Manet was a genius, and this is a lemon

Edmund de Waal’s Letters to Camondo is (no surprise) engaging, moving and profoundly confronting. I will not try to summarise it or give you the highlights. It is short. Read it.

For my purpose today, however, I refer to de Waal’s praise of Édouard Manet’s The Lemon. Manet did a lot with a little here. It is very (no surprise) hard to make a painting of a lemon exciting. Manet managed it. Inspired, I painted this little friend from our tree out front.

Apparently if you have to buy lemons you either do not have a lemon tree or you do not have friends; it seems most friends (or at least some friends) have lemon trees. Who knew?

I have discovered that it is possible to tire of painting, and sometimes I need a break from it. As we are all in lockdown, I recently took a leaf from a friend’s book and made a model of a silly little car (thanks Claudia!). It filled the late night lockdown hours after work. It was fun, diverting, and this is what it looks like. My paintbrushes did not quite know how to handle the unfamiliar enamel I used on this.

Railway underpass

This is what it looks like approaching the pedestrian underpass at the local train station in the hooligan hours of late night. Everything is still, cold, and is bathed in a flat orange light. It is a bit scary and I always speed up. But, so far, there has been nothing in there except me, fear, and the fog of my breath in the cold.

Fiat lux

Regular viewers will have noted my fondness for painting Fiat cars. They are beautiful objects and they are so obliging at not moving for long periods. This one appeared to have been baking in the sun in the same spot for years.

This is a much bigger version of a small sketch I did about a year ago. It came as a surprise, but should not have, that it is easier to paint a big version of a picture than a small version. There is so much more room to get the detail right, provided the composition is sound.

Stationary in 2020, and if I am any judge, stationary still.

Enough to make you cry

My brother piled up these onions and this garlic (why not ‘these garlics?’) for me to paint. It was enough to make me cry – but maybe that was just the onions.

I understand that vampires get to live forever, but they can never enjoy garlic bread. Would it be worth it?

Again, painted on a canvas from Aldi; thus the alarmingly uniform weave to the surface. Again, sealing it several coats of good, heavy gesso made it a very stable, pleasant surface.

A dead fruit bat

It can come as a surprise to look up into the suburban Melbourne sky and see vast drifts of thousands upon thousands of chihuahua-sized fruit bats. Each night, especially in summer, they rise from their roost in Yarra Bend, in search of white cars and canvas awnings to spray with their inky, acidic faeces. They eat fruit and drink nectar, but you would never guess it from the end product. I used to live in inner city Sydney, and the bats from the Botanical Gardens did the same thing all over the eastern suburbs.

In early Sydney, gun clubs used to practice by shooting the bats in the Botanical Gardens on summer evenings. How delightful! Sadly in Melbourne the increasingly hot summers are killing bats in vast numbers. It is sad beyond the telling.

I found this poor stiff on the Yarra Trail. He was beautiful and had great dignity in his final rest.

Coffee and an ellipse?

Frequent readers may recall that I – like most people – find it difficult to draw ellipses. I have difficulty spelling them too. So, why not try painting four of them in a single picture?

I ran out of Gamblin Naples Yellow Hue. I liked its opacity, but do not miss its consistency; it was a bit too stiff and starchy for me. Winsor and Newton’s Naples Yellow is a beautiful alternative: a rich caramel colour, juicy with oil. It is warm and mellow, and took my mind off the ellipses. Combined with an underpainting of Gamblin Burnt Sienna, it made this painting a tactile pleasure to make.

The canvas I used was picked up from amongst the traffic cones and jousting poles on sale at Aldi. Several layers of sealing it with good, heavy gesso later, it presented a very pleasant, smooth surface.

The tea-room

“The tea-room was an oasis in the dreary waste of existence where weary travellers could meet to drink from the common spring of art appreciation.” Okakura Kakuzo, The Book of Tea

The Art Gallery of New South Wales presents a tea-room amongst the works of art in its East Asian collection. Not many rooms you could do that with.

Return of the dreaded ellipse

A portrait can be ruined by an eyelid being a millimetre out of whack. With ellipses (the intersection of a plane by a cone – i.e. the shape of a round thing viewed from the side), it is also a matter of millimetres. I suspect most painters’ studios have a graveyard of failed canvasses in the corner where the dreaded ellipse has gone wrong … along with an eyelid or two.

I decided to tempt fate by painting a disposable coffee cup that combined an ellipse with a turned up spout. What a nightmare. Never again.

Liquids, contained and uncontained

It is difficult to get the symmetry right when painting any bottle. It is harder still with an old green glass Coke bottle. And it is very nearly impossible when you are looking down on the bottle from almost directly above. So, that is what I did.

As I was attending to liquids, I also practised a drop of water and a drop of wine.

And a drop of water …

… and a drop of wine. Looking at this now, I realise it resembles the Japanese flag in liquid form.