Friday, 31 October 2014

Art Soufflé at The Brambletye Hotel

Do come along tomorrow, 01st November, and have a look at tremendous art produced by professional Sussex-based artists. Sue Holpin is one of them-  I think Sue is an outstanding, natural talent! Other artists participating include William de Wilde, Gill Bustamante and Jane Moore.
Copyright Sue Holpin, The Reluctant Sitter.
Drop by anytime between 10am-5pm- I'd love to say hello!
Free parking and free admission.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The tightrope walker

This digital image by Pierre Chalory, perfectly depicts my state of mind- the idea of the walker balancing off a planet is just brilliant! I hope you like it too. Pierre is incredibly talented. I've uploaded more of his digital images here:

I think we'll make calendars from these images for sale at Pierre's first solo exhibition in the UK on 06th December.

Le funambule, copyright Pierre Chalory.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Altered states: Surrealism

It is hard to define what great art is. Here is a good example from none other than French Nobel Laureate, André Gide, who describes his reaction to Man with a Glove by Titian, that he saw in the Louvre as a very young man: "I began to cry. Life without intensity has no value and I saw that perfectly expressed in Titian's painting."

Of course Titian was not a surrealist artist, far from it but that power of emotion, which his painting evoked in Gide is something found in abundance in surrealism. Why? Because surrealist art literally turns our world upside down rattling us to the core.

As a young child I found Dali's art so terrifying that I couldn't bear to look at it. Now in the second half of my life, I can finally understand what surrealist art is trying to say- take your world, your life, everything you believe and consider this- is it a reality, does it actually exist or is it the sum of your inculcated and ingrained beliefs and perceived ideas? That process jolts the viewer so deeply within themselves that they experience a cataclysmic bolt of unconsciousness followed by an altered consciousness and a questioning of themselves. The experience is unsettling to say the least. I would describe the effect as akin to discovering some terrible skeleton long hidden in the family cupboard.

Surrealism is definitely for grown ups; the effect is so powerful, dare I say, so damaging, that the viewer will either love its strange fantastical and esoteric vision of life or run screaming away from it.

Take this painting by renowned French Surrealist painter, Pierre Chalory: 

 Le roi fou, oil on canvas, copyright Pierre Chalory

The Mad King sits alone, perhaps distracted, perhaps lost in thought. It is impossible to know. His head appears to be somewhat vacant and his 'crown' is no longer on his head. The ground around him seems to be moving perhaps a symbol of the king's growing insanity. Strange to the viewer’s eye, there appears to be movement in the painting whilst there is actually no sign of anything actually shifting position. Again we are asked to question what we are seeing.  As we look at the painting, our perspective begins to change - at first glance we are struck by the strangeness of the subject, by the end of our close examination, we are unsettled. The bright colours are anything but cheerful and the King is fractured and fragmented not just as we see him sitting without his crown, but we come to realize that the entire painting is in fact a portrayal of his state of mind. This masterful ability to demand that we look at every element in a painting, in order to understand its essence is not dissimilar to how we face life. We are the sum of our past, our families, our upbringing etc. Our mental store of beliefs and behaviour is in fact everything that has already happened to us. One cannot so easily change a mindset or simply put, the way we view the world. But what if, even what we thought we knew turned out to be an irreality?

René Magritte's surrealist painting of a pipe entitled This Is Not A Pipe is the antithesis of the mad king. At first, second and third glance, the pipe is clearly a pipe yet Magritte asks a very simple question and in so doing encourages us to question what we are seeing. In this sense, surrealism gives the viewer a silent yet violent shaking and forces them to dissect their own perception versus reality.

Philosophers argue that reality is just an illusion. Surrealism drives a question mark further into our minds by asking- how can you be sure that you know anything at all? And by inference, who are you? At this point, although convinced that yes, we are actually made up of flesh and bones, we are troubled by the surrealist challenge to remove the cloak of appearance and veneer and to peer beneath it.

The surrealist artist creates a reflection that unsettles the viewers into examining themselves. Shock horror!

Ironically in our throw away society where profundity is probably likened to the size of a burger and fries, the questions that surrealism is asking risk going unanswered. All around us human beings are becoming degraded into a non-thinking sub species. And like the mad king, inside the minds of today’s society is becoming a great big hole of nothingness. Art has not so much evolved as degenerated into unmade beds and material conceptualism. The artist is a director of operations wearing diamond cufflinks. The questions that nudge the soul into reflection no longer take precedence. Subtlety has been replaced by in-your-face mediocrity that is a truthful facsimile of today’s society: loud, aggressive, impatient with hard work and earned praise. Think of it this way: there is nothing subtle about a pickled animal in a glass case. But a house floating an azure blue sky and some strange object that we can’t recognize which forces us to adjust our glasses and to scratch our heads simultaneously, now that’s what I’d call a work of art. But golly, it can hurt to find out that life is just a mirage, after all.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Art Soufflé appointed exclusive agent of Pierre Chalory

Art Soufflé/Samantha van Dalen has been appointed exclusive UK agent for French surrealist artist, Pierre Chalory, on 21st October 2014. Monsieur Chalory is well known in the US and his native France especially for his paintings which foretold 9/11. Samantha is organising a solo exhibition of Monsieur Chalory's oeuvre for the spring of 2015. For more of Mr. Chalory's paintings, please click here: Art Souffle- Pierre Chalory

To indicate your interest to attend the private view of the exhibition, please click here: Enquiry: Private view

 Faille dans le temps, copyright Pierre Chalory

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Two new artists

Art Soufflé is growing from strength to strength. Two new artists signed up today and I now represent them: Sussex artist, William de Wilde and French artist, Pierre Chalory. Both will be exhibiting at upcoming soufflés at the Brambletye Hotel and The Kingscote Estate. Please watch this space!

Copyright William de Wilde.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The season of falling leaves

Today in the woods the squirrels pelted me with half- eaten beech nuts and empty chestnut casings and I swear I heard them giggle with delight. As I looked up, I saw a bushy tail disappear into the canopy of golden leaves. Suddenly and out of nowhere, a strong gust of wind tore through the woods covering the hound and I with falling leaves. Soon after, the pelting by mischievous paws resumed.

Autumn may be grey and windy but it is also the season of new beginnings.  Some say spring is the symbol of starting again but for me it is many months before in the autumn when the planning and preparation take place. The culmination of efficient planning is the rebirth we see in spring. Nature demonstrates almost military precision in the way it organises life: each season has a specific purpose and all are reliant on each other. The concepts of teamwork and preparation have their roots in the natural world. Words like symbiosis and synergy are demonstrated in the relationship between living things- whether plant or animal based. The spider devours the moth and one could not exist without the other. The bee pollinates flowers, which turn to seeds and so on. Interestingly, human beings since their creation have brought havoc and chaos to the natural world, which is completely reliant on harmony in order to survive.
Philosophers have written endlessly about conducting self- examination for the purpose of understanding. Words though, cannot communicate what one feels by observing the extravagance and simplicity in equal measure that exists in the natural world. A walk in the woods re-enforces a wide-eyed amazement at how all life is miraculous. This acceptance of the inevitability of all things brings solace to weary souls. Nature cannot be all things but rather focuses on specific objectives instead. The tree comes to leaf in the spring then flowers. From the flowers, fruit form and the leaves die as the tree must concentrate all its nutrients on the developing fruit. The fruit disgorge their seeds and the cycle of rebirth becomes inevitable. If the natural world were to deviate from accomplishing set aims, chaos would descend and ultimately, nature would cease to exist as we know it. The balance on which all living things rely is fragile to say the least.

As I watch the falling leaves I am reminded of the past, present and the future. This is where life has led us- where we've been and where are we now. The lessons of the autumn are the same for all of us. Making decisions, reviewing one’s life, cleaning out the cobwebs, we are all familiar with these clichés. Yet without these much-needed actions on our part, we will not be able to make sense of the future, which comes soon enough. Everything we need to learn in this life is available for free in the woods near you.

Photos copyright SvD.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Things I saw in the woods today, part 94

The glorious woods, mysterious, mystical and welcoming (if you share the same spirit):

The luscious yew berry; seductress, inviting and death in 20 minutes flat: 

Mushrooms thriving in our unusually warm Autumn. Don't eat them! The rains of the last few days mean that the mushrooms are full of maggots and taste of rain- insipid and wriggly- two bad combinations!

Any my favourite:
The spider in his lair with lunch:

All photos copyright SvD.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Things I saw in the woods today, part 93

How many of these can you eat? I'll give you a clue- all except one.


Holly berries.

One half of a pigeon.

Rose hips (of the dog rose).

All photos copyright SvD.

PS Mr. Fox was very wasteful and should have polished off the whole pigeon! Proves that all species share a similar trait in times of plenty.

Note to Mr. Cleese: How I forgave my mother

John Cleese has been in the news lately for his autobiography which has the critics in agreement on one thing: how can a 74 year old man still harbour such bitter resentment towards his own mother? Answer: very easy, really.

I know a thing or two about difficult relationships with one's parents. Whilst my father and I got on very well and nearly all of my memories of him are endearing, I can only think of one fond memory that I have of my mother: when I was four or five, she placed me on her lap and put her arms around me. She then opened the Oxford Dictionary which she was balancing on one knee against the dining table and proceeded to show me how to use a dictionary. Oh, there was one other time I can recall: my mother put me to bed and kissed me goodnight. That act of parental affection happened just the once. So two scrawny memories that will eventually fade altogether as I age.

Just today as I was relishing in my solitude on this grey and chilly Sunday, I set about sorting out long abandoned cupboards full of spiders left undisturbed for several years. I found a cardboard box taped shut. I couldn't for the life of me remember what was in it. I tore off the brown tape and peered inside. Leather camera cases, lenses, my old Ricoh camera. And at the bottom of the box in sealed plastic bags, reels of film that I recognised instantly- these were taken by my father and contain moving images of our family life when I was a young child. I instantly saw those images in my head- my brother, sister and I together laughing as our father shot that old black and white film. I remembered too when the projector would come out and as a family we would watch scenes of the past. I also recall my mother's unsmiling face in all of them.

I rummaged further in the box and found around fifty photographic slides which I recognised by the racks they were wedged in and knew them all to be of my mother who my father adored and at every opportunity would take photos of. My mother was an exquisitely beautiful woman and she photographed very well. Without even looking at them, I put all of the slides and memories of my mother back in the box, resealed it and slid it back into the recesses of the cupboard.

I've pondered on the issue of happy families all my life. My own opinion on the matter is that there is no such thing. Human beings are so complex that it is clearly impossible to fathom what truly is going on in their heads. A bit like absolute truth in philosophy- it doesn't exist. The two absolutes in life are death and taxes. The rest is relative to all else. Just as that statement is obtuse so too is the human mind. One thing is for certain- our disposition never changes. One cannot change who one is. One can appear to change but that is all.

Returning to the subject of families- the family is where we learn what we need to in this earthly life. Crazy, dysfunctional, unhappy parents produce crazy, unhappy children who will remain so unless they make a concerted effort to break the cycle of being nuts and sad. It is possible.

Two things have helped me in my own life: a belief that our time here on earth is a journey towards something where the present is essentially more important than the future. Plus I have wept enough tears for the past and decided I can't keep sobbing forever over what could have and should have been. I wouldn't call this process resolution, I would call it an acceptance of the things I have no control over, an act of 'surrendering to the universe'.

The second thing that helped me is a realisation that our expectation of happiness is an unrealistic concept. Hollywood, glossy magazines, the end of everything, of all experience, has to be happy, pleasurable, decidedly wonderful. The truth is, life is bloody hard. Most of life is spent preparing for the next crisis. That is unless you are in a coma in your head and wandering around thinking thoughts of nothing. There are many, many people, in fact, the vast majority of the population who focus their brain cells on things that don't matter and are blissfully incapable of having a philosophical thought. An absence of thought means that the ability to cope with life will always be guided by impulse resulting in being a self absorbed slave to one's ego. In other words, a narcissist forever gazing at their own reflection.

The truth is I have nothing of my late mother- not a single piece of her jewellery, not a scarf or hairpin or anything. And I am glad that I don't. The acts and words of my mother towards me will forever be the hardest experiences I have ever dealt with in my entire life. It is difficult not to matter to one's mother. However in family dramas, no one is entirely blameless. I wasn't around in the critical years of my father's decline and death. I never returned home often enough because I couldn't bear to be around my mother. In a sense, I abandoned my mother because she made me feel miserable.

Time has passed never to return. We cannot recapture a moment in time and seek to change it. I remain grateful to my mother for giving birth to me and because of her I am the opposite of what I felt she denied me. I finally understood that our destiny was written in the stars but we can change it.

My father's mother died when he was around 68. After the funeral, as tears welled up in his eyes, my father spoke these words which I shall never forget. 'My mother never loved me, Sam, she never loved me.' The sight of my strong dad crying broke my heart. As fate would have it, I experienced that same feeling too. But in spite of everything, I'm grateful for what my mother did and didn't give me because it made me who I am.

Photo and painting copyright SvD. Mother, oil on canvas.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Two magnificent paintings

Delighted to say that I sold these two outstanding paintings by Gill Bustamante yesterday. I represent Gill.

How beautiful are they!

Hart of a Mystic Forest, copyright Gill Bustamante, Oil on canvas
Clearing in an Autumn Wood, Gill Bustamante, Oil on canvas

To see all of Gill's paintings, please go here: Represented artists

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Drawing, the original language

I was at the private view of SGFA (Society of Graphic Fine Art) last evening. I was astounded at the exceptional and exquisite quality of the work on show. Worth going to see:
In order to paint, you need to know how to draw. And glad to see the BBC's Andrew Marr, who was the main speaker and special guest, looking so much better.

Painting copyright Gill Bustamante.

My next project- Art Soufflé goes to Forest Row

Have a read about it here:



Monday, 6 October 2014

My latest article on The Huffington Post

After almost two months' absence (spent organising the exhibition), I'm back! Thanks to the Huff for being so patient.

October 06th 2014

Photo copyright SvD.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The ethereal age

It happens to all of us as we get older- we find the richness of our memories satiating, filling us with a sort of glee that the thought of things past becomes more than enough. Age is rued by many but it can be a joyful experience. When I was little I wanted to be older. Now that I am aging- hair greying rapidly and joints squeaking- I am understanding the beauty of aging. My beloved uncle Bertie sent me a lovely email the other day. He said in it that I should continue to help others. I didn't give the suggestion much thought but then as I was walking the hound this morning the sun piercing through the misty shroud which enveloped us, I understood. I looked at the hound's smiling face and felt that sense of contentment that I experience often these days. A sense that everything is as it should be. Age gives us not only wisdom but something else and more valuable. A preparation for death. Strange, I hear you say, when we spend our entire lives fearing the inevitable. But look at it this way: instead of despairing at the loss of memory- 'what's his name again?' or the complete absence of recall at times in the short term or a haziness that renders many, many things obtuse - in fact, all of these are a type of blessing. As we age we are in fact becoming ethereal beings. The ties that hold us to this earthly life are loosening. Information stored in our heads is becoming garbled. Friendships that have not stood the test of time become irrelevant. Those that stayed for a season only in our lives become entirely forgettable. The metaphorical knife that went straight through our hearts inflicted by the words and deeds of others doesn't hurt anymore.

Older people are frequently chastised for reminiscing ad nauseum and living in a long dead past. That is an error on their part. I never saw the past as anything but that- past grief, over, without direct consequence to the present moment. The lovers have long disappeared and I am glad they have. One must make peace with all those fractured parts that made us who we are. Every lover mattered but an enduring romance of substance is a rare thing and with age, one accepts that. "It is what it is," is the refrain of those who have been through it all and then some.

Age teaches us that nothing matters or makes sense. An elderly woman who died recently in Australia left behind a series of notebooks which she amply filled with her thoughts on life. She died alone and no one knew she had passed for several months. In her own words, life was often pointless and full of despair. She was tormented by her loneliness and the struggle for survival- the incessant need to carry on, to bolster oneself with the steeliness to endure. Despite her frequent thoughts of suicide, she hesitated each time she thought of taking her own life. Why? It's not that as we age we feel aggrieved by life and wish to die. No, as we age we are acutely aware that we are blessed to have life still coursing through our veins however difficult or miserable it may be. We're not ready to go yet. But life to the end of our days remains a conundrum without answer that tortures and delights us in equal measure. The soul, the spirit inside us is a mischievous genie conjuring up yet another riddle.

Age brings us closer to God. I chatted to an atheist the other day and by the time we had finished debating the existence of God, he declared himself an 'animist and perhaps not really, an atheist.' I smiled and looked at him directly in the eye. He's in his 60s and suddenly, out of the blue, the essence of God cannot be overlooked entirely. The concept of a higher being might remain elusive for some forever but for others, a change occurs after middle age when enough time has gone by that we can see far behind us, and we realise that in many instances something rescued us from ourselves.

Age gives us opportunities to soar. I recently woke up and decided to organise a world class art exhibition. I grabbed the 'phone and began making 'phone calls to people I didn't even know. Six weeks later an exhibition featuring one of the world's finest figurative artists opened in an exclusive estate in the south east of England. I stretched myself, was tortured to the point of not sleeping and lost weight, my face broke out in most awful rash, I could barely taste the food I ate every day. I worried like hell. Why did I do it? Why not? Would I do it all again? Absolutely! My late father always drummed into me to take risks in life and that way I would be happy. I've lived by that, mind you, I've fallen on my face many times but I'm still here. And I'm still smiling. Age makes us fearless and so we should be. Fear paralyses and prevents us from sprouting wings. Ironically it is because of age and experience that once we sprout those wings we immediately know how to fly.

Age is about the present because we can't see the future. In my twenties I was enthralled by Buddhism. In my fifties I see the words 'there is no beginning or end' as the most beautiful and poignant of all. (I am in fact a Catholic but that does not prevent me from offering reverence to other faiths.) We are like the stream that runs into a river that runs into the sea. That is all. The process of aging is a reminder of life as both ephemeral and ethereal. Who knows where the source of that stream is or where it will end?

And so I must rest now and recover from my art exhibition challenge. You see, I'm getting old.

Photo copyright SvD.