Monday, June 24, 2024

Summer Noon

Summer Noon is the 4th painting I've done overlooking the environs of Ballarat from Mount Warrenheip. For me, distances are far more compelling to paint than things seen in close-up. The vastness of a landscape beckons the eye to explore something beyond one's immediate notice. It's like space has its own mystery.

As usual, this one took around 10 sittings with a few touches in the studio. The topography is different from what it is in real life but the picture does give a true idea of the expanses around the area where I live.

Summer Noon, 2024, oil on linen, 51 x 60.75 cm

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Cutting Through Time - Cressida Campbell, Margaret Preston, and the Japanese Print

Geelong Art Gallery has an exhibition on at the moment which presents the work of Australian contemporary artist Cressida Campbell alongside the work of Margaret Preston (died 1963) and a number of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints. The aim of these 3 exhibitions is to show how Japanese prints inspired the work of these two Australian artists. Beautifully presented, there is so much brilliant work that it dazzles the mind and demands that multiple visits be in order. 

Lisa Sullivan, the gallery curator, interviewed Roger Butler in an informal talk about Margaret Preston as a print making artist. Roger catalogued the large volume of her prints, at least, as he said, as much as he could find to date. The talk was very informative and the passion Roger has for Australian prints and print makers is so inspiring. 

Here are some examples of the wonderful work from the exhibition.

Cressida Campbell - Parsley Bay, Sydney, 1992, woodcut printed in water colour

Cressida Campbell - Through the Windscreen, 1986, woodcut printed in water colour

Cressida Campbell - Shelf Still Life, 2012, woodcut, painted in water colour

Utagawa Hiroshige - Waka Bay in Kil Province, 1855
coloured woodblock print

Kitagawa Utamaro - Hiding a Letter, 1801-04, coloured woodblock print

Margaret Preston - FlannelFlowers, 1929,
woodcut, black ink, hand-coloured in water colour

Margaret Preston - Wheel Flower - 1929, woodcut, black ink, hand coloured 
with gouache

Margaret Preston - The Boat, Sydney Harbour, c.1920, Woodcut, black ink,

Roger Butler and Lisa Sullivan

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Hat Stand with Shadows

 Hat Stand with Shadows, 2024, oil on canvas, 45.75 x 61 cm

Sometimes when I walk about the house, my eye is attracted to something that might make a painting. The telling sign that a possible painting might result is that the idea stays in my mind for awhile. It gets to the point that only by painting the idea can my mind not carry it around any longer. 

This painting came about in this way. The hat caught my eye one day, even though I had walked past it for years. But it was more than that. It was the shadows accompanying the hat that added something more than a still life object to be painted. I like the use of space as something to appreciate for itself as if its importance is equal to the objects in the picture.

The tricky thing was how much space and shadows could be pictured without losing the presence of the objects. So I did a quick sketch to give me an idea of what size canvas I should choose. It wasn't an exact measurement but rather it was choosing a canvas that was reasonably close to the biro sketch.

It's also interesting to me that I sometimes revisit ideas that I painted decades before. In the painting below, the shoes and space have the same composition where space has its own importance. 

Untitled #7, 1997, oil on canvas, 76 x 91 cm

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Checking the Paintings

The 17 August will be the opening date for my next exhibition. It's around this time, before an exhibition, that I begin to take a final look at the paintings I've done for the show. I tend to be an endless retoucher to the point that I get the same painting rephotographed a number of times for the record.

Needless to say, I've just retouched all these paintings on the easels and I can say that I don't regret doing so. Since I am a meticulous painter, any and every brush stroke, however small, makes a difference to the final image. Just like a comma or a full stop can alter the rhythm of a literary work. Of course I never completely like the work I've done which is perhaps why I keep going and every time I start a painting I want it to be the best I've ever done. Not completely liking a painting doesn't mean I don't get pleasure from doing the work. There are always passages to savour and this too inspires me to keep going. 

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Louise Bourgeois at Sydney Contemporary

On a recent visit to Sydney, I saw the Louise Bourgeois exhibition at Sydney Contemporary, titled HAS THE DAY INVADED THE NIGHT OR HAS THE NIGHT INVADED THE DAY. An interesting title as it opened up an opportunity to present work in a relatively lighted gallery space, contrasting with a darkened gallery space below, called the 'Tank', with spotlights highlighting, or perhaps a better word would be, revealing, the work. 

I always admire artists whose range is wide and Bourgeois is one of those artists. Although her work is sometimes the product of manufacturing, she can also produce work as a maker, that is, a person who brings work into the world through her mind and hands working together. Which means she can draw. A darkened space also allows the viewer, I think, to view the work in a kind of privacy even though people are walking around the gallery. The distractions are almost cancelled out. Spotlighting the art draws your attention to the work as if you and it alone exist.

Her subject matter is often about pain and angst but a certain magic transforms it into something not just about that. I also noted that the work in the darkened gallery had no titles which I liked because it was the image itself that you connected to rather than an image with a garland of words trying to explain what it's all about. It reminded me of an Edward Hopper quote, 'If I could say it with words I wouldn't need to paint it'.  

Below is a selection of some of the work in the exhibition. A wonderful artist and a wonderfully curated exhibition.

Louise Bourgeois projected onto the walls

Sunday, April 28, 2024

One Hundred Faces

Every year Trudy McLauchlan curates an exhibition of regional artists, but what's unique about this exhibition is that each painting has to be a face and each artwork has to measure 10.3 x10.3 cm.

Trudy has a shop in Talbot, Victoria, called Playing in the Attic and her shop window provides a 24 hour viewing experience.

Initially I was going to try painting a geisha but changed my mind as I wanted something a bit more dramatic.


Kabuki Actor, 2024, oil on MDF, 10.3 x10.3 cm

One hundred paintings of faces in the shop window of Playing in the Attic

The whole viewing experience

Some of the artists in the exhibition from left - 
Loris Button, myself, Deborah Klein and Tiffany Titshall

Monday, April 8, 2024

Emerging from Darkness

Hamilton Gallery, in the Southern Grampians in Victoria, recently hosted an exhibition titled Emerging from Darkness - Faith, Emotion and the Body in the Baroque. It was a collaboration between Hamilton Gallery, The National Gallery of Victoria, The National Gallery of Australia and private collectors,
bringing together some of the most significant works of European art in Australia.

Although the emphasis was on female artists, Artemesia Gentileschi, Lavinia Fontana and Sofonisba Anguissola, most of the works were from male artists. Obviously it's more difficult to represent women artists when there are not numerous works to choose from, but the quality more than made up for lack of numbers.

The Gentileschi painting, Lucretia, was a standout. The combination of monumental drawing and delicacy of light, fused into a powerful image. Every centimetre rang true. But there were many standouts. These artists knew how to paint and draw but they also understood their materials. So many of the paintings looked as if they were painted a few months ago rather than centuries ago.

The quality of the works made the trip to Hamilton Gallery so worth while, you left with a feeling of satisfaction!

Artemisia Gentileschi - Lucretia, 1630-35, oil on canvas

Sofonisba Anguissola - Portrait of a Prelate, 1556, oil on canvas

Lavinia Fontana - Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine
1574-77, oil on copper

Unknown artist

Carlo Maratti - Studies for the head of Jael, 1686, red chalk

Bernardo Cavallino - The Virgin Annunciate, 1645-50

Rubens - Self Portrait, 1623, oil on canvas

Charles Le Brun - The Entry of Alexander in Babylon, 1700-25, 
after a design of 1688, wool and silk        

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Watch This

WATCH THIS is a theatre company that my partner, Deborah Klein, and I are patrons. Modest patrons, but patrons nevertheless. Recently we had a fund raiser for the next production, which is in 2025, but is still a secret at this time. It will be a Stephen Sondheim musical because it's only his musicals that WATCH THIS performs.

It was a fun night, with Nick Simpson-Deeks as MC, not only is he one of the star performers of WATCH THIS but a major talent in Australian musical theatre. His MC duties were hosting a quiz show about things relating to Sondheim and his musicals. Tough questions were mixed with easier ones but it was a testing evening just the same. There were about 10 teams of various numbers and our team ended around the middle of the field so to speak.

Nick Simpson-Deeks designed the screen shot silhouette of Sondheim and also devised what questions we would be asked.

Nick getting the audience into the spirit of the evening.

The Co-Directors of WATCH THIS, Dean Dreiberg and Melanie Hillman

Our team, from left - Phillip, Myself, Deborah Klein and Stephan McLauchlan. In the centre is Sonya Suares, founder of WATCH THIS. What a legacy Sonya has created, a may this wonderful theatre company continue for a long time into the future. Sonya was in a rival team but there was so much merriment and wit, it was like a theatrical event! 

All photos were by Deborah Klein except the last one which I can't recall who took it.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

The Music Room

 The Music Room, 2024, oil on linen, 66.3 x 54.3 cm.

I've always loved the portrayal of musical instruments in a painting. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but you know they are conduits for allowing amazing sounds to enter our world. Although it's the composer and the musician who create music, without an instrument nome of this could happen. A musical instrument has a history which adds another point of interest to what is in the painting.

But there is another reason why I did this painting. For over 3 years I did a classical guitar composition course with Daniel Nistico. I attempted to create an image that suggests that music is inspired by the light of our imagination. The light outside, and the musical set up bathed in the light entering the room, hopefully captures something of this idea. 

Thursday, March 21, 2024

A Breeze on the Water

A Breeze on the Water, 2024, oil on linen, 45.5 x 40.75 cm

In this painting I tried to suggest a breeze brushing over the water. One of the most interesting aspects of the lake is the variety of patterns that form over the water, and all depending on how the wind behaves. 

The brushstrokes vary also, and imitate what is happening on the surface of the lake. Long strokes for the calmer portions, and pointillist touches where the breeze ruffles the surface. 

This painting took about 8 sittings with very few touches in the studio.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Moonrise in the Gloaming


Moonrise in the Gloaming, 2024, oil on linen, 56 x 66.25 cm.

This painting originated from a few notations on a piece of paper. The clouds appeared like this only for a few seconds so it was a little frantic trying to capture something of how the sky was at that moment.  Not that I wanted to create a moment in time, it's that when you refer to nature it gives the work a kind of conviction by incorporating fantasy with reality. The painting I ended up with was mostly imagined. It's not a particular place and my aim was to make the sky the most dominant aspect of the painting with a landscape as small as possible but not so small that it disappears from the image. One of the characteristics I like about this work is the abstract quality, expressed through a kind of minimalism. But as always, it's the presence of light and air that I aim to create more so than anything else.

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!