Sunday, 8 September 2019

The thrill of a portrait

Share the thrill of a lively 
watercolour portrait of yourself

Who are you? Who do want to be? I love sharing the thrill and challenges in the search for the personality and inner energy, as I work intuitively to figure out how to bring out the best in everyone who entrusts me with their image. You don't have to sit for long. While I make sketches and do a photo-shoot, we enjoy an relaxing afternoon of enjoyment and discovery. It always turns out to be a creative collaboration. My portraits are more than just a likeness. The moment of unveiling will give you a surprising sense of recognition and can be quite a moving, self-affirming experience.
Here are a few examples of watercolours painted roughly life-size. Standard measurements are approximately 65 x 45cm (26 x 18 inches), without mount or frame. I use Winsor & Newton watercolour on Arches satiné paper, all museum-quality materials, so there is no risk of colour deterioration.


I live and work in Amsterdam and have a life-time's experience of portrait painting. I must have painted well over a hundred. Many people are familiar with my portraits of famous musicians like Luciano Pavarotti and Yehudi Menuhin in action, but I've also painted very many lovely people with no claims to fame. More details and images can be found on my website at 
If you want to discuss a commission, just email me at or phone me: +31.650294233. 
If you can't come to my Amsterdam studio,  I can travel  to anywhere in Europe. 



Wednesday, 28 August 2019

The fulfilment of creative work

The fulfilment of creative work

As a senior citizen of 86, I seem to be bucking the trend. Even people twenty-five years younger are dying to retire, to stop working and receive a pension, as though that is the purpose of life. I know very well that many people have good reasons to "take it easy", those in poor health, or with work-related injuries. More and more are burned out. But the widespread idea that work is by definition a penance, a boring chore and that we shall all be happier if we work less is a sad misconception. 

A recent national Dutch television series on Nieuwsuur featured me briefly in their discussion of the predicaments and risks of those facing the age of retirement, those forced to retire against their wishes and those who have to keep working to make ends meet. For Dutch speakers, here's the link: I appear at 17.00 mins and 29.04 mins.
  Standing in my projected images. Photo: Marijn Duintjer-Tebbens
Typically, artists don't know what "retirement" means. Their creative work springs from a lifelong inner necessity, a spiritual and emotional need. Even though my own so-called "work" is actually quite demanding, it's also my therapy, my inspiration, my passion, my fulfilment. So why should I stop doing what I love? I would miss my studio terribly, full of the vibes of so many projects. Usually inspired by music, the surprising beauty of what comes from my paintbrush delights and nurtures me and when I'm in the state of creative Flow (see the link to this concept ) I lose all sense of time
I hope that in my recent three and a half minutes of screen time I've been able to pass on just a hint of the therapeutic benefits of creative work "flow" to some of the 628.000 viewers and to inspire and convince more pensioners of our need to stay active. It does us all so much good in mind and body.

Having said all that, I must confess that there's another motivation for me to go on producing and hopefully selling my work. It's simply that, with only a modest pension, I still need to earn a living. Then comes the tricky question: "So when you win the lottery, of course you won't need to work any more, will you?" Aaah ...... wait a minute!

                                     An short improvisation for the camera
Admittedly, it would be great to rent a larger studio without worrying about the costs; I could also rent an apartment with a lift, although I would miss the daily climb of sixty-one steps to my fourth floor that keeps me fit; I could travel a little more, not without a sketchbook in hand for creative jottings.

But to answer your question: No, I just can't imagine life without the inner drive to create and to share. For me, work is a basic need.

Projection of a kinetic painting from a performance of Shostakovich' Hamlet Suite

Sunday, 7 July 2019

My old tree as a self-portrait

My old tree as a self-portrait

The Amsterdam house of which I rent the fourth floor apartment (no lift) was built in 1913, exactly twenty years before I was born. Probably the plane trees lining my street were planted about the same time, then cut down during the German occupation (1940-45) and re-planted after the war. So even though the one outside my balcony is a bit younger than me, as I watch him grow older we have become good friends and I like to talk to him. With the colours of the season he marks time for me. He has weathered many storms, not to mention the assaults of radical pruners. It's touching to see how he leans over toward his companions that line the street, almost arm in arm, as they share support for each other. He inspires me too, so before I do my morning exercises I open the so-called "French" windows and chat with him, reaching out over the balcony to admire his stamina and flexibility.
I'm still painting portraits, and it suddenly occurred to me that I should portray my dear friend. But during the making of this watercolour (58 x 41cm) he and I got into quite a discussion. My art teachers used to urge me to "be" the tree, if you want a convincing image of it. I said the same to my own students and now to myself. Working through sketches and studies I realised that it would be pointless just to make an exact likeness. My painting had to somehow take on a life of its own through my signature style. Although I was painting a tree, in my mind it gradually became something of a self-portrait - a symbol of my ageing self, scars and all. He is my example, still finding the energy to reach for the sky, still flexible and communicative, still standing firm and tall, still catching light and providing shade after so many years. So each brushstroke became a gesture of gratitude for a shared life. And we haven't finished painting yet.
My street in the autumn

What music do you hear in this gorgeous cathedral of colour? It'll change with the seasons of course.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

The end of an era: Bernard Haitink retires at 90

The end of an era:
Bernard Haitink retires at 90

On Saturday a deep nostalgia came over me as I watched the televised recording of the last time that the great Bernard Haitink would conduct in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, before his retirement in August. The end of an era. It was 1965 when I was introduced to him and was allowed to sit in at his rehearsals with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, to make sketches for what was to develop into a whole series. He was 36 and I was 32 - looking for ways to give form to my paintings of music. I sat nervously behind this Rolls-Royce of an orchestra, totally fascinated with the unity of their sound and somewhat intimidated by their proximity.  

I was still very much a figurative painter in oils and interested in the arrangement of shapes in the composition, setting up an abstract rhythm with the music-stands (above). But next time, venturing up into the balcony, I discovered an undulating silhouette of the cellos and bass group, a diagonal motif that was to become my signature in many works. Here's the link to my 2014 blog on this characteristic:

Haitink with the Concertgebouw Orchestra II, oil on canvas, 1966.
Collection of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
It took courage to paint out the rest of the orchestra, but I wanted to emphasise and celebrate that compositional discovery. Haitink was hunched over to urge the orchestra on, as he did a lot in those early days. You can still recognise the fabulous solo cellist Anner Bijlsma, then higher up in the last row the blond hair of cellist Edith Neuman, at 24 a recent addition to the orchestra who liked my work and introduced me to Bernard. I'm still indebted to my dear friend. I feel so sad that everybody in the orchestra that I painted in the sixties has either retired or passed away.

Haitink conducting Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps"

Gradually the urge to express the vibes of this surging mass of music took over from the need to illustrate. The abstraction of the rhythms and the colours of the sound became my obsession. Music has to move and I had to show that!

Within one decade, something else was happening. The brush strokes became freer, moving with the sound. And, compared to those early, rather heavily painted oils, the paint was gaining transparency. I was moving towards luminous watercolour as my main medium and discovering ways to express my joy with music.

Haitink conducting Stravinsky's "Firebird" with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, 
oil on canvas, 100 x 65 cm. 1977, Prof. Cees Hamelink Collection

A unique commission from Director Andrew Jowett of Birmingham's Symphony Hall to paint a series of "action-portraits" of many of the great musicians he had programmed would obviously include Bernard Haitink. He is conducting Mahler and I wanted to show him fondly immersed in the colours and zigzagging shapes of that ethereal music, his face in shadow to tone in with the background colours, eyes closed, listening intensely. There just a suggestion of a smile of appreciation, or perhaps wistfulness, as his left hand, shaping the phrase, is saying: But please, the winds, sempre piano here, while his right hand maintains that crisp beat, firm, authoritative.
Bernard Haitink, watercolour 84 x56 cm. 1994. Birmingham Symphony Hall Collection.

One of a Collection of thirty-one watercolours, this was painted with respect, gratitude and affection for the conductor who has provided me with years of inspiration and indirectly had a significant influence in my life's work.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Swimming in watercolour

A new series of three on paper:
Swimming in watercolour  

I nearly drowned as a small boy, so I'm still afraid to swim out of my depth. But my paintbrushes kindly showed me how to swim with watercolour, to splash and twist, to make strong plunging strokes with a wet brush, caressing strokes with an almost dry brush and at times seeming to walk on water. I've established a friendship with my brushes that is still exciting, although not entirely without anxiety. "Follow the brush" is the motto of many an artist in search of freedom. In other words, use the marks and shapes of each different brush as an immediate opportunity to improvise the rest of your graphic "story". As you follow the brushed flow, you intuitively take on an attitude of "let's just see what comes next". But what a challenge this is! 
These comments reflect the influence of Asian calligraphy and aesthetic awareness on my work. Here's the Link to my 2012 blog with more details on the Asian connection.
                                Floating in the Deep, watercolour 47 x 70 cm. (sold)

When I was an art college student in the 1950's, drawing and painting the nude was still regarded as a fundamental skill for any would-be painter, following the classical traditions. We learned to paint in oils, but over the years watercolour gradually became my preferred medium. I loved its transparent glow on smooth Arches Satiné paper, that helps it float on the surface. Now, as I began this new series, I wanted to combine memories of my early training with the nude model with my imagination of the body moving in water.

                              A lazy swim on the undulating waves, watercolour 40 x 62 cm.

If you know my work, you'll know how much of my inspiration comes from music. Yes, you guessed it: Debussy's La Mer and Jūra (The Sea) by Čiurlionis. After spending many months creating fluid lyrical abstract paintings on glass plates for my performance of The Sealive with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in February, I now feel the need to return to working with watercolour on paper in the studio, with that music in the background. 

 Taking the plunge, 65 x 38 cm. (sold)

How to face your deepest fear? Take your Chinese brush, take a deep breath............
then just let go.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Untitled 5. 2019

Untitled 5. 2019

exploring strength and sensitivity
 a brief encounter in space
less is more

watercolour 20 x 30cm.


Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Tableaux Musicaux 1971

Tableaux Musicaux 1971

Yehudi opened my exhibition with kind words in fluent German and French. He had grown a beard that summer, so I felt in good company.

Nearly fifty years ago Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999) invited me to exhibit some of my "musical paintings" at his legendary summer festival in Gstaad/Saanen, Switzerland. From the time we met in 1963, I showed up regularly at rehearsals with sketchbook in hand, trying to capture the magic of the music he made with his friends. Those friends included many of the greatest names in music, such as Wilhelm Kempff (piano), Eleanor Schaffer, (flute) Ravi Shankar (sitar), Louis Kentner (piano), Maurice Gendron and Paul Tortelier (cello) and the fabulous viola and piano/harpsichord duo Ernst and Lory Wallfisch.

You get a glimpse of Ernst in my 1969 impression (above) of a summer rehearsal of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet. Searching for alternative viewpoints, I would often sneak up into the balcony of that tiny church at Saanen so that I could look down onto the stage. In my early works I was looking for ways to make a composition of the shapes of such ensembles, but I had not yet learned to visually "fly" with their music. The Menuhin Festival and Yehudi's support became a major influence in that later development.

The music produced by the Wallfisch Duo was equal to their striking personal beauty. Of Romanian/German origins, their rich sound seemed to come from the deepest cultural heart of Europe.

           Ernst (1920-1979) & Lory Wallfisch (1922-2011)      

They were personally so modest and kind, musicians who played with such wisdom and love for every detail. It was a privilege to have known them. My deep sadness that those mentioned above and whom I painted are no longer with us is only alleviated by their recordings. But recordings of the Wallfisch Duo are relatively few. I only recently discovered this priceless video interview of Lory Wallfisch, in which she speaks of precious memories, such as how they played for the great Romanian composer/violinist George Enescu in 1944. As I heard the tones of their Schumann's Märchenbilder (Fairytale pictures) in D major, the last movement to be played "slowly, with melancholic expressivity", I couldn't hold back my tears. Probably made not long before Lory's death, this 6 min. video is an historical treasure. Watch it here:

Afterwards Lory plays the first movement of Enescu's First Piano Sonata.

I could find no credits for this beautifully made video, but I'm grateful to Bruce Stanberry for posting it.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Untitled 4. 2019

Untitled 4. 2019

This series of abstract watercolours
 offers me the freedom to enjoy making marks and to 
experiment with colour and forms, floating in space. 
You can enjoy it as just that, 
but it may also trigger your imagination. 
What could this be, I hear you asking? 
Ah, it reminds me of um..... a flock of birds, an approaching rain-shower, manna from heaven, an eye, a rainbow, the jackpot, a comet about to hit our planet, a message from outer space, etc. etc. Well, have fun with all that if you like, but don't let me put associations in your head, 
because there weren't any in mine.

After years of mainly figurative painting, it comes as a relief to paint something that doesn't have to look like anything.

Yes, I did a spontaneous rough sketch of an arrangement that pleased me, but after then I tried not to think about anything and just see what would happen. 

It's a watercolour without a title (32 x 47 cm).


Friday, 12 April 2019

Untitled 3.2019

Untitled 3. 2019

It's still in there.
I wasn't even thinking of dance, but my hands and brushes took over. Those years of painting dance in the nineteen-eighties, inspired by choreographer Jiri Kylián and his Netherlands Dance Theatre, 
left an indelible impression 
on my inner self. 
That visceral sensation, as clouds of watercolour from my brushes seem to float across the paper, soaring into the air. My bamboo pens still jump for joy, as they create
 graphic rhythms to celebrate 
the use of space. 

And following my habit of sharing with you the first sketch of an idea, here's my scribble on the back of a piece of paper that happened to be lying there.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Untitled 2.2019

Untitled 2. 2019

I've just been enjoying a little conversation between watercolour, bamboo pen, pencil and brushes, playful, determined, slightly humorous and gentle. Finally painting what I feel like doing, but also intuitively allowing the paint to have a life of its own. 
Watercolour is my best friend.
What is it? I have no idea. I don't feel the need to "make a statement" any more. It doesn't have to look like something or someone. It doesn't have to be marketable. It's not a commission. No worries.
It's just come from somewhere inside. 
The cliché is "an inner necessity". 
The painting is 50 x 45cm., but it started 
as a scribble on a scrap of paper.
I'm letting you into all my secrets.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Untitled 1. 2019

Untitled 1. 2019

Just a pencil-scribble on the back of a page, searching for something. Some private notes, without thinking. No subject.
How would this look in watercolour, I wonder? Let's see what happens. No need to make an exact copy. 
These pools of colour look so fragile. Are they tentatively reaching out to each other, floating in space and time? Or are they memories? They've grown into something else than the pencil sketch. It was perhaps a search for peace, yet there there seems to be so much energy.
Thanks for sharing my search. There's more to come.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Elgar's Dream & Yehudi Menuhin

Elgar's Dream & Yehudi Menuhin

"Elgar's Dream", watercolour triptych 158 x 203 cm. 1996 

I have an affinity with water - having grown up virtually on the banks of the English River Severn that flows past Worcester Cathedral (right) and the Malvern Hills (left), where Edward Elgar wrote "The Dream of Gerontius" in 1900.  

The morning after my February CBSO performance of The Sea (M.K.Čiurlionis) at Birmingham Symphony Hall, the adrenaline was still flowing (or whatever adrenaline does), so I let myself be persuaded to give my extended family a guided tour of a number of my watercolour paintings of great musicians in the Symphony Hall Collection. The paintings hang in the Director's Lounge and the corridors leading to the backstage dressing-rooms that are only accessible to VIPs and performing artists. The first of thirty-one paintings was made in 1990, yet my family - still in town after the concert - had never seen the originals before! So I had many anecdotes to tell on the making of these works, exciting, sad, with precious memories of my subjects' reactions - it was great to be able to share some of these with the family.

But the largest watercolour I have ever painted hangs in the first floor foyer. I gave it the form of a triptych because of the limited measurements of watercolour paper. The three parts are deliberately hung to float away from the background. My Elgar's Dream was painted with many tears in 1996, soon after the death of my wife and mother of my children, the cellist Vivian King. 
Commissioned by Robin and Jayne Cadbury, it was unveiled by Yehudi Menuhin in October 1996. We shared the presentation, and then speaking of his own memories of Edward Elgar, and of having conducted this work himself, Yehudi said: “There isn’t a note in this painting that contradicts Elgar’s music and what I remember of Sir Edward”. Here's the precious amateur video made by Will Blagburn - a link to that memorable occasion. It was the last time that I could enjoy such warm contact with this wonderful musician and dear friend, who left us on March 12th.1999.

Through music, Elgar made the dream of the dying Gerontius his own. He considered this composition to be one of his best. This epic drama for chorus, soloists and full orchestra is pure theatre, beautifully evoking the anxieties, doubts and weariness of Gerontius (geron: Greek for old man) and then his ultimate acceptance and state of peace.

The final angelic message set to a soothing melody is deeply moving:

Softly and gently, dearly ransomed soul,
In my loving arms I now enfold thee.....
I poise thee, and I lower thee, and hold thee,
And carefully I dip thee in the lake....
Sinking deep, deeper into the dim distance.

All highly paintable. Even though I find the dogma in most of the lyrics a bit hard to swallow, I feel for this guy. In my painting you will recognise my semi-abstract "loving arms" cradling the pallid Gerontius above the flow of music and the "devils" in the reeds, clamouring for his soul. But apart from the figurative elements of my story-telling, I hope that the colours, structure and abstract dynamics of the painting will reflect and echo the music itself.

On the morning of the guided tour, as I explained this painting and my sources of inspiration to the family, young and old, the designer/image-maker Rebecca Foster brilliantly seized the opportunity to create her own triptych, converting her images to black and white and manipulating the tonalities so that uncannily I became one with my own watercolour. Am I cradling my dying self or am I lowering myself into the depths? I had no idea at the time that I was figuring in my own painting!

Little did Rebecca know that my own wishes are that when my time comes, my ashes be strewn, if not in the River Severn, then in the River Amstel (nearer to my present home), into which small bottles of the very same organic transparent colours that I have used in performances for many years will then be poured, so that I become part of one last continuous fluid lyrical painting that carries me out to sea, to be united with nature. My motto has always been - Go with the flow......