24” x 24”
To call something an abstract painting is a misnomer. Historically, it is called “abstract” because it is not about something other than a painting such as a bowl of fruit, a view from the window or a portrait of a friend. It is supposed to be just paint and whatever ideas or emotions can be expressed with just paint on a surface. So the colors that are used, the brush strokes and the arrangement of the parts are among the key elements. And that is why I think it is a misnomer. It is in some ways more real and concrete than non abstract painting. It’s not abstract at all… it just is. It’s just a surface with paint smeared on it. What could be more real than that.
Unlike a “realistic” painting it’s not pretending to be something it is not.
But these terms are useful as general ways to categorize paintings once they start to accumulate. If one only has a few paintings laying around the museum or gallery you hardly need vocabulary to divide them into categories. You simply refer to them as “the paintings” as opposed to “the furniture” or “garbage cans.”
But once the paintings start to pile up over the years it becomes more and more useful to have ways to define them into categories for purposes of storage, decision making, communication and curating. But like every type of label, there is a down side.
These paintings really do exist somewhere between “landscape” and “abstract” painting. They are very much inspired by landscape and the aesthetic pleasure and possibilities of paint itself. They are intended to invoke the landscape to some degree and the way paint can be moved about as an end in itself. Perhaps it would be better to describe them as “weather paintings” or “climatescape paintings” because they are inspired more by the broader aspects of nature such as the weather or the climate than by a specific view of a particular place.
Perhaps these paintings carve out some new understanding about the fluid relationship between the act of seeing, experiencing and remembering. I see the landscape while experiencing it. But I don’t paint until after I return to the studio hours later. And as such, memory becomes a 3rd element that blends with seeing and experiencing. I deliberately don’t take photos of the landscapes I am seeing and experiencing. And I often wonder how the amount of time between when I experience the landscape and when I paint affects my memory of it.
Besides all of these heady concerns, these paintings are also a relief to create after working on a series or figure paintings such as those featured below. During the summer I created a batch of figure paintings that were fun but also exhausting. They require a focus and physical rigor that I simply can not sustain endlessly. And yet I still feel creative. It is at those times I turn to these abstracty-landscapey pieces. And so, during the month of September I created a batch of these pieces. Some of them are featured here on the website.
“The Red Door”
Oil on panel
6’ x 4’
Someday I will take a picture of a painting every 5 minutes and show all the steps that it goes through on its way from start to finish. In this case I just took one photograph. Here it is.
People often ask artists how they know when a painting is finished. It’s a good question and must be perplexing to people who don’t do work that is as open ended as making art. Most of the tasks we perform throughout the day seem at one level to have clear endings or measures of completion. When we are washing the dishes we know we are done because all the dishes are washed.
But are we really done? Maybe the sink should also be cleaned. Or the table wiped off. What about taking out the garbage or drying the dishes? Putting them away? Are there old leftovers in the fridge that should be thrown away? You see where this is going.
Well, a painting is a little more like this deeper level of decision making. Yes, the painting is done in some basic way. And most likely someone will love it no matter what stage you stop. But in an intuitive hard to define way you know it does not say what you wanted it to say. Or worse, it says says something that you don’t want it to say.
Sometimes it’s very clear. It’s done. Even if part of the canvas has never felt your brush. Other times you need to let it sit for days or weeks or even months. In the case of this painting, I painted over a painting I thought was “done” years prior to this.
Every time I flipped through my racks of paintings and saw this one I knew is was not right. So one day I put it on my painting wall and went to work. Now, it looks completely different and I am much more certain it says what I want and maybe even more than I know.
Frankly, that is when I’m really sure it’s done…when it tickles something in the imagination…something that will allow it to continue to live and grow in the mind of someone who sees it. So in that sense it is still alive and changing.
Perhaps a short way of answering the question as to how I know when it is done is when I sense the piece has a shot at immortality.
“Landscape Abstract Figure”
Oil on panel
48” x 34”
Paintings are often lumped into categories for various reasons. One good reason is to locate them more quickly if you are looking through your racks of paintings for the image in your online inventory. A not so good reason is that these become barriers against free expression. The artist starts altering his or her expression so that the piece can fit in this or that category. And that would be unfortunate.
In this case, I deliberately tried to use certain overarching design sentiments to put together a painting that uses sculptural space and landscape space as design elements. And treats the painting as an abstract piece overall.
I think…somehow it works. It comes together in a way that is pleasing, challenging, thought provoking and just enjoyable on its face. This might have seemed like a difficult challenge. And at first it was. But once I stopped trying to intellectually combine the deep space of landscape with the volumetric space of bodies and instead treated them as design elements…it was actually quite easy and fun. I’m sure I will paint many more.
Oil on panel
24” x 24”
Alki is the Indigenous people’s name for a peninsula that extends directly out from down town Seattle and then scoops back a bit creating a natural harbor off the larger body of water named Puget Sound. To Seattleites it is the closest thing we have to a beach. It is actually much more beautiful than any other urban beach I have ever seen. However, the water is freezing cold even on the hottest summer days and the sand is a gray mixture of the northwest’s ground up granite and basalt with a dash of green sea kelp for flavor. It’s gorgeous, but more for hiking than laying on. To top it off, just a few miles across the pristine Sound is the Olympic mountain range with its snow capped peaks year round. The weather is always in play and the seasonal changes are a constant source of inspiration to me.
I go there often to walk, decompress and be rejuvenated by nature and often the company of a friend. This painting, like my other landscape paintings, is not a particular scene or spot on Alki. In fact, I have never taken my materials and tools out to do a painting on location. Instead, I just go there, take it all in and then go back to the studio and distill the overall feeling of the day.
“Mouth of the Poet”
Oil on canvas
30” x 26”
Eileen Fix is a poet with a beautiful mouth. Her poetry reads well but is nothing like hearing her perform them live while watching her beautiful lips shape the words like we used to do weekly at the Little Red Studio. I am writing this during the COVID pandemic of 2020 and reflecting on the foolishness of pundits speculating that live performance is changed forever thanks to COVID. To be sure zoom parties and live stream artistic performances will be more common than they might have been otherwise, but the allure of being jammed into a crowded intimate theater with eager enthusiastic fans of a favorite singer or musician or poet loosing themselves in the muse that is both otherworldly and the result of collective humanity sharing a moment and sharing such energy will be back the moment such talent as this decides to step back into the world. When she does she need only moisten her lips and the world of cold hard quarantine will fall.
And then we will find ourselves buying tickets, lining up in the cold and cramming into crowded spaces to be revivified by something that still, no matter how much technology is deployed, can only be nourished by being in the presence of an artist surrendering themselves to the moment and the energy that we, the spectators help create simply by being there, by leaning in, by holding our breath, waiting for the poet to pass her rapture through those lush, full, parted lips.
“Conceptual Impressionist Piece”
24” x 18”
In the early 1990’s I did a series of paintings inspired by the myth of Prometheus. The part of the myth that inspired me was the aspect of the half god half man sacrificing himself for the greater good. I was fascinated by the idea that his punishment for stealing something from the gods to help others, not himself, was something he had to endure over and over again. It was not a once and done punishment. No, each day an eagle would come down and pluck out his spleen (which to the ancient Greeks was equivalent to how we would describe our heart….the seat of our soul.). And then each night it would heal only to be plucked out again. It was always plucked out by an eagle.
The eagle symbolized his higher self coming down to take his soul to be reconnected with spirit but he was not ready to let go so it kept growing back. That was my idea anyway.
Well, I did several paintings on this theme inspired by the ideas of the myth itself and a truly grand painting that when I first saw it in Philadelphia nearly made me fall down in shock. It’s by Rubens and it’s featured below with several paintings of my own. My own cartoonish versions tried to cleave closer to the core ideas of the myth rather than the optical spectacle of the story.
Then, years later, I decided one of the many versions of this idea that I painted almost 30 years ago needed a makeover. I added marks with a roller and brushes creating a kind of landscape. The distorted eagle flying off with Prometheus’s spleen now looks like Mt. Rainier. And then there is a whole separate landscape within the landscape right in the middle of the painting.
In the end, I don’t think it has anything to do with the myth of Prometheus. But it is certainly a better painting than it was. But why? I’m not sure. But after seeing it everyday on my wall of my bathroom for six months I still find mystery and beauty in it and that is saying something. And now, as I approach 60 I am beginning to understand all those old men jokes about taking a piss and realizing there may be a new kind of torture for Prometheus for me to paint about someday soon.
14” x 11”
The idea of painting a bird into a landscape seems incredibly daunting. They move so fast and they leave an impression much bigger than they actually look. Photographs of landscapes with birds in them are usually pathetic. They appear so small you can hardly see them. Birds are also symbolic creatures appearing in all kinds of mythologies. This is also lost in so many bird paintings.
Birds were in fact among my first paintings done in my teenage years, although I didn’t think of it as art at that time. I didn’t really know what art was having not been exposed to it by my family.
Here, my bird is more a part of the landscape than in it. And it is more of the painting than a result of the painting. I wouldn’t say it’s better than my teenage paintings but it definitely represents my thoughts and feelings about birds more than those early works.
“Conceptual Impressionist Piece”
48” x 24”
This painting, like many that look like this, are inspired by both landscape and art. However, they are more directly about the memory of landscape and art. Rather than being about a particular view or homage to a particular work of art, they are meant to approximate the way the overall impression or how the memory of these things appear in one’s imagination.
I call this body of my work “conceptual impressionism.” The works give an impression of landscape in general rather than the impression of a particular view the way they did for the original impressionists. And like conceptual art, they attempt to express the way one thinks about landscape or nature. I used a roller to create an image that repeats itself with each revolution the way one thumbs over a memory. Each revolution is similar yet affected by what it rolls over and how the paint is dispersed with each complete turn.
These works are deliberately left “open” or “incomplete looking” in order to invite the viewer’s own imagination to engage. They are often more inspired by the climate rather than the weather, or larger more broad impressions rather than the impression of the weather or view on a particular day and place.
4’ x 6’
I painted this in the summer of 2020 and I am writing about it in March of 2021. As I write, the pandemic is still going on but there are very real signs of it ending. Many people I know already have the vaccine and the number of people getting infected is going down sharply. Still, things are very quiet after 7 PM and even the public spaces that are open during the day are very sparsely populated. The pandemic has now reached its one year mark and there is both pandemic fatigue and just plain ole fatigue, bordering on a collective blend of exhaustion, boredom and depression.
When I did this piece last summer people were just angry. And so this piece is just an emotional state projected metaphorically onto an imaginary landscape and hastily flung at a very real panel. I used house paint right out of the can and sprayed it with paint thinner to make it as messy as possible. Still, it ends up looking like a landscape more than a plain ole mess. There is even rhythm and space.
It might even be a decent painting. I don’t know. Usually my abstract-landscape paintings have a conceptual aspect to them. This one does not. It’s just little more than emotional outburst of the angry frustration many of us felt during the summer of 2020. And maybe that is enough. Let’s see if it still conveys some of that a few years from now.
Oil on panel
48” x 32”
I have said that I never did a bad painting of Sophie. Well, that is not quite true. At one point I did a series of 4 paintings of her torso and legs down to just below the knees. They were all the same size at 4’ tall. The concept was to mount them on 4 sides of a pedestal that would be used to hold a sculpture. Well, one of the 4 pieces was fantastic and the other three were mediocre at best. But for reasons other than quality I decided not to make the pedestal and sculpture.
So, over the course of several years I modified the other 3 pieces. In this case the original painting is barely noticeable. Nevertheless, the interplay between the figure and the skeins of paint are engaging and in my opinion the “stuff” of the painting. For me it is like the pleasure of listening to a jazz ensemble play with the melody. Sometimes it’s clear, other times it’s nowhere to be heard and then there are all the comings and goings. It’s also a dance, leaning in, then out. Sometimes balanced and formal and at others just short of falling over or in the case of the painting, on the verge of falling into formless chaos.
“Memory of Landscape”
Oil on panel
48” x 33”
The title speaks directly to what this piece is about, a memory…not an image of a landscape. Memory for me is shaped by repetition and modulations both large and small. It’s formed by impressions and an accretion of parts. It’s sometimes disjointed and has weird shifts in scale and emphasis. It also often doesn’t make sense or cohere. It’s informed by visual input and completely fabricated stuff. And as in the case with this piece it often has a beauty unto itself that transcends the object of its origin.
“Conceptual Impressionist Painting #2 ”
Oil on panel
48″ x 30″
This painting is part of my conceptual impressionist body of work. Like many of these works I used both brush work and rollers to convey the energy of nature as well as the ways in which we think about it. Rather than a consistent view of a particular place, the use of the roller and the way it makes marks give me the ability to essentially collage many views on the same painting. The views are similar yet unique the way we may remember something or a place. The memory is a little altered each time we remember it depending on what else we may be thinking or feeling at the time.
Overall these pieces have a mood. Some may even suggest themes such as global warming or an emotional state like exuberance or depression. However, these are only the fortuitous results of the process and the viewer’s own response to the work. I rarely set out to create a particular theme or impression when I do these works. I simply keep working on them until they resonate as being complete in some broad intuitive sense.
“Conceptual Impressionist Piece #3”
Oil on panel
48” x 24”
This piece was created in the summer of 2019 in my new studio at the old Rainier Brewery in Seattle. This was my first studio in over 5 years. Here, I was able to explore in larger format the ideas I had been working on for years on small pieces of paper in hotel rooms and small apartments.
These paintings are created using traditional abstract impressionist techniques of loose open brush work. However, they also depend heavily for their effect on this use of rollers or brayers as they are sometimes called. These are the tools that print-makers use to load ink onto a plate for printmaking. Here, the roller is used to apply paint directly to the painting, more like the way a house painter uses a roller to apply paint to a wall.
The roller is at once both mechanical with a clearly defined left and right edge and loose edges depending on how one handles it. However, the effects can be as rich and varied as those achieved with a brush. It also has the ability to convey repetition with the completion of each revolution of the roller. This is something a brush simply can not do. I exploited this component to suggest collage and properties of memory which is why I think of these paintings as conceptual impressions rather than “optical” impressions. They are not just a visual impression of something. They are also an impression of how we think about or remember something.
Oil on panel
48” x 24”
This is simply an abstract painting that looks to me like the quintessence of winter. It was painted in less than an hour, but took 30 years of practice to achieve. To the experienced art lover, one might recognize a host of influences in the approach from traditional Chinese landscape painting’s use of “flying white” which is an open loose brush work, to the abstract expressionist’s delight in the qualities and beauty of paint itself.
Overall, the intent is to ignite one’s imagination with just the right amount of realism and just the right amount of design principle to not only open one’s imagination but to guide with dynamic balance…lively yet principled…fleeting yet tangible. I felt this work achieves those numinous goals particularly well. But to each their own. Perhaps for some viewers this is just a piece of masonite with some black and gray smears of paint.
“Brown and Gold Conceptual Impressionist Landscape”
Oil on panel
18” x 12”
It’s a small painting and consists of only a few brush strokes. Clearly it is intended to invoke an impression of a landscape… but not quite. Although it does not include any marks made by a roller with its distinctly mechanical qualities, this little painting hovers in the delicate place between a landscape painting and an abstract painting.
Oil on panel
48” x 33”
This painting could also be called “conceptual impressionist piece #…” It was created with rollers and brushes and like most of my work in this vein it did not start out to be a painting about global warming or even to attempt to look like melting glacial ice. I was a mountaineer for a period of my life and I am familiar with what glacial ice looks like in the summer and when it is in retreat. Hence, that is how this piece got its name. However, it could be something else entirely to another viewer.
Oil on canvas
30” x 22”
Alki is a stretch of land just outside Seattle and has a promenade and small sandy beach. It’s a great place to go and view the sky and sea and distant Olympic mountain range. Like most of my abstract work, it is meant to invoke the overall impression of being there on a given day rather than the impression of a single moment or place at Alki. I am more interested in the silvery light and flecks of brilliant blue along with the sense of distance demarcated by horizontal bands of earthier colors and black.
These distillations are close to a Japanese approach to landscape painting called Kyugako. But even paintings in that tradition look more “like” a particular place and time than these “abstract” paintings. One wonders what an ancient Japanese landscape artist would think of these pieces. Would they recognize their adherence to the principles of Kyugako painting even though they look completely different, or would they reject them as rubbish or a joke?
History does not bode well for recognition and advocation. The revolutionary avant-garde painters of Paris were some of the harshest critics of the successive generation of painters during the exciting fast pace growth of 19th century France.
30” x 24”
In 2018 I spent a lot of time in Hawaii helping my friend Dwight maintain his vacation properties on the big Island. When I was not working on fixing a roof or chopping back the jungle I was painting. Despite the heat and bugs, zero artificial lighting and lack of proper sanitation I was able to create a lot of work.
The work was mostly inspired by landscape but was essentially abstract. The rich dark red and brown of new lava contrasted starkly with the dense green jungle. And the ragged organic lines and textures of riotous nature against man’s attempts to carve out pockets of order and comfort were an unending source of inspiration to me.
Hawaii: The Big Island
They are all oil/panel
8.5″ x 11”
Dated by month and year on the painting
For over 20 years I have spent a little time doing these small works on paper almost every month. They are intimate works that often have some of my best ideas about painting. Some are beautiful and worthy of framing. Others are at best “interesting.” And some just go in the garbage or re-cycle bin.
There are too many to put even a small fraction on the website. So here is a sample that gives some idea of what they look like.
They are created with a variety of tools including brayers. Brayers are rollers that are used in the print making business. Usually the ink is rolled onto a stone or plate which is then pushed through a printing press where paper is squeezed onto the wet ink on the plate. Here, I skip that step and use the tools to simply roll the paint directly onto the paper. The result is that it looks a little like a print but there is no printing. I’m simply using a brayer to paint with, applying the paint directly to the paper.
These are all one of a kind.
Sometimes I also use spray paint, brushes, found objects and even my shoe and my nose to make marks directly on the paper.
They are all signed and dated with the month and year.
8.5” x 11”
I often create small works on paper with whatever materials I have on hand when I travel. These paintings were done on a tiny coffee table in a little apartment in Beijing, often with my 16 year old son sitting nearby watching or making his own drawings. They build on my well established habit of using rollers and found objects to roll and smear paint on to the paper. And as usual, they suggest landscape space.
In many of these pieces I also used tree leaves as elements in the paintings. I did not adhere the leaves to the paper. Instead I rolled paint onto the leaves and then used them as a stamp. Or laid the leaf on the paper and rolled over it which left a paint shadow after the leaf was removed.
The paintings included here are a sample of what was created during the three months my son and I were living in Beijing. The rest are carefully archived in my studio. These works, like most that I do on paper, are not necessarily meant to be framed and hung on the wall. Instead, they were intended to be enjoyed as a folio, taken down from the shelf, looked at while having tea or a glass of wine and then put away.
48 x 32”
This was one of the last paintings I did at my notorious studio under I-5 where I painted and sometimes lived for 20 years.
All I will say is that it’s even more gorgeous in real life than here on the computer. It’s just pure eye candy with the slightest dab of intellectual depth.
I love it.
Just for fun I tried to copy it. Not surprisingly that didn’t work out so well. But it was an interesting experiment.
30” x 24”
When I am not sure if a painting is any good or not I hang it over the toilet in my studio bathroom. This may not sound very flattering but in fact 2 times a day, sometimes more, I go in there with intentions other than looking at art. And as such, I need to stand there and look at whatever is in front of me for a few minutes.
It usually doesn’t take long for me to realize a piece is either much better and more interesting than I thought, or something that should be flushed down the toilet with whatever else is going that way. Perhaps it’s because of the “unexpected” moment of going to the bathroom, preparing for one’s business and then looking up in a moment of relief, there is an opportunity for clarity.
Maybe this very thing could be a topic for a TED talk or a graduate thesis. Maybe this doesn’t work for others. But it is a very effective way for me to get a fresh look at something. I suspect I am not the only one who makes decisions about important matters in the bathroom.
“The Last I-5 Painting”
20” x 14”
I worked hard for 20 years in the same small warehouse studio underneath the Interstate Highway that cuts right through Seattle. It was essentially a cave. And I labored away in the service of the gift, creating thousands of paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs. It was also the birthplace and home to several experiential artistic experiments and exhibitions including the weekly First Church of Art services on Wednesday nights, a speak easy Internet café and the Little Red Studio just to name a few. That studio, and all that went on there, would really be the stuff of a very fat book.
After 20 years it was time to go. Somehow, in the midst of a massive purge and packing campaign that went on for months, I managed to eke out this little painting on panel. It is the last painting I did in that studio and felt very much like the way I imagine I will feel when I am making the last painting before I die.
It’s a modest painting in size and ambition. It depicts me as little more than a tiny lump reaching upwards in what appears to be an effort to make a mark on an easel in a studio that has itself become night. The sky around the studio seems to swallow everything into its various shades of dark blue blurring boundaries and making everything increasingly apart of one vibrating blue universe.
I loved that studio. But it was indeed, time to move on. I left with a feeling of completion and like I had really sucked the very marrow out of every bone of opportunity that the space and time in that studio offered. When I look at this painting it reminds me to live that way now so that when I leave this place I can do so with the same mixture of satisfaction, completeness and humility. That is, what I hope to feel, when it’s time for me to do my last painting on this earth.
7’ x 4’
2010 or 2011
The title “Urban Watershed” was given by my good friend and writer Scott Exell. He used this term to refer to all of my abstract work done at that time.
And I like it. It works in some hard to define poetic way. And maybe that’s why it works…the hard to define part. The pieces are also hard to define. Are they landscape paintings or just smears of paint on a panel? If they are landscapes they are on the one hand rather drab, even a touch bleak. And yet, at the same time, they are elegant and dare I say even a touch beautiful.
In this case, even more than others done at the same time, I was experimenting with a squeegee and pulling skeins of paint over top of other paint. And using the roller like one would use a house painting roller, with repeated rolling until the irregularities were largely blended together.
To me, the result is unquestionably landscape and climatic. For purists this may be a disappointment, a falling short of a rigorous purity of approach. That line of thinking held such sway over me in my 20’s (I was 50 or so when I painted this). Any hint of landscape would have been shamefully obliterated.
That old line of thinking just seems laughable at this point. In front of the beauty of this piece it makes me wonder now, at 62, what other silly notions am I hanging on to that may have served a purpose at one point but now would be best left behind, like the cicadas outside my window rubbing their wings together to make music, their wings freed from the protective husk that kept them safe underground but which they left behind as they ascended to higher things: music and flight…and mating!
A watershed suggests a direction … maybe even a change of direction or a line in the sand. It’s a kind of blend of decision making and inevitability. From this point on the water will flow in that direction. And one can not fight gravity. In a way Scott was right. From that point on my art flowed effortlessly and decisively in this direction…freer and with an unabashed love of landscape and climate.
“La Pension Commission”
First, here is a little background for how this painting came to be. During this time I had a friend who owned a cute little Pension in the heart of downtown Seattle. It had a quaint lobby overlooking Puget Sound with 2 large windows and a spacious blank wall between them. The views out the window were an endless display of clouds, mountains and sea reflecting light in a myriad of color. But at night, the glare of the windows made it nearly impossible to see anything outside and as such the blank wall became conspicuous. It cried out for a painting that carried something of the grand vistas of daytime with the amber cozy interior space of night.
At this time my abstract work was developing quickly. Each piece seemed to be a breakthrough in techniques and lusciousness. When I finished this piece I felt like it was the best thing I had ever done. And I knew it was the beginning of a whole new pleasurable way for me to make a painting. Little did I know that my world was about to crash and I would be without a studio for 5 years while I rebuilt. The outpouring of juicy landscapy concept pieces would have to wait.
4′ x 4’
These pieces represent a moment when I started using the rollers I generally use on smaller works on paper, on large paintings. These pieces are also inspired by my enjoyment of walking or driving at night. I love the mysterious sense of space and the patterns of silhouettes created by banks of trees, ridge lines and even urban formations. There is also a creamy smooth feeling about the blackness of night.
I think that feeling of smoothness is the result of the intersection of my visual input and imagination. I have often heard artists talk about synesthesia which is the blending of sound and sight. But for me my sense of sight more often blends with the sense of touch when I am outside at night. The darkness almost always seems cool and smooth. These pieces come close to communicating that sensation.