Mythic Figures 2006-2010

26″ x 24″

Jack was the guardian spirit that lived in and protected my studio under Interstate 5. How he came to reside there and how me, my family, friends and even guests became aware of his presence is a beautiful story. But not one I will tell here.

Instead I want to share my thoughts about guardian spirit art and how this pa8nting became that for me. After I did this piece I knew it was Jack, who incidentally had been around about 10 years already when I painted this and had been given his name at least that many years previous to the painting. I also knew this piece needed to be hung high over my painting wall and painting bench where I did almost all of my art for nearly 20 years. It was a rarefied space.

By this time I had traveled to many countries and was deeply familiar with their artistic traditions and how they over lapped with their religious and spiritual believes. I knew that many places in the world from village temples in Thailand to the Grand Entrance to the National Library in Manhattan have protective spirit art work flanking the doorways or sacred spaces within. Stone lions, scary warriors, or elaborate abstract patters are all meant to do everything from ward off evil to signify that this is special space.

As informal as this painting is, it clearly made an impression. My son, who had independently come to his own notions about Jack, felt the painting was very important and has asked me several times why I have not installed it in my new studio. His innocence about art and spiritual practices around the world punctuated for me the deeply held impulse we have to do such things. And I greatly appreciate that more than he knows. But I had my reasons not to put up the painting, mostly that the space had not become sacred.

Now, at last, after nearly 10 years in my new space I feel I have something that requires Jack’s services. And so, when I return to Seattle I will rehang Jack over my painting wall, which is not new, but is finally a place where the doorway to the unseen world is open and vulnerable and sacred. Sacred enough to warrant Jack’s protective spirit.

Photos of artists’ studios

“I-5 Studio”
40″ x 30″

One of the aspects of artists I admire is their ability to create their own vocabulary of symbols, characters, marks and imagery. Artists from the modern era who do that so well are, among others, Paul Klea, Picasso and Matisse. In more recent times artists like Warhol and Keith Herring come to mind.

Perhaps one day Hengst will be added to this list. I certainly have developed quite an array of tropes. Having done so makes sitting down to draw much easier than it would be otherwise and becomes its own engine of creativity. After all, if I don’t know what else to draw when I sit down with a blank page, I can start by simply re-drawing any of a number of symbols, things, places or whatever that I have drawn before just to prime the pump. Then, just sit back and let it flow.

One of my frequent tropes is drawing my studio. The studio is itself a place of interest to people. It’s part workshop, part lair and part mysterious temple. And to the outside world how those various aspects of the “artist’s studio” blend and overlap is endlessly fascinating. And how can he make anything that beautiful out of so much chaos? Or conversely some may ask, especially when they see a photo of a studio like the German artist Gerard Richter, how can he make anything artistic in such an impeccably clean studio.

Here, you see a house of sorts on the right. Inside is a portrait of me that has blended into my symbol for the studio under I-5. On the left is another house with a woman’s portrait. They appear to be looking at each other. And their shadows fall towards each other at the bottom making a connection. But is it a solid connection as it appears to be or is it just their shadows touching? And what of those expressions? Are they sad, longing, inquisitive or just weirdly funny?

There is so much that is unclear. And yet there are so many pieces. Hmmmm.

“Leopold As Clown”
40″ x 30”
Leopold is Peter’s stage name. He is a dear friend who was originally a patron at the Little Red Studio. He had his own reasons for falling in love with the studio. He is a dentist by profession but he is passionate about costuming, fetish wear, and cross dressing. He is beautiful, old, physically fit and very committed to his craft. It is a secret world for him, a world that brings him a lot of joy. One day I sketched him very quickly in oil and then quit. The whole painting took about one hour but it is one of my favorite paintings of him. I have done many paintings of him in costume and just simply sitting in my studio. They are all done from life. I have never done a painting of Leopold from photos.

40″ x 30″

My portraits from life usually look like this at first. I’m setting down the basics to establish some kind of match with what I “see” about the person. What colors and what arrangement will come closest to what I find worth saying.

Usually I keep going and develop the painting in various ways including making it more realistic in order to provide a vehicle to express more nuanced psychological content. But not this time. This time I felt everything I saw and wanted to say was already here. Yes it’s sloppy and raw. Some will like that and even prefer that to a more realistic or “finished” painting. Others find this simply that, unfinished.

Oh well … I must obey my muse … that invisible force that tells me what to create. If I don’t listen she will stop speaking. And then I’m screwed.

Ney, better to trust that she knows better than I do and leave it raw.

The fact is, nobody cares if this looks like someone named Colleen or not. In fact, I couldn’t remember the model’s name but loved the painting so I put it on the website and left the title “?” for several years. Then just a few days ago I suddenly remembered who sat for this piece. Colleen.

I’m not sure if I should have changed the title. Strangely, my muse almost never has anything to say about what I title my paintings.

“Dark Muse”
Oil on panel
24” x 48”

The notion of a real life woman being a muse for an artist is one of the top 3 cliches in the art world. Perhaps because men are eternally confounded by how to relate to women. Each successive generation faces a new set of challenges. Growing up in the shadow of the first wave of the feminist movement meant shifting the adulation of women from the pedestal to the interview desk and eventually the boardroom. Glass ceilings now had a name and one didn’t dare express sexual attraction with a wolf whistle … or in any public way.

And yet …

And maybe because of all that, the beauty industry chugged on with even greater intensity. Pressure for women to look good and be powerful in the work place became more intense. For men, the balancing act of treating women “professionally” on the one hand and acknowledging their beauty became increasingly tricky…and just too difficult for many men. In my 40 years or so of adulthood I have also seen women push back on all of this at least twice with the “grunge” movement in the early 90’s and it’s return in recent years with the added twist of deliberately manipulating sexual identity.

Well, despite all my feminist awareness and enlightened intentions and even a deep commitment to abstract art I found myself in thrall with a woman who became my muse in almost every cliche way. She inspired my art. I found her beautiful. We were lovers off and on. The one key difference is that I never fell in love with her. And I’m pretty sure she never fell in love with me. In fact, in the classic way, I think what she found attractive about me was my art. And more specifically, my passion for art and the way I could consistently make beautiful art inspired by her…her beauty but more importantly to her…her ability to move, find a line and make herself like the art I was making. In other words, she and I were dancing. Not in the conventional sense as in 2 people on a dance floor. But like dancing in many respects. I lead. She followed beautifully. We tipped into each other and found unseen rhythms. We swayed with the pulse of an invisible force made visible through our connection. And we liked what we saw.

But these things are not meant to last. Even though we lived in Seattle’s Demi monde where sexual boundaries were loose, eventually she found herself involved with a man who was more controlling than others and our way of working shifted. It grew darker and eventually ended.

I believe this is the last piece I made that was inspired by Sophie. It was painted from life in one sitting during an art night in my studio where several people were gathered to make art and hang out. She is relaxing but very clearly leaning into my head even distorting her own head in the process. She has become transparent and even diaphanous as though she was about to pop like a soap bubble and disappear.

And that is exactly what happened. At some point she was just gone. Years later I saw her in a cafe and rushed to give her a hug. She dodged me and made it clear that she would prefer I not even acknowledge her. I waved awkwardly and kept moving as though I was actually on my way to the Men’s room.

I have been clueless about my negative influence on people over the years. But until now I still don’t understand how that turned so bitter.

Oil on panel
48” x 24”

This piece was done shortly after my girlfriend had inadvertently revealed was she was having a sexual relationship with another man. I won’t describe it as cheating, per se, because we were in an open relationship. Both of us had other lovers and were open about it. However, we told each other about those connections and even laughed at each other’s trials and tribulations. The implication was that these were all relatively superficial connections.  

My girlfriend had warned me that the medication she took as part of her health regimen to mitigate her anxiety and help her sleep would sometimes produce a narcoleptic state where she would appear awake but was in fact asleep. Well, it happened one night. After preparing for bed we got to talking at the kitchen table. At some point it was apparent that she was not entirely awake or aware of her surroundings but was sitting at the table talking… to me. Except that to her I was somebody else.  And his name did not match with any of the men she told me she had been with. I asked her some questions about Jeff in order to explore this strange rabbit hole that had opened. It became apparent that she no longer wanted to be involved with Jeff and that she was not sure how to bring that relationship to a close.

After that I helped her into bed. Got dressed and went home. The following day I ended things in as civilized a manner as I could and then went to my studio and painted this. I also created a multi panel piece which you can see in the cabinet section of this website. That piece is entitled “Ambien Daze” in honor of the medication that had loosened her tongue.

“Sleeping Desire”
18” x 24”

What to look for: Line quality. Line variety. Placement of objects. Placement of marks, symbols, visual puns, arrangement of the parts, does it suggest or say anything, and what the hell is that red stain?

“The Divorcee”
Oil on panel
48” x 38”

Well…the first few years after my divorce were more challenging than one would have thought was necessary. But I was mostly relieved. I discharged most of my feelings about my marriage, it’s dissolution and the myriad of feelings that followed in my sketches. Occasionally these sketches would become a painting. And usually they become more revealing than photos or realistic paintings.

I am writing this in 2023, almost 20 years since my divorce with Melinda. Despite how damning this pictures looks, she and I get along well. We respect each other and even help each other wherever we can. But this was not easily achieved. And I am grateful that she did her work as I did mine to in order to get to a place of forgiveness.

I have never shown her this painting. But if she ever saw it now or from this point on I’m pretty sure it would make her laugh. It’s so clearly about my own feelings and frustrations than about her or what she looks like.

Doing this painting and many others were part of how I dealt with and released those feelings.

The painting is not called “Melinda.” It’s called “The Divorcee” because it might help others have a moment of recognition. Maybe even get a little laugh and possibly even release some of their I’ll will towards their ex and realize how silly and destructive it is to hold on to negativity.