Vanitas and bowling

As with so many of us, I enjoy flicking back through old X-Rays to marvel at how much my bones have changed over the years. I was looking at a full frontal of my skull and I was struck by how much it resembled a bowling ball. Thus this picture.

I could pretend I was making an important philosophical point, but I was not. I just thought how much my head looked like a bowling ball, and how much I like shiny metal flake bowling balls. That is it.

“Strikes and gutters. Ups and downs.” The Big Lebowski.

Tengu and the acceptance of ambiguity

“Sometimes they are good, and sometimes bad. Why do you find that so difficult to understand?”

Like so many things that live in the mountains, Tengu tend to the mysterious and misty. You often see masks of them in the dusty vestibules of provincial inns, hanging next to a fifty year old square Seiko clock, where they are expected to deliver luck and prosperity. I am told Tengu also used to entrance Buddhist priests, tie them to the tops of trees, and beguile them into eating dung disguised as food. So there is a mixed CV.

I naively asked a Japanese friend whether Tengu were good or bad. It seems I asked the wrong question. As with all of us, sometimes they are good and sometimes they are bad.

This is a Tengu that hangs near my easel, lit from behind by a fading spring sunset.

Sometimes good, sometimes bad. But at the moment, a tad cranky.

A good art instructor told me not to be impatient, and to do an underdrawing in diluted burnt sienna. It works: even though you cannot see the underpainting, it seems to add a depth to the finished image. How does it do this? How should I know?

El Solo Toro

It turns out there is an official Australia Post motorbike, the Honda C110X Postie. Sadly, not for sale to the general public. Its name suggests an engine displacement of 110 cubic centimetres, however according to the official specifications, the displacement is in fact 109 cubic centimetres. What happened to the missing cubic centimetre?

Our local post deliverer parked her C110X Postie outside a neighbour’s house to deliver a parcel. The Postie turned its minatory cyclopean eye on me from the nature strip. It looked like an angry bull, pivoting on its front legs for a charge. 109 cubic centimetres of pent up fury. Probably a good thing this beast is not for sale to the general public.

A haiku in mild steel

When you paint a tin opener you have to look at it. That is when, if you are like me, you realise for the first time how efficient it is. A few parts are riveted together and nothing is wasted, nothing superfluous. The simple twist to the handle combines maximum downward force on the cutting blade with comfort for the user. It has the elegance of a well-turned haiku, but – unlike a haiku – it can open a tin of baked beans.

Painted on a loose canvas sheet, thumbtacked to cardboard. You can see the thumbtacks in the corners. Thumbtacks: now there is a machine it would be hard to improve on.

Elegance, ingenuity, and practicality for a total price of $2.95 (GST included).

If only Rembrandt had access to MDF

I picked up some free MDF offcuts from Bunnings: the left overs that were not good enough to use on someone’s kitchen cupboard door. I felt sorry for one of them (a lump of processed wood?). I decided its fate should be as the support for a painting of a tin hat in the manner of Rembrandt.

MDF is a good surface to paint on. In my opinion if Rembrandt had had access to sufficient supplies of MDF, he could have really realised his potential as a painter.

What might have been … This MDF offcut could have been a kitchen cupboard door.

Incidental beauty: a plastic dish rack in the sunrise

I have written before about the incidental beauty of such things as screwdriver handles, smashed car blinkers, discarded lug nut covers, fire sprinklers, and basketball court floors. This is the dish rack at a friend’s fibro beach shack. It is translucent and captured the morning sun like a tiny stained glass window. I expect it has been doing this since the 1970s and will go on doing so for some time to come.

As I worked on this picture, each stage had its own, distinct appeal, so here is my working out …

Doing it in 1979, and no doubt will be doing it in 2029.

Samurai helmet

The extended peace of the Tokugawa period afforded the samurai time to refine helmet design to an aesthetic plane seldom scaled by safety equipment before or since. Ironically perhaps, the more the samurai pushed for a macho, intimidating effect from their hardhats, the more the end result circled back towards high camp. Do not misunderstand me: the results were often magnificent.

This painting is of a helmet that apparently purports to portray a dolphin. As there is a shortage of 17th century samurai armour in my house, this is a rendering of a photo taken by Werner Forman (whose online archive I recommend).

I do not normally show my working out, but I took a lot of snaphots as I painted this. Reviewing these, it is strangely satisfying to see the finished picture emerge. You can also see where I changed my mind on a few things, and realised halfway through that I was painting the scales in the wrong direction! You can also see a cheeky sheet of kitchen paper photobombing its way onto the internet.

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.