The riddle from Heart Butte

Forty five wolves, he asked, forty eight deer. How many went hungry?

Answer at the bottom of this newsletter.

Naturalistic art

Of all the insults and abuse thrown at fine art (kitsch, sentimental, reactionary, literal, derivative) the most venom is in the term “naturalistic”.

Ruby. Watercolour. 1991

Ruby. Watercolour. 1991

Each of these epithets is demonstrably untrue.

In the age of modernism, naturalistic art has come to mean art of a photographic level of treatment. This is wrong.

Strangely enough the modernists have embraced photorealism and paintings copied from photographs as “Art” whiie rejecting work done from nature; figure, landscape and still life.

The word “naturalism” simply means, work based on the love of nature.

It is a word we need to accept and celebrate with pride. I am a naturalist. I paint for the love of mist and smoke, of dawn and rain, of shadow and light, of mystery and clarity, of visions half seen through tears of reverence; and I paint for the love of the human form, of dance and of music, and of lace and veils and silk.

We can also be called a realist if we paint social realities and the life of the workers, or a figurative artist if we paint portraits and figures, but before all else we are naturalists.

A Saturday Demo

My next Saturday Demo will be on the 27th June. The venue is the Saveur Restaurant on the middle level of the Simon’s Town Waterfront, by the jetty.

R60 includes a cup of coffee from Saveur. And you do not have to bring a chair!

In a close harmony

Harmony is the greatest good.

When two people or two communities live in harmony the other virtues follow. There are clever bumper stickers which proclaim “No peace without justice.” That means no peace, ever, because justice is an impossible and even an ugly concept. An eye for an eye is the law of the godless.

Forgive. Love. Live in beauty.

The concept of harmony in music as in painting is a simple one. Notes and colours are in a relationship. When colours are opposed, discord results, and when they are adjacent, harmony. Simply, turquoise, blue and blue-violet are in harmony because they all belong to the blue range of hues. Even more harmonious is blue-green, green and yellow-green because each of them is a variation of green, they are all greens.

Secondary and tertiary colours are inclusive and muted. It is only the three primaries, red, yellow and blue, which are exclusive, each consisting only of itself.

Harmonies are perfectly possible in any one primary, such as a “rhapsody in blue”, but in such a case all the other colours in your painting should also be a variation of blue.

Light is colour. Without eyes no light and therefore no colour exists. Nature creates its own harmonies by the play of light, mist and sunset, underwater scenes, night and candlelight, moonlight and shadow.

If you would like to work in a harmony here is a simple method: Set out all your colours, then in front of each, place a small amount of your harmonic (your harmonising colour). Now mix your colours as normal, but introduce a touch of your harmonising colour into every mixture.

Ruskin says we can only see one thing, colour. Our whole visual experience is based on the perception of colour, including our perception of beauty and harmony. This may be why we find so much joy in paintings which feature beautiful notes and chords of colour, rather than sharp detail.

If we think of the harmonised colours as a fan in the colour wheel, the narrower the fan, the closer the harmony. But this harmony dies the moment we stop individuating every colour note, and we end up with a monochromatic mass.

I had a series of encounters or contemplations involving butterflies. As a child I always pitied butterflies for not being able to see “properly”, no focus, no directing of the attention, no detail. In one intimate encounter a butterfly died on my shoulder while I was teaching a class on colour perception and breaking up our field of vision into little squares (blokkies, Ash!) and I realised that the butterfly sees exactly like that in multiple fragments of pure, subtle and beautiful colour. Only more so, because as the butterfly moves through space the fragments of colour would shimmer and shift in a kaleidoscope or infinite beauty. A meaningful kaleidoscope because it perfectly depicts the environment.

No wonder the butterfly chooses a random, playful flightpath. It is simply getting intoxicated with the beauty and the dance of colour.

Nature speaks to us as long as we will be quiet and listen.

Watercolour workshop: The figure 

In July from the 6th to the 10th, I shall present a watercolour workshop at the Library Hall in Simon’s Town. The subject will be a figure study in costume.

Watercolour is at the same time the easiest and the most difficult technique. It is possible to do four or five watercolour paintings in five days, but there is always that element of luck (the work of the angels and the shoemaker’s elves).

The technique is important and demanding: a set of layers, each one wet in wet painting or else a fresh bold direct approach.

This is the first time in some years that I am teaching figure work in watercolour and I look forward to sharing it with you.

Daily 10 to 12 and 1 to 3. Price R3000.

Lose your heart and find your soul.

12 days in Venice. 19 to 31 October 2015.

Very few places remain now.

19 to 31 October 2015. 12 days painting with Ryno Swart. 

1200 Euro sharing and 1450 Euro for a single room.

Book by emailing Ryno or by phoning 021 786 3975.

 —

Answer to the riddle: Five.

Do none of the tourist things. Be guided by your heart and by the stones under your feet.

Following the bald eagle

The love of nature can take us on unexpected journeys.

We were a group of friends, on our way to a Heart Butte, lost in the narrow dirt roads of rural Montana.

Looking back at some photographs in iPhoto, I noticed a small black mark on one of them, a picture taken from the car. At first I thought it was a speck of dust or a mark on the windscreens, because it was on a series of photographs. Looking closer it was an eagle, “a Bald Eagle” John called it, and the time signature on the pictures showed that it was flying ahead of our car from 5:05 until 6:36 p.m.

We were following the Bald Eagle for fully an hour and a half.

What was awaiting us at Heart Butte was a pow-wow, a meeting of the Blackfoot clan, with dancing and music and foodstalls and good fellowship.

Clare's white shirt

Clare’s White Shirt

The only “white folk” there, we were most graciously welcomed.

“I have a riddle for you white folk out there: forty wolves; forty eight deer. How many went hungry?”

Answer in my next newsletter.

A Saturday Demo

My last demo was particularly relaxed.

The light from the harbour was soft and my model wore a lovely white shirt with a high collar and puffed sleeves. In the two hours available I managed to capture some of the colour in the skin and the surroundings. Then I applied some strong white impastos to the shirt in preparation for glazes and further articulation, which I promised to show on the Internet.

This combined image shows the painting at the end of the demo and after this morning’s work when I articulated the whites of the sleeve.

My next Saturday Demo will be on the 27th June. The venue is the Saveur Restaurant on the middle level of the Simonstown Waterfront, by the jetty.

R60 includes a cup of coffee from Saveur. And you do not have to bring a chair!

My next 5 day workshop, 6 – 10 July will have as its subject the figure in watercolour.

The red cloche hat

Thoughts are things.

I have been working on a screenplay set partly in Paris in 1942. We meet my main character, an old lady, a vagrant, in the alleyways of Montmartre, rummaging among the garbage.

“The old woman rummages among the rubbish. She pulls out a hat, a cloche, muted red, and holds it up, inspecting it from all angles. Removing an old headscarf, her hair is grey and short in a ragged pageboy cut.

“MONIQUE: Oh ahah! Such beauty, such style!”

On the first day of my figure painting workshop, in a lovely synchronicity, Marisa turned up in a red cloche hat, stylish, and exactly what my subconscious had visualized.

These synchronicities happen with remarkable frequency. Some of my favourite models, Ruby, Kitty and Maria had all appeared in paintings of mine long before I met them, Ruby with her long long French plait, Kitty with her pageboy haircut, and Maria with her wild shock of red hair.

When Carl Jung invented the term, he believed that synchronicity had meaning. The problem is that we have no idea what that meaning is.

I have found my own meaning. Synchronicity means simply that synchronicity exists. The synchronous event tells us that things are connected on some spiritual level.

The Peacock Throne

A week ago we were at the memorial service for a young friend. In the living room was a beautiful Japanese wall hanging, the portrait of what I assumed to be a young princess, seated on a big throne. It was the throne that intrigued me. It was decorated with the carved heads of a domesticated bird. The companion piece was decorated with dragon head, which made sense: this would be “the Dragon Throne”.

Surely it cannot be a chicken, I thought, and not a guinea fowl. So what could it be? A peacock? Maybe. The phrase, “the Peacock Throne” made sense. Then my eyes fell upon a book underneath the coffee table with the title “the Peacock Throne.” I was so pleased by this synchronicity that I pointed it out to the young woman next to me, when the plot thickened. Chantal is from Toulouse in France and when I told her my name, she said “Oh, there is a man in Simon’s Town who is called Ryno. He is an artist. Oh, is that you?”

Another synchronicity. Then…

“Where did you hear my name?”

“It was an American girl. She had a young daughter called Clarissa, and she could not stop talking about this artist in South Africa and the way he teaches. That is why I still remember your name after all these years.”

Thea is a remarkable young woman. She set off an a world tour with her young daughter, staying in various places until it was time to move on. Their travels brought them to Simon’s Town where she came into my gallery and decided to stay a while. I invited her to attend one of my workshops as a guest and she was delighted, taking up her painting again. Then we lost touch, until the Peacock Throne created a link once more.

Recently Thea and Clarissa were running a home for stray dogs in Bali, and now they run an Art Studio and Tea Bar in Long Branch, New Jersey.

Unfinished 

From Plato to Degas, many serious thinkers about art have preferred the look of unfinished work.

It was Degas who said that conversations are full of half-finished sentences, and that the same could apply to painting. On my first workshop at Devon Valley in Stellenbosch, the artists were rather anxious about finishing their paintings. I had with me a book on Degas with all of his works, and I wanted to show them one of his particularly beautiful and particularly unfinished paintings. As always happens I could not find the painting I was looking for so I just pointed at the page we were on.

“Look at this painting. It too, is unfinished,” and went to the next page… “and so is this one…”

I was shocked to realise that they were all unfinished! Every single painting by Degas, by my estimate the greatest artist in history, is unfinished.

So with the sculpture of Michelangelo. His most powerful works are his “captives”, struggling to break free from the rock.

In painting I favour a similar process, the painting rising from the chaos of a colour beginning as do thoughts and ideas from the subconscious.

Unfinished work shows the work coming into being, like a tree. When is a tree “finished”? When it is a seedling or a sapling or when it is young and lithe and slender; or when it is fully mature, or in its old age, struck by lightning and shattered by storm? At every moment and in every season the tree is perfect, but there is never any point at which it is “finished”.

All of this moves us on the subconscious, emotional level.

Art is the record of its own genesis.

Lose your heart and find your soul.

12 days in Venice. 19 to 31 October 2015.

12 days painting with Ryno Swart. 

Find my art.

View my work at artistvision.org/gallery and at my favourite galleries.

I have my model, my pencil, my paints. My mind doesn’t interest me.

Edgar Degas.

The enigmatic white masks of Venice

A drawing from my studio

The Venetian mask

Travel transforms us, and Venice more so than most. A group of young Americans studying acting in Venice were working with the white full face masks which renders them completely expressionless and unreadable.

There was one young woman of rare beauty. I never really chatted to her, but I was always aware of her presence. When they put on their masks, she in particular was transmuted into a living mystery.

You read into that expressionless mask what your subconscious projects onto it.

For some it would be hostile or mocking or scary.

To me, this was sexy beyond belief. A projection of pure sensuality.

The smallest movement of the body or even the folds of clothes is magnified, as is its significance. Basic body language.

With this mask in place, all communication comes from the body, the more so as these masks cannot be tied into place. Instead, there is a projection behind the mouth, and the wearer bites down on this button to keep it in place. This means that not only is she unable to use her face to communicate, but that she is also unable to speak. The personality of the wearer is limited to what the body is saying.

There is this mystery in Venice, in the mists and the light and the alleyways, and in the people, even in ourselves as we absorb the sense of unearthliness, the sense of place.

This is part of the beauty and mystery and often, the darkness of the city beyond time.

Still life, what still life?

My friend George was the best painter of still life I had ever come across. But even he struggled with painting flowers.

When we set up a vase with roses or poppies we have the expectation that unlike the figure, they will stay still and “hold their pose”.

Forget about it!

Those roses move around, change their shape, and grow and fade in the vase. The changes are slow but within half an hour they are impossible to miss. They do a wild dance. When I watch demonstrations on the internet, the still life is often shown as an inset  so that we can see what the artist is working from. The demo may take four hours, sometimes over two days, but frustratingly these flowers always keep their shape. No opening of the buds, no sagging of the stems, no wilting of the flowers.

George took about 30 days to paint a still life (for me it is about about 4 days). In that time flowers grow and fade and die. The still life has life.

But “still”? Never. He told me of his struggle with these recalcitrant flowers. He confessed that he tried to keep his still lives in a fridge; that he put formalin in the waater to embalm them; and that once he even tried painting artificial flowers.

It was disaster. “I could not stand that they never moved!”

What George was getting with was not still life, but the rigidity of death, and it was a nightmarish experience.

This is what some internet demos do. Their flowers have a cold perfection – they never change, because what they are being painted from is a photograph.

As seeing, feeling beings we are drawn to life with all its imperfection, and that is what makes George’s paintings so great.

The Tao refers to the universe as “that which changes”.

Saturday demo on 30 May 

On Saturday morning 30th May, at 9:30 at the Saveur Restaurant on the Simonstown waterfront, I shall do an oil painting demo, an alla prima portrait study in oils.

The venue is on the middle level of the Simonstown Waterfront by the jetty.

R60 includes a cup of coffee from Saveur. And you do not have to bring a chair!

When line is our subject 

Line drawing is not a technique so much as it is a subject. Before we can draw a line we first have to see a line (not a figure or a mountain or a profile).

Line is defined as “a point moving” and a point as “a position in space, with no dimensions”. A line drawing is an exploration of the movement of our attention over a field, a figure or a still life or a landscape. The line represents the pathway of our eye, and the result is a line drawing, a map of our visual exploration.

Now if we want to make line the subject of a painting, we have two options. We can draw some lines into the paint as if we were doing a line drawing, or we can take as our subject a line drawing done before.

When we paint from a drawing of, say, a dancer, we have two options. We can paint the dancer using the drawing at a reference of proportion, posture, light and shade and mood; or we can paint the drawing for itself, celebrating the lines and the marks and the blurs and the scratches on the paper for its own intrinsic beauty. This is the way I like to work. The drawing is not a intermediary to another experience, but something to be experience in itself.

Both methods are perfectly valid.

The important thing is for artists to use drawing as the means to capture a moment or a mood, and not a camera. That drawing is a living thing, crackling with electricity and passion. It leads to a heightened awareness of our subject, life itself.

Lose your heart and find your soul.

12 days in Venice.

Limited places left.

19 to 31 October 2015. 12 days painting with Ryno Swart. 

1200 Euro sharing and 1450 Euro for a single room.

Book by emailing Ryno or by phoning 021 786 3975.

Don’t worry about avoiding temptation. As you get older, it will avoid you.

Joey Adams.

Art, life and whimsy

Flirting with the hairdresser

If you should notice that my hair is a bit shorter than usual, there is a story behind it.

Last week I went for one of my infrequent haircuts. The hairdresser was new to me, a young Indian woman. She offered me a nice cup of coffee and we fell into easy banter.

“Short in front please, but I like to have my ears covered.”

All went well until she started to thin out the body of the hair. Lifting the hair she did these fluttery snips so fast that it looked like the wings of a hummingbird. No visibe movement of the scissors and the hair just melting away. A haircut is as sensual as a massage anyway, and the combination of magical technique and the charm of my hairdresser put me into a kind of a trance, or rather an enchantment. As ever, I was most appreciative.

“This is just so good! Like watching a master artist at work.”

A rose in winter. One of my Saturday morning demos.

A rose in winter.
One of my Saturday morning demos.

“Oh I wish I could paint, but I am useless at art.”

“That is not true. Anybody who is a natural musician, or a writer, or a poet, is already an artist, and will make a great painter. It demands delicacy, sensitivity, courage, and sensuality. You have all these qualities.”

“Oh I don’t know.”

“It is true. You should try it…”

And so it went. Whenever she asked if my hair was looking good, I would say yes, it’s wonderful, but maybe just a little here, or a touch there. By the time I realised that I did not want the magic to stop, I also became aware that she was also in the spell of the moment.

All this time my hair was getting shorter and shorter, nicely so. When it was eventually time to stop, I felt a pang of sadness, the more so as it wil be a number of months before I’ll need another haircut.

This is the thing. This kind of event is the artistic experience.

This is what we hope to capture in our art.

Saturday demo tomorrow 

On Saturday morning 2nd May, at 9:30 at the Saveur Restaurant on the Simonstown waterfront, I shall do an oil painting demo, an alla prima portrait study in oils.

The venue is on the middle level of the Simonstown Waterfront by the jetty.

R60 includes a cup of coffee from Saveur. And you do not have to bring a chair!

Sorry sir, we have to search you 

Last night I nearly wet myself laughing. I was reading some snippets on RT while Anne was dozing off next to me.

“Anne,” I said, and then I started to giggle.

“Anne… they have these two Airport Security Officers at Denver Airport.” I started to laugh.

They had these two Airport Security Officers at Denver AIrport. Now Denver is my port of entry and exit to the US…

Now these two had this thing. The guy liked to do a body search of attactive guys, and he would give a sign to the woman when a man he liked was coming through the security check. So everybody has to go through this machine, which scans your whole body…

By now I could hardly talk I was laughing so much.

It scans your body looking for any suspicious shapes or packages which should not be there…

Oh Lord!

… which should not be there…

From next door Jean called out, “Will you two please cool it! I have classes tomorrow.” This just made it worse, because now I was screaming with laughter, but trying to keep silent!

So as the guy came through the machine, they switched it over to scan a woman. Sure enough, the machine red-lighted a suspicious “parcel” where a woman should not have one.

“Sorry sir,” she would say, “We have to do a body search of you.”

“If you would step over here then my partner can do the search…” And on the scan a suspicious shape woud show up in the groin area.

The male agent did the search, feeling around carefully to make sure that there were no dangerous items secreted in the area, and then they would apologise and wave the guy through.

The sad thing is, they were caught out and fired.

A lot of people did not find this funny, but that just made me laugh all the harder.

“They should at least give the guy a choice of whether he wanted to woman or the man to conduct the search,” I told Anne, and eventually, still giggling like a madman, I fell asleep.

All you Montana friends, next time you go through Denver security on your way to or from Venice, please remember this tale and think of me!

Lose your heart and find your soul.

12 days in Venice. 19 to 31 October 2015.

With limited places left, contact me now for the experience of a lifetime. 12 days of painting from dawn to dusk, and losing yourself in the most beautiful city in the world.

19 to 31 October 2015. 12 days painting with Ryno Swart. 

1200 Euro sharing and 1450 Euro for a single room.

Book by emailing Ryno or by phoning 021 786 3975.

Find my art.

View my work at artistvision.org/gallery and at my favourite galleries.

Your passion cannot be painting. It can only be that which you are celebrating in your painting.

Art, life and whimsy

The bridal veil

The most beautiful thing in nature is mist.

And the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, was on her wedding day. The vision of Anne coming down the staircase at Bosky Dell remains with me.

Timbre

Timbre. Crayon on paper. 2015

Mist is beautiful, not as a poetic convention but as a fact, because it veils detail. So the bridal veil. It reveals even as it hides, but with the feeling of mystery. No detail, just the structures. Mist paints, as does the veil. Atmosphere destroys detail, and detail destroys atmosphere. Detail or atmosphere. In our art, we have to make our choice and stick with it.

In the world of Eros, of literature and movies and art, we love the suggestive and dislike the explicit. Suggestive writing connects our imagination, and make us creative partners in building the scene.

A painting will never again be as beautiful as in its colour beginning.

I love weddings because I never get to see a woman as beautiful as a bride (including my own bride)

Part of the beauty of the bride lies in her fulfilment and joy, but a large part of it is in the wedding dress, Victorian couture in our modern time.

Why is it that with all our materialistic attitudes, our brides are still attired in Victorian splendour? One reason only. These dresses are the most beautiful garments ever created, at least within our experience.

This thought took me to those magnificent sculptures from ancient Greece, is it not possible, even likely, that those form enhancing garments could have been crafted in chiffons and voiles? I can tell that the drapes on the caryatids of the Parthenon were revealing, more than hiding. The living caryatids were priestesses of Artemis

Greek garments, the peplos and the chiton, are designed to enhance the beauty of the female form. Not all women in ancient Greece would have been so perfect, so youthful, so sensual… but the priestesses in the temples of Venus, the Vestal virgins, the inspiration of the artists of the age… they for sure would have demonstrated the perfection of the female form, in Plato’s ideal proportion.

Like the dresses of our time, garments can be created in a variety of fabrics, warm for winter and cool for summer. The peplos was a single large rectangle of fabric, loosely and cunningly draped around the body, open on one side. Some small ceramic sculptures which have come down to us from the city of Tanagra, where they were found by archaeologists, display a most sophisticated approach to colour harmony.

What a time to be alive! What a vision! and what a subject for the figure artist!

Phidias celebrated it, and Praxiteles, and Apelles. As for me, I am off to look for some chiffon.

The Saturday demo is back

On Saturday morning 2nd May, at 9:30 at the Saveur Restaurant on the Simonstown waterfront, I shall do an oil painting demo, an alla prima portrait study in oils.

The venue is on the middle level of the Simonstown Waterfront by the jetty.

R60 includes a cup of coffee from Saveur.

Timbre. The crisp quality of a line, or the sensual texture of a voice.

There is beauty in line, in its elegance, it power, its accuracy. Every element in drawing and in painting has a corresponding musical quality, and for line the quality is that of the melody line, the artist striving for the perfect linework of a solo violin.

I taught a drawing workshop this week, and one of my primary aims was to concentrate on a line of highest purity.

The artist needs to feel the grip of the paper on the charcoal and the way that the charcoal crumbles and breaks and binds to the surface. This pure abstract beauty communicates directly to the subconscious, independent of the subject or content of the picture.

This is the elusive quality of “timbre”, the sound of a fine voice, that special resonance of the Argentinian tango. It is the element of sensuality, of seduction, so vital the expression of the romantic/erotic in figure painting and drawing.

Lose your heart and find your soul.
12 days in Venice. 19 to 31 October 2015.

With limited places left, contact me now for the experience of a lifetime. 12 days of painting from dawn to dusk, and losing yourself in the most beautiful city in the world.

19 to 31 October 2015. 12 days painting with Ryno Swart.
1200 Euro sharing and 1450 Euro for a single room.

Book by emailing Ryno or by phoning 021 786 3975.

Find my art.

View my work at artistvision.org/gallery and at my favourite galleries.