Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rain over the Arno

A view across the Arno. It was November in Florence, and the rain caught me in mid-brushstroke. But the raindrops left interesting marks, and I ended up with a painting that perfectly summed up that wet and drear day.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A caprice to eat off

The capriccio is an almost extinct genre of art. The trends of the late 19th century were inimitable to it, and it was not such a robust growth that it could survive either Adolf Loo's pronouncement that "all ornament is crime" or Monet's urge for unvarnished truth. For a capriccio is by definition both ornamental and false.

Nor did it get a chance to revive during the 20th century, for a capriccio is also whimsical, and whimsy is the enemy of modernism. Since the '90s, of course, you could paint what you wanted, and there are talented folk out there reviving the art of imaginary landscapes.

Certainly in the realm of game and movie design this is big business, but somehow doing it by committee for a team-built end product doesn't feel very whimsical.
And there's no doubt that some amazing images have been created, so I shouldn't complain. Being unable to live up to Pirenesi is not really a criticism.

As for myself, my contribution is more modest. It's a paper plate. I did try something bigger a little while ago.

I did it during a conference lecture. The lecture was not boring; it was inspiring.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Two views of a bridge in Venice

A page from the small brown sketchbook I kept on my first visit to Venice.

It's the Ponte degli Scalzi, the first bridge over the Grand Canal encountered by visitors (such as myself) who arriving by train. The top sketch was done with a dip pen and india ink, the bottom with water soluble graphite and a white crayon.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


A drawing done with various markers and china markers in a bit less than twenty minutes.

A china marker, by the way, is a kind of crayon designed for various professional uses. They leave marks on anything, including glass or metal. You can wash the marks off smooth surfaces with enough soup, but china marker on paper is completely indelible.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Drawn in the cafe of the Kelly Library at the University of Toronto.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Dark Angel

Illustrating poetry is often a bad idea. Especially if you try to do it literally. The things that make an effective poem - language, and the effect language has on our brains - are quite different from the effect of images via our eyes.

It's a complex business, so perhaps here I should only say that while pictures come to us via the straightforward processes of vision, for poems we need interpretation. We talk about someone's "poetic vision," or even "musical vision," but to combine these words is to speak metaphorically.

Nonetheless, there have been many successful pictures based on poems. But most of these don't really illustrate the poem. What they show us is an episode from the story that the poem told us. Ingres' Jupiter and Thetis, for example, succeeds wonderfully in depicting an event from the Illiad, but has very little to do with the poetry of Homer. The same might be said of thousands (for Homer alone!) of other paintings.

The things words do are not the things pictures do. But the impulse to combine the two is hard to shake off. Artists read poems, and poets look at pictures. A response is only natural. A rare successful example is the work Odilon Redon produced in response to Edgar Allen Poe's poetry. Another (perhaps) is Georges Barbier's work on Les Chansons de Bilitis.

Obviously, I'm leading up to a picture of my own. It's an illustration - or at least a response - to Lionel Johnson's The Dark Angel. It's a poem about the pain of repressed desire and, in its use of language, the elaborate machinations people undertake to reinforce and justify their own sexual repression. In many ways it's a very silly poem, but so is this picture.

The red brand, by the way, is a medieval Spanish version of the IHS Christogram.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

During the lecture

A sketch done to occupy my hand during an excellent lecture arranged by the Pontifical Institute in Toronto.

Monday, April 9, 2012

a model

A quick painting done from life with gouache, watercolour and china marker.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Another quick sketch done at the Perkins Library cafe on the campus of Duke University.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

standing self-portrait

It's me, in an uncharacteristically subdued outfit. But I was younger then, and dressed in black and drank vermouth. I had long hair too; you can see the chopstick I used to hold it up.
I also hadn't figured out what to do with the drawing hand in a self-portrait.

It was done with watercolours over china marker on a big sheet of laid paper.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

2 views of MJ

MJ is one talented artist. But occasionally she takes 60 seconds to strike a pose or two. These were drawn rapidly with a china marker.