A while ago I became frustrated with a landscape I was doing in pastel. It was looking a bit too pastoral and pretty for my taste. It left nothing for the viewer to complete with her imagination. It lay around on my studio floor for some days while I walked and shuffled over it as I came and went. The image improved considerably!
I then reworked it a bit, took a photo and then edited the photo (adding warmth and editing the contrasts), until I came up with the image below. I loved it. It has the warmth and emotional honesty of a true landscape – that is – a landscape seen through eyes of someone who actually feels, fears, lives and breathes.
I posted the above image on my Instagram feed and (sigh) it has received the most likes of anything I posted! I set out trying to reproduce this style of image on paper. My strategy was to lay a foundation in watercolor to get the right warmth, then add the rest in pastel and stomp on it to add some random marks. This is what I came up with:
The image was not quite the same – it lacks the glowing warmth of the edited photo. But it is real and has a charm of its own, so I decided to try some more paintings in this style. Below are some results:
It has been a hard year for our family. The original family unit was down from five to four when I was eight years old. Now in the last half of this year year we lost two more. They live on in the minds of the remainder and the many others that loved them.
I keep seeing in my dreams landscapes where the light has another color. Perhaps something like the painting above? Rolf Jacobsen wrote about this:
In countries where the light has another color
the faces along the streets at dusk
can turn to pearls in a slow sea of indigo.
And you must ask yourself - what do these
fiery diadems reflect here, and whose hands
have scattered them across these dark waters?
Rolf Jacobsen - from:The Roads Have Come To an End Now, translatedby Robert Bly, Roger Greenwald and Robert Hedin
Read that again – that last verse. Those are big questions, aren’t they?
Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you are happy and content as the year roars to its end.
Those of you that have followed my blog for a while will have noted (perhaps with an eye roll 🙂 ) that I am very often plagued by doubts and fears about my art. It is not a depressing state – simply a part of the fruitful dark side of life. I share this personal stuff in the hope that it would resonate with some other artists out there.
Over the past weeks, I often pondered the two questions “what should I paint?” and “how should I paint?” For some people this would probably be a short deliberation. I wrote about it before in this post.
But for me, this time around, it went back all the way to the “what do you want from life?” question, which is just a hop-skip-and-jump away from the big one: “Who am I?” This sort of progression of questioning is just the way I am – I expect for some of you reading this it may be similar?
I often look at some of the hyper creative and/or skillful painters interviewed on the Painting Perceptions website. These rock stars of the art world generally spend several years drawing from life, studying color etc. before becoming a certified “Master in Fine Art”. The best of them take that skill set and hone it into something that can express their unique voice in new ways – and some of those are just mindbogglingly impressive.
Although in my earlier years as a painter I put in many hours of drawing from life (my poor wife!) and still have notebooks from more than 20 years ago in which I painted pots and pans or systematically copied all of Bridgman’s beautiful drawings.
Despite having some skills in the ‘drawing from life’ department, I am often perplexed about where this leaves me, as someone drawn more to landscapes in the middle and far distance, where quality of light and mood predominate, and focus and detailed drawing is less important.
I am interested in how can this type of composition be perpetually developed into something deeper – more unique, more inquiring? Or is there perhaps a limit to what can be done with this style of landscape:
Please don’t suggest practical answers to the above question! these are questions I long to solve myself! 🙂 There is lots more that can be said about this topic, and…
I think the debate deals with having something meaningful to say versus saying something not necessarily meaningful in a very skillful way. Both have their merits – I think am inclined toward the first – but in visual arts the second approach may just have more depth to be explored over a lifetime?
But in the meantime, as I try to develop my skills and experience as an artist, I will stick to the advice of the painter Thomas Aquinas Daly, which I also quoted in my earlier post referred to above:
…my deep emotional involvement in my subject matter is the essential ingredient that carries my work. For years I floundered in a quandary over what to paint, until I realized the most rudimentary fact: that I should paint what moves me, and if handled with some degree of facility, it should in turn move others. The mistake I feel a great many artists make is in labouring to render material that is totally devoid of feeling…
If a subject matter doesn’t incite my emotions and possess my full sensory attention, it simply doesn’t get painted…
By selecting my subject matter with sentiment, I feel I incorporate a spiritual dimension that is the essence and true strength of any vital art form.
I am sure some artists may disagree with this sentiment, but it just happens to resonate with me. One thing I know for sure – the artist who does not seriously consider these sorts of questions and solves them at a deep internal level will most likely eternally dwell in the forecourt of the arts and craft markets (I realize this is super OK for many artists!)
But for those of us interested in these matters, we have to consider this question deeply over many years. It is probably a way in which there is no ecstasy:
You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
Two weekends ago I had my first solo exhibition at the David Lloyd Gallery in Hamilton, New Zealand. It was exciting if slightly nerve wracking and very rewarding to see so many of my works hanging together. Below is a collection of images from the exhibition opening:
As luck would have it, one of the most respected teachers in the USA, Martin Campos, was in New Zealand to teach and he also attended. Martin is an Adjunct Professor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. You can find an interview with Martin Campos on Painting Perceptions.
I was quite thrilled to have roughly half of my paintings sold at this exhibition. I have reflected on the experience extensively. As a child, I was taught that “showing off” (i.e. exhibiting yourself!) was a bad thing. Something not done by people of character. So being there as a center of attention drawn to myself took adjustment. I tried to mindfully observe the experience as neutrally as possible.
At a solo exhibition I guess it is common for people to point out what paintings they like. Even though no one said what they don’t like, one senses somehow what is not so popular. This creates in me a huge risk of being diverted from what I believe is my true goal in painting – getting to know myself and my internal world better, and providing an outlet for things in me that I value deepest.
I recall reading about the dangers of having an audience in the book “Art & Fear“:
The risk is fearsome: in making your real work you hand the audience the power to deny the understanding you seek; you hand them the power to say, “you’re not like us; you’re weird; you’re crazy.”…catering to fears of being misunderstood leaves you dependent upon your audience. In the simplest yet most deadly scenario, ideas are diluted to what you imagine your audience can imagine, leading to work that is condescending, arrogant, or both. Worse yet, you discard your own highest vision in the process.
Bayles, David; Orland, Ted. Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking (pp. 39-40). Image Continuum
Naturally, this does not have to happen. But one becomes highly aware and sensitive to this danger. After all the excitement abated, I took time to reflect deeply on my art and what I wanted to achieve with it. This period of introspection was perhaps the most rewarding aspect of this exhibition experience. I feel I have since deepened in my mission as an artist and heeded the advice of Bayles and Orland in “Art & Fear“:
The lesson here is simply that courting approval, even that of peers, puts a dangerous amount of power in the hands of the audience. Worse yet, the audience is seldom in a position to grant (or withhold) approval on the one issue that really counts — namely, whether or not you’re making progress in your work.
Bayles, David; Orland, Ted. Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking (p. 48). Image Continuum Press. Kindle Edition.
Amiel said that a landscape is a state of feeling, but the phrase is a flawed gem of a feeble dreamer. As soon as the landscape is a landscape, it ceases to be a state of emotion. To objectify is to create, and no one would say that a finished poem is a state of thinking about writing one.
and something from one of my earlier posts:
Time and time again, a hurried pace, ambition and lack of self awareness takes me to the place of humble-making. There I find myself. Gold is found where I stumble and fall without hope.
I am not that steeply sloping hour that Rilke wrote of:
My life is not this steeply sloping hour
in which you see me hurrying.
I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death's note wants to climb over -
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
And the song goes on, beautiful.
Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Robert Bly in
Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke
Thanks for visiting my blog! I hope you are happy and content.
In my last post I was up to painting #258 (count started when I took up painting again last year). I am now up to #280, not counting smaller mixed media abstracts and pastel landscapes such as those shown below. I am painting faster than I can blog, I have found out!
So for the time being I will not attempt to post all of my paintings anymore, but perhaps just a selection of a few favorites. You can see more paintings at my web site, or if you are interested to see what I am up to on a more regular basis, please follow me on Instagram (#fritzjoosteartist).
Below are some of the paintings I have recently made:
Some of these will be on display in my upcoming exhibition at the David Lloyd Gallery in Hamilton, New Zealand this weekend (24-26 November). There will be an opening at 6 pm on Friday 24 November. Please come along if you happen to be in the area!
I wrote in an earlier post how, not too long ago, I picked up two books on TS Eliot in a dusty second hand bookstore in a small holiday town in Australia. One of these in particular has been very rewarding – this is The New Poetic, by C.K. Stead.
I have never been able to make sense of some of Eliot’s poetry, and ‘The Waste Land’, in particular, has been a challenge for me to warm to. Yet I could not help sensing there was something there – I felt it but did not understand it. Stead masterfully addresses this common response to Eliot’s poems:
‘The Waste Land’ is composed of a series of projections of ‘states of feeling’ having no fixed centre but their common origin in the depth’s of one man’s mind. The poem traces in its rhythms, in its music, and in the sequence of its images, the evens of that mind at a particular time and in relation to a particular set of external circumstances – circumstances of which we can only ever know a very little.
…it is the feeling, not the experience, which is the poem’s ‘subject’.
This resonates with me at this particular time – very seldom when I paint do I have a particular image in mind. Most of my landscapes are invented (my small sketches in particular). But at a certain point, while painting purely abstractly, something starts to emerge, as in the sequence below:
Often when I attempt something like this, it turns out to be nothing. Or something briefly appears but in my greed for it to be more, I take it past the magic moment. But when it works out, it is something quite special. I sit in my old leather chair in the corner of my studio and watch the painting dance into the darkness as the sun sets.
I found that the best results are those when I leave the world completely behind while working – especially spectators and invented critics. It seems TS Eliot had the same idea in mind when he wrote about the poet (as quoted by CK Stead):
…he is not concerned with making people understand anything. He is not concerned, at this stage, with other people at all: only with finding the right words, or, anyhow, the least wrong words. He is not concerned whether anybody else will ever listen to them or not, or whether anybody else will ever understand them if he does’. (TS Eliot – The Three Voices of Poetry).
I close off with a short poem – one of my favorites:
To Magistrate Zhang
Late, I love but quietness:
Things of this world are no more my concern
Looking back, I’ve known no better plan
Than this: returning to the grove
Pine breezes loosen my robe
Mountain moon beams play my lute.
What, you ask, is Final Truth?
The fisherman’s song strikes deep into the bank.
Original Poem by Wang Wei (translated by J.P. Seaton
in The Poetry of Zen, by J.P Seaton and Sam Hamill)
Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you are happy and that you are content.
After a trip away from home in August and September, I really struggled to get back to painting. Pressure at work and a mind that was too busy meant I was only in the studio for short periods of time and those were mostly short and distracted. In this mind-state I just played around with paint and slowly emerged three abstract paintings which I decided to keep. Some others did not make it…
The one above was the first time I painted on canvas in quite a while. I rather enjoyed the feeling of canvas and will probably revert back to canvas more often in future.
This second one was painted the next day, and I started leaning into a more green and blue atmosphere. This is oil and cold wax on panel:
The third one was made in the same week. It seems to be the most popular, based on Instagram likes – if that is anything to go by:
Robert Henri wrote:
THE WORK OF THE ART STUDENT is no light matter. Few have the courage and stamina to see it through. You have to make up your mind to be alone in many ways. We like sympathy and we like to be in company. It is easier than going it alone. But alone one gets acquainted with himself, grows up and on, not stopping with the crowd. It costs to do this. If you succeed somewhat you may have to pay for it as well as enjoy it all your life.
When I made the last painting (O258) I was feeling my way through the days. My father had recently passed away (I wrote about this in another post), and since my return to New Zealand I have been ambivalent about my art and what I want to – or will be able to – achieve with it. I mean – why do this?
The emotion I felt reminded me of the phrase from Rilke’s poem “We must die because we have known them”. It is the sort of uncertainty one can perhaps only keep silent about – like wandering “Pathless at Night”:
But the grown man
shudders and is silent. The man who
has wandered pathless at night
in the mountain-range of his feelings:
As the old sailor is silent,
and the terrors that he has endured
play inside him as though in quivering cages.
(Rainer Maria Rilke)
Oh yes! I have a silly little website up now for my art! For my upcoming exhibition at the David Lloyd Gallery in November, I needed to have something more than an online blog presence, so I created my site Fritz Jooste Fine Art just to showcase some paintings. It still needs some work to make it more professional, but it is there at least.
Thanks for visiting my blog! Special thanks to all followers and long-time supporters who have encouraged me with kind and thoughtful comments.
This is one of my dearest paintings. There is a warm depth in the middle ground that came as a gift. Sadly, the photo does not really do it justice. In soft evening light it tends to glow.
For an artist to be interesting to us he must have been interesting to himself. He must have been capable of intense feeling, and capable of profound contemplation. He who has contemplated has met with himself, is in a state to see into the realities beyond the surfaces of his subject. Nature reveals to him, and, seeing and feeling intensely, he paints, and whether he wills it or not each brush stroke is an exact record of such as he was at the exact moment the stroke was made.
The painting below is another effort which is quite special to me. It is the first painting I made in the first confused and sad weekend after my father passed away. It am quite happy with the emotional nuance conveyed by the painting:
Rollo May wrote:
Perhaps the most ubiquitous and ever-present form of the failure to confront non-being in our day is in conformism, the tendency of the individual to let himself be absorbed in the sea of collective responses and attitudes, to become swallowed up in das Mann, with the corresponding loss of his own awareness, potentialities, and whatever characterizes him as a unique and original being. The individual temporarily escapes the anxiety of non-being by this means, but at the price of forfeiting his own powers and sense of existence.
This is a painting that came almost as an afterthought at the end of a session when I worked on something larger. It is oil and cold wax painted over an earlier effort, which explains the texture and unevenness of the surface which provides a charm of its own, unless you are more into glossy-smooth precision.
Pessoa makes no sense most of the time. Certainly he is not a leader of the positive thinking movement. But the music in his prose has an attraction I cannot stay away from from, especially when the rain falls without end:
Behind me, on the other side of where I’m lying down, the silence of the apartment touches infinity. I hear time fall, drop by drop, and not one drop that falls can be heard. My physical heart is physically oppressed by the memory – reduced to nothing – of all that has been or that I’ve been. I feel my head materially supported by the pillow in which it makes a valley. My skin and the skin of the pillowcase are like two people touching in the shadows. Even the ear on which I’m lying mathematically engraves itself on my brain. I blink with fatigue, and my eyelashes make an infinitesimal, inaudible sound against the felt whiteness of the pillow’s slope. I breathe, sighing, and my breathing happens – it isn’t mine. I suffer without feeling or thinking. The household clock, definitely located in the midst of the infinite, strikes the half hour, dry and void. Everything is so vast, so deep, so black and so cold! I pass times, I pass silences; formless worlds pass by me.
Among the books and letters of my late father, I found a book of Afrikaans poetry with English Translations. It is a book I knew from childhood – I remember taking it down for the odd browse-through as a teenager. Now it has a different meaning. Here is a poem by Elizabeth Eybers, one of the most celebrated Afrikaans poets:
Die wit leuen van die liefde wou
ek naas die naakte waarheid hou,
berekenbaar en overbloem
deur listige herinnering:
daar is so veel om te besing,
so min om op te noem.
En hoe noukeuriger ek staar
hoe minder word ek weer gewaar
as dat geen mens wat gloed beskou
om dit met as te vergelyk
ooit wysheid leer: want altyd blyk
wit werkliker as grou.
and here is the English translation from the book, by the poet herself:
I measure the white lie of love
by holding it alongside of
computable bald truth without
adding sly memory's estimate:
there is so much to sing about,
so little to relate.
However zealously I pore
the less can I distinguish more
than that by studying glow to see
how it compares with ash one may
become no wiser: constantly
white gleams more true than grey
Thanks for visiting my blog! I hope you are happy and content.
This is a landscape that came a long way to be here. I must have reworked both sky and background about four times each. This is oil on panel, size approximately 60 cm x 45 cm.
Rollo May wrote:
A psychological problem, I have pointed out elsewhere, is like fever; it indicates that something is wrong within the structure of the person and that a struggle is going on for survival. This, in turn, is a proof to us that some other way of behaving is possible. Our old way of thinking—that problems are to be gotten rid of as soon as possible—overlooks the most important thing of all: that problems are a normal aspect of living and are basic to human creativity. This is true whether one is constructing things or reconstructing oneself. Problems are the outward signs of unused inner possibilities.
On days when my time and/or energy is low, I turn to charcoal and pastel for relief:
This often leads to an effort in oil:
There are days when the demands of life, promises made, leaves me depleted and anxious. My approach is to see this anxiety as part of organic life, not as an enemy, but as a source of potential, as Rollo May points out:
The definition of mental health needs to be changed to living without paralyzing anxiety, but living with normal anxiety as a stimulant to a vital existence, as a source of energy, and as life-enhancing.
Here in New Zealand the spring winds and rain are relentless. I lie awake at night, listening to the wind shake anything that can move. I think of small winged creatures huddling outside. And I think of this poem:
on a hillside, in springtime,
in a temple hall,
even in my deepest dreams,
the blossoms continue to fall.
Ki No Tsurayuki, translated by Sam Hamill, in
The Poetry of Zen, by Hamill and Seaton
Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you are happy and content.
For a while now I have tried to move away from painting only invented landscapes to once-again painting from observation (either direct or in photos). I am finding it difficult – somehow it feels like being constrained by the source image. But I found a change in tack is very useful in getting a deeper grip on the flow and direction of the landscape.
This painting is about 60 x 50 cm and is based on the photo shown below – taken during my morning walk. As you can see the photo has a very different mood. But what attracted me was the repetitive shapes and the line running through the landscape.
Below are two more paintings I did in the same week as the one above. Initially I was somewhat encouraged by how well I handled the masses of green in the painting above, so I repeated it with an invented landscape based on a thumbnail sketch:
But as the week wore on and the stress of work took its toll, my painting world turned more gray:
In his discussion of Existentialism, Rollo May wrote:
…no matter how interesting or theoretically true is the fact that I am composed of such and such chemicals or act by such and such mechanisms or patterns, the crucial question always is that I happen to exist at this given moment in time and space, and my problem is how I am to be aware of that fact and what I shall do about it.
May continues to note that the threats to our life and security, though feared and avoided, are the very things that make us more alive:
Without this awareness of nonbeing— that is, awareness of the threats to one’s being in death, anxiety, and the less dramatic but persistent threats of loss of potentialities in conformism— existence is vapid, unreal, and characterized by lack of concrete self-awareness. But with the confronting of nonbeing, existence takes on vitality and immediacy, and the individual experiences a heightened consciousness of himself, his world, and others around him.
Away from my home in New Zealand for more than a week now, I long for my loved ones and the longing makes them dearer. Meditation provides a valuable anchor at night when the jet-lag shuffles my sleep.
In deep meditation at times one feels as if an abyss is being approached – the “palm at the end of mind” of which Wallace Stevens wrote:
Of Mere Being
The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,
A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.
You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.
The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird's fire-fangled feathers dangle down.
(this copy from Poetry Foundation)
I hope you are happy and content. Thanks for visiting my blog!
This is probably the largest painting I have made to date. At about 75 x 60 cm it is not huge by any means but it is at the outside of my comfort zone with oil painting. This image was based on a small invented landscape I did months ago. The photo – snapped with my iPhone in my studio – unfortunately does not do it much justice.
I am back in South Africa for some time, assisting with the memorial service for my father. Sifting through old boxes of keepsakes, deciding what to keep and what to give or throw away – it feels like I am moving though thick liquid.
Jet lag aside, the strange drifts of sadness and melancholy that sweeps my heart during the day makes me feel strangely alive and desperately tired at the same time. I recall reading about the painter Constable’s sadness after losing his wife. He wrote something like: “All is desolate and dark – still, the darkness is magnificent!”.
Perhaps these are the sort of things one should keep private; act like a ‘grown man’ in the spirit of Rilke’s poem:
But the grown man
shudders and is silent. The man who
has wandered pathless at night
in the mountain-range of his feelings:
But I keep imagining someone coming across a blog post like this one – much as one finds a message in a bottle on the beach, and finding a strange comfort in it. And the thought of someone being comforted by my experience, gives me comfort too.
Lying awake at 2 am, I think again of Pessoa and his wonderful prose. He wrote:
To shrug off all duties, even those not assigned to us, to repudiate all homes, even those that weren’t ours, to live off vestiges and the ill-defined, in grand purple robes of madness and in imitation laces of dreamed majesties … To be something, anything, that doesn’t feel the weight of the rain outside, nor the anguish of inner emptiness … To wander without thought or soul – sensation without sensation – along mountain roads and through valleys hidden between steep slopes, into the far distance, irrevocably immersed … To be lost in landscapes that are like paintings … A colourful non-being in the distance …
Before my flight to South Africa, I wrote a friend and gallery owner who had invited me to exhibit at his gallery. I told him about the death of my father and asked to postpone our planning for the exhibit.
Wisely, he said not to worry about the practicalities but to focus on getting closure. He also mentioned: “when you return you may find your painting style had changed”. I am thinking that might actually happen.
To get closer to the truth, closer to that strange melody of caution and hesitation that has never left since childhood – if I cannot get that to show in a painting, why bother? What a wonderful opportunity to delve into the heart and love the questions inside.
Thanks for visiting. I hope you are happy and content.