Sunday, 7 June 2015


Perhaps chasing those elusive ‘AHA!” moments appeals to us all – certainly to artists of every stripe. Lately I am preoccupied with thoughts about certain critical moments in the lives of artists I admire. With this in mind as I begin a new series of paintings, I have also embarked on a separate but concurrent project, in which I am writing fictionalized accounts in first person voices about decisive turns in the lives of several artists.

As in my earlier Juicetrain paintings, my Crossroads works make no attempt to emulate the style of any artist, or to represent the characters or physical settings associated with decisive moments in their lives. However, as a kind of homage to the artists about whom I am concocting stories, the titles of the new paintings are also the titles of the fictions I have proposed.

The new work is decidedly abstract, its genesis dictated only by my own working process. I have tried through my own experience in the studio, to imagine what it must have felt like, when impending change electrified the lives of artists I admire, perhaps hoping for new ‘aha’ moments of my own.

This series of new paintings extends my exploration of artistic legacy – the connection among artists of various times and places – a subject that continues to engage me.

June, 2015

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Brunelleschi's Dream
Sometime in 1413-19.

Filippo Brunelleschi, Perspective Drawuing for the Interior of the Basilica of Santo Spirito, Firenze, c. 1428

Bring some bread. And more wine.

As I said, I saw myself at first sitting in the darkness inside the camera obscura, staring at the inverted image of the Palazzo Vecchio. I sat in a magnificent chair, unable to move. This was extremely frustrating as you can well imagine ... I was utterly helpless. A delectable meal had been laid out on a table beside me, and in the dim light I could make out roast pheasant, a plate of fish, varieties of fruit and cheese, loaves of bread, and jugs of wine ... and I was starving! – absolutely famished, and again, completely helpless. I was alone, no boy to serve me. Everything I needed was so near, and yet entirely inaccessible to me.

Suddenly I was standing in the very centre of Rome's Colosseum, where in fact I have spent many hours drawing the ruins. You know of my excursions to Rome to study the buildings of the ancients. In the dream, my view of the ruins was almost completely obscured by advancing and receding orthogonal lines extending to every block of stone in the place. The lines seemed to move constantly, and they nearly obscured the sky – it was frightening.

Finally, before the bells woke me, I sat atop the Uffizzi, looking across and down at the structures in the centre of Firenze: the Palazzo Vecchio, the Palazzo del Popolo, the Duomo and so on. This is when it struck me.

As you know, I have struggled to complete this system of drawing which will be failsafe – always accurate, and always portraying the world as we see it – without the need of a camera obscura or any other device. What the ancient Romans failed to do, I did. I realized that for every object whose face confronted the viewer at a specific angle, the receding orthogonals must intersect at a point in the distance. If the structure were infinitely large, at that point it would appear so small that it would disappear from view – in effect it would vanish. Thus, I logically call these points vanishing points. Blocks of stone, or buildings that are differently oriented require a different point to the right or left of the others. What had evaded me was how to answer the question of exactly how high or low these points should be distributed in the drawing.

In that instant before I awoke, sitting atop the Uffizzi, my question was answered. We have become accustomed to accepting the de facto decision of the camera obscura – its pinhole predetermines the height of the observer, regardless of whether he sits or stands inside the camera. But what I have realized is that the vanishing points must be placed at the height of my eyes! Of course! Not at some arbitrary height decided by a pinhole, but at the elevation equal to the eyes of the observer, wherever he or she might be: in the bottom of a stairwell, or working on a course of new masonry at the highest level of the Duomo.

Looking down at the buildings in my dream, the orthogonals that had tortured me in the Colosseum, now sang in harmony as I saw them extend to vanishing points along a line that precisely coincided with the height of my own eyes – not as it would be were I standing in the piazza, perhaps six feet from the ground, but as it was atop the Uffizzi. Further, I realized that were I to represent this line in a drawing, it would coincide with the line that separates earth from sky. In the present case, there was much to be seen below that line. Were I to stand in the piazza however, this line would be lower, again at the height of my eyes, and most of what I saw would rise above the line. So you see, my vanishing points must rest upon this line, this horizon line ... unless a block of stone has been tipped upward or downward at an angle ... but I do not wish to confuse you. Do you see? I have my answer. This is the final piece of the puzzle. Now I can complete my system of perspective drawing, and it will be unchallenged forever.

God bless dreams! Now hurry and finish your meal. I must go to the Duomo to study the Baptistery. This will be a challenge, but it will also supply the proof that has eluded me.

The Death of Vincent Van Gogh

Wheat Field and Crows, Vincent Van Gogh, 189050.2 cm x 103 cm (19.9 in x 40.6 in). Van Gogh Museum

Oh I seen dat crazy bugger head off over yonder pretty early that day. Took his breakfast here at the inn, like always, and then left with his paints. Yessir, he had his whole kit 'n caboodle wit 'im, fer sure. Jeez loo-eeze he's a strange one, he is. Y'know he eats his paint, eh?! No, I'm not kiddin' yez. Though I don't know if he's got a favourite color, heh heh ... if y'know what I mean, eh ... heh, heh. A little red wit yer chicken? heh, heh. Oh he's a strange one, he is. But nice enough, I suppose, when he ain't cuttin' off any ears, heh, heh. Oh, you heard about that did ya? Shoulda been here when he shows up at the front door with the thing wrapped up like a gift fer his girl. Lord love us. Strange times. 

An' now they're all up there waitin' fer 'im to die, don't y'know. And he's takin' his good sweet time about it too, I'll say. Gut shot, he is, and that's a bad one. Nuthin' to do but wait. Crazy bugger. Now I asks ya, who in the name of all the saints shoots hisself in the gut, if he really wants to say g'night fer all eternity? I mean, holy jumpin' Jupiter ... any ten-year-old kid knows enough to make it quick. Blow yer brains out! That's the right way t'do it, by god. But a gut shot? Lord love us, what a slow and horrible way to go. His brudder's up there with 'im. Seems like a nice enough feller, for a city man. An ol' doc Gachet's there; lotta good that'll do. 

Now here's somethin' I'll bet you didn't know, and it makes you wonder too, y'know? Come here close now, so's I don't hafta yell. We got some wild kids in this town. Boys mostly. When they finds they got some hair on their balls, they just wants to raise hell ... I s'pose it's the same everywhere, and 'course there's nuthin' much to do around here when you're that age, so why not have some fun and piss people off? That's what they seem to think. Oh, I was young once too ... long time ago now, you sees my white hair, an' I lost the last of my choppers many years ago. But, by god, I never got into things the way these kids does today. Never. No sir! Here ... pour us another beer, there's the boy. 
Well, here's the thing, eh ... come good 'n close now. That's it. One of these boys, he likes to play cowboy. Crazy, ain't it? He'll tell ya to "stick 'em up," or he might holler "I'll see you at high noon, stranger, an' we'll have us a showdown." René Secretan, that's his name I think. Lord only knows where he gets this stuff, but I seen him playin' with this old revolver, an' I ain't the only one seen it. Figured the gun was busted and worth nothin', but there it was anyway ... the cowboy with his six shooter. Vincent was pretty fair with these boys. I hear he was a preacher once, and maybe he picked up some patience dealin' with trouble-makers; who knows? Now, the cowboy kid an' his pals would find a way to get pissed up, and run around the streets at night bothering folks - spilling groceries, kickin' mud at folks, sayin' just awful dirty things to young women if they didn't have a strappin' young man with 'em. Now an' then they'd come across our boy Vincent, and they'd give him a hard time too, callin' him names, and tryin' to spill all the stuff he carried, y'know? 

Anyway ... the thing is ... well, there's the cowboy and his "posse" they call it, and there's the old gun, and, AND ... these boys was nowhere to be seen that morning, the one when he got shot. In the afternoon, they all come runnin' and jumpin' along the street here, all jazzed up and laughin' like as if they's just turned over the priest's outhouse and him in it, y'know what I mean? But here's the thing. The cowboy kid don't have the gun no more. Now, I ain't sayin' they did, and I ain't sayin' they didn't. I'm just sayin' is all. Somethin' to think about, ain't it? Maybe the crazy painter didn't shoot hisself in the guts after all. Maybe, I'm sayin'. 

Meanwhile, poor ol' Vincent straggles back into town around nine that evening holding his guts, and muttering "I seen the crows." 

Strange times, by god.

Vincent Van Gogh, Self-portrait, 1889, Courtauld Institute Galleries, London.

David Newkirk, Crossroads: Vincent Sees the Crows, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 48x36 in.

David Newkirk, Crossroads: Vincent Sees the Crows 2, 2015, acrylic on canvas, diptych 72x96 in.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Francisco de Goya, Los Caprichos

Francisco de Goya, 1797-98: Capricho № 43: El sueño de la razón produce monstruos 

March 30, 1796
Still deaf. Still pathetic - deaf as a post. Dios mio, another sunrise marks 50 years on this earth. It feels like 150. And what's the difference after all? Life is excrement, trying to justify itself. What a joke ... shit that thinks. Oh ... these black dogs. Nothing will chase them away. People tell me I should be thankful, that I have had great fortune ... I feel none of it. I have survived this illness but it took my hearing from me. Should I die now, or in a few years? What could it possibly matter?

Now where in hell did I put that carafe? And what is it about being a little drunk that makes one so desire to retain the feeling? What a farce ... all of it. Those fools who believe that they somehow matter to the king, the court, the world. If we all dropped dead tomorrow, do they think that the world would stop spinning? Idiotas.

Men and women play their games of love, as if that is important, as if they are truly being honest about what they really want. Priests! Now there are some people as pathetic as I am, but shhhh ... mustn't let anyone hear that thought. Oh no no no ... just an excuse to torture and kill some poor sod like me. Shhhh. Ah, here's the carafe after all. That's better. Oops, careful Francisco.

Francisco de Goya, Self Portrait, 1815

Can't even hear the wine pour. Try this ... nope. Broke the glass with the carafe and did not hear that either. What a nice pool of blood ... no, not blood, wine! Who cares? Plenty more glasses. Plenty more wine. And even in deafness that maddening ringing in my ears tortures me. No more music. No more breeze rustling the leaves. No more cows lowing. No more moans of pleasure. Dear God. How can I go on like this? Why have you made living such a capricious struggle?

Capricious. What a melodious word, or is that malodorous? Hmph. Caprice. Capricious fools. Hmmm.

David Newkirk, Crossroads: Caprice for Goya, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 60x48 in.