24” x 32”
54” x 46”
Some pieces just fall in your lap. Others are a struggle from the very beginning.
This one was difficult from the beginning to the end. In fact I was certain I had failed to create anything worthwhile on this project until 20 years later when re-organizing my storage of old paintings I came across an uncharacteristically rolled canvas. I don’t usually store my paintings that way. They are usually stretched, presumably because they need to be ready to show at any time.
When I unrolled the painting I was surprised to see this painting because I thought I had discarded it as a failure. However, I was even more surprised at how powerful it was. I’m often my own harshest critic but I am capable of admiring and enjoying my own work. I think this is mostly because my best work isn’t really “mine” anyway. It is a gift that comes to me from time to time for reasons I have still not figured out how or why after all these years and all these paintings.
Ganymede was a beautiful Greek boy back in the day… the day when Greek men were allowed to venerate physical beauty whether it was a girl or a boy and when sexual orientation was more fluid and the feeling that sex was imbued with shame was far less. Contrary to common misunderstanding, the ancient Greeks were modest. While they were open and comfortable with sex and sexuality in a way that would be shocking to most of us and they were very comfortable with nudity in their art and in certain public arenas, they were not guileless and shameless in all situations and sexual organs were portrayed as peculiarly small to those of us accustomed to modern pornography.They did this because they wanted to deemphasize the organs of appetite. Despite their open admiration for the sexual appeal of young men and women they still valued thought and propriety over lasciviousness. So the penises that managed to escape nearly 2,000 years of Christian shame about sex and our bodies look peculiarly small to modern audiences.
Well, my Ganymede has his back to us so I managed to escape that tiresome old saw of answering why his penis is so small. But I was left with other challenges that frankly I hadn’t realized I had overcome as well as I did.
This theme of depicting Ganymede was surprisingly popular throughout history especially during the late Hellenistic period of Ancient Greece and since the Renaissance in Europe. And not surprisingly, It’s a story about old man Zeus getting all excited about seeing a beautiful young man and then seducing said youth by disguising himself as something he was not and carrying him away. That never happens in real life does it? Well, what a wonderful way to delight in the artful display of young flesh and all under the ruse of it being about the high mindedness of art… it’s almost like the deception in the story itself. How cool is that?
Well, I approve. And apparently so did lots of wealthy lecherous old queens over the years. A quick image google of “Ganymede” and you will see what I mean. There are hundreds of painting, engravings, sculptures and frescoes on the subject. It’s truly remarkable.
Most of these artworks feature a youth depicted according to the tastes of the time being carried off by a large eagle artfully displaying the youth for our eyes to feast upon while Zeus does the dirty work of abducting him and holding him up for us to enjoy. These works disturbed me for reasons that took a while to figure out but eventually gave me clues about how to depict my Ganymede.
The fact that Zeus was doing the heavy lifting meant that I as the viewer was left to simply be the viewer. That made this whole thing seem tawdry perhaps because it made me feel powerless. The most I could do was admire the artisan ship from afar and make a quality judgment about the desirability of Ganymede’s loins and the artist’s brushwork.
It wasn’t that I felt prudish. No, I wanted to be Zeus.
So I decided to depict Ganymede as though I was the eagle dropping down about to swoop up this gorgeous young man below me. As it turns out, this lithe beautiful young man with his smooth flawless skin and narrow build and lowered head does in fact look vulnerable and ready and even willing to be seduced and abducted. The challenge, I think, is that I’m not gay. And since this was a painting about seduction and that awkward in between world of willing or not, I couldn’t really evaluate whether it was “working” or not while I was still immersed in creating it.
Sure, I had done lots of other paintings of beautiful men. In some cases the paintings were little more complicated than simply celebrating the beauty of a man. I didn’t need to be gay to do those paintings. What was different about this one?
The difference is that those other paintings were more like expressions of myself. I am a man, after all. And proud of it. I’m beautiful. And my paintings of men are too. But in Ganymede I am the unseen eagle who isn’t really attracted to smooth young men. I think I could not Square with this piece when I painted it because I couldn’t relate to Ganymede as a male or even the idea of it in the first place.
Not only do I not desire young men but I don’t particularly like being hunted by either men or women. Some people like to be hunted at least in subtle ways or perhaps not so subtle ways in very particular situations. And maybe that is the point of having a work of art about this. It’s a chance to contemplate one’s preferences and desires and maybe even glimpse those forces that lurk below our surfaces which may even shape our actions and thoughts in ways we don’t realize.
That is what happened when I accidentally unrolled this piece recently. All those inner forces that hide in the darker spaces of my mind were suddenly opened up and I was blown away.
Did I do that? Once again I had proof as much as anyone will ever get that no… I did not do that… something much bigger and more powerful reached down and pushed something through me. Perhaps it was Zeus ….not disguised as an Eagle, but rather hiding himself in the works of previous artists and my own experience with pornography and real life seductions.
It is said the gods work in mysterious ways.
“Jordon in the Corner”
7 x 4’
When I painted this I was about to become a father. My wife was pregnant with our son and he was coming soon. I knew that when he arrived my world would change…and in some important ways it did.
I knew that my days of painting until I dropped no matter what hour of the day or night would soon be replaced with more regular routines. My painting style would likely become more craftsmanly and systematic rather than the explosive bursts of creativity and raw energy followed by periods of exhaustion and recovery that were on a schedule completely my own. My life had already changed to some extent from being involved and eventually marrying Melinda. But we were independent souls and gave each other a lot of space. No, I knew that once Sam arrived things would finally, at the age of 39, settle down into some level of normal for me.
And so I pumped this piece out at break neck speed working straight through from start to finish, partly goaded on by the fact that Melinda was already a few days past due to deliver Sam and that “the phone call” might come at any moment. And I knew that it would probably be the last time I would have a chance to work like that for a long time… and I was right.
This is the last of what I call my black paintings. I call them “black” simply because I used a lot of black paint not because of the other associations with that color.
oil on canvas
40 in by 34
24 x 36”
Every once in awhile I challenge myself to do a painting that is my own re-interpretation of a popular painting from the past. Sometimes I am motivated by curiosity and at others for more sophisticated and complex artistic reasons. But then every once in awhile just to see if it will sell.
Back in the 90’s there was a painting by the 19th century painter Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin called “Study” that was very popular for some reason. Flandrin’s piece was painted in 1836 and for whatever reason ended up on countless calendars, giclee reproductions and even coffee mugs in the mid 90’s.
Many of my clients for my art were gay men back in those days so it’s not surprising that I might sell a painting fairly easily if it was recognizably related to a popular painting of a sexy sweet young man. Well, my model was at least 15 years older than the model for Flandrin’s painting but he was quite attractive and very sweet so it wasn’t hard to make him look desirable.
What I always liked about this piece was how the background of the piece just happened to look a little like a circus Tent which suggests that maybe the figure is a performer. The added element of a story is satisfying in its own right but also because it adds an additional element of difference between my painting and the Flandrin piece.
And yes… it did sell… right away. The purist in me is teeny weeny bit ashamed of that but I take some pride in the fact that I didn’t turn around and produce 5 more versions of Flandrin’s “Study.” One was enough.
“Carli: Backs Without Cracks”
40 x 30” Approximately
“Backs Without Cracks” was a show I mounted of my paintings at a trendy Bistro in West Hollywood. Originally it was going to feature nude back “portraits” of any of the staff that were willing to model for me. I was introduced to the establishment and the staff by a guy who had modeled for me in LA and who loved my work.
One day I was trotted into the place with one of my paintings. We had lunch and met the manager who loved the painting and got the staff enthused about a show in the bistro. The painting I brought was the painting below with the cactus. Everyone loved and so I returned a week later with my camera and lighting equipment. We set up a little photography studio in the storage room of the bistro and started shooting. The staff who were willing came in one at a time and disrobed and allowed me to take a few “tasteful” shots of their backs. Everyone was encouraged to bring their significant other or trusted friend to be with them the whole time. Everyone was great. Some were nervous. Some were playful and some made me glad I had my own chaperone! It was a fun shoot and I got a lot of great shots.
Well, I got started right away creating the paintings when I got a call from the manager who was having second thoughts about the whole thing. Perhaps the owner got wind of it and was afraid of a law suit. In any case the manager canceled the show. Naturally I was upset. So I called him back and asked if we could do the show if I painted pants on everybody… or artfully arranged drapes. He reluctantly agreed, I came up with the clever, if not slightly sarcastic title, and it was on with the show.
I sold every piece in the show with pants. The orange nude below was later stolen by my art dealer Roland Crane. If anyone has any information leading to its recovery please let me know.
“Lovers With Red Curtain”
42” x 60”
This piece was the second piece I created for a commission by the two men featured here. Often when I am commissioned I do more than one piece and let my client pick the piece they want. I actually preferred this piece myself so when they selected the other piece I was happy.
48” x 32”
“Two Men on a Rock”
8 x 8’
This painting was painted over a piece I created in 1992. I never liked the painting from 1992 although there were parts I liked very much. In fact, there were some parts that I liked so much I considered cutting the canvas into sections and simply saving the parts I liked. But instead, one day I was so sure I had a better idea for a canvas that big so I just painted over it.
The original painting was itself an attempt to repaint a complex piece I had done 10 years earlier than that in 1982 when I was a college student. That piece was done on an old cardboard refrigerator box because at the time I was too poor to afford canvas, especially one that big. I still have that painting! The pieces were both inspired by Picasso’s “Le’Vie” and the themes of an artist trying to reconcile his passion for art and his desire to be in relationship with complicating subplots like loyalty to friends, a sense of being called by a higher power and responsibility to be a stable provider for one’s family and what happens when all those things don’t align. It’s a tall order for one painting. And the first two times I tried I failed miserably.
Finally, at the age of 38 or so I was trying again. This time all that rich complexity was distilled to an almost Neanderthal tug-of-war with two men precariously fighting over something on a large rock. It’s not clear what they are fighting over but I suppose that’s the point. I myself have often wondered in the middle of an argument or fight just what was it I was so worked up about.
It is certainly not as complex as the other paintings I tried nor the Picasso, but it is clearly more successful as a painting. I have no regrets for painting over the old one and am considering tossing the even older one on a cardboard box in the dumpster.
“Kerry and Daniell”
32” x 40”
48” x 48”
48” x 32”
“Ray & His Father”
6′ x 4’
I don’t paint people with clothes on very often, but it can be done. I love this painting. Ray was a friend of mine who was a dancer and organized a jazz dance festival every year called “Men in Dance.” He asked me if I would like to paint and show some large paintings for the stage of the concert.
This painting was inspired by the dance Ray created for himself to perform. It commemorates his father who had recently died. The man in the middle is a photo Ray gave me of his father. Its clunky and blunt integration of the photo image in the painting has always seemed just right even though it is that… clunky and blunt. I believe some of the success of the piece stems from the fact that I conceived of the background as clothing for the painting as the clothes were clothing for the body. The clothes needed to respond to what was underneath. Perhaps another part of the success of the piece is also due to the fact that I had just done a life size painting of a Frans Hals painting. It was a large banquet painting and required many rigorous hours and days of work. As a result, I developed my brushwork, speed and confidence.
“Abstract with Feet”
6 x 4’
This piece is so many different things to different people. I myself have no idea what it “means.” It just felt intuitively “right” to paint those feet into one of my abstract painting that had been sitting around the studio for several years.
To some people it was a symbol of hope and even resurrection. The feet suggested a rising up or even the feet of Christ as through time collapsed and he was rising above the agony of crucifixion and skipping right to the glory of his ascension into heaven.
To others it was horrifying. The feet looked dead to them and suggested a lynching or even a suicide.
I could see both interpretations and made no effort to correct anybody. Sometimes I do have an agenda for a painting and I chafe a little when people see it as different or even opposite of my intention. But not this time. I genuinely had no “message” in mind when I did it.
I will say that I was in part inspired to do it this way by the films I had recently discovered by Peter Greenaway. He was using split screen technology in his films at a time when that was very new. Split screens or even multiple screens are so common in our everyday life now I almost forgot to mention them. To be sure the art of collage had been around a long time before split screen technology. But there was something about seeing it on a screen that made it particularly hard edge. And Greenaway had his own unique way of using this new digital collage that inspired this piece. Check out his films when you get a chance. My favorite is called “Pillow Book.”
8’ x 4’
7’ x 4’
5’ x 3’
7’ x 4’
“Feet” various versions
Most of these paintings feature feet that are life size.
I could have made a career just painting feet. People love feet and apparently they love feet paintings. I have sold every foot painting I ever painted. Below are a few examples among the many small life size foot paintings I have done. Most of them were done from 1996-2000. After that I no longer painted fragments of bodies and that apparently included feet. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Like many changes in my career it was a gradual shift from one area of focus or approach to art into another.
There is a painting below which has an actual foot print on it. It is my then one year old son’s foot print. I thought it would be fun and conceptually interesting to include him in my work. Perhaps I was getting bored with painting standard foot paintings. Or maybe Sam just walked on the painting one day when I wasn’t watching.
Oil/Panel (2 Panels)
48” x 32”
“The Three Moirai”
8’ x 6’
The three Moirai are Ancient Greek Gods that determine the fate of each soul. Traditionally they are depicted as spinning the yarn of an individual’s soul. Then measuring it and the third is cutting it. They are usually depicted as old women. A famous version is the Germanic scene of 3 witches laboring over a boiling black kettle.
In my version it’s 3 strong men wrestling over an unidentifiable object meant to suggest an unformed soul. They themselves are perched precariously atop a stone in what appears to be a volcanic landscape. The painting was inspired by a photo shoot I did of myself on a lava field in Hawaii. The lava was only a few years old. There was no active volcanic activity that day but you could definitely feel the presence of the earth.
48” x 32”
This is the second piece I did in this four part series based on the four elements. It was inspired in part by the woman who is featured here. I based the painting on photos I took of her and which 20 years later I did some of my best work in years. See the triptych titled “souls” from 2019.
Like the “Fire” painting from this series I wanted the brush strokes and subtle coloration to reflect the corresponding element, in this case, Air. I felt like this piece, with its subtle addition of apple green and pale blue, succeeded. I sold this piece to a woman who took it to New Orleans. I did hear that it survived hurricane Katrina and has returned to Seattle. I have lost touch with the woman who purchased it. If anybody knows the whereabouts of this piece please let me know. I would be interested in purchasing it to have it in my collection.
48” x 32”
This painting was not only inspired by the four elements series as the name suggests, but also by the idea of the Greek god Apollo and Camille Paglia’s writings about Apollonian order in general and contrapposto in particular. Paglia is a feminist writer who wrote a powerful book in the 1990’s called “Sexual Personae.” Among other things, she addresses the development and the tradition of sexual personality in Western culture and how personality has come to define, to a large degree, what it is that makes Western culture “Western.” In fact, one of her statements that had a lasting impression on me was that, “contrapposto is the West.” In its simplest sense, contrapposto is an Italian word for a way of standing, a posture. Many of us are most familiar with this posture in its grandest expression, the statue of David by Michelangelo. She makes this statement not only because it shows up over and over again in Western art history and very little in any other tradition, but also because she feels it defines the relaxed combination of mathematical order and proportion on the one hand and sensuality and sinuousness on the other. She feels this combination captures to a great degree what it is to be or have grown up in the West. And that it epitomizes something that is uniquely Western in its dynamic balance as opposed to rigid balance which you see in some cultures or unabashed rhythmic sensuality in others.
However, before contrapposto evolved in Ancient Greece there was a tradition of sculpting a rigid forward looking young nude male. They were tributes to the god Apollo and they were called Kouros. It is easy to see how they evolved from Egyptian sculpture from an even older tradition where the rigid frontality of the figures were often dedicated to gods even more rigid and authoritarian than Greek’s gods.
Perhaps in part because marble, which is found in abundance in Greece, is much softer than basalt which was the stone of choice for the Egyptians, the sculpture of the ancient Greeks eventually became more sensual. It is more likely that the idea of a society that is at least in part liberal developed in Greece and which became the perfect culture in which to give birth to ideas like democracy, learning, risk taking, open and eager for new ideas, demanded a less rigid type of art. This is the culture that gave birth to these ways of thinking that have become one of the main pillars of what we call Western Civilization.
This is the same culture that decided man, based on mathematical proportions that were also developed in Greece at this time, would be the model of what a god looked like and what beauty would look like. But these people were not just mathematicians. They were robust sensual people. And before long their rigid Egyptian inspired Kouros figures leaned back on one leg, and thrust one hip sensually to one side in a posture that is both sexy and alluring on the one hand and ready to leap to action like David sizing up Goliath on the other.
Here, in this painting of solid earth we have a rigid Kouros. In “Fire” I decided to use contrapposto in hopes of catching some of the dancing rhythm of an open flame.
I consider the painting entitled “Water” to be the weakest in the series because I didn’t have any thought behind it other than the vague sense that it should be watery.
The painting of “Air” seems strong to me because it is in my mind a female contrapposto… not something you see much of in Western art. Maybe Camille Paglia, the feminist and learned art history scholar, would be pleased.
Oil on Panel
48″ x 32″
This was one of four paintings in a series of the four elements (Water, Air, Fire and Earth). This was the last of the four paintings in the series to be painted and the first to sell. I felt it was the least successful of the series. I felt this piece was a bit forced, as though the energy for creating the series had run out and I was doing this piece just to complete the dogged assignment I had set for myself. However, now that I am looking at this image after having not seen it for a few years, I feel better about it. It does appear that I succeeded in some respects that the way in which I painted the flesh is in keeping with the idea of water and flow. I wanted to stick with the basic parameters I had set for the series, which among other things was to be a torso depicted at roughly life size on a red ground. It was tempting to use a blue ground for this painting but I decided that would be too easy. Instead, I emphasized blue in the shadows and softened the edges so that the plains of the body elide into one another. I also painted the flesh itself with longer wetter strokes giving it a more curvaceous flowing feeling the way water looks in a stream where it needs to flow around rooks that protrude from the surface.
5’ x 3’
This was originally a triptych. At some point the other two pieces just seemed superfluous so I discarded them.
Arvo Part is a contemporary composer of so called “serious music” or what some would more loosely call Classical Music. Like many things the classifications are not entirely helpful but do give some idea of how to find his music online or in a music store. His work was introduced to me by one of my models, Richard Jessup. And his music has been inspiring me ever since.
Part is Estonian and currently lives in Berlin. In the mid 90’s when I first learned of his music it was still largely unknown but gaining in popularity very quickly. Now, his music is widely known and appreciated by almost anyone worldwide who listens to classical music. He is as close as anyone gets in the classical music world to being a star.
His spare haunting compositions are very innovative yet seriously traditional in peculiar ways. Everyone who encounters his music considers it to be deeply spiritual. It had a profound affect on building my confidence to explore the innovations and directions I was developing in my work in the mid 90’s and still to this day.
I did several portraits of Part as an homage to him but also because he has a striking look. This is the largest of them and I think most accurately captures the essence of his music.
“An Ugly Dream”
48” x 32”
I don’t remember exactly when I painted this. I do remember the dream that inspired it. I had a dream in which I had something powerful to say. For reasons that were not clear I did not speak. Eventually yellow snake-like eels began crawling out of my mouth and ears. I began pulling them out but they kept coming. I was terrified and remember looking in the mirror over a shabby bathroom sink.
The weird vaginal creature with breasts was inspired by a tic that attached itself to my ear while hiking in the mountains. I did not realize it at first but over time it become engorged with my blood until it was big enough that I noticed. By the time I figured out that I had a tic attached to my ear, it had already grown to about the size of a peanut. Its distended abdomen was full of my blood. The front part of this image looks like a raw plucked chicken. The breasts look like the kind of breasts you see on women in pornography which adds another layer or two of revulsion. The chicken-cunt-tic also seems to be pissing which of course makes this image as about as grotesque as one could imagine. This is without a doubt the sickest and ugliest painting I have ever created. And for some reason, I love it. Perhaps because it also seems funny to me. Maybe its because I have always seen beauty and ugly as being inseparable parts of the same thing. They are intertwined as constructs in our mind. And there is no doubt that the more ugly I paint some things, the more beautiful I am able to paint something else. I could not paint the beautiful things I do without also painting these horrifically ugly things from time to time.
Oil on panel
6′ x 4′
6 x 4′
Oil on panel
Oil on panel
30″ x 15”
“Jo With Pumpkin: 1st Version”
32” x 48
Jo was the girlfriend of a good friend of mine in the mid 1990’s. She modeled for me for a very short time but she inspired many paintings. I usually photographed her with black and white film because I was interested in her forms more than her as a person.
About 10 years after I painted this it was stolen by my art dealer Roland Crane. If anyone has any information about this painting I would be willing to provide a financial reward for its recovery.
I recently did a second version of this piece both because the photos continue to be inspiring to me, but also as a way to somehow overcome the feelings of having been ripped off by my former dealer.
This piece, like a lot of work at the time it was painted, is essentially a black and white painting. It has the gritty raw feeling that my studio had at that time.
At some point, if I ever recover this painting it would be fun to see them side by side.
4’ x 6’
12′ x 8′
“Homage to Joel Peter Whitkin”
48” x 36”
This piece is an homage to a famous contemporary photographer who shares my fascination with tradition and the bizarre. In this piece I placed one of my own models in the setting of a Whitkin-esque photograph including elements that he would include such as a fetus and a skeleton. The painting is also almost completely black and white like Whitkin’s photography.
The figure is Mari, a woman who modeled for me several times in 1995 and 1996. She was not a hermaphrodite. I simply grafted her upper body onto the lower torso and hips of a male figure. I don’t remember who modeled for the male part. The skull and fetus were taken from Whitkin’s own photographs.
I was interested in exploring various kinds of “beauty” at that time. One kind of beauty was the beauty in ugliness. I wanted to see if one could make a beautiful painting with such twisted and macabre images and a plain palette. I was curious about the nature of “beauty in truth.” Did the allegory of birth and death and the intertwined nature of male and female form a beautiful thought and could that outweigh the other more conventionally unpleasant aspects of the work?
It’s hard to know. Some of the people who have seen it love it. Others hate it. But no one has ever been able to tell me why they love it. The haters have been much more articulate and forthcoming.
70” x 48
Around this time I created a body of work that featured me covered in mud. These were not self portraits. I just happened to be the only person I knew willing to be covered in mud and photographed. Eventually I came to refer to this body of work as “Erden Mensch” which is German f or”mud man” but which more meaningly refers to a man who is deep, soulful and full of integrity.
I some respects this could be considered an Erden Mensch painting. It looks like one. But it was inspired by something different than most of my Erden Mensch pieces. It was inspired by a tiny thumbnail advertisement for a video of the sort that appears in pornographic magazines.
I was interested in seeing what happened pictorially when one paints from a very tiny photograph. I was also interested in the subject. Perhaps because of the minuscule size and hence difficulty of seeing the image clearly, I had to make up some of this painting. I believe the obscurity of the image both provoked and freed my imagination.
Whatever the aesthetic or cerebral intentions, the painting is visceral and intense. It is also unique in that much erotic art does not focus on the moment of orgasm itself.
And yet the circle held me in as well. I never felt like leaping out of the studio to go around smashing windows and pillaging the neighborhood even though the urges that came out had that kind of destructive element to them. There was something about having set space that made it both safe for this “creature” to come forth but also to contain it.
The result inspired a year and half of intense painting that even now 24 years later stands as my most productive period. The struggle to know what my figures should be doing in my paintings was over. While it’s not clear what they are doing, the poses came straight out of these rituals and made themselves quite known. Looking back on these works it’s still hard to say what they are doing. In this painting is the figure, which happens to be me, posing for a painting or pretending to be a gargoyle or posing for a Halloween poster? It’s could be any of these things. And yet it could be any of those. Instead, it’s my hope that it looks like an enactment of some kind of primal ritual closer to what we see in photos of tribal people dancing to invoke a protective spirit or posing to frighten off an evil spirit.
I’m not a tribal person of course. But even though I am a modern person who would be lost without my refrigerator and online banking, I am a human being with DNA that links me profoundly to thousands of generations of ancestors who probably did this very kind of thing to celebrate, invocate and simply entertain each other while night after night creatures both real and imagined crept closer to the fire light and lurked beneath their eyelids in sleep.
“Crouching Mud Man”
4’ x 4’
Once I had my big break through and started painting the figure in 1993 or so, I eventually discovered that covering my body in mud made me look more like a sculpture than a person. The unified subdued color and tone of the mud obfuscated and outright covered over the particulars of coloration and body hair patterns that make up the visual cues that allow us to identify a particular body in front of us as a particular person. This had the advantage of making the model essentially more like a work of art before I even began painting him/her.
For most of the time the model was me mostly because I couldn’t find anyone else willing to get covered in mud. Photographing myself while covered in mud proved to be difficult but eventually I found someone to help.
But there is more to this mud thing than simply making the figure more sculptural. The application of mud, the act itself, gradually evolved into a kind of ritual act, or more accurately an invocation. The application of the mud had this uncanny ability to put me in a somewhat altered state allowing something primal and instinctual to emerge. What at first was just the sloppy business of getting covered in mud for a photo shoot soon evolved into a powerful ritual of deep exculpation of primal urges and actions.
The setting itself became almost like an altar or sacred circle where it felt safe and appropriate to let these things come out. And strangely the setting of that space was as important as the application of the mud. It allowed me to let go like the way one does on the dance floor if the music and the setting is just right.
It was 1996 and I was young and eager to hang my art anywhere anyone would let me. I had recently inherited my Grandmother’s old gigantic Buick Electra and would strap paintings to the roof or stuff them through the open windows to haul off to the next show. There was hardly a day when I did’t have at least one painting in the car on its way somewhere or the other.
Shortly after these three women actually officially became owners of their bar I organized a photo shoot at my studio for the painting. They brought champagne. Everyone was in a fabulous mood and I got great shots.
A few days later I produced this painting to show them what I had in mind. I started this painting in the afternoon and painted straight through until about 11 that night. Threw it in the car wet and drove down to the bar. They loved it and there was more champagne.
However, by the time I saved up enough money to buy the 8’ canvas I had in mind they had a big fight, split up and sold the bar. Before long it was just another place to drink cheap beer and play pool. Nothing wrong with that. But the grander vision of a place for artists to hang out and shoot the shit about art was dead.
I have always taken pleasure and even a little pride in the speed that I paint because it allows me to express a higher percentage of the pipeline of stuff that flows through my head. But it also reveals the confidence and facility I have with my tools and vision. But I have never painted anything so fast and with such facility as this piece. It’s not necessarily my very favorite piece but it is certainly in my top 10.
I am particularly proud of the smiles. You may have noticed there are not many paintings of people smiling. There is a reason for that. They are very difficult to paint. One slight variation of tone or misplaced highlight and it looks “off” or more like a scream. Just like a smile itself, it has to be fresh and spontaneous or it looks forced or fake. But here….a triple smile! Really? Who does that? Forgive me but I do have to boast a little.
One reason this piece came out so fast and so “right” is that I had been working on a large scale collaborative project with two friends of mine who were also skilled painters. Jodi and Nick and I decided to do a full scale copy of a Franz Hals painting of the sort you see on old cigar boxes. It was very challenging work and demanded we look very closely at this Dutch Master of loose yet clear brush work. During that exercise I learned how to use a 1” square sable brush. That is a surprisingly large brush for detail work but with careful scrutiny of the Hals painting I was sure it was how he created his affects. Incidentally the scale of the figures in this painting and the Hals were the same size. This large brush allowed me to create a lot of painting in a relatively short time. But it demanded absolute accuracy and surety of placement, loading of the brush and an application of wet paint into wet paint to achieve the buttery soft transitions that give painting its smooth “real” quality.
This was just one of those moments where everything was right. The kind of moment you hope for as an artist and prepare for but never really know when it will come. The rest of the time I just labor on with as much integrity and spirit as I can muster. But I have learned to accept that these magic moments only come when they do…I can not force them but I better damn well be ready with my brush in hand and my work shop juiced up and functioning when they do. Like a surfer, I don’t create the wave, but I better be in the water and have my skills and board hewn so I can catch that wave when it comes. And so I labor in the service and the promise of the “gift”… that breath of spirit that simply comes when it does.
4’ x 4’
“Mud Man Clutching His Own Wrist”
8’ x 4’
I have already written extensively about why and how I evolved this process of covering myself in mud and then photographing myself for paintings. You can read more about that in any of several other paintings on this website.
I will add here that the large rock appears here in this work and in many others as a kind of pedestal for the model. For me, it served several functions. On a basic level it served the same function as a pedestal does for a sculpture. It is a kind of frame in that it sets it apart from everyday life. A pedestal says this little space is special and the thing that is on it is special. It is almost like an altar in that sense. This is not just a visually special place, it is spiritually special. We frame things that are special to us and hang them on the wall. If they aren’t that special we might still hang it on the wall but we don’t take the trouble to frame it. Likewise, we set something on a pedestal if it’s special to us. If it wasn’t, we would just throw it on the floor.
People who sell over priced shoes and handbags understand this very well. If they want the passerby to instantly understand that a pair of athletic shoes are really really special they put them on a very nice pedestal with their own special mini spot light. In a sense they have framed those shoes in a sacred space cut away from everyday life which implies that they should cost considerably more than a regular pair of shoes lined up with others on the slot wall.
Well, the same is true here. The figure is standing on his own little pedestal signifying that he is somehow something special. The mud and his pose on the stone suggest that this isn’t just some guy waiting at the bus stop for the #206 to take him downtown. No, this is something special. This is a guy who has done the unusual thing of covering himself in mud and assumed a pose on a rock that looks more than a little like a pedestal. The rock is, after all, removed from its natural setting and placed in a studio setting.
In fact the whole thing looks a bit more like the strange paintings by Edward Manet than I had previously thought. Consider the well known painting of the “Fifer” or “Dead Toreador.” The arrangement of these figures in what was clearly a studio set up without any pretext of their natural surroundings was as revolutionary at that time as his loose open brush work. My piece too, is done with very loose work and more attention to volume than surface detail. Interestingly, considering Manet’s contemporaries were still mostly painting realistic history paintings, his work would have also appeared revolutionary for how flat it looked, paving the way for another hundred years of successive generations of painters making their paintings deliberately ever more flat until the blank canvas itself was submitted as a work of Art.
Maybe this painting is both my homage to Manet and my way of giving him the finger, or at least all of those who came after him determined to declare that a painting was more valid the flatter it looked.
Now, another 20 years or so later no one cares about any of that. Or do they? Even though younger generations of artists after me who are not familiar with these issues in any learned way are still forced to contend with these basic facts of choosing how to create an image as well as the predispositions and prejudices that shape how we see and which linger on in the culture for better or worse. It is my hope that these paintings, created with these concerns, and these essays that are very much about these concerns will add something of understanding without burdening them with my own baggage. I suppose that is the concern with any educator or parent, where does teaching cease to be about education and begin to be about prejudicing. While I have attempted all of this with care and some of that in mind I am also certain that young minds are not as fragile as all that. They can, as I have, absorb information, sort out what is useful, deepen their understanding of their roots and move on to create something fresh and original no matter how much baggage we throw at them. I remain hopeful that education is a worthwhile endeavor and the young are not as fragile as some people think.
30” x 20”
This was one of many fragments of bodies I did of Richard during this time. These were meant as finished works for sale and indeed they did sell. However, they were also ways for me to hone my skills and knowledge of the figure and figure painting. Up until this point I had actually not really done much figure painting. So I was still figuring out how to do it.
Richard was a great model in that he knew how to pose, he understood art and he enjoyed the process. Richard was also a professional dancer so he had a beautifully developed yet not overly developed body. Additionally he understood music and brought my attention to a number of contemporary composers who also influenced my painting most notably Arvo Pärt.
40” x 30”
I like this painting so much I did a second version of it immediately after completing the first version. The second version is also strong. It is much bigger, about 6’ x 4’. Both paintings sold right away.
These pieces were probably influenced by all the sculpture I did in the late 1980’s. I had a sculpture studio for a few years and did lots of torsos and legs and other body fragments inspired by the figure itself, Ancient Greek sculptural ruins and the work of Rodin. This piece looks almost as though one of Rodin’s sculptures was the model.
I still think I will return to sculpture one day.
This painting was inspired by a professional black and white photograph I found in a book. I believe it was Howard Schatz’s book of photographs of ballet dancers who posed nude for him. The painting sold quickly to someone in Vancouver BC. I am grateful I have this reproduction because I really like this painting.
I know the painting is from 1996. There is no red underpainting which came later. The flesh is “flesh tone“ which was a little odd at this time but it is painted à la prima with no layering or glazing. The emphasis is still clearly on the sculptural forms of the torsos. The togetherness of the figures as a couple is clearly secondary to the sheer power and beauty of their forms asserting themselves as ends in and of themselves.
In the background the red and black paint makes the transition from figure to background to just paint on canvas a vibrant visual experience. In the painting of the figures themselves, I used broad sweeping strokes which follow the broad curves of the forms and are left “open“ and not over licked or smoothed out.
I liked this combination of forms so much so that several years later I staged a photograph of myself and one of my lovers in the same way. Since then I have kept this photo in a pile of my sketches and photos I hope to paint one day. That alone was now 15 years ago. I wonder how the passing of so much time will affect how I paint it when I finally do get to it.
“Punishment For Homos”
6’ x 4’
This is one of several paintings I did around this time inspired by woodblock prints and engravings from previous centuries. This particular painting was inspired by a series of prints demonstrating the types of torture and mutilation meted out to those accused of being homosexual.
The original print was a simple black and white linocut. Here I reinterpreted the piece in visual terms much like my “Erden Mensch” pieces I have written about under other paintings here. In fact, the figure here is also drawn from a photo of myself turned upside down. Perhaps the people meeting out the punishment are left off the composition or so vaguely painted so as not to pin this piece safely in history. Without seeing the people wielding the saw it could ostensibly be anybody… even us.
“Woman with Head Restraint”
24” x 16” Approximate
Even by 1996 I had created a lot of paintings. And even then I sometimes wondered why am I painting this? The question was sometimes an issue of why this and not that. And occasionally it was deeper. Why am I painting at all? I presume everybody asks that of themselves at some point. And maybe even it’s important to ask oneself that routinely in order to stay aware and awake to one’s true passion as opposed to painting because of someone else’s or something else’s undue influence.
Often I become involved in painting something because I stumble on to something that simply catches my attention. It probably catches my attention for unseen reasons with varying degrees of conscious or unconscious awareness of why. Well… for whatever reason when I stumbled onto a book of torture devices and images from Medieval Europe I was motivated to do oil paintings of the linear illustrations I found there.
This woman is wearing a metal cage around her head as a form of torture and as a way to make it impossible to engage in oral sex.
I also did several other paintings inspired from other illustrations I found in this book. I never completed the grand 9’ x 18’ canvas inspired by a tiny illustration featuring a large tree with over 30 people hung to death on its sprawling branches and crowds of people gathered around to presumably watch.
To this day I don’t understand what my motivations were to paint these. But I do know that in an art studio when inspiration comes you act first and ask questions later. That is not a good way to conduct almost anything else. But in the studio it is vital.
“I Covered a Lot Of Groupon Today”
6 x 4’
Around 1995 or so I discovered that I could melt images from mass produced magazines on to paper using a chemical called MEK. It is a powerful solvent used to clean printing presses and paint machinery. It will also melt your skin and your brain if it gets on you or you breath too much of it.
Of course I knew I could make copies on a xerox machine. But rubbing them onto another paper gave them more of an artistic look and allowed me to collage them in a way that would have been difficult on a copy machine. Once I figured all this out I went wild using all kinds of printed material, even pornography.
I was always struck by the strange juxtapositions of images and messages in magazines and newspapers, especially between the ads and the content. In this case there was an ad that ran frequently in many magazines for Marlboro cigarettes featuring an iconic masculine cowboy with the tag line, “I covered a lot of ground today.”
I also thought that pornographic images were particularly interesting with this technique because they simultaneously lost some of their ability to sexually titillate but at the same time gained an ability to comment on underlying attitudes and predispositions without simply becoming more pornography itself. That’s a tricky tightrope to walk but this MEK transfer technique seemed to offer a way forward.
Then, I decided to see if I could use these little 8.5 x 11” MEK collages as “studies” for larger paintings. This piece is the one and only time I tried this. And I remember thinking how good it felt and that I should do more.
However, that was 1996. I was on fire moving in so many directions at once and producing so much art. This breakthrough simply got lost in the storm of directions and possibilities that were taking shape in my studio at that time.
In a note simply to myself I want to add a technical point here in case this website becomes my primary took for looking back on my work for assessment and direction in the future. This piece was done with paint thinner while almost all the other paintings I did from that point on were done with oil. The difference may seem trivial but it is significant. Paint thinner is fast and harsh. Oil is luscious and slow. Paint thinner is graphic and edgy…literally…the edges of the strokes and the paint tend to be crisp with graphic punch. With oil the edges are soft and buttery. One can layer and even fast painting with oil is slow compared to paint thinner.
“Men Struggling” two versions
Both oil on panel
Both 6′ x 4′
1996 and 2003
These two paintings were inspired by the same photo I took of myself and my friend Delton on a rocky beach in Hawaii in 1995. I did the first painting in the fast “all at once” approach known as ala prima that was typical of my work in 1996. The second version was done in 2004 and is done more realistically and with many carefully applied layers of paint and glazes to give the figures a sensuous more lifelike look. That was typical of my work at that time.
Oil on panel
6′ x 4′
Oil on panel
4′ x 6′
Oil on panel
8’ x 4’
Oil on panel
6′ x 4′
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”
“Venus with Patty Pan”
8’ x 4’
“Jordan in a Camisol”
44” x 30”
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’
30” x 40” Both
“Descent from the Cross”
Oil on canvas
8′ x 6′
“Back of Ceiling”
Oil on panel
6′ x 4′
“Red Hand of Ulster”
Oil on canvas
55″ x 40”
1995 and 2004
Oil on canvas
40″ x 28”
“Portraits of the Demi Monde”
Oil on panel
8′ x 4′ each
Oil on canvas
8′ x 6′
“Sister Eva Destruction”
Oil on panel
40” x 40”
“Doug with Cigar”
Oil on panel
6′ x 4′
Oil on Canvas
8′ x 7′
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’s lover, 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.
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.
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.
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?
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”
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.
“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 the 21 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.
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.
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.
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′
“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”
“Anna and Arnold”
Oil on panels
8’ x 4’ each
48” x 48”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Turkana are 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.
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.