I don’t think of my abstract paintings as “landscapes.” But there is no denying they are inspired by my love of landscape as a genre of art and of being in nature….away from the stuff of humanity in general and people in particular. And this painting comes closer to an unabashed landscape painting than most. And as such, I guess that’s why I entitled it with a description of the mountain range suggested about 2/3rd’s of the way up the painting.
The other thing that occurs to me is how idealized this piece is. There is no hint of mankind here. No boats plying Puget Sound. No high tension power lines slicing up the sky. No planes or contrails from planes. Certainly no people. Even though Puget Sound and the Olympic Range are remarkably pristine, it is still very difficult to view the mountains from this distance without some sign of humanity. And one could argue that the aforementioned “intrusions” could actually make handy elements for constructing an abstract painting.
But no, nothing of the sort here. There is not even a single power line. This piece and many like it, are really meant to be little meditation moments. Or, as Matisse might have said, little armchairs for the mind … a chance to go hiking without having to get out of the chair. So just like a good hiking trail, some effort has been made to eliminate the annoying reminders of humanity’s ubiquitous impact on the environment.
Moreover, I feel compelled as an artist to make things of beauty out of whatever is on my heart and mind. I don’t presume that paintings will save the planet. But I do think that if people derive aesthetic pleasure and maybe even a touch of rejuvenation of the soul through looking at art, they may in turn be more inclined to act in accordance through large and small decisions that will positively affect the planet.
48” x 48”
An artist with as much knowledge and love of art history can hardly paint a beloved mountain that symbolizes one’s homeland without thinking of Paul Cezanne’s devotion to his beloved Mt. St Victoire. He not only loved this mountain but arguably used it, and the space around it, to work out his ideas about space and time into a style which eventually when further developed by Picasso became known as Cubism and ultimately all conceptual art.
Yes, I love Mt Rainier. I love the way it looks. I love hiking and climbing and camping there. My soul is rejuvenated by it’s pristine forests and snow fields. I love that it is a dormant volcano sitting on immense latent power. I love the way it towers over the Cascade mountain range, itself a collection of mighty mountains.
And yet I hate the way it is painted.
Usually it seems trivialized and oversimplified. In most paintings it looks more like a forlorn cake with too much white icing lathered on top and left bare on the bottom. It always appears amateurish or overly antiqued. And the photos of it….just as disappointing. Usually it is arranged in a cliche composition with an alpine lake and late spring flowers in the foreground all captured with laser detail from top to bottom and side to side as though an excess of detail can make up for the insipid vision of the thing.
So making a painting of Mt Rainier can be challenging. With so much arty gunk in the back of ones mind it can be hard to arrive at something authentic. Well, perhaps it’s best to approach such a thing in a side ways fashion, without trying. This piece started out as a confused blob and staying that way for some time. It didn’t become a painting of Mt Rainier until after it was almost done, if one is counting minutes and hours as the arc of its creation. The fact is, it remained a mess for most of the time of its creation. It was only in the last ten minutes or so that it became “Mt Rainier.”
Unlike Cezanne’s mountain of ideas, my painting is a mountain of sentiments. “Sentiment” is a beautiful word. It is both idea and feeling implying that these two human experiences can be blended together. For me, they often are. This painting has ideas about painting, references to art historical influences both in style and content. But it also has unabashed feeling expressed through the mossy pallet and “emotional” brushwork.
Like a lot of my abstract painting, it is both an impression of the subject as well as my thoughts, or concepts about the subject and art. I have described these kinds of paintings as my “conceptual impressionist” pieces. I like that moniker because it pays homage to Cezanne who is classified as a “post impressionist.” I think he would have liked my term better. He wasn’t just “after something else.” He was and is a force unto himself. He was, I argue, among the first “conceptual impressionists.”
For nearly 30 years I developed an approach to “abstract” painting that was an integration of many of my passions, aesthetic sensibilities, philosophical and cultural interests as well as my respect for recent contemporary art. Oh, I suppose we should include my deep love of certain individual artists as well.
Additionally, this approach to painting provided a cognitive and physical repose from my figurative art that was…and still does…..require more rigorous focused effort and is in fact stressful on my body. So naturally this “other” branch of my work is enjoyable on a number of levels for me.
I don’t expect it to be the next greatest intellectual breakthrough in visual art since cubism or abstract expressionism. But I do think it charts some new ground in the way seeing and perceiving are more interconnected than previous artistic languages convey.
But that is another matter. What until recently this body of my work did not have was a contemporary cultural anchor point or purpose the way my figurative work most definitively has beginning with its relationship to culture wars and specifically pushing for the acceptance of homosexuality.
What has emerged effortlessly is an obvious involvement with climate change. This particular piece was inspired by the nearly constant reminders in the news and in the actual smokey air that something is happening to our environment. In this particular case, Seattle has had more and more forest fires beginning earlier each year.
As is probably pretty obvious, my goal is not to show how bad this is. In fact it is my hope to create something of beauty in the midst of this without aggrandizing the phenomenon. It’s a delicate balance that I am certain would be exhausting to find and maintain within the creation of a work of art. But in fact, thanks to the years of developing the vocabulary that this piece is very much a part of, it was in fact so easy to create I sometimes wonder if it’s ok to have a piece say so much and so eloquently with so little effort.
I can’t possibly answer that question today. But Five or Ten years from now it will become clear whether I should leave it and others like it here on this site, or take it down and hope nobody saw it.
All of this begs a twist on the age old Kantian question: if a painting of a burning tree was on a website for a few years and no one saw it, did it still have any baring on the world’s climate crisis or our ability to find beauty in it? Or perhaps the painting asks a more pressing question: if we can find beauty even in things that are bad, will we learn to treat the world like the thing of beauty we have become better at perceiving?
Some paintings look better in real life than on an illuminated screen. And some paintings look better on the screen than in real life. This poor little thing looks so mediocre here on the website. Furthermore I saddled it with a burdensome title suggesting it carries the weight of one of the world’s greatest challenges on it’s little shoulders.
“Melting Ice Fields”… really? OK…I see it. But this looks more like overreach than effective painting to me. And yet, when I look at the actual piece it coheres much better. And that cohesion does something very interesting … it holds an expressive power ridiculously above its weight class.
I’m typically not a big fan of little paintings and as you may note by looking at this website, I don’t do very many. But every once in awhile I do. And every once in a great while they are worth keeping.
A line from a famous movie about Mozart sometimes haunts me. Mozart’s nemesis, Solieri, is being pushed through an insane asylum in a wheel chair near the end of the movie. We have already learned he has declared himself a hopeless second to Mozart’s genius and as such has crowned himself the high priest of mediocrity. As he is being pushed through a crowded hall filled with obviously very tortured souls he imperiously absolves the unwashed masses of their tragic flaw: mediocrity. And finally declares to the priest pushing him in his rickety wheelchair, “alas … mediocrity is everywhere.”
Some artists crave notoriety or fame.. Others crave fortune. And still others crave relevance. I can’t say I am craving much notoriety or fortune through my art. But I would like to think my efforts and gifts are resulting in the creation of something relevant. And as such, Solieri’s comments give me a nervous giggle when I see this painting here on my website.
I was deeply moved by his over life sized black paintings. This little 12” panel is my own reminder of those pieces I saw at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan 20 years ago. It’s like one of those postcards you pick up in the museum shop of one of your favorite pieces on the way out. One doesn’t expect it to provide the same mystical experience one had in front of the real piece. No….it’s more about remembering how to see and experience the actual art when you close your eyes at night. A glance at the postcard on the fridge while reaching for the Ben and Jerry’s might just help remind you to forget many other things so that you can fill yourself with more than ice cream when the day is done.
Artists often bedevil themselves with the question of whether something of beauty they created was by force of will or a happy accident which for some artists implies a secondary dilemma…is that “accident” divine intervention or simple random chance? The question itself raises several interesting philosophical questions that every artist wrestles with in varying degrees of awareness. And with the advent of AI generated art, the question becomes even more deliciously complex.
I will dig into all that juicy stuff under another painting. The reason I won’t to do that here is because I want to encourage you to just look at the painting. If I was standing in a room with this gorgeous piece on display and some well intentioned know it all was jabbering on about things like intentionality vs. random pattern recognition I would tell him to shut up. I don’t know if it’s divine intervention or just pattern recognition, but I do know there is something powerful about standing in silence before a thing of beauty.
“The Rain Came Too Late”
Oil on three panels
24 x 36″
“When the Snow Arrived”
Oil on panel.
14″ x 10″
Oil on panel
20″ x 16″
“My Cat’s Portrait”
“Late Summer Harvest”
16″ x 20″
Sweet. Cute. Not like “Hello Kitty” cute. But just “nicely-put-together without-being-either-too-complicated-nor-trite” kinda cute. The symbolic vegetable in the corner was not quite an after thought but it did come at the end and was the thing that made me realize the painting was done. On the whole it could even be simply a decorative piece. I’m ok with that. In fact, if I wasn’t so busy, I could see churning out multiple variations of this piece in various color palettes and sizes.
I think they would make great hotel room art…a phrase that would have seemed so damning to me even 10 years ago. But now that I’m traveling a lot and as such spending time in hotel rooms I realize how much potential for improvement there is in that area. Even really nice hotels have absolutely awful art. It doesn’t need to be equivalent to a museum experience…but really…certainly there must be a budget for something a little better. So far, only the French owned Sofitel has gotten it right. Ahhh, leave it to the French to have palpable art in their 5 star hotel rooms.
“Grasping For Infinity”
50″ x 26″
Titles for paintings are important and as potentially tricky as creating the painting. Sometimes the title can be obvious and is simply useful. Sometimes it is open ended or philosophical and extends the reach of the piece.
A long time ago, when I was a high school student, I took one of my first paintings to an art supply store to have it framed. It was one of those old style mom and pop shops that probably doesn’t exist anymore. Dusty racks of disheveled art supplies piled beyond reach except with an old wooden step ladder and many of which may have been there for decades. A sweet but crusty cadger running the place with a come over and a scruffy goatee which were weird in those days. I still remember the pervasive odor of cigars and demar varnish. He said, “a good painting needs a frame and a great painting deserves one.”
What he didn’t say was a something like, “a frame is not going to save a rotten painting.” Or, that a rotten frame can spoil a good painting. But the implication is not hard to draw. Nor is the similarity between his remarks about frames and my own thoughts about titles.
In a sense, a title is a linguistic frame. It sets the painting, or more specifically, the way we refer to the painting apart from everyday speech. In the same way, a frame separates the painting from the rest of the world. It’s ratified space. And the title is rarefied speech. One could say….”the dog.” And that would be one thing. But if “the dog” was a title to a painting that is quite another. To further make my point, consider how rarefied this special kind of speech would be if the painting called the “the dog” didn’t look like a dog at all. In fact the more the title did not match expectations of normal speech, the more “special” or complex and unique the speech becomes.
And so it follows that a good title can be very good for an average painting helping it to be more enjoyable or relevant. In fact, a case could be made that an average painting needs a good title. Furthermore, a bad title can ruin a decent painting. But what happens when you mix a pretentious title with a barely adequate painting?
“Grasping for Infinity”? Really? What does that even mean? I could do worse I suppose. And then there is the painting. I’m not sure why it’s here. This may be one destined for the rack entitled, “to be painted over.” In fact maybe that is a good title for this piece. Does a title which suggests that the artist himself thinks it is not very good and in fact plans to paint over it, make it a better piece?
“Snow Over the Sea”
36″ x 24″
I painted over this piece countless times. It never seemed quite right. It sat in the corner of my studio for moths, its irreconcilable nature a quiet and constant irritation. One night I went for a walk with a friend on Alki beach. It was cold and dark and it snowed. I could feel the snow on my face and I could see the snow in the street lights. When I came home I added the white and was done.
“Fires Are Still Burning”
20″ x 10″
This piece deliberately explores the idea of forest fires, climate change and how these can result in a thing of beauty and inspiration. When I look at this piece I am inspired to create some pieces on found wood. And then burn them the way Japanese do with a technique called Ash Shou Sugi Ban where they burn the wood for aesthetic beauty and to preserve it. Gently burned wood is more water resistant and also kills insects and bacteria that could accelerate its decay.
It’s a tough piece, elegant and beautiful in my not so removed opinion. But there is a place for that kind of work in our lives. And I don’t think that is just in museums. Hell, I’d hang it over my couch. It would even match since I have a burnt orange and black couch.
“Is This A Turd?”
30″ x 24″
“Landscape Memories From Northern Sung Masters
30 x 18”
After graduating from Penn State in 1983, I went to Taiwan to study Chinese philosophy and art history. To be more precise, I wanted to know how the principles of Chinese thought resulted in an aesthetic that was so different and yet as rich and powerful as the Western traditions I had studied so intently in my undergraduate studies. Additionally, the ideas of ancient Chinese thought had just a generation before me started to meaningfully influence Western thinking; such as the emphasis on being more fully aware of the present moment, meditation and a connection to nature that was philosophical, not just about exercise or clean living.
At that time, China was still closed to foreigners, so if you wanted to study Chinese art or culture you had to go to Taiwan. Fortunately for me, when people of means and art fled China as Mao gained control in the 1940’s, they took with them many of China’s great masterpieces. They built a large museum in Taiwan’s capitol city of Taipei and I got an apartment just up the road from it. Somehow, with a little luck I ended up becoming acquainted with a prominent British art historian who was teaching and working at the museum. Through him I gained access to the museum’s vast collection and more importantly became acquainted with someone with a deep knowledge of Chinese art as well as an ability to communicate this to me in English.
I ended up spending 4 years there and eventually could speak Chinese well. However, even if I was fluent in Mandarin I would never have gained as thorough an understanding of the basic principles of Chinese art and how they related to the underlying philosophical and cultural principles had it not been for my opportunity to study under George Rowley.
Now, about 40 years later I feel like I am finally doing work that builds on those understandings which are grounded in Chinese art over a thousand years old such as the pieces featured below by the artists Fan Kwang, Guo Xi and Ni Tsan, but add something of the way our culture works.
These pieces are not just suggestive of landscape but are also suggestive of landscape painting. They are conceptual paintings in that they reflect something of the way we remember and think about landscape paintings and Chinese landscape painting in particular. I hope people will also experience some of the sentiments that one has with a direct experience of nature itself as well.
Like my so called “conceptual landscape” pieces these paintings are made with rollers allowing the image to repeat itself the way we thumb over memories repeatedly. And like memories they blend and are altered by the other feelings and thoughts that we may be having at the same time.
The blank spaces are both an homage to the highly charged empty spaces of the ancient Chinese artists as well as the empty spaces of modern abstract painters. Along the way I have seen many artists try to blend ancient Chinese painting traditions with Western approaches to art making. I have seen this among Chinese artists as well as western artists. It usually falls flat and looks like a wishful mishmash of the worst of both cultures. Once in awhile someone or even a group gets it right. Arguably, Van Gogh and all the so called Post Impressionists are a group that did that and got it right. They were deeply inspired and influenced by the flatness and design sensibilities of 18th and 19th century Japanese art, especially wood cutting artists.
I would like to think that my own efforts also add something fresh beyond the well intentioned wish to blend cultural traditions as an end in itself. Instead, I am hoping to draw from two rich traditions to answer the need I have to make sense of and communicate a way to experience and think about nature and tradition: a way that many of us must be experiencing as living beings in this time but for which no one as of yet has presented a visual vocabulary to better understand what’s going on in our brains.
32 x 26”
If I sat down with the intention of creating a painting to express my thoughts and feelings about the pandemic I would probably come up with some cool stuff using charts and graphs or images of corpses lying unattended on gurneys in hospital corridors or people in face masks and shields. And some of it might be powerful. But I don’t think anything would have come close to expressing the overall mood that this and a few other pieces convey.
They are strangely elegant even while they are pervasively gray and sad. They are intense and even a touch hopeful which summarizes the way I felt much of the time throughout the pandemic. This past year has seen some of the worst and some of the best of humanity on full display. Additionally, there was more death and more death closer to home than most of us have ever experienced. And yet, there were also amazing acts of kindness everywhere as well as breathtaking ways in which members of the scientific community, even the monetized scientific world, worked together to create vaccines in a very short time.
It’s hard to say how, but in some intuitive way I hope these pieces summarize those myriad and conflicting aspects of the Covid Pandemic. That was not my intent when I painted them. I was simply placing myself in front of the blank panel with no particular idea or even motivation. When I paint this way I call it being in service of the gift. I am just trusting that something meaningful will come out even if I don’t feel like painting and certainly am not inspired by anything. In fact, when I did these pieces I was fighting the pandemic urge to just sit in my comfy chair and watch Star Trek reruns. Now, I only wish I had done more.
24 x 24”