Mythic Figures

“Yo-yo with Cat”
48” x 32”

This painting breaks my heart every time I see it. And it makes me wonder about the relationship between compassion and pity.

This is the 3rd of 4 paintings I did in rapid succession of a woman holding a cat. One was done from a photo I found online. One was started from a photo but then I modified it considerably but still kept it realistic. This one was done from imagination only and the fourth was a copy of one of my own paintings I had done and sold years prior to this. I used a photo of my old painting to do the new one. It is a faithful replica.

This is the ugliest, least popular and unquestionably most powerful of the four. I think it is the most powerful because it evokes a mixture of pity and compassion. The woman is unabashedly ugly and yet seems to care deeply for the cat she is holding. The cat, too, is frail like the woman. But looking further, the cat and the woman are both looking at something in the same direction. Whatever it is does not seem to be threatening but it does have their attention and seems to have given cause for the woman to hold on tightly to her kitty.

Looking at the painting again, I’m trying to figure out what specifically aspects of the painting illicited these related but different responses. Is it the cute almost girlish dress? The frail nature of the cat? The firm way the woman is clutching the cat? Is it her physical posture and expression of protection even while appearing frail? Her seeming attempts at beauty while not being blessed with an abundance of it by her creator? Is it the pale green, blue and gray palette so reminiscent of Seattle’s drab and seemingly endless crawl from Winter to spring?

Maybe it’s all of these things. I don’t know. But I do know the feelings are so poignant I can not look at this piece for more than a few seconds before I have to look away from a mixture of discomfort and shame.
I think the shame is a response to pity. And the discomfort is an embarrassment coming from recognition of something of myself which is a kind of compassion. I feel a connection with her clumsy yet delicate will to hold and protect this little creature that is more adorable by far than she.

So yes, pity and compassion are different things. But yes, they can overlap and be nearly impossible to disentangle.

“Yudelka: From My Diary”
Oil on canvases.
Both of 20” x 14” approximately.

Yudelka was my lover on an off for 2 years or so around this time. It was problematic on many levels. As is often the case, the people in my life show up in my endless driveling and scribbling in sketch books. Sometimes these sketches inadvertently capture something of what my friend would call “mythic truth.” No, these are obviously not realistic portraits. But the distortions and symbolic elements reveal a lot more about my feelings about her and the relationship than any realistic portrait could.

There are, of course, many elements at play in these pieces. And it would take more space on this website than I think is prudent to talk about what they might mean. Besides, I don’t really know what they mean. But one element that stands out for me as the artist and the former lover is the bizarre “old hag” like depiction of her face.

Yudelka was a gorgeous woman. But she was approaching 50 at this time and struggling with the fact that her face was revealing some of that. But the added kick was that this was a woman that despite her efforts, found her way through life led by her beauty. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that she traded on her beauty … at least not during the time I knew her. But there was a legacy there, baked in to the fabric of who she was and making it increasingly difficult for her to find a grace she was so clearly yearning for.

24″ x 16″

Yudelka was my lover for a brief time…twice…during and then after 2012. It was a flinty and awkward connection at almost every encounter. These paintings of her are not my ideas of what she looked like or even what I thought she was in some metaphoric or abstract sense. No, these are paintings about express how I felt about the time we spent together. Yudelka was stunningly beautiful to me. And at the same time her presence reminded me of my own feelings of being very old and dried up and even dreading death. She was the personification of what I had often read or heard about but never until then experienced, the intertwining of Sex and Death. She was sexy and youthful in every way. But in the blink of an eye she seemed withered and lifeless as though the departure of her soul had taken her bodies youthful color and suppleness out with it. Or, to be more precise, I felt those things in myself when we were together and I could feel myself projecting those sentiments on to her.  

When I did these paintings of her I remember feeling a little self conscious and guilty the way one would feel if you were caught drinking milk from the jug at the refrigerator. I felt I exposed a bit too much and wasn’t sure if I should be ashamed or giddy.     

It’s been 10 years since Yudelka and I were lovers and now, when I see these pieces, I just wish I had done more.

Oil on panel and canvas
30” x 24” and various sizes

These are all paintings inspired by my friends around this time. None of them is an attempt to recreate their likeness. But all of the paintings do have something of the spirit who inspired them. However, that is only a coincidence.

My intent was to use my friend’s presence in my life to inspire my explorations of how I wanted to make paintings at that particular time. Portraits are easy for me. So they are a perfect subject to run my experiments on.

You see that each of these portraits a completely different way of constructing a painting. I would create these pieces and then leave them around the studio as markers for where I was going with my work.  Some where done from life and others where done while I was alone in the studio reflecting on my friend and exploring a new way to make a painting.

The painting with the bright orange background was done of a person I did know very well at a salon I hosted every Tuesday night at my studio from 2010-2012. It was a mixed bag of artists and musicians and hangers on. I didn’t know this guy with the pony tail very well. But I liked him and I have always enjoyed this painting.  

“Dream of Yudelka”
24” x 18”

When I see a piece like this it makes me wish I did more. It’s a painting inspired by a sketch from a page in a sketch book. It isn’t just that it’s a nice painting that I like. Nor is it that it refers to one thing intimate and very personal for me.

No. It’s that it is a “style” fully formed and implicitly full of endless variations. It’s all there. The unique reduction and way in which symbols are assembled. A coherent palette. Adaptable to almost any ideas and feelings. Literally thousands of predatory sketches to refer to. They even work on a fairly small scale making them economically feasible to produce.

But here it is … nearly by itself. Oh, there are a handful of these pieces sprinkled throughout my painting career. But hardly as many as one might expect. And honestly, I’m not sure why.

“Rebirth at the Old Studio”
24″ x 10″

Artists are often obsessed with their own studios.  And I guess I am no exception. My studios have been my home as well as my place to conjure and make art.  But whether I live in my studio or not, the studio is the place where I feel most at home.  Or perhaps it’s better to say where I feel most meaningful.  

This painting celebrates my return to working in a space that I had been in for 15 years until I moved part of my operation into another space while keeping this one but not using it much.   The other space was a location nearby that also had the  Bistro and theater that I created.   And, of course it had a little studio in the back as well.   
Well, at some point all of that collapsed and I beat a retreat back to my original space.  And it felt so good.  There was a deep spiritual connection with that space and so it was good to return to that during that time of such hardship.   I painted there for another 4 years until I eventually moved to the location I am still in at the time of this writing in the summer of 2021.   
In 2013, when I moved to my current location I made a decision to set my art aside and focus on business until my debts were cured and I acquired some economic security.   I was, after all, in my mid fifties.   It took a few years but eventually the spa grew to do just that.   And by 2019 I leased additional space, set up a studio and began painting.   And it has been fantastic.  

“Without a Studio”
18” x 6”

I was evicted from my art studio of 20 years by the Washington Department of Transportation. I was given 3 months notice.

Here I am in darkness, darker myself than a moonlit night. The Sky features a moon in 3 phases signifying the passing of time and poignancy of this given moment. My life was about to take a big step for the better…but it would take 5 years of grinding hard work to achieve. I would be without a studio for the first time in 25 years.

Without a Studio