Thursday, January 25, 2024

Art and the Occult

This is a fantastic book about the meaning of Art. We've all heard it said many times that no-one knows what art is and therefore it cannot be defined but Art and the Occult considers the qualities that are inherent in great art. For Schwartz the spiritual/occult presence within art is what causes it to be of lasting value, mainly because those same qualities are within human beings. 

I was particularly interested in his discussion about El Greco, Goya, Rembrandt and Ingres. For Schwartz, El Greco reigns supreme because his work is pure spirit in contrast to Goya and Rembrandt whose work is almost on that level but not quite. His 'grading' of Ingres to a much lower level is because he painted primarily the physical body and although it's a living body, the body is the main focus of the work rather than the spirit that animates it. 

He also discusses the Tarrot and other mystical practices but these don't interest me at all. His emphasis is on Art and how artists shaped the history of Art because of their ability to express the spiritual light- energy that animates the world we live in. 

It's an absorbing discussion, whether you agree with Schwartz or not, but much of what he writes makes sense and the way he locates the spiritual behind the medium in art is a very interesting read.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024



One of the best books on art I've ever read! The title is a reference to the Delft munitions explosion in 1654 that wiped out a significant portion of Delft. One of the victims of the explosion was the artist Carel Fabrituis, the painter of the famous Goldfinch that is hanging in the Maurithuis in the Hague.

The author of the book, Laura Cumming, not only looks at the art of Fabrituis but other artists' works of that time too and offers snippets into their difficult lives as painters.  Her Father and Mother were artists so she grew up in a cultured environment and her writing skills and appreciation of art lead her to the position of art critic for The Observer. But environment doesn't automatically mean art appreciation is a given and it's her innate insights into the paintings she discusses that lights up the text.

I hope she writes another book about those times as it's one of my favourite periods in Art history. 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Self Portrait in a Black Shirt


Self Portrait in a Black Shirt, 2024, oil on canvas, 51 x 40.75 cm

This is my latest self portrait which was painted over a number of sittings throughout 2023 and completed early this year. I think it's finished but so often I've got my paintings documented as finished paintings and then I fiddle with them a little more and have to get them photographed again. This portrait was documented a second time because the background was a little too blank and appeared to be static so I added more subtle coloured greenish tones. Hopefully the background has a sufficient, but still subtle, variation to make it interesting and not distract from the face.  

One of the trickiest things about portrait painting is that the human face is not symmetrical so to create a balanced face from asymmetrical parts is a difficult problem. Not many people give this much thought, and why should they anyway, but people are often surprised to learn that one eye is higher than the other. One eyebrow is higher than the other. One eye is more rounded than the other eye which is more egg shaped. One nostril is higher than the other, one side of the mouth is higher than the other. One side of the mouth is wider than the other. One side of the face is wider than the other, and etc. 

The fashion industry knows this truth but it thinks symmetry is the more beautiful, so fashion photographers slice a face vertically and then copy and paste one side as a mirror image of itself to create a perfectly symmetrical human being. Sounds just like the salon painters of the later part of the 19th Century who thought the ideal more beautiful than reality!

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Animals in My Art

When I was much younger I always drew horses, mainly racehorses, so perhaps it makes sense that I occasionally paint other animals. One of my favourite paintings of animals is Carel Fabrituis' The Goldfinch (below) which inspired my canary images. As the paintings show, I felt inclined at the time to do a variation on the same animal. Sometimes, one just isn't enough. 

One of the challenges in painting animals is to give them a personality since all animals have their own individuality, which is especially obvious if you have a pet or spend some time around an animal. 

All the paintings were done from actual specimens except the horse, which is based on a photograph. The drypoint was done from the top painting 6 years later.

The Goldfinch, 1654, oil on panel, 33.5 x 22.8 cm

Yellow Canary, 2012, oil on linen, 36 x 36 cm

The Canary, 2012, oil on panel, 17 x 18 cm

Canary 2012, oil on panel, 25 x 30 cm

Canary, 2018, drypoint, 19.5 x 13.25 cm

The Still of the Night, 2016, oil on linen, 35.5 x 41 cm

Night Glow, 2017, oil on panel, 50 x 50 cm

Alice, 2018, drypoint, 19.5 x 11.25 cm

Bird Skull, 2012, oil on panel, 21.75 x 41 cm

Seahorse, 2006, etching, 15 x 8.5 cm

Wednesday, December 27, 2023


The Wunderkammer, or German for wonder-room, was the 16th Century precursor to the museums we know today. Collections could inhabit a room but also be confined to a cabinet, which lead to its other name as a Cabinet of Curiosities. Wunderkammers were established by people of rank to showcase their place in society or others created by scholars and scientists for study. An entertainment aspect could be present as some of the specimens were not seen by most people and therefore a specimen could have an exotic value because of its rarity. In all cases, the emphasis was on the object itself as deserving of study and appreciation.

My Wunderkammer? work probes something different. We have all heard about the spiritual behind created things, but perceiving the spiritual and observing the material demand different types of vision. As Christ told us, the kingdom of God will not be known through observation, which means there must be another faculty within us to perceive the spiritual behind things. William Blake tells us that there is no such thing as separate body and soul, but rather that they are the same thing. Spinoza tells us that the body and soul are the same thing expressed in two different ways.

This work is a response to the material/spiritual presence we always experience. The question mark of the title is there to question the world of appearances and the colour white was used as an attempt to create a ghost/spiritual object but still be one with its material reality by the thickness of the paint. In this way, two kinds of reality exist at the same time. That is my aim!

The pics below show the Wunderkammer? installation consisting of small paintings and balsa wood models painted with artist's oil prime. I adopted a different palette from what I usually use so for these paintings I used Flake White, Ivory Black, Vermillion and Yellow Ochre. Usually, my choice of colours is white with the three cool primary colours and three warm primary colours - Flake White, Winsor Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Alizarin Crimson Permanent, Cadmuim Red Deep, French Ultramarine Deep and Cobalt Blue. 


Wunderkammer?, 2004

Thursday, December 21, 2023

The Christmas Tree

The thing I like most about Christmas is our Christmas Tree. Deborah and I have been gathering Christmas decorations from around the world for decades. We actually have two trees, one is relatively large and the other one is quite small. These pics speak for themselves. Enjoy the sumptuous decorations designed and made by so many throughout the world.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Motifs for Paintings

The pic of this hill has inspired a number of my paintings. The first one I did was close to what the scene looked like, but as I was painting it, I had a number of ideas for other paintings. I imagined a fire across the horizon, a lightning strike at night, the wind sweeping across long dry grass or a line of trees beyond the horizon. Of course, these ideas were not be painted from life because the scenes did not exist but even if they did, it would be impossible to paint lightning from life as it cracks across the sky for only a split second and painting a bush fire close up would not happen. Having said that, the painting with the fire on the horizon, the wind pushing the clouds and grass, and the tops of trees beyond the horizon were all painted at the same spot I did the first en plain air picture. Although I was not painting what was in front of me, returning to the spot seems to keep ideas fresh in my mind. All the other paintings were done in the studio from my imagination, although it was a hill that inspired all of these works.

Shadows on the Hills, 2020, oil on linen, 60.75 x 91.25 cm

Wind Across the Hills, 2021, oil on canvas, 51 x 76.5 cm

Beyond the Hills, 2023, oil on linen, 66.5 x 66,5 cm

The Coming Storm, 2021, oil on canvas, 72.5 x 51cm

Ablaze, 2020, oil on linen, 45 x 35 cm

Fire and Rain, 2021, oil on linen, 50 x 60 cm

Lightning Strike, 202, oil on canvas, 40.75 x 30.25 cm

Moonlight and Fire, 2021, oil on linen, 112 x 76.5 cm