Figurative Paintings 1996 - 1999

“Gaston”
Oil/Panel
24” x 32”
1999

Gaston commissioned this painting. His requested that it be life size, feature his back and yet show his face a little. The rest of how the painting looked was up to me. He and I both loved this piece immediately.
But what is really satisfying is that 23 years later I ran into Gaston and his new husband. He told me that he still loves the painting so much and wondered if I could be persuaded to do a painting of similar quality of his husband.

Absolutely. As of this writing I have not done the painting yet. But when I do I will put it on the site in its chronological spot. But I’ll be sure to put a second copy of the painting here next to Gaston.

“Ganymede”
Oil/Canvas
54” x 46”
1999
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”
Oil/panel
7 x 4’
1999

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.

“Seated Paul”
Oil/canvas
24 x 36”
2000

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”
Oil/panel
40 x 30” Approximately
2000

“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 whenI 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”
Oil/canvas
42” x 60”
1999

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.

“Doug”
Oil/Panel
48” x 32”
1999

There have been a lot of Doug’s in my life. This Doug is a friend who lives in LA and whom I met and came to know through my involvement with the Invisible Theater. This was an annual celebration of the man’s journey in life through a multi disciplinary arts presentation. Doug is a very accomplished artist himself. I painted this painting of him as decoration for one of those events. Although it wasn’t my intent, I was delighted that he bought it for himself.

It is a rule of thumb in figure painting that the eye of the viewer will quickly go to faces, hands and genitalia. I deliberately left the first 2 out of the composition just to see what would happen. I wanted the detail and sumptuousness of the rest of the painting to compete with the gravitational pull of a penis in plain view. Even to this day it’s fun to see how one’s attention moves around the painting in unexpected ways.

“Two Men on a Rock”
Oil/canvas
8 x 8’
1999

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 his Lover”
Oil/ panel
30 x 48”
1999 or 2000

This was the Plan B painting.
I was commissioned by the man in this painting to do a large complex portrait of him. I did, and I wrote quite a story about that painting and added it to this website. However, at the time of the commission, Kerry, the man who commissioned these pieces, recognized that what he was asking for was perhaps too much…to complex…to conflicting and too restrictive. And so, to hedge his bets on getting a strong work of art, he asked me to do a more straight forward figurative piece of him and his lover engaged in having sex. To be sure, there were still a few constraints and stipulations, but on the whole, this was indeed a more straightforward commission.

It’s hard to say which is the better painting. It is like comparing apples and oranges in that they are 2 very different works. However, there is no doubt that the larger initial commissioned piece is not a flop. And it is worth noting that it so easily could have been. Since Kerry is an architect he understands the risks of putting too many constraints and ideas of his own on an artist. But I liked Kerry and even though we were new friends at the time of this commission, we clicked. Moreover, he spent real time and money investing in me getting to know him. He paid to fly me from my home in Seattle to his home in Denver. Then spent a week including me in his routines as well as a special event he set up. He even encouraged me to join he and his partner in bed. And while I wasn’t interested in that, I was able to get intimate photographs that were the foundation of this painting.

The result was that I did in fact have an in-depth understanding of him and what he wanted. Or, at least I felt I did. I recently ran into Kerry at the memorial service of a dear friend. He told me that these 2 paintings were his most prized possessions and he uses them year after year to take the measure of his life.

Vivian

“Vivian”.
Oil/canvas
40” x 30”. Approximately
1998

This piece was commissioned by the woman in the painting. She had seen my work in a number of places and found her way to me through a mutual friend. She wasn’t sure what she wanted but definitely of her and nude. She agreed to do a photo shoot and because of her schedule I did the painting from the photos. To hedge my bets I did 2 paintings and she chose this one.

“Table Position”
Oil/Panel
48” x 48”
1998

The interesting thing to me about this piece is when it was painted. 1998.
This was 2 years after I moved on from paining in this way: a black and white palette, fast and usually with this and a few other models. But this woman in particular was someone I did not paint after the intense outburst of 1996. Furthermore, almost all of the paintings I did of her were done from photos including this one, making it all the more interesting that I didn’t continue doing paintings of her long after I lost contact with her. She moved to the East Coast with her partner in 1997.
But I still had all those photos.

This post “black period” piece is not as strange as it would seem though. Looking over 30 plus years of work, apparently I do this kind of thing pretty often. After I have moved on from a particular way of painting I double back and do one more almost as a way of testing myself. Is it really over? Or is there more to say with this approach? Or maybe it’s like visiting an old friend. Aahhhh … this is easy. I know how to do this.

In this case I may have lost interest before finishing it. I seem to remember thinking that painting in the square in the middle is not needed and what the hell am I doing here anyway. In this case it was a little like a visit to an old lover. Curiosity and nostalgia conspire and get you on the road. But once there you are barely in the door when you remember why you moved on in the first place.

Jo was not my lover. And I don’t have anything less than wonderment about my “black and white” period other than a tinge of regret that I hadn’t done just a few more. But having tried to do “one more” it became clear there was no going back. Like many of the best things in life, there is a limit. And magic moments are just that, magical coincidences of energy where things just come together in the right way for a brief yet somehow eternal moment.

“Downward Dog”
Oil/Panel
48” x 32”
1999

This painting was done in LA for the second Invisible Theater.

The title and the pose clearly indicate the pose is based on a yoga position. It was painted quickly and represents a direction I didn’t take.

Frankly, looking back at this painting 30 plus years later I’m surprised I didn’t do more paintings of yoga positions or any paintings in this style. And yet the basics seem perfect for me: the emphasis on basic volumes, larger than life scale, the depiction of sensual flesh and a loose virtuosic application of paint. These are all things I enjoy a lot and have employed in my work. And yet, not quite like this.

The other strange thing about this piece worth noting is that I never sold it nor even had a nibble. And yet for all it’s sexiness, it’s basically PG rated. Even the pose, a yoga pose, did not cinch its place in the market.

“Carry”
Oil/panel
48” x 32”
1999

Painting 2 figures is so much more than twice the challenge of painting one. Each figure needs to feel right, of course. But the emotional and physical interaction needs to look right as well. And beyond just being correct, they need to say something.

What are they saying? What are they doing for that matter? I don’t know, but the thing I like about this piece is the way their flesh seems to melt into one another like two slab of grilled ham or omelets and melted cheese.

I also don’t know where this piece is. I don’t remember selling it and it wasn’t in the batch of paintings recovered from the art dealer who stole over a thousand pieces but whose ex wife returned most of them. Perhaps it was stolen and sold and it just never made it onto the inventory lists used in the recovery process.

If anybody knows the whereabouts of this piece please let me know.

Downward Dog

“Ray & His Father”
Oil/Panel
6′ x 4’
1998

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.

“Maynard: Ballet Dancer”
Oil/panel
6’ x 4’
1997

I considered this piece a complete failure when I painted it. I’m not sure that’s true but it took me until now, in 2023, as I create this website, to figure out why I was so certain it was so bad at that time. It’s because it didn’t turn out anything like what I had intended.

It was 1997. I had just ripped through an incredible number of paintings and had pushed the limit of shear volume of production as well as boldness and speed of approach. It seems natural, from the distance of all this time, that my work would take this more careful and realistic turn. And to a degee, I think I needed to go through this to get where I wanted…the painting of Dave Lewis that I am including here so that you can see it. It is presented here in a small format since it is a reference piece, but I encourage you to scroll down to the year 2002 and see and learn more about this work and others like it.

Fortunately I didn’t need to look at this piece for very long. It sold quickly through my dealer in Denver to a man in New Orleans. He had it beautifully framed. Years later he wrote to inform me that he sold it through an art appraiser for twice what he paid for it. He didn’t send me a residual of course as is required by law in France, but I was grateful nonetheless for the news. At the risk of sounding a touch bitter I will add that twice as much of not nearly enough still ain’t much.

“Butoh”
Oil/panel
6’ x 4’
1997

By 1997 I knew everybody in Seattle who was doing Butoh. I had met and become friends with Joan Lagge a few years earlier. Joan was the grande dame of Butoh in Seattle. She formed her own troupe and having accomplished a high level of presenting traditional Butoh, began experimenting with pushing into new territory with the form. She even had members of her troupe spin off and develop their own thing.

I don’t remember this man’s name. He was fiercely devoted to his craft and made a huge impression on me. He had been a member of Joan’s troupe but was now doing his own work as a solo artist. I strongly regret having only done one painting of him. In this case I was also experimenting with split images, or I should say spliced in multiple images. I was inspired by the films of British director Peter Greenaway and the paintings of American artist David Salle. They had both made spit screens a signature part of their art.

By 1997 I was already experimenting with split screen imagery in my abstract work but this is the first time it appears in my figurative work. And, for reasons I don’t understand, the last time. I never picked it up again even though it offers an incredible range of creative expression and opportunity for complex content involvement.

However, I’m not dead yet. So who knows if I will double back and start painting Butoh again or paintings with split screen content.

“Abstract with Feet”
Oil/panel
6 x 4’
1998

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.”

“5 Male Archetypes”
Oil on panels
Various sizes but approximately 6’ x 4’
1998

The paintings in this group were painted for a theatrical production that I helped start and then run for a few years. It was called the Invisible Theater and was hosted on the grounds of a club called Nature Friends next to the home of my friend, patron and mentor Ken Symington and his partner Bruce Anderson.

I met Ken at my studio in Seattle in 1998. Work on my own ideas in painting was playing itself out and I was in need of something new. Ken was brought to my studio to lead an Aiowasca session by some men who were part of my circle. I didn’t know what Aiowasca was at that time and wasn’t scheduled to be part of the ceremony. I was merely renting my studio to Ken and his associates because it was deemed an appropriate space for such a thing.

I learned an enormous amount that weekend and met a whole new circle of people that were to give my life a new injection of creativity and ideas at just the right time. Ken loved my work and arranged to buy one of my larger and stronger works that same weekend. And he invited me to come down to LA to visit and get to know him and his partner better as well as experience a smaller Aiowasca session myself.

Ken was a white Cuban who had escaped Cuba as a young man during the Castro revolution. As such, Spanish was his first language. And even though he had spent his career as an engineer he was now, in his retirement devoting his life to translating the work of Peruvian Aiowascaroes and bringing their knowledge and practices to Americans.

I went down to see Ken as soon as I could. I experienced my first guided sessions with Ken. We had incredible dinners and met engaging people. And it was all in a Mediterranean like setting in a canyon outside LA in a small village called Sierra Madre. Ken, his partner Bruce and the other men I met on that trip have become life long friends. Their knowledge and life experiences have continued to enrich me to this day. And they were the inspiration for these paintings.

On that first trip we hatched the idea of doing a theatrical and artistic presentation about and for men. This was born out of Ken’s deep interest in helping men become fully developed men, not the childish boys that he saw so many men become stuck in, never growing into their full manhood despite their age, privilege and income.

Ken was not a woman hater. Quite the contrary. He loved women and courted their company as well. In fact he introduced me to a woman who became my lover for a brief period. But Ken’s work was with men, and specifically healing and nurturing their transition from boyhood to manhood and various stages including death.

It was decided that the first theatrical production would be on the theme of male archetypes. At this point no one really knew what we were doing. We just knew we were a couple of creative and motivated guys who wanted to put on a show. I was an artist of course, so I wanted to do paintings. Others were more theatrically oriented.

The 5 men involved at this early point each chose an archetype and then developed a theatrical concept to present. The Boy. The Lover. The Warrior. The King and the Magician were the ones chosen. When they were ready with their concepts, costumes and choreography I arranged to go back down to LA and photograph each of them as their archetypal selves.

Everyone was so well prepared and so cooperative with me. And, as it turned out, this photo shoot turned out to be a kind of dress rehearsal and concept workshop for how we would present all this material. In a sense, I was the de-facto director of the first Invisible Theater.

Instead of returning to Seattle with my photos, I decided to stay in LA and do the paintings in a marathon painting frenzy and put on the show a week later. During that time I painted these 5 large paintings. But that was not enough. I wanted a smaller simpler painting to flank each of these major arcana pieces. The smaller paintings were torsos of male figures inspired by the other men that had by now become involved in this production. This was a way to both embellish the presentation of the paintings, but also a way to involve the other men. It also helped fill the space from wall to wall with art. But this meant having to create 10 more pieces during that week.

The results were mixed. Some of the “extra” paintings didn’t turn out so well and one could make the argument that not all the archetypes were top notch. Nevertheless, there were enough gems in the group to make the presentation a hit with both the participants and the audience.

It’s hard to say which painting I did first. All of the blank panels were lined up in the room and I moved around as inspiration and energy allowed. Ken and Bruce provided me with a beautiful room to rest and all the food I could eat. And so I painted nearly for one week straight. It was the most intense week of painting in my career thus far.

The Warrior was a total triumph of vision and execution. At the time of this writing I don’t have an image of this painting. But I am in touch with its owner and will remedy that soon. Danial was the warrior. And his warrior spirit was marshaled to free himself of the constraints of an overbearing mother and the ideologies she enforced upon him from his birth. To be clear, Daniel wasn’t waging war with his mother. He was waging a battle with the voices of his mother in his head.

The piece features his body painted and in a warrior dance like pose, head tilted back and arms akimbo with clenched fists. That was all there in the photo shoot. What wasn’t there, specifically, was the severed head of the mother below his parted legs. She appears in the painting as a wild hag with hair flailing and eyes and mouth wide open in a scream of rage. Her torn neck becomes raw paint that runs down the painting as though blood itself was thrown at the painting. At 8’ tall it is intense.

Danial loved what I did with his vision and bought the painting immediately. Apparently he has never hung the painting. Instead, he keeps it stashed under his bed.

“The Boy”
Oil/Panel
5’ x 3’
1998

“The Boy” is the smallest piece which seemed appropriate to me given its subject. Francisco was the boy and indeed was the youngest member of this new tortulio I found myself involved in. Fransisco chose to present his body as a kind of surrender. He also incorporated the zodiac in his presentation so I included them here, leaving only one missing…his…which I decided was best represented by his body. The black cloak behind him was my nod to the shadow of death that is present even in the most celebratory moments of life.

Fransisco and I stay in touch. From time to time he will surface in my life either through email or just showing up in Seattle. Each time he threatens to buy the painting. There is much discussion followed by a resolve to complete the transaction and then . nothing. He is gone for another few years. It’s ok … I love having the piece and frankly don’t want to sell it. I only consider selling it to him because he is the model and subject.

“The Lover”
Oil/Panel
8’ x 4’
1998

“The Lover” has its own fraught history. This piece was only 80% done by the time the week was over and the show came and went. But Michael, the blonde in the painting was deeply in love with the idea of romantic love and with Kenny, the other man in the painting. And so, they bought the painting from me with the caveat that I come to their place in Miami to finish it.

That was a mistake. The painting was shipped successfully to their home in Miami and I did go there. They were incredibly gracious hosts and put me up in their fabulous home and even put up with some of my questionable behavior. But my mistake was allowing them to become involved with making adjustments to the painting all of which were driven by vanity, not artistic vision. What started out as a tweek here and a tweek there soon became here a tweek there a tweek everywhere a tweek tweek. Basically I nibbled away at the vision and feeling for the painting and it finally crossed the finish line looking at a glance like it did when it arrived in Miami but to me now looked like a shell of its former self. Indeed, it would have been better had I arrived and done nothing.

Fortunately, it was not an omen of their relationship. Now, nearly 30 years later they are still together and as in love as ever.

The Magician

“The Magician”
Oil/Panel
7’ x 4’
1998

“The Magician” was played by Ken. As the man behind the scenes who was making this all happen and as the quiet Aiawascaro, this was a fitting archetype for him to play. The painting is my effort to present Ken in the many guises that I observed him imbibing and laying them out on the cabalistic tree of life, a rubric he often used to tell stories or add bits of wisdom to an otherwise trivial conversation. I was already familiar with the Tree of Life so it wasn’t a stretch for me to incorporate this.

This piece is my favorite of the group and I feel most powerfully captures both the individual portraying the archetype as well as the concepts presented by that person.

Ken loved it too and bought the piece and hung it over his bed. It stayed there until his death in 2022. Bruce offered to gift the painting back to me after Ken passed. But Jeff Kennedy asked if he could have it. More than anyone else, Jeff is the heir apparent of Ken’s work. And so it was an honor to have the painting of Ken as Magician pass to Jeff.

During Ken’s “celebration of life” ceremony hosted by Bruce, this painting was hung at the head of the room. It was a very loving experience to be there watching people one after another come up to the painting and address the painting as though it was Ken, telling intimate stories, revealing powerful emotions and coming to terms with his passing as though he was there ….in the painting. It was both weird and powerful.

The following year the Invisible Theater got stronger and attracted more participants. A second performance night was added. Feelings ran hi. By that time I was married with a pregnant wife so my involvement lessened. By the 3rd year it really took off and became it’s own little community. But despite Ken’s heroic efforts, it became less about men and more about gay men. Not being gay, and having a newborn as well as still living in Seattle meant that after the 3rd year I announced that would be my final year.

I was itching to do something less theatrical, more artistic and more pansexual. It would take another 2 years but eventually I started something called the Little Red Studio.

“The King”
Oil/Panel
7’ x 4’
1998

 

The King is considerably more complex and probably took the most time to paint. The concept was created by the man whose portrait is featured here. His idea was that a king is the embodiment of the community which is supported by among other things the sacrifice of youthful passions represented here by a miniature version of the “ Boy” painting I had just created. It is painted over the area of the genitals of the King and is immolated. I didn’t actually burn the painting but I dissolved that area with paint thinner. The fire reappears as a crown above the king’s head signifying the sacrifice of youthful passions so that higher wisdom may manifest. The peacock feathers further this idea.

Joe also felt the king represented balance of male and female energy symbolized by the glass orb of earth in one hand and the phallic wand of the five grains in the other. Joe made the wand himself.

At this same time I did a more straightforward portrait of Joe as one of the flanking paintings. In it he is nude and kneeling on the floor. He is looking up in a what looks a bit like rapture. My friend Dwight bought the piece but then loaned it to Joe. Unfortunately Joe died and his heirs didn’t know what became of the piece when I contacted them a few years after his passing.

The King painting was eventually bought by a friend and associate in Seattle. Because the piece is so intense he asked me to build a cabinet for it so that he could open and close the painting at will. I did. And painted it in abstract shapes and colors that complimented the main painting. I actually like the idea and have used it many times since both for decorative and intellectual purposes.

Eventually Bryan got married and his new partner hated their King painting. So, we traded. He took the “Blue Harlequin” in trade for this piece so I am happy to say it is back in my possession.

“Feet” various versions
Oil/panel
Most of these paintings feature feet that are life size.
1996-2000

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.

“Beach Couple”
Oil/Panel (2 Panels)
48” x 32”
1997

There is so much going on in this diptych. I just wish I had painted it more carefully. I had the skills. I just didn’t have the patience … yet. I would develop the patience later. After the pace of my output slowed down. But in the meantime, there are qualities in this piece worthy of comment.

This is an early example of me expressing something about relationships by putting the 2 figures on separate panels. I could, after all, easily have put them on one painting. But the fact that they are on separate pieces says as much about their relationship as their body language. They are also subtly separated by a disconnected horizon line.

And yet, they are clearly of a piece … a matched set like all those wedding portraits from the golden era of Dutch painting and on into the stoic colonial paintings of the grim religiously devout couples who came to America and could barely touch each other in public view.

Here are Mr and Mrs Middle Class and Middle Age America making their annual trip to the Jersey Shore to relax and maybe for a moment catch a glimpse of something beyond their grinding routines and stultifying boredom that is killing them slowly even while expanding their life expectancy.

I watched these people every summer from the time I was a kid. I vowed never to become this and so these people stand like sentinels guarding the gates of hell. Beware ye who enter here lest you become bored, fat, stuck and barely aware of the world outside your routines and in a relationship with a partner you can barely touch and now hardly know.

As I write this citation I am taking a break myself, in Thailand. And while it’s a long way from the Jersey Shore, there is no shortage of the equivalent boardwalks full of the flotsam of humanity washed up and lost in their boredom. But the lost and flabby are alone here. The sentinels at this doorway to hell would be singular, but in rows … on a single canvas to mimic the long narrow bars that face the sidewalk and are actually designed for people to sit alone gazing outward at the parade of humanity passing by in front of them like the waves in this painting coming in and going out. No two exactly the same, but similar enough to be both hypnotic and captivating at the same time. Meanwhile the bellies droop lower and heads slump further on furrowed turkey necks, the only muscle in use is the bicep used for lifting a beer and to pay for the momentary joy jacked up on cheep viagra.

Maybe it doesn’t matter that this pair of paintings isn’t painted as well as an Ingre. Maybe it says enough and holds your attention long enough. This painting, ironically belongs to my ex wife who cherishes it to this day, 20 years after our divorce. I haven’t seen the painting in years. And yet, I “got all these ideas” about middle aged life even here in Thailand just by looking at the image on my website.

As I write this, there is a war being waged by Russia in Ukraine. Russia is using its tried and true strategy of throwing tons of people at the war even though they are apparently poorly trained and poorly equipped. One often hears the quote from Stalin these days that “quantity has a quality all its own”. He is, of course referring to his reputation of simply sacrificing people in mass numbers in the absence of preparation. But I couldn’t help reflect on the years of my painting once I finally found my voice in my early 30’s. I was ripping through ideas so fast I could not keep up. And I sacrificed quality for speed often and have harbored a tinge of guilt ever since. Was the quantity of my output a quality unto itself?

It’s strange how things work themselves out and from where our inspiration comes. Reflecting on old paintings, watching rows of lost souls and reading the grim news of war while strolling along the beach working on my tan.

I hope this couple found some insight in the sand castles and rolling surf, dropped whatever was holding them back and went home feeling rejuvenated and reconnected with themselves and each other. And if so, maybe I would paint them more carefully now, arms wrapped around each other and on a single canvas.

“Susan”
Oil/panel
16” x 16”
1997

Painted from life in a frenzy. It’s more like a sketch than a painting. I remember throwing the paint on as fast as I could to capture the energy and drama of the moment. Susan was a friend who hung out at my studio for a bit. She had blonde hair and intense energy. I lost touch with her shortly after I painted this. And so glad I didn’t throw it away or paint over it. Thought about it as the piece fell short of what I had in mind.

“The Three Moirai”
Oil/Canvas
8’ x 6’
1997
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.

“Dennis Rodman”
Oil/Canvas
8’ x 7’
1997

This is one of those paintings that was meant to be part of series that never came to be. I was on fire for painting during this period of my life. And my imagination knew few limits. In this case, the idea was to create a series of 4 paintings of men in extreme moments of physical exertion that would represent different expressions of humanity: sport, performing art, sacrifice in pain and pleasure.

In addition to Dennis Rodman slam dunking I was going to paint Christ on the cross writhing in pain, a ballet dancer in full form and a man at the moment of orgasm with a partner inspired by East Indian art where the male figure is holding his partner off the ground.

The idea was fraught with philosophical problems for me right from the beginning. That, along with the short attention span I suffered from at the time, I moved on after finishing only 2 of the pieces. Moreover, the ballet dancer turned out so realistic and cute that I lost further steam for the project. I was so disappointed in myself for creating what I felt was such a second rate piece that I actually stopped painting for a brief period.

Ironically the ballet dancer sold pretty quickly. But years later I was contacted by the owner of the painting telling me that he wanted to sell the piece. Then, before I could respond he told me that he had sold the piece for twice as much as he paid for it. Not a huge sum of money but interesting nevertheless.

In hindsight, the difference between the raw straightforward approach in this painting and the dainty careful less than life size work of the ballet dancer is quite interesting. And if I had gone on to paint the other two with equally unique approaches I would have really achieved something.

Maybe the Jesus painting could be a copy from an old master. And the orgasm piece could be an interpretation in paint of an actual stone carving from ancient India. The results would surely be quite different from one another.

Someday … meanwhile, this painting of Dennis Rodman hangs in the break room of my spa. My staff loves this piece and I am taking a certain pleasure in hating it.

“Fire”
Oil/panel
48 x 32”
1997

This was the first painting of a series of four that feature a torso set on a red background. The other three pieces are “Air,” “Water” and “Earth.” I wanted to restrict the series to just a torso on red background but that would somehow reflect qualities of each element. It was at this time that my work shifted from having a lot of black in the background. From this point on for a while I left the torso just sit on and in this red field. And I deliberately left them unfinished to a greater degree than before.

This piece is my favorite because it best conveys my sense that we are all simply momentary collectivizations of energy patterns into the appearance of something. It is almost as though the winds of the universe had blown up all these pieces and just for this moment they are a torso…a person. And in the blink of an eye all the parts will be blown back into the chaos of all.

Another way to describe it is that it seems to strike a delicate balance between a solid sculptural form and yet at the same time it could just be a fortunate collection of brush strokes that just happen to form a torso. A little more structure and it would just be a solid lump. A little less structure and it would just be a formless scattered mess. I’m not sure how I managed to strike that balance here. But just to see how this might work I did a copy of this piece and while it turned out to be a nice painting, it definitely does not have this extra magical quality.

“Air”
Oil/panel
48” x 32”
1997

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.

“Earth”
Oil/panel
48” x 32”
1997

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.

“Water”
Oil on Panel
48″ x 32″
1997 approx.

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.

“Arvo Pärt”
Oil/Panel
5’ x 3’
1997
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”
oil/panel
48” x 32”
1997. approximately

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.

“Ass Fuck”
Oil on panel
6′ x 4′
1997

If something turns out well, why not make it bigger? Well, for an artist that prefers to paint larger pieces and even charges more for smaller commissions because they are, well, a pain in the ass, the answer is obvious. Especially if the smallish piece sells quickly, which it did.

But there is more to it than size. My approach to painting was shifting again. I was moving out of my black and white sculptural phase to something influenced by Lucien Freud’s work. Like Freud I was packing on the paint. The substance of the paint was becoming part of the message. And like Freud my work was becoming more carnal and coldly real, less erotic and romantic. Red was out. Pale ghostly pink was in. The drama of black was replaced with muddy flesh tones, even in the background. And the brush strokes were deliberately banal rather than virtuosic.

But the scale and the flat out sexual subject as well as the implication of action were entirely my own. The piece is nevertheless clumsy and not sorted out. I hadn’t yet figured out how to handle the paint ( some of it still following the form in what I call virtuosic painting) and the hand turned out much too small.

And for reasons I can’t explain, it didn’t sell. It wasn’t even stolen when one of my art dealers made off with over 1000 works of my art. Alas, it’s still in my racks and not once I have I considered painting over it despite its short comings.

Ass Fuck
Hawaiian C omission

Hawaiian Commission
6 x 4′
Oil on panel
1997

The title of this painting may seem strange for a title but that is what this was about more than the man or the painting itself. This commission was a big deal for me. By this point in my life I had been painting almost non stop in my studio under the freeway for 5 or 6 years. I was a full time artist and had not had a job in years. And, I was broke. But I was beginning to see my way out of abject poverty.

Along with the help of a patron and friend, I was able to take my first trip to Hawaii. And while there I got my first real commission….that is to say…someone commissioning me to do a painting like I would do a painting. To be sure the man in the painting is the commissioner and he had some ideas about the piece. He was insistent on the painting including a coconut and him of course. But he didn’t even stipulate how the coconut was to be included or how he would be depicted. It was implied, although not stated, that the painting would flatter him.

This was also the first time I was to do a painting outside my studio since I had really become an artist. Frankly I was worried and curious about whether I could even do it. Another friend offered his garage, showed me where to get materials and off I went. Even with the time crunch of a return ticket I was able to complete the work.

The results are a stunningly accurate depiction of the man who commissioned the piece as well as an over arching and undeniably Hawaiian feel to the piece. He was absolutely pleased. And frankly, so was I. It looks a bit brittle here in this miniaturized format. And to be sure it is sharper than work I had been producing in Seattle. But that was the point, to include the light that was intrinsically Hawaii; bright, clear and sharp.

While painting it I did a second spin off piece that became a signature work for me and which became a mini phase unto itself with many others to follow. I called it “Fire.”

“Ass”
Oil on panel
30″ x 15”
1997

Asses, and backs for that matter, are easy and fun to paint. They are generalized forms and are more unique than one might imagine. They are also liked by audiences and while an ass is potentially sexual, it is not inherently so. And as such, people bought them. And since I never made it into the art big leagues…..or for that matter even the minor leagues, it was either paint and sell paintings of asses or head out into the world in hopes of selling my actual ass. The choice was obvious.

Now, 30 years later with the advent of iPhones, Facebook, tiktok, ubiquitous porn, the popularity of Kim Kardashian and so on, America seems to have an obsession with asses. They are everywhere and bigger than ever.

Who knows, maybe I was just ahead of my time. I don’t even try to sell my art anymore. But if I did, I might be able to make quite a go of just selling big ass paintings.

“Jo With Pumpkin: 1st Version”
Oil/panel
32” x 48
1996

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.

Steve

“Steve”
Oil/Panel
4’ x 6’
1996

It’s hard to believe, in retrospect, that this was a commissioned piece. This is a bold piece by any measure and I’m surprised I had the courage to do it. I was in my late 30’s. I would like to think I have at least that much courage now 25 years later, but I’m not sure that is true.

Steve was a successful business man and had a reputation within the gay community that was in part based on his panache, brazen non gay way of speaking and his big house parties. If you didn’t know better, or look around at his friends you would think he was a mid-level donor to the RNC with his own little Superpac.

Perhaps that’s why he liked this piece so much. It pushed people’s expectations of who he was to new limits. And one thing I remember about Steve was that he liked pushing people’s buttons.

I was very grateful to him for the opportunity to be paid to do my boldest work. I don’t know what happened to Steve or if he is even still alive, but I learned a lot from him, more than I realized at the time. I hope this painting is still providing him with some joy or at least amusement as he watches new guests encounter it for the first time.

“Spectrum Dance Company”
Oil/Two Panels
12′ x 8′
1996

 

This painting is proof of my confidence and haste at this point. I was 35. And finally in my full strength as an artist. It’s hard to remember as I sit here at the age of 62 writing about my art that for nearly 10 years prior to this painting, I agonized over whether and how I would ever find my authentic voice in art. I am inherently curious and studious so part of my authentic voice was to investigate everything about art that I could. I read books, I went to shows and museums, a discussed with worthy friends, I backpacked to China, I copied paintings, and I emulated artists I admired and was moved by. I even tried cooking original “lost” recipes for art. This went on for years and by 30 I was actually worried that my life as an artist would essentially be a life of study.

From where I sit now, though, those years seem like a tiny investment in really knowing something … about something. And no, all that study didn’t crush my creativity. This website should be evidence enough to dispel the theory that studying other art cripples one’s creative voice.

Well, the loosening of my poetic tongue did not come Hollywood movie style all at once. But it did happen over a period of about 3 years, with all the furtive fits and starts, advances and retreats that seem requisite with real growth. The old 3 steps forward, two steps backward thing.

By the time I painted this piece in 1996, though, I was in my full strength. I had found my voice or my “signature style” as was popular to say back then…a phrase so bloated with marketing intent it’s still hard for me to say. Whatever you want to call it, I was on fire. And I was meeting lots of people that were just adding fuel to the fire.

At some point I was introduced to a man named Richard Jessup. He and I quickly became friends and he began modeling for me. He was also a member of a dance troupe called Spectrum which did Jazz and Modern fusion performances. They were professionals and a bit intimidating. But I quickly endeared myself to them and before I knew it other members of the troupe were coming over to pose for me. Most of my work was done from photographs that I staged and shot in my studio.

Working with the camera was another piece of the puzzle of me finding my voice. The pictures themselves were important aides to painting, of course. But what was also vital was my developing skills as an art director. These shoots were complex and intense affairs. I often started with an idea but would develop the idea and in a sense “create the painting” during the photo shoot. I was an absolute fanatic about the lighting and every detail of the fabric and other elements in the shot.

Size was also key. Up to a point, the bigger the better. Masonite panels were readily available at the local lumber store and were cheap and stable. Even as a “starving artist” I could afford Masonite. And since 8’ x 4’ often wasn’t big enough for my ideas, I would just combine the panels.

This piece is two panels in the shape of a “T.” This radical shape as well as the deliberate unfinished hand are evidence of my confidence and haste at the time. Why should I fill in every part if the message was communicated and there were a thousand more things to paint. In fact, I even remember deliberately leaving the hand unfinished to reveal the process of making the painting. One can easily see that my ground was white and the figure was sketched in with burnt umber oil paint. No pencil or tentative preliminary work….just thrown up on the panel and jumping in with both feet.

Those were halcyon days. But the pace was unsustainable. Eventually I slowed down and by the time I was 40 I had a wife and child and my work became much more craftsman like. I can’t say which is better. But as I write this my kids have become adults and my non art businesses sustain my livelihood with modest but comfortable and stable means. Furthermore, at this age I am realistically looking at the next chapter of my life with qualities that look a little like retirement. Although, since I never had a job, the term feels a bit like wearing someone else’s clothes.

Maybe it’s time to buy a stack of Masonite and just start cranking out the art. I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was almost 40. This time I think I’m going to need an espresso maker. And I better get out there and see who is dancing. I just can’t see myself painting golfers…at least not yet.

 

“Homage to Joel Peter Whitkin”
Oil/panel
48” x 36”
1996

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 onehas ever been able to tell me why they love it.The haters have been much more articulate and forthcoming.

“Orgasm”
Oil/panel
70” x 48
1996

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.

“The Three Graces”
Oil/panel
48” x 48”
1996

This painting was a study for what was going to be a large painting of these three fabulous women. They had recently bought a bar and turned it into a place for artists to show their work and called it “The Art Bar.” I met them through one of my models and immediately fell in love with them and their walls.

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.

Self Portrait

“Self Portrait”
Oil/panel
30 x 24”
1996

I painted this when I was 35. And even though I am the model for many paintings in the years preceding this, none of them are self portraits. I just happen to be the model but they are not paintings about me.

This is.

I sold this piece shortly after I painted it so I have not seen it in a long time. What strikes me about it now is the full frontal almost confrontational look of it. The directness is softened a bit by the affected theatricality of the velvet jester’s hat and slightly pouty mouth. But otherwise this guy is serious about his painting and he wants you to know it.

This was painted in front of a mirror. So I suppose this is how I look when am looking at a model and painting. And yes, I often wear a hat when I’m painting.

 

“Jamie Seated”
Oil/Panel
4’ x 4’
1996

This is a case of squeezing out one more and having it turn out really well. And in my experience that last squeezed out one is often the best. In this case I had been painting constantly. I was exhausted and on the verge of burnout. The model, Jamie, wasn’t even someone I knew or worked with. She was the friend of Jo who I had been working with intensely. She just offered, as a throw away comment one day while arriving to pick up Jo that she would like to model sometime. So I snapped a few photos and did 2 paintings of her before collapsing and taking a much needed break.

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”
Oil/panel
4’ x 4’
1996
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.

“Mud Man with Sunflower”
Oil/panel
8’ x4’
1996

This is a story of the power of patronage and what happens when it isn’t enough. But first, a little background about the painting. It was painted in 1996, arguably one of the most prolific and important years of my career so far. I am writing this in 2023. The painting is part of a mini series I call “Erden mensch” or more simply “mud man.” I have written about this series extensively under other paintings so I will just mention briefly here that this series features paintings of myself naked but covered in a kind of full body mask with certain tribal like body paint markings. These pieces express my discovery and ownership of my authentic masculinity and spiritual self and are, in my mind, my first really powerful figurative work.

They were also done during a period of serious financial insecurity. I was and had been broke and living in my studio which was a storage warehouse under an 8 lane freeway. I was in my mid 30’s doing what perhaps I should have been doing in my mid 20’s. Nevertheless, here I am, liberated from my self-effacing timid self. Standing up to bat on my own home plate…a chunk of concrete that could represent a pedestal, a foundation, a chunk of territory or even a small but significant sacred space. All the while taking my sunflower firmly in hand like a weapon or bat preparing to take a swing at life itself.

Unlike Michelangelo’s David, I am not relaxed yet tense. Instead, I am solid yet unsure. I’m holding the sunflower as though I am only just now aware of its power and not even really sure what kind of power it is. And that, is exactly how I felt at 35. I had come into my strength as an artist and yet only just so. I still didn’t know what kind of power it held or quite what to do with it. Should I bludgeon someone with it or bless them. is it a spiritual symbol or an actual act of seeding the fields? Or both. Is it me simply “being a model” for something cool or me being a model because this act of covering myself in mud was actually a powerful part of my becoming a man? Or both?

Only a few years later, when I was still struggling to make even a meager living on my art I met Ken and Bruce who after seeing this piece only once bought it. I asked $2,000 and they accepted my price. It was 1996 and that felt like $20,000 to me. The money was a source of great relief but it also meant that this rugged almost sketch like approach with unabashedly figural work was something someone was willing to pay for.

Ken and Bruce went on to buy 4 more pieces over the coming years and played an important role in helping me meet people who also purchased works. That is quite a story unto itself and I have written about that under other paintings. During that time I was able to visit them in their home in LA and co create theatrical performances and art rituals in their home. These were halcyon days with lots of fun and learning and personal growth. I even got married and had a kid. Things were looking up in every way…even financially.

And then it just dried up. Or rather, my ability to keep moving my art at those prices dried up. Yes, I continued to sell art. I even rented a little extra warehouse space and turned it into a show room. I organized my growing oeuvre so that I could access work for clients who were coming over to “look for a painting.” I was good at it. I even enjoyed it….for awhile. But within a few years it became clear that it wasn’t going anywhere. After a few more years I had not yet attracted a professional dealer and so aside from a few gallery contracts in what were mostly boutique galleries selling my own miniature repeats of works such as this, I was left to flog my own work in my own showroom to whoever I could at whatever price I could get, without undermining myself. And so, my prices didn’t grow and I began to feel woefully undervalued.

By 2005 I realized I needed another way to make money or I would be seriously broke and by then I had 2 kids and was divorced. I now had to make time for my children and provide child support. And so I created a theater with a bistro and coffee shop. It was an enormous amount of work since I had zero working capitol. By 2010 it failed financially leaving me with $340,000 in debt.

But, it had a brand. And I had a following. I also had created a little spa within the Bistro-theater-gallery-studio-showroom. By 2012 I was digging my way out of debt. I worked even harder than the bistro days. I sold commissions, I painted houses, I sold my paintings at discounted prices, I pinched and saved and negotiated and bargained. And more importantly from 2013-2016 I did nothing but grow the spa. By some miracle of good luck, 15 years of brand identity and grueling hard work I had paid off the debt. But during that time I did no art and sold no art.

In 2017 I had a studio again and some money. I started painting. By 2018 I had enough to lease more space and made my studio bigger. Meanwhile the spa grew bigger too and I was also delegating tasks. By the time Covid hit in 2020 I was positioned well enough financially to protect myself, my business and my core employees. And I was painting and sculpting at full capacity again.

By 2020 I finally had a patron that provided me with the financial support I needed to make the very best art I could without needing to be a broke bohemian living in a windowless warehouse under the freeway. My patron was my own spa. I was approaching my 60th birthday.

Now, the Covid pandemic is over. The spa is still growing in size and complexity. And I now have a leadership team freeing up even more time. And while I have an even bigger studio and the means to start doing large sculpture, what is even more powerful is that my spa is about creating the kinds of experiences I seek in museums and sacred spaces. My art plays an undeniably important role in providing that kind of experience for my guests. Not all of my output is appropriate for a spa. But there is still plenty that is. And I like challenging my guests too.

Without the support of Ken and Bruce and a few other key people way back in the mid and late 1990’s I simply could not have done this.

“Mud Man Clutching His Own Wrist”
Oil/panel
8’ x 4’
1996

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.

“Before the Drop”
Oil/panel
6’ x 4’
1996

This is me. Covered in mud.
I have written extensively for other paintings about how and why I covered myself in ritual settings. But there was something else at play as well. I wanted to make of myself something that was already art. Then, even if I was painting it realistically it would already be less mimetic and more artistic.

But really, what stands out for me is the earnestness of it. Keep in mind I was at the time of painting this in my mid 30’s and living in the peek of the art world being in thrall with detached irony. Instead I was deliberately trying to imbue my work with integrity, a connection to artist and spiritual traditions.

The work was unabashedly “serious” in serious ways. I was hoping that by painting it with genuine high spirits it would not be lugubrious. And maybe even a touch beautiful….nearly a dirty word in the 90’s. I wanted the piece to be so beautiful to look at you would linger long enough to have a developed thought and experience a moment of probity evolve from stillness and contemplation, the birthplaces of integrity.

The stone in the painting is actually a chunk of concrete I found outside the studio. It is a piece of ruble from a previous building. And here it blends with the figure by virtue of how it is painted. I’m lifting it and holding it. But how? And why? It is a shield? A burden? A piece of my own past? My proverbial baggage? It also looks to me like a turtle shell and all that implies, safety and a place to hide. The black backdrop appears majestic like death and another layer of protection. The sliver of blue seems like daylight and hope to me.

Who is this lonely man standing there squat with his burden and seemingly aware that he is on display, posing for the viewer …clearly not caught in the act.

About six months before I painted this I got Hepatitis A and turned yellow. I was very sick for over a month and felt like I was going to die. When I returned to my studio my work and my persona had changed.

The jaundice fever burned off my old skin.
Something heavy dropped.

“Richard’s Shoulder”
Oil/panel
30” x 20”
1996

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.

“Richard’s Legs”
Oil/Panel
40” x 30”
1996
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.

“Couple of Hips”
Oil/panel
48 x 32”
1996

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”
Oil/panel
6’ x 4’
1996

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”
Oil/Cardboard
24” x 16” Approximate
1996
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”
Oil/panel
6 x 4’
1996

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.

I revisited the original photos to explore something different about what I saw there. It wasn’t that I felt the 1996 version was incomplete. Quite the contrary. I always felt that the piece was powerful and captured something of the essence of Hawaii’s intense earthy fire. The second version, although more realistic seems to have less raw power and more psychological complexity and of course sensual grace.

Clearly the interlocking figures was very appealing to me. But I was also thinking of using this figure group as part of a much larger piece which I did a year later.

It is also interesting to see how my work has changed over time and by using the same image one can compare the approaches more directly than one would if the comparison involved completely different ideas and compositions.

When I was coming of age as an artist in the early 80’s using photographs for one’s art was taboo. And the idea of using the same photograph twice was only slightly more reprehensible than the idea of one repeating oneself. Well, I’m glad I didn’t let those silly notions get in my way. They were born out of the well intentioned high philosophy of abstract expressionism. And for good reasons. But those ideas no longer made sense and in fact only stood in the way of my creative growth. So, with some difficulty in the 1980’s, I finally moved past those old ideas and did what I wanted.

“Juggling Skulls”
Oil on panel
6′ x 4′
1996

This piece was inspired by the men included here. These men were all members of a professional dance troupe called Spectrum Dance Company. Their presentations were a blend of jazz and modern. The company is still going strong in Seattle.

These men all became my friends and would often come model and rehearse in my painting studio. I would usually photograph them because being dancers they did not sit still.

Most of the time I did paintings of them as individuals. But I also did a few pieces with 2 or more. This is undeniably a bit of a pastiche. The figures don’t quite line up. They exist in different zones. And yet, that seems to add structure to the piece. The invisible fault lines add a counterpoint to the central and frontal stacking of the 2 figures in the foreground. And the boldness of the red seems to function like compositional glue or more like the way sheeting material does to a structure when applied to a wall. It keeps the painting from racking, or shifting in unsettling ways. It is the paintings anchor.

This piece has a weird twist in its pedigree. It was borrowed by a man who commissioned a painting from me but had not committed with a down payment. In my naive enthusiasm I loaned him the painting to help get him fully onboard with the commission. He loved the piece and was very happy to have it on loan. What I didn’t know is that the home he was living in was not his. It was his girlfriend’s home. Much as I love art, I think Its probably important that one have a home before buying art.

At some point he and his partner broke it off and he disappeared. I only met his partner once and didn’t have her contact information. After several years and the advent of Facebook I finally found her. When I asked if she still had the painting and could I come recover it she said, “sure, it’s just been in the garage for years. Please come get it. I need the space.” Music with a tinge of ouch to any artists ears.

“Jamie Reclining”
Oil on panel
4′ x 6′
1996

One of the draw backs of being prolific is that it’s hard to keep track of everything. I don’t remember what happened to this piece. Did I sell it? Gift it? Or was it stolen?

It’s so striking and weird. And very much apart of the aesthetic that came together so powerfully for me in late 1995 and lasted until about halfway through 1997.

“Richard Standing”
Oil on panel
8’ x 4’
1996

Richard has been modeling for me longer than anyone in my career. During these first years of working together in 1995 and 1996 we did many photo shoots and live modeling sessions. Richard was a professional dancer and choreographer. So he understood line and composition. He also understood artistic form as a concept. And, as a dancer, he kept his body in absolute perfect form in a balanced way.

Richard was also an intellectual influence on me. He introduced me to lots of new music most notably Arvo Part, a contemporary Estonian composer of so called “serious” music. Part’s music would have a profound influence on my artistic direction over the next few years. And Richard introduced me to many of Seattle’s notable dancers and choreographers.

In this painting I was already influenced by Part’s music. The black backdrop and clear lines that somehow convey both sensuality and sacredness are hallmarks of Part’s music.

But I was also bringing in all the feeling I had for the sculpture of Rodin that I had studied so intensely in the late 1980’s. I wanted size. I wanted speed. I wanted volume and motion contained in the posed figure. A cut male figure who understood line was the perfect match for my artistic ambitions in that moment and this piece among all my pieces of Richard sums that up best.

“Hope”
Oil/panel
6’ x 4’
1996

This painting was nearly complete. A friend stopped by and after admiring the new work as well as debating what wasn’t quite working, we went out for a drink. When I came back to the studio it had somehow come off the wall and painting bench it was propped on.

We were horrified to find the painting had done a face plant on the floor. When we peeled the painting off the floor it was smeared and covered in dirt. As bad as it seemed at first, it didn’t take long to repair and in fact allowed me to resolve the composition. The upper right corner of the painting has a square space formed by the figures and the edges of the painting which I had over emphasized by painting a large yellow square there. In my effort to clean the yellow I realized that the problem with the composition was that the yellow was not just creating a counter point to the drama of the figure as was my intention, but was actually creating a visual trap from which the eye had a hard time escaping.
Once the yellow was gone, everything fell into place.

“Grief and Loss”
Oil/panel
6’ x 4’
1996

There was so much death and grief in my circle of friends in those days. AIDS was well understood by that time but a cure and preventative vaccines were still a long way away and it was too late for many people who had contracted it either before means of prevention were understood or just a little careless bad luck. Unlike Covid 19 and it’s many variants, getting HIV was a near certain death sentence, and a long slow gruesome shame filled one at that.

The idea of two men together in some kind of tender interaction became a common theme for me which I painted several times culminating in a gigantic painting called “Suffering Change” which you can see in the Cabinet section of this website. That piece was painted in 2004 and in affect was the end of this run of subject matter and was effectively the end of the AIDS era.

“Sister Eva Destruction”
Oil on panel
40” x 40”
1996
Sister Eva Destruction, whose real name was Todd, was a member of an organization that did volunteer work at events raising money and awareness for HIV and AIDS and people suffering from AIDS. The organization was called The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and still exists today.

To be a member one had to volunteer significant numbers of hours of volunteer work making it a real honor to be a member. And like a Catholic order of nuns that it was clearly parodying, one had to earn one’s habit. In fact, unlike Catholic nuns, members of this order were expected to create their own persona and “look.” One could eventually work their way up through a pecking order not unlike Catholic orders and eventually even become a Pope.

Well, the theatricality and social purpose were a perfect fit for me as a painter. I did several paintings of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and donated them to fund raisers. This one, however, I decided to keep. Unlike the others, this one was done mostly from life. Todd came to my studio on several occasions and went through the ordeal of putting on his whole persona for me. As such, I became more involved in the piece and with his blessing ended up keeping it for myself.

“Kerry and her Girlfriend”
Oil on panel
6′ x 4′
1996

This was painted painstakingly from life directly on the canvas. I had recently discovered the British painter Lucien Freud. He worked directly from life with very different things to say but with a shared certainly that it could be said with the nude in the grand Western tradition, although with his unique contributions to message and technique. The fact that he didn’t evolve to his mature work until he was in his 50’s did not escape me.

So, this piece, along with a few others, sets out to absorb and integrate some of Freud’s methods and results into my own now well developed way of making art.

The restricted earthy palette, the unabashedly heavily worked parts, the barely held together anatomical correctness along side an almost Cezanne like commitment to compositional structure were all things I saw and admired in Freud’s work and are at play in this piece.

I met Kerry and her girlfriend through my art dealer at the time, Gary. Gary was a campaign organizer for a local low level Democratic bureaucrat. And he was unequivocally an early foot soldier of the culture wars. He was a proud “flamer.” He and a friend would often pull up to the studio with the top down, stereo blaring Broadway show tunes and colorful scarfs blowing in the wind. And being very gregarious, Gary knew everybody in Seattle’s gay scene. Kerry was one of his minions putting up posters, volunteering at fund raisers and doing whatever she could to help advance the liberal cause.

We loved each other from the get go. And being gay, there was less tension in our connection than there might have been otherwise. The painting was her idea. When it was done they loved it even though it is far from flattering, especially of Kerry, the tall figure. I gave the painting to them.

But not long afterwards they broke up and much as she loved the painting, it’s intimacy was too uncomfortable for her to see in her small apartment everyday. So she gave it back to me.

No offense taken. I was delighted to have it back. It’s always a favorite when I hang it in the spa.

Oddly, it looks more than a little like an artist a little younger than me who came to fame 10 years after this was painted. John Currin. Check his work out online and see if you agree.