Oil on a door
80” x 36”
I was asked to do a painting for a woman who is the center and leader of a spiritual group that espouses the teachings of the Lakota tribe. The figure of Raven as a god and wise teacher figures prominently in the Lakota stories and teachings. So I was inspired to do a painting that was more than a loving picture of a crow or raven.
What you see here are two sides of a door. The piece was intended to be hung on a wall but nevertheless maintain its sense of being a door. A metaphoric door…not an actual door. So, I left the hinge mortises and hole for the door knob for all to see.
In these stories the raven is a kind of trickster and messenger or bridge between the worlds of the gods and the realm of the living. Another way to think of Raven is as a bridge between the conscious and the collective conscious. I decided to use the black, gray and ruddy brown tones of the actual animal as a point of inspiration and as an homage to the real animal. I used those tones to create a kind of mysterious landscape…a world that is either coming into its form or being dissolved. One might ask, “is that a mountain range or an island I see in the distance myths? Or are those lines of feathers melting into a puddle of black and gray that may or may not be forming a series of islands and a great plain?”
On the other side of the door is a line drawing of a person in the state of becoming. He…or it…is taking form and rising up like a seed unfolding in the light. But down below there is a lot of murky uncertainty. Hopefully it is unclear what is going on down there.
The whole piece demands that you sit with it for awhile. There is no easy answer as to what it means. And it may, in fact, not mean anything at all. In fact, it’s hardly even “about” anything…not even Raven. Instead it is a conundrum couched inside some compelling marks that hopefully tickle and awaken but don’t give away easy answers. To me, that is the essence of Raven…so much more than even an honorable depiction of the bird. Although, much earlier in my life I did one of those too.
24” x 20” Approximate
This piece still looks very fresh to me. It was the first time in over 15 years of making daily doodles that I took one and used it as a study for an oil painting. Up to that point, I had created many paintings based on drawings before this one. But never before had I selected a drawing that had no intention of becoming a painting nor did it look to me to have any potential to inspire a painting. The fact that it still looks good after all this time is significant to me.
The challenge was to find an authentic reason for making it a painting. In Kantian terms, I had to know what the painting could be that the drawing was not already saying or being?
The process of making the painting was very enjoyable and the results of seeing it are also enjoyable. In the end, it’s about what paint itself can do and about the fact that a painting is just easier to hang on a wall and look at than a drawing. So it comes down to how to look at things. One way to look at art is to sit down and flip through a folder of drawings like a book. Another way is to hang it on the wall and see it as we move about the space or sit down and take a concentrated bit of time with it.
That said, I still don’t really know what this painting is about and maybe that is its strength.
6′ x 4′
This piece is called “Sophie Landscape” because it’s painted over what was a straightforward painting of a woman who modeled for me quite a bit during this time. You can see her in many paintings on this website under figurative work, 2004 to about 2012.
I often paint over paintings that I don’t like instead of simply throwing them away. I have done that many times in the simple spirit of efficiency and an effort to reduce needless waste. But, in this case, I painted over this image of Sophie, not to get rid of her, but to see how far I could go with obfuscating the figure before losing her altogether. Would the figure’s sculptural space and calligraphy of marks blend in any way with the implied landscape space and calligraphy of those marks?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, but the interplay has been a source of creative pleasure for me ever since. My goal isn’t a peekaboo or aha aesthetic: a kind of grown up where’s Waldo? No. My intent was to create that state of flux the way we hold ideas or concepts in our mind, it sliding in and out of clarity. Getting lost in the scrum of other thoughts but also impacting and coloring those other thoughts by its mere presence.
6′ x 4’
Everyone knows about Picasso’s Blue Period. The word “period” refers to a brief section of time that is not easily defined the way we usually measure time in more precise ways. It was not Picasso’s Blue Month or Blue Year. It wasn’t as clearly demarcated as that. It didn’t start emphatically on one particular day and end on another equally certain date. Instead, his work gradually over time became more like this style which happened to be very blue in color. And then it gradually became more rose colored and hence we refer to that period of his life as his Rose Period.
However, when you have the perspective of many years the blurry boundaries of where one thing ends and another starts become more clear. Picasso may not have been able to say to himself at that time when his Blue Period ended and his Rose Period began. And I fact, I would be willing to bet he nor anyone else even named his work this or that period until years later.
Well, there was a brief period in 2009 that I refer to as my “Blue Period.” But since it was very short…only about a week or so… I call it a Blue Period because it was indeed a chunk of time… a period. But it was also like a menstrual period, a time when something that had been building up inside me just came pouring out with a lot of emotional intensity. And it was short. Only a week or two.
The conditions were just right. I had my studio all set at my South Lake Union location. Things were going well finally with my business. I had a great studio buddy named Roshi. And a model named Sophie who was willing to do just about anything I asked. The result was a number of breakthroughs in my figurative and abstract art resulting in a huge output even by my own standards. And everything just happened to be mostly blue.
The piece above was one of the jewels of that brief period. And the 3 pieces below are additional examples.
40 x 24”
Occasionally certain symbols make their way into my abstract paintings. The infinity symbol is one of them. First of all, it’s just fun to do. Secondly, it’s meaning is not clear and I like that. Of course it means “infinity.” But what does that mean in the painting? That part is not clear but seems to suggest or nudge some thought about time and its relationship to space.
Infinity is a paradox in itself because if time is forever is there in fact any time. The same could be asked about space. If space goes on forever is there any such thing as space or spacial relationships. Every point could be the center of space. And any moment could be the now.
These symbols sit or float in my paintings almost like things…like a sculpture of an infinity symbol in a landscape. And yet, at the same time they look a little like a mark on an abstract painting… or somewhere in between. That fascination or oscillation in between what is precise and what is paradoxical is what makes them compelling. When I’m working, these paintings don’t always land in that sweet spot. When they don’t, I keep working on the piece. But when they do, I’m done. And these pieces are good examples of that.
“Fourth of July”
Oil and tar on panel
48” x 24”
Patriotism and Nationalism have always been fascinating to me. Or, to be more precise, how these two feelings overlap and how they express themselves as larger cultural movements is what is so interesting to me. Additionally, I also have my own feelings.
Clearly this is at some level a painting of an American flag. And the title indicates it’s possibly about America’s birthday. The title could also indicate a day of celebrating the nations founding.
But what about all that black tar that takes up half the painting and even overlaps on the flag? The tar isn’t just black, it’s thick and messy and looks like something petroleum based.
Another layer of note on this painting is the reference to a famous painting of an American flag by Jasper John’s….an artist who came to define an art movement called Post Modernism and which I found myself completely unable to relate to.
This painting was done in the years shortly after 9-11. There was a resurgence of patriotism and nationalism. American flags were suddenly everywhere. And war was about to breakout in Iraq in what appeared to me even then as thinly veiled vengeance.
I still loved my country. But there was a black stain upon it which leaked out onto this and other paintings around that time.
This isn’t the title for a painting. It’s a title I gave to group of pieces I did around 2007 and 2008. Maybe it could be called my “Black Period.”
A few years prior to this I experimented with whiting out paintings. In both cases it’s essentially about obfuscating things for both aesthetic purposes and meaning. Some of these paintings have figure paintings underneath. And some are not just blacked out. Some also have white paint washed or scumbled over top to achieve similar ends.
These titles and categories have little bearing on what I create. I just do the paintings and then organize them and title them later. Sometimes I don’t do that level of organizing until years later when enough work accumulates to warrant the effort.
Ideally the titles and categories should help locate a painting in the racks or here on the website. But I also hope these titles and categories help deepen one’s understanding of individual pieces and the collection as a whole.
“Red Abstract Landscape”
48 x 55” approximate
This was about the time I feel my abstract work finally matured. Before 2007 I had a few breakthroughs and beautiful pieces but it wasn’t consistently good. From this point on I was able to find a dynamic balance between all the various concerns in making this kind of work. The work was decidedly my own from this point on as well. There are still obvious connections to earlier abstract styles and even specific artists but there is no mistaking these pieces as being my creations from this point on.
Abstract painting from this point on also become an important part of my studio practice. What I mean is that as an artist I have different levels and amounts of creative energy at different times of the day and over the course of a year. Having a mature style of abstract art and figurative painting that use very different parts of my brain and require different kinds of energy allows me to make the most efficient use of my time and energy.
The abstract works require a broader more relaxed approach. I usually have many going at the same time. They are fun. “Fun” is such a broad term but in general, what I mean here is that I don’t need to sharpen my focus. In fact the more I loosen up and just enjoy the moment, the better. The pieces talk to each other too. That is an artist’s way of saying something that is happening in one painting may give me an idea about how to proceed with another painting.
There is also a lot more room for chance and forces of nature to have their affects on the painting… like gravity and capillary dispersion. That means I might slap some raw paint thinner on the painting and let the paint thinner dissolve the paint (capillary dispersion) and then see how it runs down the painting (gravity). There is overall a more relaxed kind of control.
The figurative paintings require more focused attention. I usually only do one at a time and I certainly don’t slap paint thinner on it.
What I have noticed is that these two approaches to painting support each other. The loose and groovy process of the abstract painting keeps my figurative work from becoming stiff and dry. And the rigors and focus of the figurative work keeps the abstract work from degenerating to decorative slap dash.
Not everyone will agree of course. In fact some people love my abstract work so much they can’t understand why I “waste my time” painting figurative work. And others are just as incredulous in reverse. But for me, not only do I love them both, but they have conveniently come to fulfill my need to stay highly productive by requiring two different kinds of creative energy. And I do love that.
36 x 24”
This was originally a much more conventional painting of a woman’s back. But I felt it was uninteresting so I began painting over it and obliterating the form. At some point the marks at the top began to resemble a landscape. I decided to more smoothly and evenly obliterate the figure with gold spray paint.
The rich contrast of smooth and texture, of oil paint and spray paint, of landscape space and figurative form all seem come together.
“Impressionist Conceptual Piece”
Oil on Broken Panel
24″ x 18″
48 x 32”
An Enzo is a Japanese ink mark that is usually an open circle. Making them is a form of meditation for Zen monks in Japan. After grinding the ink on a special stone they simply make a single stroke in the form of an open circle. These are later evaluated for their quality and sometimes preserved and revered as great works of art.
I often make enzos myself using non traditional materials.
24” x 14”
These are indeed magic symbols. They are symbols I created to galvanize or focus my “energies.” I put the word “energies” in quotes because I’m not really sure what this means or what word to use here. I’m pretty sure I would call it psychic energy and yet it’s more than a mnemonic devise or call to action symbol. It’s really more like those symbol like drawings I have seen on ancient Indian art which both identify something with its religious affiliation but also seem to function like rallying cries or even sources of power themselves, as though the artist making it and then the viewers’ act of seeing it help kick start the thing into reality … a kind of cosmic non arithmetic logarithm.
For art history wonks, I’ll also add here that I could not have done this piece without having also done countless versions of my own Rothko and Gotlieb paintings, Chinese calligraphy, the American Visionary artists of the 1930’s and maybe even the Thai alphabet. I did, in fact, do lots of these and I did in fact think of them as more than a little voodoo’esque, believing that making the piece would help make it so.
6 x 5’ Approximately
This piece was stolen by one of my art dealers named Roland Crane. If anybody has any information about it’s location please notify me. I am also interested in making restitution if it was sold to you unknowingly.
This piece was painted over a figure painting from 1993 that was not successful. However, the old painting added grist and texture to this. The infinity symbol comes up a lot in my abstract work. I like the action of making it and I like what it suggests. Also, if you have never seen paintings by Adolf Gottlieb I suggest you google him and see where I drew some inspiration for this.
Note: This piece has been recovered. It was returned to Jeff on August 28th, 2021. The paintings below are studies for this painting.
24” x 18”
Like many artists, I love trying new materials to see what creative possibilities they afford. Sometimes these explorations are driven by a specific idea I am trying to find the right tools and materials for. Sometimes they are driven by boredom when I have simply done so much work with a certain group of materials that I just need something fresh to reinvigorate myself. And sometimes I am using materials for some other task and realize they might make some interesting art.
One day I was re-blackening my studio parking lot with a fresh coat of driveway tar. I liked how viscous and substantive it was. And so I made some paintings with it. And wow… I loved it. So I ended up doing quite a bit of work with this material that summer. Unfortunately it took a long time to dry and stunk up the place quite a bit in the meantime.
“Drips and Runs”
Never one to waste anything I started pouring paint I used to wash brushes at the end of the day onto paper and then just see what happened. I would intervene slightly by tilting the paper or adding more paint thinner. But for the most part, after the initial daub, I let nature take its course.
Most of the time these “works” did not appeal to me as works of art. I would subsequently paint over them. But once in awhile something would “work” in a hard to define way and I would decide to set it aside as a work of art. It’s hard to say why. But it’s now been 20 years since I painted this and several years since I put it on this website. Now, as I make the effort to write a little something about each piece featured here, I am still confident it is a work of art.
24” x 48”
I just can’t remember when I painted this. I do know that the original painting was done in 1993. It was a portrait from life of a friend of a friend. I don’t even remember his name but I remember that as time went on I liked him less and less. And one day, years later, I just didn’t want to see him anymore so I decided to paint over the portrait. I’m guessing that was about 1999.
The result is spectacular. The portrait underneath was just average. But this…wow. In fact, I was reluctant to sell it but finally did several years later.
One reason I like it so much is that it features the eye. As a visual artist the eye is obviously important to me. But here the eye appears not just as a tool for absorbing the world. It also looks like a tool that shapes the world. This corresponds to my sense of purpose as an artist. One of my goals is to help myself and others define a new way of understanding the world through how I portray it on canvas. My paintings fall short if they just show how the world looks. And even worse if they show how you already look they way you think. So much better for my paintings to help you see the world in a new way… to… in affect… recreate the world through a new way of seeing. And even better still if that “new way” resonates with something you too already intuited but couldn’t quite put your eye on. That’s when I’m really doing my most meaningful work as an artist.
Of course it’s not always that grand. Sometimes it’s just a nice painting. And that’s ok too. The portrait underneath this painting was just that… a nice portrait of an interesting looking person suitable for hanging… the painting… not the person although I did start to have thoughts about hanging him, too. However, my impetuous act of cover-up turned out to be a kind of divine hiccup that gave me something so much more compelling.
Sometimes you just get lucky.
26″ x 18”
Prior to the year 2000 I was using small rollers to create small works on paper. But around this time I began using them to make marks on canvas and panel. The rollers left a distinctive long clear edged mark that was easy to control and replicate. And, by coincidence, looked like silhouettes of large buildings….like the Twin Towers that were destroyed on September 11th.
For whatever reason, I didn’t capitalize on this fact and suddenly redirect my career around making 9-11 paintings. For one reason, I didn’t see it as overwhelmingly historical as most people did at that time. Not that I didn’t see it as absolutely horrific and joined my fellow countrymen in mourning the death of so many people. But given our role in the Middle East, I didn’t see it as surprising as others did. And I felt a touch of remove would be a remedy for what proved to be an almost predictable effort to seek revenge on a global scale. And in fact, that is what happened in my opinion. We ginned up a fantasy about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq who we accused of aiding and abetting the terrorists who organized the 9-11 attacks, a charge itself that was dubious at best. And in short order the United States waged an all out war on Iraq…..then Afghanistan…..and…then Isis.
Well, there is plenty in all of that to keep an artist and his new toy pumping out self righteous “enlightened “ paintings for at least 2 decades. But instead, all we got was this little scrappy canvas that isn’t even stretched over a proper set of stretcher bars. Alas, I suppose some will say I was anti American or just had my head in the sand. Neither of those accusations is true. But I do think it’s noteworthy that this is all I did on the subject of 9-11 and all the more so when you consider what I had just discovered I could do with my little rollers.