Saturday, January 26, 2008

Saint Brendan and the Whale on Easter

Saint Brendan and the Whale on Easter
60 x 45 cm / Acrylic on canvas

That night, a few monks slept in the boat and the rest slept on the island. Next morning, the crew decided to cook some of the raw meat for the supplies. They lit a fire of the driftwood on the island and to their horror and amazement the island moved. At top speed they scrambled back to the boat, abandoning the burning fire and the pot sitting on it. Brendan held out his hand to help each and every man aboard and he told them to hoist the sail as fast as they could.

They hoisted the sail, it bellied with the wind. But as the boat pulled out from the island, the island seemed the slip away from under the boat. Amazing! Each went in different directions, with the island sailing away much faster than the boat. They watched it for one, two, three miles with the fire still burning on it.

The crew of innocent men was puzzled until Brendan explained to them. They had not been grounded on an island - they had come to rest on the back of a great whale!

-- The Storyteller from Ireland: A Novel, by Frank Delaney
For the two weeks here preceding I have given much thought about finishing this painting I haven't been able to rush before the day I enlisted, and upon hitting home it seemed only right to get it done the following morning. This painting is special.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


When I was four I lived in Sanya with my grandparents, in a terraced house facing a small in-road, where the kids in the neighbourhood played. To the west of the houses was a field, where the old folk played croquet. Even then it was hard for me to get along with my peers, so I preferred playing croquet. And my grandparents kept me away from the others because they thought the others too rough, and besides, I was too clumsy to stay upright much of the time in a running and shrieking crowd.

Some time into each day the other kids would climb the tree in front of my house and pick the berries growing in the foliage, the same sort of berries that in Singapore would be littering the pavements and be carelessly stepped upon. And because I couldn't climb trees I could only watch from the second storey window, where my grandfather worked on his novel. And the boys taunted me from up the branches while stuffing their cheeks full of those red little things.

Maybe most of my childhood was missed this way, but I would say that guys are blessed in a sense that their childhoods extend way into their twenties. For me, it will be two years of it left. May these times bring much joy, comraderie and maximum messing around in nature. Like climbing trees.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The person as they be seen

I have wanted to do portraiture in the holidays, but for the lack of models (being too timid to ask anyone) and the accompanying lack of training and experience in drawing people (which doesn't much help the former). So what came out recently instead is stuff somewhat akin to storybook illustrations. Portraits of people around me figure high in my mental todo list, notwithstanding.

What would be the best way to capture an image of a person? Here I assume that there are at least two, in very broad terms. One, an enshrinement of image with a contrived, orderly posture; Two, natural portrayal, or as the person is seen and met in daily life. Personally I would choose natural portrayal as a medium, seeing that people have been drawing posed figures close ever since they were done with Lascaux. Besides, natural portrayal of a person looks and feels like the real folk; it is recognisable. Might be something Tolstoy would like.

On the other hand, if you visualise a portrait being hung up on a wall, say in someone's room, fulfilling the function as a medium of the inhabitant's image, then the viability of natural portrayal in its purest form would eventually come to be questioned. Let's imagine that the model for Lucian Freud's Naked Man on a Bed buys the painting on account of its candid and relaxed pose being true to the model's character. Would he not think twice about placing it in his living room? Visitors may be inclined to scream, "Aargh, naked man on a bed!" before paying heed to any portrayal of image unique on the part of the host. Used as a portrait, the painting may show a true face, but even that would be lost to the audience if spontaniety is not given an upper bound.

There's a more apparent problem to natural portrayal: its role when the person depicted has deceased. A portrait here would ideally provoke certain memories in the minds of family and friends as they look upon the portrait. A spontaneously-captured portrait may reveal much of the subject's character, but that is only one possibility. Maybe the subject is portrayed in his or her bad mood; the gaze is turned away from the audience, and their loved ones leave grieved by the way that the barrier between them and the dead has not yielded to the painter's efforts. Maybe the subject is rendered in a ridiculous pose, which may prove to be distracting by the preoccupied audience.

As suggested there will be a standard to which naturalistic portraiture, if the purpose is to preserve the subject's image for posterity, has to conform. That is, a portrait is judged based on how well it portrays the subject's totality of character, experience, value systems etc. Maybe it is good now to launch into how specifically one should go about the business, but, alas, I am not yet so qualified. Louis Briel has much more to say about portraiture, and my view on it has much to do with his.

You can reach his article here, which wass given out to us in Art class as a reading. I hope it still is.
Portraits as Intuitive History
Louis Briel (website)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Salmon Úa

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The Salmon Úa (after Laxness)
30 x 40 cm / Acrylic on Canvas

It was no more than a month to the solstice, night in the northwest would soon become morning in the southeast, yet the electric light coming through the door behind the woman did not affect the natural light. When the lid was removed, this light glistened on the contents of the box. The light shone dazzlingly on the material that filled the box to the brim, and glittered like a terrible jewel, larger than if all the principal diamonds in the world were put together. It was a frozen block.

The ice had certainly started to thaw considerably, as was said before, after many hours of transportation in the above-zero temperature of the lowlands, and had started to come away from the rims of the container. They turned the box upside down so that the contents came free. Now one could see through the melting ice, and it was clear that this long, gleaming, and translucent block housed a most beautiful salmon. A fish of this size has been lost by all great anglers, and they never forget it afterwards.

When the winter-pasture shepherds had overturned this moist ice-block at the woman's feet, they threw the packing out onto the paving and the Icelanders collected the debris. Helgi of Torfhvalastaðir took the wood for later use, while the poet Jódínus secured the zinc.

Halldór Laxness / Chapter 37 (part) of Under the Glacier (Kristnihald undir jökli) / The Veranda Continued: Night