Saturday, 23 August 2008


“I feel the need of attaining the maximum of intensity with the minimum of means. It is this which has led me to give my painting a character of even greater bareness.” - Joan Miro

Joan Miró was born on April 20th, 1893, in Barcelona, Spain and died December 25th, 1983, in Palma, Majorca. He was a Catalan painter who combined abstract art with Surrealist fantasy creating highly distinctive works. His mature style evolved from the tension between his fanciful, poetic impulse and his vision of the harshness of modern life. He worked extensively in lithography and produced numerous murals, tapestries, and sculptures for public spaces.

Miró's father was a watchmaker and goldsmith. According to his parents' wishes, he attended a commercial college. He then worked for two years as a clerk in an office until he had a mental and physical breakdown. His parents took him for convalescence to an estate they bought especially for this purpose and in 1912 they allowed him to attend an art school in Barcelona. His teacher at this school, Francisco Galí, showed a great understanding of his 18-year-old pupil, advising him to touch the objects he was about to draw, a procedure that strengthened Miró's feeling for the spatial quality of objects.

From 1915 to 1919 Miró worked in Spain painting landscapes, portraits, and nudes in which he focused on the rhythmic interplay of volumes and areas of colour. From early in his career Miró sought to portray nature as it would be depicted by a primitive person or a child equipped with the intelligence of a 20th-century adult; in this respect, he had much in common with the Surrealists and Dadaists.

From 1919 onward Miró lived alternately in Spain and Paris. In the early 1920s Miró combined meticulously detailed realism with abstraction in landscapes. He gradually removed the objects he portrayed from their natural context and reassembled them in eerie collections in shimmering detail-less backgrounds.

From 1925 to 1928, under the influence of the Dadaists, Surrealists, and Paul Klee, Miró painted “dream pictures” and “imaginary landscapes” in which the linear configurations and patches of colour look almost as though they were set down randomly. The poet André Breton, the chief spokesman of Surrealism, stated that Miró was “the most Surrealist of us all.” In the 1930s Miró became more experimental, working with techniques of collage and sculptural assemblage and creating sets and costumes for ballets. He designed tapestries in 1934, which led to his interest in the monumental and in murals. His paintings began to be exhibited regularly in French and American galleries.

At the time of the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, Miró was living in Paris. During World War II Miró returned to Spain, where he painted a series of small works scattered with symbols of the elements and the cosmos, expressing the happy collaboration of everything creative. During the last year of the war (1944), Miró, together with his potter friend José Lloréns Artigas, produced ceramics with a new impetuosity of expression: their vessels were often intentionally misshapen and fragmented.

In the years following World War II Miró became internationally famous; his sculptures, drawings, and paintings were exhibited in many countries, with many commissioned works taking up his creative energies. In spite of his fame, however, Miró was an introverted man, and he continued to devote himself exclusively to looking and creating. In his late works Miró employed an even greater simplification of figure and background. In 1980, in conjunction with his being awarded Spain's Gold Medal of Fine Arts, a plaza in Madrid was named in Miró's honour.


“Only the dead have seen the end of war.” - Plato

Some songs stay with us for years and years, and every time we hear them the memories they evoke are as strong and as full of emotion as the first time we heard them. This is a French song by Céline Dion, which I first heard on board a plane flying to Europe on a sleepless night and it touched my heart as it syntonised with my mood and thoughts at the time. I must say that I don’t like Céline’s English songs, but she has recorded some extraordinarily beautiful French ones and this is one of them.

Abraham’s Memory

A last prayer before obeying
The nature of things and our fathers bidding
Before leaving

Just another life saved from forgetfulness
Engraved well, better than with a sword
In Abraham's memory

Long is the waiting of the hour
Heavy the sadness in our hearts
But so great our love and faith in you
Although it’s difficult to understand you sometimes.

What'll tomorrow bring? Our destinies so far away,
A little peace, love and some bread is all you need
In the middle of your hands.

Long is the waiting of the hour
Heavy the sadness in our hearts
But so great our love and faith in you,
Although it’s difficult to understand you sometimes

Lead our children to the end of time
Full of joys more than tears –
In Abraham's memory

La Mémoire D’ Abraham

Juste une prière avant d'obéir
A l'ordre des choses et de nos pères
Avant de partir
Juste une autre vie sauvée de l'oubli
Gravée bien mieux que par une lame
Dans la mémoire d'abraham

Longue l'attente de l'heure
Lourde la peine en nos coeurs
Mais si grands notre amour notre foi en toi
Et difficile de te comprendre parfois

Que sera demain nos destins plus loin?
Un peu de paix d'amour et de pain
Au creux de tes mains

Longue l'attente de l'heure
Lourde la peine en nos coeurs
Mais si grands notre amour notre foi en toi
Et difficile de te comprendre parfois

Conduis nos enfants pour la fin des temps
Remplis de plus de joies que de larmes
La mémoire d' Abraham

Friday, 22 August 2008


"Chemically speaking, chocolate really is the world's perfect food". - Michael Levine

Chocolate is meant to change the chemistry of the brain in such a way that it resembles the chemistry of the brain when we are in love. Chocolate is made from the roasted, shelled, and ground beans of the tropical cacao tree, Theobroma cacao. It is on of the most popular of the world’s foods and is consumed in the form of bars, milk shakes, hot beverages, cereals, cakes and biscuits. It is an indispensable ingredient of desserts and often combined with vanilla to give a wonderful aroma to these sweet confections.

Chocolate contains more than 300 chemicals, and its health benefits have been studied extensively. Dark chocolate contains types of antioxidants known as flavonoids, which slow the processing of bad LDL cholesterol into material that clogs the arteries, and at the same time make blood platelets less likely to clump and cause clots, thus protecting from heart disease. Studies suggest that people who eat significant amounts of chocolate live longer than non-chocolate eaters.

Polyphenols present in chocolate reduce the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins, thereby protecting against atherosclerosis. These compounds are also found in red wine. In fact, a 1.5-ounce chocolate bar has as much antioxidant power as a 5-ounce glass of red wine. Chocolate also contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid that aids the production of serotonin, the body’s endogenous opiate. Enhanced serotonin function typically diminishes anxiety and reduces sensitivity to pain. Chocolates also make the brain trigger off endorphins, the feel good compounds in our bodies. Chocolate contains caffeine in very modest quantities. An ounce of milk chocolate contains no more caffeine than a typical cup of decaffeinated coffee.

In 1519, Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes led an expedition to Mexico in search of gold. They found plenty of that, but also discovered a cold, bitter drink that the Aztecs loved to consume. It was called cacahuati, and was made from the beans of the cacao tree. Cacahuati was reserved for warriors, nobility and priests, and was believed to confer wisdom and vitality upon those who drank it. The Aztecs also believed this drink enhanced their sexual prowess. Cortes and his men found the drink too bitter, and sweetened it to make it more palatable.

When Cortes introduced the drink as “chocolatl” to the Spanish court, it was a huge success. The Spaniards kept the source of their chocolatl a secret for a century or so, after which it went on to become the rage in Europe. The first chocolate shop in London opened in 1657, and it served liquid chocolate in little gold and silver cups.

A Dutch inventor in the early 1800s figured out how to extract cocoa butter from the beans. Soon a Swiss chocolatier in Vevey, Switzerland mixed cocoa butter with evaporated milk (made by Nestlé) to get chocolate in the form that we know and love today. During the First World War, soldiers ate chocolate bars for energy and after the war was over, carried back this habit with them. Thus the world’s love for chocolates was born. Here is a recipe that we often use to manufacture our own brand of chocolate fix at home:

160 g butter
300 g icing sugar
300 g plain sweet biscuits (e.g. petit beurre)
160 g blanched, toasted almonds
100 g molten cooking chocolate
2 tablespoonfuls cocoa powder
2 fresh egg yolks
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup cream
1 teaspoonful vanillin sugar
100 g grated chocolate shavings

Crumble the biscuits, mixing them well with the molten butter. Add the egg yolks, cocoa powder, cream, brandy and sugar, mixing thoroughly. Add the vanillin sugar, molten chocolate and almonds, kneading into a soft doughy consistency. Add some more brandy or crumbed biscuits to achieve the desired consistency. Shape into two logs and coat with chocolate shavings. Wrap in aluminum foil and refrigerate until set (approximately 5-6 hours). Cut into slices and leave at room temperature for about an hour before serving with whipped cream. Alternatively, the mixture may be shaped into small bite-sized balls and coated in chocolate.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008


“If a man takes no thought about what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand.” - Confucius

The word for today is ideogram.

ideogram |ˈidēəˌgram| noun
a written character symbolising the idea of a thing without indicating the sounds used to say it, e.g., numerals and Chinese characters.
ORIGIN mid 19th century: from Greek idea ‘form’ + -gram from gramma ‘thing written, letter of the alphabet,’ from graphein ‘write.’

With the Beijing Olympics almost over the world’s attention will be drawn to the excesses of the closing ceremony – as if the opening one weren’t enough. We have been overwhelmed with excesses of all kinds since the Moscow Olympics began the slip-slide down into a special effects extravaganza that overshadows the sport. A fairground instead of an arena, a congregation of drug cheaters instead of noble athletes, a venue for nationalistic propaganda instead of an ideal of world peace and brotherhood of man. I pity the young athletes who go there with dreams of sporting glory and get embroiled in the star system of international competition with immense pressures to deliver gold medals and mental and physical strains on their health that often cause their downfall.

So another Olympiad almost over. A rash of ideograms on my TV monitor every time I see the news announce details of the games on posters, signs, illuminated displays from Beijing. An ancient and great civilisation wishing to prove to the world that it can surpass the organisational abilities of even the most advanced of Western nations, a giant economy flexing its muscles in order to show its dominance to the world, the most populous nation in the world wishing to dazzle with its athletic prowess and almost inexhaustible supplies of resources, human and otherwise.

These are critical times, worldwide. Times full of dangerous opportunities that will favour the courageous and the bold. However, these are times that demand upon the bravest of us to maintain our level-headedness and exercise restraint. Restraint is the mark of the truly strong and the lack of it characterises the coward. It is no accident that my choice of illustration above is the Chinese ideographic representation of “crisis”, made up of two separate components the first indicating “danger” and the second “opportunity”.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008


“Why love if losing hurts so much? We love to know that we are not alone.” – C.S. Lewis

How time blunts our elderly sharp and pointy experiences, how the pains of the past mellow and even the most anguished memories leave behind only dull ache. Time heals our wounds, nostalgia paints with pastel-coloured brushes the days of old, and our few, small, once-experienced joys are amplified and idealised. How the past can seem so beautiful, until an old song, a yellowed photograph, a chance encounter with someone from that time can reawaken in us the acrid reality of those sad days of the past and make our scarred heart twinge again in sympathy with old and intense pains…

A poem I wrote many years ago, when my life was coloured by deepest and most miserable blacks and sublime, heavenly azures.

A Flower in the Moonlight

We started playing with words again tonight,
The singer articulating softly our innermost desires,
Our hearts vocalising dumbly our sweetest bitter dreams.
The room so small, the light so dim,
The night so deep, the short space between us,
So immense it could in light years be measured...

We’ve played this scene so many times before,
Two actors on the stage fumbling with props
Struggling with our lines, trying inarticulately to improvise
Forgotten speeches that we would not dare to speak
Even if we had remembered them.
Your eyes avoid mine while a flower blooms in your hand.

Above us the air a prism and a hundred light-bulb stars shine on a celluloid sky
A room with walls of music, the pasteboard moon for ceiling.
If we could only bridge the gap, dissolve the ice
If you could touch me now, think of what would be gained!

You stretch your hand, as years of silence crumble
A thousand nights, dead, are resurrected
And at last, this time on cue, you offer me
A flower in the moonlight.


“A wise traveller never despises his own country.” - Carlo Goldoni

Another trip to Brisbane this week, and another one coming up the week after. I feel a little guilty with all this flying I am doing, however, there are things one cannot do effectively through phone and video conferencing. The personal interaction is paramount and one can achieve a lot through that interaction, much more than through a phone conference.

Brisbane weather was very good, I was told, as I saw precious little of it, being inside and hard at work. Brisbane enjoys a subtropical climate with very mild, dry winters and then monsoonal type summers with lots of rain or even cyclones. This explains the lush vegetation and the profusion of tropical fruits. Winter Queensland strawberries (which I enjoyed at lunch) are sweet and lush this time of the year.

The postcard from Brisbane this time round is from the Anzac Square War Memorial. It is located close to the Central Railway Station, between Ann and Adelaide Sts. While in the midst of the busiest part of the Brisbane CBD, the monument is uniquely and ideally set in peaceful surrounds life. Anzac Square is dedicated to Australia's military heritage and contains the Shrine of Remembrance, with its Eternal Flame. It forms the focal point of the surrounding park, with its radially patterned pathways, pools, lawns and Bribie Island Pine Bottle trees.

There are Touch-Tell systems in place that explain the significance of Anzac Square to visitors. Co-located beside Anzac Square, in the pedestrian tunnel, is the World War II Shrine of Memories. Visitors can view Honour Rolls, Unit Plaques and a mosaic containing over 140,000 hand-cut Venetian glass enamels and soils from official World War II cemeteries.

Sunday, 17 August 2008


“In such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, not to be on the side of the executioners.” – Albert Camus

Last weekend we watched a 2002 Canadian/French film, Atom Egoyan’s “Ararat”. The film unites several stories quite successfully and is partly a vehicle for the retelling of the Armenian genocide of 1915, partly a film about Arshile Gorky (1904?-1948), an Armenian painter who lived through the genocide in Turkey and migrated to America and also the story of a director making a film about Armenia and the genocide.

Gorky’s last few years were miserable and riddled with disease and mishap, causing him to commit suicide at the age of 45 years in Connecticut, this being significant in the film’s plot. The film’s story is set in Toronto, where Ani, an art historian (Arsinée Khanjian) investigates the life and art of Gorky. She is of Armenian heritage and is immersed in Gorky’s story on several levels. Her son, the young Raffi (David Alpay) is in love with his step-sister, who blames Ani for the suicide of her father.

In parallel with this story is that of an ageing customs inspector (Christopher Plummer) who is on the cusp of retirement. He has a stormy relationship with his son and in order to patch things up he tries to explain his world-view to him by recounting the story of a long interview he had with Raffi, whom he apprehended when he returned from Turkey carrying canisters of exposed film. Supposedly, the film is footage that Raffi has shot in the region of Mount Ararat, to be included in a film about the Armenian genocide that is being made by the famous director Saroyan (played by Charles Aznavour, himself of Armenian heritage).

The film within a film theme brings together the characters and plot elements quite adroitly, but there is some challenging and confronting images of the genocide that will make many viewers recoil in horror. Turkey still refuses to recognise the events of 1915 as genocide which is what Armenians and over twenty other countries call the massive exterminations that took place at that time. In any case the Armenian “Great Calamity” was the cause of the Armenian diaspora and is in any case a flagrant abuse of human rights by the precursor to the Turkish state, the Ottoman Empire.

The film explores several themes, most of them quite melancholy and serious. The relationship between parents and estranged children, suicide, genocide, war crimes, the falsification of history, propaganda, incest, drug trafficking, and artistic inspiration. The film is one which is highly controversial and some people regard it as a masterpiece, while others view it as a flawed piece of cinematic pro-Armenian propaganda. Some people regard it as a trivialisation of an important historical event. I am glad I saw the film, even if it was quite confronting and in some parts badly patched together. It was quite complex and operated at multiple levels, some more successfully than others. Do see it, unless violent images shock you or disturb you.


“A sincere artist is not one who makes a faithful attempt to put on to canvas what is in front of him, but one who tries to create something which is, in itself, a living thing.” - William Dobell

Ferdinand Victor Eugene Delacroix (1798 – 1863), was a French artist and exponent of romanticism. His art was later to influence impressionist painters and even modern artists. His canvases abound with colour, exotic themes and vibrant composition, making overall a highly decorative oeuvre. The painting here is “Women of Algiers in their Apartment”, of 1834. Oil on canvas, 180 x 229 cm - Musee du Louvre, Paris

Delacroix was born on April 26, 1798, in Charenton-St-Maurice, France. In 1815 he became the pupil of the French painter Pierre-Narcisse Guérin and began a career that would produce more than 850 oil paintings and great numbers of drawings, murals, and other works. In 1822 Delacroix submitted his first painting to the important Paris Salon exhibition: Dante and Virgil in Hell. A technique used in this painting—many unblended colors forming what at a distance looks like a unified whole—would later be used by the impressionists. His next Salon entry was in 1824: Massacre at Chios. With great vividness of color and strong emotion it pictured an incident in which 20,000 Greeks were killed by Turks on the island of Chios. The French government purchased this Delacroix painting for 6,000 francs.

Impressed by the techniques of English painters such as John Constable, Delacroix visited England in 1825. His tours of the galleries, visits to the theater, and observations of English culture in general made a lasting impression upon him. Between 1827 and 1832 Delacroix seemed to produce one masterpiece after another. He again used historical themes in The Battle of Nancy and The Battle of Poitiers. The poetry of Lord Byron inspired a painting for the 1827 Salon, The Death of Sardanapalus. Delacroix also created a set of 17 lithographs to illustrate a French edition of Goethe’s Faust.

The French revolution of 1830 inspired the famous painting Liberty Leading the People, which was the last of Delacroix’s paintings that truly embodied the romantic ideal. Delacroix found new inspiration on a trip to Morocco in 1832. The ancient, proud, and exotic culture moved Delacroix to write “I am quite overwhelmed by what I have seen.” In 1833 Delacroix painted a group of murals for the king’s chamber at the Palais Bourbon. He continued doing this type of painting, including panels for the Louvre and for the Museum of History at Versailles, until 1861. Much of the architectural paintings involved long hours on uncomfortable scaffolding in drafty buildings, and Delacroix's health suffered. Delacroix died on Aug. 13, 1863, in Paris. His apartment there was made into a museum in his memory.