I have always been a pencil

This post is a small tribute to the French painter, printmaker, draughtsman and illustrator Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, born this day, November 24, 149 years ago.  Lautrec’s “immersion in the colourful and theatrical life of Paris in the late 1800s yielded a collection of exciting, elegant and provocative images of the modern and sometimes decadent life of those times.”  (Wikipedia)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Drawing of Oscar Wilde, 1896

I have tried to do what is true and not ideal.


His view of his subjects is uniquely sympathetic without being sentimental, which means he neither revels pruriently in degradation nor edits out ugliness.  … there is perceptiveness, which entails empathy, but without flattery.


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Portrait of Suzanne Valadon

I paint things as they are. I don’t comment. I record.


Lautrec’s pictures of prostitutes and brothels draw on such fragile, ephemeral and unfinished effects to convey the impression of lives lived largely in a state of boredom, occasionally touched with glamour and often weighted with weariness and the apprehension of encroaching age.


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec:  Woman Arranging her Hair, 1891

A professional model is like a stuffed owl. These girls are alive.
(on women in the brothel)


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec:  Drawing of a Young Woman

I have always been a pencil.


There is always a dark and even desperate edge to the world that Toulouse-Lautrec depicts. Poverty, disease, abuse and alcoholism were the realities behind the illusion of pleasure and gaiety; but no one could capture the animation and excitement of that world as effectively as he did, without ever glossing over the perennial presence of death as its necessary and ineluctable shadow, hinted at in gaunt features and exhausted bodies.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec:  Alone, 1896

In our time there are many artists who do something because it is new;
they see their value and their justification in this newness.
They are deceiving themselves…

And as a parting blessing:

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.


Comments are from art critic Christopher Allen in Dancing with the Demimonde, a review of the National Gallery of Australia exhibition – Toulouse-Lautrec: Paris and the Moulin Rouge.

Read the whole review at http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/dancing-with-the-demimonde/story-fn9n8gph-1226572904458#sthash.Eay9pvrn.dpuf

at last I don’t know how to draw!

at last I don’t know how to draw!


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Ce qui dit la pluie

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Ce qui dit la pluie


This morning I read a beautiful expression of encounter with flow – or undivided awareness – in the activities of music-making and drawing. I’d like to share it with you. It reminded me of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s famous comment, as quoted by Henri Matisse:

At last I don’t know how to draw!

Unfortunately I can’t offer a sample of his music, or an example of the drawings, but here’s the ‘confession’ – from Dustin LindenSmith, one of the editors of the brilliant online Nonduality Highlights daily newsletter. It articulates to perfection the focus of this website and blog …

I had two quite glorious epiphanies this week while practicing two of my main passions: jazz tenor saxophone and drawing. In each case, I experienced several blissful moments of what behavioural neuropsychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow.

While playing a slow blues in B-flat with my Hammond B3 organ quartet, I felt the music come through me completely unhindered, without any of my own conscious psychological involvement. For three or four minutes, I became lost in physical time and space, just hearing the notes of my saxophone being played to me as if in a dream. Improvising jazz can be a terribly cerebral exercise when playing a complicated tune. But in this instance, I exercised no personal interference with the notes that were played; they just flowed naturally through me, without my control.

Later in the week, while sketching somewhat aimlessly, I realized that if I changed my hand position a certain way and then removed my brain’s focus from the motor control of my hand, I could just “see” the image I wanted to draw in my mind’s eye, and watch my whole arm move in harmony with what I was seeing. As long as I maintained my focus of awareness on the “seeing” instead of the “drawing,” the image I saw in my mind was exactly replicated in graphite on the page. But “I” didn’t “do” a thing to draw it. It just happened.

The common aspect of both of those experiences? I think I was just getting out of my own way. For several glorious minutes this week, I got completely out of my own way, and let life be lived as it always is, but without my own conditioning or desires or influences laid on top of the experience.

Dustin LindenSmith

The artisans whose work is featured in this site’s artisans’ gallery all speak – in varying ways – of their practice in these terms. They notice that their creativity depends on nothing so much as their absence.They speak of a mysterious immersion in their work to the point of personal disappearance; a nondual encounter where observer and observed, subject and object, cease to be nouns separated by time and space, and are replaced by creative, dynamic action – by seeing, drawing, painting, making…

Are you familiar with this ‘flow’ in your creative work, your passion – or in your life in general? How would you express your experience?

seeing/drawing as meditation

perceiving without naming

waking up to wonder