Archive for Mahler

Lana Sutton #9: Tochter aus Elysium

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 22, 2010 by spinoza1111

Edward G. Nilges, “State of a Portrait of Lana Sutton, Holy Terror and the Dancer of Dawn, as of 22 Oct 2010”, acrylic on canvas 12 x 16 in

Edward G. Nilges, “Detail of State of a Portrait of Lana Sutton, Holy Terror and the Dancer of Dawn, as of 22 Oct 2010”, acrylic on canvas

Edward G. Nilges, “States of a Portrait of Lana Sutton, Holy Terror and the Dancer of Dawn, as of 22 Oct 2010”, photos of an acrylic painting on canvas

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum.
Deine Zauber binden wieder,
Was die Mode streng geteilt!

Friedrich Schiller, An die Freude (“Beethoven Ninth Symphony”)

The highlighting of her face, in translucent and restrained whites, must show her gladdened by the dawn, turning her face towards the sun.

I toned down the sunset to foreground the arabesque of her figure.

I restrict my pallete to the following colours:

Yellow ochre
Burnt sienna
Cadmium red

This is because as you can see all colours can be synthesized from this simple pallette.

This is based on a recommendation in Daniel V. Thompson’s classic, The Practice of Tempera Painting. European painters of the Renaissance were barred by the Turkish Caliphate from trade with China, and there are no rain forests near Europe (the Sahara is in the way).

Rain forests produced colours of high saturation before German chemists discovered how to synthesize intense aniline dyes from coal tars in the 19th century. The Chinese had access to plants and animals that in the rain forest produce saturated colours to attract pollination or mates, or warn predators to back off.

As a result, mediaeval tempera painters had as saturated colours only lapiz lazuli (a semiprecious blue mineral, often reserved for the gown of the Virgin in her honour) and a few other mineral colours. Their most common colours were synthesized from the bright earths of Italy, with ochre yellow and sienna being the commonest.

They attained the brightness and purity found in Fra Angelico and Giotto both by setting colours off against each other, and always painting, Thompson says, thinly with sable brushes, and translucently.

Perhaps today, with China a rising world power and a resurgent Islam, Western artists should use local materials properly just as Lana recommends people eat locally!

This stage is where the Old Bastards actually set down to work, as a close examination of a pre-1848 painting will show, constantly enhancing form using colour. Cezanne was a great artist, but he did not discover that color is form.

A hank of her hair has to break your heart.

Above all, restraint, the sort of restraint that my fat pal Adorno finds in Mahler’s song-cycle Das Lied von der Erde: although Mahler used poems that were originally by Li Bai, he uses their German translation, which makes the poems utterly unlike Li Bai. The orchestration isn’t Orientalist, and doesn’t use pentatonic scales. It is Mahler.

According to Adorno, Mahler had no interest in lighting out for the Far East. Instead, Mahler wanted to get out of the bullshit of Vienna and actually relocated to the USA just before his death.

The other night, a friend was describing the reason why some expatriates come here to Hong Kong without making much of an effort to learn Cantonese. It’s because, he said, that when you live in an environment where you don’t speak the language, you don’t have to listen to the constant bullshit in the media: get rich quick, lose weight, and buy more useless crap.

Mahler had no more interest in living in the USA than in China. If his music expresses in some way how he felt, it is the music of a wayfarer out of tune with the world who nonetheless has his moments.

Likewise Lana Sutton is not easily categorized as libertarian or Tea Party, just, on a case by case basis, able to recognize malfeasance and do her homework. She’s giving the corrupt mayor of Chattanooga fits based on specific, concrete facts (such as charging the taxpayer $27 for a printout).

If you’re aware in some way of the Negative Dialectic, that is you know right and wrong on a case by case basis, you escape false humility (as in Lana’s song I Do Right and you focus on day to day struggles, beating against the current of history.

I want my work to be innocent of and outside of art history like the little kid in a grocery store in Yung Shue Wan who always just shines brightly when she sees me.

Lana Sutton is an artist, activist, gardener, environmentalist, foodist, musician, dancer and Mayor Ron Littlefield’s worst nightmare in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who doesn’t mow her lawn. This painting is based on photography by Native Son.


To the Unknown Helper #29: reflections on Mahler

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 8, 2010 by spinoza1111

GOING to heaven!
I don’t know when,
Pray do not ask me how,–
Indeed, I’m too astonished
To think of answering you!
Going to heaven!–
How dim it sounds!
And yet it will be done
As sure as flocks go home at night
Unto the shepherd’s arm!

Perhaps you’re going too!
Who knows?
If you should get there first,
Save just a little place for me
Close to the two I lost!
The smallest “robe” will fit me,
And just a bit of “crown”;
For you know we do not mind our dress
When we are going home.

I’m glad I don’t believe it,
For it would stop my breath,
And I’d like to look a little more
At such a curious earth!
I am glad they did believe it
Whom I have never found
Since the mighty autumn afternoon
I left them in the ground.

(Emily Dickinson)

More work is needed on making the details more precise and both softening and hardening the contours. Aldous Huxley, in an essay on Vermeer, said that the edges are a fundamental problem.

Planes of glazes and scumbles must unify disparate shapes. There is for example a light (a triangle) that unifies her face and breast.

At this point, the child’s face needs a Lot of work. It’s a racist caricature. The problem is that the face needs more light, and there are complex planes under her baby fat.

I got my first harassment post today. I think it’s from a guy who’s a moderator at the dysfunctional site who was offended at my correct grammar. The post said the painting was ugly and misnamed it “the Oriental helper”. It said it was a self-portrait where the usual Internet bully likes to say “you want to be a woman and you failed” when he says, more usually, “your gay” (with the neglect of the apostrophe being a stock in trade of these creeps).

I have to remind myself that this bullying attitude is generalized. It’s risky to be an artist. The male of the species is striking out in all directions as the world goes to hell and cannot understand vulnerability. People on this island are drinking their faces off and I could go back to the sauce at any time were it not for steps I have to remind myself to take.

Bad day overall despite making progress. My landlord complained about my swearing at my computer and initially threatened, because we don’t have a current lease, to evict me. I was terribly frightened but handled the situation well. I pointed out that his kids also make noise, that the rent’s been on time for five years, and the place is clean.

I was able to calm things down. He agreed to provide a new lease and not even raise the rent, and I agreed to watch my noise. I seem to be Beethoven, the scourge of landlords, but only in this small regard.

Interestingly, I never lose it as a teacher at the kids, nor when doing art. Only at computers.

Doing art can suck. There’s that mad dream of finally being Culled Out and Seen to be A Genius After All, in a world where people in Pakistan are running for their lives, a selfish dream. There’s the constant feeling of inadequacy: my studies for this painting are overall better rendered than the painting itself. And there’s the Internet, and Photoshop, which render meaningless my ownership of my own images, the concept of the work of art and its aura, and what skills I have with the hand.

There are these Internet creeps who strike out at the vulnerability you project.

Nonetheless, I feel I owe this work something, some sort of effort no matter what.

Wow. This is interesting. It’s a photograph of the current state of the head but with color removed. She’s tired, and a storm is brewing. This should make a nice print.

Do I ignore the turmoil whilst striving to paint a Poussinesque serenity? Duh, yeah. “Remember man thou art dust and to dust doth thou return”.

My paintings start in black and white
In the uncertain hour at the end of night,
When a consciousness emerges from voiceless pain.

I mean that. Pain requires and constructs consciousness. What the Buddhists mean by a sentient being emerges from sensation, and the earliest sensation I remember is pain. I was sick a lot, like my eldest son, and when you’re sick you start thinking about the entity that complains. General U. S. Grant when dying of cancer from whisky and seegars said I am the pain.

To the Unknown Helper #28: reflections on Mahler

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 5, 2010 by spinoza1111

I dreaded that first robin so,
But he is mastered now,
And I ‘m accustomed to him grown, —
He hurts a little, though.

I thought if I could only live
Till that first shout got by,
Not all pianos in the woods
Had power to mangle me.

I dared not meet the daffodils,
For fear their yellow gown
Would pierce me with a fashion
So foreign to my own.

I wished the grass would hurry,
So when ‘t was time to see,
He ‘d be too tall, the tallest one
Could stretch to look at me.

I could not bear the bees should come,
I wished they ‘d stay away
In those dim countries where they go:
What word had they for me?

They ‘re here, though; not a creature failed,
No blossom stayed away
In gentle deference to me,
The Queen of Calvary.

Each one salutes me as he goes,
And I my childish plumes
Lift, in bereaved acknowledgment
Of their unthinking drums.

(Emily Dickinson)

Edward G. Nilges, “State of The Unknown Helper as of 6 Aug 2010”, acrylic on canvas 50*60

Edward G. Nilges, “Detail of State of The Unknown Helper as of 6 Aug 2010”, acrylic on canvas 50*60

Edward G. Nilges, “Detail of State of The Unknown Helper as of 6 Aug 2010”, acrylic on canvas 50*60

To the Unknown Helper #27: reflections on Mahler

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 5, 2010 by spinoza1111

I’ll tell you how the sun rose, —
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.

The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
“That must have been the sun!”

(Emily Dickinson)

Of course, the first applications of color are ragged, but this gives life to later modeling. The point being to avoid any part of the canvas turning opaque save perhaps the highest lights. Everything must be a “glaze” (darker transparent or translucent paint over light) or a “scumble” (lighter paint over dark, but applied drily so that the warp and weft of the canvas catches the paint only).

Which means that the painting is a memory of the clear white gesso ground which can never match its purity but tries anyway.

A painter of the Umbrian school
Designed upon a gesso ground
The nimbus of the Baptized God.
The wilderness is cracked and browned

(TS Eliot: Mr Eliot’s Sunday Morning Service)

Up until the late 18th century, a painting was a transparent or translucent record, a “written” record, of a labour process. What you did mattered and if you messed up you had to resolve it by doing even better in the pentimento, even as the Church had confession. What people hate about Poussin is that he did stumble, whereas that psycho Caravaggio had an unerring instinct, but only within a narrow and sado-masochistic range.

But, as a Marxist would say, economic relations became ever more complex and as what Ezra Pound called “usura” entered the market the painter began to think of painting as covering up, obscuring, mystifying the base by the grand superstructure.

Fra Angelico’s paintings in egg tempera allow us to see straight through to the light of primal creation, everything is silly, saelig, holy, blessed.

Sir Joshua Reynolds painting in the last gasp of the ancien regimes piles mud, bitumen, and ground up Egyptian Mummies in an attempt to make Lady Sarah Bunbury of all people look like a mythical creature.

The time was ripe for the Impressionists to say merde, and say, what you see is what you get, and once again let the light from the canvas through.

The skin tones are going to take work to use the roughness and the redness to give life to later glazes. I started out at the top of the forehead forgetting how powerful Winsor and Newton’s “cadmium” (nonpoisonous) red is but lightened this. I can use this redness along with siena glazes, because she is brown from the sun. I see more red in her hair while keeping it blonde.

I picked up the wrong blue, a “Winsor” blue but it turned out to be perfect for the chiton-sari. I realized that the entire garment needs to be this color in reference to the Virgin Mary, rather than a multicolored sari which just seems too garish in my coloured pencil studies.

I have a jar of Winsor and Newton’s gloss medium which is good for details. The nose and face have a subtle bone architecture which needs to be brought out.

with usura

hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall
harpes et luthes
or where virgin receiveth message
and halo projects from incision,

(Ezra Pound Canto LXV)

Edward G. Nilges, “State of the Unknown Helper as of 5 Aug 2010”: Acrylic on canvas, 50*60 cm, photo taken with cheapassed digital camera and computer enhanced.

Edward G. Nilges, “Detail of State of the Unknown Helper as of 5 Aug 2010”: Acrylic on canvas, 50*60 cm, photo taken with cheapassed digital camera and computer enhanced.

To the Unknown Helper #26: reflections on Mahler

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 2, 2010 by spinoza1111

The grisaille is finished. The right side of the painting needed more solidity and has become a banana tree of the sort I live amongst today.

The painting shall probably be too emo to show in some bar on Lamma Island: drinkers don’t like distraction. On the other hand, the standard of workmanship in Hong Kong galleries is very high, because wealthy collectors no longer have any truck with “artists” whose inferior materials are some sort of Statement; the artist today exists strictly to make objects that appear valuable and are a “good investment”. Or, if he’s a Basquiat, the ugliness has to be infinite in all directions.

Something Mahlerian, some song of a wayfarer limited by materials bought for a song at Commercial Press on the Hennessy road and time snatches, is probably not saleable except to domestic helpers and the fahrenden Gesellen.

Life sucks, but the point is I get to see what happens when I paint, to make something new. The incontinent, out of control greed of the rich (cf. Paul Krugman’s column, printed today) is none of my business. They think they are being cute when they demand that the piper play but they are merely sowing the whirlwind.

To the Unknown Helper #24: reflections on Mahler

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2010 by spinoza1111

The inauthentic Chinese element, sketched with extreme discretion, plays a similar part to that of the folk song earlier: a pseudomorph that does not take itself literally but grows eloquent through inauthenticity. But by replacing the Austrian folk song by the remote, an Orient approved as a stylistic means, he divests himself of the hope for a collective cover for what is his own…Mahler’s exoticism was a prelude to emigration.

TW Adorno, Mahler: a Musical Physiognomy

That is: Mahler was not an Orientalist composer, nor had he any special interest in China: the texts he used for his symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde were at best remote pastiches of Li Bai (Li Po’s) poems.

Instead, he had a completely negative reaction to the post-Wagner music business which was preparing itself (through Wagner’s use of the leit-motive and commodification of Bayreuth) to become the Pop music “scene” of today which incorporates classical music in a ghetto.

He went to America without having any special attraction to America even as Adorno split to America, knowing only that he could not work in Germany and that Britain sucked, for him. This was a negative logic:

In this dirty old part of the city
Where the sun refused to shine
People tell me there ain’t no use in tryin’

Now my girl you’re so young and pretty
And one thing I know is true
You’ll be dead before your time is due, I know

Watch my daddy in bed a-dyin’
Watched his hair been turnin’ grey
He’s been workin’ and slavin’ his life away
Oh yes I know it

He’s been workin’ so hard, yeah
I’ve been workin’ too, baby, yeah
Every night and day, yeah

We gotta get out of this place
If it’s the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
Cause girl, there’s a better life for me and you

(The Animals, 1965)

My life here in China contains a lot of objective “suffering”: heat, pollution, tricky employers, and millions of Chinese characters…people, whose self-restraint and politeness make the commute just bearable.

But anything is better than the USA, covered as it is by a grey goo of free market ideology and victim blaming that is qualitatively different from East Asia…despite the interesting fact that East Asia does capitalism better. In the USA the grey goo covers even intimate and family relations.

It’s not your fault if you are “maladjusted”. We were designed to hunt the black boar and to dance until dawn but industrial civilization demands paper pushers. According to Outward Bound founder Kurt Hahn it by design renders us dull, numb and without compassion because our leaders know only our negative capabilities. We need not shine.

Curb your enthusiasm.

But that kills us of cancer and heart disease, right? Right.

Therefore I do art and other stuff, beating against the current at all times. It’s basic survival at this time. And I start with grey goo, grisaille. My paintings circa 1970, now lost, were done at the School of the Art Institute in monochrome and my therapist at the time turned me on to Goya’s “black paintings”, paintings in monochrome with which Goya covered the walls of his house after the disasters of the Ibero-British war against Napoleon.

And then in 1973, when it became clear I wasn’t going to be sent to Vietnam, I decided to glaze colors on the monochrome. The result was so great, I thought, that I invited my neighbor and his girlfriend (in the old Howard Street “jungle” on the far north side of Chicago) for a look-see. Now I do this on wordpress and on Facebook. The painting was called “Shannon” after an electrical engineer, and in it he was being confronted with an angel.

Edward G. Nilges, “To the Unknown Helper State as of 31 July 2010”, acrylic grisaille on canvas, 50 * 60 cm.

EGN, “Detail of the Unknown Helper State as of 31 July 2010”, computer-modified photo of detail of above using Windows Office Picture Manager.

EGN, “Variations and Fugue on the Unknown Helper State as of 31 July 2010”, computer modified assemblage of details of above using Windows Office Picture Manager and Microsoft Paint.

To the Unknown Helper #23: reflections on Mahler

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on July 30, 2010 by spinoza1111

It might be easier
To fail with land in sight,
Than gain my blue peninsula
To perish of delight.

(Emily Dickinson)

Edward G. Nilges, “To the Unknown Helper as of 30 July 2010: Four Views”. Acrylic grisaille on canvas 50*60 cm.: photographs enhanced with Microsoft Office Picture Manager.