Paradis – from ‘the Last Judgement of Pope Francis’.

So May 3rd 2020 and we are learning to live with Covid-19 the virus that has the potential to massively deplete the population of the blue planet. Fortunately in France and in most other 1st. world countries we are taking precautions such as the wearing of masks in public to mitigate its awful potential. As I write this, France’s death toll is approaching 30,000, the future is changed for ever but as an artist this is an experience that I can draw on to nourish my creative core.

One effect of Covid-19 directly on my life is that I’m isolated, quite alone really, I see a nurse once a day to change my dressings but apart from delivery drivers and the odd sighting of and brief conversation with my neighbour, life is barren in terms of human interaction. I watch the French news in the kitchen when I prepare food and I was amused this morning to see drive through confessions for Catholics. I don’t jest, outside the Church, the priests have set up tents with one of those ‘peep-hole’ latticed confessional doors, separating the priest from the sinner, who remains seated and masked in their car, prepared to tremulously splutter out the awful sinning of their past days. I found this to be hilarious, the sight of this was just cretinous and pitiful, really, humans can be smart about some things and then entirely stupid and gullible about others. You need to be really gullible I think – to have religious faith. It is based in the fear of death instilled in ‘the tremulous faithful’ by the Church, often from birth and with lasting psychological damage, fear of hell for instance, the reluctance to accept their own mortality.

As someone who accepts our current understanding of evolution, I think that religious believers, would be less afraid of death if they stopped believing in magic and if they stopped imagining an afterlife, when there is zero evidence for one and just dipped their fearful toes in the the lake of knowledge about the human condition, that science presents. They perhaps might discover a reliable source of knowledge to help them navigate life, without fear and without guilt. Amen!.

And so my thoughts on the lunacy of religious belief lead to the triptych, ‘The Last Judgement of Pope Francis’, The first painting ‘Saint Peter (the keeper of the keys to the kingdom) was followed by ‘L’Enfer’ and now I am arriving at the end of painting Paradis but the humidity in the air is slowing things down a little at the moment as the glazes I want to add are not drying fast enough, also I’m improvising somewhat with the details. But here’s a few pics of the paintings progress.

Once again today, 11.5.2020 brought back to earth by ill health, another awful leg infection, leads to much discomfort, fatigue and just general lack of enthusiasm for anything including painting. Hope the antibiotics kick in soon, the weather is pretty bad but at least I no longer live in Britain under the grip of the Tories and living amongst a suicidal populace that has neither the education, nor the intelligence to behave like adults and find away through Covid-19! In France folks are trying to go back to work but I fear that it may be too soon.

Meanwhile, will I ever finish this painting?

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Hope

 

At this point in a painting I have Hope – in that I have the skill to realise my imaginings and doodles that I’ve made.

‘Hope’ though is the somewhat ironic title I chosen for the third and final painting in a series showing the awful abuse of women through the ages, particularly by the powerful Catholic Church, still a vile solution to our wonderings, concerning our origins and our nature.

I don’t have a lot more to say about the injustices of ages gone, so here without further ado is the first stage in this painting.

So the next stage is the under drawing 8.1.2020

22.03.2020 here I am, the under drawing that I made on a white ground I abandoned for various reasons, one was that I was quite ill when I tried to do this and made several errors in position and proportion. So now I repainted the background in my own mix of Vandyke Brown from Ultramarine and Burnt Umber and the under drawing will be in white chalk. Here we are.

Some progress on the grisaille, I’m really enjoying painting this, so far it is relatively simple. The challenge comes with shadows, I usually paint transparent shadows, I hate every shadow to be pitch black, always the mark of a painter who has made a decision to paint like that or a painter who has never realised that, depending on light levels, shadows are often transparent. Sorry if that comes over as if I’m bit of a know it all, I hope I’m not. But the truth often hurts at fist until its veracity is realised, immediately or later.

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The Crucifixion of Justice

So the first two images here of the newly stretched canvas, the paintings are on 150cm x 130 cm supports, stretched, sized and primed here, the grounds are RSG followed by a ‘distemper’ from an old recipe. I may paint the third in the series ‘Hope’ on a different, modern ground, sized with P.V.A. and primer from Gamblyn or Winsor and Newton.

I’ve had the ideas for this painting for some time and finally found a way to put it into my agenda for 2019. I’ll be painting it in good summer light and in the warmth of a large room that faces South. Yes Northern light is preferred but I can’t arrange for that in this house. I have curtains!

The subject is justice once again and particularly the brutal injustices reigned down upon women by religion. Non of these injustices have ever been apologised for, the main perpetrators, the Catholic Church, has never made a humble apology to womankind for the deliberately perverted sexual and physical torture of them throughout history.

The Pope should get down on his bony knees in St. Peter’s Square and beg forgiveness of women but instead as with all the abuses of humanity by the Catholic Church the, shitty little coward remains silent.

 

Here’s the progress I’ve made by late July, I don’t have a wolf and a horse at hand to pose for me, so I’ve used photos to arrive in the place where I want to be. Quite a way to go but I’ve made good progress, next is probably a complete ‘oil out’ with a chalk and sun thickened flax oil painting and grinding medium, that I prepare here according to a recipe of the amazing Louis Velasquez. At the same time I’ll soften and blend edges into the gloom of night and heighten the ‘luminous golden effect’ I want to get into the clouds.

So a long gap in posting on this painting 2019 was a terrible year for me with continued illness and a long stay in hospital, I’ve tried to continue painting but most of my artistic endeavour has been limited to thinking and drawing. One sketch that I plan to take further into paint is this one of an eagle’s claw squeezing the fist of a man. It’s intended to make the viewer think about what happens when you mistreat the natural world with contempt and the injustice seen everyday in man’s horrific mistreatment of a our wild genetic cousins.

So we’re here in late March 2020 and I’ve already spent another period in hospital with a serious leg infection, I’ve just finished after a year ‘The Crucifixion of Justice’, of course a painting is never finished, just abandoned and I’m pretty happy with the outcome, yes I can see things I could have done better but again I’ve learnt much from painting my second large work. I’ll be completing the third painting in this triptych – called ‘Hope’ – as soon as I can, I’ve as usual prepared the canvas myself, here it is, the under-drawing is next and will be seen in a new post for ‘Hope’

For now here is a lousy photo of the finished ‘Crucifixion of Justice’, I’ll post a better one at some point. I wish everyone good health in this time of a global pandemic. I wish that all countries had good, intelligent governance but unfortunately Trump is proving himself to be utterly stupid and really like a ship without a rudder. Speaking of which I intend to revisit, ‘Ship of Fools’ when I can see it in my minds eye. Bonne santé à tous.

One final technical point I want to make about this painting, something that annoyed me a lot! The background colour of this painting and its evil twin ‘Masters of Misogyny’ is ‘Vanydyke Brown’. Now I can mix this old favourite from Burnt Umber and Ultramarine, I just wanted to see if it was possible to simplify the process on such a large painting. Thus I bought V.B. by Michael Harding a manufacturer that I trust, based on using other paints by him such as Venetian Red and Prussian Blue. I knew right from the start by the way that the paint handles on the brush that there was something different going on here, I was right. Throughout the painting process, each time that I used it, it left a white haze at the edge of the coat. This was the last thing that I wanted on a dark surface.
What wasn’t mentioned in the literature about the is paint, neither from M.H. or the supplier Jackson art in the U.K. is that the paint contains wax. Thanks for that M.H., wax is not a surprise I want in my paint, I don’t use solvents in my paint which might have mitigated the effect of the wax and so it was just unwelcome. To me wax is a medium to be added by the artist to the paint, not by the manufacturer without mentioning it. One further flaw of this paint is that it dries super quickly to a matte finish quite like any other, a quick oil out on that part of the painting will save the day though. I suspect it contains a high level of driers
For the future, I’m going be so much more careful when using a paint I haven’t tried before. I paint with a limited palette so the paints I use are tried and tested. Frankly the unknown inclusion of wax in this paint caused me a lot of problems, which I have now hopefully fixed. The response I received from M.H. was unsatisfactory, to the extent that I ceased communicating with him, as life is too short to talk to people, who think that the only person in the world using glair in their paint was myself! There are thousands. I have pigments here, I’m going to make a lot of sun thickened linseed oil this summer and experiment with making my own paints.
I’ll be addressing my favourite paints soon in a post dedicated to that, ironically one of my favourites is made by M.H. so no negativity in his direction, just objectivity when required.

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The Last Judgment of Pope Francis -Triptych -‘Hell’ Panel

So at last I have the ideas and the health (touch wood) to complete the left and right panels of ‘The Last Judgment of Pope Frances. One is ‘Paradise’ the other is ‘Hell’. I’ve started with Hell as I’m missing a model to pose for me at present but I live in hope. Anyway as a taster here is an under-drawing and an under-painting.

Progress late June 2019

So, this 2020 and I’ve finally returned home from hospital in Niort and I’m looking forward to getting back into my painting routine. I haven’t been able to keep on top of the jobs at hand and this painting seems to have gone a little away from me as regards the finish. Some areas are a little matt, which is common in oil painting but not so common for my paintings. I’ll keep using retouching varnish to even things out and hopefully it will be ready to set aside and dry properly for six months or so.

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Portrait of Elodie Bouffard 2018

Begun in May 2018 this portrait of my friend and model Elodie Bouffard is a 50cm x 40cm oil on wood panel painting. I started by preparing a wooden panel with six coats of home made chalk gesso. I lightly sanded the layers of gesso after each coat and arrived at a smooth painting surface equal to painting fine details. Before painting the next stage, the grisaille, I painted the surface with vandyke brown, with some added ‘misty’ effects in green.

The next stage was to paint a grisaille from photographs, I’m quite good at drawing in various mediums but nevertheless, I transferred the photo onto the support to save time.

When photographs are available, it is a waste of time to hand draw your image onto the support, just a few general outlines will do to get the exact proportions, after all we ‘draw’ with the brushes. The grisaille was completed in three sessions, refining exact details of the eyes for instance that I new I wouldn’t want to change later, after adding layers of transparent and opaque colour.

In the grisaille, I use titanium white, as it is less transparent and less oily than my favourite lead white. At this stage I want maximum coverage over the dark brown panel

I then went on to use full colour, using a limited palette with lead white at its centre. I usually work on several paintings at a time, so this allows me time to reflect on what I’ve done and reflect on how the painting is progressing, after several months it was finished, all that remains to do – is a varnish coat.

 

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Masters of Misogyny

Another allegorical painting, the largest canvas that I have made, 150cm x 130 cm. When you look at the crucified figure, imagine the suffering and exactly what did she do to deserve such horrific cruelty? Look at the faces of the assembled group at the base of the cross, their familiar ugly mugs are immediately associated with misogyny. The presence of the Pope rubber stamps my attack on the oppression of women by the Catholic Church. This is a church that can and has changed its dogma but it’s very clear that further change is urgently needed, if the religious indoctrination and financial exploitation of the world’s poor (particularly women and children) is to be ended.

It’s a pity that Islam too can’t update the Qur’an, it could if the clerics weren’t afraid of diluting their power base of fear but I can’t see it happening in my life time or for a long time after I’m gone. Islam is represented in the painting by Ayatollah Khomeini, the deceased ex-leader of Iran and by the current Saudi Prince and ruler Mohammed Bin Salaman, by my judgement both women haters, their oppressive records speak for themselves.

From the distant past Louis Quatorze, on the right of the standing group, shares the European misogynistic plaudits along with Henry the 8th, both prolific womanisers with little care for their concubines feelings it would seem, at a distance it could be argued that it was how things were back then, their awful treatment of women as play things and political bargaining tools is legendary, their place in my painting is thus more than justified.

Trump, what a cretinous individual, not an intelligent man and as President seemingly willing, to stick his foot in his mouth at every opportunity. Another man whose treatment of women is demeaning and may prove to be part of his coming downfall.

So this image is the start of the painting back in September 2017, it’s mounted on the easel I had made especially to complete this painting

progress so far in early September 2018 looks like this.

progress 27.9.18

detail 27.9.18

Coming towards the end game 13.12.18

Almost finished, just a few final details and la finition.

I’ve been looking at Caravaggio’s paintings for quite some time now and had little realised how much I had absorbed of his technique and how easily I could apply his technique to my political and societal philosophies.
Incidentally I can highly recommend a great large format book by Sebastian Schülze, entitled ‘Caravaggio_The Complete Works’, it is a truly excellent tome with loads of good quality images, especially useful to the student or aficionado of the Master.
I like to use high contrast in my paintings. As my style has developed I find high contrast enables my ideas to work more effectively and chiaroscuro is particularly useful for achieving this.

I hope to finish this painting early in the New Year.

So here to all intents and purposes is the finished painting as of 26.1.19. All that remains to be done is to refinish the background vandyke brown colour and blend it into the cross and the Pope’s figure where necessary. Finally I’ll brush on retouch varnish and when thoroughly dry, a further final varnish.

It’s been a rewarding journey painting this, both from the perspective of learning how to paint such a large painting and simultaneously seeing how the news unfolded over the two years since I planned this, long before Mohammed Bin Salman killed the journalist Khashoggi and while more abuse of children in the care of the Catholic Church continued and whilst Trump unflinchingly expressed his misogyny, racism and general bigotry. These ‘leaders’ are the moral scum of humanity and if their gods exist, I hope their parasitic preying on their fellow man, has been duly noted. Halle fuckin’ lujah – Amen!

A final few detail photos

 

Best photo 31.3.2019

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Je Suis Humain – Nude and Möbius

Another painting concerning our common humanity, ‘Je suis humain’ is a French phrase implying ‘ that we are all one and should support one another. A female nude is embraced by the protection of a Möbius – effectively science as the protector of humankind rather than the deceitful hand of religion and all its double speak and bullshit. You work out the details for your self but science is supported by secular humanist values, whereas religious intolerance and dogma, often supports oppression, a little spoken of example being the catholic church’s support, for the Nazis during the 2nd. World War. You religionists can dress your Popes and your Imams in all manner of jewel bedecked cloth but your fairy tales become no more believable.

‘Je suis humain’ is a ‘shout out’ to all who reject fear and superstition and instead recognise our common humanity, the title is a call for justice for all. Who we are at our best, is represented in this painting by the beauty of womankind and all that womankind means to the nurturing and continued existence of our species. The female figure stripped of artifice, represents knowledge, the transcendent, freedom from the tyranny of ignorance and the super-natural, and the building of hope for our species.

So I start with a blank canvas, I bought the 130cm x 90 cm frame from Jackson Art and stretched a cotton canvas over it. I then sized it with rabbit skin glue, two coats for the front and one for the rear. I wanted a fairly smooth surface to enable the rendering of fine detail in the figure, this is achievable on canvas if you know how. My method is to use a primer, called ‘distemper’, I discovered it after reading the blog of the sadly murdered young artist Margaret Muller, I always think of her every time I use this primer and I am seriously grateful to her, as this primer is fantastic R.I.P. Margaret.

The distemper is made from water, oil, egg yolk and pigment, I apply several coats sanding between each to achieve a lovely silky smooth painting surface. I applied six coats for this painting. I then go about sealing the canvas and primer from the oil paint to follow. Firstly a light grey imprimatura, translucent  in this case is applied, followed by the toned ground for the painting, here it’s a mixture of burnt and raw umber and titanium white, applied thinly. I then complete an under drawing, putting in as much detail as necessary to help me finish the painting. I seal the ground and the under drawing by spraying on three coats of skimmed milk, using paper towels to wipe of the excess milk. The canvas is then ready to work up the paint layers.

As my method is to use C.S.O. paint, all layers are fat, this is another benefit of painting solvent free.
After the under drawing was completed and sealed, I experimented with different techniques of applying the turquoise paint to the canvas, sponges, knives and brushes, eventually settling on knives with some sparse brush work. Sometimes you just don’t know what is the best way to achieve a particular effect and it’s necessary to dive in and use your experience and imagination to find the solution. This a real problem for auto-didactic beginners but we’ve all been there, my advice is – don’t be afraid of making errors, just paint!

I wanted to preserve the form of the Möbius fairly accurately so I made the job easier by masking all around it.

the next stage will see the fundamentals of the Möbius in place.

Palette for the Möbius is : Rembrandt burnt senna, M.Harding phthalocyanine turquoise, Old-Holland, hookers green lake deep extra and some black and lead white.

Palette for figure : Blockx lead white, M. Harding lead tin yellow light, M. Harding venetian red, Daler Rowney ‘Georgian’ burnt umber, Daler Rowney ‘Georgian’ ultramarine, Winsor and Newton raw umber (green).

Continuing to build the painting via grisaille, it’s just a simple, elegant method for creating an accurate representation of the reality trying to be recreated on the support.

Further progress on 18.12.17, should have the painting finished by Xmas.

16.1.18

I’ve been unwell quite a lot so I haven’t made the progress on this painting that I intended to but – I have ordered a new camera, A Nikon, DSLR camera, so touch wood, once I get to grips with it, I’ll be able to post progress on this work, in some sort of decent quality.

13.2.18, so here’s the finished item, I haven’t had time to set up the camera properly but I think this photo is a reasonable representation of ‘je suis humain’. From a painter’s perspective, there are a few things I could have executed better but each painting presents different artistic and technical problems, that often need to be solved ‘on the fly’, so to speak. Overall, I’m fairly happy with the emotional content of the painting and its technical execution.

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The End

I’ve finally made a decision on which poem of Wilfred Owen’s to use as the inspiration for my third and last painting based on his poetry. ‘The End’ which is partially chiselled into his grave stone, will provide the combination of closeness that I feel towards him, (something that I want to make manifest) and also again realise the transcendent quality of the central panel of the Spring Offensive Triptych.
I came to this decision after reading an excellent article on the wilfredowen.org.uk website.

I was ill whilst painting ‘The End’ and really didn’t have the energy to chronicle the painting of it but here is the finished painting.

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Spring Offensive

The second realisation in oils of a series of paintings inspired by the poetry of Wilfred Owen. ‘Spring Offensive’ describes the awful moments of waiting for battle and then the horror of the blood sacrifice, as a regiment of young British soldiers of the 1st. world war, charged at their enemy.

Halted against the shade of a last hill,
They fed, and, lying easy, were at ease
And, finding comfortable chests and knees
Carelessly slept.
                               But many there stood still
To face the stark, blank sky beyond the ridge,
Knowing their feet had come to the end of the world.
Marvelling they stood, and watched the long grass swirled
By the May breeze, murmurous with wasp and midge,
For though the summer oozed into their veins
Like the injected drug for their bones’ pains,
Sharp on their souls hung the imminent line of grass,
Fearfully flashed the sky’s mysterious glass.
Hour after hour they ponder the warm field—
And the far valley behind, where the buttercups
Had blessed with gold their slow boots coming up,
Where even the little brambles would not yield,
But clutched and clung to them like sorrowing hands;
They breathe like trees unstirred.
Till like a cold gust thrilled the little word
At which each body and its soul begird
And tighten them for battle. No alarms
Of bugles, no high flags, no clamorous haste—
Only a lift and flare of eyes that faced
The sun, like a friend with whom their love is done.
O larger shone that smile against the sun,—
Mightier than his whose bounty these have spurned.
So, soon they topped the hill, and raced together
Over an open stretch of herb and heather
Exposed. And instantly the whole sky burned
With fury against them; and soft sudden cups
Opened in thousands for their blood; and the green slopes
Chasmed and steepened sheer to infinite space.
Of them who running on that last high place
Leapt to swift unseen bullets, or went up
On the hot blast and fury of hell’s upsurge,
Or plunged and fell away past this world’s verge,
Some say God caught them even before they fell.
But what say such as from existence’ brink
Ventured but drave too swift to sink.
The few who rushed in the body to enter hell,
And there out-fiending all its fiends and flames
With superhuman inhumanities,
Long-famous glories, immemorial shames—
And crawling slowly back, have by degrees
Regained cool peaceful air in wonder—
Why speak they not of comrades that went under?

Reading the poem as a 12 year old for the first time made a deep, lasting impression on me, perhaps because I’m English and realising that if I had been born into a different time, it could have been me. The words are leaden, I find nothing uplifting in them, they are a stark warning to those who might love life.

Those young men were conned into believing that they were serving their country, in fact they were disposable, their deaths serving only to settle disputes between the corrupt monarchies and politicians of the day, (nothing much has changed).

This painting is my second triptych, this time on hinged wooden support panels, onto which I glued, aluminium painting panels, the outer panels are hinged to fully close, so two paintings in all, the closed front panels showing a seated Wilfred Owen, in his Captain’s uniform. The abbreviated letters of the title of the poem painted in blood red and asking a question ‘SO?’, what now, what have you done, why the vile carnage? The panels once opened, reveal the poem to the right and left and in between them, the central panel with its scene of battle and the hands (my hands) open to receive the fallen, remembering and immortalising their sacrifice – for us. These images are photoshop ‘sketches’ and are used as my guide to realise the idea finally in oils.
So to technical matters –  here’s the aluminium panel fixed to its marine ply support panel, I was excited to paint on this material, it is a relatively new thing for these panels be commercially available and affordable. I believe that this material maybe the future of panel painting, it is easy to work with and once prepared the painting surface is super smooth. I’m going to prime with two coats of lead white, with a touch of chalk and sun thickened linseed oil, this will provide a little tooth and aid drying, very important for the first few layers. The panels are available from here

8.11.17 –  I’ve been making steady, calm progress on this triptych, realising Wilfred Owen’s seated portrait in oil from the poor photos that exist of him is proving difficult, however I think that I’ve managed to get his expression and the rest is now falling into place. Some work to do on the shadows and values generally. I’m considering ‘sepia toning’ the finished item with a thin glaze of burnt umber to mimic a period photo. If so  I’d do the same for the inner central painting

The central panel is going to take a lot of work to bring to completion, once I’m happy with the achromatic grisaille (under painting in grey values) I’ll start to add transparent red paint to the heart, the hands and the poppies. Colours will include Venetian red, vermilion, cadmium red, alazarin crimson, burnt sienna burnt, and raw umber, vandyke brown, yellow ochre, ivory black and of course my favourite paint, lead white. Anyway here’s progress as of 9.11.17.

The following photo shows the extra pieces needed to realise the triptych’s support, the hinges, the beading that surrounds and protects the panel’s edges and of course the poem ‘Spring Offensive’ printed on canvas, at a local printers and glued to the marine ply panels using rabbit skin glue.

 

Some further progress 14.12.17 on the grisaille for the centre panel before I add the first transparent reds to the heart, the poppies and the hands.

Progress as of 10.2.18, the two outer panels are looking more like the finished thing as I add further transparent coats of paint, invent a few new details and refine established ones.

progress on the centre panel, 12.2.18 All day I’ve been adding to the hands, velaturas of Venice red, lead white, antimony, yellow ochre and a few complimentary colours. My new Nikon camera is helping represent the paintings much better.

Further progress on the centre panel, 28.2.18 I’ve added some veins to the heart and continued to glaze the hands, I’ll add more details to them next and I’ve integrated the heart more into the background with some soft cloud detail on the left of the heart. I’m also thinking of ideas for my final painting in this Wilfred Owen trilogy, I want more red, ghostly figures, the canal at Ors and perhaps his gravestone. I intend to visit that place one day, if you read the story of the battle and imagine that you have been commanded to cross the canal under heavy fire, you realise the madness and the ‘badness’ of war in an instant and also the ‘pity’ which Wilfred Owen was so keen to express.

Almost simultaneously I’ve been steadily adding details to the two outer panels, the red of the poems initials, painted in cadmium red with a little burnt sienna. The the fine coats of translucent cad’ red are faintly illuminated from the rear painted in white, then light pink. Details like this are the difference between a good painting and one that really ‘pops’.
The background scene further envelops Wilfred Owen as he sits there in his rather tatty uniform. I’m painting him from old photos, found in books and on the internet, none of which are in a good state of repair, so some invention is called for and of course, artistic licence.
After the whole is complete I’m considering an overall glaze of burnt umber to give a sepia effect, the sort found in old photos.

The painting finished and the beads attached.

I’m very excited by how this all looks now, below is a photo of the opened inner panels mounted on the wall. I’m very happy with how the text printed, the material is a contemporary canvas material that was stuck to the wooden panels with R.S.G.

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Vanitas_August 17

I was thinking of a particularly arrogant American ex-friend when I painted this, someone who claimed to be liberal but was in fact a believer in American exceptionalism without even realising it.

Vanitas is an old form (in simple terms) of expressing the paradox of life and death. There are many great Vanitas painters but I think the main source of inspiration for this particular painting was Pieter Claesz, he was a Dutch painter working in the 17th cent.

I’m looking into getting a better camera, as once again I have to apologise for the shameful photo.

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