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.