Mythic Figures 1985-1992

“Various Portraits of Tamaki”
Various sizes and media
1991-1993

“Creatures”
Oil/ panel and cardboard
Various sizes
1992

This piece is typical of a theme that runs through my work for the last 30 years. These are small creatures that emerge from my imagination usually in response to seeing something that has some kind of magical charge like the first piece featured here. This was clearly inspired by an African mask. Here I turned it into a musician with influences of Keith Harring and Picasso mixed in. These creatures sometimes appear in larger works. But since the mid 90’s they usually only appear in my intimate sketches.

Many cultures have a tradition of these minor spirits which are sometimes mischievous and sometimes benevolent. Europeans have their gremlins. Japanese have their Zashiki-warishi. I could go on.

I have created my own version of these little spirits that come from and live in the art world….or at least the world of art inside my head.

Enjoy!

“Portrait of Tamaki as a Clown”
Oil/cardboard
18” 10”
1992

“The Chicken That Laid the Golden Egg”
Oil/canvas
30” x 24”
1992

This piece is unfinished in the conventional sense. But I left it in this condition because it seemed just right to me. It might also be useful to see how I developed some of my work at that time. I used a pencil to draw the composition on the canvas first. That is something I rarely do but if you look at my other work during this time you can see that I was interested in blending drawing and painting tools and techniques on the same canvas.

I grew to see the myth of the farmer who killed the chicken that laid the golden egg as a story about sexual politics within relationships. In the story the farmer’s wife becomes greedy and impatient. No longer happy with one free golden egg per day, she demands that the farmer cut the chicken open and get all the eggs at once. The farmer wants to keep his wife happy and so against his better judgement he kills the chicken only to discover what he already knew. Now they have nothing. Of course the situation is also reversed.

Greed, impatience, desire, preserving the status quo, shame and lack of appropriate boundaries. All within a primary relationship with one’s partner. What a great story. And so visual!

“The Lesson”
Oil/panel
24” x 24”
1992

What a strange little painting. It appears that one of the figures is showing the other figure a tablet that ostensibly has writing on it. He…or it…appears to be shouldering a sculpture of a torso that is hollow. The other figure appears to be listening and helping to balance the sculpture on the shoulders of the other figure. Meanwhile he has his other hand on his crotch.

I painted it. But I have no idea what it means. Funny how that matters less and less.

“Homage to Miro”
Oil/cardboard
30” x 28”
1992

This is a self portrait … of sorts. It’s also one of the many “styles” I created in a blaze of creativity that was the result of soaking myself in the art of so many favorite artists. In this case the modern Spanish artist Juan Miro.
Like so many artists I was absorbing and being inspired by, it was the result of seeing the actual work. By the 1990’s the quality of reproductions had reached a very high level. But the impact of seeing the art in a ratified space like a museum or gallery repeatedly had a deep impact on me.

I don’t remember if this piece was 1992 or 1991. And I don’t think it really matters. What is possibly useful to someone is that this piece is part of a cluster of works that were all done over the span of a week or so and has many elements of what I was working on the weeks leading up to it. The cubist like background, the particular combination of colors and now the figure realized almost entirely with line and in apparent free floating space. The figure is also somewhat like a symbol rather than simply a figure or an individual person.

These elements cohere in a “style.” And as such they function like a language that could be used to express a lot of things over a wide range of subjects and themes. But I pushed on. And as such there are only a few pieces that were done in this short lived style.

Homage to Miro

“Mermaid”
Oil/cardboard
20” x 18”
1992

Thanks in no small part to Disney mermaids are popular in pop culture.
But mermaids are not always nice and in fact have their origins in some pretty scary creatures from Ancient Greece. Sirens were beautiful creatures with the head and torso of women but the lower half was either fish or bird. And they often lured men to their death.

Fish bodies suggest an ability to move between the underworld of dreams and unconscious as well as the quotidian world we call the “real” world. They may represent men’s disconnection with their female side or unresolved feelings about women or the strange power dynamics of sexual desire and beauty.

My mermaid is dumpy and only barely fishlike. And while I would not call her a beauty, there is something cute about her. And I rather like her.
As a painting, I don’t think it will when any prizes. But it might actually suggest a happy integration with my feminine side and a settled feeling of safety in terms of sexual politics in the presence of women. Nah…I wouldn’t go that far.

If this mermaid is half human and half anything, I would say it’s half rubber duckey and I’m not sure what that says about my “integrated self.”

“The Juggler Artist”
Oil/Panels & PlyWood
Various Sizes
1992

Jugglers have always fascinated me. Their cheap trick entertainment is a living analogy for so much of life. One must keep the balls moving in a certain rhythm in order for it to work. One is falling while one is rising. Only one is in hand at any giving moment but if you hang on to it for too long the whole thing falls apart. And at the same time, no one juggles alone. It’s meant to be seen and even interacted with.

It’s also an analogy for a visual artist who must juggle many various concerns in order to produce his art. He must sit quietly in a room at work, but he must also make contacts and find places to show his efforts. Then he must interact with his audience if only through an agent. There are bills to pay but also the mystery of art to be connected with. He must have a muse that inspires him but he must also nurture the muse in return. Not to mention kids, a partner and keeping hose. How does he do it? Gotta keep those balls moving.

Style itself fascinated me too. That’s why I painted so many versions of the Juggler in so many different styles. I wanted to see how it looked to as a cubist painting, a sketch, an expressionist, a symbolist and even as a more realistic presentation.

Of course, the idea of variations on a theme is also appealing. Like most jugglers I’ve seen on the street, they don’t just juggle the same three balls over and over. No. They add a another ball, switch to bowling pins, engage a second juggler, do it upside down, use their feet or wherever boredom and their imagination take them.

Boredom, alas the cruelest of muses. And always lurking just around the corner. And so sneaky. Here I have at least ten versions of a series that went on and on. I kept that persistent bitch at bay for as long as I could but eventually she said enough so I moved on to something else.

Still, it was a good run. And popular too. I sold almost all of these. And in many cases shortly after I painted them.

“Tamaki on the Beach”
Oil/panel
24” x 28”
1992

This is a painting of me and my girlfriend, Tamaki. That’s me reaching out to her from behind. And that is her, combing her hair. It’s violently distorted. But the cerulean blue, ochre and black palette are very realistic. This is the silvery light of the Northwest.
The hovering crow is the weirdest part of the piece to me. What is it doing there?

Both me and the crow seem to have something to say to Tamaki. And she seems to be at least a little interested as she busies herself with her toilet. As I write this story in 2023 it has been 30 years since I painted it. I don’t remember what I was thinking and feeling. I just know that I ended my relationship with Tamaki shortly after I painted this and it may have been one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

My head is small, blue and powerless. And yet my body is large and equal in size to hers. The crow seems to be my agent or alter ego and has Tamaki’s eye. And there is that strange empty space where her body parts meet. It is the space I appear to be reaching for.

“Brutus & Caesar”
Oil/Wood
24″ x 24″
1992

This is one of the 50 or so paintings I did for a show in the lobby of a theater. The play being presented at the time was Shakespeare’s “Caesar.” To learn more about the show and other paintings I did for the show see one of the other features on this section of the website.

Here I want to comment on another aspect of this painting and art in general. Over the course of the last few years Googling a specific well known work of art has become an effort in and of itself. Now, instead of a few images of the original art you need to wade through pages of copies, alterations, posters and deep fakes of various depths. One way to spot the original is that it’s usually the one that’s a little messy. Even a little tentative. The copies and fakes are usually tidied up and straightened out a little. They look cleaner but have definitely lost something. Of course there are also many that are just awful. But there are also some that are good works of art in and of themselves. Not original works of art of course. But things worth looking at. But they definitely don’t have the spark of the original.

That is what I see in this piece. It’s a little messy. A little off. I’m tempted to get it down from my racks of paintings and clean it up. But I won’t. Not now. Not after looking for the original version of Edward Munich’s famous “Scream.” Wow. So many cleaned up versions. I’ll leave my own hallow image of abject bewilderment in the messy condition I left it.

 

“Self Portrait”
Oil/Charcoal/Cardboard
20″ x 14″
1992

“Caryatid”
Oil/Panel
60 x 36”
1992

“Salvator Mundi”
Oil/panel
30 x24”. Approximately
1992

There is a long tradition in the Catholic Church of featuring a portrait of Jesus holding an orb in one hand while the other hand is raised with 2 fingers extended in what appears to be both a blessing and an indication of the Cross. The orb represents the heavens or what we would now call the universe. The title is Italian for “savior of the world.”

My first real encounter of this tradition was ironically in an Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle that was straight up the hill from my Eastlake studio. In fact the hill was so steep and my alignment with the Cathedral was so direct that people would often joke that my studio was in the crypt of the Cathedral.

On Sunday night the Cathedral hosts a complain service that is all in chant. Attendees often lie on the floor or do whatever they need to in order to be comfortable for this very meditative short musical service. It is truly an unusual and very spiritual experience. It’s broadcast live on the radio as the Complain Service Sunday nights at 9:30 and has been without fail since 1961.

At the front of the Cathedral was a high quality copy of a Leonardo Da Vinci painting of a Salvator Mundi. I loved it and always went to look at it after the service. So I painted my own version of it.

“Tamaki Sleeping” 4 versions
Oil/Posters
12″ x 36”
1992
 
Tamaki was my lover. And for some reason she is the only lover that showed up more than occasionally in my art. Nearly everyone in my life ends up in my art at least a little. But there are hundreds of paintings and drawings of Tamaki in so many different styles. And I often did similar works of her over and over again.
 
The other aspect that is unique about this was that she never modeled for me with one exception.  Other than a painting I did of her in her graduation gown from a photo I took of her, all of these works are done from my imagination. And at the time, I didn’t necessarily think of any particular piece as being her. However, looking back on these works from the distance of years, there is no doubt that these and many other works around this time were her.  

“Jonah and the Whale”
Oil/Paper
20″ x 30″
1992

Jonah and Whale is of course one of those mythic stories from the Old Testament Bible. Clearly it’s a story about death and rebirth. Or perhaps it’s a story about personal growth or transformation. The idea is that real growth requires being overtaken by something bigger and more powerful than oneself. And that with luck you will come out the other end a new person, wiser and more aware. The story also implies that it requires trust and that through trust one may become more fully conscious or spiritually aware.

As a young artist struggling to find a deeper connection to my own artistic voice, this myth spoke powerfully to me. The old assumptions and ideas about what art was supposed to be needed to die. I needed to be swallowed by something big enough to crush my ego and preconceived notions about who I was.
 

“Base 10” Several versions
Oil/Canvas
40″ x 30”
1992
 
These were part of a series inspired by the idea that our bodies have a relationship to math. In this case it is the simple idea that there is a reason why base 10 is the easiest numerical platform for us to work with. Perhaps it is because our bodies are designed and wired that way. We have 10 fingers. 
 
But these pieces are also about imaginative inventiveness. They are all of a certain similar set of basic design elements. They are in effect like a little mini style. I did several more and hundreds of drawings.
 
They all sold through a small gallery in Seattle’s Capital Hill neighborhood called Apartment Art.  The two women who ran this used furniture store cum art gallery had little or no money but a huge love of art and vision for their store. Their enthusiasm for art in general and my art in particular changed my life. This was the moment I finally quit my job at Seattle University and committed myself to being an artist full time. Their belief in my art was key and their sales, though very low in price, meant I could afford to keep going. They even bought my work themselves when no one else did.

“The Chicken That Laid the Golden Egg”
Oil/plywood
4 x 3’
1992

This piece is a study for a much larger work.  
As you probably know this painting is based on a story about greed.  But who’s greed?   There are various versions of the story but the one that struck me at this time was the version in which the farmer’s wife becomes consumed by her greed and fear which she then uses to focus her efforts on the farmer, compelling him to make a terrible mistake.  

In a nutshell, the farmer’s wife is not happy with their material well being even as their security and material wealth increase as a result of the chicken producing a golden egg each night.  The farmer’s inclination is to be content with his good fortune and enjoy the relative ease that his good fortune has brought him.  And so it is with his wife, at first.  

Eventually she becomes accustomed to the new standard of living and wants more.  Soon she becomes so obsessed with increasing her situation that she convinces the farmer to cut the chicken open and get all the golden eggs at once.  The farmer obeys her command and of course the result is the death of the chicken and the end of their good fortune.  

In preparation to do the final painting I did hundreds of drawings and many paintings including this one.  In the process, the imagery took on a sexual nature. Here the farmer has just cut the chicken open. The knife has become a phallus and the chicken’s wound has become a gaping vagina.  The farmer is clearly becoming a likeness of me.   The chicken, however, is a less certain figure.  Perhaps it is Tamaki, my lover at that time and one with whom I was in the process of a very painful breakup.  Or is the chicken “my Art” which I was mining each day for beautiful pieces which I was then in turn selling to make money, or at least trying to do.   Converting the gift of creation into profit. 

The painting could be seen as an essay on what became a major issue for me:  the relationship and mechanisms of the gift economy and the market economy.    Furthermore, the relationship that sex and sex energy would play in my creative work and the parallels with sex and it’s relationship to love and money. 

“Grief”
Oil/Panel
Various Sizes
1992

These 3 paintings are another batch of works done in the early 1990’s that are about death and grieving. In this case they feature extreme grief coupled with nausea. But at the same time have the cool reserve of symbolic representation. There also seems to be imagery that suggests gestation and rebirth. Other paintings done around the same time are more like Pietas or Burial scenes.

I don’t know why so much focus on death. Yes, my Grandmother died around this time. And yes I broke off with a great Love. And I was also finally coming of age at the late date of my early 30’s, leaving behind a lot of youthful naïveté. Still, maybe someone will analyze all of this someday. Or maybe I’ll have a great insight about my own life and art and write about it here in the hopes that someone can learn something about their own life from it.

Meanwhile, what is clear is that I had established what would become a pattern since this time of doing multiple paintings or drawings on a theme. In many cases I even start with the same composition and then make modifications both large and small. In some cases the pieces are essentially the same but in different styles. It was as though I wanted to see as many different psychological angels on these ideas as I could. And rather than compress them all into one painting, I spread them out over several.

Some of my more unsuccessful pieces up to this point in my life were when I had tried to cram too many ideas into one painting. This is probably an effort to resolve that issue.

“Circle of Life”
Ink/Paper
4′ x 4′
1992

“The Swimmer”
Acrylic/Paper
3′ x 5′
1992

“Abundance”
Acrylic on paper
48” x 48”
1992

Abundance
Beam of Light

“Beam of Light”
Acrylic on paper
24” x 36”
1992

Abundance

“Abundance”
Acrylic on paper
36” x 48”
1992

“The Raven Dream”
Ink/Paper
3′ x 2′
1992

The “Raven Dream” was inspired by a dream. In the dream the images were presented as drawings. I have always attributed that to the commitment and daily practice of drawing and painting for hours. This way of seeing or thinking had settled so deeply into my mind that even my dream looked like my drawings. That has happened periodically ever since. Even now, it’s still arresting to me.
 

“The Source”
Various paintings in various sizes.
Oil on panel and canvas
1991 and 1992

Up until the 20th century artists of various qualities and of nearly every generation from medieval times did paintings or sculptures of a woman holding a vase over their shoulder or in their lap with water pouring out. There are also versions of this going back to Ancient Greek sculpture and pottery decorations. The subject is so obvious it hardly needs explanation. The woman is seen as the source of nourishment, abundance and life itself. For whatever reason, this theme has fallen out of favor and I can’t think of a single major or minor artist who has done even a drawing on the theme. Even a google search turned up nothing.

Well, I was and still am drawn to the subject for slightly different reasons. I see the woman as my inner female and gateway to a well of creative vitality and ideas. The vase isn’t just a womb from which children come, but a metaphoric womb from which ideas and vitality flow. It is this very contemporary idea of creativity flowing when you are in alignment with one’s authentic self.

In the early 1990’s I had for the first time began testing the limits of how much creativity could pour forth from within. And what if anything would come if my relationship with my inner female became confrontational or demanding. Was there a limit? How could I nurture her? What did she need in return? What were the dynamics of gift exchange with my muse and my creative community both inside myself and within my community?

Unfortunately I rarely was aware enough to ask these questions at the time. I was simply too immersed in the experience of it to even think to ask. What is also noteworthy is that up until this time when I was about 30 I never positioned my life to be able to test the limits of my creativity in any sustained way. I had university classes or a job to maintain and occupy my energy and time. But now I was an artist … Fulltime. And I was painting and drawing 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

Sometimes I wanted too much and the well would run dry. And sometimes so much came out so fast that my engines would get flooded. It would take another 10 years to really get the basics down of how to take breaks to avoid burnout or to take a real break if I missed the cues of fatigue and went too far. On one occasion, in 1995, I worked so hard I became week and contracted Hepatitis A and was sick for over a month.

I also learned to have an altar devoted to my muses and to nurture that connection through burning some of my best work in an offering back to the muse. Or offering my time and space to other artists to keep the gift in motion. I did not intellectually understand the power of these practices as way to stay healthy and balanced until I was in my 40’s. But I definitely understood how this worked intuitively and refined it through trial and error.

There were also key individuals and books that came into my life over these years that helped cultivate my understanding. One was the owner and director of the gallery in Seattle where I had my first solo show of my work. Carolyn Hartness. She was native Lakota and had an intuitive understanding of these things. Most of the time she tried to teach me things by telling stories. Often the stories made no sense to me a the time but years later I would suddenly understand…usually after making a painful mistake.

Here are several paintings that reflect my various ways of relating to my source. What is interesting to me as I look back on them is how many stylistic and thematic variations there are. Check them out! I have also included a painting by a French 19th century painter named Ingre who painted a more famous version of this subject called “La Source” painted 1856.

The Source by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

The Source by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

The exhausted priapus

“The Exhausted Priapus”
Oil/panel
30” x 26”
1992.

The myth of Priapus has fascinated me ever since my early 30’s when this painting was created. Priapus was a minor fertility god in Ancient Greece and was usually depicted as an older man with a freakishly oversized and permanent erection. In addition to being the god of animal husbandry and fertility in general he…and the myth…have come to represent the person with oversized appetites that distract to the point of the individual’s own harm and or embarrassment. It is even the basis the medical term for the actual physical condition of an erection that is stuck for an extended time which can cause permanent damage to the penis. It is known as priapism.

Here is a painting of what appears to be an exhausted older man with no arms or feet. There does appear to be a shadow of an arm and a hand but they have dissolved into his body. He also has serious bags under his eyes suggesting he is completely exhausted. Never the less, he sports a rock hard vertical erection.

Since this was painted in 1993 or so it predates the invention of Viagra. But it definitely captures the essence of what I think of as a modern phenomena of the man who suffers from a complete detachment of his mental and physical needs and unable to do anything to resolve the disconnect.

Now it’s 30 years later. Viagra and it’s variants are everywhere making this phenomena even more prevalent and acute. Now the exhausted man who behaves like Priapus can actually have an erection. But to what end? Yes, theoretically he can perform. But can he find joy or fulfillment. Or provide pleasure for his partner in that condition?

Maybe he can.

But sex as an act of connection and integration of self and partner go from being an esoteric ideal to a near impossibility with the act becoming increasingly just that, an act. A sex act. Yes. The pun is intended.

“Dance”
Oil and Charcoal on Cardboard
48″ x 38”
1992
 
During the early 90’s I had quit what would be my last job and devoted myself completely to my art. I made a pact with myself not to earn money in any way except through my art. Naturally this meant I did not have much money. And yet my urge to create was strong. So, I painted on anything I could get my hands on, including large sheets of cardboard. I was also interested in finding a way to express my interest in volumes and figures that was both original and close to my new found way of sketching the figure.
 
Around this time, I began a way of free association drawing. For the first time in about 10 years since I first thought of myself as an artist, I discovered a way of drawing that worked for me. Often I would start with a simple dot or line on a page made with no intention or idea. No inspiration. Then I would see where the line would take me or what it would suggest. Almost without fail it would open my imagination. I would turn the page and develop the idea further. And then I would turn the page again and vary the composition slightly or dramatically by turns.  Then turn the page again and do the same thing, following themes and ideas and variations as fast as I could because usually there is by then a flood of images and ideas coming.
 
Somewhere in the middle of all this would be drawings that had a fullness, a completeness that seemed perfect for exploration in a larger format. This painting began as one of those stream of consciousness drawings and became this. I refer to these as my cardboard paintings.
 
Around this time I read a book by Camille Paglia called “Sexual Personae.” The writing encouraged me to open up to my sexual energy in the creative process that had up to that point not been considered as a resource.  

 
It was like discovering that I had rocket fuel in a reserve tank that I didn’t realize. Now, I not only discovered that I had this extra power, but I also had permission to use it. It greatly influenced my imagery and my output.

In this work there are two figures dancing. Are they “female” figures with big breasts or are they “male” figures that are essentially dancing cocks with swinging balls? It’s hard to know, but clearly they are highly sexualized beings full of energy and humor.  

“Along the Beach”
Oil/Canvas
24″ x 18″
1992

Somehow I arrived at a style of figurative drawing and painting that looked like this. The figure is swollen and generalized. Not realistic but nevertheless and entity. A thing. It’s somewhat like a cartoon and definitely not anatomically correct or detailed. And unlike a cartoon, not meant to be funny or entertaining.

From the distance of 30 years it’s almost hard to remember how tortured artists of my generation were about adding any “thing” back into their art unless it was with ruthless irony. Abstract Expressionist painting had reigned supreme as the logical conclusion of a modernist movement that began 100 years previous to that. The only way to add the “thing” back into art seemed to be either the ironic joke exemplified by Andy Warhol’s Soup Can and other images made with as little evidence of the hand of the artist, except for a splash of abstract candor over the top. Silk screens of photographs with a wild brush slap were the perfect solution.

And then there was the “tip toe” approach exemplified by artists like Susan Rothenburg. She famously came on the scene with large abstract color field paintings in keeping with the art world’s demands and expectations. But she nudged things along by adding “things” back into her paintings in such a subtle way that you could almost not see them. These were not “where is Waldo” paintings. No, these were an artist’s attempt to paint what she loved, horses, but in an idiom that would otherwise look and feel like an abstract expressionist painting.

And it worked. Art world experts could debate the merits and demerits of her brush work and fealty to “important” art world precepts. But at the same time she was able to break the “silence” of objects. These were horse paintings no matter what else you might say.

Another artist to break back into the image was Phillip Guston. He painted large too, of course. But he started adding clumsy cartoon like lumpy figures and symbols into his work. Like all abstract expressionist work, a high bar was set for authenticity in both his imagery and his handling of the paint. But somehow he did it. He cleared the high bar of both expert and casual observer alike.

And then …. somewhere in the late 80’s and 90’s the figure was back. And despite many people who should have known better than to declare painting was dead, painting, and more specifically, painting the figure was back in a big way. Figural sculpture also made a huge comeback.

What continues to fascinate me is how many artists found their way into figural art through the use of a fat, swollen almost cartoon like figure types. Some of the more prominent artists were Colombian artist Bottero and Taiwanese artist Li Chen. At the time I evolved my mythic figure type I hadn’t heard of Li Chen or Botero. But I was very aware of the hegemony of abstract expressionism and it’s universal stronghold on artists’ imaginations. I was also aware of Pop arts ironic “fuck you.” But that had no appeal to me. And further, I was very much aware of Rothenburg’s horsey attempt to reintroduce the “thing” into art.

Perhaps because I grew up watching TV cartoons and had seen countless simplified figures in advertising from the Michelan Man made of tires to the Marshmallow Man. However, it took the up close exposure of poets like Newton and Ezell who spent hours writing poetry in my studio and committed as I was to making art that re-infused as much humanity into our lives as could be done with art.

It was Newton who named this body of my work as “Mythic Figures.” And was his poetry that led me to realize that yes, these figures were simplified not so much as a convenience for sketching as an attempt to strip down the figure of superfluous details to reveal more clearly mythic truths. Leaning on some chapter of modernism, I wanted a figure that was more about what was rather than simply what it looked like. Poetry, after all, isn’t like real speech. It is rarefied and distilled into a form of the poets’ making that is as such to reveal something more real and truthful than real speech.

In many cases these paintings would inspire Newton or Ezell to write a poem. And sometimes their poems would inspire the painting. It was its own unique dialog. It was a conversation between and among 3 artists trying to find ourselves in a stream of the arts that started in prehistoric caves and flowed through the generations, kept alive by each successive generation of creators. And we believed that effort would situate us deeper in a life of meaning and beauty even as the world around us seemed increasingly set against those concerns. I don’t think any of us felt we were saving the world. But we were certain that our camaraderie , our shared vision and our commitment to our respect craft would energize a lifetime of effort often for years on end in a solitude of purpose.
 

Art historical references for Along the Beach

“The Source & The Muse”
Oil/Canvas 
36″ x 24”
1992 
 
In the early 1990’s the Seattle Art Museum hosted a show from the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. It was a traveling show of the Paley Collection, a group of paintings donated to the Met by a wealthy art collector named William Paley. In that show there was a painting by Picasso which struck me dumb when I saw it. It was the “Boy With Horse.”
 
The painting is considered the piece that brings together and summarizes all the elements of his Rose Period. Indeed, the uniformity of purpose and the elegance and spareness of the means of communicating his message are what so moved me.  
 
Immediately I set about creating a cast of characters inspired by the drawings associated with that painting. What emerged where several characters that reflected my own recent decision to focus my life and energy on art.
 
Here, the dancer and the seated woman both express aspects of my creative self.   The dancer is outwardly active and the seated woman is passive and receiving.  She sits in an almost squat like pose and is grounded and timeless as she waits for the womb like jug to gestate and overflow with the stuff of creation mysteriously forming within.
 
The spare landscape and pale colors became characteristic of my work at that time and seemed like the perfect backdrop to the mystic drama taking place in the foreground.  
 
After Picasso completed “Boy with Horse” he went on to create a body of work that would become one of the more important artistic innovations of 20th century art and certainly the work which for which he seemed most in his own skin: cubism.   I, in turn, left this poetic way of working and began creating work that became equally important as the fulfillment of my artist personality and destiny but which makes no real contribution to the development of art nor anything important for turn of the century art or for that matter anything important at all. Instead, my art became more realistic and arguably backward looking. But growing up as I did after 150 years of avante garde, I had grown suspicious of the relentless pursuit of something new and felt the whole process had degenerated into a pursuit of something new simply to be new, not to express what was genuinely felt. And so at about this time, in the early 90’s I finally gave in to what had been dubbed my “old masteritis” and began painting the nude in a way more akin to Baroque Rubens than Cubist Picasso.

 

After all, “The Boy with the Horse” knocked the wind out of me not because it was new. I already understood that had Picasso not gone on to create cubism he would be no more famous than Puvi De Chevanne, the French artist that inspired his Rose period paintings. But it didn’t matter. There was something deeply authentic and well crafted in a fresh if not totally new way that made this work so powerful.  And I have been trying to make art that way ever since.

Portrait of Tamaki

“Portrait of Tamaki”
Oil/canvas
30” x 24”
1992

I had an intense and complex relationship with Tamaki. Here I have distorted her into a strange creature with large white breasts. From behind is my hand holding something round and small like a seed. But held in that way you would hold something unpleasant like a bougger you just removed from your nose. I appear to be showing it to her and preparing to drop it.

I’m guessing here but I think the seed is our Love and I’m showing her that I am preparing to drop it. It’s both precious and toxic at the same time. She appears to be extending a hand in a position to receive something from her head, but it’s too small and too late. We exist in 2 different worlds that are never going to connect.

“Tamaki Sleeping”
Oil/Plywood
4′ x 3′
1992
 
Tamaki was one of the great loves of my life. She was a Japanese student working on becoming a PhD candidate in Asian art history at the University of Washington. We lived and breathed art and art history. I loved her very deeply. In fact, she is the only woman who was both my lover and the subject of many paintings. I loved painting and drawing her. She was beautiful and she was so passionate about the same things I was. It was easy to create her on canvas or plywood or paper or anything. Even when I was playing with form and style, I was able to easily keep my bearings with quotidian reality through Tamaki’s adorable face.
 
This painting depicts her as buxom. She was not. But like many paintings of her, it was about the internal rhythms and harmony of the painting that mattered more than a realistic rendering of her. This piece also summarizes all my knowledge and skill with Asian painting. It is at once both very Western and very Eastern without looking forced or theorized. To me this painting is the quintessence of all my love of this young woman from Kyoto, my love of Western and Eastern art and my newfound terms for making art that were so deceptively simple and direct.  

“Woman”
Oil/Plywood
48” x 40”
1992
 
This painting was done during a strange mini chapter of my career. I was 29 or 30 years old and working during the day at Seattle University. For a year or so, prior to this painting, I had my first spacious studio with some space for outside work. During that time, I created some of my first powerful work including the portraits for the “Great Faces From Around the World” project, the Chakras, and a lot of figural sculptures. However, I lost the studio after 2 years and had to move.
 
Somehow, during this time I had begun doing mold making and sculptures for an Italian man named Marco Lucciano, who had a garden statuary shop. I quickly became his main assistant creating original sculptures to be caste into garden statues or custom pieces. The shop was a complete multi layered mess in an abandoned grocery store.
 
There were various back rooms that were not being used and one of those became my studio for awhile. At that time, I had very little money but I had a ton of ideas and even more energy. The little back room was tiny, and without a doubt this was the smallest studio I have ever had, but the compactness was valuable and I was determined. I used my old Toyota pickup truck to comb back alleys for throw away slabs of plywood or anything else I could use to make art. The rugged qualities of the plywood as its durability appealed to me. 

This piece was typical of the work I was doing at the time. It was figural, volumetric, done from imagination rather than from life or photographs and with a decisive Asian influence. In fact, looking back with the perspective of 25 years, these pieces were among my most successful integrations of Asian and Western studies. It would take another 10 years to make another successful integration of Eastern and Western ideas in my abstract/landscape work.
(see small “roller paintings”)

“Caesar”
Oil on Panel, Steel, Cardboard
Various Sizes
1991

In the early 1990’s I was eager to show my art. Anywhere. Anytime. Anyway. I did not have formal gallery representation yet so I did what artists did back then. I volunteered to hang my art in coffee shops, doctor’s offices and in this case….theater lobbies. At my own time and expense and with no hope of sales.

Somehow I got permission to hang my art in the lobby and refreshment area of one of Seattle’s premier theaters. They were presenting Shakespear’s Caesar. So I decided to do a series of drawings and paintings inspired by the play.

Well, my work was in rapid transition at the time and I was on creative fire. In addition to absorbing as many aspects of modernist painting as I could I was rapidly evolving my own figure type. In this little batch of paintings you can see this cartoony wan figure type coming into its own.

In all I hung over 50 paintings and they were all over the place. I was in such a frenzy and so broke I painted on everything I could find that paint would stick to including large sheets of sheet metal someone had dumped in the alley behind my studio.

Somehow I managed to sell the gruesome image featured here of Brutus turning away in shame as he thrusts his large kitchen knife through Caesar’s abdomen.

Some of the paintings were undeniably second or third rate so I painted over them. But there were a few that really stood out and inspired me to keep going.

These periodic massive creative explosions continue to be a phenomena in my creative journey. I’ve tried to keep most of this little mini series of Caesar paintings together because I think there is something worth considering here….not artist merit….but how creativity itself works. What is the role of inspiration, discipline, suspended judgement and the absorption of other material…to name a few.

The conventional wisdom is to brainstorm and let creativity run free. Then, double back and edit until a coherent “strong” presentation can be made. Well, laughably perhaps, at that theater show I put up everything. It was my assumption that this arty theater going crowd could handle and even enjoy the shear variety of quality and type. And to my surprise, they were. The animated response to the work during intermission and between shows was evidence of that. The theater’s director invited me to do more shows. And I did, several times. But this was the most riotous, perhaps because of Shakespeare.

Bird

“Bird”
Oil/panel
14” x 14”
1992

This painting is part of a mini series I did in or about 1991. I remember wondering why I was doing these. I remember thinking how shrill they seemed. And yet I thought about making them bigger. I was so broke, however, all I could afford was found pieces of paneling. Like much of my work at that time I was processing abstract expressionist’s work that I admired and yet wanted to push past.

Clearly I was thinking about the large paintings of Fran’s Kline. I have included one here. But I was also thinking about work I had done 10 years before in my undergraduate days at Penn State or the Sumi ink work I did in Taiwan.

What I dislike about these pieces when I painted them was the shrill almost pterodactyl like feeling of the bird. But that is exactly what I like about them now. I also like the way the bird seems simultaneously mid scream but also trapped in the dynamics of the paint and the painting. And of course I like that it does in fact push past Kline’s work even while paying allegiance to it.

“Lover”
Oil/Cardboard
Various Sizes
1991

This was inspired by a lover who dumped me before we even slept together. Oh well. She wasn’t the last one to do that. I was 30 at the time. There would be many more misfortunes.

Here I am clearly putting to work my understanding of Picasso’s cubism and my love of Hans Hoffman’s abstract work, what even then I saw as an obvious extension of cubism. In fact, not long after this I developed my own little “ism” as I evolved a way to express how I thought about seeing and perceiving. I called it “pressure forms.” The idea is that a painting is not just what we see inflected with a style mostly prescribed by how we arranged the composition and handled the materials, but how we conceive of perception itself. How does memory and emotion affect how we conceive of the world and the particular thing we choose to paint. And a multitude of other concerns as well from political to personal.

In this piece you can see I have deliberately used different mediums including charcoal and paint. There are cubist chunks and angles. The different “styles” are used like different colors to create the piece. But there are also abstract patches of pure paint that exert pressure on the composition as well as the subject. And there are those eyes, rendered somewhat realistic as a kind of conceptual pun. The organ most associated with how things look are rendered the most realistic.

But then there is the simple fact that it just works. That is very subjective of course. But in some hard to define way this piece just jumps out even here on this website as solid, complete, gorgeous and thought provoking even without knowing all that mumbo jumbo I just wrote about.

Now that I have been painting for 40 plus years and absorbed and integrated many ideas and approaches to art and brought to bare my own ideas about perception and art, there is something undeniable and powerful about the piece that just works. The one that you can’t stop looking at.

“Breath”
Oil/Panel
1991

“Tienanmen Square Spirit”
Acrylic on Cardboard
24″ x 36” Approximate
1989
 
I lived in China and Taiwan from 1983 to 1986. I never traveled to Beijing at that time but I spent a lot of time studying the history, language and art of ancient and modern China. I know much more than the average American about Chinese geography and modern Chinese history, social trends and politics. It’s probably fair to say that I know more than the average Chinese person about these things as well. In 2004 I adopted a girl from China. She was born in Chongquing. I mention all of this to help explain that I have always taken a particular interest in China in general and the 1989 June 4 massacre at Tienanmen square in particular.

Living in Communist China in the mid-1980s was an opportunity to see what real societal and governmental oppression look like. When I lived in traveled in China everyone except foreigners and small children were required  to wear a uniform known as Chairman Mao suit clothes. In order to unify the people, everyone was required to wear one particular kind of clothing. They were either army green, drab blue or black. Some white shirts seemed to be allowed. Apparently this changed rapidly after I left the country. Currently I am studying Chinese with a young tutor from China. He is 22 and does not even remember that people before him were required to wear these restricted clothes.

But restrictions on clothing were just the beginning. Artists were not allowed to paint whatever they wanted and they certainly were not permitted to show what they created or wanted to create. I had many conversations with people on trains and in their homes about this. I spoke passable Mandarin at the time so I was able to carry on conversations with lots of people.

Most of the people were focused on the freedom to travel. Chinese people had just been given the freedom to travel to other Chinese cities for the first time in decades. Many of them had not seen relatives in neighboring cities in over a generation. It was an intense rush. Railways were completely overrun. And in many cases, a single rail line was all the linked one city to another.

What I don’t understand, in looking back, is why I didn’t feel I had the right to stay and be a stronger advocate for change. Or was it the lack of courage? I think, pondering these questions now, in my mid-50s, would give me insight about the nature of maturity as well as my own personal growth. In my mid 20s, I was simply not mature enough to grasp the uniqueness of my situation, nor to have the confidence to have any impact on it. I was a tourist and a student in the mid-1980s. I was there to learn and I thought… to get my hands dirty, but really? I was not there to have any impact on the culture. In fact, I remember taking some pride in being able to slip somewhat unnoticed into the crowd, dressing in Mao clothes and speaking better Mandarin than many of the countryfolk I encountered.

When I returned to the United States, I eventually made my way to Seattle. I took a job in Seattle University where I became the director of international student services. Naturally I had Chinese students as part of my charge. I was working in that job in the Spring of 1989 and we were naturally very excited about the fact that students were leading a significant change in Chinese society through their democracy movement. 

 
Our excitement turned to horror, however, when on June 4 the democratic movement came to an abrupt halt with the brutal shut down and massacre in Tiananmen Square. Within days my Chinese students and I were seized with the idea of creating a replica of the statue of freedom and democracy that students in Tiananmen Square had erected to galvanize their movement. It was a plaster replica of the Statue of Liberty. It was destroyed by tanks on June 4 along with untold numbers of students and protestors.

We did build a replica, several actually, but that is a story for another part of this portfolio.

We also had posters made featuring the iconic image in Time magazine showing a single student standing in front of a tank waving a flag. We used those posters to garner attention when the replica of the statue was moved from my studio to a prominent city park to protest and show solidarity with the students in China. We attached the posters to sticks so that people could hold them up.

At some point I began painting these figures in black and yellow right over the photograph. I thought from the beginning of these figures as the souls of the individuals that were killed that day. I gave them away as gifts. I don’t know how many I did. At some point, I wanted to do one for every individual that was killed. But even today, 25 years later, it is still not known how many were killed. Was it 400? According to official reports it was. Or over 1000 reported by students themselves? Even 400 is unimaginable. Try making 400 individual paintings sometime much less raising 400 children to become men and women.

“The Studio”
Oil/canvas
60” x 42”
1987

Several times during my 20’s I tried to do a large painting that would summarize all the philosophical ideas, artistic styles and personal emotions I was contending with at the time. And each time I failed. This piece was physically large for me up to that point, and arguably had a larger agenda.

During the time I worked on this piece I had recently returned from Taiwan and was now living part time on an art farm in the country and part time at my old mentor’s apartment in Manhattan. Despite the fact that I was broke which made getting back and forth risky, it was an ideal situation for an artist.

In addition to struggling with reverse culture shock, I was trying to integrate rural life where I was living in a chicken coup that I converted into a rough studio and an apartment in upper Manhattan. I was also trying to put everything I learned about Asian art and Western Art into a style that cohered. And to top it off, I really wanted to convey an idea I had about space and time I had been toying with since I was 19 or so. But more on that later.

The reason I feel this piece was a failure was because it just didn’t move me the way I wanted. I didn’t expect to be wafted into the stratosphere just by looking at it. But I did expect to be moved the way I had experienced something powerful in front of other works of art. Instead, what I discovered was that this was a painting with too much packed on it and too many ideas without enough feeling. In the words of some of my harshest critics, I over thought it. And though I didn’t want to admit it, I knew it.

But it proved to be a treasure trove of pieces. And as it turns out, this was not the first time I was to do a work with too much in it but became a source of ideas and inspiration for a long time afterwards. In this case, I not only pulled several paintings directly out of this, I also left behind once and for all some ways of drawing the figure that clearly no longer served my expressive needs.

And lastly, the ideas about space and time proved to be a dead end. The basic idea was that something could be simultaneously in more than one place at a time and that more than one universe could exist all at the same time. Well, here, it merely looked like I painted the same thing more than once and that just fell flat as a concept.

It wasn’t until a few years later when I started using a roller which by its nature repeats a mark with each rotation and when I incorporated the idea of how memory works did I start to make progress on this set of ideas. It would take another 15 years of experimenting before this really started to work. Now, this way of working which I loosely call “my abstract” work and more poetically call my “conceptual Impressionism” is a deeply satisfying way to paint and communicate how I conceive and feel about reality.

"The Studio"

“Dr. Keith and his Grandson”
Oil/cardboard
40” x 32”
1987

Dr. Keith was the father of one of my closest college friends, Laurie Kieth. She was also the lover and eventually the wife of my best friend. Dr. Keith was a professor of geology at Penn State and one of the scientists who first discovered plate tech-tonics. He was old school in that he saw academics as a blending of the arts and sciences and felt a university should not be conflated with an advanced trade school.

He adored me and commissioned me to create several paintings for him which I did. This is not one of them. But years later when I visited him after my 4 years in Taiwan I created this piece in appreciation of his faith in me.

I was in my late 20’s and still soaking up lessons from art history. Here I am obviously absorbing the work of American artist Richard Deibenkorn and blending it with ideas from Mark Rothko and Pablo Picasso’s cubist work. It’s a strange yet beautiful work. Some would even call it a pastiche. But now that we live in an age of appropriation and AI sampling it looks strangely prescient.

“Moon Child”
Oil/Canvas
18″ x 12″
1985

I painted this in Taiwan. I went to Taiwan in 1883 to study Eastern philosophy and art. Not as a student. I went as a bohemian. I basically created my own Montmartre on a hill outside Taipei. I could have gone to Paris. In fact one of my closest college friends was a lesbian writer who was half French. She invited me to run off to Paris and the French countryside with her to make art together. It was a hard choice but made easier by our connection not being romantic. Still, as an astute student of all things art historical with an extra special interest in the moderns, choosing to go to Taiwan was hard.

But I needed to steep myself in Eastern culture if I was to really learn how painting became what it had, based on the culture and philosophy of those countries. Taiwan was available. China, or what we called “mainland China” was not open to foreigners until 1995 and I was among the first to go. But in 1983 I set up shop in Taipei, Taiwan.

But back in Taipei I had a studio. Most of what I created there I left behind when I returned to the States. But this little painting fit in my suitcase. And I’m glad I kept it. It is the great grandfather, the virtual Adam to a long line of descendants in my work. Within a few years of returning I evolved a whole approach to art using these made up figures that eventually I called my “mythic figural” work. Even now, at 63, 40 years later, I use this figure type in my sketches almost daily.

Characteristic of my work in China, I included words on the painting which is common in Chinese art and I signed my name in Chinese. In time it became clear these Chinese conventions did not suit me. But I did in fact absorb and integrate deeper and more meaningful aspects of painting into my work. That would take a few more years of work and maturity to show. But by 1995 I had evolved both a figurative realist and an abstract landscape approach to art that had some of the more profound aspects of Eastern thought and aesthetics deeply integrated into my painting.