Oh, hello 2016

Hey so it’s next year already! Howzabout that, eh? Oh, it’s February next year, you say? Well um, I’ve been busy, doing stuff and y’know… I mean do you think all those gessoed panels just make themselves?

Here’s some stuff that I’ve done recently that didn’t involve hammers, wood glue, calcium carbonate, trips to the hardware store, first aid or cursing:




A gift for my friend Niek, who designed this website and has promised me that we will update its usability soon. He also designed the catalog for my exhibition 36 Views of Table Mountain and is thus deserving of much thanks.






A commission for a friend of my wife, who has left these fair shores but wanted something to remember us all by.


Athlone power station San Diego zoo

Tom Cartwright_Riebeek-Wes i

Tom Cartwright_Riebeek-Wes ii

These were one part commission, one part delayed wedding present for film cameraman Justin and author Diane. I tell you their occupations because the photo of the palm trees at San Diego Zoo was taken by Canadian poet and film producer Shaista Justin. See how that just came full circle? Neat, huh.

I took the photos that these two paintings are from on a roadtrip we took to attend the wedding of our friends Mandy and Daniel in Riebeek Kasteel. Mandy wants no one to buy them so that I can give them to her in exchange for the awesome PR assistance she’s been giving me recently.
The paintings themselves are up at Ebony Gallery until mid-February.
Oh look, that’s, like, soon.


After the gold rush

I had an exhibition and it went very well, pretty much as well as such a thing can go – it was sold out before opening night! I paid off some debt and still had enough to just focus on painting for another six months. Now that the initial euphoria has died down and my seemingly miraculous pile of money has eroded to something recognizably finite, the familiar question of ‘how can I do this in a sustainable manner?’ has arisen again.

I’ve subsequently chatted to gallerists and to other artists making a go of it and to other self-employed freelancing types.

Various points have occurred in these conversations with regularity. In no particular order:

  • Work work work; that old adage of ‘Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration’? Spot on. The only way to survive is to keep putting work out there – as a caveat, though, the work should naturally be of a standard that satisfies you, or you’ll just be devaluing yourself and your work.
  • In counterpoint, I suspect it’s also important to take some time off when you’ve done something good so that you can recharge and refocus, otherwise you’re in danger of just becoming an output machine and your ability to judge the quality of what you’re doing will be fuzzy. It’s important to look at the world around us sometimes to remember why the hell we’re doing whatever it is we’re doing (in my case I want to bring beauty into the world, but I can’t do that if all I’m doing is sitting in my studio day after day after day – it’s important for me to find things out in the world that tickle my aesthetic sensibilities and develop my sense of beauty.)
  • Take control of your career; other people or entities may have an interest vested in your success, but none more so than yourself – look at what needs to be done and do it. This includes your admin (emails, phone calls, domestic crap, ummmm blog entries), because the niggly little to-dos can become quite distracting and build up stress. (This post is being written on an admin day – it’s one of eighteen things on my to-do list for today.)
  • Stay visible – get works into group shows, build a community of interesting people to discuss all of these issues with. Interesting possibilities will arise from such discussions.
  • Set deadlines: another advantage of group shows in between big solo shows (I’ve only had one, but I’m looking forward). Deadlines provide structure and get your bum on your seat to work work work. It encourages productivity and limits thumb-twiddling kanoodling. The fear of public humiliation is a great motivator.
  • That said, failure is ALWAYS an option and the fear of it should never put us off. Persevere at all times, because eventually you’ll get somewhere – even if it’s just to an understanding that that way doesn’t work and next time you’ll do it differently. My favourite quote of all time ever is this one, which is stuck up above the sink on my studio wall:


36 views of Table Mountain

Wreck of the Seli 1, Bloubergstrand
Wreck of the Seli 1, Bloubergstrand

As mentioned in my previous post (from aaaaages ago, I know. I’ve been painting (mostly)) I have an exhibition imminent. It’s called ’36 views of Table Mountain’, and it’s a homage to Hokusai’s ’36 views of Mount Fuji’, a  famous series of woodblock prints from the early 1800s. It showed Mount Fuji from a wide variety of perspectives, in differing seasons and weather conditions, from far away and close up, from cities and rural areas. It was a remarkable and beautiful series of snapshots (long before snapshots had been invented, of course) on a recurring theme. This pic is from that series:


‘Nuff said.

So I’m painting 36 views of Table Mountain, and I have learned a LOT about the mountain ranges in this fair peninsula while taking walks with lovely and knowledgeable people or driving around it, next to it or over it. I have evolved my painting technique, limited my palette, worked in layers, rubbed paint away, put it back on… I have had a really great time, and I hope you’ll come and have a look at the fruits of my labour (well, it wasn’t all labour; that’s kinda the point – it’s been fun!).

The exhibition opens at 6:30pm on 27 November at the Everard Read Gallery, Portswood Road, Cape Town. If you want to get a glass of wine in you while you view the art, come then. If you’re opening-phobic and would rather not see lots of people standing in front of the paintings, come on any subsequent weekday up until 11 December, which is when the exhibition comes down.

I’m working on a book to document the works, too, with my design guru genius friend Niek de Greef. Clever people Pippa Skotnes, Natasha Norman and my dad have all written insightful things about me, the works and/or the mountain, so there’s that to look forward to too.

Meanwhile, I’m off to paint.

Mental strength, and an exhibition

I enjoy the drawn-out psychological quagmire that is cricket, both one-day games and test matches. One of the appeals is in the equivalent of watching a train wreck in slow motion: the mental disintegration of a team or an individual player over the five days of a test match, or, even better, over a whole series. It is at this point that fellow players, commentators, coaches and critics bring out the phrase ‘mental strength’ (close cousin to the critical BMT, or ‘big match temperament’).

It must take an astonishing amount of mental strength to go through a bad patch in your chosen profession in plain view of everyone who follows the game. How you don’t break down and say “Oh god, I can’t handle this. I’m no good at this and what the hell was I thinking?” is beyond me. I say this because I’ve booked  an exhibition that is scheduled to open on November 20 at the Everard Read Gallery in Cape Town. Now this is, of course, jolly exciting and huzzah! for me for getting my painting career on track. This week, however, as the days count down (in my head anyway) and I think about how many paintings I have to get done by then (16 at present), my wheels have started to spin.

Most of all it feels as if a cold grey mist has enwrapped my cerebellum, muffling it in a pall of uncertainty, fear and anxiety and preventing any of my normal cheery and generally anxiety-free thoughts from getting through to me. I can’t quite tell if it’s my fear of success or its partner-in-crime, fear of failure (and I don’t know if I can distinguish between the two). But whatever it is, it’s an immobilizer. I sit down, I paint for 30 mins, I get up, I fidget, I eat something, I stare at my paintings, start something new, fold laundry, check a cricket score, look at the paintings, go for a walk, paint for an hour, start supper, paint … I’m uncharacteristically nervous and I don’t know what the right way to channel that energy is.

I swear this is the same as professional sport, when you can (presumably) get so caught up in the need to take wickets/score consistently that you lose sight of why you chose to take up your profession: loads of travel, outdoor time, test yourself physically, generate a good income, chance of success in the public eye and, of course, sheer enjoyment of the game. You might get so caught up in the pursuit of your career goals that at some point you could easily lose sight of why you took it up in the first place (the pleasure). This is the mental toughness bit. Because right now, I can see how giving up would make my present discomfort go away. Fuck the deadline, I am free! Born free, you cannot shackle me!

Of course, in the long run that won’t work out too well because I will have proven to myself that I am incapable of achieving a goal as simple as having a solo exhibition. When I say simple, of course, I don’t mean simple. I mean it seems like it must be simple because people are doing it all the time, all over the place and I keep getting invited to more exhibition openings. So it can’t be that hard, right?

The entropy of lethargy


I don’t know about some of you other self-employed types out there, but I’m beginning to wonder when/how I’ll ever get my mojo back. While I fought the good fight of productivity until just before Christmas (to the extent that my daughter complained that she never gets to spend time with me even though I’m at home all the time), now that I’ve let the holiday spirit in it’s hard to imagine my ‘old life’ reasserting itself.

I have worked on one commission over the last ten days, and that only because it has a deadline (praise be to deadlines!). Other than that I’ve napped, read a book (well, most of a book) and taken pictures of our cats. That’s about it, really, bar the regular domestics. 

This raises the importance of getting-on-a-roll-and-staying-on-it-for-as-long-as-possible, because I have sometimes found it disheartening to have to climb back onto the wagon of focus and productivity. I have no doubt that I’ll sort it out when the time comes (I think the time is Monday) and my daughter will wish she were at school again so she could have some friends to play with, but the flipside to this little rant is that to my surprise I’ve actually quite enjoyed this little stint of doing sweet bugger all. Turns out I’m not just a little art-making machine after all.

I’m going to go lie on my bed with the cats and finish my book now, before the holiday’s over.


Here is some of the underpainting I’ve done for next year’s exhib. I’m quite enjoying obsessing over the detail on the edges… not sure how long that’ll last!




October 2014 exhibition

I’ll be having an exhibition at Everard Read, due to open on 1 October, 2014.

Here are some of my source images, which also illustrate my obsession with plotting points.

Outside The Assembly, Harrington St.

M5 near Ndabeni

Camps Bay

Virgil Elliott

2003. Oil on gesso panel.

I’ve been reading Virgil

Elliott’s Traditional Oil Painting (2000).

‘Virtually all of the great works of art create a mood that the viewer cannot help but feel. This, more than anything else, is the mark of a masterpiece. More than technique, more than colour, more than arcane theories or flashy brushwork, the emotional content is what separates great art from good art.’ (p 12)

‘The fact that something is not easy does not justify the conclusion that it is impossible.’ (p xiv) – I love this one. I hate it too, though… generally when a painting isn’t working and I can’t see how to fix it.

‘”Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.”‘ (Jane Ellice Hopkins (1870) in Elliott, p 203)