The floating world

I remember when glass fishing floats were regarded as just so much rubbish. Now it seems they are popular and fetching high prices. I am not surprised. They have the unexpected beauty that comes from rough utilitarian objects cobbled together from bits and pieces. I understand they were quickly and cheaply made from old cast-off bottles and such. That is why they have splotchy inclusions and uneven walls. They only had to float; their makers did not pay any heed to what they looked like.

By contrast fishing lures are usually carefully designed to trick fish. But some fish are less fussy than others. I am told you can catch barracouta using the silver paper out of a cigarette packet on your hook.

A still life of glass fishing floats from Japan and a fishing lure found on the footpath.

It can be any colour, as long as it floats.

A wealth of detail

It may just be the algae rhythms telling me what to think, but my version of the internet is awash with videos and homilies explaining how to be a success. Strangely, these stories equate success with making lots of money. I frankly do not see the connection.

There are great rewards for those who appreciate the details. This week I noticed how a scrunch of tinfoil captured the colours of two pieces of fruit. Here it is. Nice, no?

Mmm…fruity …and shiny.

And a little while back I painted and assembled this 1970s extravaganza of a dune buggy for a total cost of slightly less than a sandwich. (P.S. I wanted to put the woman in the driver’s seat, but the moulding did not permit it.)

Now I call that a success.

The “Hood” from Thunderbirds (after Joshua Reynolds)

Thunderbirds was not always the most subtle drama. It was not enough for the Hood to be bad, he had to be very bad. From which it followed he had to be lit like a Joshua Reynolds portrait, sort of swimming up out of the gloaming.

That is why I painted this portrait of the Hood in the manner of Reynolds. I also liked the way the highlights on his be-dazzled tunic caught the fugitive light and threw it back at the viewer in sparks. I have noticed this sort of spangly outfit seems beloved of a certain kind of dictator, so maybe the Supermarionation team were onto a deeper sociological truth.

Ray Barrett’s finest work?

Still life: a small bowl of fruit

Some fruit deserves great paint. The mandarin is in my favourite Cadmium Orange, straight from the tube; the plums are in Deep Purple (Dioxazine); and the pear is a mixture of various Naples Yellows. There seems little consensus amongst paint companies about what precisely is the colour of Naples Yellow.

The shadows are made of all the fruit colours mixed together in a single blob.

Mandarin? Careful, this one was made with cadmium.

Smoked paprika tin

It is a great mystery, but smoked paprika always comes in the most beautiful tins. It is as if the world’s paprika manufacturers agreed only to sell their produce in an aesthetically pleasing way. Good for them.

Smoked paprika tin. No, I did not smoke the tin (sigh).


It says a lot for Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West that the TV version held innumerable Australian children in its thrall more than 300 years after the original.
This is Natsume Masako playing the – for me – definitive Tripitaka. I know it is a bold call, but there: I have said it.

When I started this picture I was going to finish it in colour, but now I think I will leave it in mono. I like its sharpness.


Whistlejacket – now there is a cold and flu remedy I could get behind

I lack the inclination, time and space to paint a full-size picture of a horse, thus this rendition of George Stubbs’s Whistlejacket on a tiny birch board (8×8 inches).

According to Wikipedia, Whistlejacket (the horse) was named after Whistlejacket (the cold and flu remedy), which was a compound of treacle and gin. I am not sure it would cure your cold, but I imagine it made you feel better.

Still life with a copper kettle

A simple still life of a copper kettle, with teabags and a spoon. I say simple, but I find copper very difficult to paint. The key, as with painting any metallic surface, is to strictly paint what you see. Do not self-consciously try to make the painting look like metal or it will not work. It is a bit like meditation: the harder you think “I must meditate”, the less successful it is. At least that has been my experience.

“I’ll get you, copper!”

Shop till you drop

I think it was Tim Winton who asked what is missing in peoples’ lives that makes them seek consolation through buying big, expensive cars.

When I painted this vanitas still life with skull, coin and key ring, I was going to call it ‘laurel but not hardy.’ It began with my impression of a skull that was dug up in Crete, wearing a golden laurel wreath. Then I thought about how many of us trade our short and limited days for loadsa money and cars, so I added those too.

It makes you think

Rod Reddy prays to St George on the eve of the 1977 Grand Final (after Raphael)

A word or two of explanation may be required for readers below a certain age or who are not from Sydney. St George is a rugby league team. Rod Reddy was a forward who played for that team, including in the 1977 Grand Final (they won). Raphael was a painter from Italy, I believe.

I have been reading Francesca Fiorani’s excellent The Shadow Drawing: How Science Taught Leonardo How To Paint. Leonardo took the science of optics seriously, Fiorani explains, and in particular how to convey distance in a painting. He noticed, for instance, how far-distant objects take on a blueish tinge, and incorporated that observation into his paintings.

For this painting, I adapted one of Raphael’s early works. He did not apply Leonardo’s blue trick, except for some far, far distant hills. The interesting result is that the painting looks quite flat against the picture plane, I think. And the horse’s body and St George’s lance twist in several unlikely directions. It almost feels a bit medieval.

More observant readers may have noticed that Centrepoint Tower is in the far far background of this painting. A word or two of further explanation may be required if you are not from Sydney. Centrepoint Tower is the tallest building in Sydney. It is four storeys high. However, those four storeys are at the top of one of the world’s tallest poles. Minds could differ on whether this is a sensible arrangement, but the view from the top is nice if you go in for that sort of thing. You can see all the way to Baulkham Hills.

I think there was a cafeteria at the top of Centrepoint, as my memories of the view are associated with the smell of not terribly fresh hot chips, but this was all many years ago. One of the people accompanying me kept rudely referring to the building as “Centredick” throughout our visit.

It was opened in 1981, so in my painting it is still under construction. If you look very closely you can see tiny little workers crawling all over it in the blue, hazy distance.

Rod Reddy praying before the 1977 Grand Final. St George won.
The framed version. The frame was $6 from the Kyneton Op Shop. Why pay more?