Early Work, 1981-1983

“Figure Drawing Class”
Charcoal and pencil on paper
Various sizes
1979-82

“My Stepfather”
Oil on panel
48” x 24”
1981

My Mother married Bill when I was 10 or 11 years old. I didn’t like him.

When my Mother asked me how I felt about her plans to marry him I told her I did not like that idea. Things did not improve for years. In fact, being a teenager only compounded my dislike of him.

Above and beyond the usual acrimony between a teenage boy and his parents and I believe even beyond the issues of divorce and remarriage was the problem of me being artistic. My Mother was very artistic and creative. And because of that, we shared a special connection which he could not comprehend. She was a dress designer and a constant crafts maker. Our house was decorated from top to bottom by her relentless creations in fabric, assemblage and even a little painting. On the other hand, my stepfather was a high school science teacher who made it his mission to teach high school level science to everyone from the dinner table to the Church recreation room. I liked science, but as a student in the so called gifted program I blazed past Newtonian physics by 9th grade.

By 1981 I was several years away from home and had finally removed myself from a college major in Architectural engineering and had become an art major. This emancipation unleashed a torrent of self-reflective art including this portrait of my stepfather inspired by a painting by Picasso of one of his early dealers, Petrus Manach. Incidentally, I just realized Picasso also painted this picture when he was 20.

I saw my stepfather as relentlessly narrow minded and incorporated the grill of a locomotive as his beard to highlight that. I also borrowed the deliberate flatness of Picasso’s painting and even thickened the outlines of the figure further. My Stepfather’s hands look more like hooks and of course he is holding tightly onto a book.

As the years went on I came to respect and appreciate my stepfather more and more. While he was certainly not charismatic and understood little about art, he did espouse many good qualities that have served me well including his consistent dedication to my mother’s happiness and security.

My mother passed away in 2019 just before Covid hit. She passed quickly and just on the cusp of Alzheimer’s reducing her to a vegetable. It was a blessing to our family, but my Stepfather was devastated. Although he was in basically in good health for a 90 year old man, he died 2 years later from what we all know was a broken heart.

I owe it to him to paint another portrait of him with the love and appreciation he earned and which I found from within for him.

My Stepfather

“My Stepfather”
Watercolor and ink/paper
24” x 16”
1979

“Self Portrait Pointing at Myself”
Oil/Panel
40″ x 24”
1982
 
Even before  I changed my major from Architectural Engineering to art I was painting like my life depended on it. This was just one of many self portraits at this time. Not only was I an obvious choice as a subject to paint,  from the standpoint that I was always available, additionally, I was very interested in discovering who I was. And painting was a great way to do that. 
 
In many of the self portraits I did at this time I am barely in the picture. Like this one, it is as though I am peeking into this new realm of art. Who is this guy painting a picture of me, I seem to be asking. And why me? The finger pointing at myself is clearly an expression of evolving self awareness.   
 
At the age of 59 now as I write this I am also doing a lot of soul searching. And I might even paint a self portrait for the first time in over 20 years. But I simply could not and would not paint a picture of myself half off the frame of view and I could not point that same kind of finger of doubt at myself.    
 
I remember my mother seeing this painting for the first time shortly after I painted it. She was already worried about my mental health since I had been talking about giving up my future as an Engineer. But now this… a self image as a deranged lunatic. I could almost hear her asking herself what had become of her dear sweet boy who painted little water colors of birds. But to her credit she never complained about my art nor had me committed to an asylum. After seeing this in the little studio I set up in my parent’s garage one summer between semesters she must surely have given it thought.

“Mother and Son”
Oil/Canvas
48″ x 24”
1981
 
During this time I had a little Blue Period of my own. I had been doing a lot of drawings from photos of the Civil War and looking carefully at early paintings by Picasso and Degas. I had even done a copy of several of Degas’ paintings. 
 
I’m not sure why I was drawn to these images of suffering and existential emptiness because I myself was very happy at this time.   At the same time, my compassion for these characters and my connection to the art I was observing felt genuine. To be sure, I had my share of teenage angst as I worked to develop my authentic self as opposed to simply adopting my family of origin stuff lock stock and barrel. And to be sure I suffered my share of separation anxiety as I grew up and went out on my own. But none of that struck me as over burdensome at that time nor from the distance of 40 years looking back does it seem like it was particularly difficult.  
 
If there is anything that stands out it is that I had this notion that choosing a life of art over Engineering would mean choosing a life of awareness about all of this kind of thing over a life of focusing on the mechanical aspects of how the world works. I was also aware that making that choice meant I would most likely find myself in economic situations more akin to the down and out characters I was painting at that time. If so I was more psychic than I give myself credit for because I was right. I have never actually starved for my art, but other than brief periods of prosperity it has been a life of relative privation compared to what it would have been had a chosen a different route at that time. 

“Triple Self Portrait”
Oil/Canvas
48” x 28”
1982

All of the figures in this painting are me. The woman is drawn from a famous black and white photo by Dorothea Lange of a woman struggling to survive the Great Depression. The other figures are taken from sketches and paintings of myself. But all three are meant to represent aspects of myself. The woman represents my struggle with my rapidly developing awareness of the life of poverty ahead of me. The standing male figure represents my self as the engineering student or responsible bread winning male. The nude figure on the floor is me as the artist trying to reconcile these possible futures.

This is the first complex figure painting I attempted. I have drawings of other “big idea” paintings but this is the first. Clearly it was inspired by Picasso’s “Le Vie.” I can also see that I had been looking closely at artists like Rubens who were so good at arranging their figures so that the movements of limbs and torso orientation created the rhythms and direction of the composition. In a sense, the composition is made by the placement and actions of the figures.

However, the handling of the paint is so clumsy it’s almost impossible to look at. I was experimenting with materials during this time and unwittingly used materials that darkened and congealed over time. This piece has aged very badly. Also, it is clear I still hadn’t figured out how I wanted to apply paint to canvas. The brush work is halting and very irregular from one part of the painting to another. The figures too are awkward and clumsily drawn and arranged. In short, the piece is a mess. However, it shows real promise and suggests that I might be able to do larger more complex pieces in the future.

“Homage To Cezanne: The House”
Oil/Canvas
28″ x 24” Approximate
1981
 
In my 3rd year of college at Penn State University, I finally screwed up the courage to take a leap of faith and switch majors from Architectural Engineering to Painting. It was a move that seemed inevitable to anyone who was close to me at that time except my family. My parents thought I had simply lost my mind and was throwing away my future. For me, I felt I had at last gotten in line with my highest calling and had found my future.     
 
One of the first things I decided to do was emulate and absorb as many styles of painting and ideas about the way the universe is made as possible. From the beginning I had a particular proclivity and attraction to disrupter artists, the ones that changed our world view and understanding about how things are. Cezanne was naturally high on my list.  
 
Even though I had already become accustomed to painting in a studio, this painting was done outside in front of this house. I attempted to paint it in the style of Cezanne’s work. I did several of these pieces and unlike Cezanne, I had pretty good luck selling them.  
 
One of my friends at the time was a burgeoning writer. Her parents loved art and decided to buy several of my pieces for $100 each.  That was an enormous amount of money for me at that time and did a lot to boost my confidence. The painting of the red house below is their house. The other two paintings below are works that I did at that time. 
 
 

“Cubist Egg and Clock”
Oil/Canvas
36″ x 18”
1981
 
As soon as I made the decision to switch majors from architectural engineering to painting I was on fire to absorb and emulate every artist and style of art I thought worthy. In fact, as I write about this now at the jaded and wizened age of 59 I am a little jealous of the enthusiasm evident in these pieces of my earlier self. 
 
Cubism was clearly going to be on my list of styles to emulate. And not so incidentally, Picasso was a favorite of my mentor, Dr. Helen Woodal. She was even working on a doctoral thesis about a particular painting that is considered Picasso’s and the 20th centuries most important painting, “Le Demoiselles D’Avignon.”   
 
I didn’t particularly like that painting. However, I understood the significance of cubism and even liked it for both its intellectual aspects as well as its ability to express emotions. In fact, I remember wondering even at that early age why Picasso hadn’t further exploited that possibility of his invention. To this day, even after reading many books on nearly every aspect of Picasso except his love affairs, I still have not gotten a satisfactory answer to that question.
 
Here, in addition to the obvious exploration of cubism, I have also attempted to express my interest in intellectual themes through subject matter and emotional intensity through the graphic exaggeration of cubism’s elements of style. Yes, I was interested in the multiplicity of view points and yes I was interested in the overlapping existence of all things which cubism conveys so well. But I was also interested in expressing the emotional intensity of that moment of angst when one is seized with the immensity and interconnectedness of all with the simultaneous feeling that nothing matters: a combination of zeal and emptiness that so epitomized my youth. It was my hope to further communicate that to the careful observer who might notice that the figure’s twisted and intertwined arms were holding a chicken egg and a clock: symbols of timelessness and time.  
 
Well, it may have been a powerful piece with clues about the limits of cubism and expressionism. But the cruel hard fact is that is has been and remains a crusty dusty old painting in my racks ever since and for the last 39 years. Like literally thousands of other works on canvas and paper, I keep dragging it along from studio to studio in hopes that at some point there might be a setting where it can be seen and enjoyed both for the simple fact of itself as a painting, but in the larger sense in the role it played in the development of my art or even art of the 20th century. Like nearly all my creations then and ever since, it was always my hope that it might be enjoyed for itself, but also shed some light and enjoyment on the viewing of other Art too.  

“Mother and Son”
Oil/Canvas
48″ x 20”
1982
 
The way this is painted and the subject matter are both worth some comment. It is among a small body of work that actually cohere in a remarkably consistent way. It is a surprisingly early style. Clearly it is very derivative of early cubism. What is particularly interesting to me is how evolved and consistent the palette is.  This little cluster of pieces are all this particular soft blue with softened edges. The “cubism” here also expresses an understanding that the “look” of cubism isn’t just about a “look.” You can see I was using the extension of lines in the figures to open the form to the background so that the figures overlap and form visual puns and ambiguity of space. These are some of the intellectual underpinnings of cubism that were lost on even some of the early adopters of the style in Paris back in the early part of the 20th century. I owe much of my deeper understanding beyond its visual “look” to my close relationship with Dr. Woodal.   
 
Eventually, I too became more interested in the expressive and emotional potential of cubism. You can see that already in this painting but even more so in the paintings that came immediately afterwards.   
 
Part of that drive towards emotional potential was shaped by my subject matter. As I left my nuclear family I naturally felt a lot of nostalgia for my close relationships with my mother and siblings and the pain of separation. There are a lot paintings during these two to three years of mothers and sons, siblings clustered together and estranged positioning with father figures.   
 
In many cases the mother-son relationship paintings have a soft ethereal quality. The paintings of siblings or myself with families are often very intense and raw. At the time I could not see that. But from the distance of several decades it’s easy to see that my relationship with my mother continued to be a source of comfort and support well into my young adulthood even though in everyday life my mother was in unison with my family’s incredulity and disapproval of my choice to be an artist. 

“Cubist Portrait of Dr. Woodal”
Oil/canvas
30″ x 24” Approximate
1982

Dr. Woodal changed my life. She was a PhD candidate teaching Western Art History to undergraduates when I met her. She was absolutely passionate about Western Civilization and the canon as understood at that time. She was also very involved in civil rights issues. Even though she was white, she was the editor and lifeblood of Minority Voices, a poetry and literary journal for non-white writers.

She was a force of nature. And she took a particular interest in me as a student and an artist. Her passion for art in general and my art in particular unequivocally pointed my 18 year old heart and mind even more emphatically in the direction of art than it most certainly would have been had I not met her.

Among other things, she was passionate about the work of Picasso. And she had a particular interest in Cubism. In fact, she was doing her dissertation on Picasso’s painting “Le Demoiselles D’Avignon.” She was asserting that it was based on the traditional theme of a Judgement of Paris. I spent many hours in her tiny smoke filled office sparring with her about this painting and her assertions. In the process I got a privileged fast track opportunity to dig deep into the roots of some of the more important movements in modern art.

The result were some surprisingly insightful paintings in the style of various aspects of Cubism followed by other art movements that followed. Eventually I worked my way right through the 20th century. After Cubism’s various phases I moved on to Expressionism, then Surrealism and eventually the Abstract Expressionists, Color Field painters and even a little bit of Pop. But that is where I stopped. I just could not get excited about Minimalism, Process Art and other -isms of the period that ran right up to my time… the early 80’s. And then something developed that was even more distant from my artistic and intellectual proclivities; Post Modernism and the age of Irony.

By the time I was in my 30’s and devoting my life entirely to art, it was clear I was out of step with this major current of contemporary art. In fact I remember proclaiming with a fellow artist and poet that we were emphatically Modernists…not Post Modernists. This proclamation meant I would be relegated to a career decidedly outside the sanctioned highest levels in the art world and I had to square with that. But by that time there was no choice. My grounding in art tradition as well as the desire to embed my work with deliberate connections to earlier work as well as with a spiritual quality; a catch all word for things like sincerity, authenticity, compassion. Post modernism’s determination to mock everything including itself and seemingly determined effort to be deliberately unspiritual left it with simply too little breathing room for me as the restless creative and passionate person I had become.

This portrait of Dr. Woodal reminds me of why and how I became so devoted to the currents and traditions of art and why I felt so determined to contribute something of depth and feeling to that tradition.

 

It was Dr. Woodal’s passion and the joy I also felt in learning how to see and think in new ways as a result of being exposed to those works of Art. Maybe, after all these years and all the subsequent work I created, someone else will have that experience when looking at my Art. That is the idea after all…and that connection is the very idea of Modernism. To see oneself as utterly separate and ironically detached is the Post Modernist position. That just isn’t the world I want to live in nor the one I want to help create.

It may be overreaching here, but the world order created after World War II that gave us an era of remarkable interconnectedness and surprising stability between countries may have been a result of the world envisioned and expressed by the so called Modernists. These were artists who emphasized qualities of restless invention over convention balanced with serious and thoughtful connection to proceeding art. This insistence on personal integrity helped create a broad cultural understanding of our need to see beyond our political, racial and cultural boundaries, to embrace difference while maintaining connection to our own history and culture and to search for and embrace the new while respecting and cherishing the old. In a nutshell this art’s greatest message may be that we can create a healthier and happier world for all if we can just broaden ourselves enough to realize that it doesn’t have to be “this” or “that.” It can be “this” and “that.” It’s not a question of “or.” We can have a world of “and.”

The three paintings below were also done at this time. 

“My Cubist Crucifix Commission”
Oil on canvas
60” x 26”
1982
In 1982 I was in my 3rd year of college at Penn State. By this time I had discovered the history of art and was soaking up styles and movements as fast as I could. In this case, I was clearly looking closely at cubism.  
 
It’s interesting to me now, as I look back, this piece was part of a group of pieces exploring cubism but already had their own distinctive palette. This idea of a highly personal palette that would be a meaningful part of a particular period was to become a part of my way of working for the rest of my life. Cubism also influenced my way of thinking and making my abstract art.  While my pieces don’t look cubist after this period, the idea that time, space, perception and memory are all fluid components of consciousness has been at the core of my imaginings and non figurative art my whole life.  
 
A crucifix as a subject was also something of lifelong interest to me. Not from the standpoint of Christianity, but as the use of an essentially nude figure to express high thought and feeling. Moreover, the figure as a symbol would also be part of my work ever since this period.  
 
Finally, it’s worth noting that this was a commission piece. It’s actually almost weird that this commission even happened. I had a tiny studio in a garage behind a huge but off beat fraternity house called the Pink Elephant. And it was indeed, Pink. I rarely left my garret and had become nearly a recluse.  
 
I don’t know how this man found me but somehow we met and he would visit my studio occasionally  to see what I was creating. Once I started painting in this way he wanted a portrait of himself. I don’t remember how much I charged him for the painting. It I remember he was very pleased and continued to lend his moral support to my efforts.  

“Purple Thigh”
Oil/canvas
5′ x 3’
1982
 
I’m really not sure what to call this piece. I settled on “Purple Thigh” because it sounds catchy and it calls attention to the most important element in the painting… the thigh.   
 
Like all transition paintings it is a little messy and unresolved. Just before this piece, I had done a few paintings that explored cubism in many of its various stages. But here, it is apparent that I began thinking about volumes. I distinctly remember painting that thigh and how good it felt to see that illusionist volume pop out of the canvas. It was both sensual and intellectually striking, especially in the context of what is otherwise an essentially cubist painting.
 
It was clearly a very portentous thigh considering what I would eventually paint. But here, it pokes out my recent past into a future that would not come for another 10 years.
 
Shortly after I painted this piece I gave it to my roommate who particularly loved it. Unfortunately, a few years later I learned that he died in a tragic accident. I assume he passed the piece on to his lover who also liked the work and hopefully it is hanging on a wall somewhere being enjoyed. If, by chance, anyone has seen this piece, please let me know. I would love to have it back or at the very least get a better quality photograph of it. 

“A Woman at her Toilette”. 2 versions
Oil/panel
24” x 24”
1982.

This little pair of paintings is an early example of me doing multiple versions of a painting that unintentionally end up showing how I am moving through my own process of emotional development. In the first version you can see me in the lower corner watching what I am certain is my mother sitting at her vanity putting on her makeup. My mother came of age in the 50’s when women spent a great deal of time beautifying themselves everyday even if they were housewives as my other was. As a child I would sit beside her fascinated by the whole thing. The special table with all the colors of lipstick and skin powders and cremes. The process and transformation and the whole thing dedicated to beautification. We sat together in silence as mother intently focused her attention on the transformation that was required for any occasion like going to the grocery store…..or no occasion at all. It was art.

And as I got older I understood the sexual undercurrent of lipstick and rouge and hairspray….lots of hairspray.

In the second painting I am much larger and almost menacing as I watch my girlfriend look at herself in the mirror. The toilet is up making it clear where we are. Being poor bohemian college students, she did her make up next to the toilet over the hand sink. I often watched. But no longer content to wait quietly in rapture, I would grow Impatient and sexually agitated as we pressed closer into each other’s lives. I brushed my teeth and washed our dishes in the same sink where she conducted a ritual of beautification I was just beginning to see as part of being someone’s partner instead of someone’s child. Among other things, I learned a lot about patience in that tiny bathroom. Lessons it would take me another 40 years to process.

Today I held a friend of mine as she wept. Her husband, who had returned to China died suddenly of a respiratory illness. We watched the videos of the funeral service on her phone over and over again as the pain of her sudden loss washed over her in waves, and taking me along at times. After a time I struggled with the limits of my own patience and capacity for grief. I held on….for my friend. We were in the lobby of her business. And so, at some point she felt compelled to turn her phone on mirror mode. She pulled mascara out of her coat pocket, adjusted her make up, took in a deep breath. Smiled weakly at me and stood up. A customer entered and I left.

Powerful tools for life…..friendship, patience…..and make up.

A Woman at Her Toilette Version 1
A Woman at Her Toilette Version 2
Angst

“Angst”
Charcoal on paper
32” x 24”
1982
This was was created as a classroom assignment in one of my Architectural design classes at Penn State.  Unfortunately I can not remember the professor’s name.   This particular class helped me truly see and understand what “design” actually was.  His teaching methods were unconventional and very effective.  
 
In this case, the assignment was to create an image that would invoke a singular and intense emotion.  I remember struggling with this all night until my frustration  and eventually angst at not being able to do the assignment finally became the singular emotion I was looking for.  Once I was in the emotion, the design terms made themselves evident almost by themselves as my professor had suggested they would.  
 
His premise was that if you become the thing you are painting it will paint itself.   This is not far from the concepts making their way into American culture from Eastern mysticism.   It wasn’t long before I graduated and immediately made my way to Taiwan and China where I could study those ideas more deeply.  

“Late Cubism Self Portrait”
Oil / canvas
28” x 24”
1982
 
This is a self portrait with more than one version of myself depicted. It is inspired by the so called synthetic phase of Picasso’s cubist experiments. It was characterized by collage and more emphatic overlapping and visual puns where something on the canvas could be one thing or another.

“Mother and Son”
Oil/Canvas Board
18″ x 12”
1982
 
I have already written about my proclivity to paint mother-son paintings during this period of my life. What I didn’t realize until now as I develop this website 40 years later was just how many of these Mother-Son paintings I did and in how many different styles.  
 
It’s not exactly clear what style this is but to anyone familiar with early 20th century modernism it is pretty obvious I was looking at and absorbing a lot of ideas from cubism, expressionism, fauves and even the futurists. This piece and others like it were probably my attempts to absorb and express what I saw in artists like Picasso, Derain, Soutine, Kokoschka, Braque, Klee and Giacometti just to name a few.  
 
This little body of work is also interesting to me because it is just that, a little mini phase or period of my work. The paintings we included under the featured piece were done within a week or two of the featured work, if not on the same day. Then I moved on. I still work that way. The time it takes me to move through a phase is usually longer than a few days now, but it is still the same basic process.  
 
This proclivity to observe, digest, express and move on would fly in the face of my effort to build a career in the arts. Galleries were the primary way in which artists got their work from the studio into the living rooms of clients. And galleries worked hard to build a clientele. Most galleries, having built a clientele are not anxious to confuse them with something different every week. They want consistency. Or do they? I think like most people they do… and they don’t. That balancing act is rich and exciting when it is done well, but that is challenging and rare. So most galleries fall back on what is easier which is to present to their clients a consistent “brand.”    
 
Well, that never worked well for me. And now that I look back on my early years I can see even in the first years that I took myself seriously as an artist I was inclined to absorb what I saw continuously. I was, and still am, very much like a vacuum cleaner sucking in both the dirt and the diamonds that may have been left lying around. Choking out whatever I can and then eagerly moving to the next thing.   
 

 

For some, that restless curiosity would be seen as a strength. For others, it would be a liability. And for me, definitely a little of both.
Now, I don’t depend on galleries to sell my work. Instead of soaking up other artist’s styles, I am observing and soaking up social trends and cultural developments, but it’s still the same process. It is an enjoyable way to live and make art. And in a world where the idea of branding has penetrated almost every aspect of life right down to your tinder account, it is a relief to be largely free from that.  
 
Perhaps one could say that my brand is to be mercurial or beyond brands. But I don’t even think that is true. I’m not beyond brands and I don’t think having a brand is all bad. If I have any thing of value to contribute on the whole issue it’s probably about approaching the whole matter with some compassion for oneself and others around the whole thing and finding some balance for the understandable need for consistency and some honor and respect for the value of restless inventiveness.

“Self Portrait as Delecroix”
Oil/canvas
30 x 24”
1983
 
By the year I was graduating from Penn State I had not only churned through a lot of styles of painting but I had also grained a lot of confidence in myself and myself as an artist. One of my favorite artists at this time was Eugene Delacroix. I loved the energy and bright reds of his work and decided to paint myself as though I were swept up in a wind of brush strokes and color that blew off of a Delacroix canvas and onto mine.   
 
Delecroix is a romantic period artist and this idea of paint blowing from the master to the young aspirant is certainly a romantic idea. But I was also very much interested in this idea of being part of a tradition of painters and artists. It mattered to me that I belonged to a community of artists I could be friends with but also ones who had gone before and left markers or hints about where and how I could explore life and painting beyond what they had done. The ones I admired most where the ones who were daring, original and full of energy.  
 
To this day my favorite artists are the ones who exemplify those qualities and who lived compelling lives; Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rubens, Delacroix, Rodin, Picasso just to name a few. This painting is a kind of declaration that I had arrived. I was now a painter who was going to kick some ass and do something to contribute to this tradition.  
 
However, just as my certainty and confidence in all of this was swelling, I discovered there was an alternative universe with an entirely different set of principles and it’s own very rich and long tradition of thought and art. My discovery of Eastern thought and art in my fourth year of collage was about to turn my world upside down.

“Early Landscape”
Oil / canvas
30” x 24”
1983

During my 4th year of college I had discovered landscape painting through my interest and study of Ancient and traditional Chinese painting. Naturally I experimented with Sumi ink and rice paper. However, the whole idea of landscape painting became interesting to me as a place to enjoy painting but also a place and a way to explore my most far reaching ideas about my emotional life as well as my evolving cosmology about how to conceive of reality.

This piece was done on location and with traditional western oil painting materials. It looks, however, like something that may have been done by a Chinese painter. Clearly I was already trying to find ways to combine these approaches in an elegant and satisfying way.

“Ski Slope”
Charcoal/ canvas
40 x 50”
1983

This was a study for my first large commission. The commission was from my boss at the Holiday Inn restaurant where I worked as a waiter. He thought it would be a great idea to have a large wall sized painting of the ski resort that was near the hotel. We shared a vision of a painting that would feature a Swiss Chalet like lodge seen up close and from below with snow covered slopes and pine trees around for decoration.

I received my $200 advance on the $400 agreed price and I headed off to the art supply store. After stretching a very large canvas roughly 6’ x 8’ I decided I needed to do the painting out in the field. So, I found a suitable spot in a cow pasture with a view of the ski slope and set up camp. I pitched a tent and strapped my giant painting to stakes and began painting.

The key flaw in the whole concept revealed itself quickly. The ski resort had no Swiss Chalet like lodge. In fact it had no real lodge to speak of. Instead it had a series of ramshackle shacks that appeared to have been hastily assembled without building permits or proper plans and were in fact abandoned for most of the year. They were hardly picturesque.

The other challenge was that in central Pennsylvania there was rarely enough snow for skiing so they had to make snow and blow it on the slopes when it was cold enough. This worked for skiers but they didn’t blow the snow over the surrounding forests for aesthetic pleasure as that would have been a waste of resources. So the trees were not covered with snow.

In order to find a more suitable and pleasing composition for my painting I had to keep moving further and further from the ski resort. In fact, I eventually moved so far from the resort that one can hardly see it in the picture. Since I wasn’t exactly enamored with the resort I personally didn’t mind it’s diminishment in the painting. And so I proceeded.

Unfortunately when the painting was unrolled for my boss to see it he was so angry at my departure from the agreed upon composition that he could not only not see the beauty of the piece but he also refused to pay me the balance of $200 more for the piece. He stopped short of demanding the deposit back but refused to take the painting. Fortunately I didn’t lose my job.

“Sumi Ink Landscape”
Sumi ink/ rice paper
10” x 6”
1983
 
Something happened during my last year of college in 1983. While I was absorbing the history, philosophy and art history of Western civilization at break neck speed, I was beginning to become aware that Eastern philosophy existed as an equally rich tradition and was in fact beginning to meaningfully affect American life. This awareness was brought to my attention by a new friend I met named Zoltan Farkas. He was my age and studying Asian History. He was smart and as passionate about his area of interest as I was about art and Western thought.  
 
Through Zoltan and eventually other people I met through him I became aware of the writings of Alan Watts, Gary Zukav and others who were reinterpreting Eastern philosophies such as Daoism through the lens of theoretical physics and Jungian psychology. The early 80’s was in fact very much the extension of the Hippie era just a generation before which encouraged people to tune in and drop out. By 1983 the catch all phrase was, “be here now.”  This whole idea gave birth to something we called “The New Age Movement.”  It brought everything from yoga to New Age book stores to virtually every neighborhood in America along with a watered down vague spiritualism that had elements of Buddhism and ancient Chinese philosophy rolled together.   
 

 
Naturally I had to know more about all this. And so I immediately began studying the art and trying it out. I remember buying my first stick of dried and compressed Sumi ink and pad of rice paper. I went outside and did my first Sumi ink landscapes in the field like an impressionist painter would with his easel and tubes of paint carried out and set up in the windy corn field. It wasn’t until later that I learned that Chinese and Japanese artists rarely if ever went outside into the field to paint while observing nature.   Instead, they would spend time in nature and then return to their homes to meditate and distill their experience in nature to brush, ink and paper.   
 
At the very least, these early explorations of Eastern thought and art compelled me to include landscape painting into my practice.  Up to this point I did not think of landscape as a serious art worthy of my time and energy. But for a few notable exceptions in the development of modern art, I scoffed at landscape painting as just so much decorative fluff.   
 
Embracing Eastern art changed all of that. Landscape quickly became an important way that I would develop my art in the most meaningful ways. 

“Penn State Landscape”
Oil/Canvas
28” x 36”
1983

During my undergraduate years at PennState I was an art sponge soaking up other artist’s styles as fast as I could find them. Most of my college art professors didn’t paint. They philosophized about painting but didn’t actually paint. At that time process art was all the rage and so if there was any art at all it was about the process of making art, not art itself. I’m not opposed to masturbation but it’s not something I would do in public or attempt to ennoble as art. Art that was emphatically about my own process to the degree of denigrating or fencing out anything else but that seemed a tad masturbatory to me.

Well, fortunately the faculty of the art department had at least one professor who painted. Richard Mayhew was in fact a very good painter and even had a gallery career in addition to his post as a professor at Penn State. Professor Mayhew was arguably the only professor who understood my need to actually paint and even copy other artists and artworks. He told me that my own creativity would eventually emerge if it was there and that no amount of emulating other artists would block that.

This landscape is done in the style of Mayhew’s work. It is a fairly germane view of the hills and tree lines that are the quintessence of central Pennsylvania. I gave this piece to my parents and they loved it for 30 years or so. When my Mom passed away my step father reluctantly gave it back to me.

“Zoltan’s Girlfriend”
Ink/Paper
6″ x 6”
1983
 
I included this image here primarily because it is a print made in a print shop in a print class. It’s noteworthy because print shops and their tools became an important part of a major breakthrough for me in 1991 when I taught a print making class at Seattle University.
 
At the end of class when all the students had gone on to their next class there was often a lot of cleanup even on the best days. A lot of the clean up was removing the leftover ink from the glass inking plates where ink was prepared to be rolled onto the printing plates or stones.  
 
The conventional thing to do would be to use solvents to clean these surfaces and throwaway the remains. All this beautiful ink seemed too good to waste so I began using the rollers to spread ink directly to paper instead of on plates. I quickly realized that the marks the rollers made on paper were very interesting. They looked like landscape paintings and they repeated with every revolution of the roller. Additionally, each successive revolution of the roller would get lighter and lighter as more ink was transferred to the paper. Anyone who has painted a wall with a paint roller is familiar with this process.  
 
This repetition of a particular mark, which were often very complex, immediately suggested the quality of memory. Memories are often repeated over and over but often fade with time and overlap with other ideas and memories. These images also suggested the idea over overlaying spaces exactly of the sort I had been trying to convey since I started painting.  

 
The amazing thing was how simple it all was. If there was ever a moment in my life was singularly simple and amazing all at the same time it was that moment in the empty print shop at the end of the day as I cleaned the glass and equipment from the day’s classes. There, in that moment, I discovered both a technique and a methodology all at once that would put together so much of what I was searching for. It was as though I had found the love of my life and won the lottery all on the same day.  

“Copy of a Corot”
Oil/Canvas
36” x 28” Approximate
1982 or 83

I often do copies of paintings I am excited about for a variety of reasons. Usually it is because there is something about the way the painting is constructed or painted that I want to study very carefully and absorb as much as I can. Nothing gets me to look as long and as close at a painting as copying it. In this case I chose a piece by the 19th century French painter Jean Baptiste Camille Corot. And down below, you will see three more copies that I did at that time. The painting on the left is by Cezzane. The painting in the middle is a pastel drawing by Degas. And the painting on the right is a copy of Degas.

Corot was a close precursor to the Impressionists and was already an iconoclast of sorts in that his approach to painting was a far cry from the approved academic art of his day. In fact his portraits were often quoted and referred to by early modernists like Picasso and Matisse 50 years later. That sense of being part of a lineage outside the mainstream also really appealed to me. By the time I painted this in 1989 he was already not known to anybody except art aficionados. And even Picasso and Matisse were beginning to fade as the years were putting more and more culture and development between them and a new generation. To be sure, even now, 30 years later, they are still household names, but I would argue in another 30 years that will not be the case. At least I hope not. I prefer to be linked with an art tradition that has a longer arc and rises and falls below the radar of what is popular. I would like to think there is a timeless quality to this painting. It may never be the most popular painting, but more importantly, it will continue to communicate something of value for those who slow down enough to see, for a very long time.

“Three Couples”
Oil/Canvas
36″ x 45”
1982 
 
I did this painting during my last year as an undergraduate student at Penn State University. Obviously I had done my best to integrate what I learned about cubism and elements of expressionism. I remember encountering the works of Francis Bacon and Picasso’s cubist work at that time. I was also struggling with the fact that I had broken off my relationship with Sharon, my first true love. I was increasingly aware of the depth and seriousness of the life of art that was ahead of me and couldn’t see how Sharon would be able to be part of that. I was 21, about to graduate from college with a degree in painting and wIthout the woman I had loved so strongly for 4 years.
 
So here are three couples. Each one is together in very different ways. I used some of the lessons from paintings like Picasso’s “Three Musicians“ to show the integration or not of the couples. I also used the expressions like those of an expressionist artist named Soutine and another named Kokoschka to add more drama to what was otherwise a cerebral piece. I remember also consciously choosing to use the color techniques of the impressionists to raise the chromatic key of the painting. Below you can see several paintings that I did as preparatory studies for this painting. 
 
As I write this description of the painting 30 years later, I am most fascinated by the “couple“ to the left.  The charcoal face reaching out to touch the blue nude is definitely me. They are the “couple“ that represents Artist and Model, a relationship I have not been in yet. These two are physically separated in a way that is not the case with the other two couples. That nude female is the most volumetric part of the painting. It is curious to me that I would essentially go on to have that relationship for the next 30 years, but not with a woman, rather with my craft instead. Relationships with women always remained secondary to my art. Perhaps that will change in the future.

“Abstract Landscape”
Oil/canvas
36” x 16”
1983

Unbelievably I painted this when I was 22 years old in my last year as an undergraduate at Penn State University. It is unbelievable to me at the age of 59 as I write this because the piece is so simple yet so complex and complete. It summarizes and foretells so much about what I would paint over the next 40 years.  

It includes the Impressionist work I was studying. It also includes the work of the colorists with their elaborate color theories.  It is certainly inclusive of the abstract expressionists and especially the subset that called themselves the color field painters.  But over and above all that is the interest in and the ability to find a harmonious way of creating a piece that is both abstract and landscape. Finding that balance would be the thing I could contribute to the idea of painting and a measuring stick for what made one of my works “good” or not.  

To be sure, I would go on to do plenty of emphatically landscape pieces. And I would paint plenty of works that were singularly abstract. However, the challenge of finding ways to create a piece that hung in the balance would be a challenge that still motivates me today. That balance is dynamic as my mind shifts back and forth to perceive something one way and then the other.  It may or may not be “better” but it is certainly more stimulating to my imagination and rational thought process to have a work of art stimulate that oscillation between the two.