Pen & Pencil/Paper
Drawing is the most intimate art form for me. It is the closest way to see not only what is going on in my heart but the best way to see how ideas take hold and then continuously change in my head. Drawing is also the least directed way that I create. When I sit down to draw I almost never have “a drawing in mind.” In fact many of the first drawings in any given drawing session are simply a dot on a page. Sometimes I will leave the dot alone, turn the page and go on to whatever the dot has begun to do in my mind. I hate to waste paper so I often double back and use that “first page” since all it has on it is a dot.
Some years are particularly good years for drawing. And 1994 was one of those years. My head and my heart were exploding with so many ideas about how and what to create. In the drawings below you will see several distinctive different kinds of drawings. Many of them became just that, “a kind of drawing” or “style” during this period of my life. Some of these “styles” also became paintings. And some were, until now, dead ends waiting to possibly be picked up and explored at another time.
It was a rich and productive time for me. I was 33 in 1994 and had just in the last 2 years or so finally become the completely dedicated artist I had been struggling to give myself permission to be for over 10 years. To be sure I had made plenty of art prior to 1994. But it was about this time that whatever had been secretly holding me back had finally given way. And there was a torrential outpouring.
I will do my best to describe the individual drawings for what they are but also for what they became. Where possible I will include some paintings and sculptures. In some cases the drawings are studies for paintings in a conventional way. In others, there is a broader sense of the vocabulary or style being worked out in the drawings that hopefully you can see and find interesting to see in the larger works.
Drawing continues to be part of my daily or weekly way of working out my ideas and feelings. More than anything else they are essentially a visual journal. And like any journal, it is filled with very personal messages. But it was never my intent to keep them secret, the drawings or their messages. So it is a real pleasure to see so many of them here on the website where people can enjoy them and possibly find insight or inspiration for themselves.
One of my greatest realizations about art through looking at Picasso’s art was that “style” could be an element in the overall design. It was later, with post modern art, when this degenerated to “style” being the subject itself that I lost interest.
These drawings were all done as stream of consciousness pieces in my loose leaf sketch books. Once in a while they turn out as compelling drawings with coherent compositions and a certain “something” that makes them worth looking at. They pop up again and again in my sketch books over the years. But they have never established themselves as a body of work as such. Nevertheless, they are distinct from my other work so I thought it might be worth calling that out here.
When I was in my early 30’s I quit the last job I ever had. At last, I was a full time artist. A professional artist. And I was flat broke. Most of my peers were working at this exciting new software company called Microsoft or one of several fast growing biotech companies. I was driving around town in my Grandma’s old Buick Electra with paintings in the trunk, the back seat and strapped to the roof. I was putting up shows of my art wherever I could. Coffee shops, theater lobbies, people’s homes. Wherever. Paintings were selling for anywhere from $40 to $100. But not many.
I felt exhilarated. Liberated. On fire. I was the quintessential starving artist. And I was loving it.
Until I didn’t. Eventually the romance of poverty wore out and my health wasn’t far behind.
A mentor at that time suggested I make art about abundance. She felt that if I focused my creative energy on abundance I would eventually manifest that in my life. She was right. I just didn’t realize it would take 15 years to happen.
It’s interesting to me that many of the images I made to manifest abundance were about me pouring out my abundance. These are images of dancers or celebrants of one kind or another sharing their abundance with others. They usually have a large platter or cornucopia that is spilling out with wine, water or food. Basics.
It is said that if a gift is given it will be the source and cause of increase. Well, it seems the more I made these drawings the more that came. I did hundreds of drawings and paintings on this theme for these 2-3 years. I don’t think it had any affect on my financial situation but it did yield a lot of art. And now, 30 years later when my basic financial needs are met, I feel incredibly wealthy to have produced all this art in the middle of such abject poverty and financial uncertainty.
After I wrote this essay I crawled into my bed and listened to the furnace engage. It was the sound of wealth to me. I built this studio a year ago. It has 14’ ceilings, a stone fireplace with gas, lots of bookshelves for my library and rustic hardwood floors from reclaimed timber. I was warm and toasty and enjoying a level of financial security I have never know my entire adult life. I pulled the covers around me and thought that while it’s nice to be warm and toasty, I hope I have the courage to use the last years of my life to share whatever abundance I have with others like I did in my youth. It is, after all, what made me happiest
This drawing indicates a style of drawing done with a humble ball point pen on plain copy paper. There is absolutely nothing fancy about the materials.
The style is inspired by a body of Picasso’s work most notable in a collection of drawings known as the Vollard Suite. The lines are clear and simple. And yet they convey weight and volume. More importantly, these few spare lines carry a peculiar amount of emotional and story telling weight.
The figure featured here is me. He shows up in almost all the drawings done in this style. In fact, I would say, this little mini style I developed is just for him… my inner self. Here I am, sitting down after a long day of painting a ridiculous copy of part of Michealangelo’s Sistine Ceiling in real fresco in a silly little basement tavern in a small town north of Seattle: aka Backwater USA. At my side is the plaster bucket and a trowel used for mixing the plaster and then troweling it onto the wall. It was enormously hard physical work for something that seemed hopelessly doomed to fail for an audience that didn’t give a shit and for way too little money.
But somehow there is a tenderness and gentle spirit of hope implied in the grace of the lines and balance of the composition. The clean lines and pristine paper also indicate that although I’m tired and perhaps disillusioned with this project I am hardly down and out about art itself or its ability to touch, rejuvenate and uplift the weary spirit. Otherwise, I would have never even done the drawing and certainly would not have been able to do something so clean and clear.
This little suite of drawings were done at the end of a day of humiliating work on a fresco I painted in the basement of an Italian restaurant in Bellingham, a small college town 2 hours north of Seattle. If ever there was proof needed that youth was wasted in the young this was it. Why did I ever say yes to this? I think it was youthful naïveté.
I allowed someone to talk me into painting a pastiche of a Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel favorites on a wall in a basement in a tiny town 2 hours drive north of my home in real fresco… not paint.
Fresco is a kind of painting where fresh plaster is applied to the wall when it is just about to harden. And then painted into with pure pigment diluted with water in the 2-3 hour window between when the plaster hardens and when it has cured. During that short time one can paint on beautiful colors and brush techniques. But once it is cured the paint will not stick to the plaster. It is a physically demanding set of tasks even before the painting begins. And then, there is the painting process itself. Tricky at best.
The litany of hardships on this project began with assembling all the right tools and materials, continued with the precarious long drive in my barely road-worthy old Buick and ended with having to paint and clean up to the sounds of college students getting drunk and asking inane questions. Oh, then there was the work itself. I still remember cleaning out plaster buckets in the back alley in the freezing cold and listening to an irate neighbor complaining about the white plaster residue forming on the road and parking lot. It was annoying but he was right.
Each day I would limp back to my studio in Seattle and before going to bed I would draw. Some of the drawings were inevitably about the days project. In many of these drawings you can see the fresco behind the main character who I believe is always me. There is the pig working on a large “paint by numbers” piece and there is the Minotur who was and still is a symbol who literally loves his lovers to death. I must have been wondering if my passion for art and original materials was killing me.
Well, the owner of the restaurant loved my work so much he paid me the equivalent of $1.50 per hour. But to my absolute delight I discovered when I passed through that town on my way somewhere that the Italian restaurant was gone and a Chinese one in its place. To my great relief the fresco had been painted over. But I still have this suite of drawings.
I also did a practice piece on panel back in my studio. I slathered plaster on a thick sheet of plywood creating a small wall 4’ x 4’ and weighing in at about 65 pounds. That is enormously heavy for a painting. But it turned out pretty good and as far as I know is the only known version of an easel painting fresco in all of art history.
This is a style of presenting the figure that came into being around this time and which I still use now almost 30 years later. This particular drawing was inspired by my friend Jodi. She was the first person I knew who wore her baseball cap backwards. In fact, for years I thought she alone had started the trend.
Creating something funny is challenging in visual art. At least, it’s difficult for me. But I always chuckle when I see this image. The punch line is the squiggle in the speech balloon. So much of what we say to each other is just that. I often reflect on a conversation with a friend after I leave and I just as often wonder if I talked too much and wonder if my speech might as well have been a meaningless squiggle. Probably so… most of the time.
Every young artist that came of age in America in the late 1970’s that took themselves seriously as an artist had to reconcile their place within what had become an ever increasing wave of one ism after another. Two forces stood out among others as measures of worthiness. One’s ability to be at the vanguarde of the avant-garde or to put it in American vernacular, to be the newest of the new. And that the more imitators or followers one had, the more certain one could be of one’s importance. “So and so” is an important artist because their ism is new and several other artists are already imitating them. Wow.
In this respect, I don’t think much has changed. Except now one’s importance is measured slightly differently. No one even needs to exert themselves even enough to be considered an imitator, they simply need to give you a little little thumbs up on ones social media feeds… the all-important “likes” and having a new idea about terms of painting or a philosophy of the universe or life itself is not necessary to be highly “liked.” And having your finger on the pulse of the times, or the zeitgeist as it was known when I was young, does not seem to be necessary to be an “influencer.”
Influence what? A whole host of things, of course, like whether to wear your ball cap front ways or backwards or how to purse your lips for a proper selfie. People lament the superficiality of all this, but to me it seems like the same thing that’s been going on for me and the art world since I got in the game 40 years ago. Yes, the tools and the terms are different but the trajectory towards ever more superficial ways to indulge one’s narcissism and side step the search for meaning and accountability seems to be moving right along.
I was foolish enough to think I had to actually have an insight about my life and times or the nature of the space-time continuum that mattered; an idea that maybe resonated with others and gave them some insight about how to see their world in new ways or at least understand it somewhat better.
And that is what these little drawings are about. They were my first attempt to express in visual terms my ideas about the simultaneity of “things” in space and time. And that empty space was itself a thing charged with mass, energy and a consciousness. And moreover, that all things and emptiness or non-thingness was interchangeable.
That’s all pretty heady stuff for a pencil drawing. So here is a little explication to help. After all, any decent movement in painting deserves a manifesto or at least a few paragraphs to help get you going on seeing this stuff the right way.
I called my little idea “pressure forms.” The first problem with this term is that it isn’t strictly speaking an “-ism.” Like cubism or futurism. But it did have its merits. The idea was that an object depicted would have space around it that was also it. And it’s shadows which were by implication, the result of an illusory solidity, were themselves as solid and tangible as the solid objects portrayed. These “pressure forms” would put visual pressure on the object, not just lie passively beside or around the object. In other words: Usually when one draws an apple, the shadow of the apple appears as a dark area under or around the apple. The shadow is passive and pictorially subordinate to the apple. And it is usually translucent being not quite a thing unto itself but rather a darker version of something else like a table top or wall. In “pressure forms” the shadow might appear even more dense than the apple and appear to move the apple. It might be shaped like an apple too thereby suggesting the apple could be in two places at the same time. There was also room for lots of visual puns with this “-ism” since one thing could be two or more things depending on what you focused or put emphasis on. I was especially fond of triple puns.
Well, no one ever seemed to notice or care about my little “-ism”. So if measured by how many likes I got over this I would have had to conclude it was an absolute failure. And yet it made sense to me. It was insightful and elegant and fun. It freed my mind up to just flow by giving me a tool to express myself. And so I did. I made hundreds of drawings and paintings making connections between various ideas in my head.
One of the surprise side affects of this insight was the added agility it gave me to move between layers of abstraction. For example, it became easier for me to see metaphors across vastly different subject matter and analogies across very different cultures and ideologies. Once I had a way to draw the object that wasn’t an object and to free the object from its singular existence in any one piece or manifestation of itself, I could see so much more. And of course I wanted to draw that.
Cubism both aided me and sidetracked me for a few years. Some of the visual terms were useful. But the idea of multiple view points on one plane or multiple concepts or styles of an object working together to express the object were also similar to my ideas but importantly different.
To me, objects were further divorced from space and time. Instead, the object, space and time were all aspects of consciousness. In a way Rothko’s painting came closer to expressing what I was “seeing.” And finally, there was the work of Hans Hoffman. His little squares of color pushing and pulling was so important. The idea that a patch of paint could make us see and feel it pushing and pulling on other patches of paint around it while all those other patches of paint were doing their pushing and pulling on each other was closer yet to what I was after. But Hoffman’s energy buzz didn’t include objects, or our perception as a mark on the canvas as an object or a non object. They were simply squares of paint.
For me, it had to include objects. All of this was predicated on thought. Or should I say the interface between thought, seeing and perception. And maybe more specifically how does the construction of coherent perception of the illusion of space frame or even create thought and memory? These little pencil drawings may not have made sense to anyone but a very few of my friends some 30 years ago, but they have informed a lifetime of passionate work that capitulates me closer and closer to that mystery. Every time I grasp this, for even a second, the confounded feeling of frustration and exhiliration rejuvenates and compels me over and over again.
Perhaps the simplest way to explain this in non visual terms is to ask you to close your eyes. Then imagine what the universe would be if there was just… simply… nothing. Feel yourself exhilarate as you embrace the elegant absurdity of a mind, as close to a non-thing that there is, trying to imagine nothingness. Maybe it’s just me, but when I do this, an electricity builds up inside me. Then, just as I’m about to move beyond thinking about nothingness to becoming nothingness, there is an explosion of energy, ideas, feelings and images.
This drawing was done to illustrate a running “joke” that my friends made about me during these halcyon years of intense painting. The joke was that I painted so much and cleaned my palette so infrequently that it became heavier and heavier resulting in a lopsided physique. My right arm would become overdeveloped from holding a heavy pallet for hours on end while my left hand made dainty marks on canvas with a lightweight paintbrush.
The image is supposed to be me standing at an easel painting a tiny picture of a kitten. The drawing is interesting to me because even now, at the age of 60, I have a kind of romantic idea of myself as the impassioned and devoted artist in my 30’s. To some degree this true. I was incredibly prolific both in volume of art as well as ideas during those couple of years. But it’s also true that I have been very prolific these past 2 years as well. And while it does not seem quite as exciting as my memory indicates, I think I have done at least as much “work” as then and I am developing an exciting business, building wealth and still keeping an eye on my youngest child who is 17 as I write this. So, not bad for an old man!
Maybe I’m not alone in taking the measure of my life in these various terms, especially at this stage in my life. And maybe it’s a little unfair. But whether it’s healthy or not, normal or not or useful or not, this little drawing gives me some perspective I might not otherwise have, that even at 33 I was conscious of my obsession to my craft and was even willing to joke about my disfigurement as a result. The fact is, my right arm did not get bigger than my left, but my left shoulder developed a distracting clicking sound whenever I raised it above my shoulder somewhere in my 40’s, along with a benign cyst the size of a chicken egg that looks weird but is painless. Neither of these “issues” have slowed me down, but I do keep an eye on them and I do my best not to paint with my arm above my shoulder.
In the early 90’s the gay community was very active and in my opinion was the leading edge of culture. HIV/AIDS was still poorly understood at this time and was devouring gay men. Perhaps in response to AIDS, gay men, and to a lesser degree, gay women were mobilizing to legitimize their identity and save themselves from AIDS. Even though by the age of 33 I was 100% certain of my sexuality I felt compelled to be involved. Many of my friends were gay, some were suffering or had died from AIDS and many visual artists had already by that time become very engaged in the movement.
This image became a kind of trademark for me for a brief time. I did many versions of this drawing and even churned out dozens of quick paintings at a fund raising event one night in a notorious gay bar. A year later I painted guys’ butts in another fundraiser, but that’s another story. Money was being raised for AIDS research and palliative care.
Not so incidentally, these efforts were also good for business. Eventually I became well known among a group of gay art collectors as the really cool straight guy who did the best “gay” art. It was a dubious moniker but it brought me some benefit. But more importantly, this work (most of it volunteer) made me feel part of something meaningful and important. And, not so incidentally, became one of the tributaries of my river of inspiration that drove me to be so prolific and impassioned during these years.
When one looks back on one’s life it seems more important than ever to take the measure of one’s life not so much with numbers: how many paintings, how much money, how many lovers, how many countries visited. Instead, when I look back with the perspective of time it looks more and more that what made one part of my life “better” than one period or another had more to do with what I cared about and what I did to engage with those people, causes or communities.
Once in awhile I did the conventional thing of doing a drawing of my models, either from memory or from life, as a way to collect my thoughts for a painting or as preparation for a painting that was very much already worked out in my mind.
This is just a plain ole sketch. I have written what would almost amount to a manifesto for some of the other drawings on this website. But this is just a sketch of a man I probably saw sitting in a coffee shop. One of my favorite ways to relax is to sit in a public space and watch people. Sometimes I sketch them and sometimes not. Sometimes I sketch them while they are there and sometimes I sketch them once I return to my studio or even days later.
Many of the drawings on the website are full of ideas about the way I think or see or conceive of perception, thought or even consciousness. But this is just a drawing of a man. This way of drawing is probably the most common or at least familiar way someone thinks of an artist making a drawing. But in fact, this is one of relatively few works that I did this way. I’m not sure why because I enjoy it so much.
8.5″ x 11”
I liked painting these as a young man for several reasons. For one thing, I wanted to be both original as an artist yet connected to a tradition. This choice of subject matter also put me in a position of distinction with my peers. Most of them had no idea of any such traditions. They didn’t have the same education in the classics that I gave myself. I didn’t see this as making me better. But I did see it as giving me a chance at avoiding being trendy.
Trendy was not only perilously close to mediocre in my mind, it was also inherently ephemeral which was also something I strained against.
Now I am writing about these drawings and paintings 30 years after I created them. And indeed, they still seem to have a relevancy and freshness that doesn’t seem dated. Maybe it’s my own narcissism that is blinding me from their inherent triviality, but I’ll take a chance here and say I don’t think so.
Also, now that I am 60 I have a little different attitude about death. Perhaps it is more accurate to say I have a different attitude about time. Ironically, now that I have less of it I am more patient. That may be a result of having more gratitude for the time I do have. And that gratitude is beginning to transform my attitude about death. It is less and less an abstract occurrence in my future to come to terms with and more and more like a challenging friend whose eventual arrival is animating my present.
When I look at these art works it does what I believe they were intended to do; to remind me to contemplate all of these things. Life is brief. Death is certain. And among many other things, there can be beauty, elegance and even a little humor baked in to the art meant to remind and provoke our imagination about life and death. I hope these are doing a little of that for whoever looks at them.
I have always been fascinated by the idea of a theme and variations in art and music. Some of my favorite classical pieces begin with a very straight forward musical statement that is followed by countless variations on this original idea. Some may be fanciful. Others are almost mathematical extrapolations and some are such departures that one struggles to identify the original kernel that started it all. Bach, Mozart and Beethoven are among the more famous composers who enjoyed this way to create.
Picasso is probably the most notorious visual artist for making visual variations on a theme.
Here, as is often, I start with a simple drawing that is very lifelike. Then proceed to draw and redraw letting my imagination and fancy go. Sometimes the variation is in the very style of the image as well as shifting stylization of the original image’s way of being depicted. These seemingly random creations can collectively reveal much more about the original idea than any one painting can. And that is the point.
8.5″ x 11”
8.5″ x 11”
8.5″ x 11”
8.5″ x 11”
8.5″ x 11”
8.5″ x 11”
8.5″ x 11”