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Entries in painting (2)


Cocking a Snook at Perfection


We have been pondering names that repeat and names that almost repeat.

Sirhan Sirhan is a perfectly repetitive name. José José and Fei Fei are repeating names too, as are Justo Justo, Miou-Miou, Rye Rye, Morris Morris, Morgan Morgan etc.

Then there are the almost-but-no-cigar repeating names such as Neil McNeil, Magnus Magnusson, Callum McCallum, Marky Mark, Jean Valjean and Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

Jean Valjean of course is a name given by Victor Hugo to the fortisimo character in one of the half dozen greatest novels in the world: Les Misérables.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar is the name given to baby Belmokhtar in 1972 by Mr. and Mrs. Belmokhtar. This one has since been handed various sobriquets: The One Eyed, The Uncatchable and Mr. Marlboro, which also has a nice bit of repetitive swang to it. We kept an eye out for him when we were in Tuareg country in the Western Sahara in 2013 just as, we suppose, he kept an eye out for us.

We prefer these almost repeating names to the perfectly repeating ones since the imperfect repeating names embody an aesthetic of Japanese wabi-sabi. It is precisely because the names are not symmetrical that they are beautiful.

In some languages the repeating of a name, or near re-duplication, cloning, and doubling of a name-sound, serves a grammatical purpose such as plurality or intensification. There is some creative play here, where the duplication and re-duplication interruptus is used to make a wild contrapuntal audible universe. Repeat this aloud and hear your voice land upon melody: Llewellyn Crikey Llewellyn Boutros Haidar Boutros Haidar Bushy Bush Dogg Doggy Snoop Mgoeing Mgoeing Lipp Lippi Renzo Renzi Sven Sven boyo boyo bach. Can you feel some wabi-sabi rhythm in that?

Underplayed and modest

But wabi-sabi is essentially simple, slow and uncluttered. And we learn from the architect Tadao Ando that it reveres authenticity above all. "Wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest, the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It's a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the entire tree, shoji screens filtering the sun, the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud. It's a richly mellow beauty that's striking but not obvious."

Which brings us in a roundabout manner to thoughts on the role of the paid art critic, theorist and ontologist. This sounds like the kind of gig where life is just one big brain party after another, all the time repeating mongo mongo. For example, consider the words of the late art theorist Leone Vivante: "In a cosmos in which number and quantity seem overwhelmingly predominant, art reveals quality as ultimately real in the very actuality of consciousness." And so, he says, in his Essays on Art and Ontology: "A work of art does not turn or depend on anything else for its reality, because, I repeat, it is an immediate actualization and revelation of an inextricable nucleus of values absolutely inherent in a present origin or in an intimate activity or in form ..."

Is it possible that some things do not hold up well on repetition? Let me say in reply that I have never, I repeat, never, made a perfect painting. They are all wabi-sabi and all perfectly mondo, chibi chibi and jar jar jinks.


Also, I have a birthday coming up and there is wabi-sabi in that fact too, because the crevices on my visage are longer and more deeply beautiful than before. Though I think I am starting to catch a whiff of the pudding palace that awaits at the top of the hill.


UPDATE: June 2017 - There were reports that Mokhtar Belmokhtar met his end in 2013. Then again in 2015 this was repeated. Repeated again in late 2016. So if you repeat something often enough it starts to mimic truth.


(Top Image: Visite du Vigile/Visit of the Watchman 11x14 watercolours by David Roberts)



The Sauce Was Excellent

A Divided Condition (11 x 14 watercolours & India ink).

The hope is that the words and pigments complement each other sufficiently that the sum transcends the bits.

In this light, permit us to say a few words about A Divided Condition and to offer gratitude to all who support us in this doubly Bohemian life of starving brushman and blogista.

As the psychiatrist Carl Jung observed: “Every creative person is a duality or a synthesis of contradictory qualities.” And so it’s only slightly worrisome that Jung then proceeds to discuss bicephalism and schizophrenia. Because the list of the famous (no comparisons here) who have both painted and written creatively includes Leonardo, William Blake, Michelangelo, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Van Gogh, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac etc etc.

There likely are others, you tell me. But the upshot is that this writing and painting thing is a far more pervasive affliction that we imagined.

Among our pals

Not all wrote simultaneously with their brushwork. Miller for example, would paint his way through writer’s block. And almost none wrote specifically about the painting process. But there can be little doubt all these artists were compelled to create in both words and pigments. For Van Gogh, his enthusiasm for words spilled into his art. In one letter he remarks, "Books and reality and art are the same kind of thing to me." Elsewhere he revealed his appreciation of writers and writing: "There are so many people, especially among our pals, who imagine that words are nothing. On the contrary, don't you think, it's as interesting and as difficult to say a thing well as to paint things?"


While the inspirational source for painting and for writing is the same, each practice requires a distinct process. Personally, the act of writing is usually more an engagement while making a painting is more a disengagement. This is not always so: sometimes the words just flow and they speak for themselves and sometimes we paint very consciously, where, hands willing, every stroke brings us closer to the intended conclusion. But generally the former process is at play and neither feels like work.

Now we mentioned Carl Jung and we confess there is marginalia in our copy of Jung's book The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature. This is Volume 15 of the Collected Works from the Bollingen Series XX, Princeton. To some this will seem extremely nerdy but I read the entire 20 volumes of Jung's Collected Works after the set was gratefully received as a graduation gift from my parents some 35 years ago.

Situated behind consciousness

The Collected Works comprise several thousand pages and as far as I can tell, the only mark I left in any of the margins was in that Volume 15, where Jung conducts a rigorous psychoanalysis of the painter Pablo Picasso. My note is in green pencil and it says simply: "viz. therapeutic method" and highlights a paragraph where Jung, commenting in 1932 when Pablo was a shooting star, says that "his works show a growing tendency to withdraw from the empirical objects, and an increase in those elements which do not correspond to any outer experience but come from an 'inside' situated behind consciousness."

Earlier, Jung says: "The essence of a work of art is not to be found in the personal idiosyncrasies that creep into it – indeed, the more there are of them, the less it is a work of art." In other words, it’s always a good idea if the artist gets out of his own way. This is easier if one is engaged in poetic writing rather than narrative writing. And it is easier when one is engaged in abstract painting rather than hyper-realism. Which brings me to A Divided Condition which, although it appears to be random, was executed with an attitude of engagement and the result was precisely as intended. So I am happy with it, though you may conclude that I should stick to writing, or better still, total silence.

A two-headed trout

Today, I notice that when I take a pen in each hand and close my eyes I write mirror images of my signature. Normally I am left-handed, so I push a pen from left to right across the page. But with two pens, if I close my eyes, I write or draw mirror images, characters, sentences, letters or signatures from the centre out or from the margins to the centre in quite perfect symmetry.

It's a bit like a two-headed trout, where, magically, the halves conspire to make a transcendent greater whole. In this state it is as if the writer and the painter are harmoniously connected and at one. Skeptical? Take 2 minutes, 46 seconds to view this wonderful clip from La Vie de Bohème, 1992, by the Finnish film-maker Aki Kaurismäki.