Monday, 31 May 2010

In the Country of Lost Things

Gustav Klimt's Schubert at the Piano. One of the most amazing, most angelic paintings, though it no longer exists. It was burned by the retreating SS at Immendorf Palace in 1945. This is the best of the surviving photographs that I've seen. But one can still only guess what that hazy room, those softly lit faces, those sparkling clothes might have looked like in reality...I can't help but think that Klimt was (perhaps unknowingly, unwittingly) playing with the notion of time, here. It's almost as if this is a moment still-in-the-process of being captured, absorbing into and out of existence. Like images being developed in a camera (camera, literally meaning 'room'): only this is a snapshot as sensitive and as sensuous as Proust.

Just look at the fabric of those dresses, momentous as galaxies.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


In many of the pictures taken of me as a child, I seem to be fading into the distance, either in driveways or on beaches. Faceless, I look as though I have turned to the camera to bid everyone farewell one last time, at the last possible moment.

My father once asked me if I knew where yonder was. I said I thought yonder was another word for there. He smiled and said, “No, yonder is between here and there.” This little story has stayed with me for years as an example of linguistic magic: It identified a new space--a middle region that was neither here nor there--a place that simply didn’t exist for me until it was given a name...The fact that here and there slide and slip depending on where I am is somehow poignant...--Siri Hustvedt

Reel Around the Fountain

David Hockney's non-collage photography should be better known.

Somewhere in the Oxford Public Library, there's a copy of a book called David Hockney: Photographs from circa 1982. It's unique in that it emphasises his earlier, underappreciated photographs rather than the famous collages he was beginning to explore at the time. Many of the pictures here are simply studies for paintings (portraits like Mr and Mrs Clarke and Percy, or just the surfaces of swimming pools). But there's a cool sumptuous beauty in many of the pictures, a sober 1970s moodiness that I'm drawn to.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Lady Solitude

This seriously leaves a lovely resonance in the chambers of my heart...


All forms and colours were dissolved in a pearl-grey haze; there were no contrasts, no shading anymore, only flowing transitions with the light throbbing through them, a single blur from which only the most fleeting of visions emerged, and strangely--I remember this well--it was the very evanescence of eternity.--W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz

Great Expectations

The other night, I attempted to watch The Beales of Grey Gardens, which I had never seen, but which I had always been intrigued by from afar. Only five mintues into the film, I arrived at the point that the daughter is explaining how the garden--now darkly overgrown--used to be one of the most famous gardens in America.

She ends with the thought: 'It's very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present. You know what I mean? It's awfully difficult.'

And the DVD stopped and refused to play, even when I tried cleaning the disc and putting it in again. It was a library copy, and badly worn out, but I found it significant that, somehow, fate had chosen this very place to make the disc unplayable. Something thematically, or even musically, right. The music of chance, maybe...Only I don't know when I'll attempt to see this film again. In a way, this strange experience has claimed the film for itself.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Hyperdulia and Grandpa

Two pages from a letter my grandfather sent me, and a picture of him and me from September 1979, back in the old brown and orange paisley days (the date, as you can see, has seeped through the back of the photograph).

A few months prior to his death, my grandfather sent this letter to me in England. It continues a conversation we had been having the previous Christmas (2008), while I was visiting California. The topic was film adaptations of novels...

Recently, I went to visit my grandmother and found myself nosing around in the man's old library. I knew he adored Graham Greene, but I never realised he had two very rare first editions (The Name of Action and Rumour at Nightfall, both sans dustjackets). Perhaps he didn't realise their monetary value, or care...When I took down the first volume of Norman Sherry's vast biography of Greene to read up on them, I found my grandfather had carefully inscribed the word 'hyperdulia' onto the black flap.

And here is Greene in his memoir,
A Sort of Life, explaining how and why his interest in Catholicism began:

I met the girl I was to marry after finding a note from her at the porter's lodge in Balliol protesting against my inaccuracy in writing, during the course of a film review, of the "worship" Roman Catholics gave to the Virgin Mary, when I should have used the term "hyperdulia." I was interested that anyone took these subtle distinctions of an unbelievable theology seriously, and we became acquainted.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

For All of You Who've Loved

A long time ago, but not so long ago, Ed Harcourt helped me to fall in love for the first time in my life.

And perhaps I haven't listened to him for a while because of this...But, recently, he's been haunting me again.

He has a new album coming out. It's called Lustre.

(I'm shivering)

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Late Night Conversations

'I used to have eight biscuits at about ten o'clock at night...'

'Now I have four biscuits...and three pieces of cake.'

I miss late night conversations like this.


'An English critic once called my early work ‘overworked and porridgy’ but that overuse of paint was, I suppose, just a na├»ve way of expressing a desire for something. I was trying to bring my subjects to life in a painterly way, to coax them off the canvas. To love them. God, I was always pining, like this, when I was younger. Even in art, I was a piner.

Why did I stop?

When did I see what I was doing?

My work has always been about desire in some sense. Male desire. Female desire. The tensions betweens.

Desire with Two Lampshades. That early portrait of a couple sitting together was the last thing I painted in what you could might call my Early Style. It took me about year to paint and even longer to get over. I had thought of it as my crowning achievement at the time, but it ended up looming so large that I couldn’t think of what to do next. It had locked me up. I was so proud of the way I managed to texture the man’s corduroy suit and also that outfit the younger woman’s wearing, the gradual layering process of both.

The man in the portrait is clearly based on Dietrich, though I guess I took his beard off to disguise him. Still, he’s not divulging anything. He sits beside the girl, his legs spread lazily. It’s a surly pose. That expression on his face was unintentional, and yet it had the shock of the familiar: I knew that look. The viewer is being, not just watched, but controlled. It’s uncomfortable, and I liked that. He’s demanding, I think, that we give ourselves over to him—I liked that too. Cool. Unemotional. Distant. The girl, as you can see, is completely ignored. Her legs are pulled up close to her, almost kneeling towards the man, yet she keeps her torso turned to us. She’s posing too. That sofa looks far too big for her, and she’s trying not to care. She has an arm resting across her waist, reigning herself in. For a long time, up to a week before my degree show, I thought that this would be all that was needed. I had by then accomplished the almost merciless uniformity I was looking for: those two leafy ferns, the two bright lampshades to the left and right of the couch, and that little coffee table placed centre-stage with its stack of magazines and its bowl of granny smiths—it was all so harmoniously mis-en-scene.

It turned me on, in fact; the symmetry, I found, had an erotic significance, a twinge. It was only at the very last minute that I came into the studio one morning and wondered if I shouldn’t also have the girl reaching out to touch the lamp stand beside her. I felt almost mischievous making her do it. I was testing out an impulse, I guess, and so was she. Both of us were adding our element of suspense. I mean, will she or won’t she knock it over? It may look like nothing, at first, but you see how, for this girl, it’s a powerful gesture. She tilts her lamp forward, upsetting the balance. If you look close enough, you see her lamp casts a shadow slightly larger than the man’s, though she doesn’t dare look at what she’s doing. No, I finished it quick, quick, quick, like an afterthought; then I left her, her pinched fingers just toying with that thin stand. I felt I’d done something dangerous, you see, and so I ran away from it. I turned away from her.'--Fragments of an unfinished story about a painter. (Pictures are of Lee Miller's gorgeous neck and Pat Kavanagh with her client, Kingsley Amis).