Self Portrait 1, 2014

This is the latest of my self portraits.
I don’t want to offend friends and family by trying to paint them. I’d rather offend myself as I experiment with “portraiture”.

This one started out as something purely abstract. I started it after looking at some of De Kooning’s work and his use of colour.
I had it propped against a cupboard for a few weeks until I could decide what to do with it.
Then I turned it around and saw a vague head shape…


Blokes Only

Five of my paintings are included in a “Blokes Only” exhibition held by the local Society of Artists.  The exhibition will run for about 6 weeks, the longest that any of my work has been displayed publicly.

Four of the paintings can be seen in my 2013 gallery page.

They are:

Self PoorTraits

Ebal or Gerazim

Unholy Hybrid (retitled “Rise Up AUS” for the exhibition)

John 3 (retitled “In the same way, Jn 3:16)

The fifth painting is Metamorphose.


The following brief “biography” was provided for the exhibition…

I started painting two years ago.

So far I’ve learned by trial and error (mostly the latter), through regular visits to galleries to see the work of others and by reading a lot about art and artists.

I was initially inspired by New Zealand artists Colin McCahon and Chris Strom who use painted text in their work. (McCahon’s Victory Over Death 2, in the National Gallery in Canberra is one of my favourite paintings.)

My early attempts to paint words were disappointing so I adapted another aspect of McCahon and Strom’s work: portraying local scenic landmarks in a more abstract form.

I have also been inspired by Australian painters Fred Williams, Ian Fairweather and Imants Tillers. Tillers in particular helped me find my way back to incorporating text in my paintings, using stencils instead of freehand lettering.

With a lot of my work I try to address aspects of spirituality and politics, especially where the lines between the two become confused. In this I’ve found inspiration from Jewish artists such as Samuel Bak and Marc Chagall. Their example is leading me to develop a broader vocabulary of symbols to be incorporated into my paintings.

2013: First Paintings

A landcape and a self-portrait

1 2013

2 2013

The landscape was mostly created with heavy sprays of water onto the paint, causing it to run across the tipped canvas (A slight Frankenthaler influence). I then added a few touches with a brush. I’m quite happy with the result which reminds me of some of Fred Williams work (if only!)

The portrait was done on a canvas that I’d been using for months but always with disappointing results. Colours from the failed paintings show through the swirls and smears of paint that I quickly applied on top.
After I covered the canvas I turned it this way and that until I saw a potential face.

Other angles had shown different possibilities but I was hesitant to add to Albert Tucker’s Images of Modern Evil series. Some of those potential images I saw in the swirls bordered on the creepy.

If Only I Could Paint Like Ben Quilty!

Painting has been difficult over the last couple of weeks. I’ve not been happy with anything I’ve done since I finished the paintings illustrated here:

Most of my time was taken up painting the one below, to which I’ve given the title “Prophet”. But I’m not happy with it. I quite like the colour and texture of the face, but not the features. Around the face I’ve included stencilled phrases from scripture, but I’m not happy with those I chose to include. They give the impression that the face represents Jesus Himself – but that was never the intention.

(this was photographed at an angle to catch the light on the stencilled words – the shape of the face therefore appears a little distorted.)

Until I decide what to do next, I’ll put this one aside and start to try something different.

I think the attempt at a portrait came about because I’ve recently seen a couple of documentaries about Ben Quilty, a young Australian artist who recently had a short stint as a war artist in Afghanistan. I’d seen him previously in some tributes to the late Margaret Olley whose portrait he had painted, winning him the Archibald Prize.

Quilty isn’t known for delicate and detailed work. He makes a lot of use of pallet knives to apply thick layers of paint squeezed not from tubes but from large cartridges more like a building product than an artist’s material. Even though he applies paint like a bricklayer applies mortar, the results have a detail capturing much more than the physical appearance of his subject. He somehow manages to capture their heart, their thoughts and their emotions.

My own attempts at portraiture have a long way to go – but I’ll keep returning and giving it another go. One day I’ll get it right (I hope).
See this excellent article about Quilty

Comparisons and Judgements

This is my second year as “an artist”, maybe a year and a half since my first painting attempts, and my art journey has been one of trial and error: learning as I go from practical experience. I’ve bought many magazines and books about technique but I’ve never really followed their examples. Instead I have preferred to see art and read about art and find inspiration from what other people have done without trying to copy them.

I see how my painting has developed and I’m happy not to have copied techniques from books. What I do is far from perfect and it can be frustrating when something isn’t working out in the way I want. But I think I’m developing my own style and my own approach. I may have ideas inspired by what others have done but I haven’t tried to duplicate anything.

Throughout this year and a half my intentions have not changed but the method of putting those intentions into paint has changed significantly. Starting with attempts to paint text only my work has moved on with influences from various art movements and several individual artists. Parts of this process have been mentioned in previous articles.

One of the potential stumbling blocks that I face is the temptation to compare my work with the work of others, whether it be the well-known painters I’ve admired, or even the members of the local art society. I could see their work and see where it is more accomplished than mine. I could see what they are doing as being more valid, more technically proficient more GENUINELY artistic. I could see them as doing REAL paintings to a standard I haven’t achieved. But I need to take my own path, recognising my own limitations but not letting those limitations restrict what I try to achieve.

It would be a mistake for me to make someone elses work the standard by which I judge the validity of my own. It’s not as if there’s an ultimate authority in painting that all artists have to emulate and by which all art is judged.

“Forbidden” Imagery

In Chaim Potok’s novel My Name is Asher Lev, the book’s artist protagonist puts himself at odds with his orthodox Jewish community when he uses crucifixion images to express the idea of extreme suffering.

Marc Chagall, a real life Jewish artist used crucifixion images in some of his art work. I have a copy of one (White Crucifixion) on my studio wall among my inspiring art works. And another of my favourite artists, Samuel Bak also makes allusions to crucifixion in his work, in particular with his repeated image of a Jewish boy with his hands raised in surrender.

It is probably these influences that have inspired me to use Jewish imagery in some of my paintings – particularly relating to the holocaust. I want to express both Jesus’ Jewishness and His suffering As a Jew.

Holocaust imagery could be seen by some as something that should only be addressed by Jews, so as a gentile I might be seen as treading into forbidden territory. Maybe some will find this imagery offensive, but that is not my intention.

As well as the suffering of Jesus mentioned above, another thing I’m trying is to address with this imagery is the lie of the “Christ killer” accusations directed at Jews throughout history. In my paintings I’m trying to portray Jesus as the Jew that He is, and show He was not some gentile god murdered by Jews.

Jesus gave His life freely on behalf of all of mankind, Jew as well as gentile. And most importantly He was raised back to life, the first part of a new creation into which we can all enter through faith in Him

Abstract Expressionism

On Saturday I went to the abstract expressionism exhibition at the National Gallery in Canberra.

For the first time I got to see DeKooning’s iconic Woman V. It is part of the National Gallery Collection but has not been on show during my previous visits. It was one of the highlights of the exhibition. I’ve seen photos of it before, but in person it was far more interesting, with very thick textured paint and lots of vibrant colour.

I also saw my very first Helen Frankenthaler works. I’ve read that she used a similar approach to Jackson Pollock (also well represented) but she used highly diluted paint on untreated canvas. This allowed the paint to soak into the canvas instead of adhering to the surface. The result was a softer, more diffused application of colour.

Being an admirer of Ian Fairweather I was pleased to see more of his work, and also more of Tony Tuckson. Previously I’d seen few of their paintings in person.
I’ve not yet been disappointed by any of the Fairweathers I’ve seen, but my response to Tuckson is mixed. In my opinion many of his “paintings” don’t deserve that label and definitely don’t merit a place in any National Gallery.

The whole exhibition could have been named “From the Sublime to the Ridiculous”.

The De Kooning would be towards the sublime end of the scale, and one by Tuckson would be at the other end. It is basically a sheet of plain, untreated masonite/hardboard with a couple of lines of white paint. I wonder if this was something found in his studio after his death – something he hadn’t even started to take seriously. Believe it or not it looks worse in person than it does in the photo.

Overall the exhibition was excellent – and it’s continues until January next year: plenty of time to go back a few more times.

The only disappointment was the lack of a printed catalogue to take home.