insights/conversations growing out of drawing








Adding colour to another depressing but strangely satisfyingly shaped haul of washed-up trash. Why I like these battered shapes…something lodging in the primitive brain, I suspect. Perhaps a kind of gestalt. I move closer and closer to the two greats in my pantheon: Morandi and Guston. I have come to them from the side like a crab. A frontal appropriation has always failed by sending me into a withering and drying up. How can I possibly compare the muddy puddle on my paper before me with their masterpieces? Now in the beach trash on which I concentrate they are two specks, blurs in either corner of my eye, right and left. I could describe them as ghostly attendants but best to ignore them and let the wordless drawing process itself usher me in. I read somewhere this weekend that the self can only be found in those moments when you pay attention to this rather than that i.e. in the choice one makes among the myriad sensations flooding the brain at any single moment. I think drawing/ painting/ writing helps to solidify self because one is in a trance of choosing and choosing. That is why it feels so good (most of the time).

Conversation on Facebook where I posted this text and an image or two:

Deborah James says:
Beautiful! yes you introduced me to, and taught me to like, both those artists…

I answered:
And you gave me Piero della Francesca, who, by the way, was Guston’s number one.

Lynne Lomofsky says:
Beautifully said and I think I have to agree!love the bits of colour that is definitely the magical process the artist experiences that the untrained viewer can’t see

I said:
Remember our conversations re: self expression…the unrealistic and simple notion that people persist in having, that if you, for example, paint with dark colours you are sad, or that van Gogh was expressing his sadness/madness in his ‘tortured’ brush strokes etc? I think this might be a way to counter that pop psychology mindset, which ask any practicing artist, is hooey: Self expression, yes. The artist is finding and consolidating themselves – the self – by making choices again and again in the process of making. Emotion is definitely not the main player,. When the result – the end product- awakens emotions in the viewer, it is almost incidental to the artist’s intention which is to negotiate the myriad impulses open to him/her and choose the way through. It has not been as a result of the outpouring of the artist’s emotions directly onto the canvas. Let’s banish that idea once and for all.

Lynne responded:
Yes! Yes! Yes! This needs to be published on other forums other than facebook but facebook is a good start. You should open this topic on your blog

Hence this post

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A matter of focus…shadows throw doubt on the matter. These are plume poppies. Their wildly serrated leaf margins, a giddy dance for the eye, contrast with their calm, green-grey openness, like palms being held up for us to read.

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Hopeful Soapful


Castile soap ( 100% olive oil soap ) made by us, curing for the required 6 weeks,  6 months, whatever. It was a bit of a rocky process that went from failure to hope to failure to hope a few times in the making, but looking good now…

Already making suds!


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Practicing scales before the big day


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An exhibition in waiting


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Noospheric Nights – A poem

The post below is illustrated with 2 paintings that are currently listed on my website under the heading Paintings and will be on exhibition at 6 Spin Street, Cape Town, for the month of October. The opening is on 5 October at 6pm.


This poem is about all of the paintings, brewed up over hundreds of sleepless nights, that never got to be but stayed in the realm of the great undone, the painting drought of many years that has thankfully ended. (Finally, victory over velleity!)


Victory over Velleity

Velleity: merely wishing or desiring without any effort or advance towards realisation

There was still a need however, even now, to give a passing nod to those somnifugous  apparitions which were my teasing companions from my early twenties after art school had killed the love, confidence or power to paint ‘in daylight’.


Somnifugous Clutter


Somnifugous: driving away sleep

That it translated into a poem with the same title as my up-and-coming exhibition is a bit of a paradox but what I do know is that the paintings I dreamed up in my head for all those years are not anything like the ones I am now making.

It is only retrospectively that I see connections in the current flood of real works to the themes of my soul, if I can put it that way. People forget that as an artist one is also a spectator, watching and observing the work as it unfolds, often surprising oneself, challenging old and outworn opinions that are carried about like heavy luggage – the work we think we should make – and lighting up new and unexpected paths, right there, in front of  our noses, under our brushes.

The bigger ‘soul themes’ as I call them have not disappeared, though. Every now and then, comes a moment of recognition, old familiar friends in a new guise : “Ah, so here it is, this thing that has haunted me forever!”

But I have stayed from the point. This particular poem entitled ‘Noospheric Nights’ attempts to capture ghost-painting of the mind – frenetic, insistent, immensely engaging for the dreamer but ultimately sterile.

Noosphere:  The third phase of evolutionary development of the Earth following the geosphere (inanimate matter) and biosphere (biological life). Noosphere refers to human consciousness and thought.


Noospheric Nights

Raise your glass to all the paintings
now on show
that never left the night studio
never made it out the door

Still lives stillborn, social commentary
figurative studies
sweated out and tossed on the dark ceiling

No blood-spotted sheet to
display at dawn
The stacked canvasses, the piling of paper
unabated, all blank

Colours, strokes, scratchings
muted. And mutated
for every decade or two
they reappear like old friends at the door

Seascapes lapped the open-eyed shore
geometrics jangled in hot primaries
behind closed lids

The robot beggar at the half closed window
intercepted the woman’s abstract musings
coloured smoke rose from the head
hands stirred soapy dishes

The mind metaphors the mind
a compost heap that must be turned

Images proliferate
are brushed out of the sheets
like crumbs the next morning

By this
I now pronounce this exhibition open

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Exhibition of new paintings: noospheric* nights


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Opening of Exhibition at 6 Spin Street

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Artist’s statement

For Ulrich who would have been here like a shot and whom I am going to miss forever.

Everything’s a story. My life, a myriad of stories trailing behind me: childhood, MA in Fine Art, my husband and two sons, books, books, books, a discovered penchant to write, a career in children’s books with a number of publications clattering along the cobbles over my shoulder. Each one tied to a string that makes for the bundle I hold in my fist. Colourful strings.

There are 28 stories on exhibition. A couple even have something you could describe as a plot, others are merely images that by being sewn together provide the possibilities of plot.

This is the story of how these rag books were made:

It starts like so many of my stories, rummaging. This time at a church fete. Our Lady Help of Christians. I am holding in my hand creamy cloth, scrunchy, yet soft. It has a light shine. I have no idea why I want it or what I will do with it but the feel of it, like a tiny electric charge, transmits some unknown potential. I have to have it – this is despite many pieces of unused cloth jamming up the cupboards in our small house.

At home, I snip off a square and look at it blankly. At last it says”Draw me” and I run a black finerliner over it. The line skates off, pirouettes and stops. More and more lines, loops, slashes, scribbles. The cloth draws beautifully.

What about paint? I bring out an old watercolour box that I’ve had since my student days. A glass of water and a brush and it’s pops and blobs and streaks and wobbles. One transparent wash overlaps the next. The colour shapes remain discreet, the delicate edges crisp and clear and fine. There is air between them. Thank you, Our Lady.

So let’s start…except I need some shape, I need a story. A friend is sewing a rag book for babies. We should have rag books for adults, I say, idly chattering, not thinking it through. I began elaborating. What about cloth book newspapers? Imagine passengers getting onto the plane with their cloth newspapers draped in their hands. On their laps as blankets. Turned pages on their neighbour’s lap. The Watercolour Cloth Press? Yes, why not?

But I’m no newspaper head. What subject matter should I paint? Another friend, an artist, looking around my kitchen. Why don’t you paint all this? she suggests and I do. I start right where I am because there is a welter of possibilities lying around in heaps at arm’s reach. The endless source matches the stream of paintings I am itching to apint. Then the streaking, the blobbing, the scribbling in my Zozo hut. Endless hours of it. One hundred and ten pages of that have made it here.

So that is why it’s domestic associations.

I am not only invested in my little cocoon of home. Eventually, the wider world calls. I take my silly domestic ‘objets’ out, I put them into the car, on the dashboard which functions as a mantelpiece of sorts, out, out, with me to the local cafe, to the reading club I run at Rosmead Central Primary School, with me to shop at Fargo’s in Salt River, with me to Endlovini in Khayelitsha. These are the domestic excursions.

And the other elements, the stamps, the hangers, the large ‘contents pages’, the cloth tags, all the bits and pieces grow  from my life – what I have found, what is around, what friends have suggested, what my husband can and will do.

They say that every person, every author, every artist has really only one story in them which they tackle again and again from every direction. In retrospect, I can see how these works fit into a life-time’s interest in experimental formats and materials bridging the divide between genres and age-groups. The child in me and all the children I have written and illustrated for. The glorious riches of a private sensual life and the social urge, a desire to seed it – or perhaps more accurately, awaken it – in others. The freedom of the fine artist and the rigour of the illustrator. Somewhere in this territory, I hover.

So thank you to Our Lady Help of Christians, who helped me despite my not being a Christian, to Sue, to Lynne, to Robert and to Jill who buys me paint when she goes on her travels and Pippa Firmin who schlepped me more cloth from the UK when Our Lady’s basket was empty.

The last story I will tell is not a story. It’s a poem of only a few words, and not a very good poem at that. If people only get this, I’ll have done my job.

The joy that is making, the joy that is painting.


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Ship on a mantelpiece


If you look very carefully at the framed print above Peter’s ship you might spot the sea captain’s ship on his mantelpiece. Thank you Shirley for sending us this from the Edward Ardizzone exhibition in London.

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