Friday, July 30, 2010

a private moment

Harry Kent, Private Moment, charcoal and oil on board, 56 x 72 cm

this is the third and last of my three charcoal-and-oil self-portraits for the time being.

i will now endeavour to head out in fresh directions.

firstly, new media ... i will try and create some self-portraits incorporating fabrics for texture, color, and pattern ... i will experiment with new kinds of paint, such as automotive enamels combined with traditional oils.

secondly, in developing my theme of aging, i will extend my focus beyond self-portraits. Still wishing to get in touch with feelings partially hidden from myself, i will attempt some portraits of family members, especially those invoking memories or reworking memories. I will use old family photos to revive buried memories. Needless to say, some of this will be painful for me.

But i believe the more it hurts, the more i will know i am in the 'zone'. The more intensely personal, sublimated into sound painting, the more universal its significance will be. Hopefully. The level of my success in that endeavour will be for my fellow bloggers to decide.

This painting, A Private Moment, is a precursor to that process.

My over-arching aim is to keep pressing forwards in my creative practice to discover mark-making methods that are both expressive and that feel native to me - my discover own unique style.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Howl with Alan Ginsberg

Howl, a self-portrait in charcoal and oil on board, 56 x 74 cm

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked ... 
What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open
their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars!
Children screaming under the stairways!
Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the
loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the
crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of
sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment!
Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose
blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers
are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo!
Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows!
Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long
streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories
dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose
smokestacks and antennae crown the cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch
whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch
whose poverty is the specter of genius!
Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream

from Howl, by Alan Ginsberg

listen to Alan Ginsberg read this section (Part II) of Howl on Youtube here

Howl and Other Poems (City Lights Pocket Poets Series)

This self-portrait is a refinement of the technique i developed and described here.

Still on the theme of aging, this self-portrait is a generational piece. It does not carry the same intimately personal charge as the self-portrait Regrets. Instead it concerns itself with the social visions and convictions of a generation.

This was the 'beat' generation of the 1950's. It was the generation before mine but their lifestyle and voices were to sound loud and clear through the 1960's and on into the '70s. The Ginsberg poem voices all the excesses, optimism, despair, restlessness and fervor of youth. It contains the protest voice of youth which was to reach a crescendo in the 1960's.

Youth and old age actually have a surprising amount in common. Both are not deeply immersed in careers and therefore deeply attached to the socio-political and economic order of the day. Both are relatively free to raise a critical voice which those raising families and paying mortgages are not as mentally free to do.

I believe the elderly, because they have seen so much, have a particularly important social role to play as reviewers and commentators.

Once again, the young and the old are called to be the prophets of our age.

This self-portrait aims to express a howl of pain at the state of global industrial civilisation, and a prophetic howl by once again invoking Ginsberg's rage against the corporate machinery, the urban madhouse, the planetary plunder that has marked this generation and has marred this generation.

For Blake's dark satanic mills are still pumping the fetid effluvia of a long dead geological age off the coast of Florida to give an angry fix to a world hooked on octane, pelicans drowning in our black decay while we ineffectually jog off our obesity in trendy trainers from the sweat-shops of Asia.

And thanks, Elizabeth Anderson, for your comment below which put me in mind of Peter Finch's stirring prophetic outburst of outrage in the movie Network.

"I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!'

You can watch Peter Finch's stunning performance on Youtube here.

but the last voice here today belongs to Alan Ginsberg, so if you want another taste, read on:

Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments!
invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries!
blind capitals! demonic industries!
spectral nations! invincible mad houses!
granite cocks! monstrous bombs!
They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven!
Pavements, trees, radios, tons!
lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us!
Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies!
gone down the American river!

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Regrets, oil on board, 90 x 60 cm

There is no flock, however watched and tended,
But one dead lamb is there!
There is no fireside, howsoe'er defended,
But has one vacant chair!

The air is full of farewells to the dying,
And mournings for the dead;
The heart of Rachel, for her children crying,
Will not be comforted!

from Resignation , Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It's not for laws I've broken
That bitter tears I've wept,
But solemn vows I've spoken
And promises unkept;
It's not for sins committed
My heart is full of rue,
but gentle acts omitted,
Kind deeds I did not do.

from Regrets, Robert William Service

Back to the serious business of expressive self-portraits.
With each one i focus on an emotion as i work, especially emotions i believe common in the adult world. More common with advancing age, yet seldom depicted in self-portraiture or even spoken of in the slick dream that has become our public media.
Today, yes, regrets i've got a few. Robert Frost had miles to go before he slept and still had promises to keep when he wrote his evocative little poem.
The elderly have very few miles left to go, and carry the burden of promises not kept.

Friday, July 16, 2010

collaborative abstract painting

back from my semester break, i turned up yesterday for the first critique session of the Post-graduate Painters Group at the Academy of Arts.

while i was waiting for the session to start my eyes toyed with the random patination of marks on one of the work tables. These had been incidentally built by students over the years as they spilled bits of paint, or over-painted the edges of their work, or scored the surface with a cut-off knife.

not having any work of mine own to blog, i thought i would photograph these marks by arranging them into abstract compositions in my camera view-finder. The results you have seen above.

are these 'Art'?
because i arranged them into a composition in a viewfinder?
does this make them 'photographic art', not 'painting art'?
does the lack of compositional intention on the part of those who made the marks matter?
doesn't a lot of contemporary art use randomness and serendipity, so how are these different?
can they legitimately be called collaborative art since there was no conscious collaboration between artists?
so what should we call these images?

the work-table in question is in the far corner of the Painting Studio (above). I've thrown in a couple of additional images of the Academy world i inhabit to help set the scene.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Brett Whiteley - in memory of

Brett Whiteley self-portrait, Remembering Lao Tse (Shaving off a Second), 1967
[image link from]

A few blogs back, a reference to Australian artist Brett Whitely came up, and since my Visitors Counter (no, my goons don't know where you live, just what flag you fly) now tells me I've had visitors from 125 countries, i thought i would introduce Brett to those in the wider world who might be unfamiliar with his work.

in Australia  Bret Whitely is a legend, a national treasure, an icon, an artist as well known as a football star.

There are plenty of biographies of Brett on the web, so i won't attempt one, other than give a few incredibly brief impressions of the man and his art.

Impression 1:
The ultimate self-portrait - a  painting of made oils, gold leafcollage, rock, perspex, electricity, pencil, PVA, varnish, brain, earth, twig, taxidermied bird, nest, egg, feathers, cicada, bone, dentures, rubber and metal sink plug, pins, shell and glass eye on eighteen wood panels, 2 x 16 meters!; not signed, not dated. It is a spiritual autobiography housed in the wonderful Art Gallery of NSW.

Brett Whiteley Alchemy, mixed media on 18 wood panels, 203 × 1615 cm, 1973
photo by Kitty Cate,

You can see very detailed close-ups of the work here and here.

Impression 2:
An Archibald Prize-winning (the Aussie Oscar for portrait painting) self portrait depicting the interior of his Sydney apartment (his face is in the hand-held mirror).

Brett Whiteley, Self portrait in the studio, 1975.
[image link from]

The Gallery of NSW, for the exhibition Whiteley himself and his friends 2004, described him as:
"Twice winner of the Archibald Prize, Whiteley is one of Australia's best-known and popular artists. He was a charismatic and energetic individual who gained early success and international acclaim during the heady 1960s and 70s. From a very early age he was fascinated by the romantic vision of the artist as hero - or anti-hero - and enthusiastically pursued his passions in both his art and life-style. When he painted himself or other artists he was relentless in his insightful psychological investigations of his subjects. Artists he admired included Vincent Van Gogh and Francis Bacon. Their faces fascinated him, as did their work, and he created many portraits of these two extraordinary individuals".

Impression 3:
A sometimes marine artist ... in love with Ultramarine,  celebrating the view from his balcony over Sydney harbour.

oil on canvas, 203 x 365 cm, 1975

It was hanging beside a wonderful John Olsen, Five Bells (oil on hardboard, 1963) on the day i visited, which i thought most apt for the two were good friends. My thanks to the Gallery of NSW who gave me permission to take these photos of Brett's The Balcony.

Brett Whiteley The balcony 2 hanging beside John Olsen's Five Bells
in the Gallery of NSW.

Below are some details i photographed from close up.

Detailed views from Brett Whiteley's The balcony 2.

Also on the harbour is the famous Sydney Opera House which he started to paint in 1971 while it was still being built. He had just returned from New York and was now living at Lavender Bay from where the Opera House was very visible.

Brett Whiteley, Opera House, 1982, oil and mixed media on canvas, 203x244cm
[image link from]

It was first exhbited in 1972, but in 1982, after some finishing touches, Brett gave it to Qantas (the airline) in exchange for free air travel. They decorated their club lounge at Sydney airport with it for amost 20 years before selling it off at auction.

Although the proceeds went towards establishing the Qantas Foundation Art Award, aimed to encourage emerging Australian artists, this corporate trading of creative soul bring some lines from Bob Dylan's (with whom Brett hung out while in NY) All Along The Watchtower to mind:
"Businessmen they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None of them know along the line
What any of this is worth".

See Brett's view from his Lavender Bay window in this clip (trying to ignore the fatuous tone of the narrator)

Impression 4:
Animal lover.

Well, he did say,
"Art should astonish, transmute, transfix. One must work at the tissue between truth and paranoia".

Brett Whiteley, Baboon, mixed media on panel, 90 x 77 cm, 1978
[image from ]

Actually, this painting is part the self-portrait triptych entitled Art, Life and the Other Thing which won the Archibald Prize in 1978. explains the significance of this work:
"In the lower left panel is a baboon that represents the addicted self of the artist or the "monkey on the back". The baboon is handcuffed and pinned to the ground with nails. It has its mouth open, screaming, while a hand in the top left corner of the panel offers him a syringe of heroin".

Despite his struggle with his drug addiction, Brett was to eventually die from it in 1992.

Though as Barry Pearce explains,
"Brett Whiteley is Australia's most sublime painter of birds. They have appeared, often larger than life, in many of his most important paintings. To him, birds are the essential symbol of the song of creation… It is not too fanciful to think of Whiteley’s bird paintings as self portraits"

Brett Whiteley, Untitled (Bird), oil on board with mixed media, 82 x 86 cm, 1978
[image linked from]

Impression 5:
Portrait artist.

Brett Whiteley, Head of Christie, oil on board, 70cm x 61 cm, 1964
[image link from]
In this instance, of the British necrophile murderer, John Christie.

"Whiteley was an avid researcher for detail and the Christie Series in particular signify a fascination with the macabre. John Christie was a serial killer who lured woman to his home only to gas them to death and then rape the corpse. Whiteley spent many hours researching newspapers and case files to then create the series of photographs, screen prints and large mixed media paintings".  (Saville Galleries)

Impression 6:
Sometimes landscape artist in love Australian natural forms

Anything resembling the natural Australian female form, actually.

Brett Whiteley, The Olgas for Ernest Giles,
oil and mixed media on board,  210 x 240 cm, 1985.
[image link from]

This painting was inspired by Brett's trip to central Australia in the early 1980's and was painted in  tribute to the 19th century explorer to whom it is dedicated. It has been described as "all tits and bums", and yes, it does remind one of Brett's earlier nudes. Having been to the Olgas myself, I can attest to their rounded sensual forms, though walking among them gave me a distinctly eerie and numinous feeling, nothing like the rollicking love-buds celebrated here.

The Olgas sold in 2007 for AU$3,408,000.

UPDATE 6-1-12:
My interest in Brett Whiteley has surged again to the point that i have embarked on a series of works starting with contemplations in ink and leading via lino cuts to a large works in oil.

Harry Kent,
Brett Whiteley contemplates old age.

Harry Kent,
Brett Whiteley in Ultramarine

Viewers can jump to the start of the series HERE .


Saturday, July 3, 2010

more Julia Kay's Portrait Party

some more of my recent contributions to Julia Kay's Portrait Party

Sue, ink, watercolor and crayon on paper, 30 x 40 cm

Raena, watercolor on paper, 30 x 40 cm

Juilia, charcoal on paper, 30 x 40 cm

and a Springer Spaniel, dear friend of a dear friend, that i painted as present

Gemma, watercolor on paper, 40 x 30 cm