I’d Rather Go by Motherwell than a Stairwell…

“The wind carried away the cottonwool

At five in the afternoon.

And the oxide scattered crystal and nickel

At five in the afternoon”.  Garcia Lorca: Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias.

Motherwell 1

Burning elegy artists proof

Canberra in winter is bitingly cold, a stark blue sky and cool grey concrete of the National Gallery seems like a world away from Spain and New York but the last couple of days I’ve felt the intensity of bullfights and the pain in painting.



photo(91)Robert Motherwell : At Five in the Afternoon currently at the National Gallery is a selection of prints from the Gallery’s collection and the curator Jane Kinsman gave a talk and some insight into Motherwells practice of printmaking.  The works spread across three rooms were brilliantly curated and each work was fabulous but a selection of small lithographs were simple and exquisite and captured the same emotions of the larger striking painterly works.

Lament for Lorca:

Lament for Lorca:


Some of the larger prints utilising graphics from cigarette packets reinforced that peculiar artist habit of finding inspiration in the mundane.  I remember as a child enamoured with the cigarette packets we used to sell in the boat hire business, Camel and Fiesta were my favourites but later I photographed old packets a friend had in their scrapbook for painted works not realising Motherwell too was drawn by the colour and shape.  Up until stumbling across John’s curious arty collection, I had tried to draw a camel packet from memory.


Motherwell: Hermitage

Motherwell: Hermitage

John's cigarette scrapbookMotherwell’s prints incorporating imagery and my painted works, now capture a lost period.  Smoking was acceptable and a filthy dangerous habit that I (for a short time) and Motherwell embraced.  Packets were bright and engaging. Cigarette packaging in Australia is now a dark, dull, khaki green and the only images gangrenous limbs and health warnings.  And I guess like any image, even cancerous body parts and minimalist packaging will provide some sort of inspiration for other artists down the line.




After the talk, we hit the wine and felt glad Motherwell had chosen drinking and painting over suicide. We are so much richer for his work and his immersion in the poetry of Lorca. We went back again the next day for another hit before heading home, did a swing by the Indigenous and Australian gallery and we had a choice – down the stairs or back through the exhibition?



Peter Stuyvesant

Detail from my Peter Stuyvesant painting


9 thoughts on “I’d Rather Go by Motherwell than a Stairwell…

  1. Yes, with all the scientific an technological advances, all the wars and attempts at peace, I think nothing has changed in our way of thinking so much as the attitude toward smoking! Great post!

  2. Love Motherwell.
    Also, thank you for your praise of my work.its heartwarming to think someone out there felt strongly enough to write something about it. Living in the country keeps me out of the normal gallery chat , so it made my day when I noticed my name in your blog. I have a show on at Watters gallery at the moment I am very pleased with the work, if you get there( or just check it out on the web) tell me what you think .i accept criticism as well as praise.
    Kind regards
    John Bartley.

    • Hi John, I sometimes forget I’m writing about real people so I’m glad I did ok by you. You’re work at the Lambert exhib really struck a chord with me that day. The new show at Watters looks just as impressive and hopefully I’ll get to Sydney to see them in the flesh. Cheers Sue

  3. It’s an engaging exhibition. Living locally I’ve been several times already. I was particularly struck by one of the summer prints where his fine white lines reminded my of Matisse’s line.

    • Hi DW, Thanks. I went looking for a whole picture. After a move and lack of space I took a lot of paintings off the stretchers and rolled them up to store away. While in the process I noticed some works that would make good larger works. This was one. I did have a bigger photo and it reminded me, it wasn’t Peter Stuyvestant after all, it was based on an Alpine packet. I did a few in the series. I’ll put it up in a post. Cheers Sue.

  4. Pingback: Paint and Smoke | Paint later, a painter's blog.

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