Welcome to a blog in which you will find examples of my work in two areas and comments on whatever topics come to mind.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Oil on canvas. 40 x 30cm (15 1/2 x 11 3/4in)

A sunny morning in parkland, Niagara-on-the-Lake, where we spent a couple of happy days this summer. The town is a gem, architecturally homogeneous -- having been rebuilt at once following destruction in the War of 1812-15. The tranquil setting, between vineyards and the blue lake is to be savoured.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Pages from an Unpublished Novel

Outskirts of a village, South-West France.
Oil on board 18 x 13cm (7 x 5in)

’Of evil grain can come no good seed.’ – Proverb

   Commentary:  In falling in love with an attractive Parisian divorcée only weeks after his wife’s tragic death from cancer, is the irreligious ex-scientist, Dale Ingram, guilty of a monstrous afront to decency and decorum; or are certain members of the small ex-pat community in his region of south-west France the more to be blamed for motives far from pure in mounting a campaign of rumour and invective against him? The religious fanatic, April Hayter, in particular, has a very personal reason for seeking Ingram’s downfall. It is she who unwittingly recruits a would-be murderess to punish him.

Chapter 1

   Reggie Hayter had lowered the window of his Xsara enough for Mme Montegut to think he could hear above the car radio everything she was telling him about the phlébite in her legs when something caused him to abandon all pretence of commiseration and stare over the stray wisps of her white hair at something in the the distance.
   ‘C’est bien drôle,’ he said in his grammatically respectable but unrepentently English-public-school-accented French.
   ‘Drôle, Monsieur ‘Ayter?’
   ‘A woman,’ he said. ‘There’s a woman –‘
   “A woman?’
   ‘Yes. There’s a woman.  At Monsieur Ingram’s.’
   ‘Ah, une femme de ménage.’
   Reggie Hayter changed the station to hear the météo, then waggled the gear lever to show her he meant to go.
    ‘Or someone for the jardinage, now the poor man has no help.’
    ‘Not that sort of woman.’  He shot the old paysanne a look that added something to the assertion, then added jocularly, ‘Of course, she could be a relative. – Bonne journée, Madame.’
   As a friend once remarked, Reggie Hayter had a one-track mind running mostly below his navel. Relative, my foot, he said to himself when he had cleared the village.  Ingram had had his arm around the woman.  The two of them were probably at it this minute, frotting, making the beast with two backs. Ingram could screw as he liked now, lucky bugger. Reggie felt a mixture of envy and contempt; then, glancing up the now empty road leading to Ingram's property as he passed it, he became aware of a peculiar satisfaction in his discovery of the woman, and he began with a kind of smouldering excitement to turn over in his mind a singular possibility arising from it.
     (To be continued)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

‘Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance . . . ’

        Oil on canvas, 41 X 33cm (16X13in)

   Should a painting speak for itself? -- This title, from the sonnet by Keats beginning 'When I have fears that I may cease to be,' came to mind, I suppose, because of the clouds, and also the reverie the damsel appears to be in.  She loiters, unaware of the world outside herself, unwilling or unable to appreciate the sea and clouds, feel the grains of sand between her toes, hear the lapping waves.
   A title affects the way we view a painting.  Walter Sickert was known to alter the title of a work from one exhibition to another.  A nude woman lies on a bed -- asleep or dead?  On the bed's edge sits a shirt-sleeved man with his head in his hands.  And the title? -- No, titles:  first 'How do we pay the rent?' and then 'The Campden Town Murder.'

Saturday, December 5, 2009

FRANCE'S LETHAL LEFTOVERS - Concluded from 23 November:

   Not surprisingly, mines were foremost on the agenda of those who first took on the daunting task of cleaning up. Following the Normandy landings, the advancing Allies cleared the first mines; then, in August 1944, a company of young volunteers was formed to fight the faceless enemy. Trained and equipped by the British, and operating until demobilised in May, 1945, these were the first French démineurs, or mine disposal personnel. Earlier that same year the Direction du Déminage took charge of the raising and destruction of mines in and around Paris. With the major minefields deemed under control two years later the destruction of other munitions became practicable, many dating from the First World War and some even from the War of 1870-71.

Between 1945 and 1985 the démineurs neutralised 650,000 aircraft bombs, and 13.3 million mines, and 23 million shells or other explosives.

The cost in lives lost in the line of duty was high. Of the 3,200 French démineurs operational between 1945-47, 592 died and 800 were gravely wounded. In addition, at least 2,500 German prisoners of war pressed into the same service were killed. To date, more than 630 French démineurs have been killed.

For years these men have hauled away munitions by night, on roads as out of the way as possible, without causing any civilian casualties The munitions are stockpiled in guarded and cordoned off areas. Up until 1994, when the criticism of ecologists stopped the practice, some were disposed of by exploding them under water in the Somme. In 1996 the government decided to build a special plant to deal with munitions both conventional and chemical at Mailly-le-Camp, near Troyes. Three different methods were proposed: crushing, burning or dissolving in nitric acid -- all to be carried out by machinery. The plant is now ready and will by operational for at least thirty years.

The démineurs, heros of 'l'après-guerre,' have tended to be 'les oubliés,' the forgotten. In the interest of public confidence they have always gone about their work unobtrusively, worn no distinguishing uniform, and drawn scant attention from the public and media. It is remarked by one of their number, Thiérry Vareilles, author of Encyclopédie du Terrorisme International, that there exists for these men a strange fascination for each of the munitions with which they must deal. Their foe, a diabolical device, the product of ingenuity and deadly purpose, is to be conquered by knowledge, intelligence, total self-control. To triumph over a mine or shell is above all to triumph over oneself, to tame one's inborn fear. Their messages to one another tend to be signed with the motto 'Corpos Sui' -- master of oneself -- followed by their personal number. Today the several hundred démineurs in France are a closely knit band, a dedicated family. When one of them is killed the death is felt by all.

In the lurid light of past and recent history it comes as a cheering surprise to discover that of the tens of thousands of unsuspecting tourists from around the world who have chosen France for their holidays every year not one has suffered the fate shared by some of these démoneurs with certain unfortunate farmers and the eleven-year old boy from Dunkerque.
[Refs.: Voldman, Danièle: Le Déminage de la France Après 1945; Reig, Jean: Les Oubliés, Paris, n.d.]

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Hommage à Ingres © 2009 Alan Osler
Oil on canvas 46cm x 36cm (18in x 15in)

Ingres held that drawing was the basis of painting, yet he 'drew' bodies that aren't anatomically accurate.  Take his three-quarter length portrait of the Countess of Haussonville (whose head I've attempted here): the right arm is an impossible length.  Another arm, again a right one, that of his 'Odalisque,' appears too long, and rather sausage-like -- as though his interest lay elsewhere and he decided to leave this to an apprentice. Or is there some other explanation?
Try this link to Following the masters, to see more works.

Monday, November 23, 2009

FRANCE'S LETHAL LEFTOVERS -- Continued from Nov. 20:
   Though tourist offices are understandably reticent on the subject, the otherwise richly rewarding and exceptionally beautiful land of France holds deadly reminders of a sanguinary past.  All too often the inhabitants of towns and villages in various parts of the country are obliged to leave their homes while an unexploded shell or bomb is rendered harmless.  In February, 2003, 6,OOO residents of Rennes were evacuated and an area of 540 metres was cleared following the discovery by workers preparing the foundation for an apartment building of a 250 kilogram bomb dating from a British bombardment of 1944.  In April of the same year 9,000 inhabitants of Lens, about a quarter of the population, left the city centre for six hours in order for a 250 kilogram bomb, again unearthed on a construction site, to be dealt with.  A month later it was the turn of residents of Etampes; a Second World War bomb dating from a bombrdment of 10 June, 1944 -- a bombardment which cost close to a thousand German victims in the garison there and 125 French civilians -- was discovered by a worker on a site on the Avenue de la Libération, beside the Buffolo Grill restaurant.  That December saw 1,200 inhabitants of Lille evacuated for the sake of a 250 kilogram bomb also from the Second World War; sirens sounded, loud speakers blared, some 500 police officers were deployed to bar access to the bomb zone, shops closed, and the rail timetables of the Eurostar, Thalys and TGV were disrupted.  A year later, in May, 2004, at Fresnoy-Folny, a 250 kilogram bomb was found in the city dump -- not the first of its kind there, the dump having been the site of a launch pad for VI rockets and frequently targeted by the Allies.  In October, 2004, a similar discovery at Brest in Brittany necessitated the evacuation of 2,000 persons.  It is estimated that 30,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped on that city during the Second World War.

   At war's end France was written off by certain experts as a country devastated, made permanently hazardous in the presence of millions of unexpleded bombs and shells.

   Official figures for unexploded munitions of war vary, but a Senate report of 2001 estimates that a quarter of a billion shells, conventional and chemical, fired during the First World War and around 17 million fired during the Second World War failed to explode during these conflicts.  In Aftermath: The Remnants of War (Pantheon, 1996), Donovan Webster puts the number of unexploded shells and bombs at 12 million in Verdun alone.  Authorites once claimed it could take three to seven centuries to recover all the shells and bombs from the battlefields of the Somme, the Oise, Champagne-Ardenne, the Marne, and the Nord-Pas-de-Calais.  At least twenty sites are listed by the Sécurité Civile as the most dangerous zones.  And the bombs and shells from the two major wars make up only part of the story.  According to the official Bilans Finançiers et Pertes Françaises, some 15 million mines were buried in 370,000 hectares of land and hundreds of thousands of mines sunk in France's coastal waters.
   (To be continued)


Sunday, November 22, 2009

'It's for me, Maman.'

A Paris scene, mother and daughter. Oil on canvas, 24cm x 32cm; 10in x 13in.

Friday, November 20, 2009


  On November 6, 2004, an eleven year old boy from the wartime evacuation town of Dunkerque in northern France died of injuries after handling a mortar shell he had unearthed while playing in a forest with friends the day before.  On August 13 the previous year at Morienval in the département of Oise in the Picardy region children were found playing with a shell they had discovered in a stream.  The intervention of adults prevented them from making what they had hoped would be an exciting fireworks display -- and from suffering the fate of the eleven year old boy from Dunkerque.

   The finding of 'buried treasures' such as these is not a rare occurence in France.  Farmers, construction workers, people out for a Sunday walk in the woods, along with adventurous children, regularly come upon unexploded munitions of various kinds, classic as well as chemical, which have silently worked their way to the surface in fields and woodlands.  Farmers have been and still are most at risk, their heavy equipment failing to distinguish between a sugar beet or potato and a recently surfced grenade or shell.  Thirty-six agricultural workers were killed by such deadly remnants in 1991 alone.
     (To be continued)

Monday, November 16, 2009


Oil on board. 42cm x 34cm; 18in x 14in

This is my first Blog. And this the first of my paintings to appear on it. Subject: my wife, done a couple of years ago