80” x 30”
This painting was inspired by a poem by Rumi, a Persian poet from the 14th century and beloved by yet another generation of all those who appreciate elegant and succinct reminders of how the mystical imbues beauty and grace into relationships and our surroundings….if only we could see it. And that is what his poetry does….help us see it.
For a few years in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s I collaborated with a group of talented men to host an annual intimate theatrical event in a canyon outside Pasadena. It was by and for men and each year there was a theme around which each of us worked our craft.
Some years I created complex and elaborate paintings. But this particular year my son had just been born a few months prior to the show and leaving my wife and newborn son for extended time did not seem prudent. So, I created these large paintings which are essentially drawings on panel using paint. They required little time to create.
I also created drawings on paper based on poems of Rumi selected by the other men who were creating the more theatrical portions of the evening. We made copies of the drawings and basically carpeted the floor with them so that throughout the evening people could look at drawings that were inspired by the presentations.
In all I made about 10 of these large pieces to decorate the walls of the small “hall” that we used for the show. Of those 10 I kept 3. The rest of them were painted over.
These pieces were recently returned to me in 2023. Frankly, I had forgotten about them and they were never photographed at the time of their creation and use in the show. Apparently, after the show, they were tucked in a back room of the theater and forgotten until recently. Upon the death of my friend and benefactor Ken Symington, his surviving partner did a thorough cleaning of the spa and discovered these pieces.
I am grateful to have them back and will dig through my boxes of drawings to find the original drawings and Rumi poems that inspired them.
I like puns. A black eye has several meanings. I puzzle over this piece and the bizarre affect of that black patch that appears as a mask and the disturbing way it has reshaped the eye.
28” x 24”
Gordon is my younger brother. We are not close now but when we were children we had a close connection that was different from my relationship with my older brother. Mike, our older brother, was forced to become the surrogate father at a vulnerable time for all of us. My parents had a violent split when I was 8 and Mike was 10. Gordon is 2 years younger than me so naturally I became his big brother in his eyes while Mike was seen as a father figure. Moreover, Mike would lash out in anger or relentless teasing when he could no longer contain the pressures of adulthood at his tender age. That only drove Gordon and I closer.
Gordon had black eyes that were slightly too close together. But more importantly they leaked the tenderness and care he tried to hide. His distraction techniques were subtle. He was too smart and emotionally aware to cover his tenderness with bullying and ego. No, Gordon was more of a turtle. He developed a shell that he could withdraw into and I’m guessing he did a fair amount of dissociative fantasy.
During the late 1990’s my style of painting employed a heavy application of paint that was virtually troweled on and sculpted with stiff bristle brushes. This left a thick crust of paint that could easily be thought of as a shell. So here it is working to create that layered aspect of my younger brother I found so intriguing and only in my late 30’s did I begin to really understand.
Here he is peering out with his soft black eyes and his tender mouth. While the painting itself seems to be congealing into a hard crust making his gentle soul seem all the more miraculous.
24” x 18”
“The Slide Review”
Oil on panel
48” x 24”
This painting looked old fashioned when I painted it because of the color and style. But now it looks even more so because of the subject. But there is more to it than that. There are 3 layers of “old fashioned” here and that is what fascinates me. And then there are the emotions attached to each of those layers: shame, confusion, bewilderment and even humor.
I painted this piece in 1997. And I painted it to look like it was painted in Momtmartre Paris during the halcyon days of Modernism when Matisse and Picasso were duking it out for the latest most exciting new ways of conceiving a painting. This Bohemia avant-garde was among other things a declaration of personal freedom that I would argue had a deeper and more lasting affect on modern life since then than their art. And it wouldn’t be long before modern industry would learn the powerful economics of new for newness sake.
But that was 70-80 years prior to my doing this painting. And at that time artists didn’t win gallery contracts or sales for their art by presenting slides to dealers and gallerists. Slides didn’t even exist. But that was how it was done when I came of age as an artist and until well into the 2000’s … long after the digital image became ubiquitous.
No matter what your art looked like in real life it had to look good as a sheet of slides. You had 3 seconds to make an impression if you were lucky enough to have someone lift your 8.5 x 11” sheet of slides to the sky and squint at your heart and soul. Countless hours were devoted to taking the slides in the first place, but then there was the effort of carefully selecting and arranging them to make the best possible impression. This was also how you entered your work to competitions and shows. You could send anywhere from 2 to 20 slides for a typical application. Somewhere in an office somewhere someone would take your $50 application fee and glance at your work. And if you were very lucky they would take the trouble to send your slides back in the carefully prepared return envelope with stamps and everything when you were rejected. I know, because I was always rejected. In all my years and all my painting I was never accepted to a single art competition.
Now, all these years later, slides are as old fashioned as early 20th century modernism. Young artists in their 20’s don’t even know what slides are. And galleries are all but gone. People are presenting and buying art online. And artists have even decided to skip the whole trouble of making art and are just selling the digital rights to a pixel of a random image they selected with their highly cultivated artistic eye. I admire the efficiency although the experience is lacking something.
So what difference does it make that the painting I made looked old fashioned when I painted it. Furthermore, the subject has become old fashioned since then, even though it was very relevant at the time. And in fact, how does any of that matter against the fact that even having a painting is itself almost an old fashioned act in and of itself.
Whatever embarrassment or shame or bewilderment I may have felt about any one of these stages of anachronisms, now, in 2023 as I write this, the painting is able to provoke me to think about all of this. I’m not sure that staring at a random pixel in my NFT account is going to yield much insight. But maybe that’s just me … still hopelessly old fashioned in a world were even after 100 years since modernism’s height, simply being new still trumps everything else.
“Study for ‘Ode'”
5″ x 30″
This is a tiny piece. It’s only 5” tall! But it was a study for a very large piece that was 4’ x 32’. The study works. But the large piece only succeeded in parts. So I cut it up. Saved the good parts and painted over the other parts with completely different stuff. The problem was that I didn’t translate the loose rawness of the tiny study to something 8 times as big. At least not consistently.
I was inspired by a mural I saw by Jean Basquiat. It too was big and long. It was at an exhibition of his work at University of Washington’s Henry Art Museum. Up until that point I had never seen an original Basquiat and in print his work looked very similar to cartoon scribbling. It needed the scale to reveal the power and feeling in his marks.
It’s interesting to me that I succeeded in almost the opposite way. My little piece is quite effective. But my mural size piece fell woefully flat compared to Basquiat’s work. Once I cut it up though….things got better.
“Woman and Supplicant”
18″ x 12″
This piece looks funny to me. And pathetic. The large female figure looms over a male form that is much smaller and in a box. Is she a goddess, a sculpture or a figment of the imagination. Is he caged or merely a symbol of her suppressed male alter ego? Her shadow does seem to extend into the box/cage and then bend upward forming the male figure. They are both cleaved in half by a diamond shaped black and white set of sections. And it’s all happening in a bright kind of nowhere space….not quite beach but not quite blank white paper either. And for some strange reason the cage box is melting.
What do you think is going on here?
Oil on panel
6’ x 4’
Once in awhile I do a painting that looks like something I would have painted several years earlier. This is one of those. It would be easy to say it’s like revisiting an old friend or speaking a language one learned years ago in a foreign country and now I’ve run into someone from that country and it’s fun to speak that language again. And all of that would be true. It is like that … a little.
But that’s been said many times before much more eloquently by other artists.
What might be more interesting is to point out that doing this every now and then reveals that I have come to see style as an element of design in the same way a set of colors or a way of organizing the composition are elements of design. It is a little like putting brackets around style making it a thing in and of itself instead of being the set of other design elements. For example, an artist might put a dash of yellow in his painting to create a bright spot and add attention or energy to that spot. Well, I might also add a dash of realism to call attention to a particular part of the painting. And so those styles are there to be played with and used like all the elements at my disposal.
When I was young I was very interested in other artist’s styles. And of course I learned about how an artist’s style evolved over time to eventually become his or her mature style. The conventional wisdom was that this was a linear trajectory and there was inherently progress from a style that was derivative and less important to more unique and important in that it was unlike other artist’s work and might even open a pathway for other artists.
Well, sometimes that is true. And it definitely serves the interests of a gallerist who may be trying to develop and sell a brand. It’s just common sense in the marketplace that it’s easier to sell something consistent than something that is completely different all the time. And that is the dance that every one must do: a constant 2 step of something consistent on one foot and always fresh and new on the other. Every car manufacturer knows this all to well, a new model every year…but not too new.
Well, once you become aware of this you are either trapped in your signature style or you realize that style is just another piece to be played with and deployed to express your ideas and feelings. And in that moment, the artist has set himself free again. He has escaped the trap.
A man with a worm on a hook at the end of line. It’s the oldest trap in the book. So here I am in this picture pulling at something that has taken my bait. But what have I caught? Is my line just caught on a rock? And what if there is no line? What is the fisherman doing after all?
24” x 6”
It’s a short story. Here’s a clue or 2. An eye might symbolize inner vision or ideas. There might be a self portrait in there. Is that a woman on the right or a sculpture? Landscape on the left.
Hmmm….different kinds of space and how we perceive it?
“Life or Death”
28″ x 16″
What happens when Keith Herring meats Matisse? Well, I don’t think that was my mission when I painted this, but that’s what it looks like to me now. The flying white of the exposed canvas was a convention of Matisse’s and the “energy” marks are straight out of Herring. I suppose a case could also be made for the influence of really traditional art historians. The classic presentation of symbols of life and death are things I learned about by studying art history through the books by Wolflien, Janson and Kenneth Clark, old standbys that defining Art History as a subject of study.
15” x 10”
Let me help you out a little. The human figure at the bottom with the big yellow nose seems to have something black coming out of its nose. Meanwhile his face is pushing into the back of a white animal that I think is a dog. It’s white ears are pointing straight up and it’s tail is pointing to our right. Behind all of this and in the deep blue shadows is another figure that is watching this scene. And then above them all is a flying creature that looks like a human head with human arms and nothing else. It appears to be swooping down on the person with yellow nose and the dog. I have no idea what this is all about.
I do know the yellow and blue as well as the white, black and touches of gray make for a beautiful if strange little painting. The fact that I can not puzzle it out is tantalizing to me. If you have any insights please write to me.
“Mark as Clown”
24” x 18”
24” x 24”
I did a google search to see if anyone else has done a painting of hemorrhoids. To my surprise there are a few paintings including one artist who is offering her painting of hemorrhoids as a phone case image for free. However, it is really more of an abstract painting which if you didn’t know it was hemorrhoids you would know. Where as my painting is pretty clearly a painting about hemorrhoids in a playful even humorous way.
While looking for art about hemorrhoids I saw some very painful photographs of actual hemorrhoids as well as photos of surgical procedures. I encourage you to take a break from looking at my art and do your own google search. It will be educational but also refresh your vision for looking at art. The shift from art to factual photos can stretch the mind. And at the very least deepen your appreciation for the pain that anyone you know with hemorrhoids may be enduring. I just hope a little humor is helpful and not construed as mockery.
70” x 48
Around this time I created a body of work that featured me covered in mud. These were not self portraits. I just happened to be the only person I knew willing to be covered in mud and photographed. Eventually I came to refer to this body of work as “Erden Mensch” which is German f or”mud man” but which more meaningfully refers to a man who is deep, soulful and full of integrity.
I some respects this could be considered an Erden Mensch painting. It looks like one. But it was inspired by something different than most of my Erden Mensch pieces. It was inspired by a tiny thumbnail advertisement for a video of the sort that appears in pornographic magazines.
I was interested in seeing what happened pictorially when one paints from a very tiny photograph. I was also interested in the subject. Perhaps because of the minuscule size and hence difficulty of seeing the image clearly, I had to make up some of this painting. I believe the obscurity of the image both provoked and freed my imagination.
Whatever the aesthetic or cerebral intentions, the painting is visceral and intense. It is also unique in that much erotic art does not focus on the moment of orgasm itself.
24″ x 24″
Artists often do sketches to prepare themselves to do a sculpture. This was the opposite. I did the sculpture and then realized it would look great as a painting. In a sense, the sculpture inspired a still life painting.
The sculpture was originally a portrait done in clay over a poultry wire and wood armature. As the clay dried it shrank around the armature and cracked in some spectacular ways. So, I found some old hemp rope and tied it to the wood and hung it upside down. The result was haunting and spectacular. At the same time period I did a few paintings inspired by torture devices from the Middle Ages. I’m not sure why but these implements of torture from centuries ago seemed relevant.