Blackpaint 2


My last painting is hanging on the front room wall, where I stick them to see if they are finished or not.  It looks like a caricature of Elvis, with long, drooping, backswept side-whiskers and a black and grey whale emerging (escaping?) from his left ear.  It’s in blue, black and orange and there’s a Turner red spot in it.  I think I’ll call it “Sitting on top of the world”.

I’m making little progress with my other one; bright but somehow dead red, black, dirty grey with white sweeps.  As yet, it has no discernable characteristics; maybe a dog’s head?

This illustrates the haphazard nature of my “method”, which boils down to  slap the paint on and hope that it will resolve itself into a striking image and/or an effective combination of colours.

I suppose there must be loads of painters who work in this sort of way; the results can be surprising and there are advantages and drawbacks.  the main advantage is the sense of freedom you have in marking a fresh canvas.  You’re going to change it anyway, paint over, mess it about so you have few inhibitions.  Also, you soon develop a sort of “look” or style.  There must be something in your head that makes you make marks and put together colours in a similar way, if you have no “preconceived object”.

This gives you reassurance and supplies your work with a sort of spurious integrity.  in other words, repetition and familiarity validate your stuff, if only to yourself.  It works the same with music; Mahler’s 9th has that bit that sounds like “Abide With Me” and there is another Mahler symphony that definitely has “I’ll be seeing you”.  My cassette of Caruso singing the Improvviso from Giordano’s “Andrea Chenier” has a snatch of “Over the Rainbow”; it helps you remember it and listen out for it and, I think, to like it.   

Soon however, you hit the drawbacks.  Setting out without a plan is radical in one aspect, but can lead to  conservatism in another.  If you are old and set in your ways, your ideas of “beauty” are  fossilised and you can end up with paintings that look like those of your heroes (not as good, of course).  Making a plan, doing a draft could force you out of habits and take you in different directions.

Having said that, I read the other day or maybe it was on TV,  that Paul Auster thinks a book to an extent “writes itself”.  Francis Bacon always claimed not to make sketches – a lot of his stuff was taken from photographs of course – and he said that accident played a major part in his painting.

On Bacon, John Richardson is bringing out a book which claims he couldn’t do hands or feet (must check that).  He didn’t go to art school and it reminds me of Robert Hughes’ diatribes against Schnabel and Basquiat – and, at a remove, of those crackpots who say Shakespeare couldn’t have written the plays because he hadn’t been to university.  it also reminds me of that great bit in The Monty Python Bok, where there is the Durer drawing of the hands with several duff versions crossed out, and “Damn, damn, damn” scrawled on it.

Richardson also says that Bacon did his best paintings when he was in sado-masochistic relationships with Peter Lacey and George Dyer and that he went off when he “settled down” later; the old tortured (literally)artist theory.

Criticism has gone downhill lately; in an Observer review the other week, Rachel Cusk (or Cooke, can’t remember) referred to the artist Conrad Shawcross as “adorable”.

What I’ve learned  this week about art is from Hughes’ “Nothing if not Critical”; one way in which Lautrec and others differed from Impressionists  was in having a line around figures.  this was borrowed from a form of ceramic work called cloisonne, which had sections divided by a strip of metal.  I suppose it’s obvious that Impressionists (effects of light and all that) wouldn’t put a thick line round things – but it was new to me, primitive as I am.

Listening to: Hot Fingers, Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang, and Black Snake Moan, Blind Lemon Jefferson.

“Some black snake been sucking my rider’s tongue”.

Blackpaint, 01.12.09

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