Early Work, 1966-1980

“Grandpa on Tractor”
Crayon/Paper
18″ x 22”
1966

This is my first extant work of art. My Mom saved it and hung it on the wall of one of our bathrooms for over 30 years. So not only is it my first work of art, it is probably one with the longest periods of a work of my art being exhibited. As a result of its humble placement it was seen frequently.  

I actually remember making it. It was done in school and I remember my satisfaction with having figured out a symbolic representation of the corn. I had already figured out how to present Grandpa and the tractor and was using them over and over again as kids do, but the corn had stumped me.  Years later I studied Egyptian art and realized I had essentially reinvented many of their techniques for presenting imagery, which only enhanced my enjoyment of the piece.  

Somewhere in between this drawing and my art history studies at the University, I arrived at that age where most kids stopped drawing. I tired of symbolic representation and I wanted it to look real. I remember distinctly sitting at my dining room table while my mom was preparing dinner in the kitchen.  I was  attempting to draw the table in front of me with the tops of the chairs encircling the table, sticking up just enough to see their colonial era decorative backs with their distinct profiles turning in space as they were arranged around this circular table.  

At first I couldn’t do it. I was stumped and I remember throwing a temper tantrum for my mom’s benefit.  She calmly recommended I take a break and try again later. I stormed off saying I would never draw anything ever again.

 

And most kids never do. While I was feeling sorry for myself, my mother’s quiet words of encouragement crept into my thoughts. Before long I crawled back in my chair at the table and within minutes figured out that the round table seen foreshortened in space would actually need to be a flattened ellipse on the drawing paper. Once I did that the curved chair tops were easy to place around the table. The flower arrangement in the middle was seen in strict profile so that was easy.   Within minutes I had done it… a realistic scene drawn from observation of what my dining room table and chairs looked like from my particular point in time and space.   

My mom saw what I was doing and just smiled.   

The rest is… well… literally thousands of paintings and drawings over the next 50 plus years.  

“Neighbor’s Farm”
Watercolor/Paper
14” x 12”
1973
 
My Dad grew up on a farm. And even though his was the first generation to leave farming and he was the only one of 4 kids to go to the big city of Harrisburg PA, he still returned to his homestead with me and my 3 siblings almost every weekend well into our teenage years. And I loved it. I never developed a desire to be a farmer or even much of a yearning for organic produce or hunting and eating small game which was another part of life at Grandma’s farm. However, I developed a deep love for nature, the changing of seasons, long hikes in the woods and even the aesthetics of snow in particular.  
 
This is not my Grandparent’s farm. I don’t even think it’s any particular neighbor’s farm. I do remember painting it on my Grandma’s kitchen table when I was about 12 or 13.  Most likely it’s some generalized conglomeration of what things generally looked like in and around my little world in rural central Pennsylvania. I remember looking at the way roads would curve into the distance and develop ruts in the snow. And I remember that the red tubes of watercolor would get thick and sticky for some reason and I would have to bite the lids off. 
 
My other Grandfather was very different. He owned his own advertising business making calendars and other swag with company names printed on them. His home was an inner urban modest mansion that I later learned was an architectural collectors item of sorts, a Craftsman Style home that was built with the highest standards of wood workmanship and design. That home was filled with colorful calendars with every imaginable theme including watercolor paintings of flowers and barns and all manner of pretty stuff. 
 
This combination of direct experience with nature at my paternal Grandparent’s farm along with my experience of virtual mountains of printed images at my Maternal Grandparent’s inner city stylish home was a potent combination to feed my interest in making paintings. Still, with all that, I had not yet developed any sense of it as art, not really as decoration either. I think it was still mostly a thing to do, a fascination with looking, a delight in being able to do it with proficiency and a way to establish my uniqueness among a large family of energetic siblings.  
 
I was becoming a painter at age 12, but it would be quite a few more years before I would even begin to understand and think of myself as an artist. 

“Rural Yard”
Watercolor/paper
24” x 18”
1975 approximately 
 
I painted this in high school.   Probably in my 10th or 11th year.   By my senior year I was using oil paint and with a few very minor exceptions, have not painted a water color since.  
The composition was generated from a series of photos in magazines and my own experiences with these types of settings around my parent’s house and my paternal grandparent’s farm.   Even at this age I had a peculiar love of the beauty of the brown and gray shadows and wintery elegance of rural Pennsylvania.  I don’t think I had yet seen an Andrew Wyeth painting but clearly was moved by similar aesthetics informed by the MidAtlantic landscape and climate.  
 
I recently saw this painting framed and behind glass at my brother’s house.  He inherited it from my parents when they passed away.   I was struck by the level of detail and tiny marks.   I remember doing this and other paintings like it at the time.  Hunched over a large desk for hours, carefully mixing the exactly correct hues and tones and testing them out on a blotting paper to ensure their correctness before applying them to the paper.  
 
I remember wondering if my technique would ever relax and loosen up.  I remember admiring an original watercolor painting of maple seeds lying on the ground.  It hung in my friend’s parent’s home.  I would stare at it when I went to his house for sleepovers and marvel at its looseness and how fresh its colors were.   And I was puzzled at how the artist had conveyed so much of the “suchness” of those  seeds with such loose strokes and almost no intentional detail.  In fact I remember  thinking that the whole painting seemed to be one big happy gorgeous accident.  I vowed that someday I would paint like that.  
 
Our family moved away from that neighborhood when I was in 6th grade.  Our parents arranged sleepovers occasionally for a few years after the move.   But eventually our friendship drifted apart.  I never saw my friend again by about 8th or 9th grade.   Strangely, I must have had these thoughts about painting as a very young person.  
 
This somewhat arbitrary distinction between paintings that are created with careful drawing vs. loose swathes of color was defined formerly by a renowned and influential art historian named Wolflain.  I would encounter his writing in my undergraduate studies.  And whatever one may say about the truthfulness of these ideas about art, there is no doubt that they honed the raw instinct I felt as a child into a powerful and very useful awareness as an adult.   
 
Now, I can paint very loosely or very carefully, using line or swathes of color to build a painting with a great deal of awareness, armed as I am with instinct and knowledge.  One does not get in the way of the other.  In fact, they goad and support one another.   The distinction between one and the other may be an artificial construct, but the urge to create along these different paths is very real.  I have found it best to love and nurture both in a myriad of combinations.   The result has been a lifetime of endless exploration and discovery that goes on and on and on and on….

Snowy Owl

“Snowy Owl”
32″ x 18”
Water color/ paper
1975

In my high school years I became very interested in drawing and painting birds and wildlife.  I was not interested in this activity as art. In fact, it was not until after this period that I discovered art in the grander sense as in something beyond decoration. These watercolor paintings were really more like scientific illustrations to me than they were about art in the way I came to understand that a few years later. It was more about careful looking and then communicating the accretion of all that looking in a pleasant manner.  

They also had a lot to do with how I pleased my mother and curried her love and affection.  She loved my bird paintings and hung them on walls of the house. It was a way for me to stand out and receive something special from her that my siblings did not… could not. They each had their own way of winning mom’s attention but none of them did anything remotely artistic.  

In fact, a few years later when I did discover art and started painting “weird” stuff, my mother lamented the fact that I no longer painted birds. In fact, I no longer painted in watercolors either. Once I discovered oil painting I never returned to water color.

 

“Scarlet Finch”
Water color on paper
18” x 18”
1976

“Still Life with Copper Kettle”
Oil/canvas
18 x 24”
1977

At some point during high school someone gave me some oils paints and some ready made canvases to paint on. So, I arranged some of my mom’s decorations and did my best to paint them. Interestingly this is my first and only traditional still life painting. I also remembering drawing this same set up with chalk and colored pastels. I will add those to the website when I find them. That is also interesting to me because I would continue that way of working for the rest of my life often pushing an idea through various mediums and even translating it into sculpture sometimes.

My Mother passed away recently so I inherited this piece back. She hung it in her dining room after I painted it and it hung there until she died. Now it’s in my kitchen.

“Female Nude”
Pastel/Paper
36” x 48”
1977

This is a section of the website devoted to my early work. And so naturally I am going to comment on things being my first this or that. What was my first “this or that” I suppose is significant to me as a person moving toward the end of my middle years and having produced an arguably prodigious amount of art since these early days. By calling something out as the first implies that there were indeed many to come later. Moreover, since they were done in my early years in a suburban family with very little exposure to art or anything worldly for that matter, there is a presumption of innocence that in turn may yield some insight about what my authentic self is genuinely interested in. Well… I think that is true in general and certainly true in the case of this painting. So I suppose it is an effort worth doing and hopefully worth reading. 

This was actually a piece requested by the parents of my high school sweetheart. At the time, I thought nothing of it. But now, as I approach 60 with all that I have experienced from the alternative lifestyles of the kinky and queer to the use of imagery from internet porn, this piece and the way it came into being is just weird to me.  

I was 16. I was in love with my girlfriend. I was adored by her parents. They were “cool” but still suburban white folks outside of a very minor city in the mid 1970’s. And they commissioned a nude painting from their daughter’s 16 year old boyfriend for their master bedroom. I just think that is noteworthy, weird and cool all at the same time.  

 

The painting itself was a challenge. I never drew a life size nude before and didn’t know anything about what I wanted the overall painting to look like. At that time I owned a set of dry chalk pastels and had noodled around with them a little. I had also seen some reproductions in a book of impressionist paintings so I was familiar with this colorful dot like way of making a painting. But I remember really struggling with what I would do with all that space around the figure.  

The result was surprising to all of us I believe. And so my girlfriend’s parents had it properly framed under glass and hung it with pride over their bed. And I never thought about it since. And yet, clearly it portends so much about what and how I would paint for the next 45 years. True, I would never work with pastels again, but I would go on to develop a whole career and a whole philosophy about painting the nude and how the subject interacts with the background of the painting.

“The Talisman”
Oil/Board
18″ x 12”
1978
 
I call this painting a talisman because in my mind it is the quintessential first work of art that I created as a result of the dumb luck of having been handed a cheap paperback book of modern art. To be sure, I had done many paintings by this time, but it was the first time I sat with a blank canvas and tried to create something. Right there. Right then. With no preconceived ideas of what it would be about.  
 
The result was influenced by a couple of things going on in my life at that time. I had a friend a year older than me that lived up the street and had become my side kick. He went everywhere I went including hanging out in my room for hours while I painted my birds or fiddled with my model trains for hours. So there he is in this painting as another “first”… my first live model.   
 
The painting is also influenced by the fact that I got a book just prior to that from a high school teacher who thought I might like art. It was a small paperback book of modern and contemporary art. I remember thinking most of it was incomprehensible, but nevertheless I was struck by the boldness of certain painters like Franz Kline and Pierre Soulages. 
 
Like other random acts of teenage life I simply did it and moved on. I never thought much about it. Years later this piece and all the other detritus left in my room were boxed up and put in storage since my mother was claiming the space for her ever growing sewing rooms. It wasn’t until I was in my 40’s that I finally moved the last of my personal affects out of the attic of my parent’s home and unearthed this piece.  
 
The way in which I incorporated a figure in an extreme angle along with bold black abstract marks looks like I painted it at the height of my figurative work in my 30’s. Little did I know that my random act in the innocence of youth would somehow put my finger right on the pulse of what I would devote serious time and attention to express 20 years later; a way of combining figurative realism with the boldness and directness of abstract painting and to express intense emotions. 

”Blue Michele”
Oil Pastel/Grocery Bag
12” x 10”
1979
 
This is both my sister and Picaso’s sister. I started out doing a portrait of my sister one day and after she got up to go before I was finished, I spent some time looking through a catalog of Picasso’s work. When I came across this work I was struck by the similarity and used it as inspiration to finish it.  
 
I was in college by this time and already experienced an epiphany about art in my first quarter. During my first quarter of college a took a course entitled “From Pharos to Picasso: A survey of Western Art.” The course material and the charismatic professor who taught the class had a huge impact on me. Dr. Helen Woodal noticed my enthusiasm and quickly become my mentor. The combination of this powerful material and a passionate teacher with a particular interest in me turbo boosted me from a suburban working class neolite who hadn’t seen or been exposed to any art other than a little paperback book in high school to the inner circle of a major University with an outsized reputation of one of the world’s elite Art History departments.
 

“Starving Woman with Child”
Charcoal on paper 
24” x 18”
1979

This was copied from a National Geographic magazine. I remember having recently discovered the power of black charcoal in an architectural class at Penn State, and I thought it would intensify the message of suffering and compassion that I saw in this photo. I remember the excitement I felt as the image took shape under the smudging and scratching of this rich material of dark compressed charcoal. I thought about the nature of this basic and probably very ancient drawing tool. And wondered about the suffering and frustration this woman must have felt at not being able to provide more for her child. I was 19 when I drew this and I remember feeling like I would grid myself to make my art serve the purpose of increasing our collective understanding of our interconnectedness, the majesty of compassion and the necessity of seeing images of humanity in art and the handmade, not just photographs and the machine made image. It mattered to me that my hands were dirty when I was done making this image.

“My First Bedroom Not at my Parents”
Oil/canvas
18” x 24”
1980

By the time I painted this I had already seen Picasso’s and Van Gogh’s gritty early work. I wanted this raw scrum too, believing it somehow prepared me for the hardship of devotion. It seemed cliche as I did it. But wow, was I right in ways I had no idea of when I painted it and thought how cool it was to be bohemian.

What I didn’t realize was that the hardships of poverty were not nearly as grinding as the hardship of remaining committed to being authentic in my life and craft, of finding my voice and not becoming a complete misfit in the process.

The painting on the wall at the back of the painting was added as a warning to myself. It is a painting in the style that another art student made. He was my age and like me, talented, had a vision and even a developed style ahead of me. But he went off the deep end and took his own life our 4th year of school. I found all his work in the garbage in his studio cubicle. It was arranged in such a way that it was clear to me he had done it. Fortunately I was able to rescue several pieces. They are among my prized possessions.

“Civil War Boy”
Oil/Cardboard
14” x 11”
1980
 
For some reason, around this time I took a real interest in Civil War photography. There was something about the doleful hollowed our eyes and sculptural presence of these figures filmed in some of the world’s first photographs of one of the world’s worst human made calamities. I did dozens of pencil drawings and paintings inspired by those photographers. In this case, I identified with the character and used him as a stand-in for me in my first complex paintings with multiple figures.

“Civil War Woman”
Graphite/Paper
10″ x 6”
1980
 
This is another drawing inspired by Civil War photographers.
 
This, and the three drawings below are more works inspired by Civil War photographers. 

“Cello”
Charcoal on paper
30” x24”
1980

These are academic studies where I was learning what cubism was. But they also have something that isn’t just a style. They have a soulfulness.

And that is all the more interesting considering what I scratched in the lower corner of one of the drawings … something about the dynamics of the Dionysian vs the Apollonian….or the play between the head and the heart… itself an Apollonian idea. I remember reading about these constructs as an under graduate student and how excited I was to have ideas that helped me grapple with the forces that were grinding me towards adulthood. And yet the drawing itself practically weeps with pathos.

Cubism had a special appeal to me because the idea of visually fracturing the object was both a great idea but also carried an inherent emotional appeal. To this day I am still surprised that no cubist artist including Picasso or Braque, the inventors of cubism, explored it’s obvious potential for emotional intensity.

Cello
Cello

“My Roommate and his Girlfriend”
Charcoal/Paper
24” x 18”
1980
 
This was done in my second year as a student at Penn State University. I was living in a very cheap apartment off campus with a couple of guys. One of them, Bart, became my best friend and even a guide of sorts. He was a year older than me and came from a very artsy family. His major at Penn State was pottery. Yes… pottery. I was still an engineering student and the idea of pottery as a major was unimaginable to me. That fact and his breezy self confidence about life in general and his future as a Penn State Graduate with a degree in making ceramic pots was a revelation to me.  
 
But this is not Bart. This was our other roommate who was very nice, but a person I can not remember. I just remember that this drawing captured their likenesses so strikingly that we hung it in the apartment for awhile and marveled at it. It was at moments like that where I realized I had a gift. Somehow my eye could trace what I saw and make just the right marks to convey an individual’s likeness and even something about their inner life… even with means as humble as a charcoal stick and low grade sketch paper. I didn’t have to work at it. It just arrived, all at once… this ability to draw. Painting would be another matter. But setting the figure down on canvas or panel to paint… that would always be the easy part.

“Self Portraits”
Ink/paper
12” x 6”
1980

These are prints.

Self Portraits

“Self Portrait as Artist or Engineer”
Oil on canvas
48” x 24”
1980

At 19 I was struggling with the most fundamental of Shakespearean dilemmas: to be or not to be. Unlike Hamlet, though, the issue at stake wasn’t whether it was nobler to be or not to be. The issue was closer to one of Happiness or “finding my inner truth.” What would yield a more rewarding life? But it’s basically the same question. And like Hamlet, I was paralyzed with indecision.

In this painting you can see my left hand bearing down with the might of the entire composition on a book which I intended to represent engineering, schooling and a middle class future. But one finger is pointing dramatically at a tube of paint that clearly represents art and a possible future.

The figure is borrowed heavily from a tradition of images which was in itself a way for me to blend my yearning for self expression with a will to be attached to something. In this case the “tradition” goes back through Picasso to Degas. And probably even to an Ancient Greek sarcophagus.

The profile is clearly a stylized version of me. And I am clearly struggling with a decision. Perhaps as a subtle indication of what was to come, the paint tube has already been squeezed. And now, after 40 years or so of nearly non stop painting, a lot of paint has been squeezed.

The question now is more like King Lear, “did I do the right thing with my life and how do I leave some kind of worthwhile legacy without fucking it up here at the end.” Well, as of this writing I am 62 and in good health so this hardly seems like the end. But as someone not quite as deep as Shakespeare once said, “this is way past the beginning and instead is probably the beginning of the end.” And oh, what an end I intend for it to be.

“Self Portraits”
Various media including graphite, charcoal, pen and ink
Various sizes approximately 30” x 24”
1980

Clearly I was interested in myself at this time. I was 19 or so and beginning to be truly self reflective. This is a touch narcissistic but I feel was a healthy and appropriate stage of my development. I am writing this citation for these drawings at the age of 62…40 or so years later and in some ways at another important transition where I am examining myself.
65 is just around the corner and in our culture that is a hard number to reconcile even if you are not going to retire. In the same way 21 was an important year even though I had no intention to start drinking alcohol. It just is a marker…of something. But what exactly? Adulthood perhaps?

To answer that, one must stare in the mirror for hours and try on different looks. Some of these drawings seem silly to me now, but through the silliness I can definitely see a young man earnestly trying to both see his true and vulnerable self while at the same time willfully exerting, even forcing, a few masks onto himself to see how they feel. That is the stuff of adulthood after all, learning when and how to wear the masks that feel right and then knowing when and how to take them off to expose your more authentic self.

I hope I have half as much courage as I slide into my mid 60’s to look honestly and playfully at myself as I did as I approached my 20’s.

Self Portrait 1
Self Portrait 2

“Me, Scott and our figure-type muses”
Charcoal on paper
40” x 26”
1980
This drawing will never be considered a masterpiece but to me it is an amazing work of perception.  The 2 men in the drawing are me with glasses and my friend Scott drawing and looking outward.  Each of us has our characteristic figure type behind us which in retrospect is clearly our alter egos.  Shortly after I met Scott he came out to me as being gay and eventually began experimenting with cross dressing. Remember, this was 1980. Things were not as easy then.  This was an even riskier process then than it is now.  
 
Scott was really into Matisse. I was into Picasso. Scott loved Matisse’s color and late period drawing style. I was into Picasso’s classism and psychological intensity.  Scott was playful on the outside, terrified on the inside.  I was at ease in my soul but my work was filled with angst and rage.   
 
So here we are in this drawing. Very much friends. We were in fact among the very few in the whole art department who actually made art. Most of our classmates were dodging something else and “hiding” in the art department but had little real interest in art. Each of us is very engaged in this drawing, Scott in the act of drawing, me in the act of looking. We were like 2 sides of the act of being an artist.   
 
I think it’s interesting that I am more integrated into my art avatar than he is in the drawing. Scott was very prolific, but I always had a sense art was more singularly tied to his coming out than to his being gay or trans. My guess is that once that self expression was mostly complete art became less central to him.  
 
I lost touch with Scott after we graduated in 1983. And since I don’t remember his last name it would require the work of a private eye to find him. 1980 was pre AIDES.   My hope is that he survived AIDES and is still making art.  But we were at the age group that AIDES hit hardest.   When I look at this drawing I always remember the joy in our friendship and wonder why we let that evaporate.  

“The Studio”. 2 versions
Oil/cardboard box. And the other on a bed sheet
6 x 6’ square
1980

Not long after discovering the grand tradition of Art as being something more than decoration during my first year as an undergraduate student, I was painting a lot. And I quickly understood that my art studio, small as it was at first, would become both a microcosm of my world, an extension of my psyche and an interesting subject to paint.

In these pieces I’m clearly trying to put together some kind of allegorical grand machine about my life. About my relationship with my parents, my girlfriend and my evolving sense of myself as an artist as opposed to an engineer.

 

I did not have any money at that time so I used whatever materials I could. The cardboard box turned out to be more durable than the bedsheet. I still have the cardboard box piece. The bed sheet just fell apart at some point so I had to discard the painting. The photo below is the only image I have of the painting.

12 years later when I was 32 or so I tried this theme again and it also failed. I subsequently painted over that painting a few years later. Maybe now that I am almost 60 I should try it again.

“Titian Copies”
Charcoal on Paper
24″ x 18″
1980

“Varous Self Portraits”
Pencil and Charcoal on Paper
Various sizes
1980
 
This is a tiny drawing. It is like many others I did at this time. I selected this one for the website because it is interesting in both its technique and subject matter.  
 
Like a lot of other works at this time, I did many paintings and drawings of a mother and son. I have already written a great deal about that under other works on this website so I will not go into that again here.   
 
The lines and the way the figures seem to hang in the balance of a swirl of energetic lines is what is what this drawing is really about. These lines were an attempt to find a way to express my sense of the interconnectivity of all things, especially mothers and their children. I had been studying synthetic and analytic cubism around the time I drew this. But clearly I was also interested in the work of Giacometti and Soutine. This search for the way to express the interconnectivity of things would become a hallmark of my career even to this day 40 years later.  

“Copies of old Masters”
Various Media on Paper
Various Sizes
1980