O214: Bay of Bombay

I had wandered out into this half alive afternoon. Just a shy anonymous landscape on the edge of suburbia. What was that up ahead? – it all depended on your measure of the universe. The one inside.

#O214: Bay of Bombay (Oil on Panel)

I have a playlist on Spotify called “Songs for Painting”. On it I now have about 12 hours of music. I love most of the songs. But when Jennifer Ferguson’s “Bay of Bombay”starts playing…whatever I am painting turns holy in some way. In a sudden diagonal turning of confidence I just don’t care about anything beyond what is in front of me – all four critics in my head just up and run for cover.

The version of this song I like most is the one on Spotify, on the New Africa Rock (1995) album. But here is another one you can listen to online on ReverbNation.

I could not find the song lyrics anywhere, but here is what I wrote down while listening:

Oh won't you take me away
to the Bay of Bombay.
I want to lose my virtues on a yellow wave.
My eyes are sore, fingertips rubbed raw.
Well a man he hurt me and I cry
For more.

My girdle is white but it's on too tight.
I can't face the thought of another dry dry night.
I want to see the star-shingle shining bright.
I want to lose myself in holy flight.

Mamma you taught me how to sing.
You couldn't teach me much more of anything.
Your eyes would look at the food you cooked
And the clothes you cleaned and ironed
But you just see...ships on the bay...
Jennifer Ferguson


Hey you! – Thanks for visiting my blog.

I hope you are happy today. May a deep contentment seep into stolen moments everywhere in your life.  I swear its possible! May all those dark places open and yield stolen secrets gathering dust since high school days. And may each of those shine and bring you joy.

#O201: Quiet Pine Winds

Have reworked this painting to improve the unity of color somewhat. I like the second version better. The post shows an image of both versions.

Fruitful Dark

This is another painting based on an old photograph (shown below). This is about a 10 x 8″ painting (oil on board). I am pushing my skills a bit to use a source image without being controlled by it.

For a recovering perfectionist, this is an exercise in letting go. Music helps, and not being to precious about saving the outcome for posterity. A more than anything, being guided by thoughts of pleasing an imaginary audience watching from the wings.

Below is the first version of the painting, which I originally posted:


After seeing this image on the web, I felt it lacked a bit of unity, so I worked it over with a brush:


The source photo (below) is of a typical afternoon on the South African highveld. As you can see I did a pretty loose interpretation of it. I decided early on that the heart of the…

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#O190-193: Resuming my Existence

In his poem “The Man Watching”,  Rilke says: “When we win it is with small things, and the triumph itself makes us small”.  Much food for thought there – what then, is worth really wanting? If I pursue the thought “what do I want?” all the way down the labyrinth to the place of not knowing, many certainties start unraveling.


Rilke’s letters make it clear that he needed to be alone in order to fall into such a condition, to exist solitary in an imagined cocoon so that he could come apart before coming together again. In this raw, naked, fragmentary state of mind he felt both too vulnerable and too repulsive to be near anyone, except a servant. [The beginning of Terror].


Pessoa wrote:

For a long time now I haven’t existed. I’m utterly calm. No one sees me differently from who I am. I just felt myself breathe as if I’d done something new, or done it late. I’m beginning to be conscious of being conscious. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll wake up to myself and resume my own existence. I don’t know if that will make me more happy or less. I don’t know anything.


Reaching a place of “not knowing” is good for me. It makes me “see deeper into paintings” (Rilke).


For me, my featured painting for this post (directly above) touches that sweet spot between image and emotion. The way the red peers through the more muted, dark colors suggest something poignant that I cannot quite put my finger on. It relates to what Robert Henri wrote:

That time we sat in the evening silence in the face 
of the mesa 
and heard the sudden howl of a pack of coyotes, 
and had a thrill 
and a dread which was not fear of the pack, 
for we knew they were harmless. 
Just what was that dread — what did it relate to? 
Something ’way back in the race perhaps? 
We have strange ways of seeing. 
If we only knew — then we could tell. 
If we knew what we saw, we could paint it.

Finally, I will end of with one of my favorite poems by Transtromer:

The man on a walk suddenly meets the old
giant oak like an elk turned to stone with
its enormous antlers against the dark green castle wall of the 
 fall ocean.

Storm from the north. It's nearly time for the
rowanberries to ripen. Awake in the night he
hears the constellations far above the oak stamping in their stalls.
Tomas Transtromer, translated by Robert Bly in
The Half Finished Heaven.

Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you are happy and content.


#O162: For Ilse

I seldom paint in a high key. When it works, it makes it all worthwhile for me.


When the day turns olive minutes after the sun sets, I walk the garden and dream of Pessoa’s dreams. He wrote:

But suddenly, and contrary to my literary intention, the black depths of the southern sky – by a true or false recollection – evoke for me another sky, perhaps seen in another life, in a North traversed by a smaller river, with sad rushes and no city. I don’t know how, but a landscape made for wild ducks unrolls across my imagination, and with the graphic clarity of a bizarre dream I feel I’m right next to the scene I imagine. A landscape for hunters and anxieties, with rushes growing along rivers whose jagged banks jut like miniature muddy capes into the lead-yellow waters, then re-enter to form slimy bays for toy-like boats, swampy recesses where water glistens over the sludge that’s hidden between the black-green stalks of rushes too thick to walk through.

I fear the days are passing too fast. So often I forget myself for hours on end. Where was I yesterday, walking amidst the crowd? When I come back to myself I am welcomed by a familiar sense of courage – second by second, anything can be faced.

I hesitate so often, carving just one more figurine before returning home. Rumi wants me to stop this:

Say Yes Quickly (excerpt)
Forget your life. Say God is great. Get up.
You think you know what time it is. It's time to pray.
You've carved so many little figurines, too many...

Tomorrow you'll see what you've broken and torn tonight,
thashing in the dark.
Inside you there is an artist you don't know about.
He's not interested in how things look different
in moonlight.

Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

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Ilse, ou sus, ek hoop jy word vinnig beter. Jy is altyd in my gedagtes.

O149: I came to Myself

First day painting in weeks. A landscape that turned into a seascape along the way this afternoon. Beautiful day. So glad to be alive.


Dante wrote:

In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear.

from Dante’s Divine Comedy, this copy from Poetry in Translation

Ecclesiastes 1.9 and TS Eliot said it better than I ever could, but here goes for today: How life turns and returns to the same familiar scenes! Always dressed in the fashion of the day, but “in the middle of the journey” I realize more and more that I have seen it all before. The same dramas at home and work, the same actors at meetings – regardless of the country in which you do business.

It becomes clear: I can end up pushing plates and condiments around on the table until I die, or at some point one can get up and walk into the sun. And you do this despite the fact that you are still conversing at the table. Always when this happens (yes, this realization also comes and goes), I go to the same old old simplicity. Each time the spiral moves up a notch.

What is MY simplicity? I return to my little black book with the distilled pearls from Nisargadatta’s I am That. For the past few days now, I have been returning as often as I can to my self – not the the one apart from others – but the perceiving center, the sense “I am”. Will I persevere? Let us see…

In one of those quirky synchronicity happenings – right after the first morning I returned to my book of notes from I am That, I saw that Open Window, a blog that focuses largely on the writings of Nisargadatta, was so kind to follow my blog. Everything points.

Moving an inch closer to your real self is not at all complex. It can happen in inches, and when you do, the Universe trembles slightly. Nisargadatta gave this supremely difficult, supremely simple formula:

Stop making use of your mind and see what happens. Do this one thing thoroughly. That is all.

I am That (43)

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#O122: A Way Known to Few

I am trying to vary my compositions and color schemes as much as I can, though I am sticking with a fairly basic palette. In this painting I started with a very dominant, stormy, red sky in the under-painting. As the painting evolved, everything took on a different form, and this is – I think – the final image.


I am taking a few days off from work and have managed to make some frames for my recent paintings:

This morning I took off the shelf my old copy of the poet Ryokan’s One Robe, One Bowl. I have not visited this old favorite of mine for some time, and was delighted to rediscover the simple scenery he paints for us.

What I like about much of oriental poetry – and Zen poetry  in particular – is how the poet paints a situation for us, then leaves us there to dwell in our own inner riches, or lack of it. If we have the openness of mind and richness of imagination to walk the image out with the poet, we find ourselves transported back to ancient Japan in the blink of an eye. The poet points us to a moment, a situation, in which stillness and purity is momentarily achievable. How we find it, and how long we dwell there, is up to us:

One narrow path surrounded by a dense forest;
On all sides, mountains lie in darkness.
The autumn leaves have already fallen.
No rain, but still the rocks are dark with moss.
Returning to my hermitage along a way known to few,
Carrying a basket of fresh mushrooms
And a jar of pure water from the temple well.

Ryokan, translated by John Stevens, in
One Robe, One Bowl

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#O83: Hakarimata Mountains

I have reworked this painting in an attempt to instill a bit more of an emotional feel and pull things together more. I hope I succeeded!

Fruitful Dark

This painting is a bit larger than I am used to, and I am not so fond of painting mountain top vistas. I tackled this as an exercise in using broader strokes and stronger lines moving through the composition. The source photo is below, it is quite beautiful – a view from my morning walk.

The green middle ground is too bright for my taste, so I will chip away at getting it just right.


I originally posted this painting as a much greener version which closely matched the source photo. But I found the green a bit garish, and the painting just did not convey the emotional tone I was looking for. Besides, there was no clear focal point – too many facets were competing to shine. So I reworked it. The old version is shown below on the right, the “current” version (watch this space) is to the…

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#O75: Where 3 Dreams Cross

This is another painting based on a photo I took during our recent holiday at Whangamata – taken on the same stroll as the image used for my painting #O73 posted a few days ago. I am quite happy with this painting, and at some level it is an ever so small breakthrough for me.


The source photo is below. For me – the photo is quite a strong abstract image in itself. Painting this should be as easy as falling out of a tree – but somehow, it isn’t!


In the past week or two, I have settled for most days into a steady morning routine of getting out of bed earlier and doing a 45 minute meditation before I go for my walk and then start the work day. It has done wonders for my crazy mind.

The mind moves without end; yet slowly – through the act of sitting, staying still, relaxed yet dignified and strong – a distance grows between what is real and what is the non-stop romance/horror movie of the mind. Who knows how far that distance can stretch?

I wonder if this is what Frederico Garcia Lorca pointed to when he wrote:

There is a whole world of crushed rivers and unachievable 
In the paw of a cat crushed by a car

In my painting above, I found – perhaps just for a moment – the joy of painting with an attitude of not caring, while still being full of care. It is hard to explain.

T.S Eliot alluded to this in his poem Ash-Wednesday. Here are some of my favorite lines from this long poem:

 Wavering between the profit and loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
And the list heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
This is the time of tension between dying
   and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still

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#O74: Thousand Sordid Images

This is a view looking south east at a spot I pass during my morning walk. Most of my paintings of scenes along my morning walk look north west, with long shadows in the direction of the sunlight. Here the scene is partially back-lit, with the light coming at an extreme angle from the left.


The source photo is shown below. When I took the photo, I thought the clouds would be the main focal element. But as the painting unfolded, I was more attracted to the warm color on the barberry bushes leading from the foreground backward. In my painting, the barn looks a bit too much like a house to me – I may work a bit more on that.


I was thinking about Tomas Transtromer’s poems. Spring is here. Thrush and Blackbird are out. Each morning I awake with a song on my roof.

The Man Awakened by a Song above His Roof

Morning. May rain. The city is silent still
as a sheepherder's hut. Streets silent. And in
the sky a plane motor is rumbling bluish green. -
   The window is open.

The dream of the man stretched out sleeping
becomes at that instant transparent. He turns, begins
to grope for the tool of his consciousness -
    almost in space.

Tomas Transtromer, trans. Robert Bly, in
The Half Finished Heaven

Which reminds me of what T.S Eliot wrote in Preludes:

You lay upon your back and waited; 
You dozed, and watched the night revealing 
The thousand sordid images 
Of which your soul was constituted; 
They flickered against the ceiling. 
And when all the world came back 
And the light crept up between the shutters 
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters, 
You had such a vision of the street 
As the street hardly understands;

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Last Farm Standing

This is a reworked version of my painting #O56 which I posted a while back. The source photo is shown below. The painting was standing around in the studio looking dark and sad and I was contemplating painting over it, when I thought I might as well try and improve it. Not yet sure I succeeded, so it remains a work in progress.


When I started my blog, I was loosely following the “painting a day” movement – trying to get back into a habit of painting on a regular basis, not getting caught up in an existential crises about the “one big thing” I am working on.

In the last week I have been re-shuffling my approach, and instead of working on one small painting a day, I am trying to get into a rhythm of working patiently on several (slightly) larger paintings at the same time. I was encouraged in this direction by some useful information provided by the very talented Teri Malo, who answered some of my questions about her paintings and work methods in this post.

I am also trying to slowly venture into the land of larger canvasses and I think this approach could help. For me it does require an adjustment. Instead of one intense creative push a few days of the week, it seems like I need a more even approach; say, one gentle hour of work (normally after “work”) on whatever is ready for the next phase.

Num-56-Source (2)

The patterns of my (our?) life keeps repeating. We think we see how we are put together, and then something changes – the New keeps pushing into our emotions, the internal deep. I suspect the wise man is the one that remains ever receptive, learning, accepting. T.S Eliot said:

There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.

Nature requires awareness, dynamic alive. Don’t conclude, live as in a rocking boat at sea:

All the fruit is ripe, plunged in fire, cooked,
And they have passed their test on earth, and the one law is this:
That everything curls inward, like snakes,
Prophetic, dreaming on
The hills of heaven. And many things
Have to stay on the shoulders like a load
of failure. However the roads
Are bad. For the chained elements,
Like horses, are going off to the side,
And the old
Laws of the earth. And a longing
For disintegration constantly comes. Many things however
Have to stay on the shoulders. Steadiness is essential.
Forwards, however, or backwards we will
Not look. Let us learn to live swaying
As in a rocking boat on the sea.

Friedrich Holderlin, transl. Robert Bly, in
News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness.

Thanks for visiting my little blog. I hope you are happy and content.