October 29, 2007


Couldn't stand to look at that miserable excuse for a painting another minute so I changed my position, sat close up to the table, grabbed my palette knife and attacked. Now I'm beginning to feel the excitment again. Everything is going to change and enter another dimension. I'm not interested in representation: re-presenting. Who need to present things again? I want to discover something I don't know, haven't seen before, not keep on RE presenting, re-heating, re-hashing. Why be so scared of challenging a painted surface for goodness sake? It's only paints and canvas! The picture is only an illusion and you can make it do whatever you want.

Stage 4: now three apples



Stage 3 of 2 applesI am ashamed of this stage. I hate it. I want to slash the canvas. I am posting it only as a lesson to myself, in order to give myself courage to proceed differently.

This is an example of exactly what I was saying not to do: losing the mystery, trying to "get it right", blah blah blah. Timidity, mediocrity, slavishness, fear of losing. I'm just plodding, plod plod. I don't care if you like it, I don't and I'm the one who decides.

This is not about pleasing others or being nice to one's self, non-judgemental. You have to be bloody judgemental if you're a painter and you know what you don't want to do and have at least an inkling of what you're trying to get at. I'm not talking about competence, skill, correctness, proportions, perspective, light & shade, any of those things, although what I'm talking about may or may not include them all.

What I'm after is communicating the excitment of seeing something as if for the first time, differently from the way one usually sees, revelatory.

Decided to paint by electric light, scrapped the view out the window, started adding more detail in the background, fiddling fiddling. As I plod along I know I'm losing it but fearfully keep on plodding. My initial excitment has been banished, beaten into submission. Lost it.

Don't do as I did. Next stage will be very different, I promise.


October 26, 2007


The days have been so grey that I can barely see my subject so I've been delaying getting the oil colours out. But since there's no avoiding winter and since I don't want to change my set-up, I may have to give in and work by electricity. Here's what the scene looks like some of the time by daylight. As you can see in my painting, I'm taking liberties with sizes and angles of everything - taking liberty and re-defining it is the point, isn't it?

Apples against the light

Over at Via Negativa Dave gave me a huge boost with his inclusion of The God Interviews in a wonderful post Walking with whatever. Read it and be beguiled by his flair for blending nature and art, observation and imagination, looking up at heaven in a down-to-earth way and down at the ground with reverence.

The God Interviews isn't forgotten just because I don't talk about it lately. I'm still planning to do a sequel, still hoping to find a mainstream publisher and still being happily surprised by unexpected responses and events. For instance:

On Sunday November 4th from 2 to 7pm there will be a Small Press Comics Fair in the Brandon Room at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) as part of the Comica Festival. I'll have a stand there so if you're in London, do come along.


October 20, 2007


A much earlier painting of mine, Cosmic Clocks, is featured in qarrtsiluni under this month's theme "Making Sense". Check out the wonderful poetry there too.

Yesterday I had the fourth FNAC (fine needle aspiration cytology) of My Lump. The doc who does the test knows me by now and we had a comforting chat. He is of the opinion, which I share, that the operation may not be necessary and just keeping an eye on the thing every six months would be sufficient. However, when these new results are ready, they will be analysed and discussed by the surgeon and his team (including this doctor) and then a decision will be made. That will be on Oct.30th. The lump is tiny, it's invisible, it doesn't hurt, it doesn't bother me, it's been there at least two years and only a small percentage of parotid gland lumps are ever malignant. Whereas the  three hour operation to remove it runs a very high risk of damage to facial nerves. So? So I'm feeling optimistic and am bored with talking about this medical stuff. Let's wait and see.

The painting is slowly taking shape but there are panic moments when I think I'm losing it, the mystery. Then it returns. Then it goes again. One problem is that I can't work both in daylight and electric light because everything changes. Yet I like also working at night. What I want to achieve is a sense that you're looking at things the way they look when nobody sees them. A sharp intake of breath. A kind of clarity that doesn't come from exactitude but from revelation.

Stage 2, apples in conversation


October 18, 2007


I've started painting again.

This may seem an odd statement from someone who was born and bred a painter but, to me, it's a major event. You see, I am an unfaithful painter, one who is so sure that the daemon is hers forever that she imagines it can safely be kept on a shelf while she gallivants around. Long-term co-habiting with artist's books, printmaking, murals, writing, teaching, illustration, comics, digital art, blogging - not to mention flirtations with anything that moves: animation, juggling, dancing, photography, technology etc. have all managed to separate me from my one true love. While it's quite nice to be a Jackie of all trades, it has to be said that, in art, fidelity is where it's at. You have to turn your back on something in order to face what's directly in front of you. That's what painting is to me: the thrill of re-discovering what's in front of my eyes. The miracle of things seen as if for the first time, simply opening the eyes and letting the mystery flood in. It's love, mindfulness, meditation, satori, entering through the eyes and emerging from the hand holding the brush. The task is to maintain this state of miraculous awareness and that's not easy. You have to choose what to focus on, ignoring the temptation to record everything slavishly. As soon as you start copying all that the eyes perceive, the mystery vanishes and painting becomes a chore, a duty, a bore.

Below is the first state of a large-ish (80 x 81 cm) painting I started yesterday, two apples in conversation. I'm using only grey and white (grisaille) as an underpainting then will move on to oil colours. Will post further stages. I'm so excited.

New painting,Stage One,



October 10, 2007


New York from the train

Why have I put off writing about this trip? During all my previous journeys back to the USA I filled numerous notebooks with my observations but this time I was struck by a kind of psychic paralysis. I saw, I heard, I felt, but couldn't write, couldn't draw, barely managed a few photos.

I'm no stranger to New York. It was home during most of my growing-up years after early days in Paris and Paraguay. I was "Dabby", the little foreign kid amongst the big Irish-American girls at the convent school uptown on 142nd Street. Then I was "Nippy", excited  naive new pupil at the Art Students League on West 57th Street, discovering art and artists, much of it at Carney's Bar a few doors away, walking back home through Central Park, hip-to-hip, arm-in-arm with my illicit crush (older married man-about-town presumed art student) the New York skyline always so thrilling behind the trees.   A few years later I was Nat, young singleton in her first independent apartment on Seventh Avenue South, the edge of Greenwich Village. I loved New York in those days - how could you not love it? It had everything, it was exhilaration poured into concrete and metal and glass and tar, ceaselessly vibrating in tune with Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Much later, after marriage and Mexico and Vancouver and Mato Grosso and Paraguay and Rome and Paris and London, I came back to New York quite often but only passing through on my way to California or Colorado or Texas or Chicago or Wisconsin or New England - work-journeys, artist's book shows, lecture-tours, teaching trips. I'd stay with my good friend Pat in mid-town Manhattan, eat cheesecake and hamburgers and catch up on events in our peripatetic lives. New York was still exciting then but it wasn't my excitment anymore though I enjoyed basking in its glitter for a few days.

This time there was a gap of about thirteen years and everything was different -  or maybe (certainly) I am different. Things looked the same, smelled the same, but I was an alien from another planet. At first the old euphoria did return and my feet pounding the steamy pavements felt a rush of confidence - that famous Sinatra confidence which insists you can make it in NewYorkNewYork just as you're about to jump from the forty-seventh floor window. But the high didn't last and the celebrated chutzpah started to look surreal, even sinister. In a taxi I stared open-mouthed at the mini-video screen playing commercials for urology operations, with diagrams of all that could be wrong inside your pelvic cavity. On the subway, ads by lawyers demanded to know if you were abused in a hospital or nursing home lately? Given wrong medication? Fallen on uneven floors? Call us and we'll sue the bastards for you (my paraphrasing). Other ads featured grinning faces of eminent professors in eminent faculties just waiting for you to turn up and be educated. Stars and stripes were everywhere, decorating subway trains, trucks, doorways, flapping from every imaginable high or low surface  - patriotism whipped up to the point of hysteria. The throngs surging determinedly uptown, downtown, eastside, westside, looked glassy-eyed - I was going to say robotic, but that's not right - it was more that they seemed to be pulled along by an unstoppable current not of their own making. Conversations I eavesdropped had the word "money" most often repeated. Sitting next to me on the train from Penn Station, on my way to Boston to visit cherished relatives for a couple of days, a cool, elegant middle-aged blonde was making multi-million real-estate deals on her cell-phone:
He's the head of this bank, he's immaculate.
You can't get better than that: they have no kids and they don't smoke.
How dare you, how DARE you advertise MY building on your website? I'll have your licence revoked!

All that I once loved about New York no doubt still exists but during my long absence a deep chasm must have opened between us and there were moments when I just couldn't make head or tail of anything in my surroundings. Even though I'm a seasoned traveller, the chaotic back streets of Luxor were not as foreign to me as old familiar New York City this time around.

On the other hand - and there is most definitely another hand which erases all that I've written above or at least paints over it - for the first weekend and a few days afterwards, I was part of the most wonderful gathering of a bunch of creative bloggers, most of whom I had until then only met in cyberspace. Because we had already gotten to know something of each other's minds before meeting in the flesh, there was an ease of communication, a spontaneity and warmth rarely found in the usual social occasions. This cementing of cyber-friendships, bringing them into the real world, was the heart and the soul of my journey. It provided an oasis where I could take refuge from the feeling of being stranded in a strange land. To each of those friends I want to say thank you for transforming New York for me by your presence. Sorry, but now I'll have to quote Elton John - or rather his lyricist Bernie Taupin: How wonderful life is when you're in the world.

(I neglected to ask permission to post pictures of some of the people I photographed at the Museum of Modern Art so, with apologies, I now remove them).


October 7, 2007


Ken Dodd's autographMy sister came from Paris to stay for the week which was supposed to be My Operation Week but since the op was postponed we spent the time doing ordinary sisterly things like going to the cinema, shopping, etc. One of our outings was to the National Portrait Gallery and in the basement café, while waiting in line, who should I spot but Ken DoddNow some of you non-Brits (like my sister) may not have heard of our Ken but let me tell you, he is a very big celebrity over here, an institution - like tea or fish and chips or the Queen. I smiled at him and he acknowledged my recognition with a friendly wave of the hand. We went to sit out of sight in the bookshop area of the café but then, on second thought, I decided to go back and ask for Ken's autograph. He and his partner, Anne Jones, were drinking their tea when I sidled up with my little brown notebook and, having ascertained my name, Doddy graciously gave me the memento you see here on the left.

We chatted for a few minutes and he said he had come to the gallery to look at his portrait. I asked if he liked it and Ken's furrowed brow furrowed a bit more. "It'", he said. I mentioned (I would, wouldn't I?) that I am an artist and he asked: "Do you reveal the inner self?" I said: "Sometimes it works , sometimes it doesn't." (Yes it did cross my mind that I would love to be asked to paint his portrait and that it would be more than "interesting" and I did mention that I have a website). Anne said that he too has a website and I resolved to look it up as soon as I got home. As I left I handed Ken Dodd my card and invited them both to visit my cyber home.

After tea, my sister and I went upstairs and found the portrait of Ken Dodd by David Cobley . I could see why Ken's verdict was hesitant: it is only an "interesting" portrait - one of the better ones in what is, in my opinion, a very poor collection of contemporary portraiture (likenesses: yes. Good paintings: mostly not). It captures the anything-but-funny exhaustion and sadness of the long-running, driven comic but it misses his warmth and humanity - the qualities that have made him so popular for so long. With my French/Russian/South American background I must admit that I didn't really get Ken Dodd's humour in the past: Diddy Men, tickling stick, chuckabutties - what was that all about? But I do recognise that he has something unique - not a satirist, not an innovator, but a hard-working man, a craftsman who has built his comic style like an old-time cobbler fashions a pair of shoes. He concentrates on what he does best, regardless of changing tastes and trends, works overtime, loves his audience and stays approachable. "Innocent surrealism" is how Andrew Martin (in an article I've linked to above) describes what he does and that's exactly right. My chance meeting in the N.P.G café was such a pleasure because Ken Dodd seemed like a loved and eccentric old friend.