Dark Alleys & Walter Sickert

Napoli. Che meraviglia is pretty much all I have to say so far since my arrival. Now that I am feeling a little more settled and have learned my way around in a general way, I am looking forward to exploring all the nooks and crannies – being careful of course when venturing down dark alleys by myself. I have begun painting as well, and I like to keep the windows open so that I can hear the sounds of the motorini, distant hammering, the soccer ball kicking around the courtyard and the sounds of plates clattering. I am wondering if I will be able to incorporate those sounds into the paintings I am beginning.

Whatever one might say about the great sun and light in Israel, I can now personally vouch that it is way over-rated. Just too much of it all the time, never changing, and just too hot.  So hot that it bleaches rather than burns, in my opinion, so that if I had stayed any longer I may have disappeared.  And who wants to feel sticky all the time, from breakfast to dinner? I was once talking to a taxi driver in Israel as we were going from Rehovot to Jerusalem, and he said to me that he loves the heat and sun of Israel, “The hotter the better.” And this he says as we are sitting in sub-zero temperatures of the air-conditioning he has cranked up in his car, for that is how much he “enjoys” the hot weather.

The weather in Naples is changing now from summer sun to autumn rain, and as I make my way around the city to see the different Caravaggio paintings and erotic frescos, it made me think about the work of Walter Sickert (31 May 1860 – 22 January 1942). A German-born English painter and a member of the Camden Town Group, Sickert often favoured somber colors and ordinary people and urban scenes as his subjects, and his works were considered very controversial, even connecting him to murder. He is considered a prominent figure in the transition from Impressionism to modernism, and I can see how he might have been an important influence on certain British painters, particularly Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon and even the young Jenny Saville.



I personally think that his nude paintings are his best works, but I have included here below as many as I could find.  Following Degas’ advice, Sickert painted in the studio, working from drawings and memory as an escape from “the tyranny of nature.” His oeuvre also included portraits of well known personalities and friends, as well as images derived from press photographs. Continued biographical information on Sickert is available here on WetCanvas, and here on Wikipedia.

As much as I do like looking at “dark” paintings from time to time, I don’t particularly revel in them; a good dip down now and then though provides some variety, something I do vastly appreciate, like an enormous platter of antipasti. And of course, Napoli itself. Today I took advantage of a questionable sky and brisk air to explore the neighborhood of Chiaia, with occasional jaunts into alluring doorways and enticing stairs going up up up, ending with an inhalation of sun, salt and surf along Naples’ Riviera.

On the Easel

My time in Israel is winding down quickly, and with it also my painting time. I have much to look forward to, including the city of Naples, a new home, further academic studies, getting married, seeing my family, as well as all the Italian food and etiquette I have been missing like crazy. Sometimes it can be hard to concentrate on the painting with all the things that need attention right now. I thought I would show a couple of my works in progress in their various stages of starts and restarts before I may find it necessary to pack them away and resume them again later after moving.

The sink study above was a quick one, maybe about an hour at most. I plan on doing another one, but much more “finished,” because I like both quick/sketchy paintings and more defined ones for so many reasons. They have different things to see about the experience of perceiving the space and subject.

The square bedroom ones below instead already involve many days and hours overlapping. I don’t share these because I am happy with them now as they are as a whole, but rather to share the process of what I am thinking about as I paint them and look at them. They have parts or aspects that perhaps I am pleased with or make me think of new directions to take. In the square painting below, for example, I am happy with the back left corner of the room, particularly with the cat cage and Christmas tree sticking out of it. But in order for the painting to be more representative of reality, in my opinion, the painting needs numerous other “days” inside of it, and in particular I need to work on the colors. I may prefer to make this painting more black and white.

This second bedroom start has a bit more room in the approach to the bed, and I like that. I also like the cooler and softer colors, and I am wondering if I don’t want to make the painting a bit more blurry-eyed in general. Below this top surface are, I think, at least 6 or 7 other paintings I had started, though I am not sure I can remember what they were.

This last square painting had originally been an interior one, depicting my kitchen, at least until the washing machine/sidewalk scene outside my front door distracted me so much to the point that I needed to grab the closest, least precious, most suitably sized surface available. Hence, no more kitchen painting. The photo below shows the first half hour of frenzied changes, and it has been an absolute joy to be outdoors painting again. I do this a lot, painting over older paintings, and not because I am convinced that the new painting will be better, but because the new motif interests me more. Painting is a passionate enterprise, involving impulsive actions which can ultimately lead to a failure. But you must take a breath and jump all the same.

Before & After

It has been a busy and exhausting last two weeks, having needed to find a new home in Israel for the next five months. Our landlord had sold the apartment we were living in, and so – like good tenants – we let him sell, and that meant trying to find a new home until October. Until I had begun the search, I had no idea how hard that was going to be. Everyone in Israel moves in the summer apparently, and everyone wants a long-term rental. After a couple cancellations the day of signing a contract for a new place, we at last found someone willing to rent short-term who didn’t pull the plug last minute. It has also been some serious Hebrew immersion – at last – as we have no language in common. I think I have understood the important parts, I hope.

The new place is a house, with a sand yard and patio. Perfect for building sand castles in the sweltering heat of the summer, I should say. So much silence, plenty of light, and believe it or not, this one also has a room with a north-facing window for use as a studio. I have begun painting again as of yesterday, and it is feeling very good. To our dismay, the house had no furnishings nor appliances, so thanks to trusty Google translate and Yad2 website, we have managed to equip the house with some second-hand things and some new items, including a most amazing latex memory foam mattress topper. Visa the cat has also adjusted amazingly well, and is enjoying greatly the ground floor supervision at night.

Moving can be hard, just as it is for cats. Just as I was really beginning to feel in my territory, it’s time to pack up, clean up and adapt to a completely new situation. But of course, it is also a blessing. Things become juxtaposed in a completely unpredictable way, and thoughts become compressed, urgent even, with several different threads and to-do lists running through them. Old paintings were pulled out of corners and painted over, and I finally got a sense of just how much painted volume I now have – frightening, but not ghastly.

I am including here a few pieces done during this transition from house to house. Only the one of the refrigerator is in the new place, but I started a couple others yesterday. Though I am not yet finished with the large square painting, I did some last minute changes just before moving, and I am interested to see what of the new house may make its way inside of it.

Implosion, in progress. Please click on all images for enlarged viewing.


Portal reflection

Tre cipolle

Visa on the Fridge

November News

backlighting

Well, autumn has almost arrived in Israel, beginning with powerful thunderstorms last week leaving pools of water for me to sludge through on my way home from Jerusalem. It is still sandal season this week, but at last I am in need of a sweater and jeans.

I have not been at the easel often recently, for exciting reasons I will share soon, but I was able to work on this painting sketch above (50 x 65 cm). My intent was not to do another self-portrait (I still have no grasp of Hebrew to approach people for model requests), but rather to focus on the backlighting scheme, how everything is painted gray at first, belongs within tones of gray and only lines of light delineate the elements in the painting. Sadly, this photograph shows more contrast than seeing the original.

I don’t tend to like “obvious” paintings, the ones where you know instantaneously what you are looking at. I prefer putting important elements in the shadow, elevating something apparently plain by rendering it more fully, alluding to the absence of someone or something. I guess I just like to make paintings that you can only understand more fully if you look at it more slowly.

I have some tremendous inspiration for an upcoming set of painting series, which will focus on my love of, and educational background in, humanism. Some will be dark, others outdoors, and for still others I will need a ladder. I have a few model “victims” in mind other than me and my cat, and I look forward to beginning them, to seeing where this melding of knowledge, memory, and in-depth observation will lead.