Sunday, August 28, 2005

On a cold evening in March i saw huge fire near the Rijksmuseum. black smoke against a purple grey sky. The fire started in a constructing pit . It was frightening to see that fire was so close to our temple of art with all the treasures of painting. The fire brigade needed fifty of its men to stop the fire. Eight of them ended up in hospital.

Now that i am asked to join an exhibition about the construction pits in Amsterdam "Graafwerk" I am making a pastel of this event. Working mostly from direct observation it is challenge to do it from my memory. I could recall the fire, the smoke sky and how the fire lighted the museum facade, but it was hard to draw a complicated architecture like the Rijksmuseum from visual memory. Also using photographs of this building did not work out for me.

So I took my bike to the museum to make sketches on the spot and afterwards i went to the Museumplein where Uitmarkt the annual cultural market took place. There i attended a recital of Ties Mellema a highly talented saxophone player who I know well. At the stand of the Rembrandt house i was lucky to get a free poster of my favourite Moses Ter Borch sketch (see my post of August 10th). Back home, the poster turned out to be super sized: it was bigger than my carpet, bigger than the door. Where I could hang it? Finally i covered the wall of my basement with it. Also in museums the best art is often stored in the basements.

The painter who was a master in depicting fire was definitely Turner (see also my post of August 15th) . Like no other artist he could paint fire on ships reflecting in the sea. He was witness of the famous fire of the House of Parliament.

to be continued

Saturday, August 27, 2005

In spite of their age the Blind Boys of Alabama at a creative peak now. The group formed at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in 1939. Three of the founding members Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter and George Scott are still alive and joined by more recent arrivals. They are highly productive in the recent years. I just purchased their latest cd Live at the Apollo hall which is the follow-up of There will be a light. This cd has a nice cover with a Chagall- like ink drawing made by one of the band members. Both are collaborations with a younger soul singer Ben Harper. His high sweet voice contrasts well with the harmonies from the deep and raw throats of these gospel dynasours.
The cd is born out of an initial studio jam session, all sitting in half a circle while Harper is playing slide guitar on his lap. Ben is steering at the helm while the Boys provide a powerful vocal motor. The live cd is recorded in the famous Apollo Hall in Harlem, NYC.

I saw the Blind Boys twice; in Paradiso and at the North Sea Jazz Festival. And I am happy that I could make some sketches amidst a wild clapping and dancing audience. I also saw a concert of the Blind Boys of Mississippi their collegues of another blind institute.

The next evening Gabi gave a concert in a church together with an ensemble from Jerusalem.
He played a solo piece by Ligeti and by Ben Haim in a virtuoso style. And also he joined the ensemble in the Brahms sextet which was amazingly beautiful.

The concert was sponsored by a bank. The first four rows of the hall were reserved for their relations. Often VIPS feel too important to show up, but they all came. The atmosphere was elite. John Lennon would say that they could rattle their jewels instead of applaud. At first i felt embarrassed to be with my dirty hands and art materials in company of these millionaires. However they reacted very positively on my drawings. I found a strategic point to draw at the side, on a church bench sandwiched between two elderly ladies. One of them dusted off some of my eraser crumbs from her dress. After the concert I ran away, not because i did not enjoy but too afraid to miss the last bus.

Monday, August 22, 2005

I met him backstage in the Concertgebouw: the young Israeli cellist Gabi Lipkind. He was still sweating from the recital and my hands were black from the drawing. I showed him the sketches wich I just made inspired by his passionate music. He was very excited about my work and said 'Let's keep in touch'. Years later my drawing was on the cover of his cd 'cello miniatures and folkores". Now he was playing at a classical music festival and he invited me to come to attend the rehearsals.

There I met the Meritis Ensemble ('Meritis' is the nickname of Schubert) from Germany who were in Holland to follow masterclasse. They came from Mannheim which happens to be my birthplace. This young talented people were making a webstie to promote their ensemble. I was asked to make some graphic work for this site. They were very kind to me, but I was not sure if i could fullfill their high expectatons after Gabi's recommendations. In a small sweaty room I attented their rehearsals of Bartok third string quartet. We were both working hard, both struggling with our occupations. The music was not easy to play (nor to listen to) and also It was hard to get a quartet well on paper. Four is not a good number. So a trio would be better for drawing. The problem with rehearsals is that musicians stop from time to time to discuss the playing, which takes me out of my ' trance' of drawing. Fortunately they did a long concert in the evening with music from Mozart and Dvorak and i made some inspired drawings. At the end of the evening we left as friends. I almost felt that i played with them as a fifth member of their ensemble.

Monday, August 15, 2005

I have been listened to a mp3 'Chimes of Freedom'. It is a bootleg live recording of Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead from 1987 . The lyrics describe a thunder storm:
"Far between sundown's finish an' midnight's broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing ..."
"Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail
The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder ..."
Dylan is a guest artist at a Dead concert at Sullivan Stadium. Foxboro, Mass. At that time Dylan is recovering from a deep artistic crisis but this performance is an inspired one. The powerful electric guitars of Jerry Garcia and his bandmates suggest a sound of a thundering sky.With his beard and his baret Dylan looked like a stranded pirate. In a his poor nasal voice Dylan is singing rich poetry. Now that I have listened to it often, I realize that the song is so visual that it gives you an impression of a painting. And now I know why I like the song so much. Oil paintings of J.M.W. Turner come to my mind like this 'Slave Ship (Slavers Overthrowing the Dead and Dying - Typhon Coming) '. Turner is the best artist I know in creating space and atmospheric effects in his paintings.

There is a lot of rain and wind (not so much sun) in the songs of Bob Dylan. He often uses weather images to create the mood of the song. You can find phrases in his songs like 'tonight as i stand in the rain' to suggest loneliness. or 'the wind it was howlin' the snow was outrageous' referring to hard circumstances. Alan Robock, professor in meteorology, gives many examples of Dylan's weather imagery, see:

Saturday, August 13, 2005

In my early twenties I had private lessons in portraiture in Utrecht, in a studio at the foot of the Dom tower. At that time I was very much in to watercolour painting, but the teacher was a pastel artist. This dry material with all those colour boxes did not attract me, but I thought "Well, let's try it once". My result was much nicer as expected. And ever since that I got hooked on pastel. Pastel is great medium for portraits.

My friend Marion sent me a postcard from the J. Paul Getty Museum showing a pastel portrait by the Swiss artist Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702 -1789) of Maria Frederike van Reede-Athlone at Seven. It belongs to my favourite pastels. The portrait is middle-sized (22,5 x 18,5 inch) and drawn on vellum, a fine parchment. With his training as miniature painter Liotard, had a good eye for details. The drawing is detailed but not in a boring way: they are refined and sensitive.

Unlike many old paintings which depict children like small adults, the expression of the girl is very childish: she looks shy, dreamy and surprised. Liotard knows how to suggest the clear gaze, the small mouth and the roundness of the cheeks so well. The artist liked using pastels especially for portraits of children, because they could be manipulated with greater speed and ease, and had no odor. The pale Dutch complexion of the girl and her dirty blond hair is set against a neutral background of purple brownish grey and contrasts with the deep ultramarine blue of her clothes. With his pastel technique he manages to catch perfectly the texture of the velvet.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

I went to a retrospective exhibition of Kees Verwey (1900-1995) at the Gemeente-museum. He was my hero in my youth. As a boy just starting to paint, I was fascinated by this old impressionistic painter who did not paint 'en plein air', but most of his life he locked himself in his studio. A devotee like a monk in a monastery. The studio was a dusty room full with pots, textiles, mirrors, withered flowers, leaves, thistles and an mysterious Egyptian sculpture. The demarcation of the studio space gave him the opportunity to enter the deeper layers of reality, Every object of the still life - insignificant as it may look- was for him an source of beauty. His still lives were never dead. He was painting the ever changing light touching the objects and the subsequently changing colours. He was constantly trying to catch these "colour moments".

Verwey was far from a friendly man. He had a difficult personality. But he was true to himselfm not willing to comprise himself. As a young man he was sent to prison for 10 months after refusing to wear an army uniform. Also as a painter he followed his own way, unaffected by contemporary art movements. It must have been a honor for him to have an exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum, the bastion of modern art in Holland. I saw this exhibition in 1978 and was deeply impressed by the collection of large canvasses of studio interiors painted in dark mysterious blue colors.

Verwey once said "I have made two mistakes in my life: living too long and painting too much". It would be unfair to confirm this, but truth is that in the quantity of his work the quality is not stable. Especially in his later years (in his eighties, nineties) there are a number of misses among the hits. In de Gemeentemuseum it is a bit painful to see this. It is like an aged singer who singing false in front of his audience of fans. Kees Verwey has continued painting till his 95th year and probably died with a palet in his hand.

One of my favourite paintings is his portrait of Coba Ritsema, a collegue painter of him. It has a rich variety of grey, green, blue and purple colours. I like to the constrast between the dark clothes and the emerald green of her shawl. Also, there are a lot of blue and greys in her skin tones. One can see Verweys masterpiece in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

It feels special to live so close to the house of Rembrandt. And it is hard to imagine that the greatest painter in art history has lived around the corner. As I pass Remrandt house I can see a huge billboard on the facade of the building announcing an exhibition about the Ter Borch family. I estimate that the poster is five meters high. The original drawing is only 90 x 67 mm which is the size of a notebook sleeve with a shopping list. It is a 'self portrait with open mouth' by Moses ter Borch, the youngest son of the family. The fact that a small sketch can be enlarged so much and still holds it strength, proofs the quality of this art. It was drawn when Moses was only 15 years old. One can see a smiling face of a boy with round checks, turned-up nose and long curly hair under his small skullcap. The face might look rounder as he made use of a curved mirror. It is touching to see a portrait of a person that looks like a child but drawn with skills of a mature master. The drawing has been made on bluegrey paper with black chalk and a few white highlights. Moses surely was a promising talent and it was good that he started so young. At the age of 22 he was killed in a sea battle on the english coast

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The new novel of J.M. Coetzee directly attracts your attention when visiting a bookstore. The book cover is amazingly beautiful and gives you the urge the buy this book, even when you have got no idea about the contents. I am sure more customers react like this. The cover shows a detail of a portrait painting by Thomas Cooper Gotch. The title sounds highly romantic: "The Exile: heavy is the price I have paid for love". Mr Cooper painted it in 1930 when he was in his seventies. He belonged the Pre-Raphaelites. Usually the work of this school are too sentimental, but this portrait is masterpiece. The painting shows a young lady with bobbed black hair and dressed in a red with a golden pattern. The same kind of red has been applied in the background and comes back in her lips and a bit in her blush on her cheeks. So there is hardly a difference between the color of the foreground and of the background. Also, it is quite an art to use so much red in a painting. Some academy teachers call red the enemy of a painting, but Cooper overcame this enemy. He applies a brownish red, a 'stone red' a color which never bores you. The earth color of venetian red mixed with a lot of poisonous cadmium red pigment is a lust for the eye. The dark of the hair and the stronge shade of the head compensates the intensity of the red. I still wonder what the dramatic title of the painting refers to. The love affair could be a subject for a new novel.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Saturday night Carla and I went to the open air theater of the Vondelpark. The music and dance event was called a 'Latin Summer breeze'. It was supposed to be summer but the wind was chilly, the rain had just stopped and people were wearing clothes which one usually wears in october. On the stage there was an exotic setting of banana leaves and coconuts, but it did not bring them in a tropical mood. The small audience was passive and hardly willing to dance on the salsa music. The peptalk of the presenter of the show did not help.

At the edge of the open space there were homeless people, some drinking bottles of wines at fast rate. They were wearing all kinds of hats, turbans and caps. There was no homeless who was hatless: they had a hat instead of a roof. It was a good opportunity for us to draw these people without embarrasing them. We did not care anymore what was happening on stage. After finishing my tea, which carla brought to me to get warm, I found out thatI could use the tea bag as a watercolour brush: to make a basic colour on the paper and to create shades. The drawing was drawn with a special pencil which solves in water (or should i say tea). I saw a Surinam father playing with his children lifting them in them air and playing games of balance with their bodies. I felt like drawing this father figure, as my my own dad was on my mind. I had to stop the' tea painting' process when finally the tea bag broke, and the crumbs were on the paper like tabacco from a broken cigarette. One of the homeless guys was sporting a huge summer hat which covered most of his face: one could only see a big beard. He reminded us of Claude Monet in his Giverny years and our sketches of him looked like we had personally met Monet at his waterlily pond.

At the end of the evening a new band began to play. The music was rocking and swinging. Salsa sparks lightned the crowd. Out of the blue the dance floor was full of experienced dancers. The Amsterdam cold was turned into a warm night in Rio de Janeiro. We felt we were in the middle of a salsa beach. We were particulary impressed by a couple who danced so natural and so rhythmical: a dark boy together with a girl dressed in red. They were born to dance If i could dance like this i would give up drawing. Seated on a tribune bench at a high point of view we could sketch this sea of dance motion. During this inspirational peak we were hardly knowing what we were doing and made more drawings in twenty minutes than during the hours before. My hands were black from the ink and other art materials. With black stains on my face i felt like a miner returning from work. I guess it was hard to see me that night.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Today i worked like a dog. I was asked to make a portrait of a Heidewachel dog. She is the race of a hunting dog with shades of grey, cream and brown in his fur. Of course this animal did not know to model. She constantly changed positions and moved through the space of the studio. As i followed the Heidewachel. art material was spreading all over the place. The mixed techniques of chalk and watercolor worked out very well for the fur. I still have work on the resemblance and personality of this animal. But how can one catch the soul of a dog? At the end of the session I felt dirty and tired like a beast.

After one hour Anna, a Russian girl came for modelling. She is an excellent model who lives around the corner. We did short poses which pushes me to work fast and directly. Currently I am a exploring a new techniques: mixed materials on large sheets (60x80) of Asian handmade bamboo paper. This first sketch was not so good: the dogs face was still on my mind. The last sketch succeeded well: a reclining pose painted in shades of purple. I will give her one of the drawings. The big framed sketch in black&white will be propably look nice on her wall newly painted in a deep color.

Anna mentioned to me a dance sketch by Picasso. I forgot about this. It is the one of the best dance drawing i have ever seen: a rough expressive drawing of a dance couple in pastel. I once saw in the window of a poster shop Art Unlimited. I was very impressed and i thought" this is what i want, this is what i am looking for". I have to find that image again either on internet, in a shop or better: the original one somewhere in an art collection.

After this hard working day, i will do some e-mailing and reading tonight. And I like to end with a quote by Groucho Marx: "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read"