In the most recent leg of my painting journey I started to follow a method in which I first do a pastel study of the subject I have in mind. Once I have the concept nailed down in the most abstract manner possible, I decide if it warrants a larger version in oil.
Oftentimes the pastel version is so abstract that it is not fit for public consumption. But sometimes it is a real honey (and even more so in a frame, even an inexpensive photo frame):
In the case above, this was based on some memory notes and photos of the Waikato River’s edge – one of my favorite spots just a few minutes walk from my home.
Now, when doing the oil painting I put away the photo entirely and just use the pastel as a reference. I try to keep the paint as thin and dry as possible at the start, with the brush moving all the time. At the end I put in a few juicy highlights:
I have been pondering this strange universe even more than usual. I often watch debates about the existence of a higher being. In meditation all those questions disappear into the most beautiful silence, something indescribable in its sacredness and generosity. Right here now.
Belief in a higher being or not, I will always – in my moments of solitude – sing praise to dappled things:
The image above is another oil version of the dappled shade in the shallows on the banks of the Waikato River. I sing praise in my own way, in agreement with Gerhard Manley Hopkins:
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Gerard Manley Hopkins, this version copied from Poets.org
Thanks to all who have encouraged me with likes and comments. A special thanks to those who follow my blog . I wish all of you happiness and contentment.
If you are interested to see more of my work, follow me on instagram (@fritzjoosteartist), or to view or buy my work, please visit my gallery on Daily Paintworks.
I have been busy in the studio of late. With the assistance of my beautiful wife I recently migrated from my old drafty and leaky studio to one in my old office. Complete with air conditioning and without leaks! With better lighting and more warmth I now manage to paint into the night…
Another big step I took was to start putting my paintings up for sale online through the Daily Paintworks site. The paintings shown in this blog post all sold recently and it was with happy sadness that I sent them off. They are selling dirt cheap but I am so glad that others can share the joy I get from creating these paintings.
Juggling life between work and painting, stress and friction builds up quite quickly without a discipline of a tempered pace and self-awareness. There is also the potential to lose the golden thread of creativity and spirituality completely. The Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki warned against this:
When we are too involved in the idea of time, or taking care of the material world, we will lose our way. A disciple will not be a disciple when he is completely involved in dualistic practice, involved in a busy life in the busy, mundane world.
I find when things hum along, waking up to the fact of my existence as often as I can provides a source of energy, joy even. These are the moments of awareness that constitute a full, appreciated life not spent in forgetfulness.
From an old post of mine: “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 …
Summer has come to New Zealand! I hope you enjoy this excerpt from a poem by Shinkichi Takahashi:
The Position of the Sparrow (last verse)
Because the whole is part, there's not a whole,
Anywhere, that is not part.
And all those happenings a billion years ago,
Are happening now, all around us: time.
Indeed this morning the sparrow hopped about
In that nebulous whirlpool
A million light years hence.
And since the morning is void,
Anything can be. Since mornings
A billion years from now are nothingness,
We can behold them.
The sparrow stirs,
The universe moves slightly.
Shinkichi Takahashi, translated by Lucien Stryk in
Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breezes Enter
Thanks to all who have encouraged me with likes and comments. A special thanks to those who follow my blog . I wish you happiness and contentment.
If you are interested to see more of my work, follow me on instagram (@fritzjoosteartist), or to view or buy my work, please visit my gallery on Daily Paintworks.
It feels as if for the longest time I have been wrestling with the challenge of painting honest landscapes. Time and time again I fall into the clutches of the picturesque, the “pretty landscape”. The past week I have been back at work on this analysis.
The challenge I set myself was to dissolve the landscape I had in mind – a view of the mountains near my home with a semi-invented foreground composition – into something more abstract. My first effort came out like this:
I was pleased with the outcome, especially the warm, rich and juicy foreground. But that horizon line immediately cast the image as a traditional landscape. I set to the problem with pastels, this time using only blocks of color with little or no lines:
I liked this one a little more. But I am quite comfortable with pastel, so this felt like cheating.
I went back to oils, this time taking away the option of lines by using only the palette knife:
I felt I was getting somewhere, but was weary of the palette knife – it very easily becomes a gimmick or mannerism that an artist cannot escape from, like an actor associated with a certain role.
Finally, as the weekend approached, I resolved the idea with an image that I really love:
There is little left of the original concept, except color, rhythm, harmonies. Who knows how I will feel about this image in a week’s time? I know I felt good, relaxed and happy while doing it and after doing it. It is a good sign, but I know that art is an ever moving target, a mystery that deepens infinitely.
I have been reading The Philosophy of Samuel Beckett, by John Calder. Initially a somewhat dry read for my engineering brain, I started paying better attention in the chapter “The failure of art”. Calder quotes Beckett:
…to be an artist is to fail, as no other dare fail, that failure is his world and the shrink from it desertion, art and craft, good housekeeping, living.
By Beckett’s measure I guess I can say the past week I failed several times, and currently with attempt IV I am under the illusion of having succeeded. Slowly the truth about this journey dawns:
Slowly the Truth Dawns
To wake, and know
your heart sinks
dark and heavy,
hardening into stone...
Slowly the sea lifts its waves,
slowly the trees turn red in the gorge,
slowly the fires begin to lap in hell,
slowly the truth dawns...
Olav H. Hague, translated by Robert Hedin, inThe Dream We Carry
Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you are happy and content!
I have been dreaming of mountains, moonlight and clouds. During the recent full moon I stepped outside at 2am. Stars abound in the New Zealand sky, clouds scurrying along the Hakarimata mountains across the river. What a universe!
Lady Izumi Shikibu lived at the border between the 10th and 11th centuries. She must have dreamed of mountains and moonlight as well. She wrote:
I go out of the darkness
Onto a road of darkness
Lit only by the far off
Moon on the edge of the mountains
Izumi (translation by Kenneth Rexroth, inOne Hundred Poems from the Japanese
Through busy days and dreamy nights, I keep pondering meanings and purposes – those of life, business…and painting. At times it feels as if a huge purpose holds me safely in its sway. Other times I drift as a leaf in a late afternoon storm. I try to live upright through both these views of life.
Godless mysticism cannot escape the finality of tragedy, or make beauty eternal. It does not dissolve inner conflict into the false quietude of any oceanic calm. All it offers is mere being. There is no redemption from being human.
Thanks for visiting my blog! I hope you are happy and content.
Coming back to my blog after yet another long absence, the memory of one of Wendell Berry’s poems – A meeting in a Part – pop’s into my mind. In the poem, the narrator tells of a dream: he runs into an old friend, one who has passed already to the other side of life.
The poem concludes with:
Yet I, the changed one,
ask: "How you been?"
He grins and looks at me.
"I been eating peaches
off some mighty fine trees."
The past few weeks I have been in-and-out of a cycle of painting and reading. I am healthy, my family are healthy, my sons proud and showing signs of temperance and self-discipline – the sort that the Bhagavad Gita says leads to the ensuing of “a discipline (yoga) that ‘destroys all sorrow'”.
Life is joyfully sweet with swirls of anxiety and melancholy that blows at times through my days. I keep being amazed by the urge to create, and the fragile line between using my painting to achieve a state of “being nobody, going nowhere”, and working with a strategic, commercial fragrance in my mind – however faint – while I work.
Recently I enjoyed Richard Holloway’s autobiography Leaving Alexandria. For most readers the final chapters dealing with the onset of disillusionment with the church – and perhaps even his faith – are probably the most gripping. But what lingered on in my mind was the impact of his childhood wandering in the hills above the Vale of Leven, north of Glasgow.
Holloway’s reflections on these childhood wandering are especially poignant for a landscape painter:
How can you make yourself one with a landscape? You can tramp over it, become so familiar with its contours that you never need a map, but you can never possess it. It is always eluding your desire, just out of reach, beyond your possessing. I did not know the word at the time, or the idea behind it, but on the hills I was experiencing latency, the sense of something hidden behind what is seen.
I find in my own landscape paintings, when the right chord is struck, I am immediately immersed in a melancholy memory of schoolboy afternoons spent alone in the woods near my home. In a way, each of my landscapes contain something of my childhood.
In the excellent writer’s book Bird by Bird, Annie Lamott advises aspiring writers:
Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life.
I guess in my case the same applies to painting and the source of the visual imagery that lies behind many of my invented landscapes.
The monk Nõin lived in the eleventh century. It is important that he lived. He wrote poems. He wrote:
As I approach
The mountain village
Through the spring twilight
I hear the sunset bell
Ring through drifting petals.
(translation by Kenneth Rexroth, in
One Hundred Poems from the Japanese
Thanks to all who have supported my blog through follows, comments and likes. Without your motivation there would be nothing, I suspect. I hope you are happy and content.
I have been thinking lately about what Rilke meant when he said: “Life is right, in any case”. He was advising the young poet “Mr Kappus” in one of his letters. We do not see the preceding letter from Kappus to Rilke, but we surmise that Kappus must have related some life difficulties to Rilke.
Rilke prepares Kappus for his response by first pointing out that details are not relevant, details come and go:
There is perhaps no use my going into your particular points now; for what I could say about your tendency to doubt or about your inability to bring outer and inner life into unison, or about all the other things that worry you—: it is always what I have already said: …
Then he delivers his advice. And it is fascinating to me that Rilke – a seemingly fragile person with an exquisitely sensitive disposition – points to what seems to me a very stoic attitude:
…it is always what I have already said: always the wish that you may find patience enough in yourself to endure, and simplicity enough to believe; that you may acquire more and more confidence in that which is difficult, and in your solitude among others. And for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is right, in any case.
Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet (pp. 41-42). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
That phrase “the patience to endure”, and the urging toward “more and more confidence in that which is difficult” has helped me so much in life. It tends to immediately flip around whatever problem or difficulty I am facing. Then the other side can be seen. And it inevitably contains gold. Hence: fruitful darkness.
Rilke clearly had a stoic disposition despite his sensitivity to things. I think it was Robert Bly who wrote in one of his books: “without cunning and discipline, Rilke would have been wiped out”.
I believe a melancholy, sensitive disposition either wipes you out or it commands you to build a disposition able to work with demons, inner and outer. I recall now reading in Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” (required reading for any adult) how sensitive inmates seemed to better survive concentration camps than more robust types.
Frankl wrote about his Auschwitz experience:
Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom. Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of a less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a robust nature”
Viktor E. Frankl; Man’s Search for Meaning (4th Ed). Beacon Press. Boston.
Wang Wei was another sensitive person who could not be brought down easily – even by the idea that life has no meaning:
The Stone Ledge
On the stone ledge above the water,
Where willow leaf-tips drink the wine.
If you say the spring breeze has no meaning,
Why does it bring me all these falling flowers?
Wang Wei, translated by Kline, A. S., in
Like Water or Clouds: The T'ang Dynasty and the Tao
So…these things have been on my mind, in my morning walks and as I paint away in my studio. I am still working on that phrase: “Life is right, in any case“…
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you are happy and content.
Winter has come to New Zealand, and with it grey skies, moody days and biting cold on my morning walks. I have fallen into a steady meditation schedule, early morning in my studio, my light the glow of the gas heater. Sacred minutes. My cup runneth over.
The urge to paint is back – after almost half a year. My paintings make me happy. In the half light of the days I peer into the emptiness at which they point.
I have been vacillating about my blog forever. Not routine procrastination, just doubt about the need for this world to have one more blog post released onto it. Most of all I am stalled by the lack of a strong opinion about one side or another, having seen all sides have a backside, and the artificiality of the personality and its opinions.
Gearing up to write a blog post became for me almost an act of in-authenticity. In the words of T.S. Eliot, the action of one who prepares “a face to meet the faces that you meet”.
Not to imply anything, but my doubt about speaking or staying silent reminds me of the near silence of T.S. Eliot at the outset of his career as a poet and critic. Perhaps he too was stalled by the notion that any venturing out in the gesture of opinion was a move away from authenticity.
In the brilliant book, The Invisible Poet, T.S Eliot, author Hugh Kenner wrote that the study of the philosophy of F.H Bradley helped Eliot by freeing him:
“…from the posture of the ironist with his back to a wall, by affirming the artificiality of all personality including the one we intimately suppose to be our true one; not only the faces we prepare but the “we” that prepares; …A view of the past, a view of himself and other persons, a view of the nature of what we call statement and communication; these delivered Eliot from what might have been, after a brilliant beginning, a cul-de-sac and silence.”
On my walks I think about authenticity and its ghostly fragility. I am not surprised that the concept provided enough material for Lionel Trilling to write a fascinating book about Sincerity and Authenticity. In my reading, Trilling regards authenticity as a more mature cousin to Sincerity, which is dismissed as a social construct:
In short, we play the role of being ourselves, we sincerely act the part of the sincere person, with the result that a judgement may be passed upon our sincerity that it is not authentic. (Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity)
Authenticity takes us in a different direction:
A very considerable originative power had once been claimed for sincerity, but nothing to match the marvellous generative force that our modern judgement assigns to authenticity, which implies the downward movement through all the cultural superstructures to some place where all movement ends, and begins.
This is part of the same discussion in which Trilling quotes (again) Eliot:
‘The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality’.
Should we speak or remain in the authenticity of silence? As always, Rilke has the last word on this. In his poem, “We must die because we have known them”, he ends with:
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)
Thanks for visiting my blog! Special thanks to all followers and supporters who have recently encouraged me with kind and thoughtful comments.
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.