Acrylic on Paper
3′ x 5′ Approximate
After I graduated from Penn State in 1983 I went to Taiwan. I was not in a graduate program and I didn’t have a job. I went as an artist. A bum. A bohemian in search of something. I wanted to understand Eastern Art the way I understood Western Art….both scholarly and living in the culture.
I went there on a one way ticket with $200 to my name. And 4 years later I came home. While there I had the good fortune to meet very committed scholars of Eastern Art and philosophy as well as artists from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Western countries, as well as American expats. In fact, my flat became a bohemian hangout for a whole coterie of arty people. And somehow, despite youthful ignorance I stumbled into a pretty in-depth understanding of Chinese art history, culture and driving principles of Eastern art.
The hard part was integrating all of that when I came home. These works on paper were among one of many ways I started doing this. And even these pieces look “Chinese” in some very basic ways, they were not my first experiments in integration. These were done when I moved to Seattle after 2 years or so in Manhattan where I worked on radically different looking attempts at integration. In some ways, these were a step backward into a more conventional Eastern approach. And even then, it would be another few years before this really coalesced. Now, my abstract work is so enjoyable and so much a part of my creative work and yet is inconceivable without those years of study and integration afterwards.
“Yantras and Dollars”
This is a painting on a found object. I like painting over printed imagery for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the fresh human feeling of actual brush strokes against the hard impersonal feeling of the printed mark is an element unto itself. But here, the “V” in the printed image corresponded to the “yoni” I was borrowing from East Indian yantra paintings.
The “v” represents divine female energy in that tradition. And by extension is basically a spiritual. What is hard to see in this photo is the dollar sign that is mostly painted over. The tension between these 2 symbols is also an element in the painting.
Besides all of that, it is what it is in part because I was just broke at the time and wanted to paint a lot. Truth is, I would paint on anything I could find that paint would stick to.
40” x 30” approximate
This painting represents the distillation of many intellectual and visual sources. I was interested in the Yantra’s of Indian art. What interested me was that Yantra’s were created and used as tools or aides for meditation. They were not “art” in the same way painting was in the European/American tradition.
At the same time I was fascinated by the spare elegance of the work of Robert Motherwell. Frankly, looking back on this painting, I wish I had done more of them and I wish I had made them bigger.
At this time I also created faithful copies of canonical Yantra’s that were meant to be sat upon while meditating. The makers of these original pieces did so with the belief that these arrangements of lines, colors and shapes actually brought about the various gods and subsequent states of being, even if you didn’t see them. Simply sitting on them was enough.
“Homage To Hans Hoffman”
6’ x 4’ Approximately
After I returned from living in China for nearly four years I landed in New York City. At the same time I established a small studio in a chicken coop in the country two hours west of Manhattan.
In the chicken coop, I discovered the color field painters and the “new age“ movement that was sweeping parts of the country, while Reaganism and rampant materialism were flowing concurrently. I did dozens of “homages” to Hoffman and Rothko and others from that time period when I returned from China. I was curious to see if the concepts and paintings themselves from the “Color Field” painters would really lift my spirits as they purported their works and style of painting would do.
These works were among the last of my overtly derivative paintings. Out of this soup of influences that extended back to my undergraduate studies in Western Art to my years in China to my stint in New York and burgeoning interest in East Indian Art, and Yantras I was able to create my first signature body of Art.
In this work, I wanted to really understand the design elements that were so central to Hoffmann. The notion that a shape exerted its influence beyond its dimensions- it pushed and pulled on the composition. It’s color, size and edge quality would vary that pushing and pulling and that a work of art could be made out of such subtle forces.
This piece is very full and complex with a lot of pushing and pulling going on. With the help of Rothko’s influence my work became simpler, more isolated and stronger.
This close examination of Hoffman’s work and principles drilled into me the basic design concepts of movement within a piece without the more obvious directions signaled by figures with gestures and facial expressions and even the arrangement of bodies. This sunk in more thoroughly than any other painting style or principles I had studied up to that point.
Oil on paper, canvas, panel
After studying Western Art History, then going to Taiwan and China for a few years to learn as much as I could there about Chinese and Japanese art, it was not too surprising to look back and see that I was then interested in the art of India. By this time I was living in Manhattan eking out a living working as an artist assistant to much older artists and trying to put together a body of work that brought my nascent ideas together.
It turned out that the mystic traditions of Indian art would have what were some important missing ingredients in my efforts to synthesize into a coherent art form what I saw going on in the culture. There is not space to go too deeply into this subject here, but in a nutshell, America was torn between an intense materialist revival on the one hand and a deepening of the mystical and transcendentalist ideas that took hold in the 1960’s. Yoga and meditation were big. But so was conspicuous consumption, upward mobility and unabashed displays of wealth. Donald Trump built his Trump Tower in Manhattan during that time. And at the same time Bhagwan Shri Rashnish was building his city of spiritual devotees in the desert in Oregon.
Trump had his gold toilet. And Rashnish had his followers in purple. It was a strange time.
Well…this little painting has some of the ingredients of how I reconciled all of this. There are the bold expressionistic strokes of being in the moment and having the energy being expressed in the moment of the stroke. There is the sense of order and structure which is an element in itself but also acts as a balance to the gesture painting. And then there is the bindi stone, an unabashed reference to the spiritual principles of Indian art especially its traditional use of yantras, symbols as aides to meditation.
It was this third ingredient, the Indian art, that would be the piece I needed and which became my first really personal body of art.
60” x 42”
Several times during my 20’s I tried to do a large painting that would summarize all the philosophical ideas, artistic styles and personal emotions I was contending with at the time. And each time I failed. This piece was physically large for me up to that point, and arguably had a larger agenda.
During the time I worked on this piece I had recently returned from Taiwan and was now living part time on an art farm in the country and part time at my old mentor’s apartment in Manhattan. Despite the fact that I was broke which made getting back and forth risky, it was an ideal situation for an artist.
In addition to struggling with reverse culture shock, I was trying to integrate rural life where I was living in a chicken coup that I converted into a rough studio and an apartment in upper Manhattan. I was also trying to put everything I learned about Asian art and Western Art into a style that cohered. And to top it off, I really wanted to convey an idea I had about space and time I had been toying with since I was 19 or so. But more on that later.
The reason I feel this piece was a failure was because it just didn’t move me the way I wanted. I didn’t expect to be wafted into the stratosphere just by looking at it. But I did expect to be moved the way I had experienced something powerful in front of other works of art. Instead, what I discovered was that this was a painting with too much packed on it and too many ideas without enough feeling. In the words of some of my harshest critics, I over thought it. And though I didn’t want to admit it, I knew it.
But it proved to be a treasure trove of pieces. And as it turns out, this was not the first time I was to do a work with too much in it but became a source of ideas and inspiration for a long time afterwards. In this case, I not only pulled several paintings directly out of this, I also left behind once and for all some ways of drawing the figure that clearly no longer served my expressive needs.
And lastly, the ideas about space and time proved to be a dead end. The basic idea was that something could be simultaneously in more than one place at a time and that more than one universe could exist all at the same time. Well, here, it merely looked like I painted the same thing more than once and that just fell flat as a concept.
It wasn’t until a few years later when I started using a roller which by its nature repeats a mark with each rotation and when I incorporated the idea of how memory works did I start to make progress on this set of ideas. It would take another 15 years of experimenting before this really started to work. Now, this way of working which I loosely call “my abstract” work and more poetically call my “conceptual Impressionism” is a deeply satisfying way to paint and communicate how I conceive and feel about reality.
I became interested in Far Eastern Art my 3rd year at Penn State. It was more compelling to me than the rich history of art in India or the many Middle East countries. China and Japan’s emphasis on cultivating an awareness of spiritual fulfillment in the act of painting as much if not more than the result seemed a natural next thing for me to explore since these ideas were permeating American culture at this time and even influenced how Western Art History was taught. In hindsight I can see that my professors placed a heavy emphasis on the qualities of an artist’s brush work and spontaneity. These were also qualities of the very powerful Abstract Expressionist movement that was by the 1980’s in serious decline on the art scene but still held sway in the corridors of University Art History departments.
I was so interested in this approach to art and art making that when I graduated in 1983 I left for Taiwan to be a bohemian and didn’t come back for 4 years. Along the way I did many works on paper like this, absorbing the approach and building an intimate and personal relationship with the materials.
Oil on paper, canvas, panel
Yep … it’s practically a copy of a Rothko. And yet it isn’t. In some very important ways it is quite different. For one thing, it’s too small. You can hardly dissolve your sense of self into the color fields of a painting that isn’t much bigger than your face. For another, it’s too thick and as such too materially present. But perhaps the thing that is least Rothko is the thing that points to what will become a central element in my own mature work years later: it’s too landscapey.
Nevertheless, the reduction to zones and rectangles are there. The centralized nature of the stack. The suggestion of space as in landscape space as opposed to volumetric space … even to some extent my choice of colors … are obvious indications of my effort to absorb and integrate Rothko’s work into my own evolving direction.
“Pollack and Gottlieb”
Oil on paper
As I mentioned in descriptions of other paintings on this site, in the 1990’s I was in my 20’s and studying and absorbing as much art and art history as possible. I did outright copies of paintings, I read countless books and biographies and I did works that were in the spirit of whatever artist I was interested in learning about. Sometimes these efforts were conscious or unconscious efforts to resolve what I thought were interesting differences between artists who were working at the same time. The old “thesis, antithesis followed by synthesis” game.
In the case of this painting it seems to me I was very much aware of the similarities and differences in 2 of abstract expressionist’s most important artists: Pollock and Gottlieb. Gottlieb was the less famous and I am guessing is not the household name that Jackson Pollock is. Nevertheless, Gottlieb’s use of symbols, an apparent predilection for a mystic spirituality and his emphasis on the energy of gesture were to become hallmark characteristics of my own work even to this day.
Oil on paper
18” x 24”
“My de Kooning Phase”
Oil on paper
24” x 18”
I put myself through a long apprenticeship which lasted for almost my entire 20’s. During that time I absorbed as much art as I could. I read books. I copied paintings. I lived in China for 4 years. I joined art collectives devoted to this or that vein of art history. I had whole chapters of my work during that time in the spirit of this or that artist.
And that is what we have here. This is not a copy of a deKooning. But it is definitely a work that looks like a deKooning. I loved the Abstract expressionists and for years was under their sway even though the movement had already been passed over for at least 20 years by the time I reached my 20’s. Their insistence on purity of the moment and integrity spoke deeply to me and to some extent still does.