Porto, a recent gift. I don't know if my mixture is a proper drink but it tastes good. 

Back to the computer to look at email again, write a few replies, browse some blogs, then begin writing this blog post. Around 9:30 pm the delicious smell says my dinner is ready. I add some quickly boiled fresh peas to the mix and ladle out a very generous helping of my casserole. It is exquisite, of course. Half a glass of red wine remains in the bottle so I drink it. A clementine is my dessert. End of food for today. Washing up can wait until morning. 

I come back to the Mac and move the August and September blog posts to my archive. It is now five past 1 am on October 13 and I think I will go to bed unless I decide to add a picture to this post and then maybe browse some blogs. 

This was my typical day that was. How typical was yours? 


Friday, October 08, 2010


I had booked early for this show, hoping to transform my indifference to Gauguin into enthusiasm. I've seen his paintings in museums here and there and of course in reproductions - his art seems made for high-tech printing, looks great in coffee-table books and on posters, cards, scarves, bags and baubles such as those currently adorning the Tate Modern shop. But I don't think I ever saw a comprehensive collection of his work gathered in one place so this was an opportunity to lose my immunity to his universal appeal.

Keeping eyes wide open, I amble respectfully through the galleries, stopping for long reflective pauses. The background story I'm familiar with so I ignore the big wall-captions and never ever opt for portable audio-guide - no matter how informative, I don't want somebody's voice interrupting my own impressions. I need to have silence in my head to allow the work itself to speak to me, unmediated, if it's going to speak at all.

One thing immediately creates a barrier between the painting and the viewer: those frames! Those ornate, overwrought, overweight, overprotective gold frames - why why why do museum curators still think they must burden modern paintings with these antiquated trimmings? Do they think that art won't seem like great art to the public unless it's got ten inches of baroque chocolate box icing around it? 

Never mind the frames, what about the work? Am I dazzled, excited, inspired? Well...yes and no. Gauguin's prints, woodcuts and wood-carvings are marvellous - the craftsman-artisan in him is at ease in solid media, materials he can cut and gouge and smoothe and polish. In many of his drawings there is the same sense of inhabiting the medium, neither dominated by or dominating it. Noa-Noa is a masterpiece. But put him in front of a canvas and Gauguin becomes self-conscious: he's got a message, he is an illustrator, a decorator, he makes pretty patterns out of a pretty setting. I go back and forth in the rooms, absorbing different periods of his work, but only four or five paintings escape the shocking conclusion forming in my mind that, underneath the bohemian runaway rogue artist with his hat and cape and exotic teen-age vahine, a conventional, bourgeois banker is trying to get out. 

Compare Gauguin to Van Gogh - I'm sorry but I have to make that comparison - and the difference is obvious. Vincent loses himself in the subject he chooses to paint, he is entranced by it, his technique is entirely at the service of it. All that he has learned about colour and form sits before a tree, a field or a person and humbly offers itself, like a lover. I'm yours, he says. Every drawing and painting is for Van Gogh a love affair and the pen or brush caresses the love-object, coaxes it to reveal itself. 

For Gauguin painting is not such a visceral, intuitive experience. He's attracted to the picturesque, the exotic, and uses elements of it to construct a mythical scenario. He has an agenda. 'Maker of Myth' is an apt description of the man as well as the artist. I think that when Paul came to Arles, finally giving in to Vincent's lonely and hero-worshipping entreaties, he must have been stunned by the work Vincent had produced. Gauguin was sensitive enough to realise that this work was something unprecedented and perhaps he knew in his heart that it was far beyond anything he himself could have created. Of course this is just conjecture, but my feeling is that his pride couldn't allow him to admit this and the famous Gauguin/Van Gogh fight and ensuing ear-slicing incident was an explosion of these undercurrents - Paul's envy and competitiveness, Vincent's disappointment that Paul had not expressed the appreciation of his work that he had hoped for.

So, am I glad I saw Gauguin at Tate Modern? Absolutely. Do I recommend this show? Definitely. Did I lose my immunity to Gauguin? No, apart from the prints and wood-carvings.