Sunday, July 27, 2008


Can you believe it's the end of the month, almost the end of summer already? Can I believe another birthday is nearly here already (August 7th) when I haven't digested the last one yet? I haven't believed in birthdays since I passed the fortieth one.

So if you don't believe in something it doesn't exist, right?

Well, my unbeliever attitude regarding age may prove to be exactly the right attitude. An article in The Independent last Friday says:

Growing old may not be mandatory after all.

I told you so.

Read the article but try to ignore the picture of Cliff Richard - not a good example of eternal youth. Even I look better than he does and no plastic scalpels have ever been near my ancient mug (how ancient I'm not telling but believe me, it's unbelievable).

I regret filling this space with my face but the last couple of days have been very hot and everything is too much effort. Will get back imminently to the autobio (me again, yes, but more interestingly, no?)


Saturday, July 19, 2008


Interesting exhibition of portraits by the Vorticist Wyndham Lewis at the National Portrait Gallery. My favourites were Edith Sitwell, T.S.Eliot and Portrait of the Artist as the Painter Raphael . Not a nice man, Mr. Lewis, but I appreciate his unsentimentally constructed subjects, like secular icons in which character is presented as architecture and emotion can be trapped in the precise folds of a jacket as well as in the slope of a cheek. He doesn't have a lot of depth but he sure knows how to make a surface meaningful.

I was instantly struck by Wyndham's borrowing from Van Gogh's L'Arlésienne (1888) in the satirical 1921 self-portrait Mr. Wyndham Lewis as a Tyro - the colour-scheme, the jagged edges - it's such an obvious influence yet nowhere, in none of the reviews or monographs, have I seen this juxtaposition. Am I the only person to have noticed it? Ha! Maybe you're seeing it here first.

It's such a relief, sometimes, to move in thoughtful silence amongst paintings, drawings and prints - images within familiar rectangles of canvas or paper or board - instead of being accosted by the whole shebang of multimedia artifacts and arty fictions which dominates our cultural landscape like a gigantic, noisy circus. Paintings that still exude the excitment that must have permeated artists' ateliers at the turn of the century and into the twenties, when truly radical things were being done inside that old traditional rectangular space. Illusory window or flat surface, there's something deeply satisfying about a rectangle of any size. With colour and line alone a painter can project thoughts, re-create the world, interpret reality, change reality, dispense with reality - all within a four-sided boundary.

I've started a very large painting, partly self-portrait partly something else I don't know yet. Autobio continues in the next post. Summertime is the time blogging slows down, isn't it?


Wednesday, July 09, 2008


My dear cousin Alex died peacefully yesterday in Boston. He was the eldest son of Vladimir, my father's brother.

Alex achieved extraordinary success, starting from a little workshop in Boston with his friend Nick DeWolf and gradually created the famed electronics company Teradyne. This is not the side of Alex that I know best because Vladimir and Katia, his father and mother, brought up their children mainly in America whereas my family was the more nomadic branch of the d'Arbeloffs and our lives went in very different directions.

What I cherished most about Alex was his wonderful personality, his humour, his ceaseless energy and innovative, rebellious spirit, his amazing generosity and family loyalty. I am grateful to him for so many things and fondly remember him in childhood, when he and his brother Dimitri and my sister and I played together and fought together in Paris and Rio de Janeiro and Paraguay and Los Angeles. Our shared memories of those days came up whenever we got together in recent times and gave us a sense of belonging to a private world far removed from our everyday lives. I saw him again in September last year when I spent a weekend with him and his wife Brit at their home. He was still playing tennis and doing his morning exercises on the floor.

Daragoya Alex, gospodi pomiluy. Wherever you are, I'm sure you are giving flying lessons to the angels.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Burial of Mickey Mouse: Part 25

Live words are not written in stone. Never can become sometimes, always frequently morphs into never, and so on. If every word we ever spoke or heard was un-erasable, our motion picture existence would freeze into countless frames of a comic strip painted or carved on a wall as long as our lives.

So my romance with T, if you can call it that, didn't end with that midnight conversation. We would never be a couple in any conventional sense - more like a comedy team - but some nights I stay in his bed, walking back to my room in the early morning. And when M is away on her annual visits to relatives, we are alone in the house for a whole week of playful domesticity. "Stop at the Greek's on your way over here, get a packet of bacon and some frozen peas and I'll make you a pie". I love those reassuring instructions but most of all I love his improvisations. At the pub, or someplace else where T holds court, he introduces me:

"This is my wife, she's a Paraguayan Indian. She was adopted by a Russian prince who found her wandering around the docks, six years old, barefoot and mute. He took her home to his wife, they cleaned her up, sent her to posh schools and now she speaks seven languages. I picked her up in Soho, she was lost, asked me if I knew of a Paraguayan cafe where she could drink maté. I'd never heard of maté but I took her to a bar and bought her vodka and she has stuck to me ever since."

The photo below, at a party in the art school where he taught photography, was taken about six years after I first met T. My worshipful and interrogating expression reveals the jealousy I felt during most of that time, the obsessive, relentless jealousy all too familiar to insecure women involved with charismatic men. To the end of his days T unquestionably had it - that je ne sais quoi which draws people in - and I was suspicious of every reasonably attractive female who came within range of his magnetism. Sexual jealousy takes over your mind even more powerfully than desire. It never stops feeding you graphic images of rivals in flagrante with your lover and you become addicted to this self-lacerating drug. What I couldn't see in my jealousy-addicted state was that T's insecurity was far greater than mine and that my feverish fantasies were far from the more prosaic reality.