“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”
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 painting 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.
They are also a relief to paint 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 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 this case, it is painted over a painting I thought was done years ago. However, 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 of 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”
“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 I’d 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”
“Conceptual Impressionist Piece”
48” x 24”
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, borderlining 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.
“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” 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 work like this, 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.
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”
“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 cafe 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.
“Le Pensione View”
4’ x 6’
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 distant 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.
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 they 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 this piece is a good example of that.
“Fourth of July”
Oil and tar on panel
48” x 24”
“Red Abstract Landscape”
48 x 55” approximate
This 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 here I means that 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.
24” x 14”
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.
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”
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 high 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.
“Self Portrait with Cidual Overlay”
12” x 12”
Originally, I painted a simple, straight forward portrait of myself. Then, I decided to wash it out with a couple of large strokes of white paint. Then, I wiped a bit of the white paint off with a rag leaving my face visible again but obfuscated. For no apparent reason, I decided to paint my signature Cidual over top of all of that in black.
The Cidual is a triple pun. It is roughly my Chinese family name in Grass script. But it is also the symbol for I-5 or Interstate Highway 5 which is a very large highway that passed directly over the roof of my Eastlake studio of 20 years. That highway was a defining element of my experience for a long time. Finally, the Cidual is roughly a linear portrait of myself in profile. So it is loosely my identity… both Chinese and American, my space and my image all obfuscated and blended.
48” x 24”
6’ x 4’
8′ x 4’
This painting was created in collaboration with Denny Sergeant. For a description of our process and goals, please see the entry under “Lingham” in this website. I don’t remember the title of this painting, but I do remember that it was created to invoke a gentle Hindu goddess who represented peace, tranquility, and femininity. All of the pieces that were created with this project, were all “done at once.” Like with some painting techniques, there was no layering or “dialogue with the work” over a period of time. There was a direct knowing about the process with this creation, and I would begin at one corner and move across the surface, just like the way a house painter would paint a room. For some reason, the technique arrived intact and complete even though I had painted nothing like these in type or size before these were created. I had then continued to use some of the techniques of blending and intermittent use of bristle and sable brushes in my figurative work for the next 10 years.
8′ x 4’
This is one of about five large paintings I created in collaboration with Denny Sergeant. Denny taught English as a second language at Seattle University where I also taught for one summer. He devoted his life to occult studies with a particular interest in the works of Alastair Crowley and the spiritualist movements at the turn of the century in England. His devotion and seriousness were equal to my own. Denny was also an artist, working mostly in clay but his masks lacked skill and talent. However, his work was not lacking in integrity, forceful inventiveness and are imbued with a spiritual presence. Denny is the real thing.
We would combine our talents to invoke spiritual energies, and he would do autonomic drawings on 24″ x 18″ paper. These scribblings were done in charcoal in the dark, and the particularly messy and indistinct nature of charcoal along with the darkness were deliberate attempts to circumvent the conscious or rational mind. Instead, they had opened channels to either the unconscious, the collective conscious, or even the spiritual realm. At some random moment we would stop and turn on the lights.
At that point, I would codify the scribblings into some kind of coherent form and translate them on to a large panel. To be sure, there was some application of rational decision making in the process. Choices were made about form and color, but it was hoped that my intuitive nature as an artist would provide just the right balance of faculties to preserve some of the raw tentative connections with other realms, while giving them a more durable and comprehensible form.
I am not sure how successful I was at that, however, there is no doubt that every one of these five large pieces is something worth keeping and looking at from time to time. They are all gorgeous and imbued with some primal archetypal energy. Looking back now with the perspective of 20+ years, I wish I had done more of these.
In this particular piece, “lingams” are totemic stones found in the Ganges River in India. For Hindus of that region, the lingam is one of two paired primary religious icons and the other one is called a Yoni. They are primordial “male” and “female” forces that combine to form everything that is. In their most basic sense they are “cock” and “cunt.” The Langham is usually a chunk of basalt that has deposits of iron and other minerals, that when polished by millions of years in the river Ganges, give it the unique dark smooth coloration with veins of red or brown throughout or in parts. I have seen many lingam stones in museums and they are always beautiful in even the most rudimentary aesthetic sense.
8′ x 4’
This painting is one of five large pieces done in collaboration with Denny Sergeant. For a description of our process and goals see the entry for the painting “Lingam.” This piece is called “Kali” because it was created during a ritual to invoke the Hindu god “Kali.” Kali is a female god of both creation and destruction. She is highly venerated and feared in India. She is often depicted as a fierce hag with a necklace of skulls giving birth while she dances on a pile of baby corpses.
This fierce no-nonsense vision of a goddess appealed to Denny and I, as we struggled to release ourselves from the confining middle class timidity we grew up with and felt trapped in. To some extent it worked. The painting has some of this impact, but more importantly, for the next 10 years I lived in a kind of exile from middle-class life and created an enormous body of work – the result of smashing open creative channels that made it possible for me to create prodigiously and largely uninhibited.
8 x 4’
This painting was created in a collaboration with Denny Sergeant. For a description of our process and goals see the entry under the painting “Lingam.“
I don’t remember which god or universal force we were invoking when creating this piece. But I do remember thinking this painting has a darker almost malevolent element in it. And indeed, I feel the final painting carries some of that quality even now.
8 x 4’
“Yantras and Dollars”
40” x 30” approximate
This painting represents the distillation of many intellectual and visual sources. I was interested in the Yantra’s of Indian art. What interested me was that Yantra’s were created and used as tools or aides for meditation. They were not “art” in the same way painting was in the European/American tradition.
At the same time I was fascinated by the spare elegance of the work of Robert Motherwell. Frankly, looking back on this painting, I wish I had done more of them and I wish I had made them bigger.
At this time I also created faithful copies of canonical Yantra’s that were meant to be sat upon while meditating. The makers of these original pieces did so with the belief that these arrangements of lines, colors and shapes actually brought about the various gods and subsequent states of being, even if you didn’t see them. Simply sitting on them was enough.
“Homage To Hans Hoffman”
6’ x 4’ Approximately
After I returned from living in China for nearly four years I landed in New York City. At the same time I established a small studio in a chicken coop in the country two hours west of Manhattan.
In the chicken coop, I discovered the color field painters and the “new age“ movement that was sweeping parts of the country, while Reaganism and rampant materialism were flowing concurrently. I did dozens of “homages” to Hoffman and Rothko and others from that time period when I returned from China. I was curious to see if the concepts and paintings themselves from the “Color Field” painters would really lift my spirits as they purported their works and style of painting would do.
These works were among the last of my overtly derivative paintings. Out of this soup of influences that extended back to my undergraduate studies in Western Art to my years in China to my stint in New York and burgeoning interest in East Indian Art, and Yantras I was able to create my first signature body of Art.
In this work, I wanted to really understand the design elements that were so central to Hoffmann. The notion that a shape exerted its influence beyond its dimensions- it pushed and pulled on the composition. It’s color, size and edge quality would vary that pushing and pulling and that a work of art could be made out of such subtle forces.
This piece is very full and complex with a lot of pushing and pulling going on. With the help of Rothko’s influence my work became simpler, more isolated and stronger.
This close examination of Hoffman’s work and principles drilled into me the basic design concepts of movement within a piece without the more obvious directions signaled by figures with gestures and facial expressions and even the arrangement of bodies. This sunk in more thoroughly than any other painting style or principles I had studied up to that point.
Oil on paper, canvas, panel
60” x 42”
Oil on paper, canvas, panel
“Pollack and Gotlieb”
Oil on paper
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Oil on paper
18” x 24”
“My de Kooning Phase”
Oil on paper
24” x 18”