Sunday, December 21, 2014


I've done two versions: the first one can be interpreted as a traditional image but I intended it as a memorial for all the children...and their mothers...and their fathers... who perished this year because of conflicts and disease and poverty and other disasters. It's a sad card, not in tune with all the jollity and buying and selling and eating and drinking.

I cut the image in a vinyl block. The print below is on gold handmade paper but most of the others I printed were in black on white paper.

My second card is more cheerful and represents a hopeful star in a hopeless world.
I drew it on a graphic tablet using ArtRage software then printed a few on fine art digital paper.

I wish you all a serene and hopeful holiday, however you celebrate or escape from it, and may the New Year bring us, and the whole world, all the joy and peace we deserve.

Thank you for stopping by over here, my friends, you are always welcome and always appreciated.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Just the first two bound copies, not yet the full edition, but enough to show the beautiful printing and binding, the beautiful translation and the beautiful images. Congratulations to Nicolas and Frances McDowall (The Old Stile Press), to their binders in Northumberland, to Dick Jones and of course to yours truly, for all the hard work of completing this demanding, exciting and historic project. The final pages include afterwords by Dick Jones, Miriam Cendrars (Blaise Cendrars' daughter) and myself. Actual publication date, prices and the whereabouts of a launch are yet to be announced but watch this space and the OSP website.

As far as we know, this is the only illustrated version of Blaise Cendrars' famous poem to appear since the original edition of 1913, published and typeset by Cendrars himself with abstract images by Sonia Delaunay. A very interesting article about Cendrars appeared recently in the Times Literary Supplement which you can read here.

Technical details: the bound book in its slipcase measures 35.5 x 30.8 cms (14 x 13.5 inches). The slipcase is covered in bronze-coloured metallic cloth with a blocked-on image of Cendrars which I did for the half-title page. The binding is in red and blue Fabriano paper on boards with cloth spine. The standard edition consists of 150 copies bound as above. There are also 10 Special copies in a solander box containing the book plus a folder with 4 extra prints: two new images and two from the edition, all printed by me on paper I pre-coloured in acrylics (see photos below). I am informed by Frances that all but one of the Special copies have already been ordered.

The shadow stripes in the above and some other photos are not on the paper but from blinds on my window.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


REMBRANDT: The Late Works

Entrance to the exhibition

The little ash-grey brain cells start leaving us the minute we're born and by middle age they've
taken early redundancy and when we're OLD they've emigrated in droves to wherever brain cells go when they're not in our skulls. The stubborn handful which remain to await final expulsion are just about capable of turning on the tv or perhaps taking up a hobby that doesn't take up too much room or make a mess.

This, in an exaggerated nutshell, is what scientists, academics and other highly qualified authorities assert is fact. Some of them have also done research which proves that ground-breaking innovation in art, as in other areas of human creativity, happens, when it happens, only in the young. The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.


In my un-authorised opinion youth is a flexible definition, one that can be stretched like elastic if the pull is strong enough. And the strongest pull of all is creativity itself, if persistently exercised, sustained and nurtured. Which is why certain individuals, Rembrandt for example, throw the facts about ageing out of the window.

 Rembrandt, Self-Portrait with Two Circles 1665-69

Old Mastery, such as I was privileged to witness last week in the magnificent National Gallery exhibition of Rembrandt's late work, is proof that brain cells can and will obey the instructions of genius rather than the robotic agenda of nature. He died aged only 63, a mere stripling by modern standards, but the old man who looks out of his uncompromising self-portraits has reached a state of understanding which transcends age and a mastery of his craft which grants him freedom to focus only on what really matters to him - to the genius in him - and to discard the rest.

..In ancient Roman religion, the genius was the individual instance of a general divine nature present in every individual person, place, or thing.
...attendant spirit present from one's birth, innate ability or inclination’, from the Latin root of gignere ‘beget’.

 Rembrandt, Self-portrait as the Apostle Paul

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, 1669 (the year he died).

Could it be that the attendant spirit in each of us reaches a state of maturity only when we allow it to become the dominant influence in our lives? Whatever form it takes, whether expressed through art or by any other means, it seems to be a path consciously chosen and pursued with unswerving dedication.

More than Rembrandt's bold, astonishingly modern handling of oil paint and the miraculous fluency of his drawings and etchings it was the compassionate yet unsentimental truth of the portraits which struck me. Technical virtuosity was always evident throughout his career but it is in these late works that you can feel he has jettisoned all desire to please, to compete or to be 'correct'. His eyes are not looking at the audience, fans or critics, but into himself - the sadness, the losses in his life, his own failings and disillusions - but also beyond himself to the unknown and unknowable.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014


Like or dislike do not apply and Wow, though appropriate, is unacceptably lightweight for such weightiness. Weighty is the word that keeps coming to mind as I try to gather my impressions of this stunning - as in stunned by a heavy blow to the head - exhibition. Literally heavy: sky's-the-limit kilos of lead, plaster, clay, sand, ash, wood, straw, brick-thick slabs of paint and other stuff making the stately walls of the R.A. groan in pain, awe or ecstasy. Weighty as in authoritative, serious, ponderous.

Anselm Kiefer is a heavyweight in a lightweight contemporary art world. His works are like slow-burning coals in that world's flashy fireworks. Do I like his art? Like - a word now and forever degraded by FaceBook and other social media - does not apply. Kiefer's work is anchored, you could say trapped, in gravity, in gravitas. It aims at immortality with iron-willed determination and pre-empts the destructive effects of time by imitating them.

I'm going to risk stereotyping and say that you can't separate Kiefer's work from German history and culture. Wagner and Nietzsche could be the soundtrack to this show but a thoughtful silence is better. German identity - historical, cultural, political, mythological, psychological, personal - is a theme that Kiefer has intensely and consistently explored in unorthodox, often controversial ways and although he's travelled the world and now lives in France it seems to me that, wherever he goes, he carries his German-ness like a heavy back-pack which is both a burden and a useful source. Whether or not his astonishingly productive, energetic and successful career owes something to the Hero-As-Conqueror Teutonic gene, Kiefer demonstrates that you can conquer the world without invading and occupying it (turns these into art-actions). If proof is needed of his artistic dominance take a look at the list of some honours Anselm Kiefer has received:

Grand State Prize for Fine Art, Germany 1983. Wolf Foundation Prize in the Arts, Israel and Goslarer Kaiserring, Germany 1990. Praemium Imperiale, Japan Art Association 1999. Federal Cross of Merit and Austrian Decoration for Science and Art 2005. Peace Prize of the German Book Trade 2008. Adenauer-de-Gaulle Prize (in recognition of his contribution to cultural dialogue between Germany and France) 2009. Chair of Artistic Creation, Collège de France 2010. Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, French Ministry of Culture 2011. Leo Baeck medal for German-Jewish reconciliation, Leo Baeck Institute, New York 2011. 

I must apologise for not writing a comprehensive, objective review of the works themselves but, as an artist looking at others' art, my objectivity becomes blurred by personal agenda, personal creative tendencies, needs and preferences. In a gallery or museum my ego usually walks ahead, pushing aside my humbler self. "Is there anything here for me?" it says, hunting for something which might feed the muse, maybe just a clue, a hint. I'm not ashamed of my biased one-eyed doppelganger. I need it, it's a helper. If it pays insufficient attention to a large proportion of extraordinary things on show I have to admit that life, my artist life, is too short to appreciate everything. And anyway, great artists can do without my appreciation.

Among the pieces in this vast exhibition that my egocentric eye focused upon were, of course, Kiefer's giant books. I'd only seen some in reproduction before and the materials themselves, up close, excited me: watercolour on plaster on cardboard! Pages as tall as I am! Pages you need a weight-lifter's help to turn. Allright then, I won't make the pages so heavy. And those electrolysed lead books, so fabulously distressed... No way. No lead. No lead poisoning.

Then there were woodcuts pasted onto canvas and painted over, under, between, behind. And a terrific giant concertina-wall woodcut The Rhine (Melancholia) that you walk through as you exit the show.....I will do some giant prints. In sections. Yes, I will.

To make up for my shortcomings as art reporter, here are some relevant links I found after writing this post. If any of them don't open when you click on them, copy/paste the link into your browser.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


I'm copying below a reduced version of the announcement which Frances and Nicolas McDowall have sent to their mailing list. Are you on it? If you want to be, contact The Old Stile Press. Apparently nearly all of the Special copies have already been reserved! Prices of the edition not yet known but will be within the range of other OSP publications. See their catalogue.

See the notice below somewhat larger on the main Blaugustine blog.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Folded sheets of milky white Canaletto Liscio, the text set in confident but not combative Storm Sans, beautifully printed in deep turquoise blue on one side and in maroon on the reverse... twenty four, yes twenty-four, different coloured inks have been used for the text throughout the book, complementing the strong black images.

The stack sitting on my table consists of one hundred and fifty copies of the final four pages of Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France which Dick Jones, the translator of Blaise Cendrars' fabulously fabulating poem, and myself, its illustrator, spent this morning signing. This ritual usually takes place at the home of The Old Stile Press in Wales but geographical distance, time and logistics did not coalesce on this occasion and I'm recording it here for Posterity, whoever she might be.
I've eliminated my head from the photo below because...well, you can guess why. The word starts with V and is repeated twice in Latin and it means the camera either lies or tells the truth and some of us can't face it. Dick on the other hand looks fine so I've left his head in place.

The signing does not mean that the day of publication is upon us quite yet but only that this stack of sheets can now be sent back to The Old Stile Press, rejoining the much bigger stack of sheets for the whole book which will, when complete, be sent to the binders for beautiful binding designed by moi and Nicolas McDowall. Watch this space.

Monday, October 06, 2014


Technical things always seem to go wrong when you need them most. I don't know if that statement is generally true but it seems so to me.

 My etching press, as often mentioned before, is an essential tool and I've currently been using it for printing relief blocks (for the 'Trans-Siberian' book) rather than etchings. The difference is basically in the thickness of inked blocks or plates which must pass under the roller in order for ink to transfer to the printing paper. Etchings are generally on thin metal plates and require heavy pressure - adjusted by tightening the top screws - whereas relief blocks can be any thickness and only need fairly light pressure since the ink lies on the surface of the block rather than in grooves below the surface (intaglio) as in etchings.

Unlike some of the more modern machines, it's not possible on my press to raise or lower the heavy steel top roller to allow any thickness of block to pass through. The DIY way of solving this problem is to loosen pressure completely, push through on either side of the roller a couple of flat wooden runners same height as the intended blocks, then tighten the screws again as needed. This I did and it worked fine for about a hundred proofs from relief blocks.

But recently an ominous bump developed in the middle of the press bed and though I tried to ignore it, when a vinyl block I was printing was bent beyond recognition and a cracking sound came from the press, drastic action had to be contemplated. Examination revealed that a sheet of formica, glued to the steel bed over thirty years ago and firmly in place all this time, had suddenly come unstuck in the centre, though not at the top and bottom edges. Result: solid bump in the middle. Reluctant remedy: get rid of offending formica. Easier said than done. This was all taking place around 2 am, by the way.

Struggling to lift the formica stuck to the edges of the base I succeeded in breaking off pieces while rough bits of the backing remained glued to the metal - that's the reddish-brown mess showing in the photo below - it looks like rust but isn't. Note the strip of wood keeping the roller off the base, but not enough to let the steel bed run right off the press which, in the worst scenario, would chop my feet off, or would fall to the floor and stay there because I wouldn't be able to lift it back up. Minutely accurate, heart-stopping attention to the top screws was needed to prevent such a disaster from happening.

Below I'm pushing a knife under the formica with one hand while the other hand (invisible) attempts to hold the camera and the roller screw simultaneously.

To make a long story a bit shorter, I did manage to escape injury and to remove all the formica, but not the residue from its backing which resisted all scrubbing with steel wool etc. So I decided to let it be but to stick a length of Fablon over it and the whole of the metal bed - another hair-tearing, tooth-grinding task that could only be undertaken in the crazy hours of the night by a stubborn fool.

There is a happy ending: my beloved machine is now restored to peaceful, purring operation and I can get on with printing new blocks for the special prints to be included with the special extra copies of Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France currently in production at The Old Stile Press.

And here is something beautiful to conclude and to celebrate the marvellous Indian summer weather we've been enjoying in London.

Consider the lilies of the field....

Monday, September 15, 2014


Why haven't I been blogging all this time? It's complicated. No it's very simple: I've been doing other things. Such as re-working the painting formerly titled Frames of Reference. I thought it was finished when I left it in 2010 but pulling it out recently I suddenly saw all sorts of things to be done. I want the figures to fuse into the background and there is far too much visual information. The multiple dimensions and my parents' dominant faces make it a difficult struggle especially since I'm also attempting to approach cubism in my own way. I've always been interested in both cubist and constructivist explorations of pictorial space and I'd like to see where a somewhat different perception would lead me along that road.

Another thing I've been working on is a portrait of a friend, the brilliantly inventive architect/designer/comics artist Sylvia Libedinsky. When she came to my Pineapple celebration wearing a red and black striped dress I instantly wanted to paint a portrait. She agreed to sit for me wearing the same outfit and I started a fairly large canvas. But it didn't work out and wasn't what I was after. So I then cut a relief block and took some prints from it in various colours. Finally I inked and painted the block itself and this is the portrait I prefer. It isn't flattering but Sylvia says it is her. I hope it captures her enquiring, observant, mischievous, funny and melancholy spirit. I'm pleased with its ikon-like character, enhanced by the bas-relief and the gold I rubbed on some of the stripes.

I went to the Malevich exhibition this week and came away exhilarated and inspired. Walking along the South Bank afterwards I saw geometric blocks of primary colours moving towards and away from me in an animated re-enactment of Suprematist paintings. That these colours were strolling pedestrians wasn't important yet the presence of life was felt by its movement in space.

Pure abstraction, in art or in life, is not my calling but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate it and Malevich is among those I give homage to. His controversial black square was a bold manifesto for that period, a statement, like Magritte's later this is not a pipe. Malevich seems to say: this is not a window through which you can gaze at an illusory scene. It is just a square made of black pigment. But if your eyes are turned inwards you can also read it as a symbol, like the black stone of Mecca or the alchemists' Nigredo or the philosophers' Néant. Spiritual concepts played a greater role than is apparent in the evolution of non-objective art and Malevich, like Mondrian and Kandinsky, was particularly influenced by ideas elaborated in Theosophy and Anthroposophy. Reproductions of Malevich's paintings do not give any indication of their sensuous, tactile surface - the paint is laid on thickly, with raised edges where one colour meets another - and oddly enough, this loving attention to materiality makes you feel that they are about something more than matter. I'm allergic to 'holy pictures' whether traditional or alternative but early Russian and Greek ikons have a tangible spiritual presence for me. Their power is conveyed by very direct, solid, simple means and their reality is emphasised by strong, pure colours and gold embellishment. Whatever the spiritual or other-worldly may actually be, if it can be depicted at all then I'd say abstraction probably has one foot in the door.

A photo I took when leaving the exhibition became a Photoshop exercise in abstractification. Not Suprematist or Constructivist enough, too many colours and tones.

Then there was this ready-made Constructivist landscape outside on the South Bank.

And a reclining couple just waiting to become a sculpture or a poster. 

And that's all for tonight folks.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


On the 19th of August thirteen years ago my mother, Blanche Augustine d'Arbeloff, departed this planet very early in the morning. I was asleep on the living room sofa while my sister and a nurse kept watch in her room. My sister woke me later, I don't know when, to tell me that Mamie was gone. I went in the bedroom and saw, touched, her cold forehead and icy hands. I remember being on fire with rage, a rage deeper than desolation, that they didn't wake me, didn't let me share her last breath, hold her hand. 'We didn't want to wake you, you were so tired'. The rage is still there when I think of that moment but it's outside of me now, like a photograph in an album.

On Tuesday this week I went to the cemetery where my mother and father are buried together. Sacha left in 1996, aged 101. Blanche stayed with us another five years, until she was ninety-seven. Here they are both in Los Angeles, way back in time, with no thoughts of mortality.

There is peace and quiet and pure, unadulterated bird song in the park of graves but the ground is heaving under the weight, the responsibilty of all those loved bones, their names, their dates, their histories, their roles. It's too much for some of the old stones, the angels, the monuments, they're leaning over, exhausted. Brand new graves are cheerful with bright plastic flowers, big sparkly cushioned lettering:"GRANNY", "JOE", "MUM". Every inch of the ground beneath my feet is packed with bones which were once persons, personalities, like Blanche, like Sacha, like me. And one day (not too soon, God willing) my bones, the material part of me, will be buried somewhere and somebody, perhaps, will post my photo on their blog and write something in remembrance of me, the "me" that they knew.

I wrote about my mother previously here and here and some of the paintings she did in the last few years of her life are shown here. The photo below was taken at her exhibition in the Mary Ward Centre in London the year before she died.

I picked the next photo out of the many that I have because it shows Blanche's beautiful legs that I was always envious of. It was taken at my parents' flat in London in 1983. Youthfulness was one of her many qualities, one that age never took away. Once, I asked her what she was thinking and she said, "Je chante" (I'm singing).

And below is the look she had a few months before her death, a searching, looking into Somewhere Else. The same look she had when she sat bolt upright in bed, seeing something no one else could see, and said: "Je dois prendre ma place" (I must take my place).

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Who knew that peeling a carrot is noisy? That crumpling a paper bag is rain on a corrugated iron roof ? That flushing the toilet is an avalanche of icicles falling into a roaring furnace?

Two days ago I started a month's trial of hearing aids, both ears. My hearing has been deteriorating for a while now but I've got used to it. Missing most of the dialogue at the cinema or theatre doesn't really affect my life and when I watch tv I turn subtitles on. Listening to music and one-to-one conversations are no problem and if I'm in a crowded room I ask people to repeat things or else pretend I've heard them. But my bluff is called if I'm asked a direct question about something I pretended to hear and this is what prompted close friends to urge me to face the issue and take action.

A few years ago I did have audio tests and was told that I'd pretty much lost sounds in the higher register. The NHS gave me hearing aids to be used daily but they stayed in a drawer because I couldn't cope with the loud metallic noises they produced. Technology has considerably improved since then and the digital babies I'm trying out now are far superior to those clunky things I rejected. But.....will I ever accept noisy carrots?

Meanwhile my sister in France sent me a beautiful birthday scarf/shawl and I can't resist showing it off. Thank you my Annie.

Thursday, August 07, 2014


It's my birthday, I'm still here alive and well and creating, I love each of my family and friends and they love me, I have a pleasant roof over my head, no debts, enough to eat, freedom, and all the art materials I need. I am still asking questions and feeling amazed. So this day, and every day, is my time to be grateful and to wish for all the blessings I have to somehow be expanded and distributed to all those who have none.

Here's my selfie for today.

Something else to raise a smile: The Festival of Love is currently drawing crowds on the South Bank and I couldn't resist snapping a photo of this happy couple in front of a merry-go-round.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

WHAT IF.....

I was just watching on TV the opening in Glasgow of the Commonwealth Games. Good will, fellowship, enthusiasm, energy and diversity made the air tingle and a sudden inspiration came to me. Like many of my sudden inspirations, reality hardly intrudes at all. It stays off-stage, talking incomprehensibly to itself.

Anyway I'll write down what this inspiration was, just in case somebody somewhere picks it up and runs with it. Maybe even one of the ten or fifteen people who read my blog. What do you think? Does it stand a chance?

WHAT IF..... 

there was

a hugely funded 

sporting event

held in a suitable or purpose-built location

in which Israeli and Palestinian children and teenagers

would peaceably compete and cooperate

and thousands of spectators attend and applaud.

The enormous funds needed, including paying qualified coaches to train the young people on both sides could come from two sources:

a) crowd-funding: donations by the world-wide public via a website.

b) wealthy individuals, companies and institutions invited to subscribe.

A rigorously selected impartial, independent, non-political group would be formed to administer, organise the event and allocate the funds, all aspects to be completely transparent and every penny accounted for.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Can you guess what this is for

Never mind, I'll tell you. 

Wood expands in hot weather and certain doors refuse to close quietly as usual. They have to be grasped by the hair, if they have hair, pulled hard and slammed hard.This doesn't always work on first attempt and so must be repeated, causing considerable ruckus on the premises. I live on the top floor of a house with three flats and do not like giving or receiving ruckus. Fortunately I have good neighbours and alleluia! quiet as well. So I can no longer sit back and wait for cold weather to restore my door's good manners. 

The problem is that there is nothing to grasp. There's no handle on the inside of my front door and that's why I make so much noise when trying to close it. In hot weather. 

Simple, you say, buy a handle and screw it on. Ah, yes, precisely. But I only decided an hour ago that the problem must be solved immediately and it's too hot to walk to the hardware shop which will be closed at this hour anyway. I had a cursory look through my extensive collection of bricolage materials and couldn't find a single handle. The only thing which looked remotely handle-ish was the round hole brass thingy (what are they called?) you see above. And the only thing which fitted tightly inside the thingy's hole was the handle of one of my oil painting brushes.

So, improvisation being the mother of invention, I screwed the thingy to the door at a convenient height for my hand, sawed off the thin end of the brush, pushed the fat part into the hole and presto! A graspable handle which is also, you must admit, original. And it works. I can now close the door quietly. Well, less noisily.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Is it possible to stay silent about the current déja-vu events in Israel and Palestine? A wave of emotion rises up in my throat when I see the news. Some of this emotion is raging indignation but mostly it is despair at this apparently unending cyle of revenge/retaliation. All I can imagine as a solution is a totally unrealistic, impossible scenario in which both sides, en masse, fall to their knees and beg forgiveness of each other, embrace and weep together, then work out their differences and find a peaceful solution, person-to-person. And then the wall would fall.

Like I said, totally unrealistic.

Meanwhile in today's  I (the Independent's daily briefing newspaper) there is a note by Mira Bar-Hillel, an outspoken Israeli-born British journalist (reviled by those who see anti-semitism in anyone who doesn't agree with Israeli policy and actions) which I'm copying below in its entirety since she knows the Situation much better than I do and can express herself better.

Beth in cassandra also addressed this subject on 11th July in a moving and articulate post. If you haven't already read it, go there now.

UPDATE: And check out these 3 excellent links which Lucy posted at Box Elder:

9 questions about the Israel-Palestine conflict you were too embarrassed to ask

11 crucial facts to understand the Israel-Gaza crisis

Israel's Gaza invasion is all about tunnels