Mythic Figures

“The Coat Check Girl”
Oil/Door
80″ x 25″
1995

“Tamaki”
Oil/canvas
48” x 40”
1995

“Jodi Blowing Bubbles”
Oil/Panel 
20″ x 14″
1994

“Gary as Clown”
Oil/Panel
30” x 24”
1994

I often end up doing portraits of my friends as clowns or Comedia del Arte performers. This is Gary. He was my art dealer from 1993-95 or so. He was not a professional art dealer, but he was fiercely devoted to me and my work. He actually functioned more like a professional assistant. He had worked as a campaign organizer for local politicians. He was gay, well connected and a lot of fun… when he wasn’t drunk. He saw my art as a tool to advance his social position and my studio as a locus for his various political activities. He was a glorious nut.

For these clown paintings my friends don’t formally sit for them. They simply appear in a painting one day and it is obvious to everyone around the studio who it is. The likeness is often striking as it is here. In most of these paintings they have an invented hat and collar and often look like they could have been performers in a Comedia del Arte performance group. They often have a realistic element to them. In this case, Gary’s flesh is painted in the same way I was painting my more realistic work at the time… with thick stiff white paint and a stiff dirty brush. The flesh is not so much painted as carved. 

 

By the time I painted this painting I had already discovered Lucien Freud’s work, but the speed and the attack were still very much my own. These are paintings of energy and of the moment rather than the meticulous accretion of observations that are the hallmark of Freud’s work. The hat and collar are pure invention. These pieces were done as fun breaks from the rigorous figure painting work I am usually doing.

“Self Portrait as Comedia Del Arte”
Oil/Panel
30” x 24” Approx.
1994

I think this is what I will look like as an old man. When I paint these “clown” paintings I never know who they are going to be. They are not done from life. They are created from imagination. And usually I don’t have a person in mind when I create them.

Around the same time that I painted this, I did a realistic portrait with the aid of a mirror. In the painting I am wearing a red velvet Harlequin hat like the one in this painting. I suspect I did this as a more fanciful interpretation of the “real” one.

“Ramon and Horse”
Oil/Panel
48″ x 24″
1994

“Vision”
Oil/Cardboard
36″ x 24″
1994

“Pressure Form Portrait”
Oil/Panel
30 x 24”
1994

“Break Up”
Oil on panel and various mediums
Various sizes
1994

“Couple”
Oil/Cardboard
28 x 14″
1993

“Requiem for Aids”
Oil/canvas
10’ x 20’
1993

Even as I write this short essay in the middle of a worldwide pandemic due to a virus, I have not forgotten the impact that AIDS had on my life. It was devastating to gay men, galvanizing for art culture and reshaped a generation of young people coming of age in the 80’s and early 90’s about sex and promiscuity. It was, without a doubt, the first return to a more careful and calculating notion about sex since the invention of “the pill” in the early 60’s.

I was of that generation. I graduated from college in 1983 and had I been gay I would very likely be dead. I was young and cute and very much looking to become an artist of consequence and that meant moving to the edges of society. But perhaps more insulating than my sexual orientation was the fact that for most of the 80’s I was living in remote parts of China. And by the time I returned and wound up living in Manhattan, there was a very developed understanding about what caused HIV/AIDS and how to prevent it. As it turns out, preventing the spread of HIV was theoretically pretty simple; just wear a condom. That proved to be as difficult for some of my peers as wearing a mask does now. Of course there were other ways to contract it such as sharing needles or having a blood transfusion from someone’s tainted blood. But for me, the risk was sex.

And what made HIV significantly different from the current viral outbreak is that contracting HIV was flat out certain death. And worse, a long slow painful death fraught with shame. The slow deterioration of the flesh was grim and the damage to one’s family, professional and social circle was potentially alienating at best and all out destructive at worst.

Well, the gay community got organized and got to work on many fronts. They quickly realized that as terrible as AIDS was, and as unfortunate as it was that anal sex was perhaps one of the most sure ways to spread the disease, gay men realized that the AIDS epidemic could actually help the larger public come to accept homosexuality. They leveraged the threat of shame and secrecy as being forces that would help spread the disease. And they capitalized on whatever compassion for the sick and wounded they could to win converts to accepting the essential humanity of homosexuals.

All of this became increasingly personal to me as more and more of my friends and associates died from AIDS. In May of 1993 one of colleagues at Seattle University died from AIDS. He was the same age as me.

Up until that point the only social issue that inspired me to create art was the famine that had been going on in Sub-Saharan Africa. My art is often motivated by broader philosophical and cultural trends, but not specific issues or singular events.

But for reasons I still don’t understand, I decided to do a large AIDS painting that I hoped could be used to call even more attention to this already inescapable part of everyday life in the early 1990’s.

So, I began drawing. I decided at some point to make the piece similar to Picasso’s famous anti war painting, “Guernica.” That painting was a large painting meant to be displayed in public to draw attention to the atrocities being wrought by Franco’s alliance with Hitler and specifically the firebombing of the Basque town of Guernica where thousands of civilians were  deliberately killed. I saw what was going on around me as a kind of war on a disease as well as a war on homosexuality and by extension, a war on culture and art.

I decided to make the piece long and thin like Picasso’s and to organize a lot of various particulars and “ideas” around an almost classical geometric design principle. And, I decided to restrict the palate of colors to just black, white, ochre and cerulean blue to keep the piece from becoming even more chaotic than it is.

In the middle is a kind of Pieta where a gay couple struggles to “let go” as one of the partner’s dies. On the left side there is a sailer who has burst in to mutilate a musician whose instrument is scattered in pieces. He also topples a classical statue in the process. This was inspired by an actual current event that happened in Denver that year. A navy man attacked and killed a fellow navy man accusing him of being a homosexual. They were members of the navy band. To me this also represented an attack on art and music and an upending of the principles of civility and restraint represented by the statue. On a personal note, I made the bust of the statue resemble my friend Gary who had just died from AIDS.   

On the right side there is a horse rider who is falling of his horse. This scene was inspired by the Medieval depictions of St. George slaying the dragon. That is a story of easy stereotypes where good is good and evil is evil. Here, though, nothing is certain. The hero has fallen off his stead and his weapon is broken. Here, the weapon is a test tube which was meant to represent science and its failure to save my friends. Eventually it did save some of my friends, but by that time AIDS was 10 years in and there were still no effective treatments and certainly no cure.

There are countless little symbols and historical and art historical references. I have just shared a few to get you started. This website is not the place for a complete analysis or description of this complex piece.

I will say that seeing the piece on a small scale is always disappointing to me. It looks jumbled and formless like a bowl of noodles to me. The overall organizing form of the piece is lost. It’s interesting to me that Picasso’s Guernica does not do this. I saw the original in New York City before it returned to Spain and subsequently I have seen it in reproductions many times. It looks good small. But I must say I was underwhelmed when I saw the original. It’s also interesting to me that Michelangelo’s Last Judgement on the front wall of the Sistine Chapel also does not work on a small scale. It too looks like a pile of rope or a bowl of fettuccini. However, when I visited the Sistine Chapel I was more moved by the wall than the more famous ceiling.

I can’t count the number of times I have unrolled the large Requiem painting with the thought that I would cut it into 3 paintings and possibly discard the middle section. And then, once it was up I could not bring myself to do it. And it is not for lack of fortitude to destroy my own work if I deem it not worthy. I often cannibalize my own work in order to paint over it, to both eliminate a substandard work but also for the convenience of a canvas all primed and ready to paint.

So, for now, it is safely rolled up and stashed in a corner of my studio.

It has been shown on several occasions and to some extent it did its intended job of raising awareness for AIDS. But not really. In the end, I think it was mostly experienced as a painting… moving or beautiful to varying degrees. And now, already, just 30 years later if it is ever exhibited I don’t think it will be experienced as an “AIDS” painting. It will simply be a painting. Maybe it is classism and unabashed allegiances and references to older works of art where the very things that made is less relevant and effective in its day but may keep it worth looking at in the future.   Hard to know. Someday I may unroll it on the floor. Get out my scissors, cut in several pieces and make some new paintings.

But for now, it is safely rolled up and stashed in a corner of my studio.

 
“Buddha”
Oil/Canvas
36″ x 24”
1993
 
During this time I had already begun painting what would become known as my “figural realism” pieces. But I was still creating a lot of drawings and paintings that I came to refer to as my “mythic figure” paintings. Like this painting they were drawn from my imagination, not from life or photographs. Eventually I would stop making paintings like this but these kinds of figures continue to emerge in my sketches which I am constantly doing almost on a daily basis.  
 
The figures are often distorted in ways that reveal something about our inner truth. In some ways they are more like poetry than natural speech. Yes, it’s true, no one speaks that way. But the distortions and artistic liberties might reveal something more real than any amount of accrued details or natural speech can achieve. Sometimes these pieces just “work.” They come together just right and can be quite powerful or downright cute.  
 
Sometimes they just flop. Fortunately I have noticed my worst flops and painted over them. That process became a body of work in itself which I eventually began calling my “white out” pieces. There are quite a few of them so perhaps they will have their own section on this website one day.
 
 
 

“Rape of Europa”
Ink/Paper
48” x 48”
1993

“Couple with Grave”
Oil/Panel
12 x 10”
1993

“The Fixer”
Oil/Canvas
60 x 36”
1993

“Prometheus”
Ink/paper
48 x 40”
1993

“Couple with Grave”
Oil/Cardboard
48 x 40”
1993

“Double Portrait”
Oil/Panel
20 x 18”
1993

“Tuning Fork”
Oil/Paper
24 x 10”
1993

“Sisyphus”
Oil/Paper
36 x 24”
1993

“Couple with Dead Child”
Oil on board
40″ x 38”
1993
 
 
 
 
 
“Beach Couple”
Oil on panel
48″ x 34”
1993
 
 
 
 
 

“Boy Riding Bull”

Oil on 3 door panels

80” x 60”

1993

“The Large Juggler”
Oil/Canvas
6’ x 4’
1993
 
By the time I did this painting, my work already appears to have had several distinct chapters. And that has become even more apparent at the time of this writing (2017). These “chapters” seem more chronologically distinct if one does not look at my drawings and graphic work. This piece was one of the main pieces from that chapter of my work that ran from about 1990-1994. However, I continue to draw and sketch in this manner even now. A better way to state my over all work would be that at almost all times I am sketching, drawing, painting and sculpting in a variety of styles and modalities. But for periods of time one style or modality will be the stuff of my more major works.
 
Before elucidating the particulars of this painting I want to discuss briefly the role that my sketches and the sketches of this kind of painting in particular have played in my life. The easiest aspect to describe is that these “funky figures” (as I have come to refer to them) have provided a kind of visual diary for me. The figures are easy to draw and so allow a free flowing stream of conscious. Often, I myself do not even know what the figures are about until months later. They are often closer to dream figures and dream stories than real life. But what is more compelling is the openness to form manipulations that happen in this type of drawing. There are visual puns, surrealistic distortions, thematic repetitions, and ways of shaping images that reflect the ever changing sense of how an image can be constructed.
 
At the same time, there has also been a development of vocabulary figure types and mark making as well as pictorial devices for resolving or confounding compositions. I have come to relay on all of these devices like the collective components of a language. In the early 1990’s, I was executing the stream of graphic images I was making into more fully developed paintings. This process of making paintings of these drawings stopped almost completely and almost overnight when I began painting figures in a more realistic manner in 1994. When I did paint one of these funky figures in subsequent years, the paintings seem disingenuous to me, as though they were people trying to be paintings from another era… or like people who have crashed a party. 

 

At one point in the early 2000’s I made a brief conscious effort to find a fresh way to translate these drawings into a painterly expression. The results were both fresh and very satisfying. I don’t know why I did not continue. When I begin painting again I hope to have a small room devoted to this kind of experimental work.

As for this particular painting, I did hundreds of drawings on the theme of acrobats performing for each other, crowds or children. Here, there is a father type performing for his own child. The theme is a strange projection of my own future fatherhood that was to come 8 years later. At the time I did this painting I had no idea if I would ever have children. When I did eventually have kids I became that acrobat… entertaining and teaching my observant child. Since then this painting has always seemed like a talisman of the interconnectedness of time and its ability to collapse into a single all inclusive point. The very stuff of painting. The impact, pleasure and power of that experience is why I am a painter… not a novelist.

“Rape”
Oil/cardboard
20” x 12”
1993

“Man with Bird”
Oil/cardboard
48” x 40”
1993

“Underground”
Oil/Plywood
30″ x 30” 
1993
 
These pieces are hard to define. Are they abstract pieces? Are they figure pieces? Are they landscapes? It’s hard to say. Whatever they are I had around this time came up with the idea of things that were underground. These objects are supposed to suggest items that are buried like sacred objects or planted like seeds.  
“Figure with Bones”
Oil/Cardboard
1993
“ESL Couple”
Oil/Cardboard
48″ x 34″
1993
“Ghost Runner”
Acrylic on burlap coffee sack
24” x 36”
1993
 
Around this time I became interested in painting on found surfaces just to see what the various textures would yield. I was also painting at a furious pace and had very little money. I remember going to places like Costco and rounding up dozens of large pieces of cardboard to paint on. I would troll alleys for pieces of abandoned plywood and frame stores for scraps of matting that is used for picture framing. I needed tons of material to feed my painting frenzy.
 
I think what was driving this insatiable urge was a build up of a few years of not doing much art between about 1991 and 92. I was working at Seattle University and getting a masters degree in educational administration there at the same time. I did some art during those years, but not like what was to come from 1992 on.
 
I also had the misfortune of needing to move my art studio several times during this period. For a year or so in 1991 to 1992 I had a small but wonderful studio at 8th Avenue and Virginia Avenue right in downtown Seattle. It was in an old building that had several floors of clothing sweatshops. The businesses were all in decline and the building was slated to be torn down and the city courthouse was built in its place years later. It was in this little space that my true creative energies were born.
 
At that time I met Doug Newton. Doug was a poet, writer and musician. He would hang out in my studio for days writing poetry, stories and working on music. He also began writing poems in response to my paintings. And in turn, I started doing drawings in response to his poems. He was a keen observer of my work and a great source of encouragement and camaraderie. After a short stay at eighth Avenue and Virginia I moved to a space in Eastlake that would become my studio for the next 20 years. It was in this little space that my true creative energies were born. And the positive affect that the stability and affordability had on my ability to develop as an artist can not be over stated. 
 
It was early in this new space that I got the idea of painting on burlap sacks. Seattle had several coffee companies that we’re growing rapidly at that time, most notably Starbucks. I knew that their coffee came in big burlap sacks and heard from someone that they gave them away down at their factory. I went and indeed they did. I collected many bags on more than one occasion. Eventually they closed this charitable function of their business.
 
Around that same time I developed this reductive figure style which I called “funky figures“ and which  Doug called “gigantism.“
 
In any case, these figures became staples of my drawing vocabulary. They were also like characters in a novel. They began to have a life of their own inside my head. I would also draw them over and over again, anxious to see how dozens of variations both big and small would affect their expressions and their stories. 
 
These figures also became the subjects of many paintings at this time.   
 
Eventually I developed a style of painting figures that was more realistic, but these “mythic” or “funky figures” continue to play out in my drawing and doodles now almost 30 years later.  
“Abundance”
Oil/canvas
30″ x 24”
1993
 
Around this time I designed this figure who appears frequently dancing and holding a bowl full of fruit over his head. I did these to both celebrate the moments of prosperity I enjoyed and to invoke more prosperity. It was my feeling that by drawing and painting this image I could invoke more prosperity. I don’t think it was effective in invoking fiscal prosperity but it definitely woke an era of unprecedented creative output for me which continues to this day. 
“The Juggler Paintings”
Oil on Canvas and Panel
Various sizes
1993-94
 
I have often been fascinated by the visual and metaphorical aspects of juggling. The basic idea is so straightforward and simple. Somebody has a little nack… a little trick that they do which captivates an audience just long enough for them to be mildly amused, maybe drop a few coins in a hat and then move along. A few may actually reflect on the larger meanings of the little schtick… most will not.  
 
Even though painting is in some ways the polar opposite of juggling I have often thought about the similarities that are on a deeper level. The juggler hones his craft with countless repetitions alone in his garret. Then, for brief moments he captures and captivates his audience with a little show on the street.  
 
The artist too must work away in his studio preparing his paintings for an exhibit. If he is lucky the gallery that hosts the show will drum up a little crowd who will come mostly for the party and the libations. With a little luck he may have an audience that actually looks at the paintings for a few moments. And maybe one a rare occasion, someone will want to purchase a piece… but not without much haggling over the price.

“Caryatid”
Oil/Panel
60 x 36”
1992

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

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

“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
“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
“Circle of Life”
Ink/Paper
4′ x 4′
1992
“The Swimmer”
Acrylic/Paper
3′ x 5′
1992
“The Raven Dream”
Ink/Paper
3′ x 2′
1992
“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
“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.

“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
“Lover”
Oil/Cardboard
Various Sizes
1991
“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.

“Moon Child”
Oil/Canvas
18″ x 12″
1987