• April 13, 2024

On portraiture

John Singer Sargent: “A portrait is a picture with something wrong with the mouth.” It’s comforting to know that even the greats struggled (and retained a sense of humour).

  • January 8, 2023

The Completed Painting

I sometimes get asked, “how do you know when a painting is finished?” It’s a hard question, because it’s hard to know when something you’ve been working diligently on is actually finished. Things could keep getting finessed and tweaked for ever. I usually answer that a painting is finished when the things I’m doing to it are starting to make it worse. I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one who has had that challenge, as I recently stumbled across this quote from one of my favourite portraitists, John Singer Sargent, who had a more innovative solution to the problem: “An artist painting a picture should have at his side a man with a club to hit him over the head when the picture is finished.”

  • January 2, 2022

Eat, paint, live.

“I believe in painting and I believe in eating too. What can we do? We have to eat, we have to paint, we have to live. Of course, there are different ways to survive. But it’s my best option.” – Gerhard Richter

  • January 11, 2021

Keep Washing…

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Pablo Picasso

  • February 8, 2020

Portrait Award Finalist

My new painting, “Grace”, has been selected as a finalist for the 2020 Adam Portraiture Award. See it here on my website or as part of the finalists exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Wellington from 26 Feb.

  • November 30, 2019

Summer News

Recently I had the privilege of meeting up with Auckland artist Renee Thyne, and we thought it would be a fun challenge to have a go at painting each other’s portrait. You can see my completed portrait of Renee (“The Artist”) here at Moonlighting Art, and follow this link to a short video where you can see both paintings together with us:

  • November 25, 2018

Quote of the Month

“The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art.”

Junot Diaz

  • January 30, 2018

Summer News

During February I’m very pleased to be the feature artist at the Zimmerman Gallery in Palmerston North. Included in the range of my work on display are two large companion pieces, “Stand” and “Advance”, which you can see here on the website.

I developed these two pieces from earlier concepts for a private commission. They are companion pieces in that they are recognisably of a similar theme in a similar setting, and they are the same size. But I have set out to have them both convey different sensations. I selected the colour palette for each to be highly vibrant and striking, but also unique – they are not historical depictions. The composition for each character is different: “Stand” shows an alert and defensive posture, while “Advance” shows a deliberate charge forward. In this way, with their individual compositions and colour palettes, each piece conveys a different response to the same stimulus – which is the stimulus of being challenged or threatened in some way. And my intent is to convey not only two different possible responses (or choices), but also to convey them with two different feelings or moods.

  • April 30, 2017

Autumn News

Lately I’ve been painting portraits. Just about everything I paint has people in it somewhere. For me it is usually facial expressions, the glare of eyes and gestures of hands that provide the interest, intensity and story-telling that I’m looking for. There are some beautiful landscape pieces around that I admire, and even own, but when it comes to actually picking up a paintbrush, it’s normally people that stand out for me. And so recently I’ve also been discovering some more about the 19th Century portrait artist John Singer Sargent. Sargent was too recent to be an Old Master, and he was too traditional to be an Impressionist (although he did hang out with them occasionally), but he expertly combined elements of both of these styles into his portraits, and in the process conveyed an intensity and narrative that makes them stand out. Sargent was never lauded as ground-breaking or founder of a new style, and in fact was bagged by a few critics for not being edgy enough. But his work easily stands the test of time for its quality, its beauty and its story-telling. For anyone interested in portraits, that’s more than enough enduring inspiration right there.

  • July 31, 2016

Winter News

This year so far I’ve been working mainly on portraits, so recently it was time for something a bit different. One of the colour combinations that had become stuck in my mind was bright red and white, and I was starting to notice it in different places. It also made me recall an earlier piece I had done involving red lilies shot through with some intruding white potato vine flowers (or some such thing – I’m not much of a gardener). I decided to revisit the striking combination, but in a way that would involve a figure and more of a story. As I envisaged how a figure in red and white might appear, the concept of St George came to mind. I decided to run with the idea. All that was left was to make the slayed dragon into something a little less literal and more allegorical. That of course leaves it up to some interpretation, and soon after the painting was finished someone asked me if it was supposed to be an allegory of the Brexit. (The answer is no, but hey, if the shoe fits….)

  • October 11, 2015

Spring News

The warm weather seems to be arriving at last, and with it the September-October edition of New Zealand Artist magazine has also arrived. NZ Artist is still fairly new, but it is a welcome addition to the art scene here. It’s fresh and showcases a diverse range of talents and styles, providing inspiration, ideas and colour, without the apparent elitism and aloofness that sometimes creeps into some other art commentary that’s out on the streets. Thanks also to NZ Artist magazine for featuring me and some of my work in this latest edition. You can visit the magazine’s website:

Meanwhile, and after what seems like a long Winter of working and re-working the canvas, I have completed my latest piece, which I have called “Aloof”. With Aloof I have tried to capture opulence with detachment, enrichment with decay and neglect, self perfection with remoteness, within an overall other-worldly and surreal aesthetic. Enjoy!

  • June 6, 2015

Winter News

We’re sometimes told that fear is about control. The things that you can’t control can be the most fearful. If that is true then for people who’ve experienced migraines, it might help to explain why they can be fearsome. It’s not just the pain and nausea that a migraine can bring, it’s also the unpredictable onset – the inability to control when it will appear – that can be scary and can kick your confidence.

Most people who get migraines will also be familiar with the early onset symptom called ‘Aura’. This is a jagged light-and-colour special effect feature that seeds itself in your peripheral vision and slowly grows to dominate it. It strikes me that, if the aura weren’t the fearful harbinger of a migraine, and if it were somehow possible to view it remotely and impassively, as silly as it sounds an aura could actually be beautiful. The scintillating light effects and the various turns of colour could have a raw psychedelic aesthetic quality.

I decided in my recent painting ‘Aura’ to see if it were possible to capture this – to view the aesthetic aspect of someone’s aura onset. And I wondered if, in some small way, capturing the beauty of such a thing might also help to tame the beast. To regain a little control perhaps.

  • March 7, 2015

Autumn News

Recently I completed a painting called ‘Narcissus’.

For a while I’d been thinking about how the story of Narcissus and Echo might translate into the modern world. There are different versions of the original Greek story, but the one I like the best has Narcissus, a beautiful youth, falling in love with his own reflection and unable to draw himself away from looking at it; meanwhile Echo, who has a crush on him, waits endlessly nearby and unnoticed, and fades slowly away until all that is left is the echo of her voice. In most paintings Narcissus is shown gazing at himself in a pool of water while Echo hangs around half-clad in the background.

For my own version, I felt that Narcissus was still alive and well in the Information Age, but was no longer staring at himself in a pool of water. I was struck instead by the similar concept of the ‘Selfie’ – the idea that the modern young Narcissus is now everywhere, fascinated by his/her own image, capturing it endlessly on mobile devices, and plastering it across cyberspace to be enjoyed again and again.  What does Narcissus represent if not an over-fascination with oneself? In the case of Echo, the improbably patient admirer, I decided to have her a little more bored – after all, who has time to wait any more in the Information Age? And she will indeed fade over time, as everyone does. But before she fades, she will leave digital echoes of herself everywhere across cyberspace as lasting fragments of her existence, as in fact we all will whether we like it or not.

  • December 2, 2014

Summer News

I wish I could say that every painting idea is born fully formed amid a festival of imagined light and colour. Unfortunately it rarely happens that way (not never – just rarely). For me the process tends to be a bit more organic: first a glimpse of light and shadow, a fragment of colour, and then a half-formed and out-of-focus story emerging around it. As if prematurely born, the idea will often then need some incubator time until it is fully formed.

It was like that recently for my piece Volition. I had the glare of light on a face, the gestures of hands, and a splash of red. Then came the concept of a decision point – a wavering life choice. With this half-formed birth, the idea emerged into the studio in pencil. The blank spaces then demanded more story and colour: the guitar provided colourful art, and a simple hand and scroll counterbalanced it with studious career expectations. The hands joined the opposing ends of the dilemma, which in turn suggested the attire of the central figure. Still, something was missing in the background  – some additional cohesion or a suggestion of allegory. It sat like this for more than a week, in this close-but-no-cigar state, until my daughter walked into the studio one day. She took one look and casually remarked: “creeper”. “What?” I asked. “Creeper – it should have a creeper winding its way up in the background.” I blinked and looked at the sketch and it was immediately blindingly obvious. The missing piece slotted straight in – the metaphor of the never ending, upwards crawling career creep, the very element that threatens to ensnare and which adds menace to the dilemma.

Sometimes all it takes is one casual comment…

  • July 6, 2014

Winter News

This month there is a good cause brewing in the form of BraveArt. BraveArt aims to raise funds for the CanSurvive dragon boat team to send them to Florida to compete. Every member of the CanSurvive team is a breast cancer survivor, and they, along with some selected well-known Kiwis, have had plaster casts made of their torsos, so that they can be turned into art works and auctioned off.

I was invited to take part and figured that it would be a good challenge to try a surface other than canvas, and at the same time contribute to a good cause. I was duly delivered a white plaster cast taken from Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown. For my painting I decided to render some white lilies against a black background, using the three dimensional form of the torso where I could to emphasise the form of the lilies as they curve and roll. I also brought the mayoral chains into the picture, winding them around the torso. With the real Wellington mayoral chains, each link has the initials of a previous mayor of Wellington, going all the way back to the 19th Century. For my picture, I decided to replace the mayors’ initials with the initials of the CanSurvive team members. This makes the team members themselves an unbroken chain – individual links that join with each other and give one-another strength.

The BraveArt torsos will be auctioned on 21 August at the NZ Academy of Fine Arts gallery in Wellington. For more info visit the website at


  • March 2, 2014

Autumn News

I never get sick of looking at Old Masters paintings – they always inspire. In the past I’ve borrowed lighting, colour, compositions and stories from a range of my favourite painters. Some aspects are harder to borrow than others. Clothing for example: some of the intricate and colourful items that existed several hundred years ago just don’t occur in everyday life today. Where does an artist today find someone to sit for them with the sort of luxurious, billowing silk dress or intricate brocade that artists of previous centuries have captured? Our clothes today are far simpler – which is convenient but not half as interesting to paint. I would call them duller.

For a while now I’ve had a hankering to paint someone in a suit of armour. I’ve never quite gotten around to it because it’s just not the sort of item you have lying around. After recently reading a new biography of Titian, and seeing again his fantastic rendering of armoured patrons, I knew I had to give it a go. But where to find a suit of armour these days? Local costume places shrugged or offered a plastic replica. More promising was a local movie studio, who were able to point me in the direction of a genuine modern “knight” by the name of Craig Gillan. Craig teaches Medieval combat and has previously been involved in the Lord of the Rings movies.

Craig’s suit of armour is the real deal. It’s heavy steel, leather straps, the works. And it’s been lived in – the dents, cuts and scars all bear witness to real sword-on-armour action. This was the suit I wanted to paint. But for the composition I had in mind, I wanted to juxtapose this robust armour against youthfulness and vulnerability. On the one hand I wanted to capture the superficial gleam of the reflecting steel, but on the other hand I wanted to be able to convey a sense of the resilience and thick skin that the steel symbolizes. It makes me think of those among us who are somehow able to take the most brutal knocks and blows that come their way and who still get up the next day to face their challenges. This is how “Fortitude” came to be.

  • October 12, 2013

Spring News

When I’m painting there are a few key elements that have to come together to make a half decent piece. At the top of the list for me is lighting.

In a way it was lighting that first got me into painting to start with: I’d been amazed by Caravaggio’s dramatically dark set pieces in Rome, seemingly lit by a single light source, usually from above and to the left somewhere. It was later when I was reading of a lodging that he’d “modified” by knocking a hole in the ceiling to achieve that light source that I felt the need to experiment myself. In Caravaggio’s case his landlord sued him for the damage to the ceiling, and I took the more cowardly course of playing with artificial lighting sources instead. For my first pieces this meant moving a bedside lamp around to the best position, but I soon moved to a home handyman’s halogen lamp to achieve stronger directional light and more dramatic shadows. These days my best lighting friend is a brilliantly designed dedolight, just perfect for studio work and film noir effects. As brilliant as this light is though, funny how I keep moving it around looking for that little piece of Caravaggio inspiration – the kind he achieved with a hole in the roof.

While on the subject of lighting, I had for some time struggled with being able to paint at night – under artificial lighting the whites on the canvas looked fine at night but would be a train wreck come morning in natural light. I was saved by Peter Shelton at the Zimmerman Gallery who provided me with a fluoro tube with a colour temperature very similar to natural light. An ingenious modification by my father-in-law then tailored the mounting of the tube to the studio environment.

Caravaggio’s lighting is one of the reasons I paint. With my dedolight and my fluoro tube I can now do it anywhere, anytime!

  • June 3, 2013

Winter News

The other day I went to an Andy Warhol exhibition. I’m not really a fan, but there’s no denying his place as a 60s/70s icon. Before the exhibition, it was never very obvious to me that he had any particular artistic talent – I mean in the hand-eye and rendering sense – and the exhibition didn’t really alter my opinion of that. His methods of painting and printing are not particularly challenging. However, what does come through clearly is the artistic idea – the idea which is undeniably and iconically his. Through his work you see Andy Warhol as a man fatally attracted to celebrity, fame, fortune and consumerism. But at the same time you see a man repelled by it and repelled by his own attraction to it. His work is a product of contradictory ambivalence. At the same time as his pieces elevate and spotlight the rich and famous, they also cheapen them, reduce them and mass produce them. He worships the elite and then reduces them through mass consumerism. It is this idea, rather than any cleverness in rendering, that so perfectly captures the era of Pop Art, and which will forever be identifiable with 60s and 70s culture as projected by Warhol.

The Warhol exhibition makes me think about our own era. We live in a period that is no less identifiable, with its own idiosyncrasies. We live in the information age, of instant news and contact, of immediate networking, of the ten second attention span, of the personal digital device. What we have not yet seen is the artistic idea that uniquely captures the essence of all this and projects it back at us in a way that future generations will immediately identify. The artistic icon of the information age is still missing. The artist is still waiting out there somewhere to be discovered…..

  • January 3, 2013

Summer News

For me personally, the best paintings are those that combine aesthetics with some kind of a story. It’s the aesthetic element that grabs my attention and pulls me in, and the story that allows a deeper level of interest and engagement. The story might be subtle, ambiguous or blatant – whatever works for the subject. Occasionally though, aesthetics alone are enough to make me want to either look at a picture or to paint it.

A recent example is a painting I completed of some red lilies. I’d been thinking of ideas for a painting that would feature a decent splash of bright red, on the sort of scale that would completely dominate the picture. I sketched out a few different ideas, but nothing really seemed to leap out. One day while I was going through the supermarket I saw an arrangement of bright red lilies that stood out straight away, and I announced to my wife that we needed to buy them so that I could make them the centrepiece of a painting with a story built around them. In response, Tricia calmly informed me that we already had some in the back yard at home.

I was taken aback. How could we have colour like that in the back yard that I’d never noticed before? At home I trawled around the fence line of the back yard and sure enough, hidden between the Pohutukawa and the fence was a small cluster of bright red lilies still in their Spring bloom. Admittedly I’m not much of a gardener, but it was still a surprise to find something so spectacular blooming right under my nose without my noticing.

There was no question that these lilies would now be my next painting, but with only a small number of stems growing behind the tree I was initially reluctant to cut any for the studio. In the end though art won the day and the lilies came inside, but somehow they didn’t need anything else built around them for a painting. They now seemed to be sufficient stars in their own right.

Pure aesthetics? Maybe, but suddenly these lilies also had enough of a story of their own.

  • October 7, 2012

Spring News

Recently I completed a piece called ‘Glare’. In essence Glare is a study in fabric, and the contrast of the texture of that fabric against a youthful face.

I think the urge to play with material and texture came from another painting I have in the house. Recently I bought a small piece at auction by New Zealand artist Garth Tapper. Tapper was at his best when he portrayed Kiwis involved in the every-day: pubs, the races, conversations, hopes, fears, laughs, loneliness, doubts. The piece I bought shows a barmaid in a red dress at the Occidental pub. The red dress dominates; bright and effortlessly rendered, in fact you’d say carelessly rendered, but beautifully textured. Instantly eye-catching.

Good art is contagious – it gives you ideas. I thought I’d tackle some fabric, as something of a study – in my own style of course. Not loose and urgent like Tapper – more like a muscular work-out. But I wanted that same sense of dominant material that pulls in the viewer’s eye and holds it there. Then as always, after you begin you never quite know where you’ll end up (which is half the fun) until it’s what you might bravely call finished.

Glare is the product of its own journey – it was never meant to look or feel like another picture. But it’s also the result of some quality artistic contagion.

  • July 1, 2012

July News

Everyone has heard of the author’s arch enemy – writer’s block. A similar phenomenon occurs with painting – the curse of the blank canvas. Few things are as frightening as having a blank canvas and no idea of what should go on it. You can have the finest brushes, best paints and smoothest canvas, but if the idea’s not there then it’s all for nought. I have to confess to having had the odd panic attack coming towards the end of a painting, if there is no new idea already waiting in the wings.

It was like that recently, coming towards the end of a long portrait project. It seemed I’d been so focussed on the portrait that the end snuck up on me and before I knew it there was a blank canvas staring back at me. And the more I stared at it, the more nothing appeared and the more blank it was.

Fortunately, darkness is a kinder muse. The darkness of the early hours is when ideas tend to arrive. A spot of bright red against the black. The red becomes blood and the rest starts to grow around it. That’s how “Rejection” came along. And the best thing about ideas is that they breed other ideas, so the paint is still flowing steadily, this time with a Cleopatra death scene. It must have been the blood.

Thank goodness for the dark.