I started my on-line diary in the 1990's from my studio in the North of England. After a lapse of ten years, I resumed the enteries from my present studio on the Caribbean island of Dominica. From the far beginning, my intention has been to give an insight into my working methods, and to share the triumphs, trials and tribulations of work-in-progress.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The sweetness of sin

The word beguine crops up in Kenneth Clark’s definitive book, The Nude, A Study in Ideal Form. The dictionary gives two meanings: first: Infatuation and the second, A popular dance of West Indian origin.

On further research I find that the dance originated in my neighbouring French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. It is a slow close dance in which the female’s hands are clasped around the neck of the male and the male’s hands are clasped around the waist of the female. There is a back and forth hip movement.

Cole Porter encountered the dance when Martinique immigrants brought it to the dance halls of Paris. The rest is enshrined in the history of popular song. Interestingly, the accepted closing lines of the song are:

And we suddenly know what heaven we’re in,
When they begin the beguine.

But the first version read:

And we suddenly know the sweetness of sin,
When they begin the beguine.

I consider the accepted line to be adequate, but the presumably censored version, is pure poetry!

Here is Ella Fitzgerald’s classic recording of the song: 

I promise to track down the actual dance. So far I’ve drawn a blank here in Dominica, despite our strong French Creole connections. It might add some spice to our more formal crop of cultural dances, about which V. S. Naipaul had this to say in his book The Middle Passage:

To this mincing mimicry, the violence and improvisation and awesome skill of African dancing has been reduced.

These pictures illustrate one against the other.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

An ingenious work of art

Today’s picture illustrates a work of art, but not one that you will find in a gallery.

I stumbled across it a few weeks ago when visiting a village that was almost wiped out when Tropical Storm Erica devastated Dominica just over a year ago. The government is intent on re-housing the villagers in a new estate of plastic pre-fabricated houses; the equivalent of Pete Seeger’s “Little Boxes”.

However, some villagers, like the creator of this ingenious cane crashing mill, are staying put on what may now - after nature has done her worst - be considered safe ground. Some might say they are foolhardy, but for me they emphasise the unconquerable spirit of man.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Reaching for the impossible

What I am after keeps moving just beyond my reach. It might even be impossible, given the fleeting minutes I have available to capture the subtleties of nude figure, the intractability of a rapidly drawn line and unruliness of watercolour washes thrown down with a Number 12 brush.

Into the bargain I am experimenting with a different paper, both in texture and whiteness. Hence, I am up against the equivalent of letters on a computer keyboard being suddenly shifted about. 

My models are doing better. Next year Annabelle will be studying medicine in the States and Saryta (the subject of today’s paintings) will soon be professionally modelling in France. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

From a different perspective

Before a line or a wash goes down on paper, I have a vision of what I am after. As the painting progresses I become doubtful that my first intentions are being fulfilled. Watercolour is the most demanding of all painting media: what goes down stays down, highlights have to be jealously safeguarded and washes have a mind of their own. In thirty minutes scores of things can go wrong and it is often the last brush stroke that does most of the damage. On completing a painting I am rarely satisfied.

It is not until later, after the shock of seeing from a different perspective, that I realize that what I originally perceived as a failure might have the makings of success. In the old days I would place the painting flat down on the floor and view it from all directions. Now, the image on the computer screen allows me the same detachment.

Today’s painting is a case in point. Immediately on completion I thought all was lost and that my model had needlessly endured mosquito bites. But now, viewing it hours later in a different format, I realize that our labors were not entirely in vain.

The only flaw with using the computer screen is the reduction in size. Even the detail shown below is smaller than the original 22" x 13" painting. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Black, Brown and Beige

The Duke Ellington composition from which I’ve taken the title for today’s post dates from 1943, the year I was born. It has been described as:

An enigmatic and complicated work, made all the more difficult to fathom by the disarmingly comfortable tonal palette and rhythmic flow…

My most recent painting of Annabelle fits the colour scheme and might be considered by some to be equally difficult to fathom.

Friday, September 9, 2016

A wake up call

Weeks have passed without me being able to rekindle my mood for painting. Today would have been no exception had it not been for a message that simply said: this afternoon, okay! It was from Annabelle. If anyone can shake me out of my mood of despondency she’s the one to do it.

She arrived an hour earlier than expected, so it was a wake-up call in more ways than one. I doubted that I could do good work but once started, the lines and washes miraculously came together in gay abandon. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Cars and Canova

While searching for a way forward with my own work I am immersing myself in the work of others. Thanks to the internet I can do this from my studio in the Caribbean.

A case in point is Antonio Canova (1757 -1822) an Italian neoclassical sculptor, famous for his marble sculptures. I’m not a lover of marble, nor the work of Canova, but by chance I came across this image of one of the sculptor’s clay marquettes. In these embracing figures there is warmth and life.

But while my paintings and sculptures have taken a back seat, the restoration of my 45 year old Land Rover has gathered momentum. Between other jobs it has been a four year labour of love. Here she is, in concourse condition, ready to see the light of day.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The fates conspired against me

Today I was looking forward to an afternoon painting session with my inspirational model Annabelle. An area of disturbed weather had passed Dominica by and with it, my vacant mood from weeks passed. Everything bode well but as an afterthought I messaged Annabelle to bring an umbrella, just in case. No sooner were those words sent than a tropical downpour started and the session had to be cancelled.

I have nothing of mine to show for today but I recently came across this incredibly beautiful sculpture by Gustov Vigeland (1869 – 1943) a Norwegian sculptor who also designed the medal for the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The enigma of arrival

I have taken the title of today’s post from V. S. Naipaul’s novel The Enigma of Arrival. The book has many interwoven themes; as one reviewer said: it is unlike any other book I know. On one level it speaks of the disillusionment of achieving one’s objectives. And this I can relate to on almost a day to day basis.

A couple of months ago my objective was to develop my work as a sculptor, specifically by way of my recent reclining figure and torso. Both pieces worked out better than I dared hope. But now, after arriving where I earlier wanted to be, I find my aspirations have forged ahead to yet another level.

While I struggle with that dilemma, here’s the finished plaster master cast of the torso.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Finding gold

I search in vain for the work of artists with a similar feeling for the figure to my own: those who attempt to de-euphemize society’s overt sexual connotations with nudity and to depict the human form in its primal state. They are few and far between, but occasionally I strike gold.

I found the work of the self-taught Spanish artist Nicoletta Tomas Caravia (1963 - ) by way of a link from one of my followers. He has this to say about his series of paintings titled “Lovers”, and from which today’s painting is taken:

To paint that love, that island of comfort, to paint the energy that moves us in that state of intoxication…I wanted a language of the body that would carry all the emotion of that dance of love, of carnality, which is that love from within, the drama of passion, that which irradiates and that which cannot be touched but only felt…I drank from many painters: Klimt, Schiele, Picasso, Gauguin and many others…I have taken something of value from each of them.