Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Don Van Vliet

Don Van Vliet can still remember the day he was born in Glendale, California in 1941. Despite going on to lead one of the most innovative and influential bands of the 20th century, The Magic Band, Vliet began his creative life as an aspiring sculptor. His talent evident from the age of three and he had even apprenticed under a man called Agosthino Rodriguez who considered him a child prodigy, however it wasn't until much later in his life that fine art came to define the man. Vliet's parents had a deep aversion and mistrust of fine art and seemed to go out of their way to stem Vliet's creativity such was his passion. When he was thirteen his parents moved to the Mojave Desert, and it was here, (to his parents dismay) that not only would Vliet's creativity flair amplify, but so to would his love of music, coming into posession of old Jazz and Blues records by people like Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Muddy Waters.

You can imagine Don Van Vliet at this point, this young kid in the middle of nowhere, spending his time making sculptures and listening to blistering jazz and blues records. He no doubt found an affinity with those records as the music he went on to create was like some mutated zombie sister to it, channeling a spirit that was as riveting as it was bizarre. Warped surrealistic ideas about zig zag wanderers and ice cream for crows backed by the ordered chaos of The Magic Band...they defy description. Despite never making it big in the market, they went on to influence a myriad of future performers, from Tom Waits to The Clash. Beefheart could barely play a note yet he orchestrated it all.

It wasn't until 1982, after a fairly tumltuous time in the music business with no great critical acclaim that Captain Beefheart surrendered his alterego and reverted back to Don Van Vliet to focus on a future career fine art, which isn't to say any of his inherent weirdness was to take a rest.

Vliet's paintings are reminiscent of Neo-Expressionist artists like Georg Baselitz and Philip Guston, they have a distinctly abstract expressionist feel yet there are figures there. The works are alomst naive in their execution, with large parts of the canvas often being left white, and figures drawn so loosley they seem almost incidental. I like his paintings, they have a naturalistic element to them, a spiritual quality which i feel would be beyond the means of expression to say an inner city artist, they are untainted by dirty streets, by city lights, by cars. Vliet's subject is simple: nature and spirituality.

Below is a video on Don Van Vliet by the photographer Anton Corbijn which came out in 1993. It features both Vliet's mother and David Lynch.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Phillip Guston

Philip Guston's parents escaped the Ukrain to Montreal, Canada where he was born in 1913. They soon moved to LA, where Guston would later come to be one of the preeminent artists of the New York School. The New York School was comprised of the great Abstract Expressionists of the time, such as Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning, yet Guston came to represent a lot more than just the Abstract Expressionist movement, and spearheaded a new type of painting which came to be described as Neo-Expressionism. Like the works of artists such as De Kooning, Guston's later work was also gestural and expressive, yet it incorporated a representational approach which allowed Guston to explore personal subject matter that had evidently stayed with him since childhood.

A recurring theme that surrounds modernist art is that of trauma and depression, and both effected Guston's life. At ten he discovered his father hanging from roof of his shed, and being Jewish he and his family were often confronted with racism and an oppresive and unjust justice system. His paintings are stories, picaresque scenes from the private mind of their creator, and whilst they aren't necessarily literal translations of life experiences, they are still in a way autobiographical...whilst often intangible. To quote Guston himself:

I don’t know what a painting is; who knows what sets off even the desire to paint? It might be things, thoughts, a memory, sensations, which have nothing to do directly with painting itself. They can come from anything and anywhere, a trifle, some detail observed, wondered about and, naturally from the previous painting. The painting is not on a surface, but on a plane which is imagined. It moves in a mind. It is not there physically at all. It is an illusion, a piece of magic, so what you see is not what you see.

Looking at his paintings, they are utterly beguiling and mystifying. Bold and brash blacks and a sedated palette of pinks and creams form strange contrasts while the figures almost seem magnified on the canvas. It is perhaps the sheer otherworldliness of the work that makes it so captivating, his works are reminsicent of the comic strip artist Robert Crumb, yet there is something more to them that prevents them from being percieved as merely graphical works (which isn't to discredit the brilliance of Crumb), yet it's for this reason that Guston's works have caused great derision amongst the art world, and why he is considered such an important artist of the 20th century.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pablo Neruda


Drunk as drunk on turpentine
From your open kisses,
Your wet body wedged
Between my wet body and the strake
Of our boat that is made of flowers,
Feasted, we guide it - our fingers
Like tallows adorned with yellow metal -
Over the sky's hot rim,
The day's last breath in our sails.

Pinned by the sun between solstice
And equinox, drowsy and tangled together
We drifted for months and woke
With the bitter taste of land on our lips,
Eyelids all sticky, and we longed for lime
And the sound of a rope
Lowering a bucket down its well. Then,
We came by night to the Fortunate Isles,
And lay like fish
Under the net of our kisses.

Pablo Neruda, Sex Poet

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Edvard Munch

An artist I've realised I have a great affinity with is the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. It's a shame how some artists seem to be bracketed by just one or two works in their career as Munch was in his. The Scream is no doubt a breakthrough work, both in style and in sentiment. The style is fluid, the pastels seem to swell around the work like a raging tide. The motivation of the work stems from a feeling of deep torment, a trauma resulting from a horrifying confrontation with an imperfect world, a modernising world with an anxious future. Below is an exerpt Munch wrote about the work himself.

I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.

Besides this magnificant work however, Munch was an incredibly industrious artist whose skill branched into many different mediums; painting, etching and drawing were all well within his grasp. I feel his style was exemplary of the idea of an artists style reflecting their sentiment - in the same way that say Tom Waits' lyrics fit around the music, as though it were impossible for the two to ever be apart. His approach was often criticised for being naive and irresolved - but what better way to depict a world on the edge and inshrouded with doubt, it was 1893. Like many at that time, Munch had a severe mistrust for the industrial revolution and the way in which it would effect both the natural world as well as that of human relations. Looking at the state of the world these days, you must admit it's hard to think his anxiety unwarranted. He was a seer, a master and utterly humane, which are just several reasons for which he is one of my favourite artists.

The Dance of Life

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Russel Drysdale

After a 41 degree day yesterday, and reports of over 80 fires raging in New South Wales alone, i realised that summer has come a little early. Summer evokes lots of memories for me, not least of all one of my favourite Australian painters: Russel Drysdale.

Like most great art, you have to see his works face to face. They glow. I went to the Art Gallery of New South Wales recently, and it's incredible how they seem to just hover on the walls, emitting an almost ethereal, other worldly radiance. The surrealists no doubt had an influence on his work, it sharing the same sense of stark desolation that you often see in the canvases of people like De Chirico and Dali, yet for all his surrealistic musings, I think of him more as the Australian equivalent to Edward Hopper; stark and beautiful paintings, that tell stories that are utterly unique to their place.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Classical Music

It's a pity that talking about classical music when you're young can lead to your dismisal as an elitist... I think it's because of this stigma that fewer people of the younger generations listen to classical, because really it's extremely accessible music. It is something i am finding out more and more frequently as i dig deeper into the genre, this often celestial, transcendental and completely spiritual art form.

In film and television classical music is everywhere, sometimes so subtle it's almost subliminal, sometimes so intense it speeds your heart to 160 bpm, the ominious opening bars of Flight of the Valkyries in Apoclaypse Now, the resonant doom of Beethoven's 9th in A Clockwork Orange...these are two of the most powerful pieces of music that will ever be created. However classical need not be so loud nor intense to be as powerful - take for instance the heart aching plantiveness of Chopin's Nocturnes, or the eerieness yet suspense of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonatas.

These pieces are immortal and yet ephemeral. They have their own souls as they dance through the air until it comes time for them to fade away, you are unsure of whether what you heard was in fact real or an illusion. No other music effects mood like classical does.

The four pieces I mentioned were of course some of the most popular works ever written, and i'm sure that people of all ages would be at least somewhat familiar with them. Yet why is it that despite being such a pervasive art form it so often goes unmentioned? Whilst any number of trite and mundaine bands are being talked about and utterly devoured, classical music is rarely talked about, despite it's popularity in film.

Anyhow, here's a few of my favourites...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Lord Byron

She Walks in Beauty
by Lord Byron

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,—
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pablo Picasso

I saw a great documentary online the other day about Picasso, and one work in particular, Guernica. Until I saw this documentary I didn't understand just what that painting meant - I suppose it pays to pay attention in class. It was a government commissioned work, and I suppose what is most interesting about it is that Picasso really pushed himself into another place when he painted it, he started to take the piss after a while with his work. The work acts as both a revelation and a prophecy. The Spanish Civil War was to only get worse when this was painted. By the end of the war everyone in Spain knew this work.

Watch the documentary...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Henry Miller

Another fascinting man is Henry Miller. Life affiriming i would say. Born in Brooklyn, he was known as "the Brooklyn Boy", a raging, mad, insatiable man, with a thirst for knowledge and of life. He wrote several of my favourite books, my favourite is Tropic of Capricorn - It has all the madness as usual, but still keeps his feet on the ground to some degree, for half of it anyway. Like all great artists, old Henry was misunderstood, though he certainly wanted to be. If you want to know more about the man, read his books, and listen to his interviews, like the one below.

A year ago I thought that I was an artist, I no longer think about it, I am.

1956 interview...

William Blake

And now for a poem by William Blake. I've had lines of this poem stuck in my head for the last month. He is an amazing man, I don't know where to begin talking about him, so i'll say no more.


Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody poor,
And Mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we.

And mutual fear brings Peace,
Till the selfish loves increase
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

He sits down with his holy fears,
And waters the ground with tears;
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.

Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head,
And the caterpillar and fly
Feed on the Mystery.

And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
Ruddy and sweet to eat,
And the raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.

The gods of the earth and sea
Sought through nature to find this tree,
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the human Brain

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Nine Muses

Mnemosyne. Dante Gabrielle Rossetti

After some time out of mind i have decided to get back on the ol horse, it's no longer strictly for that video art project, not that it ever really was...

Lately i have been looking into Greek Mythology. It really is a limitless source of inspiration. One of my favourite myths is that of THE NINE MUSES. To quote somewhere:

At one time, the goddesses of inspiring springs, the nine Muses became the representatives of poetry, the arts and science : Calliope, Muse of epic song, Clio, Muse of history, Euterpe, Muse of lyric song, Thalia, Muse of comedy and bucolic
poetry, Melpomene, Muse of tragedy, Terpsichore, Muse of dance, Erato, Muse of erotic poetry, Polyhymnia, Muse of sacred song, and Urania, Muse of astronomy.

Now as the rumours go, Zeus slept with the Goddess (or Titan) of memory Mnemosyne nine nights in a row, and by doing so spawned each muse - which is really a stellar effort by both parties, though you especially have to feel for Mnemosyne the poor girl. A lot of myths revolve around both Mnemosyne and the Muses and there has been a lot of great art and poetry based upon them.

The Dance of Apollo and the Muses
- Baldassare Peruzzi

From Hesiod - Theogony:

From the Heliconian Muses let us begin to sing

who hold the great and holy mount of Helicon, and

dance on soft feet about the deep-blue spring and

the altar of the almighty son of Cronos,

and, when they have washed their tender bodies in

Permessus, or in the Horse’s Spring of Olmeius, make
their fair, lovely dances upon highest Helicon and
move with vigorous feet.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Paul Gauguin


Just thought i would post a picture of one of my favourite paintings, the name of which has been spinning through my head for the last few weeks, it's like a taunt, once you hear it you never forget it.

Gauguin had been a student at the Petit Seminaire de La Chapelle Saint Mesmin
, just outside of Orleans from the age of eleven to the age of sixteen. His subjects there included a class in Catholic liturgy; the teacher for this class was the Bishop of Orleans Felix Antoine Philibert Dupanloup. Dupanloup had devised his own catechism to be lodged in the minds of the young schoolboys, and to lead them towards proper spiritual reflections on the nature of life. The three fundamental questions in this catechism were: "Where does humanity come from?" "Where is it going to?", "How does humanity proceed?"

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

David Byrne

this is pretty rad, i was reminded of it today, it's a pretty interesting concept, David Byrne is one of those guys that just seem to get more creative with age.

Monday, April 13, 2009


These are from a man from the 19th century called Etienne-Jules Marey. He was one of the pioneers of Chronophotography:

Chronophotography is a Victorian application of science (the study of movement, and art photography). It is the technique precursor to cinematography. The word is from the Greek 'chronos' and photography, "pictures of time."Chronophotography is divided into two separate processes: Motography (continuous exposure of the subject) and Strobophotography (intermittent exposure of the subject).

People like Duchamp took it up later on, and as you can see, his 'nude descending a staircase' was a reference to this type of photography. The image below is by someone called Eadweard Muybridge, who was a pioneer of using multiple cameras to capture an image during the 19th century,

he also did horses, and proved that galloping horses for a time always had four legs on the ground.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dada Film

I have been reading up about dada film, here is a quote from the internet:

Dada-related films have several characteristics in common: they disrupt viewer expectations of a conventional narrative, use cinematic defamiliarization of social reality to undermine the norms and code of social convention, and are constantly pointing to the film apparatus as an illusion-producing machine. The difference between Dada and Surrealist films lies in their different strategies of defamiliarizing social reality. Surrealist filmmakers largely rely on conventional cinematography as a means to draw the viewer into the reality produced by the film. However, Dada films work to keep the viewer at a distance, which accounts for the viewer not being deeply disturbed by the film.

La Coquille Et Le Clergyman with music by Swans

the screenplay is by Antonin Artaud

Also David Lynch has done some pretty amazing short films, one of my favourite being The Grandmother, a film where a kid who has a hard time from his parents grows himself a grandmother.

there is also this by Marcel Duchamp, displaying his foray in ANEMIC CINEMA

Tristan Tzara

The Weight of The World by Tristan Tzara

(an extract)

I struggle on
the anger the happiness admitted
day for day and tooth for tooth
here's the hour that stirs
night strikes
these are the clogs of those who set out
to sea to batter the waves with the weight of their bodies
with their fists with all their faith in life
upset the depthless drawers
their truth has no price
it's the open laughter
it urges on the daring of the world
it causes the mountains of light
torn from the seaweed's evasive kisses
to climb to the light
it's the armed song on the fringes of light
there is only one man to hear
at the height of the brawl
tender cry of the babe-in-arms
the future to cry still louder
and the flashing waves
pile up the mounting clarities
surrounded by a thousand promised languages
joy i could foretell you
reinvent your dazzle
until your image on earth
was hidden from me under the dregs of grimaces
the stinking rags of death

I struggle on
i've seen lost eyes the war
beseeching eyes turned away from the war
wide-eyed the war
cowardly eyes low ignoble eyes
the eyes of little girl lovers
and mothers
but don't talk anymore of mothers' eyes
their brightness has forever
fulled the brightness of ours
they've watched wall of silence
for the fishermen's return
their foreheads pressed to the window-panes
the storm burst out at sea
a champagne cork lightning fastener
the lighting all along the body of a naked woman
standing on the edge of the horizon
the champagne gushes out
it's a festival free for all
the bass drum setting the world afloat
jump who can
turn turn each one
the storm around you
there are all kinds of people
one's broken the bank
another's dandled the little girly
on his knee
the little dancer you know the little girly
the grand life at last the grand
the grandest is so obvious
while one by one the ships fall
on their knees
it's better than at the slaughter house
bodies tossed about
like flies
arms torn off
endless tears
faces without noses i don't know what without mouths without ears
put that back in order for me
and get on with it
at your command general
deaths in shreds deaths for nothing
comic deaths easy deaths
why haven't they waited for the grand dance
that's coming here
hardly noticeable
button warfare closures lighnight
neon warfare hesitation waltz
death by laughing
forward the music
dead people in lace
mangled packed liquified
tossed on the rubbish-heap
what does the fitting song matter
love song sad song life song
at your command general
there's no possible song left
love tossed in the dust bin
suppression of sorrows cure
by the release of closures lightning
you don't have to say it
it's a frenzied dance
i ask you
it's the expressive waltz
devil's brass foundry
you want to laugh
automatic release
headline pig-head
king-head mule-head
the war above our heads
the war
who's being fooled
i struggle on
i've seen the horror engraved right on the retinas
of those who by wanting to survive
have died a thousand times at the back of their eyes friends
the bottom of a sea shows all the memories
bottom of grief
the dreams flow round there green cavalcades
with long strands of seaweed
deep is the breath of the wind between the rocks
and long long the history of tortures
i struggle on
the night is long
the story for the rest of us
soon reaches it's end
will we have stopped believing in grief
we must take life
as it is again
face to face
good and evil
always as a comrade
shaking it from head to toe
or talking to it gently
according to what it says according to what it thinks
take it round the waist
shake it like a plum tree
and perhaps we will have to fight
so that some life is left us comrades
that each one finds his share
filled with dreams sown with childhoods
the first clarity
common to all and which has no name

the corn is till not ripe
stalks paler than thistles
in the autumn wind

the vineyard still lies fallow
man has laid his greatness
at the foot of the abyss

the sun prepares peaceful fellings
the forests will pale
with an explosive thirst for greenery

where are you newborn youth
the crimson flowers of youth
on your delicate cheeks

like the seagull's lost cry
I've lost you
the wind that night

it's true i struggle on
but in each laughing face
appears apple of my eye
my love
the present and future love
the weight of the world

Translated by Lee Harwood

Billy Childish

Thought i should elaborate on Billy Childish. He has been a great inspiration for me over the past few years, until i discovered his art i considered myself quite lost, i didn't understand why people would pay the sort of outrageous prices they do for art. Here is a quote from Robert Hughes from a conversation he had last year, where he is talking about the young generation coming into this cultural market, and how he would have reacted:

...I would have shied away from it, i would have found it alienating, people who know nothing about art, running around paying ridiculous prices for undesirable things.

Being part of this next generation that he talks about, it is funny to hear such a scathing quote from such an esteemed voice in the art world.

And it is exactly what he is talking about that really put me off art, and it put me off wanting to study art, especially at cofa - it is such a fucking money grubbing shit hole in lots of ways, but it can't be blamed directly, it is happening everywhere. To come across Billy Childish was quite a relief in lots of ways. I learned that what i was doing made sense to other people too, and that although it's quite shocking, the majority of people involved in art these days are misguided delusional wankers with no souls - well, those involved with art that makes money. Not that i think there has to be a romance of the impoverished artist painting for their bread, but their does have to be the romance of an artist painting because they need to do it, not for money, but to satisfy their SOUL.

So here is another clip of the man from an exerpt of the film Billy Childish is Dead, which was released a couple of years ago. Aswell as a link to a recent article on him, which i like as it recognises him as a man to be taken seriously, unsurprisingly lots of people don't take him all that seriously, because he sees through their meaningless and shallow conceits - and they know it. Oh,and that moustache is just a thing of beauty.


Billy Childish

billy childish

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dada Etc

Tristan Tzara was one of the main men of the dada movement. I think there is a lot of truth in the DADA movement, i think that it strikes a chord in the core of humanity, that inherent absurdity i was getting at earlier. There are elements of this approach which i am sure were studied by future playwrites like Samuel Beckett and Tom Stoppard, people that thrived off that humour. It's kind of sad how boring the way that DADA art is taught, often its humour is forgotten. I guess it was never really a suited to analysis or teaching, it's more in the action and the act.

Antonin Artaud
is another very interesting figure, he was part of the surrealist movement for a while, completely drug fucked most of the time, addicted to heroin and opiates, also naturally inclined to "depression" . What i find most interesting about Artaud was his view towards reality, which naturally influenced everything he did thereafter. to quote his wikipedia page:

Imagination, to Artaud, was reality; he considered dreams, thoughts and delusions as no less real than the "outside" world. To him, reality appeared to be a consensus, the same consensus the audience accepts when they enter a theatre to see a play and, for a time, pretend that what they are seeing is real.

Tom Waits liked him, if that means anything...i think it does. he is as much a performer as he is a musician - which is really saying something. I really like Waits's aesthetic approach too, he's a pretty awesome dude.

I think a lot of what i consider to be good art always deals with one's approach towards reality, in an emotive sense as well as physical, i think it's for this reason that a lot of conceptual art sort of goes over my head, i don't mean that i don't get it, I just don't see the point of it. So that is something that i want to avoid in my work - too much conceptual thought, which might sound ironic, but there is a difference between knowing that you're thinking and thinking that you're knowing.