"The creation of art is not the fulfillment of a need but the creation of a need.
The world never needed Beethoven's Fifth Symphony until he created it. Now we could not live without it."

-Louis I. Kahn, Architect

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Susie and Alice

Oil and acrylic, 59 x 50 cm, (2015).
© Yves Messer

Sunday, 21 June 2015

BP Portrait Award: where are the “Rembrandts”?

The BP Portrait Award is an annual portraiture competition held at the National Portrait Gallery in London, England. "BP" stands for "British petroleum" now "BP plc", one of the world's six "supermajor" oil and gas companies.
Rembrandt's laughing self portrait.
A recent Guardian's article  Sad face: doom and gloom at the 2015 BP portrait award by Jonathan Jones. says:
The best portrait painters capture emotion, but there aren’t any Rembrandts in this competition – just a lot of badly daubed tattoos and very serious expressions.
Jonathan Jones writes on art for the Guardian and was on the jury for the 2009 Turner prize. He had these interesting comments on the BP National portrait Gallery award:
The best portrait painters capture emotion, but there aren’t any Rembrandts in this competition – just a lot of badly daubed tattoos and very serious expressions. […] Why should I care about all these people? The sheer battering misery of it all produces callousness and cynicism. Too much po-faced portraiture makes a stone of the heart. This is because art is not a simple conduit of feeling. Only in the hands of a Rembrandt can the brush directly communicate the soul’s truth. The reality of the BP portrait award is that it does not attract the best painters around, but instead is a magnet for mediocrity. This leaves the judges with an impossible task – I know, I have been a judge myself – of trying to find meaning in what are really very uninspired daubs.

From Sad face: doom and gloom at the 2015 BP portrait award

I agree with these comments. Being an artist myself, immensely inspired by a Rembrandt (I am from Belgium a country which was in Rembrandt’s times part of the same “geographic entity” and cultural tradition) and having attempted to modestly be selected to the BP National portrait Gallery award,

I however differ with Jonathan Jones’s analysis as to why there are “no Rembrandts” any more… He says “the BP portrait award is that it does not attract the best painters around.” The reality is that the BP National portrait Gallery award jury does not (pre-) select artists based on real talents. Each time I look at the selected portraits, I am puzzled and wonder why and how?

I agree that these portraits and faces look very gloomy every year I tried to participate to the competition. My strategy was probably doomed as I submitted happy portraits such as this one in 2007:

These portraits were shortlisted that year:

More intriguingly, I am almost not impressed by their technique, skills and ability to convey (not) somebody’s soul and emotions via this medium called painting.

In my view, art is about conveying and sharing emotions, or it is not art. This is why I am a great fan of Rembrandt: emotions are “communicated”, hundred of years later, thanks to his unique skills. I also try to share with Rembrandt joyful and daring personality. None of these characteristics are seen among the BP National portrait Gallery award selected artists.

Don’t blame the artists! I know there are contemporary “Rembrandts” out there. I blame the selection committee’s biased blindness. If the selected portraits look gloomy and sad, this is because they reflect the jury itself.

I am more optimistic than the jury and know there are "striving Rembrandts" out there.

When I learned that Kate Middleton official portrait was commissioned to Emsley, a BP 2007 winner the same year I submitted my smiling friend's portrait (see above) and when I saw his result (and the outcry in the country) I felt I had to give it a go. This was one of the reasons I decided to do my “own” Kate Middleton portrait, being selected for the BP award or not. This country is still free after all!

My "Kate Middleton" was done in a rush therefore her outfit looks unfinished. There are two reasons to this:
  1. lack of time (ie money)
  2. being a Republican I chose to focus on her face/ personality rather than on her official outfit. 
I was insulted and even threatened for this here on the internet!

In a way my portrait of Kate Middleton is “unfinished”… on purpose because she was and still is an “unknown”.

Rembrandt's latest portraits such as this one look "unfinished" too. He probably would never been selected to the BP award today. I am happy to share this with him ;) lol.

ps: it is without saying I will never submit any of my portraits to the BP award again.

Rembrandt's laughing self portrait.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Lennie and Mum

Oil and acrylic, 60 x 50 cm, (2015).
© Yves Messer 

Monday, 22 December 2014

Pat's friends

Acrylic/canvas. Size: 78 x 54 cm.  (2014)
© Yves Messer

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Arthur and family

Arthur and family.  2014 © Yves Messer

Based on a unique small and blurry photograph. Oil/acrylic on canvas, approx size: 70 x 50 cm.


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Billie and Kellie

Billie and Kellie (2014) © Yves Messer

Thursday, 6 November 2014

New life model

working on a life model now (first draft)
havin' fun, i m using builders' paint and brushes (on a proper canvas though)

Sunday, 2 November 2014


Self-portrait (2014) © Yves Messer

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

My new art studio

Three new paintings (in three days- i ve got to catch up since I couldn't paint for a year due to home improvement and consequentially no time/ art studio): a self-portrait, a "sort of" flower, and a portrait of two sisters. My new art studio is a large shed but smaller than my old studio.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Royal Society of Portrait Painters

Submitted three portraits to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Open Exhibition 2014 (London). Selection Notification: 20 February 2014. All refused!!!

Kate Middleton © Yves Messer
Emma Stace Darling © Yves Messer
 Stephen Hawking © Yves Messer

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Face proportions

The proportion of the human face is about 3/5 (either male or female), an approximation of the so-called "golden section".  A 2/3 or 5/8 proportion is just as good.

As you can see the eyes are situated approximately at 1/2 of the height of a human face. We often make this mistake and it is due to deformation by the perspective, ie the angle under which we look at a face.
The common mistake is having a too short forehead (and therefore the eyes too high). This comes from the time when we were children and looked at adult faces from the lower perspective of the child we were. Since most have stopped drawing then, people tend to keep this "perspective" which is not the one as adult!
Hence this common mistake...

"Donna con cappello verde“, Woman with Green Hat By Pablo Picasso, 1939

Based on my experience as portrait painter:
  1. the human head is facing us vertically to the ground (proportions change when the subject is looking upwards or downwards) *
  2. the head is inscribed within a rectangle with approximate proportions of 2/3 or 3/5 (roughly those of a letterhead). I found these proportions after using many photographs of people with short hairs (or bald) to better locate the actual limit of their skull (haircuts are misleading)
    Note: when drawing a baby’s face this proportion is closer to a square’s: (roughly) 4/5.
  3. the ears are OUTSIDE of the rectangle (since they are floppy and their size/shape vary)
  4. the eyes are located at (roughly) 1/2  of the rectangle height (i.e. when faces are vertical to the ground)
  5. the length of the nose is (roughly) the same as the distance between the center to the eye  corner : they can therefore be inscribed within a circle whose center is situated between the eyes
  6. when still the mouth position can be found by drawing a circle inside the rectangle (diameter is equal to basis of the rectangle) – of course any expression (grin, sorrow etc)  will affect the size and position of the mouth…
* this explains why children (or adults who have kept this habit) tend to draw faces whose eyes are situated too high (therefore with a too short forehead):their point of view is as seen from underneath!

Based on these tips, my daughter did the following portraits of herself and her grandparents when she was 14:

Monday, 21 October 2013

What's the Time?

© Yves Messer

This post has moved to my other blog "Two Cultures?"

Sunday, 6 October 2013


This post has moved to my other blog "Artivism, or Art with a Conscience".
"One percent" (2012) © Yves Messer
“Indifference” is originally a philosophical concept that was developped and defended by the “Stoics”.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

To Louis I. Kahn, architect

"The creation of art is not the fulfillment of a need but the creation of a need.The world never needed Beethoven's Fifth Symphony until he created it. Now we could not live without it."-Louis I. Kahn, Architect

Music: King Crimson - The Sheltering Sky

Louis I. Kahn was a great inspiration when I studied architecture at university in Belgium. Hence my videoclip as a "glimpse" into the "Architect's mind." I never could have met him as he died in 1974, four years before I started uni. Instead I (very briefly) met with his "European equivalent": Mario Botta in Lugano (Switzerland) in 1982 trying to explain him why I considered his architecture was consistent with the philosophy of... Plato! (He probably thought I was a lunatic) lol

Mario Botta. "Casa Rotonda", Medici House in Atabio, Switzerland, 1980-1982
Axonometric projections of the floors.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Portrait of Philosopher Sascha Norris

"One thing I have always loved about philosophy is that it is centered around ideas. And ideas live in the now. Yes, there are ideas from the past -- and there is a history of philosophy that goes back for centuries. But what excites me about philosophy - taken separately from what has been written about it in the past -- is that it is fresh. It is, essentially, a 'living science.' It is the science of living ideas. And we can take those living ideas and let them teach us how to create the best life we can create today -- not tomorrow, not next week or next year."
From Living in the Present, by Sascha Norris, Philosophy Editor at BellaOnline's 
Read Sascha Norris at My odyssey, a Journey Through the Mind
Her Facebook page.

Did Beethoven's "Immortal Beloved" die?

The “Immortal Beloved” (German: Unsterbliche Geliebte) is the mysterious addressee of a love letter which Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) wrote on 6–7 July 1812. The apparently unsent letter was found in the composer's estate after his death and remains a mystery until now (a film was made after this).
The Third Letter
Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us - I can live only wholly with you or not at all - Yes, I am resolved to wander so long away from you until I can fly to your arms and say that I am really at home with you, and can send my soul enwrapped in you into the land of spirits - Yes, unhappily it must be so - You will be the more contained since you know my fidelity to you. No one else can ever possess my heart - never - never - Oh God, why must one be parted from one whom one so loves.
But how could he call her “my Immortal Beloved”? Was she “immortal”, i.e. non-human, not made of flesh?

In contrast, French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 67) had a very different view on that question: he viewed his beloved lady as just made of flesh whose fate is all too known: decay and death, describing this with the most ghastly spectacle in his poem “Une Charogne" (A “Carcass” or “Rotting Corpse”), published in Fleurs du mal / Flowers of Evil, 1857. Here his poem starts:
My love, do you recall the object which we saw,
That fair, sweet, summer morn!
At a turn in the path a foul carcass
On a gravel strewn bed, 
Its legs raised in the air, like a lustful woman,
Burning and dripping with poisons,
Displayed in a shameless, nonchalant way
Its belly, swollen with gases. 
He concludes his poem with:  
Yes! thus will you be, queen of the Graces,
After the last sacraments,
When you go beneath grass and luxuriant flowers,
To molder among the bones of the dead. 
Then, O my beauty! say to the worms who will
Devour you with kisses,
That I have kept the form and the divine essence
Of my decomposed love!
Charles Baudelaire

How different this poem is when compared to Beethoven’s letters to his “Immortal Beloved”! In Beethoven’s mind, unlike in Baudelaire’s, she is not supposed to decay, since she is “immortal”. Is she then real? If so, where is she now as an “immortal” being?

Both artists suffered physically with poor health. Beethoven suffered from tinitus resulting in deafness by his 30th birthday High lead concentrations in Beethoven's hair were found in independent analyses. This is evidence that Beethoven had lead poisoning which may have caused his life-long illnesses, impacted his personality, and possibly contributed to his death. Later in life, possibly due to heavy drinking, he developed liver disease.

Baudelaire suffered with gonorrhea and had picked up syphilis, the disease that was probably the cause of his own death. His long-term use of laudanum (a tincture of opium), his life of stress, drink and poverty had taken a toll and Baudelaire had aged noticeably.

I cannot help but compare Baudelaire’s view with a Damien Hirst’s obsession with decaying death. His rotting sharks’ installations were entitled: “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.”

In my coming book, I so called my first chapter:  “Is something Rotten in the State of Contemporary Art?”, paraphrasing here Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Quoting myself:
It is now fair to say that anyone could be an artist. It is no longer necessary to ask whether this or that could be a work of art since the answer would always be yes. Since Marcel Duchamp's "readymades", artists are taught to believe they have now the license to call anything art, so long, and this is the "key argument", they call it "art." This is a “circular reasoning”: an "artist" is called so because s/he does "art." How do we know this is "art"? Well... because s/he says it is! This is "circular reasoning," i.e. a "logical fallacy". So since anything could now be called art, logically anyone can call him/herself an artist! Therefore if "anything" can be called "art", so "nothing is art". We are indeed witnessing an end-of-art situation. A smell of corpses, so well symbolised by Damien Hirst's rotting sharks or cows he calls "art".
Beethoven, as an artist was very different. Despite the odds, and like a Stephen Hawking but unlike a Baudelaire or a Hirst, Beethoven had a non-cynical optimistic view on human life and fate.

It is the same difference between needing to touch someone physically and touching someone‘s heart. Baudelaire was obsessed with touching his "beloved one" physically, never her cheart. He was often comparing women to prostitutes. Unsurprisingly he suffered from syphilis. Beethoven maybe never met his "Immortal Beloved" or touched her "physicially" yet he is "touching" us.
Yes his "beloved" is “immortal”, as is his art because it is still touching our hearts today.

As French poet Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-44) once wrote:
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Le Petit Prince, Chapter 21 (1943) 

I know, I am a painter...

In 1812, when Beethoven wrote his love letters to his "Immortal Beloved", he had just completed his 7th Simphony... the theme at the end of John Boorman's film "Zardoz" when "Zed" (Sean Connery) and Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) escape their "immortality" to experience a mortal life.

Beethoven on his deathbed

Friday, 16 August 2013

Rembrandt and I

Rembrandt dared painting notables, people in power as real persons. So did I with Kate Middleton.
With extracts from "Simon Schama's Power of Art" Rembrandt (TV Episode 2006).

Rembrandt was and remains my main artistic inspiration.

A sketch of Rembrandt I did in 1991.

Saturday, 20 July 2013