Abstract 2021-2022

Home / Abstract 2021-2022
“My Thoughts of Kilauea”
Oil/panel
20” x 18”
2022
 
Some paintings just happen.   
 
Most people are familiar with the concept and sight of a painter set up in the field with his easel and paints looking furtively back and forth from the scene in front of him and his evolving painting.  Depending on his artistic intentions the painting will look more or less like the scene in front of him.  
And to be sure, I have done plenty of this.  
 
But that is not always how paintings get made.  Sometimes they get made in the isolation of my studio which has no windows or door directly to the outside.  It is more like a cave, or like a living metaphor of my unconscious add of memories and constructs.  And there is nothing to look at except my own evolving works.  
 
A few years ago I made plans to visit my friend Dwight on the big Island of Hawaii.  Several days after I arrived Mt Kilauea erupted.   Unlike Hollywood depictions of erupting volcanoes, Mt Kilauea is a shield volcano.  And while it is widely considered the most active volcano in the world, it is not as dramatic as one might assume.  To be sure, this eruption turned out to be bigger, more long lasting and more destructive than most. It was a months long slow churn rather than a fiery one day catastrophic blast.   And it destroyed the homes and lives of many individuals and whole communities as well as some favorite local magical little oasis like my own favorite…purple hot spring. 
 
Nevertheless, being so close to so much volcanic activity including endless small earthquakes, the constant threat of poisonous vog ( volcanic fog) and the strangely varied and sometimes downright dumb efforts of humans to control the volcano and each other made a lasting impression.   To be sure, during that time, I made many “volcanic eruption” paintings.   
 
However, what is more interesting to me is how years later, when Mt Kilauea has gone dormant and my thoughts have turned to other things, paintings like this one emerge.   The combination of lumpy thick black against the splashy fiery reds and oranges are unmistakably informed by my proximity to Kilauea and how deeply these impressions are lodged in my memory.   From that place they continue to inspire and fuel my creativity in general, refreshing my tendency towards order with a nearly reckless blast of energy and the use of colors I would otherwise neglect.  
 
Kilauea may be dormant now.   But it is always warm.  And it never lets you forget that she is boiling underneath that hard jagged black exterior.  And she continues to keep my own creative blood boiling even though I am thousands of miles and several years away from my recent close encounter with her spirit.    
“Carbon Rings”
Oil/panel
30” x 36”
2022
 
Carbon is a loaded term.  One’s carbon footprint has become arguably one of the most important concerns we are thinking about these days as climate change becomes more apparent every year.  We think about this as individuals, as companies and as governments at every level.  It would be nearly impossible to be an artist of these times without touching on this subject at least a little. 
 
This piece was also inspired by poems my friend Scott wrote in the mid 90’s portending the importance that carbon would play in the science of climate change and also on culture.   
 
And from there I was reminded of the meditation practice of making “Enzo’s” in Japan.  These are almost always black one stroke “paintings”in the shape of an open and occasionally complete circle.  These pieces are studied carefully and highly revered by Japanese connoisseurs.  And despite being aesthetically beautiful, they revere them more for their inner beauty and what they reflect about the artist’s soul.   
 
I’m not sure how all of this connects but I’m certain it does somehow.   And the result is a compelling piece. 
“Puget Sound”
Oil/panel
18” x 12”
2022
 
Puget Sound is the large inlet that along with the snow peaked mountains just beyond the city limits, defines the Seattle area.   In fact, it is known as the Puget Sound area which includes Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma and many other sub metropolitan areas. Collectively it’s home to about 4 million people and growing fast.  
 
Puget Sound is also home to a pod of Orca whales, some of the world’s largest octopi and thousands of edible sea life.   As such, It was the home to a rich variety of indigenous peoples, until the White man arrived.
 
Puget Sound remains a great healing reservoir for so many of the sins of man.  And now it’s deep, nearly freezing waters provide a kind of region wide air conditioning ensuring that no matter how hot the days get, the nights are always cool enough for a sweater and a blanket.  
 
This little painting is just one of many paintings I have done to pay homage to this great healing body of water just minutes from my studio.  
 
“Migrations”
Oil/panel
48” x 32”
2022
 
I have been thinking about migrations lately.  How is it that large groups of animals and birds and even insects migrate every year.  How do they know where to go?  What sensory organs do they have that we don’t?   How do parents communicate complex knowledge to their offspring?   And even more fundamentally, how do they have the stamina to do it?
 
The whole things seems so mysterious and amazing to me.  And reassuring.  As the world heats up and the delicate network of things required for various species to navigate and sustain themselves through these heroic endeavors, it gives me hope to see this happening each year.   Like seeing the spring flowers poking through the ground each spring I often wonder what would happen if these processes just stopped. 
 
Thanks to all the research being done around climate change we now know that these things don’t need to stop suddenly and dramatically Hollywood style to be catastrophic.  No, all it takes, for example, is for the average overall temperature to go up a few degrees and the whole system overheats and much would be destroyed.  
 
Migrations, like retreating alpine glaciers are the canary in the coal mine: that delicate phenomenon so dependent on the balance of nature.   And indeed, migrations are an important part of maintaining that balance.  Once out of balance, the whole system can become untenable and very destructive to many of these amazing migrating creatures.  
 
Like many migrations, the Blue whale in this painting is subtle and nearly unseen.  But it’s there.  An important part of the composition but despite its impressive size, not dominating the painting.  Just quietly blending in and making the piece just a little more mysterious….a little more beautiful.
“Migration”
Oil/panel
24” x 24”
2022
“Cascades”
Oil/panel
24” x24”
2022
“Spirit of a Place”
Oil/panel
24” x24”
2022
 
Among the many contributions Native American culture has made to my life is an awareness of and respect for the people who lived on the land I occupy now.  And a lived and experienced awareness that their spirits to some degree still inhabit the place.   And as such, it makes sense to honor and nurture those spirits while at the same time defining boundaries the way one would with anyone else.  
 
I have also experienced this in Asian countries.  Almost every business and home has a small shrine devoted to both Buddha and the local spirits of that location.   These shrines almost always have fresh flowers, I sense or colorful candies positioned as offerings.  It’s also interesting to me, by the way, that they do not like you photographing them.  They also almost without exception keep them clean.  
 
The rational part of me thinks this is cute at best and a silly childish bit of nonsense at worst.   And certainly there is no way to scientifically measure whether this is true or not.  
 
But I have a hypothesis.  My hunch is that people who hold such “childish” notions take better care of their land, are less likely to deplete its natural resources for profit, enjoy what they have no matter how small and leave it in better shape than when they arrived.   And conversely, people who do not hold such silly notions do the opposite.  Take from the land everything they can without regard to the past or the future.  Are increasingly unhappy in the process and leave the place a mess and depleted.   I am pretty certain that a very simple and inexpensive research project conducted with the highest levels of scientific protocols would prove my theory correct over and over again.
“A prayer for Global Warming”
Oil/panel
24 x 18”
2022
 
This my most recent work that is based on a meditation on global warming.   For some reason whenever I see ice melting it triggers a feeling of sadness and even a tinge of worry.   I remind myself that even during the ice age there were seasons and parts of the earth where ice melted every day and more so during the parts of the earth and times when the earth was tilted towards the sun.  Melting ice is not in itself a sign of impending catastrophe.   
 

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.   

 
But then again, maybe not.   
 
It isn’t about whether it will or won’t.   It’s about “right now.”   If something positive develops for the future….so much the better.   

“Mt Rainier”

Oil/ panel
48” x 48”
2022
 
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.”   
“Early Fire”
Oil/panel
48” x 24”
2022
“The Disappearing Artist”
Oil on panel with paint brush and epoxy
12” x 14” x 10”
2022
 
Every generation of artists seems to worry that their’s is the last.   They worry that either art itself or the artist is as good as dead.  That the cultural climate for making art is so hostile in one way or another that art and the artist can not go on.  And to a degree, they are right.   “Things” do seem to be ever more challenging.  
 
When the camera was invented there was really no more need for the town painter to do lifelike portraits of Grandma and Grandpa before they died.  One could then go to the local photographer and have their picture taken at much less the cost and with more reliably lifelike results.  How great for the average guy.  How awful for the average artist.  
 
But how freeing for the inventive artist.  Now he/she doesn’t need to churn out portraits of other people’s grandmas.  He is free to paint whatever he wants.  The trick, of course, is to get people to buy what he wants.   And that dance has gotten ever more complex and bizarre.  
 
I recently read a good book that discusses the latest twists and turns of that dance.  It’s called The Death of the Artist” by William Deresiewisc.          I learned a lot, including how glad I am that I am old and not needing to meet the challenges that young artists face.  I neither have the energy or the motivation to do so.  And I am blessed that I don’t need to sell a damn thing.  I have found another way for people to experience my art that is in alignment of what my art is about and for.  My spa.  
 
So this piece is more of a comment on the culture than a self portrait.  I’m not disappearing.   I may not be front and center, but I can assure you, I’m in the back room busting my ass everyday to make the most moving and authentic art that I can.   
 
I leave it to other, younger and more up to date artists to figure out how to create authentic work while the meta verse and NFT’s of a random image of a monkey’s ass seem to capture the world’s attention and money.   It does indeed seem daunting if not impossible.  But I have faith in the spirit of art and the ability of young artists to channel that spirit into something relevant and authentic and deeply moving.  Haven’t seen anything yet….but I remain hopeful.   Eyes peeled.  
“Melting Ice Fields”
Oil/ canvas
18” x 12”
2022
“Homage to Richter: a tool for remembering”
Oil panel
18” x 12”
2022
 
Long before I had heard about Girard Richter I began making art with rollers.  Over several years this novel approach to making art grew into one of the more conceptually interesting and visually arresting bodies of my art.  In fact, so much so that I devoted a whole section of this website to that body of work under the mundane title of “roller paintings.”  
 
Somewhere along the way I discovered the German artist Gerard Richter.  I stumbled on a show of his large abstract paintings in New York City in or about the year 2000.   The show included his realistic paintings and his large abstracts.  I was moved by both bodies of his work and naturally smiled knowingly at how these 2 seemingly different bodies of work nurtured each other.  
 
I was also intrigued by how much the abstract works’ visual affects relied on his innovative use of a novel tool…large squeegees.  He was pushing and dragging paint in a multitude of ways rather than “painting” it with a brush.  The effects were edgier and more gritty.  In fact they were more realistic than the realistic paintings if you had any background in construction.  The affects of the squeegee and paint didn’t depict the various textural affect of Sheetrock mud, concrete and stucco.   They were the same affects.   The way a product will elide over another in various ways depending on its viscosity and degree of dryness will create these textures, smears and blendings.  In short, there is as much room for nuance and expression as painting with a brush.   And yet it’s different.  
Richter had opened up a new way to paint, not a new way to think about painting.   He did that with his realistic art.  But his abstract art was about the expressive joy and discovery of this new technique.   
 
Well…my roller paintings are still small.  But one day they will get bigger.  I will get bigger rollers.  And rig up elaborate rails and pulleys to suspend and lower them onto the paper or canvas as needed.   And unlike Richter’s squeegee pieces, my roller paintings are conceptual.  I don’t think it makes them better than his, but there is more to think about.  
 

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 Accidental Inlet”
Oil/epoxy/ panel
24” x 40”
2022
“Climate Change”
Oil/panel
48” x 32”
2022
 
Season Shift
Oil/ canvas
48” x 48”
2021
 
Why is speed so fascinating in artist creation?   And yet, so terrible at the same time?
Everyone, including myself, marvels at the speed with which some works of art are created.   Many of us have our favorite stories of the miraculous arrival of some famous work of art or artist:  Elton John writing the music for Tiny Dancer in 15 minutes.   Handle writing the Hallelujah chorus in an hour or so.  Picasso painting his first master piece “Le Vie” in a day.   
 
It’s a similar fascination with the child prodigy.  Mozart composing symphonies that are part of the standard repertoire when he was 14.  A whole program on NPR about child musicians called “From the Top” where a performer’s first credentials are their astonishingly few years of age.   Leonardo Da Vinci usurping his master by the time he was 18.   And so on.  
 
And to be sure, I have experienced this first hand….some pieces just fall right out of thin air on to the canvas.   It is somewhat of a cliche to say that they seemingly paint themselves.  I think it is a little more accurate to say that the ego mind is suspended long enough that the painting is created and the work is guided by something more nuanced than intention.   
 
I can not speak for others, but there are moments in life when one is tantalizingly close to beholding the mysteries of a universe far bigger than the one we ordinarily see and operate within.   And yet, staring directly into that is the very thing that makes it vanish.   
 
The sudden effortless work of art or the astonishing accomplishment of a prodigy seems to offer a more lasting glimpse, almost proof, that there really is a spiritual dimension like we sometimes intuit and almost always want to exist….but can never quite see ….for certain.   
 
But here is a the masterpiece, produced almost in no time and with no effort and sometimes by a mere child.    How can this be?    
 
Well, I don’t feel qualified to call this abstract painting a masterpiece.   But I do know a good painting when I see one.  And this was painted in the rapidly shortening time between my late dinners and when I collapse in exhaustion at the end of the day.  One short evening.   All at once. How can this be?
 
And then there is the market.  And the way in which we place financial value on what is created, largely based on ….you guessed it….time and materials.  Back when I was selling my art I always kept my speed a carefully guarded secret.  I didn’t want to have to defend my price based on time.   I may have made this painting in an evening.  But it took me 30 years of painting to be able to do that.  And a miraculous and momentary connection with another dimension.   How do you put a price on that?  I don’t know…but I do know “time and materials” is not the whole story.  

“The Rain Came Too Late”
Oil on three panels
24 x 36″
2021

A lot of my abstract paintings seem to be informed by my growing awareness of and preoccupation with climate change.  One way that climate change moves from a latent chronic concern to overt news is the increasing occurrence of forest fires.   With increasing frequency forest fires are breaking out each summer here in the notoriously lush Northwest.  The ferocity, size and frequency are reported on the news and then eventually the skies become choked with smoke.  
 
In September the rains return after an annual 2-3 month absence.  When they arrive during a summer of intense forest fires which seems to be increasing year by year, it is never soon enough.   And in some cases, a delay of even a day can mean the difference between whole communities loosing their homes or not.  
 
It’s terrible, sad and yet majestic at the same time.  The scale of “climate” and even weather is both awe inspiring and yet sadly, still vulnerable to the machinations of humankind.  Still, I don’t think nature cares if the temperature goes up a couple of degrees or not.  Time is not only on her side, they are twins.  And as such Mother Nature has all the time in the world.   Even enough time to burn this world to the ground and start all over again.  

“When the Snow Arrived”
Oil on panel. 
14″ x 10″
2021

 
I don’t think I am alone in feeling a sense of relief with arrival of snow now that Global Warming is on everyone’s mind. Of course I realize that a single dusting of snow or even a full on blizzard has any direct relationship to climate change, but nevertheless my sole breathes a sigh of relief when it comes. Perhaps there is an irrational fear lurking in the collective unconscious that the day may come when it doesn’t snow at all anymore. And not only will this be tragic for the environment directly and by implication but it would also be a horrible loss aesthetically. A kind of climatic analogue to the extinction of elephants.    
 
This little painting captures for me some of the beauty of snow arriving on a November night, early in the season by any measure, climate change or not. The northern hemisphere is still getting darker each year and the arrival of snow brings a new layer of joy. And beauty of this sort takes on a new importance.  

“June Fire”
Oil on panel 
20″ x 16″
2021

 
This is a small painting.  And it speaks to something increasingly on everyone’s mind, climate change.   This is becoming real to people in many ways, not least among them the increasing frequency and size of forest fires.  
 
In this piece I started doing something I anticipate more of in future paintings.  I’m using a large putty knife to apply and scrape off the paint.  It’s satisfying to do and the result is raw and fresh.  I can use this as a contrast to more virtuosic handling of paint with a brush.  This little paining is a suggestion to myself about how to proceed.  

“My Cat’s Portrait”
Oil/Panel
2021

 
I don’t have a cat.   I wish I did and someday I probably will because I love cats.  I love the way they look, the way they move and their attitude…both aloof and yet so needy for attention.  
 
This was originally a realistic painting of a cat.   But it was a plain painting with little to make it worthy of even the scrap of wood it was painted on.  And so, for years I would lift this piece from my box of “paintings to be painted over” and slap some paint on it.  These slap dabs were often experiments with different paint, a different tool to apply it or a different approach to painting. 
 
This went on for years.  Sometimes the results were better or worse.   But in every instance the cat kept making her appearance known.  At some point I even made “obliterating the cat” part of my mission.   But to no avail…she kept reappearing.   
 
And so, she became my cat.  And at that point I decided this painting was done.   

“Late Summer Harvest”
Oil/Canvas 
16″ x 20″
2021

“Grasping for Infinity”
Oil/Panel Door
50″ x 26″
2021

“Snow Over the Sea”
Oil/Panel
36″ x 24″
2021

“Fires are Still Burning”
Oil/Panel
20″ x 10″
2021

“Is This a Turd?”
Oil/Panel
30″ x 24″
2021

 

Yes.   It is a turd. 
At least that is what I thought when I took this photograph of the painting.  I have since painted over it.   And it’s updated version is here on this website as of this writing.  It’s now called “a Prayer For Global Warming.”
Well….that’s quite an ascent…..from excrement to a plea to the heavens.  The funny thing is….I’m not sure it’s any better as a painting.  
 

“Landscape Memories from Northern Sung Masters
Oil/panel
30 x 18”
2021

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.

“Covid 19”
Oil/panel
32 x 26”
2021

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.

“Covid 19”
Oil/panel
24 x 24”
2021