Stolen & Recovered Paintings

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“Mother and Son”
Oil/Canvas
48″ x 20”
1982

The way this is painted and the subject matter are both worth some comment. It is among a small body of work that actually cohere in a remarkably consistent way. It is a surprisingly early style. Clearly it is very derivative of early cubism. What is particularly interesting to me is how evolved and consistent the palette is.  This little cluster of pieces are all this particular soft blue with softened edges. The “cubism” here also expresses an understanding that the “look” of cubism isn’t just about a “look.” You can see I was using the extension of lines in the figures to open the form to the background so that the figures overlap and form visual puns and ambiguity of space. These are some of the intellectual underpinnings of cubism that were lost on even some of the early adopters of the style in Paris back in the early part of the 20th century. I owe much of my deeper understanding beyond its visual “look” to my close relationship with Dr. Woodal.   
 
Eventually, I too became more interested in the expressive and emotional potential of cubism. You can see that already in this painting but even more so in the paintings that came immediately afterwards.   
 
Part of that drive towards emotional potential was shaped by my subject matter. As I left my nuclear family I naturally felt a lot of nostalgia for my close relationships with my mother and siblings and the pain of separation. There are a lot paintings during these two to three years of mothers and sons, siblings clustered together and estranged positioning with father figures.   
 
In many cases the mother-son relationship paintings have a soft ethereal quality. The paintings of siblings or myself with families are often very intense and raw. At the time I could not see that. But from the distance of several decades it’s easy to see that my relationship with my mother continued to be a source of comfort and support well into my young adulthood even though in everyday life my mother was in unison with my family’s incredulity and disapproval of my choice to be an artist. 

“Gourd”
Oil/Panel
24” x 24”
1996-7

I used to think that every artist feels compelled to reinvent a traditional genre such as “still life.” I now realize that is not true. Most artists I have met over the years are for the most part oblivious to the idea of a tradition in any particular genre. They have heard of Van Gogh’s sunflowers and probably have even seen a reproduction of them, but they are for the most part unaware that Van Gogh’s flowers are part of a long tradition of something known as “still life” painting. And that his way of painting flowers was a big break from the traditional way that flowers were being painted by many others around him, including those making a good living at doing so. “Still life” refers to a type of painting where the artist selects some elements from life (usually nature but not always) and arranges them on a table or some kind of surface and then paints or photographs them. So much is expressed in the selection and the arrangement of the object before the artist even begins painting. What did the artist select? Why? What does it say about the life and times of the artist? Why did the artist arrange it that way? Somehow the restricted terms of the “still life” genre amplify and reveal so much of the inner life of the artist and his/her times.

Well… I love gourds. And I love the veneration that comes with selecting one item and effectively putting it on a pedestal for admiration and enjoyment. This notion of singular veneration comes from my enjoyment of such American masters as Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” and Mark Rothko’s reductive abstract paintings. I also read a lot of Pablo Neruda’s “Celebration of Things.” I owe a debt of gratitude to Picasso as well. Through my artistic upbringing, “still life” was always considered a minor genre, secondary to history painting or “the nude” or simply abstract painting and all the heroic efforts to reinvent the very terms of painting that characterized “important” art since the dawn of the modern age. Ironically, the artist held as the most important of the 20th century was Picasso, an artist who achieved his principal artistic and intellectual breakthroughs working with the “still life” as his mechanism. 

“Marni’s Back with Red Square”
Oil/panel
36” x 26” Approximate
1995

Marni was one of my first art models. I did many photo shoots of her and many paintings from both photos and from life. I don’t remember how we met but she very carefully allowed me to be inspired by her. This was early in my career of painting the nude so I had little to show her that I was serious. But she trusted me and to this day I am eternally grateful to her.

This piece is the last painting I did of her and probably the best. It summarizes everything I was trying to achieve at that time. It was done from photos but with a freshness and haste that one usually associates with working from life. The muted palette of almost simply black and white emphasizes the sculptural aspect of the figure and minimizes her individual personality. This is almost a painting of a sculpture.

During this brief period I placed a red or orange rectangle in the upper corner of the painting. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was a way of paying respect to the abstract expressionist artists I was leaving behind such as Mark Rothko and Hans Hoffman. These were artists whose work and ideas had so heavily influenced my thinking and art making up until this point. The figure itself was a way of flipping them off, but the rectangles may have been my way of saying I still respect you.

In any case, the rectangles work. These pieces do not have the same bite and dynamism without them. Try it. Block out the rectangle with you hand or finger and see for yourself. It’s just not as interesting without it.

I did a second version of this piece in 2017. It’s good. Some people might like it better. The red square has turned into a red bird and the figure is more carefully painted… more polished. I still like this one better. But you see for yourself.

“The Devil Card” Detail
Oil/Panel
8′ x 4’
1993

This is a detail of a much larger painting that was 12′ x 8’.

This was the 3rd Tarot card painting I attempted at this time. Like the “lovers” card, I deemed this one a failure and cut it into pieces. This particular piece was stolen by my Art dealer, Gary Gibson.

The figures are drawn from various sources including fashion magazines and old lithographic reproductions of 19th century illustrations. My haste drove my inability to reconcile these various sources and parts. I think my excitement to finally be able to paint the figure the way I wanted drove me to the point of recklessness on subject matter and figural sources and arrangement. I was like a young man who had just turned 21 and realized he could order a drink at a bar, so by god he is going to go order a drink in every bar in town.

In another year or so, my subject mattered unified and the terms of my painting technique consolidated.

“Anna and Arnold”
Oil on panels
8’ x 4’ each
1994