Friday, December 30, 2005

'Avant le depart' is the name of the documentary about Constant (1920 - 2005) a painter who belongs to the Cobra group. It is a moving account of the last year of his life working on his very last painting. At the beginning of this movie he is saying: 'Het zit er op' which means 'Time is up". It is no so dramatic as it sounds though. He is looking back on a long productive life with an interesting oeuvre and a succesful career. Constant is kind of proud. And I appreciate that he believes in himself and in his art as that is the right attitude for an artist to survive.

In this 90 minutes documentary you can see quiet images of an old man slowly working on his painting. Not many questions are asked nor is he trying to explain. By a short lecture on colourism his wife is trying to secure him a place in art history. The camera is patiently recording the painting process. It can be expected that these kinds of quality tv productions will disappear from the screen with the reform of the Dutch public broadcast system and be soon replaced by uptempo commercial crap.

I like his watercolour style of his 'portraits imaginaires'. For instance this portrait of a woman is very special. The face has a good expression although he totally forgot to paint her nose. Look at this magnificent background how the pinkish red matches well with the red brown and bluish grey. I think a background can make or break a portrait. In the painting of the clothes a white gouache has been applied, which is against the principles of this transparent technique. but masters can afford to break the rules.

to be continued

Saturday, December 17, 2005

In my parents attic I have found a pile of dusty sketchbooks with drawings of mine made when I started with drawing. This youth work can be seen on my website:
Some people like the old work even more than my current work. But of course I can not return to the past. I am changed, though the basically the same. The only thing I can do it try to learn from my (younger) self.

This is a bistre chalk drawing is done in the period that I was exploring the city with my sketchbook. This one I have made in the Nieuwmarkt neighbourhood of Amsterdam at the time that period the whole area was being renovated and I was fascinated by city. From a high point of view (a university library across the street) I could look down on the Titushouse, close to Rembrandthouse, and draw the whole scenery. The surrounding houses have been broken down and in the distance the groundwork was started for the Opera building. The leafless trees are drawn like skeletons. With the empty streets the drawing gives a bleak picture of a grey midwinters day. It makes you shiver and feel like going home.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

On an early tuesday morning in December 1980 my dad and I were having breakfast. We were still in a state of half sleep and were drinking big cups of tea in order to wake up. In the background the radio was playing 'Across the Universe' of The Beatles. Afterwards the announcer said: 'this song was sung by John Lennon who has deceased tonight.' I became wide awake and my first thought was: 'No, this can't be true'. Then I stunningly heard the story that he was murdered at the entrance of his NYC apartment, shot by a fool. I remember that it hit the news and shook the world like the assasination of JFK. As a reaction I made a drawing titled 'The dream is over' with two mourning people (based on a frontpage image of Yoko Ono seeking comfort with producer David Geffen) and a ethearal portrait of Lennon in the background.

And it felt like a personal loss to me. I wonder how come, as I never met him in person. I think there are two main reasons.
Firstly, Lennon is showing himself through his songs. The loss of his mother( 'Mother') , his mood ('Help", 'I am so tired', and 'Crippled inside'), and the love for his child ('Beautiful boy') . All the songs are sung in his characteristic high voice with his Liverpool accent which is so familiar to us.
Secondly, reading his last interviews with David Sheff, I could imagine his story so well. For five years he retreated from music business to take care of his son and was starting a make a come back in music ( 'Just like starting over') , but four bullets destroyed these plans. He ended up dying in a police car speeding to the hospital. One songline of him is often quoted: 'Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans'. And one of his last recordings is '(Living on) Borrowed time'. His solo oeuvre is limited and feels unfinished. For instance, I love the song 'Grow old with me', but the sound quality of the demo is painfully bad. He did not have the chance to complete it.

I also appreciate Lennon as a graphic artist. Before he started playing with The Beatles, he was an art student at the renowned Liverpool School of Art. He kept drawing during his whole life, also in order to illustrate his books of poetry and to entertain his little son. His drawings show his good sense of humour. I think this well resembling self-portrait done with just few lines and colors is masterful.

The same day as the tragedy there was a photo session with Annie Leibovitz. The result is a very intimate picture. It has prophetic qualities. Yoko is dressed in black. John is nude. On the sharp photo you can see the freckles on his skin. He looks vulnerable in an embryo position. At the end of his life his pose is the same as in the beginning. And it is like he is making a big farewell kiss.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

My favourite soul artist is Mavis Staples. With her expressive sensual voice I like her even more than Aretha Franklin. One of her songs is Time waits for no-one. These lyrics tell a reality which we all face. You can wait for the time to pass, the time will never wait for you. Nobody can hold back the clock. For everbody, from poor to rich, time is a scarce resource. I was thinking: How do fine artists deal with time?

First. Throughout the centuries artists let themselves be inspired by the same themes time after time again. In the course of time students are drawing model and portrait painters are studying the face. They approach the subject with a sense of wonder like it is new, like they never saw it before. The human body and face do not belong to a certain period and will never get out of date; they are eternal. Picasso called one of his works l'eternel feminin.
A good painting not only shows something specific of the period when it was made but also has got timeless elements. For instance on the paintings of the impressionists you can see much of the fashion of this period like the dresses and hats women were wearing, but good art will never be out of time. There is something universal, everlasting in art which appeals to people from different times and places.

Second. During the process of art the sense of time is lost (not the sense of timing). A short music or dance performance can make a lifetime impression. a five minutes pencil sketch can be better than an oil painting worked on for years. That s why it makes no sense to pay an artist per hour. There is difference between the performing arts and fine arts. After the performance it is gone, only the memory remains, whereas with fine arts there is still a physical result.

Third. Artists try to overcome time with their art. Armando said that art is a struggle with time which you always lose. This sounds rather pessimistic to me. I prefer the quote of Heraclites who said 'Vita breva, ars longa; life is short, art lasts long'. Nothing is eternal but good art will endure and survive the artist. The illustration above shows a self-portrait by Edvard Munch at the end of his life as a stiff old men standing between the clock and the bed. The faceless clock symbolizes time and the bed his last resting place. In the background his paintings, his life. Three years after this painting Munch died, but his art is still alive.

Fourth. In art time can be frozen. The same Heraclites said 'Panta rhei: everything flows, you can't step twice in the same river". So everything is changing constantly. The artist is able to let time stand still in the painting. The flowers of the still life always blossom, the landscape remains green and the girl on the portrait stays forever young. I once saw a documentary about one of the models of Picasso, who modelled for him when she was 18. During the interview she got emotional, realizing that sculpture of her did age unlike herself. Some people think it is the goal of the artist to catch the moment of time. It is Tennessee Williams who said: “The object of art is to make eternal the desperately fleeting moment." Catching the moment implies catching movement, see the quote by William Faulkner: "The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life" As an artist who likes to draw dancers and musicians, these words appeal to me.