24″ x 36″
Some paintings just seem to fall out of my finger tips and onto the panel. I did this painting in one sitting after a late night coffee.
Before I left my studio for a break I sketched in the figure from some photos I had of my model lying on the floor tied up in rope. At the last moment I splashed some broad strokes of black and brown paint across the panel the way I often start an abstract painting. Of course the red ground was already there and dry.
When I returned from my break I could see the figure having more impact if I left the floor unpainted. I knew it would make her appear upside down and as though she were emerging from the background or paint itself.
All of that may yield some clue as to how the painting ended up being so striking. But not really. There was still something that just happened in those 2-3 hours when I painted her head. Honestly, I don’t even think it was that long. Most of my paintings come along quickly, but only occasionally do they just land so neatly and so effortlessly as this one.
I do think that is the fruit of laboring in the service and confidence in the gift. I had just spent months laboring away at paintings often times with little inspiration. Despite the gorgeous summer weather I doggedly kept my ass in the chair and kept painting turning out a number of perfectly fine paintings. And then, right at the end I got this.
“Homage to George Floyd”
6’ x 4’
I don’t often paint pictures inspired by singular events or even broader civic or political issues that are compressed into singular events like the day George Floyd was killed by one or several police officers in Minneapolis in May of 2020.
But here it is….a large painting that unequivocally leans heavily on a photo taken by a bystander who just happened to be there in that moment and snapped a picture of what was happening. This was, if ever there was one, a moment that captured and compressed a gigantic cultural upheaval that was happening throughout the country.
To understand why I chose this issue and this moment to paint a painting like this it’s probably useful to look back to the biggish of my life as an artist. I think it’s fair to say that I came into my own strength and clarity as an artist through hitching my artistic yearnings to the gay liberation movement in the early 90’s. Until then I was exploring many artistic modes of expression and kept getting drawn back to the figure and to be more precise…the nude….or as I am more inclined to put it now…the body. But until I connected my interest in the body to the gay liberation movement and its entanglements with AIDS, I didn’t really know why or for what purpose.
In my early 30’s, which was in the early 1990’s, I was also doing a lot of personal work that involved confronting some of the demons of my childhood. In the process I needed to confront my father about the physical and sexual abuse he did to me and my older brother when we were children. This was powerful and liberating work which also led me to realize and embrace my Father’s closeted homosexuality and the problems that resulted from that suppression.
The dots were connected in a way that gets ever cleared with every additional year of hindsight. I would hitch my unique skill at drawing and understanding of the human figure to celebrate the beauty and power of the human figure, both male and female as well as singularly and together. This would implicitly include homosexuality…both male and female.
It was the implicit part that eventually became the more powerful and far reaching aspect of my work and set the pattern for my work from then on. To be sure I created some works that were explicitly sexual in content, including depictions of gay sex. But overwhelmingly my work is not sex, nor is it even gay. It’s people. Or more precisely, it’s bodies and what is communicated through the body.
There was no question I felt I was at the vanguard throughout the 90’s by being part of the gay liberation movement. My art, and the events at my studio during that time were part of that. It was exciting and exhilarating even though I myself am not gay. That movement was clearly what was pushing the culture forward at that time more than anything else and I was proud to be part of that.
And then…around the beginning of the twenty first century, now over 20 years ago….it wasn’t. For reasons worthy of an entire book to explore, the movement petered out. It wasn’t long before the culture shifted its heavy lifting to the kinky movement.
Fortunately for me, this movement which challenged people to explore and express not just whether they were gay or not but whether they were swingers or polyamorous or into role play and bondage or queer or non gender binary became the vanguard and was…like the gay liberation movement, grounded heavily in issues of the body. In short, it was a figure painters dream.
Well, after 10 years or so of that and the invention of social media making it possible for people of breathtakingly complex definitions of “who they were” to find each other….this movement played itself out too.
While I spent the last 8 years more focused on building my spa than making art, I wondered what would be the next big social issue that would require my services as a painter of the human figure. Would it be the way social media has divided us into our own echo chambers? No, not exactly an issue of the body. Would it be the me too movement? Possibly since issues of the male gaze and women’s dignity and their relationship to their own bodies were huge components of that. Prison reform? We started down that road until Trumpism and other things muddied the water. Awareness about our deeply flawed way of treating Native people’s and the horrendously buried shame and even basic history of how these nations of people have been nearly destroyed? Well…that issue seems to bubble up as it has in recent years but no, we just don’t seem to be ready to embrace that yet. Global warming…huge but not much I can get into as a figure painter.
And then there is the Black Lives Matter movement and the simple hard fact that what is near the beating heart of this issue is bodies. This is a figure painters issue if ever there was one. There are so many aspects of how and why I feel compelled to jump into this issue as a painter that I don’t even know where to start.
So I started here…with this painting. And this event. This moment and by “moment” I mean that in the literal as well as cultural sense.
Among other things, what drew me to this image was the stark contrast between the naked body of Floyd and the uniformed clothed figure of the policeman. The majestic beauty and power in vulnerability of Floyd’s naked torso and head look so rich and beautiful against the pasty brittle and tense figure of the policeman. I wanted to paint that and bring that aspect forward.
Someone in my studio saw the piece recently and said the piece was very moving to them but that they wished the figure looked more like George Floyd. I immediately thought, well that doesn’t matter. What’s more important is the sweet hollow surrender on his face, the rich beauty of his skin, the tortured uncertainty of what’s happening to his arms and so on. And then later I thought, I’m glad it doesn’t look like George Floyd as much as he is deserving of a memorial. No, this isn’t just George Floyd. This is every Black man’s experience and beyond that, this is the experience of everybody who has been unfairly stomped out by an authority that has lost its moral authority.
Here, I could use my skills as a painter to portray not just the blunt outrage and protest of this event and the larger concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement. Arguably the photograph and its presence on social media does that more powerfully than me and my little painting could ever do. But the painting, with its nuance and haunting richness brings out the beauty of the black man’s body, it’s simple fact of being and it’s use as a vehicle for repression by the white policeman. The raw fact of that is much more potent in front of this painting than staring at the photos on the computer.
This affect will be accentuated by the stainless steel cabinet I am building for it. This piece will be placed in a stainless steel cabinet that will be polished so that one sees themselves in it as one approaches it and then again on either side of the painting as it is opened.
To be sure, there are abstract and conceptual elements to the painting as well, like the four blurry police badges around the officer’s head. But this is an article about my role and goals as a figure painter. Perhaps I’ll write more about the abstract elements of this piece another day.
For now, though, it is clear my work for the next few years will be to create the most powerful work I can in the service of eradicating racism from our culture, our country and our hearts. Since I was about 18 I somehow knew that our bodies were a temporary but vital carrier of our soul. But more, that during that time we are blessed to have that vehicle serve as a gateway to our spirit. And spirit is not singular and distinct….it is collective and One. My job now, is to make painting and sculpture that makes clear this vehicle for the soul isn’t just white. And souls don’t have a prayer of becoming spirit unless they embrace the One that is made up of All.
This work will include sculpture as well. One of my goals is to carve a Black woman in a dark colored stone, larger than life size, as singularly compelling as Michelangelo’s David. As grandiose as that sounds, I know I can do it. And I know it would be powerful to behold. And it would do what I think I do best as an artist, transcend the particular. If I do my job right, this piece will be so compelling that after one’s initial recognition that it is both a woman and Black, one will be left marveling at how breathtaking is the human soul expressed in flesh.
60″ x 95″
Occasionally I do a painting from ideas and images that have been around my studio for a long time. This painting was inspired by photographs I shot in my studio in the early 1990’s. The woman was actually a guest of the man under the black tarp who was a friend and frequent model for me.
Lewis was really my first true model in that I developed a relationship with him primarily through his frequent modeling sessions with me. I didn’t socialize with him outside the studio more than a few times. He was also the first nudist I knew. He truly was more comfortable being nude than being clothed, even around other people and even if those other people were clothed.
Lewis was also very playful. It was probably his idea to pull the black backdrop over his head. The result is both playful but also very suggestive. Since the painting was finished this summer in the middle of the pandemic not very many people have seen it yet. However, those that have seen it suggest many different interpretations.
Some people see the cloaked figure as a ghost or an alter ego of the woman. Some also see it through the lens of race relations or gender politics. The cloaked figure is black and faceless after all. And the the cloaked figure is almost always interpreted as male, although there is nothing overt that establishes “it” as male.
As usual, I don’t tell people what my paintings mean any more than I would tell people what the view from the window means. I will comment on some aspects of the painting in an effort to get their imagination moving along. Some paintings, such as this one, are more enigmatic than others.
Everyone who has seen the painting has enjoyed the handling of the couch, particularly the phenomenon of the cheap cushion sticking up due to my friends sitting on one side of the couch. It adds an amusing touch to an otherwise dingy gray and brown scene in my barebones tiny studio with a couple of people interacting in a strange way. After 30 years of holding the intention of doing this piece, it feels good to see it hanging on my wall and watching people enjoy it.
4 x 6’
This painting was inspired by many things including photographs I didn’t take.
In no small way it reminded me of the very realistic water color paintings I did when I was a teenager. My family had a home on the outer edges of suburbia so there were forests and fields all around. I loved exploring the outdoors and wanted to learn as much as I could about everything. For some reason I discovered that drawing and painting things was a way to hold my attention and really focus on every detail.
I spent time gathering unique pieces of wood and other portable objects from the woods. These things were beautiful in and of themselves but they also served as props for dead birds that were accumulating in my mom’s freezer. I would find these birds along the road or my cat would bring them to me and leave them at my doorstep almost unscathed. I would arrange the birds in various poses in the freezer. Then, take them out of the freezer to paint them. When they thawed I would put them back in to re-freeze them.
To me these were not works of art. They were homages to concentrated focus and the elegant beauty of nature. They were not art and I never thought of them as such.
Many years later I found myself in places where people were practicing this intimate and highly ritualized activity call Shibari. It is a form of rope bandage that originated in Japan and became very popular in America about 20 years ago. This essay is hardly a place to describe the history and purposes and practices of this beautiful art but it is a place to call attention to the fact that while it may be many things it is definitely also an art. The person who ties the knots is often very much performing while doing it and the person being tied up is also very much interested in being seen. They are both working together to express powerful often unseen dynamics that are at work in everyday life but often can not be seen.
To me these completed displays were like the little frozen entablatures I created with my frozen birds and little pieces of dried wood and rocks from the forest. They were still moments that expressed something vibrant and dynamic but were here very still. Unlike dance both my nature tableaux vivantes and these Shibari presentations required a lot of energy and movement to create. But the magic moment was just that….a moment. There is something about the stillness when so much is possible and so much tension is visible that makes these scenes so gripping.
And like my little bird paintings, I returned to a level of detail and minutia that I don’t usually paint. Here I got into every nuance of the sculpted pattern on the velvet wrap, the twining of the rope and crushed and distorted position of her arm , hands and feet. You can practically see every hair on her head and every twist of the rope. These are not usually the things I paint. But I think they are the things of stillness, the way we look and perceive when the message is communicated through the moment, the utter stillness and where the fact of existence is declared by begging to be seen.
To draw even more attention to these details I left the background concrete wall and floor even more plain than it was and minimized the grid of the wooden ceiling. I even miniaturized the layout of the wooden ceiling to make the figure appear bigger than she might otherwise appear since she is only about half life size.
Unfortunately this work falls short of that famous painter of stillness from the Baroque era, Caravaggio. His work inspired this and I’m afraid I fell short. It could be sharper. It could have even more detail and even creamier transitions. Perhaps I need a piece of rope myself. Not to hang myself with…it’s not that bad. But rather to tie my ass to the chair and put in another chunk of time to get this right. I signed it. But it’s not done.
6′ x 4′
This two panel diptych was very challenging for me. As is often the case I struggled with what the figures would be doing. I know I didn’t want a painting of men dancing just as much as I didn’t want a painting of men posing simply to be seen. There is nothing wrong with either of those things but it wasn’t what I wanted. But what did I want them to be doing.
In the end it does look like men dancing. But they are not dancing the way dancers do on a performance stage or in a nightclub. They are not there to exhibit themselves for art sake or for fun or narcissism. Instead, their dance is closer to that of a ritual of celebration or invocation.
The truth is I don’t know what they are invoking. But clearly they are dancing over or around a swirling stream of molten lava in a dark rocky landscape. There don’t appear to be any other people to watch them. In fact, it never occurred to me to paint other people as observers or participants.
This piece was also inspired by my time the precious summer in Hawaii helping my friend whose property was at risk of being destroyed by the slow oozing eruption of Mt. Kilowea on the big island of Hawaii.
Now that I am looking back on this piece it seems to me these men are like magical twins that are more like mythical figures than real people. Maybe they are two sides of the god of dance; Terpsichore.
The Greeks had this idea that there were nine gods of the arts. Invoking them into your life helped ensure a healthy and happy life as well. The Romans extended that idea to believe that if you invoked those spirits you were more likely to have a smoother transition to the afterlife when you died and while you lived you would be talented and convivial. It’s interesting to me that the word convivial has its roots in this idea meaning “with spirit”.
So maybe that’s what these men are. They are there to invoke us to contemplate the beauty of dance without being dancers per se. Or maybe it’s better to say they are the spirit of dance rather than the spectacle of dance. And yet there they are….beautiful beings….at some level figures in a painting with no other purpose than to be looked at…dancers that can’t move.
8 x 4’
As usual I combined a number of elements in this painting that have various ways of being interpreted but gain intensity and deeper meaning by being associated with a larger than life size nude. In case it isn’t completely clear in the photograph of the painting, the model is covered with thick black paint. He is attempting to drink from an empty vase, standing on a little pedestal of ice with a very large rubber dildo slung over his shoulder. And all of that is theatrically lit in what hopefully appears to be an art gallery or museum setting.
What is it about? Global warming, lack of available water, melting glaciers, perforative liberalism, excessive sex and porn addiction, our destructive absorption in crude oil?
For me it’s more about aesthetic arrest. I wanted the painting to be beautiful and captivating and maybe a touch confounding. It’s one thing to have a painting be about something in a clear and didactic way. That’s fine. But I feel my more effective paintings suggest issues while achieving a level of aesthetic enrapture.
“Jo: Black and White”
48 x 33”
Here it is…in some ways the worst possible subject for an aging white male to paint in the twenty first century: a young lithe Asian woman on a pedestal as a beautiful object to be examined and devoured by the male gaze. Certainly I have read much about the objectification of women and the sexualization of Asian women in particular…all valid concerns.
So, at the risk of further skewering myself I want to examine openly why I did this painting and why I think it both sidesteps those issues and transcends them… two very different things.
The side stepping part is the fact that Jo was a friend of mine many years ago who volunteered herself to me as a model. While we knew each other a little before she modeled for me, we became friends through this experience based primarily on her coming to my studio for me to look at her….very closely while deeply engaged in my work….sometimes with a camera and sometimes with brushes and paint. For whatever reason Jo wanted to be seen. And she wanted to be seen by someone who she knew and trusted would be looking with a purpose that included but went beyond simply looking for my own pleasure or without prescribed boundaries.
Our sessions where rarely more than 2 hours. We were often alone but not implicitly so. Sometimes I had a friend, often female, who would be working on her own projects in the studio and sometimes Jo’s husband would come along just because conversation was often good among us. Our sessions never involved physical contact and were never about anything other than making art. I say these things not because there would have been anything inherently wrong with other components to our being together, but there were not, which does seem to add some level of credibility that there was something purposeful about our meetings and that purpose for me was about making art. For Jo, it was about being seen in this way and about assisting in the making of art.
Making a painting like this is more difficult than most people realize. Before one even begins the painting one has to decide how it will be lit, where and how she will sit or position herself, what will be the pallet, what is the message and purpose of the art, will I use oil paint and what technique or approach? Then there is the work itself… and by that I mean the craft part…putting the paint on the panel. Getting the figure correct. Having the pallet take shape. And finally, there is the spiritual or true art part and whether or not it will emerge. This is the most important part which if it does not arrive amounts to the work never becoming a work of art and instead simply being a painting.
This last part is where I hope this piece transcends the concerns stated at the beginning. Is it possible for a white man to stare at a painting that includes a nude Asian woman and not be caught in lascivious thoughts or indulge in his fantasies of masochistic or racial dominance, but to instead transcend those limited and decisive thoughts with an experience of beauty as its own creative, healing and transformative force. The vehicle for that is the work of art….a work of art that includes among other elements, paint handled with grace and skill, a composition which is thoughtful and effective towards its end and subject matter that is primarily human and sexual without being overtly so.
So here it is. You look at the painting. Do you find yourself objectifying the model and thinking lascivious thoughts? If you are a woman looking at this painting do you find it demeaning or objectifying? I am hoping that the quality of the work and the way the subject is portrayed within that transcends those concerns but I all I can do is put my heart into it and hope that my deeper concerns overcome my more base self in both the way I live my life and make my paintings.
Every so often I create an unabashedly classical painting. By “classical” I mean based on the principles of painting most recognizable in the works of early 19th century painters like Ingre and David. It is inherently French. There is a high level of realism but it is tempered from becoming rigid and stiff by a great deal of sensuous attention to line and edge. There is a playfulness between hard and soft edges and sharp and soft transitions of tone and color. The affect not only adds to the illusion of volume but also to the feeling of an atmosphere. Ideally the air around the model is a palpable as the model herself.
There are departures from text book classicism here. Most notably, the model. She is not a young woman at the beginning of her sexual prime. Also, the studio floor depicts a rough and messy floor but also is rough and messy paint as well.
Overall, though, there is poise, balance and harmony without becoming rigid and dead… at least that was my goal. Those are inherently the goals of much in classical art from that period. I don’t think it is a coincidence that this profound quiet achieved by supposed classical means… meaning from the classical period of Ancient Greece, there was at one and the same time a popular art movement taking shape known as the Romantic period.
The Romantic period is nearly the polar opposite of the classical period. It is meant to invoke and celebrate emotions and unrest. It is chaotic by comparison and filled with abrupt lines, edges, color shifts and illustrated movement. If this were a Romantic painting the model would be rising up from her bower with wind blowing her hair and the satin fabric all around her. In would invoke the sound of gale force wind blowing instead of the quiet hush of a meadow at midday.
36” x 24”
Sometimes the painting is done just when it gets started.
Here, I put a red ground on the panel. After that dried I drew in the girl and the rabbit with brown paint. The drawing expresses everything I wanted to say with the painting. So I stopped there.
It would have been fun to explore all the nuances of the subject in a more detailed and complete way. It would have probably been another 8-10 hours of very pleasant painting over the course of 2 or 3 sessions. But I had other things to do and it already says a lot… so I decided to leave at this stage.
60” x 36”
This was a challenging painting in at least two different ways.
First, the foreshortening of arms and legs in an unusual pose was just tricky to get right. Then, there was the overtly pornographic pose itself. Would it be possible to transform such an overt display into something more sensual and less sexual and something potentially transformative and not simply prurient.
It has been very interesting to watch the ease with which my studio guests have taken in this painting. In fact, women have been more excited about the work than men. I suspect men are responding to the pornographic aspect of the work and are concerned about showing an urge to look and to enjoy looking at something that can certainly be seen as pornographic in the presence of women.
There is no doubt that had I painted this fifteen years ago it would not be as enthusiastically received as now, not even in the liberal van garde of my art studio. Times have changed. My prediction is that as women become more empowered at work and in their private lives men will need to feel less ashamed about their enjoyment at seeing a nude female even in positions of extreme vulnerability and or sexual display. And women will become increasingly jubilant to see these things as well.
I included two photographs of the painting to show how different the piece can look depending on how it is photographed. I’m not sure which photo is better. Each one shows something a little differently so I thought it would be useful to see them both.
I also included another painting I completed at the same time. The piece to the right. I painted this at the same time because I wanted to feature Mary’s back and ass without the emphasis on her genitals like in the painting below. Seen together it is striking. I may do yet another where her ass is either covered or where her position has shifted giving more emphasis to her back and shoulders and less to her ass further desexualizing it. I may also do a painting featuring her in nearly the same pose but with a large sword across her lap and a block of ice to her right in the shape of a large man’s head, melting into a brass platter.
These faces were inspired by drawings I sketched in a sketchbook. They are inspired by a friend. But they are not “drawings of her.” Instead, they are faces that emerged out of broad swaths of paint layered on at the top of the painting and allowed to drip and run down the panel.
Armed with a drawing from my sketch book I would peer into the stains and smears forming on the panel. Then, with brushes to add paint and pieces of fabric to remove paint, I would push and smear until a compelling face emerged. If the paint started to stiffen and dry, I would spritz it with a little paint thinner from a spray bottle.
Then, finally, when the face was firmly defined I added the theatrical make up for no particular reason. The whole process takes about half an hour. I did these all in an afternoon. I struck me as a great carnival trick, sort of the equivalent of musical busking. I could set up on a sidewalk along a crowded beach resort and for $20 do your portrait in the time it took you to have ice cream and snap some selfies for your Facebook or Instagram accounts.
Oil on panel
6′ x 4′
I often go to galleries to look at art or get referred to art online by friends or associates who suggest I go look at this or that artist or painting. I often enjoy what I see and even occasionally get inspired or blown away by what I see. But most of the time when I see works of the human figure I am disappointed. Usually the works are so rigid and either overblown with unrestrained detail or they are distorted presumably for emotional intent but more often just appears to be either easy emotion or just plain ole’ incompetence. Moreover, the subject matter is often confusing or banal.
I started the essay for this painting with these complaints in part because I don’t really know what to say about this piece. I enjoyed painting it and it has been roundly enjoyed by those that have seen it in my studio. (The pun is intended of course.). And maybe it doesn’t need a “story.”
It’s true. It doesn’t need a story. The painting stands on its own merits. It doesn’t even need a title or a frame. But, there is something in my heart about it that wants to be expressed.
Perhaps what I want to say is just how satisfying it is to look at it. There is a ride of enjoyment that is right on that edge of pure aesthetic pleasure and erotic titillation. It is said that aesthetic pleasure is ambrosia, the food of the gods. And yet right on the other side of a thin line is lasciviousness… a form of enjoyment that I would not judge like my predecessors but which I would hardly describe as “food of the Gods.”
This painting seems to hold that line, or rather let one gently oscillate from one side of it and then back again to the other. Is it the quality of the edges and the brilliant reds or is it the sumptuous flesh tones and shapely model? I suppose it is all of those things that just come together in just the right ways. Perhaps others will not have this experience.
Maybe some will just see it as soft porn. And while I am ok with that on principle, I do think there is more to experience in this piece. There is not only that other side of the “line” but more so, there is the oscillation across it and then back again. It’s my hope that I have brought the best of my abilities as a painter to bare in this piece so that one can have that experience.
Oil on panel
6′ x 4′
This piece was painted in the summer of 2020. And yet it is part of a series I did in the summer of 2019. You can see those paintings below on this website.
Sometimes I wonder why I don’t do more of these. I love painting them and I love looking at them.
I am painting them on 6’ tall panels because this just seems like a more manageable size than 8’ tall. I also like the fact that at this scale I can crop the figure and thereby increase the scale of the figure. So, I have a figure that would probably stand 8’ tall on a painting that is only 6’ tall.
The cropping adds an edgy contemporary feeling to the piece and also prevents the figure from being clearly seen as doing something particular. Without seeing her feet it’s easier to be left wondering what she is doing. Is she dancing or stretching? Is this some kind of ritual or a yoga pose? The lack of clarity is an important part of it.
Not having the lower legs and feet also puts more emphasis on the expressive power of the torso. This is also important to me as it seems more primal or closer to the model’s core expressive being. Hands and face seem to communicate something more personal and individual.
One of the pleasures of looking at these pieces together is noticing the subtle differences in the way they are painted. This one seems more sumptuous and loose than last year’s pieces. The pallet is also a little rosier and a touch more flesh like. Last year’s pieces appear more stone like.
In any case, I believe these are works of a frustrated sculpture. I am writing this in November of 2020. For the last few weeks I have had a model come to visit me every week and I have been making small wax sculptures of her. It is my intention to enlarge these to larger than life size pieces in concrete or stone.
24” x 24”
This was painted from life from a woman who came into my life just before COVID hit. She was volunteering at an event that was being held at my studio. She liked my art and asked if I needed a model. I did. Then, after a few months of lock down for COVID we decided to tip toe into working together as artist and model. Since then we have met almost every Thursday evening for a few hours of art making.
This painting was my “get to know ya” painting. It is not really a sketch but it is not quite a full blown painting either. It definitely has a strong likeness to Crystal. More importantly, it holds certain hard to define emotional ground that was complete enough, so I decided it was complete.
Since then I created a portrait of her in clay which I later cast in concrete. There is also a miniature full figure and life size studies of her hands and feet.
Crystal is very relaxed being in the studio as a model and has found the weekly meetings to be a moment in her week to look forward. So I expect and hope to have a long working relationship with her.
Oil on panel
48” x 32”
Artists often fuss over what the “palette” of their painting will be. What they mean is the overall color of the painting. Usually this entails colors that “work” well together to achieve some expressive needs or purpose. There is an aspect of this set of concerns that is scientific and there is a lot that is just intuitive or emotional.
In this case I wanted to re-create a painting I did 20 years ago because it would be perfect for my spa. However, I wanted to create something more gentle than the original piece. So I decided to use a rosier palette. All the reds and orange colors that make up the flesh tones are modified to achieve this overall rose colored tone which in turn makes the figures seem more gentle with one another. That was, at least, my intention.
Even the black background is not actually black. I mixed a lot of red and blue paint into it giving it a slightly purple tone, less sharp and stark than true black.
Another way to achieve this softness is with edge quality, smoothing of the brush strokes and softer transitions between light and dark. I used all these techniques to get the affect I wanted. But I did not compromise on the anatomy. By keeping the anatomy strong and “correct” I was able to keep the painting from devolving to something syrupy sweet. There is nothing wrong with syrupy sweet but it is not what I wanted for this piece.
36” x 24”
Sam is my son. He is 14 in the painting but was 21 years old when I painted it.
It was inspired by a school photo and my urge to have something tangible to hang onto as my first child slipped awkwardly into adulthood.
The painting looks as awkward as my attempts at letting go of my natural instinct to care for and guide him. I painted into it more determination and self possession than is apparent in the photo but which became an increasingly strong part of his persona from this point on.
And like my assessment of myself as a parent, the painting is competent in some basic ways but falls far short of what I wished I could have done and feel certain that I could have done better had I just had more time or a little more direction.
Sam hasn’t seen this piece yet. But if he did I am sure he would hate it. It looks too much like the boy he is working so hard to leave behind. I know that struggle. I remember asking myself at 28 if I was ever going to put some of my boyish timidity and uncertainty behind me. The task of weaving that into a philosophical doubt and questioning of one’s assumptions and prejudices that I now think of as some of my highest achievements was not easy and is still not done.
This year has brought us the deepening of the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements. These are two powerful upheavals of the status quo that have challenged all of us to look inward and question if our thoughts and behaviors and attitudes are in alignment with our loftiest ideas of our selves and our goals. The ability to deeply question and reflect on that, the vulnerability and even simply the raw intellect required to do that is something my son has in spades. And you can see it almost nakedly here in this piece. But that vulnerability and perceived weakness is something he is working hard to cover like most men his age.
Painting him as he is now, at 21, in the midst of this great struggle will be the most difficult thing I may have ever tried to paint. Sam’s sister is now 16. I don’t think that will be an easy painting either.
“Whiting Her Out”
24 x 18”
Whenever I can’t paint someone it is an indication that something is not right about the relationship. It is as though the act of painting is so intimate and vulnerable that there is no way to hide from the truth. And so, in an act of exorcism I took a large brush filled with white gesso and painted over her face.
The result was an immediate sense that I had taken that first decisive step at ending an intrinsically flawed relationship. In real life it took a few months what I accomplished in a few seconds here on canvas. Nevertheless, I am certain those few seconds may have saved me many years.
It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword. In the world of war this may be true. But in the realm of love the brush is mightier still than the pen.
Oil on panel
48” x 32”
This was a painting I started years ago in my previous studio in Eastlake. After six years I finally set up shop and was able to finish it. It gave me an opportunity to make that transition. Gilbette was a great model who helped me create a lot of paintings. Many were complex pieces about friendship and being pregnant.
I’m not sure what this piece is about but it is smoother and more finished than almost anything else I painted of her. I suspect that the higher level of finish was my way of steeping myself back into the process and craft of painting after such a long break.
Oil on panel
6 x 4’
This piece was inspired by a black and white photo I did not take. I own a couples spa so I thought it would be nice to paint it for my spa. Well, it turned out to be much more emotionally intense and visually sumptuous than I had planned.
First of all, I replaced the hidden profile of the woman in the photo with a full portrait of my girlfriend at that time. I also included her feet and hands. The palette of the painting is also rich deep colors instead of black and white. Strangely, the male figure ended up looking a bit like my son which is just plain weird. I’m not sure what that’s all about. Perhaps a few years from now that will become more apparent….some sort of twisted Oedipus complex. If anybody has any insight about this please let me know.
18” x 24”
2009 and 2020
This painting communicates through the tension between the delicate yet absolutely perfectly placed lines drawn with a small brush and the full forms and clear presence of the model against the blurry unclear figure and general background of the rest of the painting. What the figure is doing is so clear there is no need of further detail nor a more defined space for her to be positioned within in order to get a feel for her physical or emotional presence. And the background seems to not diminish the figure no matter that it couldn’t be more clumsy and messy. And yet, the juxtaposition seems to enhance the painting.
I tried imagining this piece painted without the messy parts. It would still be a small but potent little figure drawing/painting. But it would be much less interesting. I’m not sure what the mess adds to the piece but I’m sure it is something important. Perhaps it is the way the figure cantilevers out of the mess into a white void. Or maybe it’s just the tension between such a well drawn figure and the almost deliberate mess behind, in and around her. I even tried painting out some of the back ground to “improve” the piece. Then quickly stopped. It’s definitely better this way.
Oil on panel
48” x 32”
“Couple with Hats”
Oil on panel
24” x 48”
Once in awhile I paint something with my spa in mind. Keep in mind my spa is exclusively for couples. So here we have 2 people who appear to be in relationship with one another. It looks as though they are a couple that are in need of talking through a disagreement or some issue that has come between them. There is tenderness and a leaning in to each other. But clearly there is something more than just space between them. Additionally, the man seems to be rubbing his shoulder as though he needs a massage.
The hats were initially a fanciful addition but now I think serve two important purposes for the painting. First, they are a kind of hook for the viewer. The hats are catchy. They get you stop and take another look. But they also serve to link the couple as well as establish their individuality. They both have cool hats but they are as different as can be from each other. Hers is a knit wool cap that is grey, worn and even practice looking. His is flashy and looks more like a piece of a larger costume. Maybe both hats hint at their professions. Is he a juggler or circus performer? Is she someone who knits or makes clothes for a living? One might even extrapolate that she likes to hike and enjoys the outdoors while he is more the type that likes to go to the theater? Whatever the case may be, these hats not only hook you in, it appears they also get you thinking.
5’ x 3’
I started this painting in 2010 for a Halloween show at my Little Red Studio theater. We were going to have a Halloween Show. The painting was 8 x 4’ and was going to be hung outside to help promote the show. I never finished it. And frankly, the composition never worked. There was simply too much empty space because we had intended to put text on it to announce the show schedule.
When I finally set up my new studio in 2019 I found the unfinished piece and decided to re-work it. I decided to cut the piece down considerably. Moved Mary’s arms a bit to accommodate the reduced size and changed the palette. I added a lot of blue and golden brown to what was otherwise a black and white painting. I also polished some areas and made others even more rough. The contrast in the level of finish added some additional drama and helps the piece read well at a distance.
I finished it just in time for an informal exhibition of Halloween inspired work, both old and new.
3 Panels. Each 6’ x 4’
Oil on panel
These are the first fully realized figures I painted since I left my studio under the freeway six years prior. They are inspired by photos I took of my model in 1996, but never was able to get to them.
There are 3 aspects to these works that I felt are worth mentioning. First, what they are doing, or rather, the lack of clarity about what they are doing. Clearly they are doing something. But what? Are they stretching? Dancing? Writhing in pain… physical or emotional pain? It’s not clear. But that is the point.
Secondly, their relationship to the background and the way it is painted as opposed to the way they are painted. They could hardly be painted more differently. One very abstract and open. Each mark creating as much ambiguity as clarity. Where as the figures are created with clarity and even volume defining strokes. Even the cool nearly black and white palette is a stark contrast to the black and red fire like background. It’s almost as though these are marble statues in the middle of a volcanic eruption and they have not yet been subsumed by lava.
And thirdly, the figures themselves. I felt these 3 figures combine speed and richness in exciting new ways. It is as though they are signposts for where I would take my painting next, and maybe even point the way to making large figurative sculptures.
“Woman on a Rock”
Oil on panel
4’ x 6’
What is this woman doing on the rock? Is she dead? Are her arms bound behind her or is she dismembered? Is she being held against her will or has she prostrated herself here in grief or some other dark emotion? And what is that “rock?” It has clearly been attacked with lots of paint thinner causing it to melt and nearly run off the surface of the painting giving it an acidic or corrosive look. The background also raises many questions about what it is. Is it a volcanic eruption, a dark storm or just a lot of smeared paint. Even the flesh of the figure is ambiguous. Parts of it are painted with virtuosic clarity in the brushstrokes and shadowing. Other parts seem deliberately clunky and inaccurate. It’s almost as though she were a doll made of parts from similar yet clearly different dolls. And yet part of her seems absolutely human and lifelike.
Overall the painting is just simply disturbing. There is probably no intended answer as to what a painting like this means. It’s too emphatically ambiguous with overlapping influences, references and inferences to be about any one thing in particular. It is more likely left this way to invoke the viewer to render their own meaning into the painting. And it is likely that I painted it as sumptuously as I did to hold your attention while you puzzled over more grizzly considerations.
6 x 4’
This was the first life size nude I painted from life in many years. So it was very exciting. When I moved my studio and spa from the location it had been in for 20 years to its current location 7 years ago, I decided to focus on the spa until it was producing enough income to support my art so that I would not have to sell anything. It took 6 years to achieve that goal.
After setting up shop I wanted to paint from life so I put out the word that I was offering to provide a nice experience for someone who wanted to come stay in my studio and let me paint him or her for a few days. This woman answered my call and after a few phone calls and Skype calls decided it would be fun. Bought a plane ticket and flew in from Denver. It turned out to be fun for both of us. And I got a beautiful painting done in the few days she was here.
It actually proved to be easy. I don’t know why I thought it wouldn’t be but I had not gone that long without painting ever. I don’t think this is the most amazing thing I ever painted but I enjoy seeing it. And I don’t see any major flaws that need to be fixed.
We became friends and she enjoyed her time modeling and discovering Seattle. She actually wanted to stay another couple days but the flight home was set and changing it would have been expensive. So she went home.
“Woman Holding Her Crotch”
Oil on panel
6’ x 4’
This painting is finished even though it may look like the early stages of my more detailed figurative pieces. This is in fact what my more “complete” works look like in an earlier state. However, I felt there was nothing more that could be added to this work.
It is in fact an oil sketch in reddish brown paint into and on top of a bright red “ground” while it was still wet in places. The lines and the shapes they describe convey the energy and presence of the figure without the need of any “filling in.”
The bits and pieces of other colors and marks are the result of the panel having been used as a white back support for other works being created in the studio. They would have been covered had the painting been more complete in the conventional sense but add to the overall casual gritty nature of the work.
“Woman with Snake”
I’m not sure why I didn’t “finish” painting the face of the woman or the snake. The easy answer is that the painting felt finished at this point even though it doesn’t look finished in a conventional sense. All of that is true, but there is more to it than that.
I didn’t know whose face I wanted to put there. Initially I was using a stock photo off the internet to begin the painting. But I wanted the painting to feature my girlfriend at that time. I was struggling to disentangle myself from a love affair that was clearly lopsided and loaded with deceit. I had already started a more conventional portrait of my lover but had taken a large brush, the kind you use to paint a house, loaded it with white paint and in one quick stroke obliterated her from my sight. The painting hung on my studio wall for awhile giving me courage to do in life what I was able to do without flinching in my studio.
So, I considered simply completing the painting with the face in the stock photo. But I couldn’t seem to do that either. At that same time I noticed I had coincidentally left the snake’s head unpainted too. And, the final layer of paint on the woman did not go all the way up so it looked like she was shedding her skin the way snakes do. Well, those two little features would not have stopped me had everything else been clear, but lacking any resolve about who or how to paint the face I decided to stop there.
Ever since, more people have complimented me on this piece than any of my other new work. And most of them have thanked me for stopping where I did.
“Couple” 2 versions
30 x 24” approximate
I own a spa that is just for couples. One day one of my staff said to me, “why don’t you do some paintings of couples for the spa?” So I did. Right away I surfed the internet and found some cute stock photos of couples embracing.
And went to work. These two paintings are the result.
In the future I want to invite couples to volunteer to model for me so I can do a few more. Stand by for some additions to this section.
“Person with Kitten” old and new versions
36 x 24”
2017 and 1993
I painted the first version of this painting right after painting 3 very large pieces all at once. They were the three Tarot Card paintings that were each 12 x 8’. I remember distinctly feeling how easy it was to create this piece. It was the painting equivalent of walking home after running around the football field with ankle weights. The painting just fell out of my brush effortlessly.
It was inspired by a photo in a magazine of a homeless teenager. It was not evident if it was a boy or a girl nor did it matter to me. I loved the painting very much but sold it shortly after I painted it. I liked the gritty way I painted it and the tough black and yellow pallet. Those qualities seemed perfectly suited to the subject of a homeless person adoring a kitten.
Later, when I started painting again after many years in 2017 I wanted to revisit it. Unfortunately I could not locate the woman who bought it. So, I found a photo of the original painting and created a second version inspired by the first one.
I put both paintings below so you could enjoy them both either separately or as something to compare.
“Woman with Kitten” Three versions
Oil on panel
These three paintings were all created in a little burst of painting right after I got my real estate license. I had not done any painting for a few years as I focused my energy on recovering from debt and building my spa business. The real estate license was to be my ticket to assisting Chinese investors purchase real estate here in the USA.
The subject of a person tenderly holding an animal has always appealed to me on several layers. For one thing, it gives me an opportunity to paint people and animals. On another level, though, it suggests relationships between the human subject and their own internal life in a way that even being present with another person in the painting can not necessarily convey.
These three pieces were each created with a different kind of subject matter. The gray one was inspired by a photo I found on the internet. It’s impersonal nature yet lively more realistic Cat is what appealed to me. The woman wearing the hat was created without a model or photo but I would refer to a live model and photos of a friend from time to time. The one with the woman in a blue dress was done entirely from imagination with no reference to subject matter or models. To me this third one is the most powerful, even heart wrenching one.
Each has their own qualities. My favorite one to look at is the one with the woman wearing a hat. But the most popular is the soft gray one. Not surprising but a little disappointing.
This is a double throwback. When I was a teenager I discovered a love for observing nature. One of the ways I enjoyed that was to paint birds in a very detailed manner. Many years later, in my 30’s, that love of observing nature evolved into observing naked women. And one way to ennoble that ancient custom some called lechery was to make art while doing it. During that period my basic instincts merged with some genuine moments of higher level thinking and I managed to rise above my prurient inclinations long enough to make some beautiful contributions to the world of art and maybe even to our understanding of how to see… not just look.
Well, many years later in my mid 50’s, immediately after passing my real estate broker’s exam I recoiled from the prospect of moving further from my true passion and pumped out a small body of work for the first time in 5 years. My first inclination was to reach back to my painting roots and re-visit some of my favorite moments from my past. That brief period in 1995-96 was on one of them. Like several other periods, I wish I had done more works in that way so this was a chance to make up for that lack… a little.
Of course it’s not the same. Nor was it my intention to make it “the same.” For one thing, the red squares would never have become birds back then. And more importantly, I would not have fussed over the details of the anatomy so much resulting in a more finished look in this piece. No, for better or worse, back then it was more about the energy of the moment than the polish of a finished piece.
This piece, and others that came out during that little burst of activity were at least as much about “memory” as about energy. But both pieces reveal my continued and persistent interest in sculptural form which I hope will result in more sculpture before I’m too old to do it.
36 x 24”
Olivia is the daughter of my friend Kaili who also collects my work.
She has also bought work from me at key moments when I needed funds to keep going. At one point she commissioned a painting of her daughter both because she wanted a painting of her but also to help me recover from a devastating economic situation when the recession that began in 2009 was really beginning to bite.
I wanted to reach back into my skill set as a painter to give Kaili a work that was both realistic and psychologically penetrating. Furthermore, I wanted to use it as an opportunity to express some of my fondness for the work of a 19th century French painter named Ingre.
I worked on this piece for 2 years. Olivia sat for me just twice but I was able to get the basic idea for the painting down quickly on the first visit. Then, on her second visit she let me take pictures of her. I used those photos to finish the painting. I have always felt that my understanding of Ingre’s work helped me from delivering the kind of two dimensional and psychologically flat painting that almost always results from working from photos.
48” x 32”
30” x 20”
I was asked to do a painting of Jesus by the owner of a local store that sells religious supplies and over the years had sold 6 or 7 paintings of Mother Theresa that I created for them.
The idea for the painting was to compress his baptism, his death and his resurrection into one image without it being a collage or cubist fractured image. Instead, I wanted a kind of elegant visual pun where one thing could be seen as any of several things.
Jesus, of course, was baptized in water as an adult. So he would have looked more or less the same as when he was crucified. I also wanted to create an ethereal sensibility which it was hoped would evoke the sense of his resurrected person.
The overall affect is cute and even a little sweet. However, it contains none of the gravitas and grit that I feel is part of my understanding of these powerful real life moments of transformation, whether or not one believes in either the idea of Jesus or the historical Jesus.
So, I never took the painting to the store for sale. My kids, however, took a real liking to the painting. My son even borrowed it to put it in his bedroom and then his first apartment. I only got it back when he sold or gave away all his stuff so that he could travel the world.
Ballerina Femme Fatale
48″ x 32″
This was a commission piece that has a very strange back story.
One day I was approached by a man who looked to be in his late sixties about doing a painting of his daughter. I told him that I do in fact do commissioned work but that I either work from life or from my own photographs. After discussing the concept a bit and agreeing on a price he made arrangements to being his daughter to the studio for a photo session. Based on his age I expected a woman of about 30. I encouraged them to bring more than one change of clothes and some props. The commission was not for a nude.
They arrived and his daughter was about 20… at most. She very quickly stripped down to her underwear and proceeded to “model” for me in poses and positions that seemed like typical choreographed boudoir pictures. Not what I expected. She also brought a ballerina outfit, plastic crown and many other theatrical props including a plastic human heart.
At one point It became clear this was not his daughter. Among other clues was the fact that she spoke very little English. At some point I decided to paint the heart red and hold it up as a trophy. And there was my painting.
This was back in the days when pictures were still shot with film so I didn’t really know what I had until a few days later when the film was developed. I asked my client to come see the film. He did and we both agreed on the same “scene” for the painting… the one of her in the ballerina dress holding up the heart. He paid the deposit which was 50% down and off he went.
I started the painting and when it got to the stage you see it here I decided it was time to have him come see the painting and could he please bring his daughter so that I could see her for a bit. He never came. He never even returned my calls. I decided after a few years to complete the painting according to the original concept but decided it looked great just as it is.
Ever since then it has always been many people’s favorites. I think, even without the ripped out heart of a man, this piece captures the essence of the femme fatale, a woman who uses the power of her beauty to capture and destroy men. And who doesn’t want to taste that power and seduction for just a few moments in the relative safety of being on opposing sides of a painting.
“Jo’s Back: Second Version”
Oil on panel
6’ x 4’
This painting was inspired by black and white photos I took of Jo back in 1996. The first version was painted in 2005 and was the same size and format. The painting was subsequently stolen by my art dealer, Roland Crane and it’s location remains unknown. Any information leading to the recovery of this painting would both be appreciated and rewarded financially.
I painted the second version to essentially overcome theft with creativity. I felt this painting is at least as good as the first version, if not better. The second version employs new techniques that I had not yet incorporated in the first version. There are also fine details in the anatomy that are arguably more accurate making this painting a bit sharper. Mostly, however, it is the use of crimson in the edges of the figure set against the orange of the background along with contrasting aquamarine blue that makes this piece unique and more original than the first version. I also used a large stiff house painting brush to essentially etch the background paint in the direction of the curves of the fabric which was done to pick up overhead lighting and effectively make the background glisten. These techniques are not used in the first version.
6 x 4’
Jack was the name we gave the spirit that lived in my studio under the freeway. He was a kind and protective spirit that some would call a muse. I don’t know how he got there or why he dedicated himself to my studio for so long, but many people who came there could sense his presence. After getting used to the idea of a palpable supernatural presence people quickly realized that he was a kind and supportive spirit with no malice.
I did not set out to paint a picture of him. But he did finally appear in a painting at what was to be nearly the end of my stay at the studio in Eastlake. When I did leave it was 20 years in that same space. Jack came along about at the 10 year mark.
On the very last night in that studio, after the Herculean effort of moving everything out, we decided to have a ceremony to either say goodbye to Jack or invite him to come along to our next studio. We even brought a bottle along to see if he wanted to come along in the bottle. After waiting for quite some time in the dark and cold Jack finally spoke to us through the ouiji board we also brought with us. He first told us that he was in fact Jack. But when we asked if he wanted to come with us to the new studio he said no. When we asked us why he said because Jeff was not going to paint at the new studio.
Well, I just assumed either Jack was wrong or it wasn’t really Jack. One of my major plans was to re-create my studio in this new place. It was perfect for that. But Jack was right. The new space turned out to be great for the spa but not for making art. Aside from a few pieces I did on the fly, I never set up a studio and made art there. Jack was right. And I assume Jack was somehow tied to my art or creative process.
I have now been in my new studio for a year and half. I have settled in and am making a lot of art in my new studio. But so far, Jack has not shown up. Maybe I need to demonstrate more commitment over a longer arc of time before he will again make his presence known and lend his supporting energies to my mysterious creative process. I hope so.
“Sophie with Bent Knee”
Oil on panel
36″ x 30”
“Jordan in the Corner”
Oil on panel
6′ x 4′
Jordon was one of my first models who was willing to do whatever I asked him to do during our modeling sessions. We didn’t meet on any regular basis but whenever I had an idea I knew I could call him up, tell him what I had in mind and within hours he would come over and pose for me.
One day I was putting away several large boxes I had made for an art instillation. They were 8’ tall and made of plywood. They were painted black. For some reason I thought it would express something powerful about the human condition to have Jordon pressed in between them, trapped, crucified or just bewildered.
I thought of the work of Francis Bacon. And of course I thought of Lucien Freud’s work.
When I worked with Jordon I always took pictures. I rarely painted or sculpted with him. Everything moved too fast.
Shortly after this idea I did the painting that is featured below and then sold the piece shortly after that. Ever since then, I wanted to explore other poses and ways of painting this idea. So, in 2008 or so I decided to dig out those paintings and do it. At that time, working from photos that were ten years old seemed like a big deal. Wow…10 years….so long ago. Now, as I’m writing this, it’s been 14 years since I did this “new” painting.
A few photos from that session still are among the images that clutter my desk and my mind. I think there is something there I still have not expressed completely. So it’s likely that soon, about 25 years after the fact, I may explore this idea yet again.
Bottom left to right: Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud
Oil on panel
These are drawings with paint. The lines are created with a brush. They were either done directly in front of the model or from memory after a modeling session perhaps with drawings laying about the studio as memory aides.
It is such a pleasure for me to use my knowledge of the power of line and my understanding of the human body to create these fragment pieces. My goal is to express the invisible animating force of life that makes a body not just a body but the outward expression of the dynamic characteristics of these forces.
By thickening and thinking the line as well as let it simply drop away I am able to convey my understanding of this force. Then, of course, I try to apply that to the elements of the human body including bone just below the skin or bone beneath a layer of muscle or flexing muscles or muscles tense with anxiety or relaxed in repose and so on and on. There is endless variation and possible combinations.
The brush is an amazing tool to create this kind of variation from strength to tenderness.
Most of these creations don’t include heads or extremities. The reason is I am interested in conveying the power of the torso itself without the personality often contained and expressed through the head, face and hands and feet. There is a tradition of this that goes back through our display and admiration for fragments from the antique as well as artists such as Rodin and Michelangelo.
“Woman Behind White Film”
Oil on panel
24” x 18”