Saturday, 25 January 2020


Tamara de Lempicka

In the 1920's in Paris, London and New York, Polish-born Tamara de Lempicka was the most fashionable portrait painter of her generation 

 Her notoriety and fame endure and today she is collected by modern 'celebrities' - such as Madonna

Her style has been described as 'soft' Art Deco although other critics refer to the influence of French painter Maurice Denis and the earlier nudes of Ingres

Her works are cool, clean, polished yet with an underlying sensuality that partly explains their popularity with the wealthy Parisian set who posed for her and who bought her paintings

Tamara was herself something of a beauty. She added to her society allure by being bi-sexual and notoriously active sexually - she knew Violet Trefusis, Vita Sackville-West and Colette

In Paris she was a leading figure in the Bohemian 'movement' and although married and with a young daughter, had numerous affairs

There is, however, something coy about her nude figures. Sensual, yes, but verging on elegant, soft porn - hence their appeal, no doubt.

In Ingres the languid poses are more natural, less contrived than in this (above) adaptation by Lempicka but her technical skill and seductive lines proved hugely popular with her Parisian clients and she could command high prices for her portraits of fashionable men and women

Since glamour was an essential part of her work - as indeed, it was part of her life-style - one should not perhaps look for any depth to her work

Although some claims have been made that she depicts free and independent woman within a male-dominant society, these woman are 'free' only by virtue of their wealth - and because, perhaps, they have rich and indulgent husbands

When she paints 'ordinary' women - as in this (above) strange portrait of a Mexican girl in rags, Lempicka lapses into a sentimentality that is particularly unappealing

This ghastly portrait of a weeping nun is probably one of her worst paintings. Later, as her popularity faded, she became more abstract, trying to capture (unsuccessfully) something of the originality of the Surrealists she had met in Paris

At her best - despite the 'posed' nature of her paintings and their incipient sentimentality - she was an exceptional artist 'of the moment'

Her importance lies perhaps in her remarkable ability to capture that moment in Paris between the two great wars when the rich and famous rubbed shoulders with genuinely great artists like Picasso, Miro, Braque and the Surrealists

Mike Healey

The illustrations used above are taken from this book, available from Taschen

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Some thoughts on Plant Forms!

I have always drawn on of real plants for inspiration but in the course of putting paint to canvas, changes invariable occur!

Take, for example, this painting which I am currently working on 

It's more or less finished but I am at that dangerous 'tweaking' stage when it is so easy to overpaint your canvas - you probably know what I mean!

Plant Form - Mike Healey

I was walking from my sister's house down a country lane towards Kendal when I spotted a large, thistle-type plant at the edge of a field

I had no sketch pad with me so I had to memorise its distinct form and hastily jot something down when I got home

I usually work fast on canvas. The leaf forms were obtained with just a palette knife, applied with swift hand movements across a white canvas

In all, it took less than twenty minutes

My chosen medium is gouache - the cheap poster paint used by school children. It's fluid, provides intense primary colours and...well, cheap!

The pink highlights were applied with either my finger dipped in gouache of with the point of a thick brush - again working at speed

In close-up you can see how fluid the medium is. From the start I am working on a white canvas so the uniform, deliberately 'flat' blue of the 'sky' is added afterwards

Painting in the blue background is a slow, painstaking process but I can 'edit' the image as I proceed, giving final shape and definition to leaves and foliage 

The 'striped' effect is a chance occurrence that happens when you use different layers of colour and scrape through the top layer to those below with your palette knife

This needs to be done when the latest, top layer of paint is still wet

The 'sun' disk is the last element to be added. Gouache gives a lovely dense (albeit, subtle pink) and appears 'flat' - something I like on a large canvas

In close-up (see below) you can see the texture of the canvas itself - a pleasing effect first used to advantage by early Modernists, such as Manet

After working in black and white for the last few months it was something of a 'holiday' for me to add bright colours to a large (100 x 80 cms,) white canvas

Despite that (and because I was feeling 'brave!) I used a large expanse of matte black at the base of the plant to 'ground' it

One unexpected 'bonus' is that in certain light the picture takes on a 'three-dimensional' appearance, with the dark shapes at the back receding into the blue sky and optically forcing the pink-tinted leaves further into the foreground

That, as they say, is the 'luck of the game'



 Some Reflections on Mythology

From the creation out of Chaos and the birth of the Olympian gods and goddesses, ancient Greek myths have shaped and informed Western consciousness

Green Man

Through subsequent artistic representations, paintings and sculptures have helped define what we call beauty, setting down a yard-stick against which even modern art is sometimes measured

Shakespearean 'mythology' from The Tempest
3D stage design by Mike Healey

In my work I have tried frequently to reinterpret these classical stories and to find relevance for contemporary audiences

Pagan God by Mike Healey

In some cases I have gone back to times before the classical Greek myths, to an even darker pagan age when fearful creatures inhabited the forests, demanding human sacrifices to appease their anger - as in the picture above

Persephone by Mike Healey

I have also tried to explore the great fertility myth associated with Persephone and her rape and abduction by Hades, King of the Underworld

The above painting shows female followers of Dionysius resting after having torn a man limb from limb for observing one of their secret rites. All that is left of him is one foot (top right)!

Persephone and Demeter - collage by Mike Healey

This great myth - representative of fundamental fertility/creation cycles - is a rich source for artists like me, drawn as we are to natural forms within an ever-changing natural world

Titania by Mike Healey

Sometimes I have reinterpreted quasi-mythological characters from Shakespeare whose imagination was itself steeped in ancient mythology, largely via Ovid

Often, however, it is necessary to go against traditional, 'classical' representations and re-invent mythical figures - as in my recent  painting of Dionysus

It is this constant attempt to reinterpret mythological figures that, for an artist at least, is particularly fulfilling

Coming Soon to this blog

New paintings exploring the dark world of Dionysus

Mike Healey


My work draws on nature but somehow, during the process of putting pen to paper, shapes and forms change

It's part of the excitement I guess!

Mike Healey

I live close to a florist's and this drawing is partly based on one of the plants I noticed in their window last week

I drew it from memory a few days later but allowed myself to change and invent during that process in the studio

The result is - I hope you agree - a charming image of a plant that you may - or may not - encounter some time in your travels!


New Work 

Below is a new painting that I finished a few weeks ago, before moving back to the UK after nearly five years in Greece

It uses a mixture of charcoal and liquid graphite, covered finally with a varnish

Since I am currently writing a stage play about demonic possession, this image is perhaps appropriate!


Mik Healey - Retrospective 2

 Paintings You May Not Have Seen
Mike Healey

As I have explained elsewhere on this blog, I am currently rewriting a short story of mine called Journey to the dark side of the Moon

To that end I have been going through my portfolio to find paintings that might serve as illustrations for that story

Here are a few that you may not have seen before:

 Urban Angel IV

  Green Persephone

Galaxy Prostitute

Persephone and Mother

These are quite old and most of them are sold but I think some of them have potential for my story.

A new version of Journey to the dark side of the Moon will be available on Amazon  in June


Friday, 8 November 2019

Mike Healey - Retrospective

The early work of Mike Healey

I would like - with your indulgence - to look back at some paintings, drawings and collages from early in my professional career as a painter

The works I am about to show you have all been sold so my recollections of them are based on a handful of photographs that I have retained - more by chance than design

What is curious is that, until I found these photographs recently, I had little -  if any - recollection of this work!

This is partly a measure of my failing memory but also evidence of the wide range and productivity of my work at the start of my career

Indeed, in the early 1980's - when I began to exhibit my work (usually two one-man shows a year) - I would regularly produce something like sixty pictures  for each exhibition - that's 120 pictures a year. I'm not sure I can produce that many today!

Also, when I think that at that time I was fully employed as a television director/producer and only able to paint in my spare time, my actual productivity is really quite remarkable

What also emerges is the homogeneity of my work - something at this remove that I find somewhat surprising

At the time I felt that each new picture was distinctly different from its predecessor but the works when viewed retrospectively show a continuity that is curiously reassuring - I think!

This is partly due, I suspect,  to a uniformity of technique - wide use of collage embedded in more abstract, largely gouache 'backdrops' - but also the ineluctable emergence of a unique, personal aesthetic

To look back at this is rather satisfying although at the time I was always conscious of my lack of any specific style or direction. This may have been just my normal anxiety but the photographic evidence is that there clearly was a direction to my work - even if I was myself largely unaware of it

I think it probably true that artists are often the last people to understand their work in any real historical sense. That kind of reflection is, I suspect, contrary to the artist's natural way of thinking
What is crucially important, however, is that each artist actively reflects deeply on the work in hand

Picasso is a perfect example of this ability to delve deeply into what is actually on the canvas before him.The originality of his work - like all great artists - is therefore the result of deep and constant reflection, much trial-and-error and experimentation and the courage to scrap something that his instinct tells him is 'not working'

This is a creative process that is continuous and taking place in 'real time' - not something reflected upon at leisure much later

Lesser artist like me do share this quality, albeit in a less exalted way

Our ability to reflect on what we have produced is the key to how, even at our level, we progress as artists

Mike Healey


Kofi and the climbing boy is new historical novel by Mike Healey. It is set in 1765 and features the adventures of two young boys.

Rival tribes in Guyana capturing slaves

One (Kofi) is a black child, enslaved in West Africa (Guyana) and bought to Jamaica where he learns to cut sugar cane.

He is later  separated from his mother in Jamaica and taken by sea to Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumberland (UK) where he becomes servant to a wealthy woman. He has become a blackamoor.

 Slaves on board ship ('Middle Passage') on journey to Jamaica

The other central character is Jack Fisher, a scrawny child of seven years old. 

He is sold to a Master Sweep by his mother for the price of a flagon of gin. He is trained as a sweep and one day  gets stuck up a chimney at Buckingham House, the new home of King George III and his young wife, Charlotte.

Although they try to 'smoke 'im out', Jack survives this ordeal and secretly lives up that chimney for the next six weeks, coming out at night to steal food and drink  - and anything else he can lay his grubby hands on.

What happens when the two boys eventually meet, run riot in the palace at night and finally escape is what this novel is really about.

London's 'Gin Lane' - Hogarth

It is also about slavery, child exploitation and abuse and the friendship that can be forged even in such troubled times.

Please revisit this blog soon for new updates, sample chapters and an account of how I came to write this extraordinary novel

This novel is now available on most online outlets, in both paperback and kindle formats

Visit my Amazon page for other books by me

Mike Healey

Thursday, 15 August 2019



Decalcomania is a technique that I have discussed elsewhere on this blog
Here are some hints on how to use this technique, using examples of my own work

The strange rock formations shown above are created by spreading wet ink (I actually use bone black powder mixed with water) then applying paper, pressing it down then drawing it back carefully

With practice you can create amazing shapes. In the above painting I have added a photographic face to turn the shapes into a strange figure

The above painting used exactly the same technique but the tree shapes were created with a palette knife

You need to work fast for the bone black 'paste' dries quickly

You also need shiny white paper. Photographic paper is ideal but expensive but it does not absorb water too readily, allowing you to manipulate the 'ink' on its surface more effectively

If you combine both techniques (pressed paper + palette knife)  with colour you can create very interesting images - as in the 'Bramble Landscape'' shown above

Once dry, the surface is unstable and will need a spray varnish to fix it
I use normal hair spray - just as good and a fraction the price.
Best not use spays with perfume!

 These techniques work equally well in color - in this case,  a thin wash of poster paint

I will explain in more detail how this works sometime soon so do please visit this blog again

Mike Healey