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.
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.
“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″
“Grasping for Infinity”
50″ x 26″
“Snow Over the Sea”
36″ x 24″
“Fires are Still Burning”
20″ x 10″
“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 and understanding of the basic principles of Chinese art and how they related to the underlying philosophical and cultural principles had it not need 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 artist Fan Kwang. But add something of the way our culture works.
These pieces are not just suggestive of landscape but are 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”