“Autumn,” “Winter,” “Spring,” & “Summer”
6′ x 4’
This is one of a series of paintings of the four seasons. This series took two years to complete, and actually I never did finish “Summer“ or “Spring.” Both of these paintings have elements that are either out right unfinished as in the case of “Summer,” or need corrections and adjustments as in “Spring.”
I have often been drawn to the rubric of a series. Perhaps the very nature of a series has its own built-in muse, in the sense that when one painting is complete, there is the obvious task at hand of creating the next painting until the series is complete. When developing a series, it is often the case that the paintings will develop a kind of dialogue with each other if they are all being done at the same time. In this series, I completed them in succession rather than all together. In fact, I only did the painting in its corresponding season. I began with “Autumn.” It was complete in one season. However, I did not complete “Winter” before Spring arrived in Seattle, so I skipped on and did “Spring.” But I put “Winter” and “Autumn” away and did not look at them until the season returned, so the pieces did not really talk to each other or to me. Perhaps I did it this way because of my own arbitrary rules for the series developed and were firmly in place by the time I completed Autumn.
The rules I set for myself were as follows: a 6 x 4‘ canvas not a panel, a woman reclining on a table that was a kind of alter to the season, added elements would all be gathered from my own immediate environment and places on and in front of the altar, no exotic plants or things, and no holiday decorations. While there are pumpkins in “Autumn“ they are not carved into jack-o’-lanterns. I also decided not to have any exotic surreal troops, such as a big pile of snow in front of the altar for “Winter.” I also wanted to have a different woman for each painting; moreover, I wanted each woman to somehow suggest in her physical type something of the season.
These paintings were different for me. Perhaps, it was the arbitrary set of restrictions. I am not sure why they were different to complete. I think it had more to do with the fact that they were painted during a time when one strong sense of clarity of what and how I painted had ended and a new one had not yet begun. These works and others at this time were lovely “projects” that were done with craftsman like devotion to work, as well as my craft of painting. But a true and deeper knowing of what and how to paint was still not in place.
I had been a father for a year or two by the time I started this series. That responsibility had changed my studio patterns and working methods, but had little to do with my deeper motivations about how and what to paint. Those things played themselves out for their own reasons, and with their own trajectories having nothing to do with being a father. The brushwork and method of painting reflect the greater emphasis on craft. The paintings have lots of realistic detail; the figures are more about their realistic particularity then their volumetric power. The elements of nature, too, are painted lovingly to portray their realistic qualities with paint itself. The brushwork is more subdued in these paintings then in subsequent and previous works.
There was a long tradition in the canon of Western art of a female nude or nearly nude reclining on a bench, bed, or alter. I wanted these pieces to be seen in that tradition. Obviously their beauty is not found in their “newness“ or their “radicalness.” Those were 2 definitions or types of beauty for the last 100 years. Nor did I want them to be “Beauty“ in the same sense that they conveyed a moral principle the way it was for Ancient Greeks or during the Renaissance, nor even beauty in their proportion‘s in a mathematical sense. No, I wanted their beauty to be expressed in the restraint to a system of rules that had room for so much optical splendor within a stringent set of design principles.
I am not sure, even after 10 years, whether this had worked or not.
I had hoped that someone would purchase all four pieces and hang them one at a time to deepen their awareness of each season as it arrived. In that sense, their beauty would have been measured by how effectively they deepened one’s awareness of nature’s cyclical changes. They were meant to suggest or even instruct about aesthetic enjoyment of all the nuances of the seasons perpetual change, to help one realize the optical fact and the poetic depth of this phrase my friend would often say, “every second now the light changes.”
It may seem strange to include this last remark but it helps define what I am saying, that the same is true of conversation with one’s lover. You can chat all night and that’s nice, but until you have broken through your conventions and shared something of your truth and your sincere thoughts and feelings at the very least, there is not going to be any real “restorative waters of reunion and rejuvenation.”
This painting is a perfect metaphor. The cock is me. I painted it. The woman is “other.“ It came with the magazine. I found it. The cock enters the scene rather brazenly, smashing into the image with its rude penetrating presence. The painting is it self a scene of sex, perhaps even more truthfully than a picture of two people having sex.
Perhaps a better title would be “Art Fuck” or better still perhaps… “Mind Fuck.”
“Chanel With Cock”
Oil/Paper Magazine Advertisement
14″ x 11”
This is an oil painting on the actual magazine page torn from a monthly publication. I also made xerox copies of the finished painting and consider those art works as well. (More on that later.)
I have always equated vision with sexual energy in several ways. First of all, a long time ago I discovered that if I looked very intently at objects, following their outlines around the object until they were “closed” I could “have them” –be with them– become one with them in a way that was like the feeling of bonding with a lover during sex. There was some kind of relationship between active seeing and sex. By the way, this is different than looking at pornography which I would argue is essentially a passive and receptive act…something almost the opposite of what I am describing here. Here I am describing an action where the eye is more like a sculptor’s chisel cleaving out the object of its inner vision… making it “something” out of the chaos of everything. This is opposite of pornography where everything is given and nothing is left to imagination. Here, imagination is imbued into action. With pornography imagination is stripped away until all that is left is simple priapic expulsion and depletion. The result is less, not more.
Secondly, I also discovered a long time ago that when I am painting or sculpting, my libido increases.
Thirdly, there is often a similar feeling of “breaking through” with both sex and art making. Even with my most beloved partners, I have felt the need to break through the conventions and routines of the day, at the very least, to get to the powerfully restorative waters of reunion and rejuvenation with my partner and my deeper self through sex. Real sex. Not just fiddling around sex.
“The Little Red Studio”
36” x 46” Approximate
This painting somehow captures the energy and spirit of the Little Red Studio.
This weekly crazy event that happened in my studio for 10 years began as a small gathering and eventually ballooned into something that required its own location which eventually included a theater, a 48 seat bistro and a gallery. At its grandest there were events and shows running seven days a week. To say that it took over my life for those years is an understatement. For myself and many of the hundreds of people involved it may stand out as the most significant period of their lives.
This piece features Mary who was one of the three women who helped me start it and without whom it simply would not have happened. She would periodically model for me for photo shoots. I never worked from life with her. She was a busy PhD candidate at the University of Washington during these years and did not have time for that.
Nevertheless, her presence was so striking and she was in my weekly routine so much and in such a rarified way that I was able to make some truly dynamic paintings that both feature her and were inspired by her.
This piece was painted over a painting I was gifted by another artist years earlier. This artist gave me her blessing to paint over her painting if I chose to because she hated the piece. She was right. It was an awful painting. I waited a few years to be sure. But she was right.
I love painting over other paintings including my own. It isn’t an ego trip. No, it’s more like gardening where you turn over last year’s remaining crops into the soil to enrich it. It’s so much better and more fun than starting on a stark white smooth painting. To be sure, some projects require that kind of perfectly “clean slate.” But for a lot of my work, the lumps and colors and marks of the original painting add grist and surprises that inspire the new work to move along but also peek through in places and ways that add a freshness and frankness that simply couldn’t be created in any other way. Furthermore, those same makes and bumps force me to be nimble and flexible as I work to both incorporate what is already there and what is evolving from my imagination. It’s a dance and like all dances it can feel clumsy at times and at others it feels like flying.
I gifted this piece at one point to a couple who had devoted so much time and energy and money to the Little Red Studio. I had also promised to do a sculpture for them but had never got to it. Years later, having enjoyed it for a long time they offered to gift it back to me. I was so thrilled to get it back. I am so grateful to them and the thousands of other people who gave so much to make those years so memorable and to collectively contribute so much to the making of so many compelling pieces.
What you see here in this painting is Mary. But what you don’t see directly, is not only the painting underneath it by my friend, but the many dedicated people who gave so much of themselves week after week to create a setting and hold space where people could come to explore a deeper riskier side of themselves and hopefully rediscover the power of gifting to rejuvenate the self and create the fabric of community.
“Cunt Pack” Two Versions
46” x 22”
2004 and 1996
This painting was inspired by a painting almost exactly like it that I had painted in 1995. That painting was stolen by my studio mate around the same time that I painted it. The first painting looked very similar. It was the same size and shape and inspired by the same photograph, a tiny photograph among many that was part of an advertisement for other pornography.
The affects seem carnal and outright bizarre. There even seems to be a gynecological or zoological aspect to the work. The flesh seems quite alive in the painting on the left and not so much in the painting on the left. The models even look a bit like cadavers.
The second version is slightly more detailed and “complete” which makes sense because that is how all my work looked at this time.
Oil on canvas
6′ x 5′
I don’t usually include commissioned work in this online portfolio. However, this piece is very close to what I would have created without any constraints of the commission. In fact, I would be hard pressed to say what is causing me to qualify that statement with “very close.” I think it is that I always paint pictures of people I know or that I choose for a particular project. These people came to me and asked me if they could pay me to paint their picture.
Perhaps by the time you are reading this I will have created a section in this archive of commissioned works. But at the time of this writing it has not yet been created. I include here because it was part of how and why my work shifted to more realistic portrayals and less singularly about the figures sculptural presence. In fact I would go further and say it was increasingly about these particular individuals than about their sculptural presence. This is a likeness of two particular people. And not so incidentally, the 2 people who were paying me to do the work.
40” x 30” approximate
1998 and 2004
This was a Plan B painting for a client who commissioned me to do a painting of her. As is often the case, I do 2 paintings as part of the deal. One for the client and one for me to keep. In this case I let her choose which one she preferred and she chose the better piece. This one was not quite right and for years I wasn’t quite sure what to do about it.
One day in 2004 I gave up and decided to just gesso over the painting and start over. As you can see, I started at the top as is typical for me when I’m preparing a canvas. At some point I realized that whiting out this Black woman was a powerful statement and had turned a mediocre portrait into something much more interesting.
The piece sold very quickly. Unfortunately I lost touch with Vivian shortly after she got her painting. I would have loved to hear her thoughts on it. While I didn’t get to know her that well, I am confident that she would be thrilled to see what I did with the painting and would have had no objections to my having used her as a model for a painting that only came to completion years after our brief encounter and without her consent. In fact, I suspect she would have been excited to see this.
Oil on panel
10” x 6”
This is a self portrait. That’s me. I hardly ever paint miniature people. This piece is small but the figure is even small within this small painting. Clearly this is a painting of me as an artist embryo. Here I am, tiny and naked in a womb of paint in a painting of my own making. Even in this miniature you can see the internal resolve as though I am gathering myself in preparation of bursting out. I don’t remember why I painted this. It wasn’t a gift for someone as is usually the case if I paint something small. And I don’t remember what happened to it. Maybe it was stolen like so many other pieces by Roland Crane, but I can’t say that for sure. But it is fun to see and makes me wonder why I didn’t do more small works like this. Maybe that is what I will do when I am old and frail…whichever comes first.
“Goddess of Rot”
55” x 45” Approximate
I painted this work when I was exploring the content and technique of an artist named Lucian Freud. Freud had recently become widely known for his incredibly intense and probing nude paintings. He is a contemporary British painter who recently passed away. I was also interested in his working methods which included intense prolonged live sittings with models in his humble studio. Freud was, in a sense, the unapologetic consummate old fashioned artist. His work, his working methods and his success were both a breath of fresh air for me and vindication of my interest and commitment to the figure and more or less traditional approach to painting.
And yet, his work and it’s emphasis on the psychology of the sitter was entirely new. He expressed this psychology through the bodies of his sitter, the method and results of his technique as well as the facial expressions of his sitters. He also let his sitters simply “be” in his studio. While a few paintings looked staged and arty, for the most part, the figures look more like so much meat with a personality which draped itself unselfconsciously around his studio.
With this painting and others I did at this time I tried out some of those ideas. Here is a woman named Janel who modeled for me for a few pieces. She originally tried to be a “pretty girl” model but eventually grasped the deeper level of work I was striving for. She would spend hours in my studio and allowed me to put her in less than ideal settings.
Outside my studio, I had a compost pile where I put the detritus of things I used as props in my studio including pumpkins, gourds, tree parts etc. Like Freud, the paint is built up with relatively dry paint applied with small brushes. The affect is a kind of crumbly accretion of lumps of paint. This represents a real departure from the smooth fast wet into wet approach that I often took.
This is another piece that was stolen by my dealer Roland Crane. If anyone has information about the location of this piece please let me know.
“Marni White Out” & “Boy White Out”
Both approximately 28” x 22”
Both approximately 2003
About 2003 I began seriously re-evaluating my past paintings. Some of them were clearly not my best work and others were even more clearly just flat out bad paintings. And so I decided to start culling my racks. Storing everything was becoming an increasing challenge but also I was beginning to enter my middle year’s and hence had early years to look back on. I was, in short, beginning to develop my own personal history.
Being thrifty I rarely throw anything away so I began painting over old paintings that didn’t make the cut. However, I quickly discovered that some paintings improved dramatically when they were either partially covered or completely covered in white paint or gesso. (Gesso is a white substance used to prepare a surface for paint. It is essentially a fancy word for primer.). Gesso can be thinned with water to make it more transparent or thickened by leaving it sit with the lid off the can for a few days. The thicker it is, the more opaque it is.
I soon discovered that driveway tar and all kinds of other substances could be slathered on old paintings with really terrific affect. In fact, I got so excited about this process that one of my friends cautioned me at this time to be careful not to paint over everything. She even joked that maybe she should move my collection to her facility to safeguard my work.
Eventually my zeal for whiting and blacking out my work slowed down. But even now, 15 years later after the initial storm of obliterations I still have a pile of questionable works that are at risk of getting whited out. In fact, I have found that this kind of creative process is a powerful way to leverage my energy when I want to do something creative but don’t have much zip. Starting a new painting or even re-entering a painting that is underway but left idle for a few days can be daunting and require more energy than I have sometimes. And yet, I am often not tired enough to call it a day. That’s when I start eyeballing my discard pile to see what great things might be achieved with minimal effort.
It’s fun. And usually a little surprising. And if all else fails I just keep going until the image is completely gone and I have a nice “new” surface for a totally new work.
“The First and Last Painting of Dave Lewis”
48″ x 48”
Dave Lewis died in 2003 before I finished this painting. He died suddenly and it totally shocked me. We had a routine and had spent almost four years together meeting roughly four times a week as artist and model. We would meet at his gym where I would do my best to keep up with him for half an hour or so of intense weight lifting. Then we would shower and take a sauna together, get cleaned up and go for coffee. After that we would meet at my studio where he would model for me for a few hours. Sometimes we would have lunch together and sometimes not.
During this time I did several penetrating pieces of and about Dave Lewis. These works were as much about Dave, the person, as they were about the vitality of the human spirit as seen through prolonged observation and being together. This piece was the first one. However, it sat in my studio unfinished for years as I began and finished other pieces of him. Some were smaller and some larger. And then he died suddenly, alone, in his home from a massive heart attack.
Later, after grieving the loss of my friend and model, as well as coming to terms with the sudden disruption to my routine, I realized how I wanted to complete this painting. I needed to obfuscate Dave. I thought of his soul somehow dematerializing into energy and patterns. I decided to roll and scrape white paint over the whole top of his image. Now, as I look at it 15 years later, the painting does indeed seem complete and “right.”
Oil on canvas
5′ x 3′
Paul was a friend who lived and worked in LA. I painted this piece in my Eastlake studio. It was done from photos that I took of Paul myself. I always considered this piece to be the one that comes as close as any work I have done to celebrating and depicting the beauty of the male form. I focused on the torso here in order to be able to increase the scale of the painting. Also, by not painting Paul’s head I felt it made this more of a statement about male beauty in a broader sense instead of about Paul the individual.
It was my intent to carve this same image in stone and I may still do that one day.
I sold this piece to an art dealer in Denver named Lee Gibson. I am hoping it remains in his collection. I did many paintings of Paul but this is the most notable one. I believe this painting provides important direction for me as I prepare to begin painting and sculpting again after a four year break from 2013-2017.
“Big Dave Painting”
8’ x 6’
“Thesis… Antithisis… synthesis!” That is what one of my favorite college professors used to say about the development of ideas and art. Well… every now and then, that is how I approach a painting.
In this case, I somehow had the idea that there was a good painting in the combination of two powerful images that I had seen and greatly influenced my thinking. One was the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe stretched out on a red satin bed sheet. I never saw that image on the cover of Playboy magazine, but if you grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and didn’t see that somewhere you were probably living under a rock. The image was the epitome of female beauty and a man’s idea of what feminism itself was at its finest at that time; youthful, supine, smooth and vulnerable as well as visually lush.
On the other hand, many years later, I saw a painting in the Seattle Art Museum by Lucien Freud of his model Leigh Bowery sprawled out on an old beat up studio chair with his big ole cock flopped on his thigh for all the world to see. Adding to the impact was that fact that Mr. Bowery himself was a big man, well over 6’ tall and the painting depicted him over life size on a canvas that was at least 8’ tall. Add to that, the fact that Freud’s painting style is rich, meaty and thick and you had a virtual sucker punch to your gut the moment you turned the corner and saw the piece for the first time. Mr. Bowery was a popular Drag Queen in London and was comfortable comporting himself in all kinds of ways and positions. His full frontal display of his masculinity was complicated by his pose which was slightly reminiscent of the way women are portrayed in pornography. It was, to say the least, a disturbing first contact.
And yet, there was another painting that I saw around this time that added another important ingredient to the mix. It is the painting of Pope Innocent the X by Velasquez made famous by one of Freud’s friends, Francis Bacon. I had just seen this painting in Rome and like the Freud painting gave me a moment of aesthetic arrest when I first saw it.
So here is Dave Lewis, my 6’ 2” 63 year old muscle leather Daddy posed in some weird synthesis of Marilyn Monroe on her satin sheets and Freud’s Leigh Bowery sprawled on an old stuffed chair. Instead, I placed David standing against the wall with arms up in a gesture of vulnerability but with a glare as sharp as daggers. And then, I surrounded him in wall drapings of red satin and rough painter’s canvas to extend the rhythms of his flesh into the background and pay homage to the Velasquez.
Someday I would love to see my piece hung beside the Freud. I want to see if it holds up in some way. To be sure it is not as singularly carnal. But It has other qualities the Freud does not. I am American after all, not British and so the piece has a current of optimism and vitality. I would like to think those qualities are added in here without diminishing the power of the work, without making it sentimental or nostalgic.
48” x 32”
In 2002 my figurative painting had swung from painting fragments of figures in a brushy loose style like those in the late 90’s to a highly realistic approach like this one. I think it’s because by this time I was married and had a kid….my first son…Sam. My days were much more ordered and as such my painting method became more craftsman like with steady and regular hours rather than spasmodic bursts of energy followed by unpredictable times of rest.
This interest in and attention to details meant new territories of subject matter were open to explore. For example, as in this painting, my subject isn’t just “the male body beautiful,” it is now about a specific male whose identity is quite specific and less specifically, about relationships in a subsection of gay men known as “leather.”
“Leather” was already a dying subculture within the gay community when I painted this. It was in decline because it is arguable that it wasn’t needed anymore. Homosexuality was gaining broad acceptance and the mainstream world was embracing kink and BDSM practices and including them into their sex lives.
In “Leather” to be a “Boy” was to be on a journey to becoming a full fledged man and perhaps even a “Daddy” or “Leather Daddy” as it was sometimes referred to. This was all a kind of fraternal order designed to give structure and support to young men trying to find their way in a very challenging and often hostile world. Although I wasn’t gay, I could see the challenges my friends faced and recognized the value and purpose of the “Leather” community.
This piece was inspired by a play party I was privileged to be invited to. It was in the very elaborate dungeon created by a friend of mine for just these sort of gatherings. I was permitted to take photos at the party and from them I did this piece. Frankly, I thought the guy who was this guy’s Daddy was going to buy the piece. I was disappointed when he didn’t. But now that 20 years have gone by and my work has changed in so many ways, I’m grateful to have it. In fact so much so that I went to the trouble to have it framed in roughly welded steel to echo the scene of the dungeon in the painting. It weighs a ton but it is pretty bad ass.
40” x 32”
Mary was introduced to me by a mutual friend as someone who would be willing and able to come sit for paintings as a model. She would like to say she was gainfully unemployed. I never asked what that meant but she had enough time to sit for me at a time when my working methods were at their most meticulous and slow. She came to my studio twice a week for this painting which took several months to complete.
In the process she shared a great deal about her challenges with her self image as she moved into her 50’s. I learned a lot about her challenges with having been seen and valued as a “beautiful” woman to that of being a “powerful” woman and what that meant for her. She was smart and articulate and forthcoming. She was also deeply frustrated with that transition and questioning all her relationships with the men in her life.
I realized that being a man myself she might direct her ire at me at some point. However, that never happened. In fact she outright told me that she considered the portrait sittings to be “our work together.” What she meant was that the sittings were useful for her almost like a therapy session not just because she could talk about her issues with a nonjudgemental listener but also because the painting I was creating was like an evolving mirror for her to see more truthfully into herself. And of course I was producing a work of art for my collection as well. She gave me her blessing to sell the piece but ai never did. Like so much of my work, I saw it being part of a larger collection rather than part of someone’s decor.
Eventually Mary posed for the “winter” painting in the series of the four seasons. But those are the only 2 paintings I did of her. After that we simply lost touch.
“Two Women On A Table”
5’ x 6’
This piece was created during the time I was most interested in Lucien Freud’s work and at my most realistic phase. Here, like other work at this time, the figures are both complete. Nothing is left artfully unfinished. And they are complex psychological individuals. Arguably they are even more depicted as individuals than Freud’s subjects which appear to me more like a series of stand-ins for his one central theme of existential angst depicted in their very flesh at least as much if not more than their facial expressions, gestures and postures. Even the painting he did of his two daughters looks more about the meaty fact of their carnal flesh than my two friends here on this tilted desk.
Janel and Marni were two friends who answered my call for Art models. They had been doing light internet porn in the early days of its invention and so were both pioneers and comfortable with being naked. However, they were more familiar with being depicted in flattering and deliberately sexualized poses. That was not what I was looking for and took some time and patience to let them work through their proclivities and eventually settle into the stranger less certain world of an artist and his flickering visions.
They modeled for me for many pieces both individually and together. Their ease with one another was one of the things I found most interesting as an artist. They were not gay and not a couple in any sense of the word. They were two good friends who were comfortable with one another but whose lives were beginning to depart in different directions even during the brief period they were working with me in my studio.
Marni was getting her act together to pursue her career as a snowboarding instructor and physical fitness trainer. Janel was devoting more and more time to porn and eventually became pregnant to a man she loved but who did not seem to reciprocate. Here they are on a deliberately rocky platform straining to find some comfort one more time seeming to know that their friendship was about to splinter. There was joy and dread in Janel’s whole bearing at that time as there would be for any young pregnant single woman, especially one who was making her living on the image of herself as a young sexy nubile.
I did my best to capture this duality in both their body language and the paint itself. I also tipped the angle of the desk forward and sideways while painting it and the fabric as sumptuously as I could to give both the impression of edgy precariousness and lush comfort.
Yes, this piece is inspired by Freud. But I do believe I took this in a direction he would have found to have way too much “story.” He was at least two generations older than me and certainly would have had a darker more Kantian approach to art and human relationships having lived through World War II and been under the influence of what seemed like the end game of painting, abstract expressionism. Painting was painting…not story telling god damn it. Story telling was for writers.
Oh? Ok. Well, I’m not British and I grew up with Robert Rauschenberg as my art hero and he started including figures in his art… and stories. And then I discovered Freud who threw the door wide open for painters like me who suffered under the burden of neglect often referred to as “old masteridis” by the art establishment. It was felt that painting was dead and that the urge to paint the figure could be little more than the disease of the mind, a hopelessly simpleton nostalgic urge to repeat something already done so well and so thoroughly in the past that there couldn’t possible be anything valid or authentic or fresh to say anymore.
So much for art theory.
“James and Bryn Small Bondage”
24” x 36”
Somewhere in the early years of 2000, I became interested in the various expressions of alternative lifestyle experiments that were emerging in the culture. One of these was bondage play. In this painting a man is tying up his girlfriend in preparation to suspend her. These scenes often took place in highly sexually charged settings, although usually did not involve any actual sex.
I always felt a bit of an outsider because they held no sexual charge for me. They were, if anything, anti-erotic and even occasionally revolting. I often found them interesting in an intellectual sense and compelling visually.
My paintings of the scenes tend to be realistic since I wanted to capture and communicate the particulars and details of their work/play. But I also felt I wanted to see if painting these images with the best of my skill and feeling would give them some depth and humanity that I felt was present in the moment but which I found utterly lacking in the plethora of photographs taken at such gatherings by amateurs and professional photographers.
With few exceptions, the photography of these scenes does not capture the more meaningful elements and dynamics of this activity. While I was not personally into this kind of activity, I could see and was often moved by the deep care and attention these couples paid to each other and their craft during these gatherings.
5′ x 3’
In 2000, I was asked to host a booth at an event that was called “Living In Leather 2000.” It was a convention held at a large hotel for those interested in BDSM. I was asked because my friend Eileen Fix was involved in hosting it. In the late 1990’s, BDSM was almost exclusively something that was predominantly affiliated with gay men. To a lesser extent there was a very small and very underground group of straight people who participated in one or another form of expression in this, but they were predominantly women making money as a dominatrix and/or some type of prostitution.
That all changed in the 2000’s. If there was a single event that signaled a major change in the culture, it was this event. After “Living In Leather 2000,” the BDSM lifestyle exploded into the straight world. Quickly, there was a proliferation of expressions as straight people began to explore and push social boundaries of what was acceptable sexual expression and sexual lifestyle, just as the gay community was settling into an era of acceptance issues, such as the right to marry and the ability to adopt children. In Seattle, a group formed and name themselves, the Wet Spot, or more formally, CSPC (Center for Sex Positive Community). It’s numbers rose quickly and their focus was the darker side of these expressions. Their focus was bondage and role play. It was a sex club, but the focus was not so much on sex, per se, as it was on the development of a lifestyle and a community. Their focus was to create a culture to normalize being involved in these activities. The Wet Spot quickly became the leader and center of gravity for this movement in Seattle. The community quickly developed its own inner circle language of “safe words” and descriptors. It was not so much a secret coda as it was simply insider speak. Language, as much as dress/costuming and sexual behavior, became the means of defining oneself as “in” or not with the group. It was beautiful to watch how this group balance its growing identity and size with a spirit of inclusiveness.
Now, 20 years later, the group continues to grow and change. There have been ups and downs, losses and gains along the way. Personalities have come and gone, leaving their marks big and small. However, whether one likes or dislikes the Wetspot, it is and has been a powerful force to be reckoned with and still is the premier center for sex positivity in Seattle. Early in this trajectory, I naturally became interested in the powerful scenes that directly involved the body. Bondage is, in some respects, a figure painters dream. The model is ultimately immobilized by ropes and straps. And the whole point of the activity is to orchestrate and manage visual spectacle.
Additionally, there are elements of tradition dating back centuries in both Eastern and Western cultures of the aesthetic beauty of the spectacle of the body in bondage, not to mention the psychological and emotional implications that are on stark display. And all of this is being done slowly and with the notion of a final moment of presentation. These are all things painters love.
This painting was done from photographs I took of a scene at a play party in my studio. I was able to control the lighting and the setting. The painting is typical of my work at that time. The figure still has volumetric presence but there is much more surface detail than paintings I had done a few years before. Compare this painting to all the “Jo” paintings I did in the mid 90’s. It is interesting to me that, given all these ideal conditions, I did not do more paintings like this or of “scenes.” The reason, I suppose, is two fold. First, the way in which I arrived at creating these works was tedious, time consuming and not satisfying in the creative method and not suited to my temperament. Secondly, I just simply wasn’t interested in the activity on any level other than my intellectual recognition of it as an important social movement. Additionally, in 2004, I did a kind of grand masterpiece which involved elements of BDSM and brought to a magnificent conclusion my interest in all of this.
I never saw my work as an artist in any way effective in helping direct or motivate social change. Photography and the internet and the iPhone were much more powerful agents of change than painting. Instead, I saw myself as providing a layer of historical depth or significance by virtue of rendering these things in oil paint… maybe wanting to ennoble them. Perhaps that’s why I summarized all of this work in the huge “Suffering Change” piece and then moved on.
”Portrait of Dave”
24” x 18”
This is an unusually small painting for me. Dave is just barely life size in this work. For information about my incredible working relationship with Dave Lewis between 2000 and 2004 please see the essays under the other paintings here on this website during those years.
Dave used to jokingly tell friends he was sitting for me so that he would be preserved for a long time beyond his death. At the time it was always worth a chuckle. Now, 16 years since his sudden death from a heart attack this little painting of him still hangs in my studio and very much is helping to keep his presence very much alive and well in my shop and in my heart.
This piece was the only one I did of them, although I had intended to do more. It was done from both photos I shot of them and countless sittings in my studio. They were a delight to work with and helped me produce a truly wonderful and weird work of Art.
This piece was created right in the middle of my most realistic period. Before and after this 2-3 year period my work became less detailed and less about the personalities of my sitters and instead became more about sculptural form or concepts of space and time and Art. I am so grateful I had people like Jim and Tim at this time who were willing to make the kind of time available to me to create paintings like this.
“Jim and Tim”
72” x 60” Approximate
Jim and Tim were a couple that often attended an event that was held in my Art studio about 4 times a year from the late 1990’s to about 2004. It was called Romp Naked. It was an all male naked dance party where no drugs, no alcohol and no sex were aloud. It was, among other things, about establishing a safe space where men could have a tribal experience in the company of only men without the psychological and physical risks that substances and sex might invite. Remember, this group of men had only just prior to this survived the Aids epidemic. You had to be over 18 but there was no upper age limit. Transgender people who identified as male whatever state of their bodies were also welcomed. It was quite a sight to see so many men of all ages and all degrees of fitness celebrating the joy of life together in a celebratory and even kind of sacred space.
These events usually began with a lot of drumming and chanting and even a bit of Robert Bly-like hocus pocus. There was a fee to enter but if you couldn’t afford the nominal fee there were lots of volunteer opportunities. The money was used to cover the rent on the space and other expenses to ensure nobody had to have out of pocket expenses to host the event. In an effort to keep it as egalitarian as possible, the leadership of the event passed from one person to another each time. It’s interesting to me that the event died once a particular person somehow felt it was his event and insisted on maintaining control and leadership of the event instead of passing on the contact list and leadership baton to the next person.
These events attempted to not be gay events and indeed some straight men attended, including myself. But eventually the events became too carnivorous and meaty for me and the other straight men so I gradually stopped coming even when they were in my space.
During those events I met some really wonderful people including Jim and Tim. They were obviously comfortable being naked and I thought they were adorable together so I asked them to model for me. Tim, the seated figure, is blind so their interactions in the studio were particularly tender since Jim had to assist Tim in everything from finding his way around to finding his underpants when it was time to go.
Sun Dance Couple: Nursey and Panther
Oil on 2 panels
Each panel 48” x 32”
Couples painted on separate but matching panels has been a theme in my work ever since I painted Anna Nicole Smith and Arnold Schwarzenegger nearly 10 years prior to this pare. The idea of a couple on “twin” panels goes back to the Baroque era when a rising middle class was able to commission an artist to do a painting of a couple for the first time. The separate panels communicated the pious culture of the time but it might have also simply made it easier for the artist. He could work on each individual separately. Painting was, after all, much more time consuming than photography so getting both people to stand together for repeated sittings would have been challenging.
This set of paintings was done from photographs. The photos were taken at a very sacred bonding ceremony designed by these two people. I felt very privileged to be invited to observe and photograph the event with the idea that I would create a work of art of it someday. I did … as fast as I could get the film developed.
The ceremony is called a Sun Dance and is drawn from Nursey’s Native American roots. In this ceremony two people have hooks looped through their skin above the nipple and then are attached to each other through a loop very high above and in between then. The idea is to bind each of the pare to each other through pain and silent communication. Each move that one person makes, after all, is immediately communicated through intense pain to the other. The ceremony begins at sundown and goes until the sunrises…or something like that. This ceremony took place indoors and ended through means invisible to me. But it was powerful and imbued with a feeling of sacredness.
This took place at an emerging BDSM sex club in Seattle. At this point, in 2001 it was still very much an underground thing but already had over 1,000 members. It was among many other things a community of all kinds of people who gathered weekly to share their emerging kinks in a movement that was coming to be known as the BDSM movement or more simply, Kink.
It was founded and run by a very charismatic and loving woman named Allena Gabosch. She was a force of nature and true believer in the healing power of becoming oneself no matter how weird it might seem to mainstream culture. And at the same time there was a deep ethic of doing no harm to others, no harm beyond what they wanted that is. In fact, because bondage and pain were intrinsic parts of the “play” a very high premium on thorough communication and consent were baked into to every part of this community.
Not being kinky myself, I found myself just an observer at their gatherings and because my work celebrated their emerging culture in a dignified way, I was an honored guest.
I didn’t know Nursey and Panther the night of the ceremony. But I came to know them very well over the few years their community was part of my life. Eventually I created my own more vanilla and a touch more artistic version of their scene in a weekly thing called the Little armed Studio. But that is another story for another day.
Shortly after I painted this diptych, arguably one of my most challenging paintings to date, I sold it to a gay couple who had a pretty fabulous collection of works by local mid level realistic artists. At one point I was invited to their home for a party and was impressed with the weight of my work in their home. It was like a bull in a China shop.
Many years later when I was recovering from my big economic crash of 2010 I was looking on Craigslist for art supplies when I stumbled on this diptych for sale….on Craigslist….for $300 each. I was both flabbergasted and thrilled. As cheap as this was I still needed to borrow money from a friend to acquire them. To my relieve the owner still had them when I made contact. But it wasn’t the couple who had purchased them from me. When I went to pick up the paintings I had decided not to reveal that I was the artist until after the transaction was complete out of concern that he would jack up the price.
Instead, when I arrived I found a loving couple that clearly loved art and antiques. Their house was jammed to overflowing. They gushed about how they loved this set of paintings but that after having acquired them a year earlier at an estate sale, they just needed to find a new home for them. Well, I couldn’t help myself. I blurted out my identity as the artist right away. They were thrilled to meet me and even expressed their wish that they could give the pieces to me but that they had purchased them at quite a bit more than what they were selling them for.
It turns out they make their living liquidating estates and refurbishing antiques and paintings. They took down my name of course and vowed to contact me if they saw any of my work out there in the future. It’s been almost 10 years since then as of this writing. And I am still so grateful to have these pieces back.
“Portrait of Kerry”
8’ x 5’
2000 or 2001
Kerry Blasdel met me and my art at the Invisible Theater productions I helped create each year in LA under the leadership and care of Ken Symington and his partner Bruce Anderson. Kerry and I became fast friends and he commissioned 2 paintings right away. This one, a concept portrait of how he saw himself at that time. And a second one, a more direct “image” of Kerry and his girlfriend making love.
Kerry is an architect by profession. But sees himself as a more generally creative energy surfer and healer. He is mostly gay but also sees himself as bi or pansexual and has a complex lifelong connection to a particular woman. To do the painting Kerry had me fly to Denver to spend time with him and his friends to get to know him and to do a photo shoot for the painting. Among other things we did an ayoquaska session together and spent time at his spa in Manitou Springs. Kerry also tried to get his girlfriend to accept a threesome but neither she nor I were interested. It’s noteworthy though because it was indicative of Kerry’s playful spirit as “instigator” or “trickster” nature riding the energy between dimensions as he would put it. But Kerry the trickster wasn’t just riding the energy, he was also very busy trying to upset as many rules of conventionality as possible for his own amusement but also to get the ones he loved to experience life more directly and with greater richness.
After all that I went home to my studio and did the painting. The challenge was to both flatter him as well as show the complexity of his concepts and passions. Obviously I leaned on cubism to accomplish this as well as my newly discovered “white out” technique of obfuscating things in varying degrees to suggest differing levels of integration and complexity. And, I suppose it’s worth noting, I also leaned on my ability to render the human figure in a sensual lifelike way.
Kerry was a fussy client constantly sending me photos of himself and pictures of plants and landscapes to include. However, I followed my own sense of what the truth of him was in my eyes and didn’t do anything to second guess that. And, when the painting was done and unveiled he loved it immediately and unconditionally, even in the face of friends who were confused or puzzled by its abstract or conceptual nature. In fact, given what I know of Kerry’s sense of himself as exceptional, I think his friends’ confusion only added to his enjoyment of the painting.
And, like most good painting, his enjoyment and appreciation of the piece has apparently grown over time. I ran into Kerry recently at a “celebration of life” ceremony for our friend and mentor Ken Symington. I hadn’t seen Kerry in over 15 years. He told me he loved the painting more and more over time and continues to see connections and relationships between the parts even after all this time.
oil on canvas
40 in by 34
This was unequivocally a vanity piece. In fact, this piece was the most unabashedly vain painting I was commissioned to do. The guy was a body builder and very proud of his body … most of it anyway. He was self conscious about his conspicuously thin calves and asked repeatedly if I would take pains to beef them up. With some effort I found a pose which was both slightly flattering and yet truthful of his calves.
I also did my best to add a little depth to the piece by hinting at a famous painting from an earlier period, a piece well known to my gay art lovers: a painting of a beautiful boy painted in 1838 by an artist named Flandrin. I had also recently done my own interpretation of this painting with my own model and fewer calf constraints.
The one strange thing about this commission was the size. It’s small. And the model was huge, easily 6’ 4”. And even though the price was higher for a smaller work because I hate small paintings, he elected to have it this size, less than half life size.
“Hand with Tamborine”
12” x 12”
This and several other small paintings were done to feature the hand along with musical instruments and flowers. They were commissioned for the Seattle Men’s Chorus promotional machine. These were strictly commercial paintings and I never considered them to be art. The only interesting thing of note is that the painting of the ribbons was ahead of its time. Years later, in about 2008, I began doing paintings that employed this heavily loaded wet into wet brush technique. Most notably I did a painting called “Simone” in 2008 which features a woman that I completely covered in stripes of paint before photographing her and then did a life-size 3/4 portrait of her using this technique.
“Hanging Man Study”
32” x 24”
Once in awhile I do a painting that is a fragment of the larger piece I have in mind. In this case I zoomed in on the butt, and why not. And yes … I sold this piece. But not as quickly as I thought I would.
More importantly, I used this piece to work out my palette and to a lesser degree, how to paint it. My work was already well into a transition from the fast all at once style of the work I was doing prior to this, to a more craftsman like “work up” that you can see here. There are multiple layers of paint and a warm amber glow is achieved by a variety of means. There is also a much higher level of surface detail. This is much more a particular person’s butt rather than a universal sculptural idealized butt.
Note the downward sagging of the relaxed cheek to our left that is being pulled down by gravity.
It worked. I got a lot of clarity about how to do the larger piece and off I went. The larger piece was my own version of the Hanged One, one of the major arcana of the Tarrot deck. That piece was stolen by an art dealer and recovered years later. In the meantime I sold two subsequent versions.
“Hanging Man” 3 versions
5 x 3’
The Hanging Man is one of the important cards in a Tarot deck. Every Tarot deck has 4 suits just like a deck of playing cards. In addition to that it has 13 more cards that are called the Major Arcana. They can roughly be thought of as Jungian archetypes.
This Major Arcana generally features a man hanging upside down from one leg with the other leg crossed in this particular way with his arms folded behind him as shown here. Under his head are usually a group of stones with secret symbols on them.
It is generally understood that choosing this card indicates that one must delve deep into one’s unconscious in order to be able to see something that is ordinarily hidden and secretive but which nevertheless has some significance for you. Usually there is some hardship required to be able to see and decipher these messages. One has to literally turn oneself upside down in order to see the messages. Another way to state this would be to say that one sometimes needs a fresh perspective to be able to know how to resolve a problem or go forward.
The unique position comes from a long tradition similar to yoga where it is believed that placing our body in certain positions isn’t just a good stretch for our muscles and tendons but has some affect on our sense of well being. There is some scientific evidence now that suggests these ancient positions do indeed stimulate the brain to produce more hormones such as serotonin that really do affect our sense of well being, relieve pain and even stimulate regenerative health.
Well, that’s all very interesting but at some level it’s just a very striking image. So much so that during the time between when this piece was stolen and subsequently recovered I received two more commissions for this image. You can see the other two versions below. The Hawaiian one was painted in 2010 and the smoother indoors one was painted in 2012.
“Two Men In the Studio”
77’ x 55’
What I found so appealing about this pose was that it was at one and the same time something a little odd and even a little contrived to represent something about the condition of relationships in contemporary life and yet on the other hand is simply a warm up stretch for one’s yoga class. It is contrived and yet it is not. The same is true for the way it is painted. It is realistic, and yet it is not. I balanced my faithfulness to paint things as they look with my conviction to reveal something that is true but not necessarily realistic.
“Bruce with Cactus” 4 Additional Versions
48” x 32”
It has been said that I could have made a career out of painting people’s backs. And I suppose if I had more marketing hutzpah I probably could have. Furthermore, there are so many other parts of the body I love to paint. Feet, for example, are also really enjoyable and like backs reveal a lot more about a person than is ordinarily presumed. And like backs, naked feet can be displayed anywhere even in prudish America without fear of censorship despite their having an erotic connotation in some circles.
Well, I did indeed do many back paintings and for awhile had the makings of a career in selling smaller than life size paintings of backs through a gallery in Hawaii. These paintings often had a little Hawaiiana thrown in for good measure. I enjoyed making them…up to a point. In an unfortunate twist of fate, the gallerist who was selling my little backs died about the time I was growing bored of these pieces. And that was the end of that. You can see some of them here on this website.
But Bruce’s back was not made for a market. Bruce was a friend and the life partner of my friend and Mentor Ken Symington. Bruce and Ken had already bought several paintings from me so I was really excited to do this back portrait for Ken when they requested it. The large cactus is actually not in the painting just because it is wonderfully phallic and very representative of Southern California where Bruce and Ken live. It is also a source of hallucinogenic material used in the ceremonies Ken and Bruce held at their home.
“Luther and Roni”
8’ x 4’
This piece demonstrates that from about this time on my interest had shifted from my models as sculptural presences to complex personalities with all kinds of reasons for want to stand in front of me naked or nearly naked.
Clearly I was now no longer interested in a classical notion of beauty either. The plain unadulterated fact of this man is presented unabashedly by both himself as a model and by my choice to present him this way in his pose, lighting and method of painting.
I met Luther at an all male nude dance party held near Halloween at my studio. All the guests were encouraged to come in creative undress. This is how Luther creatively undressed for the party. I was struck by the unusual candor and grace with which this 73 year old man carried and presented himself even in the nude. We struck up a friendship but this is the only painting that came of our connection.
I also like to present this piece along side of another painting the same size and shape. That painting is called “Roni” and features a nude woman standing similarly unadorned and frank. The impact of the painting is nearly the exact opposite of this one. Roni was uncomfortable when posing. She is huddled on a very small delicate stool clutching a wad of clothes, presumably the ones she just removed. The two paintings seen together invite much speculation about the relationship of the two people and the comparisons and contrasts of the people they depict.
“Ken with Stick”
Oil on panel
48″ x 32”
I suppose this is my own version of those 19th century academy paintings that were required of any self respecting artist trying to prove his ability and which until recently had found their ways to the dust bins of history. With the advent of modernist art movements and photography, this type of painting seemed hopelessly lacking in imagination or purpose. And, having seen more than a few of these paintings since attempts to revive academic figure painting has brought them back to gallery walls, I can say with a certain informed smugness, most of them should go back to the basement.
And I suppose as a figure painter who loved painting the male figure and hanging out in LA, sooner or later I would do a painting like this. Here we have my friend Ken flexing his muscles with a stick drawn across his shoulders. Ken was a West Hollywooder. A man in his physical prime all to happy to model for me for a little show I did called “celebrating the male body beautiful”.
Not my most inspired work. But then again, not every piece has be a break through. It’s just a sweet bit of eye candy. And like those old 19th century academic paintings moldering in the basements of museums, mine has never seen a wall since I took down after the show in 2000. I just can’t bring myself to show it. Perhaps fears of mediocrity still haunt me.