Tag Archives: painter

A seminar with Francis Bacon …

Well – he has never taught art to others officially, and has never been taught art by others in such a manner

And while not being entirely sure, if just because or despite of that  – Francis Bacon excels as an art (painting) tutor. I found him so lucidly articulated, so continuously and deeply inspiring in his views on the artistic practice that I just couldn’t help not to present his ‘tutorials’ in a customized, yet systematic way.

Bacon took with him his mystery of how to talk about highly complex and irrational matters in an analytical and engaging manner.  And this very ability of his redeems his work, which could otherwise be easily classified as a tormented expression of an idiot-savant. Being himself deeply anti-theoretical he offers an impressive theory of his own oeuvre. With a certain force of authority, though never deliberately,  he shows that an artist’s journey is (should be) a continuous interplay between both challenges: ‘making images’ and making sense of them…

All points below are taken from interviews Bacon gave to D. Sylvester and while taking part in a documentary devoted to his work. They are extracts of the artist’s more elaborated statements. To access the original talks get a book and watch the movie (links below).


You have to decide, that you are not going to be afraid of making a fool of yourself.

One needs to find his subject – otherwise one will be tempted to escape into a decoration. Most of the problems of the painting now result from the fact that painters don’t know what to paint – they are short of images.

The better the techniques of recording the reality become – the more inventive the painter needs to be in his ways to lock reality into something completely arbitrary. Going back to figuration in a more accepted sense is weak and meaningless.

The image – its power and integrity matters more than the beauty of paint.

Narration speaks louder than paint – avoid telling stories, unless you want to.

Aim at a highly disciplined work, even though the methods of pursuing it need to be ever- experimental and deeply instinctive. To make an image one has to control it.

Use secondary imaginary as a compost which will breed you images.

Painting (if successful) is a process of unlocking sensations and feelings on as many levels and as acutely as possible.

Painting is a ongoing interplay of luck/hazard, instinct and one’s critical sense.

Your technique needs to be as subjective and unique as your sensibility is.

‘Fresh’ image is the one which has a ‘foam of the unconscious’ still locked around it…

Make your forms memorable – otherwise they will exist only as ‘blobs’ on a wall…

A chance is more important than a conscious intellect because I made images that intellect would never make.

If you going to capture something REALLY REAL – it will be painful…

The most important thing for a painter is – to paint – nothing more…


D. Sylvester, ‘Interviews with Francis Bacon: The Brutality of fact’, Thames and Hudson

Francis Bacon Documentary’

Here: preview of a new exhibition of Bacon in Dublin: ‘Terrible Beauty’

Raffi Lavie: ‘In the Name of the Father’




Raffi Lavie (1937-2007) Late Israeli artist representing Israel at the 53rd International Biennale in Venice.

A painter, educator, art critic, music connoisseur, and curator. The most central, charismatic figure in the art scene in Israel for the past four decades until his death in 2007.

Influenced by Paul Klee, Jean Dubuffet, and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as by local artists such as Aviva Uri and Arie Aroch, he introduced the avant-garde of his time to Israel by adapting its components into a local discourse. Lavie was the founder of the “10+” group which started its activities in 1965 in a series of theme exhibitions that brought home current international trends.

He was also the key figure in the style that formed around him in the 1970s, which would become known as the “Want of Matter” due to its adherence to inexpensive, ascetic materials such as plywood, and the use of collage; a style associated with the city of Tel Aviv, conveying urban, secular, local values untainted by the narratives of any given ideology.

In some respects, Lavie succeeded in distilling an Israeli aesthetic; by giving it form, he reaffirmed the ethos of the place. His genius stems from the fact that his art reflects our values, ideals, and aspirations that have gone awry. An exhibition of Raffi Lavie’s work at the present Biennale attests to the yearnings invoked by his art, forcing us to question what is it that we wish to remember, and why this therapeutic memory has the taste of urgency.

Observing Lavie’s works, two qualities stand out: the child-like painting, and the obsessive erasure of images via scribbling, carving, and generous color strokes. These practices are connected to his perception of the periphery’s double role as an actual place and as a spiritual dimension. The acts of erasing and starting anew are closely related to Lavie’s cultural heritage as an Israeli and a Jew. Working from within a scopophobic tradition, far-removed from any center, he created an idiosyncratic language, specific to the place, its needs, and desires. (Biennale Information Note on the painter)


Despite of bearing similarities and invoking comparisons to other artists and trends in the contemporary art (mostly to Cy Twomby, abstract expressionist art or Outsiders Art) Lavie’s works stand out as singularities – created outside the mainstream of art-world, by an alpha – individual, they got that sort of an authority and idiosyncrasy about them, which makes them both commanding and closed to any simplified, superficial reading.

When I entered the Israeli Pavilion in Giardini I saw these works as a manifest of pure, raw creativity without any superfluous conceptual or political scaffolding around them. Their  predominant whites and reds brought to mind the troubled history of the land they were created in, the simplicity of the technique and modest materials (plywood) had the power of some explosives, instead of undermining the message. Some of the paintings were arranged on a wall as a sort of an assemblage in paint telling a story perhaps, or just supporting each other in the common struggle for the survival in viewers’ eyes and minds.

All that felt fresh and inspiring after some hours spent in the national pavilions of the 53rd Biennale. I saw Raffie Lavie as one of those really good artists, which are rare to be found nowadays, partly because they don’t necessary seek any wider recognition. I read his paintings as a personal statement, personal one-man exhibition and as a comment on his and his land human condition. A that was a sort of a relief to experience in Venice, among the sea of (just) entertaining, ‘smart’, in parts dull and often painfully self-conscious art about art…

Contemporary Art (7) – Marlene Dumas

“My best works are erotic displays of mental confusions (with intrusions of irrelevant information).”

Marlene-Dumas-Jule-die Vrou




Marlene Dumas (b. 1953, Cape Town) – one of the most important, influential figurative painters working today.

With Dumas one may easy get into a trap of ‘an infatuated viewer’. Trap she has crafted herself – deliberately or not- it is working well, and blinding all those moths that had dared to approach these paintings too close, well beyond the line of their personal zones…

They are there to seduce, to spit at taboo, to provoke, to lit the flames of all sorts of powerful emotions… Embodied femmes fatales, dark and alluring, doomed and the born survivors…

To form any theoretical apparatus for Dumas’ work is a waste of time. Yet, it doesn’t mean the paintings are irrational. Quite opposite is true – to experience them means to approach them with some sort of a keen intelligence, yet it’s a special kind of intelligence; even not the emotional one – more sensual, passionate one… And some deeply fleshly logic has to be put to hard work… Painted with brooding, intense sensations they reveal themselves under the touch of a viewer’s neurological stir…

As paintings-artworks they are deliciously painterly and ardent in execution. Paint is being laid (poured) loosely and in a number of visceral, beautifully transparent layers; highly expressive marks co-exist with a smooth, detailed finish in one part or another. The overall impression is that of a juicy, bitter-sweet forbidden fruit – to be taken of left behind….


Rothko – The Late Series

Tate Modern in London hosts (from 26 September 2008 to 1 February 2009) an exquisite exhibition of the late work of Mark Rothko – Rothko – The Late Series. It focuses on his series beginning from 1950s famous ‘Seagram Murals’, then his formidable ‘Blacks’, ‘Brown and Greys’ and ‘Black and Greys’ – the last paintings he produced before his death at the beginning of 1970.

All the works presented are the artist’s most mature, most representative works (with an exception of the original paintings for the ‘Rothko’s Chapel’, which couldn’t be borrowed). They paint a picture of a formidable artist – a mystical, philosophical figure, as tragic as courageous he seemed to be in his spiritual and purely artistic endeavours. Right at the start we have to face the famous ‘Seagram Murals’, which are in a lucky possession of the Tate Gallery, but now have been reunited for the first time with the other works from the series from Japan and America. The Murals have a fairy-tale of their own… originally commissioned to a luxury “Four Seasons” restaurant in the Seagram Building, New York, they have been meant by the artist to be a sort of ‘artistic explosives’ – planted there to disturb. Rothko was quoted saying, that all he wanted was to make the rich customers of that posh environment to feel very uncomfortable at their lavishly set tables. Hence, instead of six required he painted over thirty huge abstract, windows-like oils – then he spent some time making careful plans, which ones and in which arrangement will make their trick of making those nasty ‘sons of b….’ feel trapped and choking in their presence. Then, from various reasons known (and unknown) he abandoned the commission; eight canvases from the series has been donated to Tate Gallery by the painter himself – they compose so-called “Rothko Room” which is available for viewing at a permanent basis.

Do then, those ‘explosives’ do their trick in a new setting, facing very different ‘target’? I would say – yes – they are still capable of sending stupefied visitors straight to the ‘audio-guides’ desk, where they probably hope to find any ‘explanation’ of what they are about to see and experience. Others, braver or more initiated (or just unaware) occupy benches at the middle of the huge room and roll their wide-opened eyes from wall to wall, in a silence, for long minutes – just as you would expect them to behave in a cathedral or in Himalayas -staring at unattainable ice peaks. Those vast, dark, obscure ‘windows’, glowing strangely with their inner, amazing maroon – red – black light come very close to a classical Longinus’s , E. Burke’s and I. Kant’s definition of ‘the Sublime’ – as the powerful to a fright and pleasing in a challenging, intense way sensation, which keeps sensible, strong-minded, ‘modern’ individuals staggered and in a deep confusion. They are not designed to show you the world ‘out’ as the ordinary windows are, instead of that- they look intently back at you. They are not to be ‘touched’ with an easy-pleasure-seeking eye – they require a ‘bird-eye’ view, and a bangee jump. And without a doubt – you have to be far away to ‘get in’ – this is one of the paradoxes of the sublime…

The same, if not more is true with the “Black” series – these middle-sized (as for Rothko) oils present the view of your own closed eyes, which would remain completely and uniformly black as long as you are closed for your inner worlds. “Space” would the key word here – spiritual space, which is supposed to command the actual, physical space it occupies through an artwork.

Perhaps it’s in this series that one can appreciate the artist’s technique at its best – having UV light in our eye we would be able to see why, at the first sight – ‘just black’ surfaces seem to be animated and reflecting rather, than devouring light. Scarcely visible shifts of tones and brushwork, intelligent playing with opaque/glossy and thinner/thicker, feathery building up layers upon layers and the perfect control over the media used – the same applicable for each painting on the exhibition – that makes Rothko’s work almost absolutely reproduction and imitation-proof and even more impressive.

His ‘Black-Grey’ series should be noted from these two reasons alone – they’ve been painted shortly before the painter took his life, and they seem to be a first step in a new direction (which, sadly, was never to be continued); the brush strokes here are much more visible, impatient and expressive; striking device of a frame-like white strip traps the visions attempted poignantly within the pictorial space.

What else?… Many words have been thrown at Rothko’s work, both ignorant, criticizing and acclaiming – yet, what I think should be stressed always, is the highly personal character of a reception – no one can think that he ‘knows’ what ‘Rothko is all about’ unless making his very own way to and deep into this remarkable artist’s work. It’s more like a participation in a self-provoked and mastered performance – it just has to take place to make sense, and perhaps – only sense for your only, unique case.

Click on a link to see the details of the exhibition.

Tony O’Malley and his ‘green universe’

aTony O’Malley (1913-2003) – Irish painter. Self-taught. Bank clerk for 24 years he starts to paint being in his 40s, he retires from his original profession due to poor health. In 1960 he leaves “suffocating” (in his own words) Ireland for Cornwall, St.Ives and remains an artist ‘in exile’ for the next 30 years. Being in his 60s he marries a picturesque lady – a Canadian artist, and starts to enjoy the first, though still shy signs of the deserved recognition. He develops a habit of revisiting Ireland (especially his father’s birthplace – Clare Island, off the shore of Co. Mayo) and exotic Bahamas (with the wife – Jane Harris). He returns to Ireland in 1990 to become a quiet resident of a cottage in a place he would call the ‘place of the fairies’ – Physicianstown, near his birthplace in Callan, Co. Kilkenny. By this time dealers and art critics would queue to hear his story becoming more or less aware that in this private, modest ‘newcomer’, stmill quite unknown, one could recognize an artist of, at least, all-national importance. Prestigious awards and shows follow one after another, so within the last years of his long life Tony O’ Malley enjoys the reputation of the most beloved, fauvorite painter of Irish people. And it seems to be as well-established, if not stronger now, a bit over five years after his death.

This story of an artistic Cinderella and a Prodigal Son at the same time captures one’s attention apart from his art, but-on the other hand – having just a glimpse of O’Malley’s work one is anxious to know, who stands behind it. There is something about a natural symbiosis between this artist’s existence, various periods of his life and his work. We all know painters whose work doesn’t necessary reflect their private, ‘civil’ life; vbut Tony O’Malley allows his work to be, in a sense, an autobiographical, visual diary. So, one can sense his difficult beginnings in his early ‘darker’ period when he had to fight for a right to be the way, he chose to be. Committed to a dull occupation, after life-threatening operations and with no shadow of understanding of his artistic ambitions on the Irish province of the 50s. Then comes a period of an identity struggle when, being accepted by the community of some talented English painters (Patrick Heron, Peter Lanyon) he’s got a transitional stage of finding his true voice. The marriage in 1973 seemed to commence a ‘golden period’, again – to the same level in his life and in his work. He virtually explodes with creativity, vitality and shine and so do the dozens of gorgeous paintings of the last decades of his life. He calls them ‘paradises’, ‘dreams’, ‘songs’, they adopt startling exotic palette (this due to the Bahamas visits) and dancing, wonderfully fluid and free compositions made out of imaginative and abstracted elements.

He is the painter of flowers, fields and birds – ‘epitomes of nature”, an owl – ‘the guardian spirit’ is his favourite one. The painter of his own intimate, extremely deep – almost mystical relationship with the Earth and its energies.

Yet, at the same time he does walk the ground with the wide-opened eyes and a clear, wise, thoroughly modern mind; he would draw hundreds of quick sketches from life each day, even each hour (according to eye-witnesses) capturing light, shape, movement. His talent as a colourist is especially admirable, no matter how low-key, chromatically speaking, scheme he applies, how textured his boards and canvases, oils, acrylics are – the colour glows invariably as from the depths of its pigment and not merely from the surface.

The composition is as flawless as compelling, and – difficult to believe – it has never been planned in an advance, the painter himself said once that he would feel like “in a cage” having been ‘prepared’ his work beforehand in any way. He used to be, as one of his critics noted, “this kind of a hiker who never takes a map” – an innately intuitive, spontaneous creator, responding to an impulse like a child responds to hers instincts to play, laugh, cry…

And, when writing all this I keep smiling having one photo on my mind – Tony O’Malley in his 60s and his beautiful wife, wearing sand-coloured sun hats, tanned, sitting on grass and grinning to a camera – he looks like a young man and holds a bottle of wine in his hand, her platinum blond hair flows down delightfully, they are immersed in their ‘green universe’ – their love and Tony’s limitless imaginative world – the one able to enrich and impress beyond the span of our lives. They look so natural yet so out-of-this-world and so does O’Malley’s art – just by keeping us smiling it enters a new, spiritual dimension – that of guardian spirits and places of the fairies … In one of those magical lands this painter soul smiles back at us…


Tony O’Malley
Bone Birds at Green Lake, Birdlake III – Old Residents, Paradise Island, Bahamas, 1986-7, oil on canvas


Tony O’Malley; In Memory of Peter Lanyon , 1964, oil on board


Tony O’Malley; The Bird Lake, Paradise Island, Bahamas, 1986, acrylic on canvas

Those reproductions are of a rather average quality (and there is a great shortage of the images on the net), to really appreciate O’Malley’s work try to find a proper book, catalogue. Enjoy.

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