“Mark with Bible”
4’ x 7’
This is one of 2 versions I created of this image of my friend and model Mark holding a Bible. The piece was inspired by a dance piece that he and a troupe of dancers choreographed for a company called Spectrum Dance. The piece was about gay men struggling to reconcile their spiritual and religious beliefs with the Church’s anti homosexual politics and the implications for their personal lives.
This version was loaned to a woman who modeled for me in and around 2000. She was a terrific model and asked to borrow this piece. This was pre internet and smart phones so keeping in touch with people was more difficult than it is now. Gradually we stopped working together. When I reached out to her to recover my painting her number had changed and the painting was gone. I have never heard from her since.
The other version was sold and a photo was never taken of it.
28” x 21”
This painting was inspired by a porn magazine picture. I was curious to see if this image would still have the effect of pornography once transferred to a hand painted image. My conclusion is that it did not. It may be as offensive to some viewers as the photograph and may be equally inappropriate for children to see, but it does not cause sexual arousal.
In fact, its failure is its success. I feel this double effect claims new ground for art. I feel this is a new type of art that is both erotica and carnal. This is probably not something one has seen much of before. Arguably there are a few examples of this in the history of art. It may even be argued that what appears to have been intended to be erotic to its contemporary audience actually appears carnal to us today. However, I think that with a few minor exceptions, there has not been much art that was created with the intention to be both carnal and erotic.
And what do I mean by “carnal” anyway? Since carnal means of the flesh, perhaps what I am trying to convey is an urge to express the physical fact of flesh often associated with sentiments of brevity, fragility, delicate beauty and corporeality. It is meat, fragile, beautiful, and ugly; a marvel of the universe and at the same time potentially disgusting. It may cause sexual arousal in one moment and revoltion the next. It is all of these things at once.
“Marni’s Back with Red Square”
36” x 26” Approximate
Marni was one of my first art models. I did many photo shoots of her and many paintings from both photos and from life. I don’t remember how we met but she very carefully allowed me to be inspired by her. This was early in my career of painting the nude so I had little to show her that I was serious. But she trusted me and to this day I am eternally grateful to her.
This piece is the last painting I did of her and probably the best. It summarizes everything I was trying to achieve at that time. It was done from photos but with a freshness and haste that one usually associates with working from life. The muted palette of almost simply black and white emphasizes the sculptural aspect of the figure and minimizes her individual personality. This is almost a painting of a sculpture.
During this brief period I placed a red or orange rectangle in the upper corner of the painting. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was a way of paying respect to the abstract expressionist artists I was leaving behind such as Mark Rothko and Hans Hoffman. These were artists whose work and ideas had so heavily influenced my thinking and art making up until this point. The figure itself was a way of flipping them off, but the rectangles may have been my way of saying I still respect you.
In any case, the rectangles work. These pieces do not have the same bite and dynamism without them. Try it. Block out the rectangle with you hand or finger and see for yourself. It’s just not as interesting without it.
I did a second version of this piece in 2017. It’s good. Some people might like it better. The red square has turned into a red bird and the figure is more carefully painted… more polished. I still like this one better. But you see for yourself.
“Jodi and the Back”
24 x 36”
Some friends are models first. But most models are friends first in my world. In fact I almost never recruited someone as a model I didn’t already know. It usually doesn’t work out. And by that I mean I don’t usually produce anything worth looking at that way. There are notable exceptions but not many.
Jodi and I used to say we were married in a past life.In fact, I think we were brother and sister in a past life too. And maybe even father and daughter or mother and son.The truth is, when we met we felt like we had already known each other a long time and in a way that seemed impossibly deep and complete for two people barely 30 years old.There was never even the slightest inkling of a romance between us. It is as though we had done it all in the past and there was simply no tension between us, even the tension of yearning that draws two people together.
But one thing I guess we hadn’t done in a past life was to be artist and model. This time around we made up for it. Every single piece I did with Jodi was a success.
This small painting is my favorite painting with Jodi and among my top 10 favorite creations of mine. It features her profile looking out past a nude male back with my finger prints on the back. It’s not clear what any of it means but it is rich with associations and possibilities. And like other favorite pieces of mine it is both realistic and abstract.
The other smaller images below also feature Jodi. These pieces range in size but they are all large paintings. I haven’t worked with Jodi as a model in a long time but I suspect there are more to come.
“Mark’s Back With Red Square”
6 x 4’
This is without a doubt my favorite piece of my own art. It is the one I would grab if there was a fire in the building.Another measure of my preference is that I turned down offers for it even when I was Stoney broke. Stoney Broke is an expression an artist I used to work for in Manhattan used to define himself when he would ask me to volunteer. It meant that not only did he have no money in his wallet, in the bank or under even in the cracks in the mattress. It meant he had no idea where the next dollar was coming from. That was my first lesson in cash flow and the velocity of money.
Another way I have thought about this piece by way of describing my affinity for it is to say that it is the piece I could see hanging in one of those big museums with a post modern collection, like the Seattle Art Museum or the Metropolitan Museum, where there are acres of space devoted to gigantic works of art that have little or no sensual appeal. They are cerebral at best, illustrating the story of modernism into its post modern period of vacuity and just a mumble of wealthy collector’s/board director’s storage space at worst. The result is a lot of very expensive and very “important” art with very little appeal.
One day, I discovered one of my favorite paintings in the history of Western painting at the Seattle Art Museum. It was a painting by Lucien Freud entitled “Leigh Bowery Seated.” The impact of encountering this intensely rich luscious painting of a huge naked man was certainly intensified by its chronological placement in the midst of these vacuous paper thin wisps of art that surrounded it. It blew me away.
Since then I have done my own versions of paintings inspired by this and other pieces by Freud. But before I even saw this piece of Leigh Bowery I had painted “Mark’s Back With Red Square.” Almost from the day I saw the Freud there in the Seattle Art Museum I felt like my painting of Mark was like an archeological missing link. Here was a painting that bridged the enormous gap between all those post modern conceptualists and even the abstract expressionist with the full blown iconoclastic return to unabashed figural realism of Freud and a host of others that were already coming out of the woodwork everywhere.
Many Art world critics and taste makers were saying for those years when I was coming of age as an artist that painting was dead. Well, Freud and lots of others with clout I didn’t have proved them utterly wrong. But in the meantime I was sweating it out in obscurity trying to find my way to some fresh new ground while laying tracks and even building a bridge for anybody interested enough to follow. This painting was that bridge.
The nice thing about youth and the spirit of art is that it doesn’t really need any of that. My studio assistant who is in her late 20’s is doing fantastic water color portraits inspired by anime. They are full of character and insight about the human condition. She is prolific and sincere and her work is appealing to all kinds of people. She has no idea what any of this essay is about and doesn’t need to. She is painting from her heart and her real life experiences. Despite all my education and erudition, I am hoping my 20 year old son who has proclaimed himself an artist will be more inclined to follow her example than mine.
8 x 6’
This painting was my way of saying, “Monsieur Cezanne, I finally really understand you. Thank you.”
“Mark Fetal Position” & “Mark Fetal Position with Red Square”
24” x 40” Both Approximately
Mark was one of the men I met through Richard Jessup. They were both principle dancers at Spectrum Dance company, a Seattle dance company specializing in modern and jazz styles of dance. Mark and several other members of the Troupe were willing models for me from 1995 to 2000. Since they were dancers they had bodies that were uniquely fit without being overblown or overdeveloped the way people get if they simply lift weights and take steroids.
It was through my work with Mark and Richard that I evolved my interest in presenting the figure more as a sculptural presence than of a person or personality. It wasn’t long before these paintings that I had figured out how to take my own photos of the model and how to pose them the way I wanted. These dancers were ideal in that they knew how to move and they understood the power of line.
Most of my works at this time involved tightly enclosed poses like this one. They allowed me to focus on the figure’s sculptural forms rather than the individual personalities of my models. And they usually suggested that something was going on for the model beyond simply posing for an artist.
Couples Portraits: “Helen and Steve,” “Louis and James,” & “Sue and Kim”
8’ x 4’
This is one of several couples I painted in this size and format with the intention of creating 12 paintings of 12 different couples in this same format.It was my hope to exhibit them with enough space for viewers to move in and out of the circle between the paintings.When I invited models to pose for these paintings I always asked that they simply embrace each other the way they do with as little artifice as possible.
It was my intention to capture as many faces of love as I could. Other paintings in this series include younger couples, gay and lesbian couples and an older couple. Originally I had hoped to finish the entire 12 paintings within one “chapter“ of my career. Now I see this as a project that will include if not all, at least a long arc of my career.
None of the paintings in this series have been sold.There are 4. Perhaps one day I will finish another 8 paintings and have that show.
It is interesting to me that 30 years later I now own and operate a spa devoted entirely to couples.
“Portraits of Friends”
Oil on canvases/panels
30” x 28”
The year 1995 was a fabulous mess, a mess of experimentation and rapid development. I didn’t realize it at the time but my life as an artist was to coalesce in the next few months into the most explosive and coherent period of my creative life. But at this point, my work was all over the place. While some consistent elements where evident, what was clear is that I had moved away from painting the figure as a kind of mythic subject from my imagination without models or photographs to painting the figure from direct observation of life or from photographs.
But how and for what creative purpose? Those things had not coalesced yet but that didn’t slow me down. In fact, with the new found freedom of having liberated myself from the fear of being old fashioned in my love of the figure, I was like a college kid out from under his overbearing parents for the first time. It was a non stop party with me wanting to paint every kind of image and model I could get in front of.
Some of the work were like this piece. Smooth. Bright colors. And soft edges. Often with a conceptual veneer as if to hedge my bets on its relevancy in case the pure optical indulgence wasn’t legitimate on its own.
“Sex and Violence”
Oil on 3 panels
8′ x 12′
This painting came as close as anything I have ever painted to shocking people. It is ironic that while I have always been very aware of the role and importance of avant-garde art from about 1850 to 1970, I have never been focused on shocking my audience before. Frankly, I didn’t think it could be done anymore. I had assumed we were all too jaded to experience anything with the freshness and vulnerability implied from being shocked. The idea for this triptych came in stages. At first I intended to create a bigger than life size painting of a woman’s ass. I went to a strip club and asked one of the girls to come model for me. As a way to impress upon them that I was serious, I asked her to bring her boyfriend along to the session. As I was photographing and painting her, he was watching and began to pleasure himself. Eventually, she challenged him to model for me as well and to have me take a photo of his erection. I posed him like this and snapped some pictures. When I got the film back from the developer, I knew immediately that I had to create a pair of paintings of these two spectacular posteriors.
Around that same time I found a tattered magazine from Mexico laying on the ground near my studio. It had apparently fallen off the highway overhead, and the magazine was in Spanish so I could not understand it. However, it included many images of intensely graphic torture and violence. Some of the photos featured mutilated corpses and one particular image featured a male figure that also revealed a blunt autopsy. I was powerfully shocked and disturbed by the images, yet I was fascinated by them. I knew that somewhere in my brain, this was related to my fascination and repulsion of pornographic imagery. Both types of images were portrayed in graphic color and intense bright light in situations that we usually associate with dim light and darkness. These images were both intensely fascinating and inspired action and withdraw, such as sexual feelings and repugnancy. The images of the violence inspired outrage and depression… another kind of withdraw. I suppose that is why I included the black flaps that are over the top part of the left and right panels. The black flaps both crop the images bluntly the way pornographic images often do and are designed to hang in such a way that you wonder what is under there. It’s too high to reach which adds a layer of frustration. People who visited this work while it was on display in my studio would look around for a broom or a stick so they could reach up and lift the flap so they could see what was under it. I also included a type of abstract landscape at the top of the middle painting. This band completes the composition of the overall triptych and rolls the top of the painting into deep space.
Deep space would become synonymous with relief for me; respite, calm and even surrender. Even though the landscape is blood soaked, there is at least the hope of a little peace… somewhere. It also has the reverse affect on the corpse. The deep space causes the corpse to appear shoved out into our space making it even more horrific than it might be otherwise. Much has been written about the relationship between sex and violence, and I am aware of its corresponding appearance in Western Art since the early Egyptians. However, I wanted to push past those traditional ideas. The prevalence of pornographic images and even the mere existence of such images of violence are all relatively new in human experience. This piece attempts to make something inspiring of all that.
“The Chicken and the Back”
Oil on 4 panels
Large panels 8′ x 4’ Each.
I have always been interested in diptychs and triptychs. For all practical purposes this is a diptych. I have also been interested in the decorative and intellectual function of adding auxiliary pieces provided in this case by the addition of the two smaller pieces on either side. This type of thing shows up again in the work I did for the Invisible Theater in 1999- 2001. The idea of this painting was to show through paint itself the carnal similarities between the meat we eat and the meat we are. To paint the chicken, I bought a chicken from the grocery store dressed and ready to be cooked. I nailed it to the studio wall and painted it from life. I left it there for several days as I painted. I wanted the stench and putrefaction to drive my work. The human is derived from a found photo of a man posing naked. I was struck by the raw meat-like way the figure appeared. I wanted to present both images larger than life. As if to punctuate this idea, I painted a human femur bone on one panel and a chicken thigh bone on another as supporting panels. These smaller side panels have been lost or destroyed.
“Venus with Patty Pan”
8’ x 4’
This was painted at my uncle’s “gentleman farm” in the Willamette Valley south of Portland Oregon. Uncle Earl was my Mother’s brother, a neurologist and the only member of my family of origin that really “got me.” He and his second wife, Jodi, adored me and my art. They also understood I needed to be pulled away from my urban studio literally under a freeway complex in order to get some rest and recovery from time to time.
Their farm was a rural paradise. They loved to cook and fed me lavishly. Dinners were replete with good wine and great conversation. The barn was turned into an art studio where I could work when I came down to rest and recover. And the weather was always sunnier than Seattle.
They also loved to garden and threw harvest festival parties. They even invited my art buddies and associates. They also bought paintings from me. But not this one.
By the time I did this piece I had fallen in love with 8’ x 4’ sheets of Masonite panels from Home Depot. They were cheap, easy to prepare for painting and big. And, this piece is a perfect example of my moving away from found imagery to painting from life and shooting my own photos. The woman is a modified photo from a magazine I found laying around their house. And the patty pan is from their garden of course. The nut in the middle of the squash is a walnut, still in its husk.
I could go on about the iconography. But instead I’ll just drop a few clues. Think Botticelli’s “Venus on the Half Shell.” The veiled goddess. A rotten seed inside a swollen gourd. The radical shift in scale. The shared shapes and stacking of stuff. The summer palette. What does it all mean?
“Jordan in a Camisole”
44” x 30”
Jordon was a friend and frequent model. He was gay and also liked to wear feminine things like this camisole. But I wouldn’t say he liked wearing feminine things as a cross dresser or to bend people’s gender perceptions. Instead, I think he enjoyed it as a way to emphasize his masculine forms.
Jordon was great to work with as a model and a delightful friend. He would let me use him to experiment with various ideas and always respected my boundaries when we ended up posing together for figure groupings that I envisioned. He also helped organize and host events at my studio that brought in other like minded and wonderful people. Some of them became models and friends as well.
“David with Scarecrow”
30” x 20”. Approximately
David is my nephew. He and I were very close during this chapter of his life. He and his parents lived on a gentleman’s farm outside of Portland Oregon. My uncle and aunt loved art and me and my painting. They basically took me on as the young painter genius in the family. They would have me down to their farm to escape my grimy garret under the freeway in Seattle. Feed me. Let me do farm chores to refresh my lungs and muscles, host art openings and buy my paintings. Quite frankly, I would not have survived these years when I was in my early 30’s without them. It was in part, due to their love and support that I was able to become the artist I am today.
I did this piece as a Christmas gift to David. Recently my aunt died forcing my uncle to reshape and downsize his life. David, who is now in his late 30’s wrote to me to say how grateful he was to have this painting again in his home and how much it reminded him of all the good times we had together now almost 30 years ago.
“Self Portrait on a Table”
45″ x 35″
I have written extensively about how I worked hard to develop a “form” that would express my way of understanding how “things exist in the universe.”Undergirding all of these experiments and efforts is an essentially Kantian demand:that things are what they are. In other words, a painting is a painting….not a novel or song. It is a panel with stuff smeared on it.And by extension, things are more beautiful the more they are themselves and not trying to be something that is not essential to their nature. For me this philosophically jived easily with my own accidental discovery of Aristotelian and Pythagorean ideas of beauty. One would think this would drive me to be an abstract painter.And yet the figure kept coming back into my work.By the time I painted this piece in 1994 the figure had become “The” work.Therefore, I needed to find a way of posing the figure and constructing a painting, especially the handling of the paint itself, in keeping with all of these philosophical ideas.
This painting, along with several others I did at this time, were inspired by a group of photographs my friend Richard and I shot of each other. I was struck by the carnal nature of the photographs we took, especially the ones of me where I am not attempting to pose. I appeared as a living slab of meat with no overlay of artistic artifice.This “just as is” seemed to express my ideas of how to paint the human figure in a way that was relevant to the deeper artistic and philosophical concerns of that time.
And I noticed that this also led me to discover a dynamic in between world that existed somewhere between “erotic” and “carnal.”Living and dead.This piece and others at this time became almost black and white paintings I did a couple of things to convey these ideas. The palette is almost black and white and the outlines of the figures are broken and in many cases it is not clear which if any of the figure it is “outlining.”
All of this came together to express a set of dynamic tensions that paid homage to my respect for Kantian neoplatonism but at the same time allowed me to be a figure painter.
4’ x 4’
This painting was an experiment. I was interested to see if a painting of a pornographic image would function as pornography. Or, to be more precise, could a painting inspire genital engorgement and ultimately inspire an orgasm in the way that photography does. And another question that was on my mind was if an image is sexual but does not inspire genital engorgement is it pornographic or more generically sex art, like wildlife art for example, or maritime art.
The method I used was to select an image that was arousing to me and then paint it. The result is emphatically not sexually arousing and in fact it works somewhat the opposite for me. It seems carnal and blunt…things that are not arousing to me but may be to other people. To me this is about as arousing as seeing slabs of raw meat lying
in the sink after rinsing them off.
But the phrase “to me” keeps coming up. Well, art is subjective and I guess what makes something sexually arousing to one person may have a different affect on someone else too.
One thing is clear though. There is space between what makes something pornographic and what makes something just about sex as a subject. But none of this even touches on a bigger question, what is art and can art be made from the subject of sex and transcend its subject the way portraiture can. And can the same be accomplished with pornography? Can something be sexually engaging and transcend that to become art?
So many questions. And only one painting. Well, there are more. I never took these questions on directly for a sustained period of time. But it does come up from time to time as pornography has undergone several different periods in my lifetime and it’s presence in our lives has become more common and more acceptable.
30” x 40” Both
Marni was my first real female model. By that I mean a woman with whom I did several paintings of her over a span of time … in this case … about 6 months. She was a Japanese student who loved art and photography. She was introduced to me by a mutual friend. Because her English skills were limited and because she was the lover of a friend, I never became close to her nor got to know her very well. But she allowed me to photograph her in a very intimate and vulnerable way.
Over the course of our brief working relationship I did several paintings of her and developed both my way of painting but also how to conduct a photo shoot. Knowing how to do a shoot became a critical part of my creative process over the next few years and opened opportunities with all kinds of interesting people.
I’m not sure why we stopped working together. I also don’t know if she even liked the paintings I did of her. We just didn’t talk much. I also don’t know her last name and this was long before gmail and Facebook so we had no easy way to stay in touch.
Wherever she is I hope she knows how much I appreciate her courage. And I hope that courage has continued to enrich her life as it has mine.
“Descent from the Cross”
Oil on canvas
8′ x 6′
Although I was brought up in a Christian family that celebrated Christmas and Easter, went to Church often enough to have it be an important part of our community and was baptized in the name of Christ, I am not really Christian. I don’t go to Church except when visiting my parents and only out of respect for them. I celebrate Christmas because I live in America and I don’t hate Christmas. I never took my kids to Church nor did anything to teach them about Christianity other than in the kind of broad terms you would expect in a university course. So why would I paint such a large painting of what is arguably the most quintessential moment of the Christian mythos?
The simple, although not the entire answer, is Rubens. Peter Paul Rubens. And more specifically, his version of the Descent From the Cross painted in 1612. The other half of the answer and the complicating part is Seattle’s St Mark’s Cathedral.
Ruben’s painting inspired me more than any other painting. The size, the handling of the figures, the colors and most importantly the depth of feeling compelled me to make my work the best it could possibly be. Here was an artist at the top of his game working with incredible skill and on a grand scale.
At the same time I discovered this painting I had discovered that Seattle had an Epicipol Cathedral that was 100 years old and still in a very raw unfinished condition. Furthermore, they offered a hip Sunday evening vespers service that was only 30 minutes long and attendees were invited to lay on the floor anywhere throughout the cathedral except on the altar. The music was consistently gorgeous and deeply meditative. I went as often as I could. And while lying there listening to the music I would look at the huge empty concrete wall that screamed for a large painting.
And so, I took my best guess at how big the niche was, stretched a canvas and did the painting. Then I called the Cathedral office and told them about my painting and that I wanted to donate it to the Cathedral for that niche. The lady on the phone listened carefully and said she would get back to me.
A few weeks later she did get back to me. She said that the church council would like a small delegation of people to look at the painting. And could I bring it up to the Church for them to see it. The painting was 8’ x 7’ and I could not afford to rent a truck. I also didn’t want to risk having them lose interest by asking them to come see it at my studio. So I strapped the painting to the roof of my old Buick Electra and drove up to the church hoping they wouldn’t see me in the parking lot looking like the hill billies had just rolled in.
The committee consisted of only 3 people. I brought the painting in to the naive of the cathedral as requested and leaned it against a wall. They asked me to leave the room while they took in the work. Only afew minutes later one of the committee came to get me. Because it was such a short time I assumed they had decided it was to big or too small or too weird or whatever.
They liked it right away and the decision was unanimous. Moreover, they told me that they were nearly certain that they were going to reject the painting because apparently I was not the first person to suggest something for that niche and the previous presentations had been dismal.
I was flabbergasted.
They asked if I could simply leave the painting there and that they would have it professionally hung. And they did.
And of course there were members of the Church who hated it. In fact so many people hated it that they asked me to make a written statement explaining the painting. They had my statement beautifully printed and framed. That helped. But the Priest felt the painting should have a proper unveiling and an opportunity for the parish to meet me and ask questions.
By the time of that gathering most of the parish had either come around to liking it or lost interest. The unveiling was essentially a love fest and a real feel good experience for me. But there was a woman who rather vociferously let everyone know who she was, a former art history instructor. And as such she had the authority to proclaim that in the history of Western Art there were no depictions of Jesus without a face. She ended her rant with a repeated question made louder with each repetition, “where is the face of Christ.”
Before I could organize my retort about the importance of fresh ideas and contemporary relevance or some other high sounding art speak, the Priest rose from his chair and walked to the front row of guests. He put his hand on someone’s cheek and said, “here.” And then he moved to another person and said, “ here is the face of Christ”. He said that a few more times. Everyone burst to their feet in applause and that was the end of it. Cue the doughnuts and tea.
But that lady was not alone. I also was unhappy with the painting. Now that it was installed, I could easily see it was simply too small. And quite frankly, my art was developing so fast at that point it already looked like a transitional piece to me, lacking the corporeality and gravitas that was already much stronger in my work.
But too late. There was no chance of a do-over. The whole process of doing something like this is so much more complex and fragile than one would think. Democracies are messy. And an uninformed electorate is a recipe for disaster. By some miracle the Church dodged a bullet by accepting a painting that was not awful and maybe even a little challenging. And I had the nearly astonishing realization that amazing things could be accomplished if you put your mind to it and had a little luck.
Aside from the story about how the painting came to hang in St. Marks Cathedral in Seattle, the iconography is probably worth a paragraph or two. Besides being inspired by Rubens, I was attempting to sum up my ideas about how to combine abstract painting with figure painting in a way that is a sum gain, not a zero sum gain or worse, a net loss.
The cross is formed by the two rectangles of blue which could be thought of as Sky. And that affect was inspired by the fact that I had recently moved my studio to a space under a major freeway. The only bit of Sky that was visible were little rectangles between the lanes. This had the effect of intensifying the allure of the Sky and making it seem even more a symbol of transcendence. The figure comes right out of Michelangelo. It is from one of the figures on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
There are no other figures holding Christ’s body because I wanted the viewer to have a more immediate connection to the body. In a sense, we are holding his body in our immigration. If there were figures I reasoned, then the whole scene would be like an imaginary make believe. By simply contemplating his body being lowered we participated in this more than contemplating the body still on a fixed to the cross, the cross, after all is holding his body.
Well, the whole thing was one grand experiment. And there it hung, right there in the very spot I had created it for… in all it’s glory and all of its glorious shortcomings. I don’t go to the vespers service very often anymore. And the painting was moved from the naive to an exit stairwell to make way for architectural restoration. But I still occasionally dream of re-doing this painting in a truly grand manner, as a cabinet that opens like Ruben’s’ painting. And as big as it needs to be to properly fill the niche, roughly 20’ high. With all the power and technique I have amassed since then. Who knows, stranger things have happened.
“Back of Ceiling”
Oil on panel
6′ x 4′
This was not my first back painting. But it is one of the early ones. The first one was inspired by a photograph by Mapplethorpe. But this was done from life. The model was Terence, who later changed his name to Jordon.
After the first painting was done I quickly got the idea to put it on the ceiling along with a matching female back. Well, it didn’t take long for me to conceive of filling the whole ceiling with paintings of backs. And so began my project to paint as many backs as I could. The problem was that I had no carpentry skills. Furthermore, the ceiling of my studio was not quite high enough to have that much art that intense hanging overhead. And, I sold this painting shortly after I painted it.
Like the other pieces I put more effort than I probably should have trying to reconcile the figure with the background in some elaborate mumbo jumbo of physics and philosophy. I remember writing extensively about this and even coming up with the term “pressure forms.” Thank goodness I got that out of my system and just got back to painting.
I’m sure all that thinking and effort was an important part of my process. But thank god it ended when it did … sometime at this time in 1995 when I was about 34. Up until then my hand was partially paralyzed by a lot art theory that helped me understand why I loved abstract art so much and hated almost everything that came between when that ended and when I started. Pop art, Opp Art, Conceptual Art, Neo Dada and ultimately what got lumped together into something called Post Modern.
All that understanding seemed to some to be holding me back and stunting my growth as an artist. And that may be true. But I think it gave me a foundation that allowed me to keep going in a way that I may not have without having a sense of my place in a larger arc of art and artists. Over the years I have seen a lot of talented young artists get started with a lot of fire only to fizzle out shortly thereafter. One common ingredient that is lacking for those artists is a disdain for knowing anything about earlier art and even a suspicion that knowing anything will cut them off from their own creativity and authenticity. And to some extent, I agree.
But at the same time they cut themselves off from a world of ideas, potential guidance and the power that comes from recognition, recognizing something of your own voice in artists that have come before. Instead of an island, completely isolated and alone relying on oneself for everything, I preferred to remain connected to a much larger flow of art and art history. Sure I had to give something up to be part of that. And it may have slowed me down initially. But in exchange I had and still have a nearly inexhaustible source of inspiration from artists across time and cultures.
“Red Hand of Ulster”
Oil on canvas
55″ x 40”
1995 and 2004
The Red Hand of Ulster is a powerful symbol to the Scots and the people of Northern Ireland. It is many things to many people. And whatever it may or may not symbolize, it is a source of much debate and conflict about territory and tribal identity. To me, the part of the myth that is most compelling is the part of the story about the willingness to go over the top to accomplish one’s goals, which for me was and is about creating art. In one version of the myth two kings are in a race to reach the other side of a body of water to claim the land for their tribe. In an act of final determination one of the kings cuts off his hand and throws it to the beach thus winning the race and claiming the land for his kin.
The myth speaks to me on several levels. As an artist, my hand is the organ that will allow me to reach my highest goals of artistic creation. And red has not always been but is nearly always the foundational color of my palette upon which all other colors are built. And, of course the notion of sacrificing oneself for the goal is more or less what my life has been about. Certainly I could have chosen a more conventional and comfortable life. That was more emphatically so and more urgently so in my 30’s and 40’s when this piece was created.
It was basically painted in 1995. It was among many pieces I did with what was my first real female model, Mari. But I never felt it was quite right. In 2004 I painted it red. Then, before the red paint dried, I removed some of the red paint by spritzing the painting with paint thinner. This caused the new red paint to run and find its way into all the furrows of the old dried paint from years prior. These pools and drips gave the painting the intensity and uniformity it needed. At last the composition cohered and at the same time had energy it had previously lacked.
One day, a man with Irish blood came into my studio and fell in love with the piece. He bought it that day and declared it the Red Hand of Ulster.
Oil on canvas
40″ x 28”
Michelle is my sister. I did this painting from a sketch I did of her on a visit to Pennsylvania to visit my parents and other family that still live where I grew up. Michelle never left despite having a real passion for the Peace Corp and harbored plans to join them to do nursing in Africa after she graduated. Instead, she got married and eventually had 5 children, a huge home and more animals than I can count. Happiness and fulfillment became less important and a certain bitterness began to shape her face.
In 1995 my art was all over the place and this piece has some of almost everything I was doing: the cubist like torso, the blue and ochre restricted palette, the realistic main figural part, the rough unfinished feeling just to name a few.
Strangely, my sister looks more like this painting now than when I painted it 30 years ago.
8’ x 4’
Isadore was a real person. Or perhaps I should say, Isadore was a real persona. She was the bouncer and really the raison d’etra at a notorious gay dive bar that hosted an 80’s disco revival night every Thursday throughout the 90’s. She had created a vibe and generated quite a scene that lasted 5 plus years, a long run in nightclub scenarios.
The theme was a kind of “come as you are” drag night. Like her “look” here in this painting, many of the drag queens made no effort to be glamorous by any measure. In fact, it was this deliberate display of blue collar masculinity with touches of femininity, (lipstick, a dress along with deliberately kitsch elements like the obviously fake breasts) that made all of this so interesting to me.
Because I went to Isadore’s Thursday night thing almost weekly, we became friends. Eventually I even made it into the inner circle and was invited to the late night afterglow at some 24 hour eatery where gossip and idle chat about notorious patrons and the evening’s ups and downs were rehashed and laughed about.
Eventually I asked her to model for me….from life. She came to my studio twice dressed exactly like herself with the same dress and leggings and combat boots. The result was a powerful likeness and a real document to the times, the mid 90’s….now incredibly 30 years ago.
Geisha Star was indeed a star, a local star in Seattle at least. Seattle has a long history of being culturally progressive. In the 90’s it had a drag culture that could compete with New York and San Francisco. It had contests and prizes, a pecking order and celebrities. Well, Geisha was one of those fabulous people who was gorgeous and a great performer. She was highly regarded and highly sought after.
I honestly don’t remember how I met her or how I came to do her portrait. But it was done from photos I shot in my studio. I never got to know her and I don’t even know if she ever saw my portrait of her.
Clearly I am playing on the famous painting by Sargeant of Madame X. This painting was actually in Seattle at this time and there was a novel about Sargeant and this painting in particular that I read. Sergeant’s painting became a huge scandal in its day and arguably both ruined and reignited his career. Mine went largely unnoticed and made no impact on my career one way or the other.
It did sell though. Years later it was bought and owned by a gay man named Dale. He died an untimely death but stated in his will that this painting along with others he acquired from me should be returned to me. And so, I am proud to have this piece in my collection waiting for the day when someone will mount a show of Seattle’s Demi monde of the 90’s and how this group of people laid down cultural fertilizer that would nurture generations to come.
That was 30 years ago and I am witnessing Seattle trying to reinvent itself in the face of so many challenges. I’m wondering how many will dig into their own recent history and draw inspiration from the rich vibrant characters that made Seattle such a vibrant place to live.
Oil on canvas
8′ x 6′
Most of my paintings do not have a very interesting pedigree. I paint them. Sometimes they get purchased. Most of the time they are purchased I never see them again and that’s it. The rest, that don’t get sold, which is most of them, get put on a rack and occasionally get taken down to be photographed for this website or hung on the wall of the spa for a bit.
But every now and then something more exciting happens. They are stolen. And they are stolen in more ways than I could have imagined. But in this case, I stole it back from its owner. And to make matters more complicated, I stole it back from a Church.
But first, let’s talk about the painting itself. This is a portrait of a woman named Linda who became the first Canon in the History of the Episcopal Church….and she was right here in Seattle and providing leadership services at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral. I lived near the cathedral at that time and often went to their Sunday night choral vespers service which was a hip non Christian like service where people came and laid on the floor and listened to chanting for half an hour or so every Sunday night.
I was so moved by these services and the raw unfinished interior of the building that I painted a large painting on the theme of “Descent From the Cross” and offered to donate it to the Church. To my astonishment they accepted it and hung it in the naive of the Church. In the process I met Reverend Linda. She became a counselor to me as I broke off a very loving relationship with one of the great loves of my life. As a way of thanking Linda for her support I offered to do a portrait of her. She was gracious enough to pose for a photo shoot in the Church which was decked out for Christmas with lots of poinsettias. I thought that a perfect backdrop for the painting.
In addition to being an ordained Priest and excellent counselor, Linda was a gritty lesbian. She was tough, sincere and wore Birkenstocks under her robes which I liked so much I included them in the painting.
During that same time I came to know Mark who was a member of the church and a collector of my work. He was also a member of the Church council and wielded more than a little power within the church. Mark loved Linda and also loved my painting of her. He was also fighting hard to keep her at the Cathedral. As it turns out, not everyone loved the idea of a female priest, especially a lesbian mannish one who had more natural charisma and personality power than the head priest of the Cathedral.
With his influence, Mark was able to convince the Church council to accept my second painting as a gift and hang it in the administrative area of the Church. This out of the way location was a compromise but nevertheless still a kind of thumb in the eye to those that didn’t like Linda.
Eventually, to the disappointment of many parishioners, Linda was forced out and took a position at a smaller Episcopal Church north of Seattle. Her painting hung in a back stairwell for a year or so but was eventually moved to Church storage. That really troubled Mark.
One night Mark showed up at my studio and asked me to get in my truck and follow him. We arrived at the Cathedral. And, in the dark of night slipped in through the back door, up some stairs, down some hallways and eventually wound up in a storage area under the cathedral. There was my painting with a bunch of boxes piled against it. No holes were puncturing the canvas but it was badly stretched and covered with dirt.
The painting is 8’ tall and 6’ wide so it wasn’t easy to sneak it out. But no one stopped us and within a short time the painting was strapped to the back of my pickup truck and on its way back to my studio. And there it sits, still in storage, but carefully restored and properly racked waiting for the day when Seattle wants to review a little part of its fitful revolutionary spirit….pushing through the first canonization of a female priest, then rejecting her to the countryside because she was too powerful for the male status quo.
And that is all well and good. But to me she is still Linda, the kind loving person who provided me with just the right balance of tender care and tough counsel in just the right amounts at just the right times as I struggled through a very difficult time.
“Doug with Cigar”
Oil on panel
6′ x 4′
Doug was a good friend and fellow artist. He was a writer and musician who visited my studio almost daily during a pivotal point in my development as an artist. During that time I did several portraits of him using different approaches.
Here I painted Doug from a photograph I took of him in the studio one evening. Unlike a lot of my work at that time, this piece was done slowly and methodically, almost like a paint by numbers painting. It deliberately has none of the bravado and virtuoso brush work and speed that almost everything else I was painting at that time had. Even the palette is a drab set of gray, green, brown and dirty tan.
The size is in keeping with my other work but a little weird given the approach. It’s 6’ tall making Doug bigger than life size. What makes it weird is that this kind of approach, methodical and with small brushes, would have probably been better done half this size.
What is strangest of all is that I finished it. This is the kind of thing that just requires hours of meticulous staring at a tiny image on a blurry photograph. For better or worse…here it is, arguably floating somewhere between Lucien Freud, Cezanne, Hopper and a Morandi still life.
Oil on Canvas
8′ x 7′
The year 1995 was a year of spectacular growth and spectacular failures.
This piece, large as it is at 8’ x 6’ was actually only the central canvas in an ensemble that was 20’ long and 12’ high. It was inspired by and of many of the members of a dance company called Spectrum Dance which put together professional level presentations that combined traditional dance with experimental modern dance.
The “ensemble” for lack of a better word was hastily assembled on a rickety skeleton of sticks in the lobby of the performance hall where the 2 week run was held. There was no budget for the art and I had little or no carpentry skills at that time and even less money. Nonetheless, I pulled it off. All the paintings were not created equal but they were by some measures done. All the more remarkable for having only been a few weeks from inception to presentation.
This piece, the largest and most central was the worst. After the show I rolled it up and stuck it in a corner. For years it sat out of site. Occasionally, when I was broke and desperate for something to paint on, I would roll it out and think about it.
Fifteen years later, or so, I began deliberately painting over works of art as part of my process, not just to cover old shortcomings. And one day it occurred to me this piece could be improved by this approach. Of course I began by just painting out sections that I didn’t like. But eventually the new concept emerged to what you see now.
It’s still far short of a masterpiece. But I’m ok with that. The measure I use for this kind of decision is whether it’s better than nothing or does it have promise but needs more work. If it neither has promise nor is better than nothing … I destroy it. In this case, it went on the wall of my break room for a few years where it was enjoyed by the staff of my spa. Now it’s back in the racks. But for now, safe from the chopping block or further coats of white paint.
36 x 42” Approximate
This was a one of a kind painting. I never painted anything else like it. As you can see from looking at this website I usually have a lot to say about each painting. In this case I really don’t. I like it, but I never thought much about it.
8 x 4’
In the early 1990’s we were still living with AIDS. By that time we knew a lot about how it was transferred and how to prevent from getting infected and how to prevent spreading it. We also knew that it affected gay men and intravenous drug users in disproportionately high levels because of their sexual practices and their use of needles to inject drugs. Both of these groups were not exactly the most venerated in our culture and so gay men in particular felt their plight was either being outright ignored or at the very least not being given the attention it deserved.
Gay men were organized and smart. Furthermore AIDS was killing them at an alarming rate. Before long there were many organizations working hard to raise money for everything from palliative care to AIDS research for a treatment and vaccination. There were also groups raising money to lobby local and State legislators to not pass anti-gay laws
At one point I was approached to donate a painting to one such cause. I decided to do a large triptych inspired by the myth of Laocoon and the famous Greek sculpture of Laocoon and his 2 sons being attacked by a sea serpent. The sculpture was carved in Greece about 100 years before Jesus was born. But it was buried at some point to protect it from religious zealots who most certainly would have found it way to sexy during the medieval period and destroyed it. Not so incidentally it was “discovered” nearly unharmed by an unknown farmer outside Rome during Michelangelo’s early life and had a huge impact on him.
The story of Laocoon is rich and complex and a pithy synopsis can be read on Wikipedia. I will just say that what inspired me with respect to this project was the fact that Laocoon was attacked by the serpent because his fellow priests did not approve of his advocation of sex for the priesthood. Not only did he advocate for sex he had two sons. This was infuriating to his colleagues so they cast a curse upon him.
The particulars are different but the principle is the same and it all had something to do with sex and what kind of sexual behavior was to be approved of or not by the constabulary. So, I created a large central painting with two smaller side pieces.
Before I could donate it to “Hands off Washington” the storm of narrow minded discrimination passed and the organization dissolved since it was not needed. And so I kept the painting. Not long after that I sold the two side panels and later gave the large central painting to my now former wife for a Christmas present in honor of the birth of our son that year in 1999. We had a small house but it had one big wall where it fit. She still owns the painting but when she moved to a new house a few years after our divorce, it no longer fit so she asked if I would store the painting until one day when she had a new home large enough to accommodate it.
Ever since it has hung in the large suite of my spa in Seattle as can be seen in this photo where it is very much loved and adored.
48 x 48”
Persephone was an ancient Greek goddess who was a beautiful young daughter of Demeter and Zeus.She was queen of the underworld.The story is full of all kinds of interesting meanings and insinuations. What inspired me was the idea of beauty and tragedy intertwined and the idea of a beautiful person being the result of being half god and half mortal… a little like Jesus in that sense.
I think the idea of a person being half god and half mortal resonated with me because the part of me that creates seems to come from some thing or some place bigger than me. In fact I have long felt that what I was working on was not truly art until that other worldly thing enter into me and my process. It was at that moment that the thing became art and in those moments I was an artist in the truer sense, not simply an artist as a job description.
But what about that beauty and tragedy thing? I suppose that inspired me as a young man because I was still trying to sort out my own feelings of attraction and response to beautiful women. I wanted desperately not to respond to a woman because she was beautiful. My own mother was a feminist and encouraged me from the beginning to think of and treat women as people first and women second. And of course I wanted to value and respect women the same way as I would a man, primarily for who they were as people not for how they looked or what they could do to satisfy my yearnings.
And yet I could not help but be both mesmerized by a woman’s beauty and have ambitions arise that one could easily see as being represented as the “god of the underworld.” Fortunately painting provided an avenue to channel that energy but also an activity that placed me in a position to receive something bigger than myself which would help transform that frustration.
This myth also helped. In the myth, Persephone’s mom, Demeter (the goddess of the harvest and plant abundance), makes a deal with her daughter’slover, the god of the underworld, to let Persephone come up and out from the underworld for half of the year. To the Greeks, this was a way to explain the cycles of spring, summer and then fall and winter. But for me they explained the cycles of higher and lower ambitions and the possibility that both had their place and time.Yes, it was nice to treat my lover as a person and respect her thoughts and ideas during the day. But at night she would probably appreciate it if I let my desire for her become more “underworld.”
The same was true with respect to my relationship with creativity. My life would be healthier and more balanced if I realized there were times to leave the dark intensity of the studio to go out for a walk, interact with people in a rational way, take care of my bills and make sure the garbage was taken out on Tuesday, but then return to the murky uncertain world of emotional extreme and creative frenzy of the studio. Not so incidentally my best studios have been cave like with no windows.
Here, in this painting a beautiful woman appears to be mournfully releasing something precious into a prepared hole in the ground. I myself don’t know what it is exactly. Perhaps it is the head of her lover, the god of the underworld who she will not see for six months. Maybe she is planting some kind of symbolic and sacred seed.Maybe she has just unearthed a buried treasure of as yet unknown value or filled with painful memories. In any case she appears mournful and even a little distraught. Some kind of transition is happening but it is not clear what.
And that, I suppose, is the best part.
“James and Lewis Seated”
4′ x 6’
1995. Changed in 2003
This piece was done in the year my figurative work opened up. Those two men, especially Lewis, played such an important role in that period of liberation and discovery.
Lewis was a nudist and a bit of an exhibitionist. He was also very much in love with James who was neither a nudist or an exhibitionist but was willing to support his lover in his interests including modeling for me.
Lewis (and to a lesser extent Lewis and James as a couple) was the first extended relationship I had with a model. He would come and hang out in my studio. He would pose for specific works or just be there doing his thing…in the nude. He also posed for photos.
I remember the day I got my first proof sheet of a couple of rolls of film I shot of Lewis. I was blown away by the painterly possibilities and the awareness that I was no longer dependent on the work of others for my creative inspiration. I continue to enjoy the “found” nature of finding other people’s photos with the overtones of surprise. But now I had a kind of power at my fingertips. From that moment in 1994, things began developing very quickly, because I now knew how to work with my own live model and take my own compelling photographs.
Many years later I decided I did not like this piece. I smeared it with black driveway tar nearly completely obfuscating the image. That was in 2002 or so. Shortly after that I sold it. I do not have any photo documentation of it in its current state with the tar. But I am certain it is a much better painting now.
I felt that the figures were too complete in a setting that was too abstract. They seemed fussed over. The pure energy of their creation was dulled with incremental second guess touch ups. Furthermore, the background took on a more wonderful random look after the tar was applied.
“Lewis and James Standing Together”
8’ x 4’
This painting was the first of what I had hoped would be a long line of 8’ tall paintings of couples embracing each other in the nude in a way that was as unaffected as possible. I’m not sure why or how I got this idea but it stuck with me. I did continue to paint couples embracing one another for many years and then eventually opened a spa devoted to couples, without even remembering my past history of painting large works devoted to this theme.
At one point I even thought that it would be great to have a show of these paintings in my late years to see how my style of painting shifted over the years just by looking at how I handled this one particular subject. I envisioned them all being suspended from the ceiling in a large circle all facing inward with enough space in between so viewers could walk in between the paintings and look at them. I imagined the backs of the paintings would have text or photos or something about the couples. Someday, perhaps I will have that show.
There is also something interesting about this piece.After I finished it I decided to paint it again.This time with only black and yellow paint and as fast as I could with no layering or gentle corrections. The painting is here in this online connection and you can read about it there.
I did this second piece in this manner because I was interested in seeing how they would affect our way of seeing when they were side by side. And I was and still am interested in these conceptual aspects of painting even while I am busy painting straight up traditional nude figure paintings.
His hallmark was nuance and subtly while Warhol’s interest was in aspects of the image in media along with its color schemes, massive reproduction and repetition. This piece along with the diptych don’t exactly answer any specific questions. It was my hope that it would create more questions that come from comparing things that might seem very similar on the surface but are inspired by very different sources.
“Lewis and James: 2nd Version”
8′ x 4′
This painting was created immediately after the first version. I painted the second version to be part of a diptych along side the first version. Each painting also can be seen by itself. I painted the second version in a deliberately different palette and style. The first version is cool in tone with a unified and restricted palette of ice-cave aqua blue and green and cobalt. It was in fact inspired by the ice caves on a glacier on Mt. Rainier that I had explored around that time. Also, the likenesses and anatomy are more carefully observed in the first version. There are also more smooth transitions and nuances of realistic detail in the “blue” version. This piece is more emphatically yellow than it appears in this reproduction. In this piece the palette is essentially yellow and black, inspired by street lights at night. The execution is fast in this painting, even expressing a bit of impatience. The details that express the likeness and anatomy are not fussed over and are instead intended to be deliberately left raw and unpolished. I was curious to see how the two approaches would compare. More importantly, I wanted to see the affect of the two pieces together. What thoughts and impressions does it cause one to think about and better… what does it suggest about the nature of perception itself?
This piece was done in 1995 when it was just beginning to become common for people to manipulate digital images on their personal computers. I was fascinated by the ability to re-skin images in different colors and set them side by side on my computer screen. This is also a work (the diptych) that is the synthesis of my long interest in the work of a 19th century French painter named Ingre and the work of Andy Warhol. Ingre was so attentive to line and edge.
“Dancer With Abstract Form”
5′ x 3’
I destroyed this painting in 1998 because I was certain at that time it was a failure. Now, as I write this description 20 years later, I am certain I made the correct decision.
Why do I think it is so awful? At the time I painted this, my work was in transition. This piece has elements of the abstract symbolist work I had been creating with a friend named Denny Sargent, along with elements of the new figurative work I recently had begun creating. The bottom part of the painting actually seems resolved and portends what was coming. In fact, if I had to do it over again, I would cut the painting in half and throw away the top. The likeness of the man portrayed is well done, but the hands are tiny and pinched. The sunflower is way too small to keep up with the power of the figure and size of the painting.
Finally, the figure seems awkwardly posed with respect to space. Is he leaping or perched on a chair that isn’t there? Sometimes these ambiguities can serve the painting and encourage the viewer to expand their imagination. However, in this case, it just falls flat and looks clunky. What are those yellow things?Wings?Perhaps the piece would just be better if those were painted out. Too late, I chopped it into pieces and painted over them. Who knows how many more wonderful paintings are out there now with parts of this fabulous flop underneath?
“Mark’s Back with Red Painting”
48″ x 48″
This is a fantastic example of a transitional piece. Just weeks or days before I created this work I had just painted this same figure in a stunning new realistic manner. But here he is again in the same pose but painted from memory this time rather than from life or from photos. To complicate the piece I added a painting within a painting by including a repainted version of another painting I did of this model. That piece is even more abstract than the central figure here.
Perhaps I was conveying the idea to myself that my work would now be about many different levels of abstraction or “concept” even while it would become more realistic.
Among many elements at work here, I like how the painting on the wall within the painting and the main figure both have unpainted sections revealing the white underneath. These “flying white” patches help give the whole painting a compositional unity as well as provide a visual link between the outer painting and the painting within.
Oil on panel
48″ x 32”
Only a few people have come into my life and galvanized me to become my best self like Doug Newton. His intelligence, wit, passion for all of the arts as well as his commitment to his own art deeply inspired me at exactly the right time in my life.
Here I am using Doug’s portrait to explore many of the ideas that were taking shape in my art at the time. The blocks of paint applying 2 dimensional pressure on the head, the skeins of paint applied in varying degrees of thickness to define layers in 3 dimensional space, open brush work to convey energy and the illusion of opacity and so on. Even the large almost unused section under Doug was a device I was playing with in several paintings. And somehow, it is still unmistakably a likeness of Doug.
8′ x 4′
This painting stands alone. However, it is two thirds of a piece designed to hang on a ceiling. It did indeed hang on the ceiling of my studio in Eastlake for over 10 years along with the other one third of the piece which I titled “Jodie” after the model.
“Adam” was inspired by a photograph from a collection of Robert Mapplethorpe. The weird swirling shape above him was inspired by a photograph of a starvation victim in Somalia as well as a recent abstract work I had just completed.
I considered this painting to be proof that I was going to produce something grand with my art during the course of my career. To me this was the first time I had successfully and elegantly integrated the nude figure and the “background” using a construct of the space around the figure as well as the illusionistic 3d space along with the brush technique in both the figure and the so called background.
At last, I thought, the figure appeared to be of the same stuff as the back ground. Separate and distinct, yet the same and connected. It did not appear just as a well formed object on top of a two dimensional scheme or even inserted into an illusionistic 3d space. Even the illusionistic space itself seemed to waiver between the illusion of space on the one hand and simply abstract painting on the other… landscape painting and abstract painting.
After completing this painting I immediately decided to do the painting of Jodi as a companion piece to hang beside this one. Once completed I decided that she looked better hanging upside down on top of “Adam.” However, there was still something wrong about that arrangement. Jodi was upside down or if I flipped them over then Adam was upside down. I tried hanging them head to head but sideways. That was better but still not quite right. One day it just dawned on me… I need to hang them on the ceiling. On the ceiling neither Adam nor Jodi is upside down or on top of the other and they don’t look sideways. It was perfect.
This was satisfying from the standpoint that it allowed me to create something fresh that was inspired by one of my art historical heroes… Michelangelo. Now… the nude figure was at last the central player in the work… not simply decorative additions as they are in the Sistine Chapel ceiling. In that famous work the nudes are adjuncts to the more central works that are illustrations of the old testament Bible. These Bible illustrations, and even more so, the Ignudi (nudes) that hold up the paintings within the paintings on the ceiling are spectacular new visions of the human form. They are full volume powerfully energized specimens of flesh filled with energy and spirit the likes of which had never been seen before much less on that scale.
Since discovering Michelangelo’s work I had always wanted to do something on a ceiling but in which the nude figures are more central to the story.I went ahead and painted 3 pairs of matching nude figures seated with their backs to the viewer each with their own emblem in the middle to convey something. Unfortunately I was compelled to sell several of these “Back Ceiling” paintings as separate works. Only “Adam” and “Jodi” ever made it onto a ceiling where they hung for 12 years until I was forced to leave the studio.
Each of the pairs of figures was meant to be seen as a couple. And each pair had an emblem or object in the middle which was not didactic or obvious but which was intended to inspire the viewer to speculate about the nature of relationships.
“Adam and Eve Ceiling Painting”
Oil on 2 panels.
4′ x 12′
I created this painting to decorate the ceiling of my studio in Eastlake. It is on two separate panels. The original composition included four more panels making the composition that was 12′ x 12.’ I sold the other panels before they were ever installed on the ceiling. This piece is among those first figurative triumphs over my own inhibitions. Here, I finally let myself paint the figure the way I had always wanted and on a scale that suited me. The work was done with lightning speed. I painted these two panels in a matter of a few days. The other four panels we’re done quickly as well with the whole thing taking just a few weeks. The piece was not originally conceived as a ceiling painting. I painted the figure of the man first on his own on an 8‘ x 4‘ painting. The panel was affixed to the wall, not the ceiling. Then I painted the smaller painting of the woman. One day, both paintings were sitting near each other in my studio. I hung them horizontally on the wall end to end making them head to head. I liked the composition but I did not like that the figures looked “sideways.“ And that is when it hit me. If I hang them on the ceiling they can be head to head without them being sideways. Immediately after thinking about this I hung them on the ceiling and then quickly got the idea of covering the entire ceiling. I never did.
“The Fool Card”
Oil/ 3 panels
12’ x 8’
The Fool is the the first card in a deck of Tarot cards that are used for divination and even fortune telling.In a Tarot deck there are 21 major cards called Major Arcana and they roughly correspond to Jungian archetypes.In addition to the21 Major Arcana there are four suits in a Tarot deck that are the precursors to the 52 card playing deck we are all familiar with.
This website is not the place for an entire lesson about Tarot.A quick google search will provide one with everything one needs to know about its history and uses.
I am not particularly interested in Tarot as a fortune telling device as it is often depicted in Hollywood movies. Instead, I approach it more like a Jungian psychology study guide, a beautifully illustrated reminder of all the archetypes that rest in our individual and collective souls. If it can be used to gain insight about myself by contemplating these things and if that insight can be used to help me make plans for the future, well, so much the better but that is over reaching in my opinion.
This “card” features the “Fool.” This is not be confused with foolish, although his/her actions may appear that way to others. This is the person who decides to take a leap of faith. It may mean quitting one’s job to hitchhike across the country. Or it may mean quitting college to work as an assistant to an accomplished chef in hopes of opening one’s own restaurant. It is about leaping beyond the rational into the possible.As someone once said, you can’t discover new places by following a map. At some point you need to just let go and jump.
In this painting the central figure is the Fool.I painted this person in such a way that it is not clear if it is a boy or a girl.They have left the world of one dimension and are just now arriving here in another one.It was my hope that he appears to be falling… not down… but into this dimension. There are two angels preparing to catch the Fool with fabric that is black and yellow and which I had hoped would imply life and death… a dimension of duality. Even the sexuality is emerging from one of fluidity to one that is defined. Is he male or female? It’s not clear… yet.
The dog in the corner is an animal often included in traditional Tarot imagery of the Fool Card. It is usually hard to decide if it is the loyal dog supporting and even going along with the Fool as he jumps off a cliff or a wild animal attacking him in a moment of vulnerability.Here I have chosen a wolf and placed it with in the flow of the life-death dance of the fabric. Wolves are precursors to dogs, but still wild.
There is also an eel in the lower left corner of the painting echoing the rhythms of the fabric.It is here as another reminder of the Fool’s journey through various realms. The eel can live on water and land and was inspired by a strange sight I encountered one night in Taiwan. While walking home from a night of drinking and dancing I saw a restaurant that had been broken into.The front window was smashed and the fish aquariums where guests choose their meal were also damaged. The white eels that are often eaten in these restaurants were on the loose slathering across the sidewalk and making their way into the partially open sewers that were at that time still a feature of life in Taiwan. It was a haunting memory that is still with me and made its way into this piece. It was a living analogy of life moving from water to land and back again, but also the whole digestive process of food moving from fresh water through a squishy squiggly journey to excrement and sewage.
The Tarot is also interesting to me as an artist who likes to do paintings in series like The Four Seasons or the Four Elements. These series provided built in reasons to persevere and stay present for the unpredictable arrival of true inspiration.
In this case, I was feeling my oats. I had only recently broken through to a realization that I could give myself permission to paint the nude in more or less realistic terms and that I had the talent and energy to do this and to do it on a large scale. This piece is 12’ tall. And as if that were not enough, I was working on 3 of them at the same time. I was painting fast as well. This piece only took three days to create.
Speed was not always a virtue though. The other 2 paintings didn’t quite work. I cut them into pieces and salvaged parts. But the paintings as a whole just never cohered.
On the other hand, if I was indeed going to paint all 21 Major Arcana as was my intent, it was going to take quite a while even at that speed.I also felt that I simply didn’t have enough life experience to compose paintings about many of the archetypes contained in the Tarot. So I abandoned the project. Twenty five years later perhaps I am better prepared to slow down a bit and give more careful thought about what they would look like before crashing in and painting them.
Or maybe I’ll just paint them smaller!
“The Lover’s Card”
Oil on 3 panels
12 x 8’
This painting was on four separate Masonite panels. I could not afford canvas at that time so I used very inexpensive but stable building materials. The levitating figures are on a panel that is 8 x 4’.
The ensemble at the bottom of the painting was also on a 4 x 8’ panel oriented horizontally. At some point I cut the seated and intertwined figures out of the panel and discarded the rest. I also discarded the two thin panels that flank the central floating figures.
Furthermore, I decided I did not like the female model I used for the levitating couple. So I repainted her face with the face of another friend. I sold the Seated couple but still own the larger levitating couple at the time of this writing.
Feeling my newfound liberation on how to paint the figure as well as securing a studio with 14’ ceilings allowed me the freedom to paint large complex pieces. I also painted fast at this time. I completed this painting in just a few days.
This was to be one of 21 very large paintings each based on the major arcana cards of the Tarot deck. I had been interested in Tarot for many years at this point. I loved the mixture of symbols and subject matter. I loved that it’s cards and imagery had been a tradition of personal divination for a very long time.
I only completed 3 of the 21 major Arcana. And two of those got divided into parts. It’s ok though, the parts are quite good on their own. And one day I may complete the cycle.
“The Devil Card” Detail
8′ x 4’
This is a detail of a much larger painting that was 12′ x 8’.
This was the 3rd Tarot card painting I attempted at this time. Like the “lovers” card, I deemed this one a failure and cut it into pieces. This particular piece was stolen by my Art dealer, Gary Gibson.
The figures are drawn from various sources including fashion magazines and old lithographic reproductions of 19th century illustrations. My haste drove my inability to reconcile these various sources and parts. I think my excitement to finally be able to paint the figure the way I wanted drove me to the point of recklessness on subject matter and figural sources and arrangement. I was like a young man who had just turned 21 and realized he could order a drink at a bar, so by god he is going to go order a drink in every bar in town.
In another year or so, my subject mattered unified and the terms of my painting technique consolidated.
“Orpheus and Eurydice”
6 x 4’
Certain pieces just come together perfectly. This is one of those. Like a lot of my work, it didn’t get its title until after it was painted. I didn’t really know this would be a painting about this Ancient Greek myth until after the painting emerged. The story has particular resonance for me because it has given me insight about my creative process. In the story, Orpheus and Eurydice are lovers. Orpheus is a notoriously charming speaker and accomplished musician. Eurydice is notoriously gorgeous. At some point the god of the underworld abducts her and takes her down to the depths of the underworld. Orpheus is understandably upset and goes after her. He uses his considerable charm and musicianship to make his way through the various layers of the underworld and eventually gains audience with Hades. Hades makes him a deal. He will allow Eurydice to return to the world above if Orpheus will not look at her until they exit the final gate. Orpheus agrees and they start out. In order to ensure his lover is still behind him he starts up a conversation with her. As they get closer to the final gate her voice gets softer and softer. Hades is trying to trick Orpheus into thinking he is going to renege on his part of the deal. Finally, just as Orpheus is about to step out of the last gate he has a moment of doubt about whether he can trust Hades because he can now barely hear his lover’s voice. But she is right behind him. Orpheus falls for the trick and turns to look to be certain Eurydice is there and coming along behind.She is there but by turning to look at her he has broken the terms of the deal. And as a result he is out and she is locked in forever. Here, in this painting, Orpheus now floats in one dimension and Eurydice remains under ground in another dimension. To me this is the story of the creative process. In order to find and bring out one’s creative ideas one needs to go into the under world of the unconscious. Once there one needs to come back into the conscious world without looking at it. If I look too directly at my ideas and inspirations before they take shape in paint and canvas they disappear. There has to be some level of trust that the idea will follow me out into the light of day. And I have noticed that the more I trust this process the more likely it will come along.
“Orpheus and Eurydice: Version One”
Oil on Flooring Underlayment
7′ x 4′
At this time I had a fantastic new studio under Interstate 5 (I-5) in the Eastlake neighborhood of Seattle. It was to be my studio for 20 years. The impact of that stability on the development of my art cannot be over estimated. The new space gave me the ability to experiment with lots of ideas. The banding and landscape space in this painting harkens back to my early sumi ink experiments that I started as an undergraduate student and then developed further in China. Incidentally, these early sumi ink drawings were done “plein air.” The flat yellow shapes were a weird attempt to marry cubism with the expressionism of Francis Bacon. The drawings on top of the painting were inspired by all the line drawings on paper I was doing at this time. The figure itself was inspired by pornographic images and Bacon’s work. The result is a strange mishmash of ideas and styles. However, I spent the next several years unpacking this painting with spectacular results.
The story is a beautiful metaphor of the creative process. Orpheus and Eurydice were lovers in ancient Greece. She is stolen from her lover by Hades, the god of the underworld. Orpheus uses his considerable charm and musical talent to get an audience with Hades in his kingdom underground. He strikes a deal with the god wherein he is allowed to take his lover home with him provided he does not look at her until they have exited the gates to the underworld.
As they are walking towards the surface, Orpheus is engaging his lover in conversation to ensure that she is there. Hades catches on so he makes Eurydice’s voice fainter as they proceed until her voice is so slight Orpheus can hardly hear her. Thinking he is being cheated on the terms of the deal by the god, he turns to look for his sweetheart the moment he sets foot out the door.
That of course is exactly what Hades hoped he would do and thereby Orpheus has broken the terms of the deal. Eurydice is hence trapped in the underworld forever. To me, Eurydice is the embodiment of the creative gift. You must go deep to find it. But once you find it you can not look directly at it until you have gently brought it into the realm of the real world… a work of art. You must trust these dark forces and go forward until you have brought your gift into the light of day… the realm of things. If you look too closely at your initial insight or inspiration it will disappear.
48” x 24”
Every so often throughout my career I have tried to utilize various elements of my painting techniques and styles to figure out and then communicate my deeply felt notions about how the universe is.
Here, I am drawing heavily on my studies in Chinese landscape painting, Western figurative realism and abstract symbolism. The landscape in the background is inspired by Ni Tsan, a great Chinese painter from the 13th century. His work inspired me because of the degree to which he abstracted his mark making and the overall minimalism of his work. The broad openness of his paintings allow so much play for the imagination and creates a quiet excitement.
But my piece has the intrusion of a pair of legs. The legs are noteworthy for their volumetric presence. More beguilingly, though, are the symbolic abstract marks on the upper part of the painting. What is that? I honestly don’t know. But I think they create the effect of a crucifix. I think the landscape, space and volumetric figure collude to create a symbol of surrender and transformation which are, after all, the essential themes of a crucifix, beyond the superficial affiliation with the Christian religion.
48” x 48”
My Grandma was a racist. I mean she was a plain ole fashioned nearly unabashed racist. The kind that made me pretty sure, until recently, I’m not a racist. But before getting into my Grandma’s story and how I ended up doing these drawings of her and her nurse I would like to linger for a moment on the “nearly unabashed” part.
Some of my early memories of my Grandma were sitting in the back seat of her fancy Buick as we drove past her childhood homestead in downtown Harrisburg. It was a neighborhood just across a rail yard of Pennsylvania’s magnificent capitol building. And the neighborhood where Grandma grew up, rows of stately turn of the century brownstone mansions, was now a ghetto. What I didn’t know was that the combination of post war steel industry flight to Japan, the exodus of Black people out of the South and the white flight of middle and upper middle class white people to the suburbs where large social and economic forces that caused her old neighborhood to fall into decay.
My memories were informed by her bitter remarks about how Black people ruined her neighborhood. But those memories are often informed by her saying it with a restrained hush even in the privacy of her car, as though she knew there was something not right about it. If my mother, my Grandmother’s daughter, was in the car, she would say something to counter Grandmother and then say something over the backseat to us kids that Black people were no different than us and that Grandma was just bitter because her old neighborhood had fallen into decay. She told us it wasn’t because the people were Black. It was because they were poor and didn’t know how to take care of houses.
Well, she tried.
Another key memory of my Grandmother came many years later when my younger sister brought her first college sweetheart home for Thanksgiving. Scott. A Black boy a year older than my sister. I was seated at the table with my girlfriend. Lisa. A Chinese American. Things were tense and at some point my Grandmother blurted out something harsh about Scott being Black and my sister confronted her. My Grandmother raised the bar shouting that if my sister did not break it off with Scott she would cut her out of her inheritance. Michele promptly shouted back that Grandma could take her inheritance and shove it up her ass and stormed off with Scott.
Well, years later my Grandmother contracted cancer and began a long slow decline. Eventually she needed to have 24 hour care in her home. She needed someone to help her keep the house clean, prepare meals, make sure she was taking her medication and so on. When we interviewed for the position we felt the best candidate was Ellen, a Black woman.
My mother decided to assume the best of her mother and hired Ellen. Initially my Grandmother was flinty towards Ellen but quickly warmed up to her. As time went on they actually became very close and I would say even developed a friendship. My last memory of my Grandmother was a scene where I went to visit her on a return from having been oversees. I sat in her living room alone, waiting for her to gather herself for my visit. Eventually Ellen came out carrying my Grandmother in her arms. She had shriveled to what looked like a thin 80lbs or so. Ellen easily maneuvered her onto the couch and they sat beside each other for most of my visit.
When I see these drawings now I think about my Grandmother struggling not just with her racism but with her religious ideologies that admonished her to not create scapegoats as a vehicle for assuaging guilt and bitterness. But instead to look deeper into herself and let go of her “reasons” for being bitter. I don’t think my Grandmother figured anything out. I think she just gave in to the genuine connection with Ellen and simply let go of her bitterness. There was no need for a scapegoat because there was no need to blame or to hang on to past possessions because she found something more beautiful in letting go. At least that’s how it looked to me 25 years ago when she passed.
Maybe my Grandmother actually received something she prayed for in Church every Sunday, the grace of god that passes all understanding.
I’m all for “understanding.” I read much more than the average person and have made it part of my persona to be an informed person and compassionate learner. But there are times and situations that may not ever be able to be unraveled, no matter how much learning and thoughtful compromise there may be. Maybe racism or it’s deeper routed relative, raw fear and the urge for a scapegoat, are best overcome by the grace of god or what I prefer to call surrendering to an awareness of what is and a release of attachment to what isn’t.
48” x 44”
This painting was inspired by a photo from a news magazine. It’s probably the last painting I did from that kind of source material. From that point and for thirty years I used my own photos or worked directly from a live model. At that point in my life it was my goal to take my own photos.It felt like an important step in developing my own voice. And I think to some extent that was true.It was a way to drive me to think through and get involved in the creative process at every level.That said, I’m not sure I would recommend that to every young artist. Nor do I think it matters to me at this stage in my career. As always, it’s important to let inspiration flow from wherever it does. If that is a photo you find in a newspaper or a stain on the living room wall… so be it. To be honest, I have actually “seen” the direction for a new painting in the seemingly random marks and stains in bathroom tile while sitting on the toilet.
I would like to say that I was also inspired by the tragic conditions and horrifying political strife the Kurdish people were enduring at the time this photo was shot in 1993. Not so incidentally, that strife has only continued and even worsened since then. But that would not really be true. Instead I was simply moved by the dignity and majesty of this man’s wizened face and rugged hands. In the early 90’s I had only seen people that remotely looked like that when I was living in rural parts of China. My Lilly white suburban upbringing was sheltered from this level of ruggedness shaped by exposure to nature and mankind’s crueler forces.
To be sure, my initial response was one of naive fascination. However, I would like to think an element of genuine compassion ultimately prevailed and is communicated in the painting.
I sold the piece shortly after I painted it and never took a decent photo of it. However, my friend Eva Wang did an amazing job of photoshopping the photo I had so that you can better see the painting. Eva is a very accomplished artist herself and much more capable with digital tools than I am. I’m grateful for her work.
80″ x 36″
I painted this piece at a time when I was searching for visual terms that would express the ideas I had about the interconnectedness of all things. I wanted to express the power and fullness of volumes, of the figure, but I wanted to display the interconnectedness of all things. How could I do this without shattering the form or without flattening the illusion of space and volume? Both of these things yielded a transformative experience and yet are not truthful to my vision of how things are.
In this painting I have several experiments in play.There are extensions of the lines through the figure that extend outward through the painting.What makes them work at all is the degree to which they become something illusory and real.Is that a shadow or just a dark patch of paint?Is it placed there for design sense of because that is what reveals the form or because that is where the shadow falls?These are the questions it should provoke.
But alone this would not be enough.The handling of the paint itself, the forms of the model, the quality of the edges, these things all need to work together to further the same luscious ambiguity of being-not-being.This piece was stolen from my studio in 2010 by my art dealer Roland Crane.If you have seen this painting please contact me.I will work to make restitution with whoever has the painting now in a fair and legal manner.It is my assumption that Crane sold this painting to an unwitting buyer.
“James and Lewis Seated Back to Back”
4’ x 6’
This painting was a failure. While having the method of painting the background with the figure and intertwining them in ways that were not cubist, I had difficulties trying to find ways to intersect the two together. There are elements of the background and the figure that hint at this interconnectedness and my later success at this. But alas, I had destroyed this piece by cutting it in half and only saving the right half with Lewis. I painted out the fruit and made a few other modifications. It’s better, but it is still an awkward piece. The vegetables in this piece are inspired by my uncle’s farm, which lived on his gentleman’s farm outside of Portland, Oregon. I was always welcomed there anytime to get a break from life in my gritty inner city studio working as a full time artist. They fed me and celebrated my life as an artist, as well as hosting art shows and having a collection of my work.
Oil on panel
4′ x 4′
What a weird pastiche. In some ways this piece was way ahead of it’s time. And in some ways it’s just an awful mess.
For all it’s awkward strangeness this piece struck a cord with Seattle’s progressive Kink and gay communities 10 years after I painted it. In fact so much so that it was purchased by the founder of Seattle’s largest BDSM kink club, Alleena Gabosch, known colloquially as the WetSpot but officially as SCSPC: Seattle Center for Sex Positive Culture. Or something like that. Frankly, once you know a sex positive community as the WetSpot it’s hard to call it anything else.
I think this piece was appreciated because the gender and connection of the two people is not clear. Is this 2 women or a man and a woman. Or are these non binary people in a non conventional but somewhat intimate relationship? Non of it is clear. And today, years after the WetSpot has peaked and nearly 30 years since I painted this, that level of non distinct sexual persona is the leading edge of what is going on in the culture these days.
The other thing that is weird about this piece is another failed experiment. I was, like many artists though out art history, trying to reconcile my deep appreciation of Michelangelo’s approach to drawing the figure with my own direct experience with art making and observation of the figure. Like him, I was trying to reinvent the human form for the purposes of my art. I did, eventually, as can be seen by the hundreds of paintings that follow. But in 1993 I was still trying to figure that out. This piece was the result of one such attempt to achieve that.
Allena and I stayed friends over the years. At some point she became very ill with cancer and needed to both down size her life’s possessions and raise money. So I bought the painting back from her. Shortly after that she passed away. I am honored that this piece hung in her home for many years and that it’s resale brought her some brief financial comfort in her final days. And, I’m very glad to have it back in my collection.
“Nude From Purchased Photo”
4’ x 4’
This painting was completed at a time when my figurative realism was developing very fast but when I was also still spending a lot of time painting from imaginary figures or from sketches I did out in the world observing people from coffee shops or in parks. They are not realistic in any way and are cataloged here under the heading “Mythic Figures.”
This piece gets its title from what was a significant moment for me. I bought this photo from a young photographer with the express idea of using it to create a painting. The artist gave me his permission to do so. I had not yet started taking my own photos but felt this was a big step up from using published photos in magazines or books.
The piece also stands out for me because it was the first nude painting of mine where a distinctive palate emerged. The photo was black and white but the painting has its own unique and particular set of colors that seem to work well together. That would become a feature of my nude work for the rest of my career.
This photo is the state that I considered finished. In fact a few years later I sold this piece as is.
Oil on canvas
40” x 30”
This was one of a few key breakaway paintings that have many of the ingredients of what was to become my first authentic body of figurative painting.
It was inspired by a photograph of a Czech photographer named Jan Saudek. I don’t remember where I saw the photograph but I remember being struck dumb in that moment. Here was what I was looking for: Communication of profound thought and feeling through an imaginative if not entirely new presentation of the nude with a gritty tough look. I stole that and ran with it.
The piece is clumsy in parts, but overall the handling of the paint, the rendering of the flesh and the deliberate obfuscation of parts for the purposes of opening up the story to a less didactic presentation are all there. The fact that it is a femme fatale is noteworthy too. That would become a recurring theme in my work.
This painting sold the opening day of a show of my work in a little gallery that also sold used furniture. It was called Apartment Art in homage to Soviet Era artists who held secret art shows of forbidden art in their apartments. Remember, this was 1992. The Soviet Union had only just collapsed a few years prior to this. The 2 ladies that owned and ran the gallery were an absolute treasure to me and adored my art. Lisa and Cheryl.
The price was $100. The gallery kept half of course.
What is that thing in her left hand? Is it a bird, a man’s genitals or just a blob of paint? This deliberate obfuscation was my way of opening up the interpretation of the painting to whoever was looking at it. But the idea of a gorgeous woman robbing a man of his strength by virtue of her beauty and cunning is hardly new. At 31 years old I was only beginning to understand the power of women and my latent fears of the hold they may have over my growing ambitions. It wouldn’t be long before I was steeped in the age old struggle to sort out how to stay focused on my “work” and principles yet have a loving relationship with a woman not to mention controlling my sexual desires where they were not appropriate or welcome.
Gorgeous women would be out of my reach for reasons I was coming to terms with at that point in my life and so women who were out of my league but “interested” in me became suspicious. What did they want after all since it certainly couldn’t be me. It wasn’t until after my divorce and the loss of my hair in my early 40’s that I had enough life experience to realize not all beautiful women wanted to take something from me.
But there is another layer to this theme which somehow this painting manages to touch on as well. The current in each sex act has an energy exchange where something moves between the lovers, which in my life has always been between myself…a man…and a woman. Sometimes that thing is taken. Sometimes it is given. But there is an exchange. And at some point in almost every orgasm there is an intensity that helps propel the energy to its completion. That thread is hidden in the larger warp and weave of my love making but it is laid bare here in this painting. For better or worse, and with a means that is still sorting itself out, this painting exposes that raw dark energy and celebrates it.
“Anna and Arnold”
Oil on panels
8’ x 4’ each
Anna and Arnold were painted in 1995 when I had only just discovered I could paint the human figure so well and as such could say so much about so many things. And I was all over the place. Speed was my virtue. I painted each of these figures in a day or two and was quick to move on to the next thing. But the multi panel presentation was an innovation in itself for me that I would exploit much more later on.
The idea of media created larger than life gender stereotypes was of great interest to me. And, at the same time, I was interested in real life gender bending characters as well. See my paintings of drag queens and transgender people here on this website. What was also interesting to me was how painting people I actually knew vs. painting people from media generated images of people would affect how I painted them and how the painting would ultimately look. As I write this in early 2023 AI generated art and imagery is taking the world by storm. So this question of how an image comes into being will probably become a major topic of interest in the coming days. Perhaps it would be an interesting experiment to take an AI generated image and turn it into a painting.
The other story of note about this set of paintings is the panel with Anna was stolen in 1998 from my studio. This theft was even reported in the local newspaper complete with a picture of me leaning against Arnold where Anna would have been. Until this writing the painting has not been recovered.
48” x 48”
This is actually a fresco. It is, perhaps, the first and only fresco easel painting ever made. Fresco, you see, is painting into wet plaster that is applied to a wall. It is by its very nature heavy and brittle. When it is applied to a wall it’s weight and brittleness are irrelevant because the wall is rigid and stable. This painting is very heavy, but it is rigid. And it is remarkably stable.
The plaster is applied to a sheet of Styrofoam which is in turn attached to a sheet of thick plywood. The styrofoam is in between because I discovered that plaster sticks better to styrofoam than plaster.
The painting is then applied directly to the plaster in the narrow window of time between when it gets hard to the touch and when it is cured. That is about 2 hours depending on the temperature and how much lime is in the mix.
This was a research project. I was commissioned to do a mural. And of course I wanted to do it with real fresco. Wow. What a mistake. But I learned a lot in the process. And while the mural was a disaster and has already been destroyed, this enormously heavy little gem is still here. Like all frescos it is remarkably luminous. And it was really rewarding to create. Someday, I hope to do more.
Oil on Door
80” x 30”
I distinctly remember painting this and thinking I should do more. It was not done from a model or even a photo. It was done from my memory which by now included many copies of old master drawings of the nude, drawings of sculptures and drawings and paintings from other people’s photographs. My own extensive work with live models and photography was yet to come.
I remember thinking… this is easy and the results are pleasing. I’m not sure why I didn’t do more. There is a small batch of similar paintings done at this same time but they are all small, about 36” tall at most.
These pieces were all stolen by a previous art dealer named Roland Crane. If you have any information that might help me recover these pieces please let me know.
Oil on Door
80” x 30”
This was one of my first full size nudes. It also combines the figure with landscape space the way I had been exploring in much smaller works since I was a college student 10 years before.
And, it was the first and only painting I ever exhibited in a museum… sort of.
At the time I painted this I was also a graduate student at Seattle University and was doing an internship in the fund raising department of the Seattle Art Museum. Not surprisingly a lot of the security guards who worked at the museum were also artists. Once a year, in an uncharacteristic acknowledgement on the part of the museum leadership, the staff’s proclivity to make art was recognized and supported. During a brief time between scheduled exhibitions, the staff were allowed to bring in one work of art and hang it on a wall in a prescribed area for a one night show and party. No jury.
I choose this piece because I had just finished it and felt it was a break through. It was roundly ignored like all the art was by the Museum leadership, the board and the artists themselves. Museum leadership and board members didn’t dare to lower themselves to hobnob with the undercrust and the staff/artists themselves were much more interested in the free beer.
So much for my museum career. But I didn’t care. I knew I had a break through and neither being ignored by Seattle’s tiny museum crowd nor competing with the appeal of free beer was going to dampen my spirits.
80″ x 30″
This was painted in the Fall of 1991 in my tiny studio on 7th Ave and Virginia Ave in downtown Seattle. I am not sure why I painted it, or rather, I am not sure why it turned out this way. I love this piece and I still own it. It has always been perplexing to me that no one has expressed any interest in owning it. I have never had a single serious offer on it.
It is clearly a disheveled and derivative piece.The Cross hanging over the earth is directly out of Salvador Dali. The figure is some weird compilation of me (from a photograph) and life drawings I had done years earlier in San Francisco. The piece evolved with no initial plan.In fact, I didn’t add the boat and the earth until after I learned that it was Columbus Day when I was working on the piece.
In the early 1990’s, it was becoming popular to re-think some of our basic national Holidays. Columbus Day was an obvious target for those that wanted to set the record straight. Additionally, I was beginning to think seriously for the first time about my own Native American blood. My older brother Mike was the family historian. His efforts to research and write a family genealogy led him to discover that he and I and my other 2 siblings were one sixteenth Shawnee Indian. Apparently it had been a source of shame and so the marriage of my great great grand father to a native woman was very hush hush. She lived a short life in a very rural part of Pennsylvania in a part of the State that remains rural to this day.
Even after this period of reflection I do not see myself or think of myself as Native American. It is popular these days to claim some Native blood, but I don’t feel that genetically or culturally this is of much bearing on who I am.
This painting stands more of a symbol of my shifting priorities towards figural painting than to a contemplation of my nativeness. Although the terms of the painting are still unresolved, the basic idea of using a tall thin format would become the basis of my best paintings over the next 10 years.
The other elements that stand out are the use of a fully realized figure on the bottom of the painting and a symbol that carries the message of the painting further in a non-didactic way.
The inclusion of the bands that here are unequivocally landscapes and suggest deep landscape space would also become important elements of my figural work. Eventually I would discover how to have this non-figural part of the surface become a space that was both landscape and abstract and that was both background and “of the figure.” But this more complex expression and elements would come years later.Still, this piece is definitely showing the direction I was going.
“Martin Luther King Jr.”
40″ x 32”
I have already written about “Great Faces From Around The World.” (See Mother Theresa below).
Ever since I was a child, I was interested and inspired by the leadership and power of Martin Luther King Jr. What always struck me as a teenager was that he didn’t need to do any of the work he did. It wasn’t his job to do so, nor was he an elected official; he just did it and was moved to do it.
I knew he was originally a preacher, but he could’ve stayed safely within the boundaries of his role in the safety of his parish. Instead, he forged a philosophy, a communication style and a leadership style which would do more to move us towards a culture of racial equality than anyone had done in 100 years. He inspired me to be my greatest and to do so by finding my own peaceful way to accept a spiritual power within, which naturally he called God.I knew it mattered little what it was called. In fact, that was part of his deliberate message; he was not seeking justice through being meek or acquiescent, he was seeking justice through being full of spirit and being filled with the greatness that was bigger than the self and living that philosophy to the fullest.
As my talents unfolded in the arts, I knew that I would shape my career along these principles.
I created a clay portrait bust of Martin Luther King around this time, but were subsequently stolen. It was powerful, more so than the painting. The painting falls flat for me. It is a good likeness, for sure, but I believe it does not show the power and force that King represents to me. The sculpture did. I hope whoever has the sculpture is drawing inspiration from it as I did for the short time that I had it.
The painting was sold to Seattle University and the sculpture was stolen from outside my studio in 1991 or so. It was unfired clay and as such very fragile. It is likely it is destroyed at this point.
40″ x 32”
This portrait of Gandhi was painted as part of a project called “Great Faces From Around The World.” I have written a great deal about this project under other paintings cataloged here on this website. Please see Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King for more details about this project.
Like the other paintings in this project, I painted this portrait with as much attention to additional materials and painting techniques as I could. Among other things, the canvas is prepared with an animal skin glue to stretch it, then it is primed with an oil based lead white primer. Next, the white primer is covered with what is called a “ground.” In this case, I used a red/brown color as the ground.
Obviously I could not paint this portrait from life. I used a photograph that I found in an old National Geographic magazine. This was the 4th and final portrait I did in this series.
“Copy of a Leonardo Da Vinci painting”
16” x 16”
I copied paintings as often as I could to learn how other painters achieved their goals. It was also a way to force me to look carefully at the works. This was copied from a reproduction that I purchased at the National Gallery in Washington where I have often spent time looking at the actual painting. I gifted this piece to my girlfriend at the time because the figure in the painting has a similar kind of beauty and poise as Tamaki did.
This was a difficult painting to copy. The technique is subtle and precise. And there are affects that I could not figure out how to emulate. Nevertheless, I learned a lot from the effort. And, when my relationship with Tamaki ended she returned many paintings I gave her over the years we were together but kept this and one other painting of my own.
48 x 32”
Like many of my paintings, this one was conceived as part of a series and with a cultural or civic component. I called this project “Great Faces From Around The World.” It was to be 10 portraits of great humanitarians such as Mother Theresa and another 10 portraits of people from indigenous groups who were at risk of disappearing. All the source material would be from “found” photographs.
This is a woman from the Ainu tribe in northern Japan. I found the photograph from which this painting was done in a National Geographic magazine. The fact that I was using found photographs and that I never met an Ainu woman bothered me at that time in a way that would simply not matter to me now. At that time, I wondered why I would not give myself permission to paint the figures I wanted. I wanted to paint figures that were nude, realistic and volumetric.
I was still in my 20’s and still very much influenced by the art dogma of the time which considered realistic figure painting to be hopelessly old fashioned. By couching this body of work as a cultural or educational project I was trying to circumvent that concern. I also worried that this Great Faces project and the paintings would just perpetrate the imperialist and colonialist forces that marginalized these people in the first place.
After 20 years, I have decided all of that may be true, but a gorgeous painting of this beautiful human being could not help but be a positive thing in the world and that especially if it remains in obscurity, the painting that is, the more likely it will have little impact other than something positive. Eventually I came to understand the value, intimacy and even a kind of power of obscurity.
So my grand plan of 20 magnificent portraits to be viewed and travel around the world never came together either due to its own overblown ambitions or undermined by my own social political concerns. However, this portrait, along with the Mother Theresa and Einstein paintings done at the same time, forced me to develop technical and stylistic accomplishments for me personally. Certainly I had not invented oil painting. That was done 500 years ago. However, it was as though I had at least reinvented it for myself. By the time I painted these pieces, I had been to many world-class art museums and seen up close some of the great masterpieces of Western oil painted portraits. These three portraits of mine were in league with some of the best and I was 29 years old.
Additionally there were elements of the “unfinished“ that I had the courage to leave despite the otherwise highly developed portions of the paintings. These unfinished parts along with using a richly colored “ground“ became very important aspects of my work from then on. And perhaps more importantly, I left behind all ambitions of making an impact with my work and instead sought the quiet elegance if not hardship of obscurity. In some strange twist that was exactly what needed to happen in order to free myself to paint what I wanted. What followed since then was an outpouring of thousands of nude paintings and sculptures that are indeed shamelessly old fashioned and perhaps, unfortunately a bit colonialist. It certainly was not my intention to marginalize any group of people or aspect of art history.
48 x 32”
I painted this portrait at about the same time I painted mother Theresa and Martin Luther King Junior and Mahatma Gandhi. It was at this time that I also painted an Ainu woman from Japan and a Turkana woman from Ethiopia. These were all painted in my sculpture studio in South Lake Union. The place was a complete mess of tools, clay, concrete, plaster, molds and art making detritus.
Ever since I was an undergraduate student at Penn State University I wanted to paint portraits with this kind of richness. I could not find any contemporary art anywhere that even appeared to seriously attempt this. I was sure that one reason for this was there was a missing understanding of the type and kind of materials needed to make paintings like this as well as a lack of desire.
So for these paintings I prepared the canvas with a traditional animal skin glue and a lead based primer that was also oil based. What I did not realize at the time was that this relatively glossy ground was the key. I then followed an old master technique of putting a red ground or layer of paint over the white primer. The red already took on a luminosity that I was seeking.
All of these paintings were inspired by photographs. I found the best photos I could of these individuals. I was also determined to give them a contemporary feeling. That is why I left the hands unfinished in Albert and Mother Theresa. These unfinished hands became one of the most important cues for how to move forward in my work.
I lost interest in the idea of painting both great humanitarians and individuals from shrinking cultures and even doubted my own sincerity. I began to feel that if I were to actually go overseas to find cultures that were evaporating would I be contributing any value or simply contributing to the imperial culture’s observation of indigenous cultures as “exotic“ or “other“ and weird. I knew that I could paint them beautifully, but I wasn’t sure that would outweigh the impact of my presence on their culture. If they were indeed fragile, I probably shouldn’t be there.
It wasn’t until I was in my early 50s about 20 years later that my feeling about how this project might work in a positive way.Perhaps one day I will do it. However, there is another dynamic surrounding this painting that is worth commenting about.Perhaps for the first time at 29 years old I remember looking at my painting as it came together in the late hours of the night. I was moved to tears by the beauty of the painting. I felt I had finally achieved a level of understanding about edge quality and how varying it would create the image in the way I observed objects in nature smoothly inserting themselves into space.
I also felt the undeniable sense that something larger than myself had guided me in my work. I felt that I had received a gift and that along with that gift came a great responsibility. It’s interesting to me now, that it would still take another year or so before I would quit my job at the age of 30 and finally become a fully devoted artist.
“The First Mother Theresa”
40″ x 32”
This is the first painting of Mother Theresa that I painted. Since then I have painted about 10 portraits of her. This painting is a seminal work for me. Prior to this painting I had not given myself permission to paint a realistic portrait in the manner which I desired. In order to achieve the effects in this painting I have done a considerable amount of research about the materials that artists have used since the invention of oil painting 500 years ago.
I have written about this process for other paintings that are also cataloged here. Like this portrait of Mother Theresa, they were part of a project that I called “Great Faces From Around The World.” This project was to include 10 portraits of indisputably great humanitarians and 10 individuals from cultures that were likely to disappear during my lifetime. I never completed the series. However, there are a few remarkable paintings as a result.
44” x 36” Approximate
This portrait, which was clearly inspired by a news photo, is evidence that despite all my high minded philosophical explorations of abstract art, Kantian metaphysics and Eastern mysticism, I was still very interested in painting things that moved me emotionally. I have and am still very concerned with people who are suffering from extreme hardship. I remember declaring to my mother in high school that I would not wear a suit and tie to prom when some of my classmates could not afford them. Amazingly my girlfriend didn’t mind that I wore an artistically enhanced torn and dirty old suit I found at a thrift store as a political social statement.In fact, she even proudly wore a dress my mother made and I painted for her.
This piece also shows my proclivity to leave something “unfinished” if it is already communicating something more strongly than I felt it could if I went any further. I remember thinking that my process of very sparing use of paint and energy was more authentic an expression of sympathy than some highly detailed work-up with lots of fancy paint achieved in the air conditioned comfort of my studio with running water, a refrigerator and flush toilets.
42” x 32” approximately
TheTurkanaare a people living in Ethiopia.Their culture and its rich customs are at risk of being absorbed by modern industrial/technological development like so many other relatively small indigenous cultures around the world. For various reasons I have extrapolated about that project under other paintings on this website. I decided to do a series of paintings of individuals from these cultures to be paired with portraits of undeniably great humanitarians who themselves would have espoused the respect for and protection of these disappearing peoples.
(See my essays under the Martin Luther King and Albert Einstein and Ainu Woman paintings.)
The most striking feature of this painting is that I did not paint her face. I’m not sure why I did not paint her face. Certainly it was not because I could’t the way some artists might avoid the “difficult” parts. No, I think it’s because I was struggling with some of the very ideas about my project in the first place. For example, the people I found to represent the great humanitarians all had names. Albert Einstein. Mother Theresa… etc. But the individuals who were to represent these indigenous groups did not. I could not find names for any of them. That bothered me. So in protest I didn’t paint her face. Unfortunately I also quit the series altogether in protest. I don’t think that was wise. Maybe I should finish it someday by going to meet these people myself. And sitting with them and getting to know them while I paint them from life rather than “taking” their picture on the fly.
“Female Buddha Head”
24” x 18”
Even at this early date I was trying to reconcile abstract painting and figurative painting. I was drawn to the Kantian frankness of abstract painting, and yet I worried about the possibility of its slide into decorative and repetitive superficiality. When done with sincerity, abstract painting has the capacity to be expansive and spiritual, moving beyond ego and the particular.
On the other hand, I was drawn to the power and forces of figures in painting and figurative painting. On the other hand I was aware that it to could degenerate into something less than ideal… old fashionism and/or comic drama. Even in my early 20’s I was trying to reconcile abstract painting and figurative painting and thinking deeply about what the strengths and weaknesses were of these seemingly opposed approaches to art making.
It seemed, even then, that some kind of synthesis of these two approaches to Art was possible. This “unfinished” painting already has some of the ingredients of those concerns.
The most obvious quality is the unabashed red field of color were the woman’s body would be. I also simplified her facial features, subdividing the particulars and generalizing the shapes of her features into more basic geometric shapes.
I have also restricted the pallet so as to establish color harmonies. I even added a crimson halo to add a graphic element and act as a traditional device between Abstract and traditional representation. Is it a circle behind her head or a halo? And what is a halo anyway?
I remember not liking this painting when I did it. And I remember not liking it for many years afterwards. In fact, I am not entirely sure when I painted it nor what happened to it. I may even still have it in my own collection somewhere and just not know it.
Looking back over my work with the perspective of years, I see now it was an important piece with many clues about how I would integrate these various seemingly unreconcilable opposing concerns.
30″ x 15”
This is a weird attempt at bringing together various concerns. The result is an ugly, awkward, and even a touch humorous mess. The abstract elements eventually coalesced in other paintings into a successful style. The figure is clunky and awkward in this piece. It would take another couple years for me to figure out how to strengthen the figure itself, as well as how to integrate it into the “space” of the background, geometry, and illusion of space.
It is a horrible painting. This is a weird attempt at bringing together various concerns. It is such a bad painting I am almost embarrassed to include it here. However, I am glad it is here because it shows how I was working through some of these pictorial ideas.