“Grandpa on Tractor”
18″ x 22”
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.
32″ x 18”
Water color/ paper
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.
“Still Life with Copper Kettle”
18 x 24”
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.
36” x 48”
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.
“Starving Woman with Child”
Charcoal on paper
24” x 18”
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.
“Figure Drawing Class”
Charcoal and pencil on paper
Oil on panel
48” x 24”
“Self Portrait as Artist or Engineer”
Oil on canvas
48” x 24”
“Me, Scott and our figure-type muses”
Charcoal on paper
40” x 26”
“Triple Self Portrait”
48” x 28”
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.
“The Studio”. 2 versions
Oil/cardboard box. And the other on a bed sheet
6 x 6’ square
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.
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.
Charcoal on paper
32” x 24”
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.
Oil / canvas
30” x 24”
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.
40 x 50”
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.
“Penn State Landscape”
28” x 36”
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.
“Copy of a Corot”
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.
36” x 16”
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.