Thursday, December 30, 2010

The intellectual on the train

Concentrating hard on her dissertation on the portals of the Romanesque churches of southern Tuscany but distracted by Isabella Allende. I can sympathize.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Barefoot in the lounge

Sometimes you want to kick off your shoes and enjoy a nice cup of coffee, no matter that you're surrounded by undergraduates and it's cold as Satan's member outside.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ciume Acting Pensive

Ciume is an actor and has a unusual name.  I wouldn't describe her as a pensive soul.  Sexy she is.  This painting was done as an after thought to another last winter when I didn't trust the light for anything grander. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Urban canyons

The streets of Florence are narrow, claustrophobic and endlessly fascinating. This was drawn, with a dip pen, while looking down a side street towards the via del Moro.

Friday, December 17, 2010

One of the many decrepit but still habitable houses in the vicinity of Florence. I encountered this one on a hot day in September, while walking on the via delle cinque vie south of the city.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A very quick and minimalist sketch of the artist and martial artist Robert Bentley. He's a talented polymath and all-round dangerous guy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Looking up at the Cathedral of St.Louis in Blois, France. The cathedral, a 17th century building graced with charming modernist stained glass, is not the most interesting or impressive sight in Blois. But the confined view up the hillside stairway is one of the most striking.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Sea

Nautical paintings have a long history, but paintings of the sea are less common. It was things on the waves, not the sea itself, that animated most painters.

And for the minority of artists that did concern themselves with the sea itself, it was invariably the sublimity of the ocean, its danger and vastness, that provided their themes. Caspar David Friedrich's Monk by the Sea is a good (spectacular, really) example.

Tarragon's recent seascapes have a composition derived from Friedrich. But the theme here is different. The creamy breakers curl and roll, skimming the sand like wet silk over flesh.
They are not sublime. They are erotic, as lush and inviting as Hockney's swimming pools.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

The chateau of Meyrargues dominates the community of the same name, although why anyone should bother to dominate such a tiny place is beyond me. The castle itself is quite beautiful, chiefly because of its vivid yellow colour. Not visible here, of course.

These days it's a  4-star hotel. Perhaps one day...

It's in Provence, just south of the Durance. I cycled through it en route to the (rather lovely) campsite at Cadenet.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In the classroom

Also in Italy, as it happens. Also in the summer. It's hard to pay attention to the class sometimes.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Girls of summer...

sitting in the piazza, drinking coffee, not taking notes. It's possible they're supposed to be paying attention to a professor of medieval history.

A typical sketchbook page, done very quickly with a china marker. They end up a bit worse for wear sometimes, but that's an inevitable consequence of carrying the book around everywhere.

Monday, December 6, 2010

London Fields

Have you heard about the Hipsters?  Have you heard about the London Hipsters?  The kings, the natural beauties on their danger machines, the landing strip legs in spring.  The handle bars and the grease and the beer.  The throw-out barbecues burning the grass through the long evenings.  They all converge here, these fields left undisturbed in the midst of Hackneys victorian sprawl.

I think the high-rise is new.  Never mind the high-rise.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


One spring I spent a lot of time walking in the hills above Florence, sketchbook and watercolours in hand. Cliche, I know.

Here we're looking down the via di Feliceto in Settignano, a small village a few kilometres' walk north-east of the city. While I was painting, a local couple came by and we had a nice chat about Canada. They'd been to Montreal, and liked it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Work in progress

A little while ago I posted an early sketch for this drawing, entitled (no longer provisionally) Eurydice, Eurydice. At that time I hoped to finish it within a week. But as they say, hope springs infernal.

Nobody ever accused November of being the most fruitful month. Sadly, the same is true of December. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Musicians at the Transat Club

A bunch of guys sat around improvising all night. They were having fun, but as background music goes, it was hit and miss.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jordan Sits Stock Still

I do very little drawing.  I should do more but it's not part of my job description.
Last winter my flat mate, Jordan, and I had a weekly drawing session.  It often included whisky, sometimes we only had beer.  We had nice chats.  I regret the passing of these interludes in my lonely days.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's a sketch

Ally takes a turn posing, before taking up the pen herself.

Occasionally, when our scheduled model has failed to show up or been frightened away, we pose for each other.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Florentine Oratory

A sketch done with a dip pen of the oratorio della compagnia di S.Michaele della Pace. It's in the east of Florence's old historic core, across the street from the ancient church of Sant'Ambrogio.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Where's Your Sense Of Perspective Tarragon?

I don't know a single person who hasn't dated a twin and then accidentally broken up with their brother or sister.  I know I felt right silly when she turned to me and said, I'll tell her when I see her.  But what makes people different? Sometimes it is just the small details.  Had she been drinking tea at the time of my retreating monologue then I would have know that is was not she to whom I wanted to address myself, for she only drank coffee.  
That gave me the idea for this diptych, Where's Your Sense of Perspective Tarragon?  Good question.  And where, for that matter are my priorities?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Clear night in Compton

It's been a while since we're visited the Compton of Tarragon's paintings. Here it's a cold clear evening, that will shortly fade into unreverberate darkness. Getting caught after midnight in a narrow cutting, closed in by forest on each side, and with even the moon obstructed by branches, is not an experience easily forgotten.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Samara at Dr.Sketchy's

At the very end of the summer, the lovely Samara posed for an unusual Dr.Sketchy's session in the pavilion at Sunnyside park. It turned out to be a colder day than expected, but she was a very good sport about it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A hot day in Rome

Although beautiful any time of year, the charm of Rome in June (never mind August!) is much mitigated by the heat. Danielle managed as best she could, and we did a lot of undignified splashing in fountains.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


A ten-minute sketch of my friend Frances, who in addition to being a patient model is herself a skilled draughtswoman.

Friday, November 19, 2010

In the dark of the Florentine night

Bedeviled by jet-lag, I wandered the streets of the Oltrarno after midnight. Sometimes I made small sketches.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tarragon plays

At a bar in Southhampton, Tarragon broke out the guitar and gave us a rousing song about Cornish coal miners.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


For a few years I used to spend a fair bit of time in Montrichard, a quietly provincial French town a bit south of Tours. Periodically, I ventured out to draw the architecture. This is a renaissance gateway plus house adjacent to the ruins of the medieval castle.

It's a drawing in sepia ink overlaid with watercolour. Not a technique I used too often. The usual advantage of a dark underdrawing - the deep value of the shadows is already laid in for you - is here lost.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Not My Man

A painting about sex. And also, and more importantly, about the incommensurate spaces between people, and how even through the most intimate connection we can hardly plumb the mystery of one other personality.

I think when Dorothy Parker wrote that "hell is other people," she wasn't just being cynical, but only articulating that "the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." We can never really know what they're thinking.

It is amazing to reflect that between Dorothy Parker and H.P.Lovecraft there may have been, on occasion, only a few miles of New York City. That those two writers existed in the same universe is a minor miracle all of its own.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Academics

"Scholarly writing is almost as corrupting a trade as play-acting. The great majority of one's colleagues are vulgar and petty and devoted to the business of bringing those characteristics to ever fuller bloom. Anyone who enters it with any idealistic notions will have a hard time controlling his disgust and hatred."

 - Theodor Mommsen, 1878, in a letter to a (scholarly) associate.

These days, it's not all that bad. Mommsen was just bitter and old and German. If tyrannies are best moderated by assassination, academia is at least moderated by alcoholism. And since "beer does more than Milton can, to justify God's ways to man,"  we're in good hands.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The dog of the Red Baron

The dog hung around outside the Red Baron, a dingy tourist bar in Siena, Italy, for at least two hours. I like to think he was keeping track of his master's beers.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Pope's front door.

The main gateway of the Pope's Palace in Avignon.

It dates from the 14th century, a time when the popes were uncompromising in the hunt for heresy and for money. The most famous of them, Benedict XII, not only exterminated the last vestiges of the Cathar religion, but erected Europe's most sophisticated system of taxation and fiscal administration. He fought too against the more spiritual elements of his own church, who were dismayed by his dedication to the bottom-line.

I've always thought the bleakly aggressive architecture of Avignon well reflected that least sympathetic of popes. No one approaching the gateway could possibly construe it as welcoming.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Like a flooded basilica

And he went down to Brighton,
set eye to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
he set up canvas out on the swart beach.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Alfred Krupp's Last Day

An etching inspired by a story I heard about a former inhabitant of Capri:

At the beginning of the 20th century, Alfred Krupp's life of untrammelled indolence and wealth was marred only by the fact that everything about his love life was illegal in his native Germany. So like many before him, he took off for Italy, and led an idyllic life on Capri.

But he overestimated the liberality of his hosts, and when some Neapolitan reporters got wind of his close relationship with a local fishing boy, Alfred Krupp found himself faced with the threat of blackmail.

Animated, perhaps, by the ghost of the Duke of Wellington, he told them "Publish and be damned!" They did, and he was.

Insinuations in private are one thing, open publications another. In a single day, the world turned black around him. Shortly afterwards he committed suicide.

This is the second version of the etching. A third is underway.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The model comes home.

A painting on cardboard from some years ago. My model had just returned from the Amazon - she is usually a very pale woman. She's wearing a blouse she found in the market in Quito.

The difficulties cardboard presents for photography are obvious, I think. It would take a lot of work to smooth out the various bends and wrinkles.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Duke University II

The heart of Duke University consists of fairly traditional campus architecture, on the familiar "dreaming spires of Oxford" model.

It's very beautiful, but for me the main attraction was the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, which are among the most impressive ornamental gardens on the eastern seaboard. It encompasses a variety of gardening styles, including Italianate, English and Japanese. In the drawing above I've rendered the north entrance to the new Japanese tea house.

In addition, because I love industrial architecture, I've included a drawing of the power plant on the aptly-named Coal Pile Drive. I drew it from the terrace at the south end of the E.A. Morris Clinical Research Building.

Duke University

I had the chance recently to wander around the campus of Duke University. It's quite spectacular, not just for its architecture, but also for how the buildings are arranged on the uneven topography.

These two sketches show the back of the Craven Quadrangle - a student residence, I think - and the north side of the Theology Department.