Figurative Paintings 2023

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“Lulu at 18”
Oil on canvas
50” x 48”

Lulu is my daughter. Our relationship is complex, tight and mostly gentle. Despite not having any of my genetic makeup she and I are more similar in many ways than my son. We are both emotionally intuitive, goofy, creative in the fabric of our day and able to be patient and compassionate with others…characteristics that don’t fit as easily on Sam. We are also both left handed. That may not mean anything but I think it suggests something.

Some paintings are more manifestly for oneself. It can be argued that any really good painting is just for oneself. But in my case, that is often not the case. There are often other forces at play in varying degrees. I often have audiences other than myself in mind when I do a painting. In the most extreme case, a commercial commission where I might even detest the results. Fortunately I have not been in a financial condition that required such prostitution of my talents more than a very few times in my career. The banjo playing chickens in a pizzeria south of Seattle are a particularly detestable record of one such occasion.

Here I was completely free of any motivation other than to express my view of my daughter at this moment in her life. Like any good father, I see my daughter at yet another beautiful moment in her journey of unfolding as an individual. It is both awkward and confident. There is swagger yet fragility. The obvious affected clothes and body language belie her journey of becoming herself. And it is these juxtapositions that give me hope that she is indeed on a journey…not stuck in a rut or working too hard to become someone else’s vision of who she is or ought to be.

People ask me what Lulu thinks of the painting. Well, Lulu hasn’t seen it. It was done from photos that I took in the most offhanded way. The photos were taken in an offhanded way not in an effort to conceal from her that I was going to do a painting. No, that’s just the way pictures are taken these days….one handed, from a device not devoted to picture taking and with hardly any effort to compose the shot. In fact, when I took the pictures I had no thought of making a painting.

It was only later when I looked at the photos did I realize I had inadvertently found a congealed moment of truth about Lulu. Then, I leaned into my respect for the portraiture of French painter Ingre to arrange the composition to add an element of structure and durability. I nurtured the edge qualities to add spatial depth and emotional complexity. And I took some inspiration from Matisse in adjusting the colors to add frizzle. It might sound like I was making soup but in fact the process of doing the painting was more like a deep meditation on Lulu and my relationship with her at this pivotal moment in her life: eighteen and first year of college.

I have no desire to show Lulu the painting. Nor have I made any effort to hide it from her. In fact, she has walked right past it on several occasions without noticing it. Or perhaps she has noticed it and decided not to comment. In any case, it’s my hope that at some point in the future she will discover the painting. And that it will help her take the measure of who she is at that time…the way coming across old photos of oneself does….or more significantly….the way sitting down with an old friend that we haven’t seen in a long time often does.

In the meantime this painting is for me. I have already had several moments where I was able to sit and enjoy the painting. It does it’s job of holding Lulu in a clear yet delicate way. And perhaps it will do it’s job for Lulu in the future. It is, like many things I have done for her, a quiet unobtrusive investment in her future…her future as a self actualized aware and whole human being.

“Judas”. Unfinished.
6’ x 4’

Why this?
Why a gigantic slightly feminized gigantic black man’s ass? And why would a straight white male artist want this? Who is my muse?. What inspires me to pick this and paint it so large? And why such an unabashedly realistic, almost illustration level way of painting?

Well, at some level I don’t care who my muse is or why I chose to paint this or even why I painted it this way. The short answer is because I simply had to. And that is not just romantic hyperbole. This is one of those images I just had to get out from the moment I saw the photos.
It’s a compulsion. Almost a biological urge.

But this is an essay about my art and my process so I will try to dig deeper. First of all, the model is a new friend. Sthey is very knowledgeable on world religions and mythologies, is an avid burlesque performer with the motivation to design stheir own shows and is a lot of fun. Sthey is also gorgeous.

On another level I want to celebrate stheir commitment to gender bending presentations in stheir artistic presentations. This is clearly an issue of our times as is the matter of his race. The fact that Judas is Black is one of the least interesting things about sthem as a friend. But the fact that the subject of my painting here is Black is important to me. I have heard from many, including Jules, that there are not enough Black artists and Black bodies represented in the arts. I absolutely agree. Obviously I can’t change my race to help remedy this, but I can certainly paint a gorgeous Black person in the most luscious and honoring way that I can.

Yes, these issues are my muse in that they are playing a part in inspiring this piece. But so is my friend. Knowing sthey would see this at some point and hopefully would be honored and flattered and just plain tickled so see stheir physical being as well as stheir artistry painted so beautifully and stridently inspired me to make this piece.

At the time of writing this essay, this painting is not finished. Here are some pics of its progress from a blank canvas. When I finish it I will add a final larger photo.

Judas - Unfinished