Bubble O’Bill rendered in the manner of Caravaggio

The manifold conveniences of modern consumer society rest on the shoulders of giants. The invention of ice cream, the discovery of chocolate and the cultivation of tiny wooden handles reach near perfection in the Bubble O’Bill. According to Wikipedia, Bill (or ‘Bubble O’ as refer to him) was invented in the USA, but has been particularly popular in Australia. I suspect this is because he speaks to Australians’ self-image as hard-bitten, no-nonsense, frontier folk; rebels; outsiders. Or perhaps we are just a nation that likes ice cream, especially when it comes in a convenient four pack with a gumball for a nose.

My waistline and extensive dental work are already a testament to my love of ice cream. However, I wanted to do more than just accumulate subcutaneous fat in order to pay special homage to Bubble O. I have done this by painting him in the chiaroscuro manner of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. This is what Bubble O looks like when the fridge light flashes on to capture him about to be consumed as an illicit midnight snack; in the morning nothing will remain other than a crumpled wrapper and an ice cream stick that has been sucked dry.

By the way, have you noticed how dirty the fingernails are in Caravaggio’s paintings?

There’s a new cowpoke in town.
The grisaille underpainting had a rough-hewn charm of its own.

Samurai helmet and persimmons

‘The colour in Japanese armour depends upon the lacing; there is scarlet, or white laced armour, or purple lacing, like as many clans of coloured lobsters, but specialization, as always, is carried further still into silk braid of ‘rotted leaf colour’, or deutzia blossom, and then, again, fern, or water plantain or, more beautifully, jay’s feather, it must be the blue wing feather, lacing.’

Sacheverell Sitwell, Bridge of the Brocade Sash

I have written before of the beauty of Tokugawa era armour. Luckily for us the traditional skills used to make that armour are carried on in the creation of miniature, often very beautiful, helmets for Children’s Day. Here is a still life of one of these, next to some Fuyu persimmons, and accompanied by a wooden plaque bearing the signature of the helmet maker.

And here it is, in a second hand frame that cost five dollars. The painting is on a free MDF off cut. Why pay more?

How to make brown gravy

To celebrate Bastille Day I knocked up this adaptation of a Chardin still life.

I had found a picture frame on the footpath and had to squeeze everything within its small, square confines, thus the adaptation. Also, it is the middle of winter here in Melbourne, so it had to look warm. I aimed for this brownest of all possible ‘brown gravy’ images. I know the Impressionists professed to hate ‘brown gravy’ in a painting, but (as in life) I find brown gravy in a picture appealing in moderation.

The frame was free, the painting is on an MDF offcut (also free).
Unframed gravy

A rusty gate

This locked rusty gate protects a nearby neighbour’s chook shed from chicken rustlers. I know that rust is just the product of iron deteriorating in contact with water and oxygen, but I like it very much. I used a lot of Burnt Sienna and Cadmium Orange in this painting. I might try using some actual rust next time.

Art seems to thrive on decay in the same way that drama thrives on conflict. Why is that? Why is it that things seem most interesting when they are falling apart?

Rusty gold.

Within without with James Turrell

I cannot recall being inside a work of art before. James Turrell’s Within without at the National Gallery of Australia is extraordinary. It is like an enormous brandy snifter that intensifies and makes more complex the light that enters it from above. I am lost in admiration for this work. If you are within travelling distance of one of Turrell’s skyscapes that dot the world, do not hesitate: go to it.

This painting is the view in one of the corners of Within without, looking up to a cloudless Canberra sky.

A Popeye for our times – revisited

Those of you with keen memories may recall I painted this updated Popeye a couple of years ago here. A friend asked for a bigger version. This is the result, as painted in oil on a 60 x 70 centimetre birch panel.

It turns out that the distortions and sheer anatomical weirdness of Popeye become more apparent the bigger you make him, so I had to modulate some of the oddness and alter the proportions a bit.

Popeye made canned spinach look succulent and delicious. How disappointed I was when I ate it for the first (and last) time. Nor did it give me forearms like anvils. It is almost as if Hollywood misled me.

‘I am what I am.”

I paint the battery electric

With apologies to Walt Whitman. A still life of some shiny batteries, electrical insulators and flex. This picture is intended to be in the manner of Chardin. I like to think he would have painted on a similar theme if he had had access to modern battery technology.

Plague dogs

When they were not having fistfights over toilet paper, during the pandemic lockdowns many of my fellow Homo sapiens (sic) were buying dogs. They bought so many that the supply of dogs ran out, something I had previously thought impossible. From what I saw, towards the end people were buying pretty much any dog-shaped object they could find. The local parks were crammed with owners pushing feeble, bulge-eyed, shivering creatures in prams (yes, dogs in prams), or they were being dragged along by muscle-bound monsters with rolling eyes and dubious temperaments. I suspect that in ordinary times these dogs would not have been bred, let alone bought.

Now that lockdowns are over, it seems life is going back to normal, the dog mania is passing, people no longer go on walks, and the redundant dogs are being packed off to dog shelters that are straining at the seams. By and large, dogs are almost inconceivably loyal to their owners, but I wonder if we deserve it.

I was heading home one night through the crepuscular forest by the river and heard the sound of heavy breathing labouring right behind me. I sped up but this only made the breathing louder and more insistent. Finally I wheeled around to face my tormentor: it was a French bulldog that looked like this, rendered in the manner of Gainsborough. My wife says this painting is hideous.

3 kilos of slavering terror. Gave me the shivers, and has the shivers itself.