Browsing: Letters

29 The end of stuff

One of my earliest memories is of seeing a small, domino-shaped tile amongst hundreds of items leaning on a long shelf above the workbench that stretched the length of my dad’s studio. On it was written, “Creative hands are rarely tidy.” It was the cherry on the sundae of permission — the sundae being a life in art and a messy space devoted to it.

By the time I’d left home at 18 and art school at 22, I’d already destroyed a few linoleum floors and filled a converted boatshed with fits and starts.

11 Winging it

On Dec. 8, 1903, with government funding, countless advisors and great ballyhoo, Samuel Pierpont Langley’s flying machine plopped unpleasantly into the Potomac. Nine days later, Orville and Wilbur Wright got their Flyer off the ground. Why did these bicycle mechanics succeed when a famous scientist failed? Langley’s plans were mostly theoretical and his machine was produced from blueprint and built by others. But by studying the Wright brothers’ working notes, you see that their insight and their execution are woven together. By trial and error and over a period of time they solved problems like wing shape and wing warping. Each adjustment was a small spark of insight that led to others. Along the way they found it necessary to build a wind tunnel and other devices to test the lift and controllability of their ever-changing designs.

33 A hundred generations

The subject came up again during an impromptu visit with an artist friend in Melbourne: “I’m having trouble finding my style,” she said. “I don’t want to force it — I want to be myself — but how do I make my work stand out as mine?”

With the understanding that style mustn’t be contrived but instead evolve organically as part of a developing voice, like a signature, yours might simply be honed by keeping a lookout for your own unique pictorial penchants. If you’re low on penchants, then consider what I call “idiosyncrasies of brush.”

13 Watching the ants

A subscriber wrote, “Are there any authentic, intellectually respectable reasons for the apparent divide between the contrasting and often opposing worlds of 1) ‘serious’ contemporary painting and its practitioners, and 2) the sprawling world of proud retro painters, and their constellation of activities and venues that are ignored by prevailing learned scholars and critics the world over?”

24 iArt

He says he likes to do it in his car, or in bed, at dawn. He works at it by practicing writing very big and very small, by zooming in on still life subjects and sending flower doodles to his friends before they’re awake. For his efforts, he’s hailed as an early adopter, an agent of the new or inspirer of complaints about a medium incapable of authenticity, though the Brushes app has handily lived in the toolkit of designers and commercial artists since inception.

18 Reclaim the management

On Wednesday this week — it may have been the phase of the moon — there were so many questions in the inbox that I buckled under and lost it. Don’t get me wrong — I love being of service to others, and there was great stuff to talk about, like how to dispose of toxic thinners while painting on a boat, or how to get perspective into curved things. Some of this stuff I can answer. What I need around here is a Michelangelo who is willing to sit at a computer 24/7.

12 Destiny

By 1880, the crimes of twenty-five year-old Australian outlaw Ned Kelly had escalated from bank robbing and distributing funds to the poor to gunfights and police killings. He and his gang of bushrangers — escaped convicts with the survival skills to hide in the outback — roamed rural Victoria, both terrorizing and inspiring settlers. At the climax of their rampage, Kelly’s myth went supernova when he made a suit of armour out of iron plough parts and wore it to what would be his last siege. Still, Ned was shot by police, captured and eventually hanged.

19 The full painting

Dear Artist, Almost everyone who reads my letters will have had this experience: You’re at work in the studio and a non-art friend drops by. Carrying a conversation with half your brain, you continue painting with the other half. Yesterday…

7 Leitmotif

On a recent balmy evening in Melbourne, the St. Petersburg Ballet performed in a sprawling theatre affectionately known to locals as “The Shed.” We settled in for the journey to a far-off, midnight, moon-kissed lake and soon surrendered to twenty-three floating, glowing tutus in cool, white tulle. The painted set poured moonlight so convincingly — the stage shining as black as an icy pond — I could almost taste the snowflakes on my tongue. It was a winter dream.

14 Let there be music

Let there be music. It could be any music. High brow, low brow. Music gives a key to what art is, to what art can do. For my desert island I’ll include the Sibelius Violin Concerto (D major, Opus 64). I’ll choose Pinchas Zukerman to play it. I’ll have to say it’s not the notes. It’s the spirit of the thing. As Zukerman says, “It has this incredible stuff happening everywhere.” Up and down, back and forth, the wonderful arbitrary quality of it all. Music, almost fully abstract, need not engage in realistically copying bird songs, wind, the sounds of traffic or falling coconuts.

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