Saturday 9 May 2020

Self-portrait in a treetop

Self-portrait in a treetop

What on earth can a portrait-painter do in a lock-down crisis? As I looked in the mirror, the answer was staring me in the face. I must paint another self-portrait. It's my way to reflect, to re-assess where I'm at. I know that my face will betray my innermost feelings, so it will demand honest scrutiny and focus. That's why our self-portraits look serious. I'm thinking of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo.

I'm in self-isolation on the fourth floor of my building, virtually in the treetops. The trees are my old friends, still going strong, so we greet each other every morning. As an English boy isolated in the woodlands of Worcestershire during the war, I would climb into a treetop and cradle myself in its branches, gently swaying in the breeze, dreaming about the future, listening to the drone of propeller-driven warplanes, high up on their way to somewhere else. I can still remember that soothing feeling of being cradled. Now, nearly eighty years later, I can almost touch the branches of the plane trees of my Amsterdam street. Lock-down? I'm on top of the world.

Self-portrait in a tree-top, watercolour 42 x 41 cm. 2020.

So who is this man in the treetop? Well, he does have a critical eye, perceptive but not unfriendly. Possibly just on the verge of a smile. A quiet observer, reflecting, enquiring, empathetic, thankful to still be alive in these difficult times.
Here's the Link to an earlier blog and watercolour of my old tree.

Monday 4 May 2020

Ravel's Kaddish with Daniel Hope

Ravel's Kaddish with Daniel Hope

Daniel Hope's series of 30 Hope@Home programmes with other prominent musicians, broadcast live by ARTE Concert from his living-room in Berlin, has provided entertainment, solace, support, joy and inspiration for millions of viewers worldwide in these difficult times, when many are in compulsory lock-down at home. His fascinating programmes of short works included part of Ravel's Kaddish - inspired by a Jewish prayer of praise and mourning. 

I painted kinetic images to this work live with Daniel Hope and Sebastian Knauer in 2016, as part of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival in Lübeck, to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Yehudi Menuhin, who on April 22nd. this year would have been 104. 

Daniel introduced our performance with a poignant story about his dear friend and mentor. After a performance in Düsseldorf together on March 7th 1999, with Yehudi conducting, he encouraged Daniel to play an encore. Daniel spontaneously chose the Kaddish. Yehudi listened, sitting quietly in the orchestra. It turned out to be their last concert. Five days later Yehudi passed away. 

As I painted this agonisingly beautiful work, I found it difficult not to be overcome with emotion, as my kinetic colours flowed gently away, for ever, with a very slow fade out, to a hall in total silence. We felt that we had created a worthy tribute to our dear friend. Here is the five minute video of my studio-rehearsal, for which I used Daniel's recording with pianist Jacques Ammon. 


In these strange times, we can all find time to pause for five minutes to reflect, to mourn and to praise life. I hope that this slowly changing image will offer you calm and healing or even, when you need, a way to simply let go.