Thursday, December 29, 2011

The end is nigh!

Jeffrey F. Barken and I have nearly come to the end of our very interesting and enjoyable collaboration. The story is finished and a painting is underway.

Here is the final installment.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The people behind the portraits. 3: Simonetta Vespucci.

The thing about renaissance artists is that they didn't care much about getting a likeness. It is thought that artists would flatter the attractive elements of their sitter's faces to the point that it no longer looked like them .

In real life she was quite ugly.

So while its is possible to speculate. No one will ever be sure that the Goddess Venus/Aphrodite in Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" was Simonetta Vespucci, and critics have argued the point, pointlessly, for centuries.

I believe that the chances are good that it is her. Due to the fact the he wasn't the only one who painted her and so we have a fair idea of what she looked like. Although most portraits are posthumous and her appearance had probably become more legendary than accurately remembered.

"Many's the day she'd be seen wandering the fields topless with a snake 'round her neck.."

One thing is pretty much certain, and that is that Botticelli painted one (possibly the only surviving) portrait of her while she was alive.

Simonetta Vespucci ( who married a cousin of Amerigo Vespucci.) Was the belle of Florence. Possibly because she was the only woman in italy who didn't shave her eyebrows. She became very popular with the Medici brothers. Lorenzo the magnificent,

Isn't he wonderful?

and Giuliano.

"Just Giuliano" as he was dubbed by historians.

Giuliano ' The sporty one', once flew a banner featuring her portrait, also by Botticelli, at a jousting tournament, but had an unfortunate accident soon after, involving an assassin's sword and his face.

Simonetta died at the age of 22 of an illness. Most likely TB. Reportedly she had a funeral procession of thousands. Which only goes to show that the public care more when beautiful people die.

After their deaths Lorenzo;

Here he is again. Magnificent!

commissioned Botticelli to paint her and Giuliano as Venus and Mars. Complete with his big lance.

No word on how her husband felt about any of this.

Many historians rubbished the idea that Botticelli was in love with her, and the theory that Simonetta's face was repeated in his most famous work was dismissed by Felipe Fernández-Armesto as ''Romantic nonsense".

"The vulgar assumption, for instance, that she was Botticelli's model for all his famous beauties seems to be based on no better grounds than the feeling that the most beautiful woman of the day ought to have modelled for the most sensitive painter."

He's probably right

So what if his paintings are a veritable "Where's Wally?" of Simonetta look-alikes.

But what about the fact that , on his deathbed, Botticelli asked to be buried at her feet at Church of Ognissanti??

Romantic nonsense?

Friday, December 9, 2011


Check out the the penultimate chapter of Mackerel by J Jeffrey F. Barken and illustrated by me!

I'm about to start an oil painting based on the story. Feedback greatly appreciated.

Read it HERE.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The people behind the portraits.2: Juan de Pareja.

Juan de Pareja was Diego Velázquez's assistant , and the subject of one of his most famous paintings. He also really should be the patron saint of unrecognised artists.

He was the guy who helped in the studio, grinding paint, preparing canvasses, cleaning up. Of course he did all of this for free... Just because he loved it! Just kidding! He did it for free because he was a slave.

Velasquez was considered quite the humanitarian in that he didn't starve, torture or otherwise abuse his slaves, but his kindness didn't extend to allowing the obviously talented de Pareja to paint.

Although this may have been because it was illegal for slaves to paint... Or do anything else that wasn't slaving.

So Juan de Pareja painted in secret. Because you cannot be surrounded by the works of Diego Velázquez all day long and not give it a go.

Velázquez was the official artist to the royal family.

He was the only one who could effectively capture the ridiculousness of their clothes.

One day King Philip IV was Visiting his studio and Juan de Pareja sneaked one of his own paintings into the room.

Just a little thing he threw together.

Just a little thing he threw together.

The king saw the work and asked who had done it, at which point de Pareja and his balls of steel stepped forward and said he had painted it, and asked for official recognition of his talent.

After this appeal the king's head began to vibrate, and smoke came out his ears like an android in a sci fi movie. You see, this did not compute. A slave, who was born a slave because God wanted him to be a slave... Could not be an artist.

The king proclaimed , that a man who painted like that ...Could not be a slave.

And Velasquez had no choice but to free him.

Unfortunately the ''Contract of liberation." Stipulated that he work for four more years for Velasquez. For pay one hopes. Must have been a tense working environment for a while there.

After he left , de Pareja made his living as a professional artist. His work is hard to find but some examples remain.

That steely, defiant glare has a whole new meaning now doesn't it?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The people behind the portraits. Jane Burden- Morris.

What's the first image that pops into your head when you hear the term 'Pre-Raphaelite?'

Is it William Morris wallpaper?

No, it’s a pouty, moody , sensitive woman with long wavy hair. Don't deny it.

This woman.
 Kate Winslet?

Her name was Jane Burden and she may not have looked happy but she did pretty well. The daughter of a stableman, she grew up in miserable poverty and was destined for a life of domestic servitude before she became engaged to...Wait for it... William Morris. She then proceeded to re-invent the hell out of herself in a way that would make Madonna do a double take.

For starters she learned about 5 languages, fluently, learned piano and generally poshed up to the point that no one knew she had ever been anything but upper class. Rumour has it that George Bernard Shaw based the character of Eliza Doolittle on her.

She became active in politics also and supported Irish home rule. ( Fist pump!)

So here's the juicy part:

Morris painted her a fair bit...But when you think of that etherial, idealised goddess in the paintings, its not his paintings you're thinking of.

She was, of course, a model for her husband and also for his close friend and mentor . The charismatic , intense and slightly drug addled Dante Gabriel Rossetti.


Who ,in the movie, would be played by Colin firth.

One of the paintings: 'Astarte Syriaca'  was accompanied by the following verse:

 Mystery: lo! betwixt the sun and moon
    Astarte of the Syrians: Venus Queen
    Ere Aphrodite was. In silver sheen
  Her twofold girdle clasps the infinite boon
  Of bliss whereof the heaven and earth commune:
    And from her neck's inclining flower-stem lean
    Love-freighted lips and absolute eyes that wean
  The pulse of hearts to the sphere's dominant tune.

  Torch-bearing, her sweet ministers compel
    All thrones of light beyond the sky and sea
    The witnesses of Beauty's face to be:
  That face, of Love's all-penetrative spell
  Amulet, talisman, and oracle, -
    Betwixt the sun and moon a mystery.

                      ----Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Have you been 'Painting' my wife!?!

They were, of course, having an affair and poor William Morris was devastated. Incidentally Rossetti's wife, who he didn't paint half as often, Elizabeth Siddal...Killed herself. In the movie she would be played by that pretty, but insipid, red head one who would have been just perfect for James McAvoy's William Morris... If only the timing had been different!

The whole thing would be a Merchant Ivory production and it would be spectacular.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mackerel: (An Irish American artistic collaboration)

The first part of Jeffery's story , with a couple of sketches from yours truly, is up! I look forward to creating a painting based on this tale.

Click HERE To read it.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Collaboration with writer Jeffery Barken.

Over the years many young , and not so young, hitchikers have stayed at Brushwood Studios. Sometimes We never hear from them again, sometimes they remain friends. Sometimes they are utterly insane and scare the crap out of your whole family , and sometimes... They become writers.

I met Jeff five years ago when he was just a teenager with a talent for words, an adventurous spirit and perfect American teeth. Now we are collaborating on a project. Check out his stories here , he's good.

Collaboration with Writer Jeff Barken.

Over the years many young , and not so young, hitchikers have stayed at Brushwood Studios. Sometimes We never hear from them again, sometimes they remain friends , sometimes they are utterly insane and u . And sometimes, they become writers.

I met Jeffery Barkin a few yeas ago when he was just a teenager with a talent for words,an adverturous sprit and perfect American teeth. Now we are collabeoating on a project. Check out his stuff , he's good.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Art Workshops in September and October.

Attention Friends!

In September and October I will be facilitating two weekend art workshops. "Kick Start Your Creativity' at the idillic "Eclipse" Centre in Co. Kerry.

You can find more information here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My work will be on display as part of the ‘Audiolise’ project this month.

Any Dublin or Dundalk people out there? My work is going in display with the ‘Audiolise’ project. In May.

“Artistic creation is not mere decoration. The artist has to convey his inspiration to others while allowing them freedom and interpretation.”(Liu Chun Hau)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or so one is led to believe.

Artistic endeavors are open to interpretation from each and every encounter, engagement with an art piece is mercurial. An artist may intend for one message to be conveyed but this can change recurrently upon interaction and engagement.

What if it became possible to relay interpretations of visual art sonically? How then do we consider the resulting venn diagram?
This is what ‘Audiolise’ aims to do. Working with a diverse team of Irish artists, both emerging and established from all over the country, we will use their work as the starting point to dive into a world of imagination and interpretation. By utilising emerging technology as the tool to harness opinion, the exhibition is only the first stage of the process. Post-exhibition the users sonic choices will be amalgamated and analysed in order to attempt to establish an understanding of perception.

You are invited to take part in this unique project in The Basement Gallery in Dundalk on the 17th May and/or The Exchange Gallery in Dublin on the 19th of May, both for one night only. Showcasing the following artists: Sean Cotter, Susan Mc Evoy, Eoin Mac Lochlainn, Diana Muller, Erin Treacy, Ken Browne, Anne Muller and Ben Readman.

• Where: The Basement Gallery Dundalk
           When: 17th May, 10.00am – 4.30pm
           How much: Free

• Where: The Exchange Gallery, Temple Bar, Dublin
           When: 19 May · 15:00 - 22:30
           How much: Free

We will also be exhibiting at the FIS exhibtion at the start of June, 1st - 3rd, in the Carrols building on the DKIT campus in Dundalk.

More about Audiolise

Monday, February 14, 2011

Painting for the Drunk.

A while back, I was suffering from a case of painter's block. I just couldn't come up with any new ideas and it was getting me down. I think the problem was that I couldn't stop thinking. I was too busy,  distracted, and stressed out. I found myself obsessing over technicalities and was unable to finish anything.

I was looking through some art books that turned up when I was rooting through the studio and found an article about Francis Bacon. That explorer of the dark heart of artistic expression (or something). My eye fell upon the creepy yet fascinatingly phallic representation of ''Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion."

It really does look like dongs though doesn't it?

Here, dear readers, is a quote from Bacon re. the triptich:

"I was so drunk I didn't know what I was doing."

So drunk... He didn't know... what he was doing.

My brain mulled the words as I looked from the page to my canvass and messy palette....
What darkness lives in my heart? I wondered. What bizarre creatures might be unleashed onto the canvass if only I were slightly less uptight?

STEP ONE. Find the right booze.

Not being able to afford my own alcohol just at the moment I found alternative means...

It does make a mean martini though.

No. Not drinking the solvent I use to clean my brushes, but you're in the right ballpark.

You see...A few summers ago my younger cousin Andy had a party.

Several if memory serves.

A garden party to be exact. I can still recall the melodious heavy guitar riffs and sounds of vomiting outside my window at 5am after I'd barricaded myself inside.

These feckers

The next morning...

The front lawn looked like downtown Baghdad after the arrival of democracy. Bodies lying on every available surface and a wild mountain goat eating Pringles off someone's chest...

 Anyway among the wreckage were bottles, many of them empty and most of the contents unidentifiable. But in one, with a, Eastern European looking label , remained a green liquid. It was untouched....For a reason as it turns out...but more on that later.


It was perfect! What more Arty drink than absinthe? The very devil that drove so many Victorian Frenchmen into creative insanity. How could I NOT try it?

What could go wrong?

I poured a large glass and got to work...

So here's what I didn't know about absinthe

A. The supposed hallucinogenic properties of wormwood are greatly exaggerated and in fact... Non existent. The brain addling properties the drink used to posses were from the green colorants they used to put in it. Good old green!

B: It tastes like someone melted a packet of Liquorice Allsorts, like Sambuca and petrol had a baby, like Chernobyl juice.

Either way I wasn't drinking that shit.

So I dug out the raspberry vodka I made last year instead. ( To make raspberry vodka see here.)  It tastes like God's sweat and it s full of vitamin C. ( Citation needed)

STEP 2: Getting Started.

First... wear a smock (or something) and make sure you have:



Solvent ( do not drink).

Music is needed for painting So after a while ( two hours) of dancing around to Sigur Rós instead of painting, I actually stepped up to the canvass and gave it a shot...

STEP 3: Instant genius.

"Come on subconscious!" I cried. "Do our worst! Open the floodgates bitch!"

I have double vision at the best of times so I was slightly physically hampered by this but once I got started I didn't seem to matter any more.

The next thing I knew I was transported... To the couch where I was watching TV. I don’t know what happened. 'Two and a Half Men' was on.

It was the one where Alan was being a whiny bitch about something...You know the one...

Anyway After going back to the studio and drinking more Raspberry hooch I looked at my creation.

The darkest recesses of my subconscious ladies and gentlemen.

Having analysed it and delved deep, I have identified it as a happy tree frog smelling a big pink flower...

Francis Bacon eat your heart out.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


"O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention. "
William Shakespeare