The End (of 2020)

It was the last day of a sad year, but my mood was good as I woke early on December 31. We had passed the winter solstice, and although the death toll in California continued to lead the nation, the sun was shining in Marin County. My English art teacher, Paul Foxton, sent out a message that he would be painting one last time for the year on Facebook and YouTube. So I passed an hour and a half over breakfast and coffee, watching him carefully select colors for a painting of a vase of white and pale orange roses. Rather than obsessively trying to paint along at his pace or taking notes about every color mix or brush stroke, I just watched.

At the same time, I nursed some sourdough through its bulk fermentation throughout the day, doing the final knead according to Tartine standards around 3 in the afternoon. The loaves came out better than my attempts last year. Maybe another indicator of normalcy and progress?

In the middle of the day, the sun was out bright and shiny over Larkspur, and my wife and I found time to walk into town for our daily walk-up coffee, and then back to the house.

Our dinner was quiet after a week of fire-pit evening visits from my son and his girlfriend; for New Year’s Eve, I poured a glass of California rye, and we ate as a couple, indoors, where it was warm.

There was a degree of hope on the horizon that we would survive this plague long enough to get our vaccines sometime in the coming year, and that others would too, giving up the anti-mask and anti-vaccine madness under a new government.

In the morning of January 1, the dawn was breaking with color.

Dawn, January 1, 2021

My Brilliant Rohrwacher

While watching the two episodes of Season 2 of My Brilliant Friend that were directed by Alice Rohrwacher (who also does the voice-over narration for the Elena Greco character), I experienced flashbacks to the paintings of Antonello da Masina, who employed primary colors in his portraits. In at least two scenes, Rohrwacher arranges trios of actors clothed in a palette of muted primary colors. The framing of other close-ups reminded me of Picasso and Michelangelo. Whether or not the melodrama of the series engages you or not, it’s a blessing to see images like these in our frozen life sheltering at home.


COVID Journal: Online things you can do at home

While we’re all shuttered in place, it turns out that life can be busier than ever before. In this time of crisis many arts organizations, creators, and internet-savvy individuals who are sharing skills are providing us with free and fundraising opportunities to enrich our lives. I’m having to remind myself to not to try to do too many things in a single day, but the temptation is strongly there, while my wife and I sit at home, cook meals, read together, wait for packages, and try to go for walks that will keep us away from others.

With the idea of balance and calm in mind, here are some of the things I am participating in on a regular or occasional basis, or may take advantage of when things get bleak:

Live oil painting lessons with Cotswold realist painter Paul Foxton, most days of the week at 8 am Pacific time. Paul is a calming voice and a very good teacher of value, color and technique. Each day’s session is usually 60-90 minutes. Join Paul’s Facebook Art of Calm Artists group at

Live book readings, discussions and author events from the Virtual Book Channel and the Quarantine Book Club. Visit and for more information.

Live yoga sessions with New York techie Erik Hinton. Schedule varies. Subscribe at

Art and commentary from museums around the world are being shared daily under the Twitter hashtag #MuseumMomentOfZen. I have only begun to explore this resource, but one of the deepest and most thoughtful I have found so far is from the US National Gallery of Art. Their account is

The de Young Museum is doing live curator discussions on their Facebook page, called “FB Live”:

More and more film makers and distributors are sharing free access to works that were only visible through DVD purchases or at limited runs in museums and art-house cinemas. Others are offering downloads or time-limited screenings for a donation to help out closed cinemas and their laid-off workers. Here is a sampling of films I have found and watched or hope to see.

The Green Fog, directed by Guy Maddin.

Helvetica, directed by Gary Hustwit. The first of Hustwit’s documentary films on design and designers that he is releasing here:

La Vendedora de Fósforos (The Little Match Girl), directed by Alejo Moguillansky, courtesy of El Pampero Cine. Streaming at

Turns out that The Little Match Girl is one of a bunch of recent Latin American films that are now streaming. Argentine critic and curator Diego Lerer has the list on his Micropsia blog.

“Circle of Quarantine”: 10 Downloads of your choice for $49.95 from the catalog of Oscilloscope Labs. Many of Oscope’s films are on Kanopy, but there are gems here such as Madeline’s Madeline, River of Grass, L’Attesa, etc.

Kino Marquee, from Kino Lorber. Their initial screenings are of the fantastic Brazilian film Bacurau, directed by Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho. I guess you visit one of their sponsored donees to actually purchase virtual tickets. These are Film at Lincoln Center (New York, NY), BAM (Brooklyn, NY), Jacob Burns Film Center (Pleasantville, NY), The Little Theatre (Rochester, NY), Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Riviera Theatre (Santa Barbara, CA), The Frida Cinema (Santa Ana, CA), Denver Film / Sie FilmCenter (Denver, CO), Belcourt Theater (Nashville, TN), Loft Cinema (Tucson, AZ), Austin Film Society (Austin, TX), Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, OH) and Aperture Cinema (Winston Salem, NC). If you like the Austin Film Society, here’s where to purchase a $12, five-day pass for Bacurau:

Virtual Cinema, from Film Movement. Currently offering screenings of six films that would have been in theatrical release. New films Corpus Christi, directed by Jan Komasa, The Wild Goose Lake by Diao Yinan, Zombi Child by Bertrand Bonello, and Advocate by Rachel Leah Jones. And restorations of some that I really want to see: Bruno Barreto’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1976);The Killing Floor (1984), directed by Bill Duke; and especially Luchino Visconti’s L’Innocente (1976).

Update on April 2, 2020:

Grasshopper Films and Magnolia Pictures have now joined in, offering tie-ins to art houses with Pedro Costa’s latest Vitialina Varela and new Romanian film The Whistlers, respectively.

On April 21, Neon pictures has joined in the video streaming-with-fundraising movement.

Shared film clubs are popping up, with links to suggested viewing. One local example is the California Film Institute‘s new website, CFI Selects:

Portraits Worth Traveling For

Anne of Cleves, by Hans Holbein the Younger
Anne of Cleves, by Hans Holbein the Younger

Fresh from a fascination with Henry VIII, thanks to Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and the Korda brothers’ Private Life of Henry VIII, I started thinking about how Hans Holbein’s the Younger’s portrait of Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, was powerful enough to change history.  I guess Hans was the instant messenger of his day, sent over to the continent to bring back a picture for Henry’s Facebook wall, a picture that Henry’s friends could comment on and persuade him of Anne’s overwhelming beauty (which according to legend did not measure up in real life, leading to a quick annulment, but that’s another story).

What impresses me is that a simple portrait could have so much power.  The painting, a watercolor, is now in the Louvre’s collection; I may have seen it on a visit to Paris eleven years ago without knowing about its legends.  In any event, it’s now on my portrait bucket list, so that if and when I return to Paris, or if it ever travels to a distant shore as Anne herself did, and lands in San Francisco, I will seek it out.

And that got me thinking on what other portraits I would consider worth traveling to see.  I’d start with the ones I’ve already seen, that have captured my attention for long minutes when the rest of the gallery has faded away and I have been left one-on-one with a vibrating image a few feet away from me.

Virgin Annunciate, by Antonello da Messina
Virgin Annunciate, by Antonello da Messina

Antonello da Messina’s Virgin Annunciate, in the Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo.

John Singer Sargent - The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit 1882
John Singer Sargent - The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

John Singer Sargent’s Daughters of Edward Darley Boit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Of course if I ever do see this painting, it will require a revisit to the Prado for the Velasquez original and to Barcelona for Picasso’s meditations on Velasquez).

Angelina, by Edouard Manet (Detail)

Edouard Manet’s small portrait, Angelina, in Velasquez’ black palette that I saw at the Musee d’Orsay’s traveling exhibition, The Birth of Impressionism.

Walk on the Beach, by Joaquin Sorolla
Walk on the Beach, by Joaquin Sorolla

Any and all of Joaquín Sorolla’s loving portraits of his wife Clotilde at the Museo Sorolla in Madrid.

Giovanna Tornabuoni, by Ghirlandaio
Giovanna Tornabuoni, by Ghirlandaio

And the entire portrait collection at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. The Ghirlandaio portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni is just an example of the depth of this collection (which also has one of Holbein’s Henry VIII).

Side note: this article is the first of my participation in WordPress’s 2011 “post a week” project.