Mythic Figures 2016 - 2023

“The Rat?”
30” x 24”

This piece emerged from a mess and an accident and I suspect a touch of poison.

A few months ago I bought a painting at a Salvation Army. It was a portrait of a woman. I kept it for awhile but eventually decided to paint over it. I covered it with red and black paint. I laid it down and stood it up intermittently until the paint thinner dried.

Later I rubbed off some of the paint and lightly painted in the face which is much smaller than the portrait I obliterated. I accentuated the drooping breasts that flank the portrait. Then added a few finger prints beside the head.

The same day I painted it I found a dead rat in front of my studio. It was large and flattened from a car tire. There was no blood, I assume because it had rained hard all night. The site of it made me both revolted and sad. I went back inside. Got a broom and dust pan. Scooped it up and threw it in the dumpster nearby. It felt both appropriate and sad. The corpse no longer had a soul. It was just a corpse, I told myself. A rat corpse. It needed to be discarded. It certainly shouldn’t lie in the parking lot in front of my spa.

Is this the rat?


Mystery Man

“Mystery Man”
6” x 4”

Yes, this is a tiny painting. It was achieved by rolling paint onto the canvas and then brushing lines in and wiping areas off with a towel. It is a technique similar to printing but nothing was pressed and there is only one version … this one.

The man’s face emerged from the stain. I had no preconceived idea of what I would paint. I simply highlighted with line and wipes to highlight what I saw. I have no idea what it means or who it is. It’s just a pure joy to create.


“My Friend’s Raven”
14” x 14”

A long time ago a friend gave me a small painting of a Raven but done in the style of my paintings. I like it at first. But as the years went on I liked it less and less. Then, one day I saw it in my rack of paintings and got it out. I put it on the wall and immediately knew what to do.

The raven was to singular and complete which made it look to emphatically stuck there in its spot. Now the raven disappears into the darkness. And strangely he appears gigantic and even mythical now instead of literal…a bird…of a particular genus and subspecies … almost like a scientific specimen. Now he appears as if in a dream as large and powerful as the darkening landscape or night itself.

My Friend's Raven
“A Patriarch”
26” x 24”
1993 and 2022
Some paintings take years to complete.  I started this one in 1993.  It was a portrait of my friend’s father.  It was ok.  Interpretive.  Fresh.  Loose.  But nothing special.   It sat in my painting racks collecting dust.  Every time I thumbed through my paintings I would pause on this one and wonder what the hell it needed.  Was there something I could do to make it worth keeping.  
Eventually it moved to my “to be painted over” section.   From there it made it to my painting deck several times.   And each time something kept me from painting over it.  One day I put it up there.   Got out the gesso and then just before starting in the upper left corner to paint over the whole thing I decided to slap some gesso on the face. And there it was.  What I was looking for.  I found it.  
“Young Woman”
Oil/ found cabinet door 
20” x 30”
After all these years I still like to splash paint on an odd shaped flat surface and see what shows up. This is a shelf from an antique I bought for my spa. We didn’t need the shelf. But the wood was beautiful and had a gorgeous bit of trim … a ready made frame! I didn’t have a model. I didn’t even have a muse or an idea of what to paint. I did, however, as usual, have a lot of people in my life that I cared about in various ways and degrees. And, those people live in my soul and often want to come out.

All I need to do is splash a little paint, spritz it with paint thinner to loosen it up and let gravity do it’s work. Usually within in a few moments a face emerges. I accentuate a little here and there. And there she is. Sometimes I don’t recognize the person I just painted. But in this case it was immediately clear this was one of the young women who worked as a receptionist at my spa and was not so incidentally my sons girlfriend.

It might not be a masterpiece or the most Avant garde. But it is as close as I get to the mystery of connection and the largely unseen fabric that weaves us all together. I’ll take that, thank you very much.

“Ghost Bunny”
Oil on canvas
8” x 8”
I often have friends come over to my studio to paint with me.  We crank up the music, stock up on caffeine and make art.   My painting partners often make things they love and take them home.  But just as often they decide their creation is not worth the space it takes up and leave it behind with their blessing to either prime over it and start a whole new painting or keep painting on it and make it my own.  They are usually right…..not worth the space it takes up.   
Collaborating on paintings is so rare, even now when many of the purist approaches to art that became so ingrained during the lofty abstract expressionist days after World War 2 took hold in our culture and have only recently started to fade. During that time a whole set of rigorous almost priestlike rules became so baked into everyone’s approach to art that it was ripe for a counter revolution.   
These rigorous ideas placed a premium on the purity of the painter’s expression and I would argue made painting, more than any other fine art, the holy of Hollie’s where creativity almost had to be at its purist.   No room for collaboration there as that would imply planing and compromise, restraint and cooperation.  All of these things were assumed to impede the flow of an artist’s pure and true creative expression.   
Well, that may all be true but I have plenty of time to be pure and true on my own. Moreover, I actually enjoy collaborating and planning.  And while I can say compromise is not my favorite, I have noticed that I am not always right and that when I remain open to the input of others it both feels good and yields surprising results…..Like this bunny painting, for example.
I would never thought to paint the original shape of the bunny in this way.   Nor would I have used pink and gold the way my friend did when she did the original marks.   And as such, when I put the various layers of black and white paint over top it would have gotten simply muddy instead of having the rich yet subtle undertones.  
The result is now something that starts out cute….a cartoon like bunny.   But hopefully opens to other more nuanced and thought provoking concerns.  The bunny now looks vulnerable and even appears to quiver.   Indeed…while it is no more realistic than my friend’s rendition, it appears to be alive now.  I widened the eyes giving it a soft but frightened look.   And the bright colors just peek through here and there giving it a jewel like quality rather than simply being one bright patch.    
I wouldn’t say the painting is any better than it was before.  But it is definitely more complex.  
These little “do over “ paintings are an important part of my studio process.  People often ask me how is it that I am so prolific.  One answer to that is that I have a lot of tricks to be productive.   Sometimes I have a whole evening ahead of me to paint.  And yet I am tired from just having worked all day.   Starting a new painting from nothing can be so overwhelming that I just want to give up and read the news or something.   Well, getting inspired by an old friend’s work can get the juices flowing and the brushes wet.   Sometimes these do overs only require the slightest of touches and then
“Pandemic Portrait”
30” x 24”
When people come in my studio these days they see this painting and assume somebody else did it.   Nope.  I did it.  It is inspired by a number of things including some drawings I did in my journal while traveling in Asia recently.  My daughter is graduating from high school this year so naturally I am reflecting on the arc of her life as she approaches this pivotal moment in her life as well as my role as a father.    
“Masked Woman”
24” x18”
“The painting of the girl”
36” x 28”

Masks will be seen as emblematic of the Covid pandemic for the rest of my life. I was aware of that even when I was painting this. Obfuscation of the figure has been a thing in my work for a long time. So people wearing masks was a golden opportunity to have something very real happening everyday that lent itself perfectly to what I was doing artistically.

A mask is a metaphor for so many things. And in pre-industrialized cultures, wearing a mask often meant literally becoming the spirit it represented for the purposes of ritual invocation often in association with a blessing for fertility or rain or a good harvest or in some way a demonstration of respect for something bigger and more powerful than oneself. It was a way of diminishing one’s particular identity to be enlarged by a higher power.

It was disheartening to me that many of my contemporaries could not diminish themselves or endure this minor discomfort for the benefit of the larger community.

I found it intriguing to see people with masks. What did their whole face look like? And when would I get to see more? Things like that.

As a painter who understands that art itself is both a way of masking and at the same time unmasking, this was just good fun. Ultimately it reminded me that my work as an artist was to make the invisible visible. If that meant deliberately obfuscating something in order to call attention to the very fact that things are masked … well … so much the better.

“Self Portrait as Van Gogh”
24 x 18″

Doesn’t every artist, at least at some point, want to be Van Gogh?  Vincent Van Gogh is without a doubt the quintessential overlooked genius in the cannon of Western Art.   And that brings up a very interesting point….the canon…..of Western art.  
Let me just cut to the chase, for most of the rest of the world there is no canon as we know and think of it in the West.  And even though there are many ways in which the Western Canon is frayed and coming apart,  I would argue that it is always frayed at the edges.    It is, after all, mostly a fabricated construct.  One that is in a constant state of revising its past and digesting its present…a present that proports to have one foot on its way into the future leading the way for the rest of us.  In short, it’s a messy process.  
Well, much of Van Gogh’s struggle on a purely artistic level was to keep his eye on the cosmic energy that pulses through everything and then paint it in a way that makes that easier for the rest of us to see and experience.  That, in one sentence, is what I think his art is about.   
As a man, he struggled to be acknowledged and accepted as having contributed meaningfully to the great current of art history.  What even in his lifetime was just becoming a grand notion of what we now call the Western Cannon.   And, on a more pragmatic level, to simply be able to sell his work.  
But no, Vincent was caught heroically in the slow grinding wheels of “tradition” turning in one direction and a thirst for innovation moving in the opposite direction.   And unlike many a lesser artist, Vincent didn’t waiver from his vision no matter what the cost.  And the cost was that he never sold a single painting and was mocked by most of his contemporaries. 
I can’t speak for all the other artists that have at one time or another yearned to be Vincent Van Gogh, but I do know that for myself, that is what I hope for.    To have a vision felt so strongly that I would suffer a lifetime of neglect in the service of its actualization.   And to have it be authentic and genuinely and passionately felt.  
Perhaps that is in fact every modern persons yearning.  We want the comforts and luxuries of modern life and the acceptance and even acknowledgement of our peers   But we dread the mundanity and mediocrity that seems to be required to secure them.   Never mind the passion that some feel to be consumed by a vision and contribute something of value to the very tradition they are breaking with that vision.
It’s not just artists that want to be Vincent Van Gogh.  Perhaps it’s every working stiff.  
But what might be worse than “selling out” is another thing that artists dread…..not having anything to sell.   Or as someone says to the character Alan Turing, (the inventor of the computer) in  the movie “The Imitation Game”  to play the tortured genius role you have to have a truly great idea.  What if you make those sacrifices but don’t have the goods?
Or, since we are talking about the Western Cannon here, what if you had the courage to steel fire from the gods as Prometheus did in Greek mythology, only to find the fire went out by the time you got it back to the cave?  
Well, if the journey is certain it wouldn’t be any more heroic than booking a flight to Tahiti… class.   And there probably wouldn’t be much to add to the tradition.     One of Van Gogh’s friends and co-conspirators was another artist with a similar struggle as Van Gogh’s…a vision and a passion along with little recognition or support.  And he did just that, he bought a ticket to Tahiti.  But it wasn’t a 12 hour flight with an in service mini bar.  It was a 19th century coal fired steam boat with no GPS and little protection from pirates.  And once there, Gaugin made the most compelling contributions to the tradition of his career.   
Vincent shot himself.  Gaugin exploited native cultures.  Such are the costs of the Western Cannon.  

“Acid Rain”
16″ x 20″

Really?  Need I say anything?   

“All That Was Left”
20 x 36″

Today one sees so many heartbreaking photos of homes and whole neighborhoods destroyed by wild fires.   These are usually accompanied by stories of loss and destitution.   Of course I have often thought of painting something grand in tribute to all of this.  I am an accomplished painter after all.  Maybe my work would help increase awareness about climate change or at least raise sympathies for those that lost their homes.  
And maybe I will at some point.  I think there will, unfortunately, be many more dramatic and tragic losses to come and to choose from. 
In the meantime….this came out.   It’s stark elegance along with the forgone profile of an anonymous soul seems more moving to me than a gigantic and detailed rendition of what is already patently clear in the photographs.  What you can’t see in the pictures is the soul of the victims of our collective complicity with nature’s proclivity to burn it all down.  And leave a stark blackened simplicity.   A dark blank slate to start over and the empty shock of those in the way.  

24″ x 18″/24″ x 18″

This piece was tossed off one evening in the studio in the company of a friend who was working on her own painting. Early in the evening we had talked a little about a relationship I was in with a woman that was unique, at least for me. It was a platonic relationship in that we didn’t sleep together nor were there aspirations of falling in love one day. And yet, we were tender and even a little intimate with each other. We shared nearly every nuance of day to day thoughts and feelings and we kissed and held hands when we greeted each other and departed. For most of Covid we met up nearly every day for at least an hour over lunch or coffee. Earlier we would often meet for dinner and then go for a walk or make art together. Our talks were animated and insightful.

And yet… it had to end. Covid held us together in its peculiar cocoon. She received a vaccine early due to a professional connection. Almost immediately after the first shot our relationship began to cleave open. We questioned what it was with increasing frequency and depth until at last with the silence afforded by smooth clarity it settled into a more conventional friendship.  

Like my abstract work, I didn’t sit down with the intention of making a piece of art about my relationship or how it moved from one state to another. But, wow, this piece is as clear as a photograph the unseen truth of what it is everything that matters and nothing of what is. 

“Portrait of a Friend”
Oil on board
30” x 18”

This piece is actually oil paint applied over charcoal and pastel. The charcoal and pastel were done in 1982 when I was an undergraduate student at Penn State. I never liked the piece but could not bring myself to throw it away.

During the COVID 19 pandemic summer of 2020 I had a lot of time to develop this website. That meant going back through old paintings and drawings and photography them. It also meant deciding what was worth keeping and what was not. During that summer I had a lot fires after the sun went down in my fire pit. Not only were the fires a great way to take my mind off the pandemic but they were a fun way to get rid of a lot of bad art.
This piece was about to get tossed on the fire one night when I realized how to make it better…..putting a big swath of thin black paint over the whole face.
Once that was done I realized it was important for me to keep this piece for another reason. It was the first time I painted a portrait and left so much of the surface blank beneath the figure. This large field of “empty space” works as a counterpoint to the intense detail of the portrait and is one of the reasons the piece is fresh and dynamic as opposed to predictable and cliche. I went on to use this technique for deliberately and with much more awareness in paintings many years later and even to this day. 

Oil on panel
18” x 12”

This is a small painting. It is only about 12” tall. Sometimes I wonder why bother making a small painting. Most of what I want to achieve by painting I don’t think I have every experienced in front of a small painting anywhere ever, not even in front of an exquisite small Vermeer painting in a world class art museum. Usually I am hoping the viewer will experience a kind of full body moment of aesthetic arrest in front of my work; a kind of speechless moment that transcends time, thought and even space. I’m being a little bombastic here, of course. But not entirely.

Most of my paintings are big and their size usually creates, at the very least, a moment of surprise, a close cousin of aesthetic arrest. Anything less than that begins to feel decorative to me. And while there is nothing inferior about decorative, it’s not what motivates me to paint. In fact, I pride myself on being rather good at decorating. But I prefer to do my decorating with furniture selection, color choices and the well placed house plant. These considerations can work to create a pleasing space and experience in that space, but that is not art. Art is something that restores the soul and nourishes or reconnects us with spirit. There are many ways to achieve that and aesthetic arrest is one of them.

Nevertheless, ever since I painted this piece sometime during the summer of 2020 I nailed it to a narrow wall between the door to my bathroom and the door to my workshop. It barely fits. I pass it several times a day and I still see something fresh and different in it each time I pass. Moreover, it reminds me of the ways in which thought and sight can obfuscate each other and that can be a source of delight.

So, no, no great moments of enlightenment on my way to take a piss. But it does remind me that little paintings have their place, and that isn’t just on those narrow walls near the bathroom. And so, among these great insights about the nature of consciousness, perception and thought, I often think I should do more small paintings each time I see this illusive 300 pound Buddha on a little 12” x 8” place mat I lifted from a local Chinese restaurant.

I really should do more small paintings.

“The Break Up”
Oil on panel
28” x 12”

This small painting is a painted version of a page from one of my journals.  

It incorporates many of the layering of images that are part of the visual vocabulary I developed over the years.  And while I suppose it would be possible to decode this piece in order to discover what it means, I think that would be a waste of time.  
The hope is to have it trigger some thoughts about your own relationships

“I-5 Self Portrait”
Oil on panel
14” x 11”

This is a nearly unaltered fragment that I cut out of a much larger painting that I did in 1998 or so.   I am not sure when I did the original piece.  In any case, after many years I finally had a space big enough to display the whole thing.  It was 4’ tall and 32’ long.   And I hated it.   

However, there were pieces that I loved.   So I cut those out. 

This piece features a symbol that is a kind of magic symbol that represents both me and the space I occupied during that time under the Interstate Highway that runs through Seattle: I-5.   It also incorporates a little of my family name in Chinese.   This symbol is as close as I got to a tag like a graffiti artist would have to leave their mark wherever they go, with adolescent splash of excitement and the thrill of getting caught.   

To me a tag is the artistic equivalent of a dog marking its territory with piss.   Here, I am marking my own territory, the canvas.   But also, by extension, the space it represents under the freeway.   The whole process made the space my own in a spiritual sense which was more real to me than the psychological space that graffitis tags on walls attempt to achieve.   

Try as I might I can’t avoid the whiff of narcissism of almost all graffiti that I see.  My favorite graffiti moments are ones where the cacophony and din of so many voices crying out in the simple Yelp of “look at me…look at me” are covered and layered in an accidental crust of echoed haste.   

Perhaps this painting is my own echo chamber.  Here I am in my swanky spacious space that I pretend to own through a lease and regular payments chopping up old work and appropriating it with little more than a table saw and a signature.  Maybe it’s not narcissism.

“Beach Hut”
Oil on panel
12” x 12”

The beach hut is an actual hut on the beach at my friend’s property in Hawaii.   The hut was imported from Indonesia and put back together on the lava flow that cut a swath 50 yards wide along the jungle creating new land that is now about 50 years old.  The hut has been a sanctuary and a studio for me over the years.  On various visits I also helped with repairs and upgrades where I learned a lot about managing a vacation property in Hawaii in the process.  

I will probably return to this magical place at the end of the road in one of the most remote places in the United States.   And I will probably rediscover a place within myself of grace and give my body a chance to recover from the endless waves of challenges I continue to capitulate myself into even as I enter my seventh decade.   

“Midlife Review”
Oil on panel
48” x 44”

“Portrait of Gio?”
Oil on panel
30” x 20”

This painting was not done with a model and without anyone particular in mind. However, it ended up looking so much like the my friend that it just made sense to call it “Gio.” The process is worth noting. I painted and repainted the face several times in the same sitting until it arrived at the current state. The result has a sketchy chimera like quality. It looks realistic but also still like a sketch. The hope is to convey something of the individual’s inner thoughts in the way it holds together, as well as if not more so than the expression on his face.

Oil on plywood
36” x 18”

This painting was inspired by a sketch I did around this time in one the sketch books I carry with me nearly everywhere I go. This way of creating figures and putting together an image is very satisfying and allows me to explore ideas in a way that would be difficult and more time consuming with more formal approaches.

Collectively these images form a kind of intuitive diary. In this case I’m pretty sure this is a self portrait overlain with the face of the woman I was dating at that time.  Clearly some kind of relationship was developing, but would it be romantic, sexual or cerebral or some combination of all of those.

These drawings are rarely didactic but more commonly express the nuanced and unclear way in which thoughts and feelings elide and develop.

“Integrity: The Intersection of Money, Sex, Desire, and Relationship”
24″ x 24″

In March of 2018 the Seattle police department conducted a very carefully prepared “sting” operation to ostensibly catch and prosecute a nasty ring of people, mostly Chinese nationals, trafficking women (mostly Chinese women) into the sex industry.   The intentions were good and they did have some success at identifying and arresting a few people who may or may not have been guilty of sex trafficking but were clearly guilty of unfair labor practices and just plain old bullying.  You see, the problem was that most of the “girls” were actually in their 40’s and 50’s, liked what they were doing, loved the money and certainly didn’t want to return to China where they had been doing pretty much the same thing under even worse conditions and for a lot less money.   What they wanted was to be franchised….empowered….not arrested or shamed for what they were doing.  

What most of them were allegedly doing was providing massage and manual sexual touch for mostly male clientele.   (Massage with a hand job or what is jokingly referred to as a “happy ending.”) One particular rub ( yes, the pun is intended) was that almost without exception these women did not have a massage license.   

In a nutshell, their bosses required that the women be at the shop at all hours even sleeping in the massage rooms.  However, they were only paid when they did a “massage.” And they were told if they stepped out of line they could be turned over to authorities and deported.     Even with these harsh conditions, the women were able to send a lot of money home each month or amass quite a sum to be used as investments for their later years.    

What the specially hired Mandarin speaking rescue teams discovered that what these women mostly wanted was support to get their own business licenses so that they did not need to cower under their bosses.   And the opportunity to take the Washington State massage license test in Mandarin.   It is currently offered in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.   Why it is not offered in Mandarin was further proof to these women that they needed to operate in the shadows.  

Well…to somebody’s credit, the nasty bosses were arrested and levied with nasty fines.  And the women who were on the front line were given support, offered the opportunity to return to China but not deported and released without any criminal consequence or having their visas revoked.  

I know a bit more than the average person about this because I speak Mandarin well, know a lot of people in Chinatown and had been dating a Chinese woman for a few months when this all happened.   And, it turned out that she was one of those women….sort of.   She and her sister had in fact been recruited to come to America a year before under these auspices.  However, being smart ladies and a bit older (49 and 51 at that time) they had already partially figured out how to emancipate themselves.   By the time we were dating they had already opened their own shop with the help of a friend of mine….a Chinese woman who has her own legitimate foot massage shop in Chinatown.   

My girlfriend was terrified by this experience at first.   However, it became more clear to her and others in the industry that if they were careful they might be able to continue to do what they wanted and that there might now be more freedom and support to claim more for themselves.   I helped my girlfriend get her own business license and open bank accounts to separate her personal money from her shop’s money.   I also helped her establish a firm understanding of the various taxes she would be responsible for and got her set up with a bookkeeper and tax accountant.  Eventually her sister got married and the massage shop became entirely her own.  She could make her own hours and decline customers as she saw fit.   

What she continued to lack was a massage license.   I helped her as much as I could but she spoke little or no English.   At 49 it was not likely she was going to to learn much and certainly not enough to pass a professional licensing exam.   To help her I used Google translate to translate a sample test for her.   This took about 30 minutes and cost exactly nothing.  It did make me wonder why the State does not offer the test in Mandarin.   It would cost almost nothing to do so and would offer a path of legitimacy to many woman.   

But that is really only the beginning of this story.   What is infinitely more difficult to report but so much more interesting is the complex inner workings of sexual desire, money, empowerment, fatigue and the simple need for human touch just to name a few.   As her boyfriend who speaks Mandarin I saw deeper into this world than most people could, even more than regular customers.   I was there at the dinner conversations as complaints and frustrations were discussed.  I was there to see my girlfriend slowly and painfully peel the invisible mask she wore for protection off her face and see her body melt into exhaustion and authenticity each night….a process that took almost 2 hours and was also exhausting to me.  
And I watched her carefully navigate the relationship with her college age son as he became increasingly aware of what his mother was doing to pay for his college education here in America.   

So much unspoken sacrifice.   So much secrecy and shame.   So much glum pride and nerve wracking fear.  Not to mention the soul wrenching aspect of the work itself.   It was a wonder to me that this woman could get out of bed each morning.   And yet she did.  Cheerfully.  

But then there was me….a man with my own needs and concerns….for my safety…my reputation….my future.  What was I doing after all?   I am too wise to engage in a rescue mission and yet too compassionate to not at least offer and do something.  And so each day was an exercise in thoughtfulness and restraint.  I spent most of my time with her son actually.   We did a language exchange almost every morning over coffee.  I hired him on my remodeling crew.   We took hikes and went kayaking together.  He and I became actual friends.   I really enjoyed our time and knew that was perhaps the most meaningful and least controversial way I could support my girlfriend…his mother 

But despite all her fortitude and my gracious intentions the vice grip of all these conflicting forces squeezed my girlfriend so far from her integrity and subsequently mine as well….that it had to end.    My mother died in early December of 2019.  And within days of her passing I know this relationship had to pass as well.   And so I leaned into the shock and grief of the loss of my mother to capitulate the final end of a relationship that had in fact already really ended months before.  

During the period of our relationship I filled many sketch books with drawings that were essentially a visual diary of all of this.   Occasionally these drawings would become paintings like the 2 featured here.  They are chalked full of overlapping symbols such as the tree of life, the dollar sign, snakes, skulls and lascivious silhouettes.    It would be hard to say what any of these paintings means.   They don’t read like a novel or short story.  Instead they read like a dream.   Things overlap and merge in seemingly illogical or unrealistic ways and yet seem to convey a poetic truth more powerful and more real than the accretion of facts I wrote about in the preceding paragraphs.   

Whenever I look back on paintings that come out of times like this I always wish I had done more.  And so it is again.   To be sure there are more than 2 paintings of all this, but there are clearly not enough.      Meanwhile, my former girlfriend and her son and all the others that have gotten caught up in various messes continue to muddle forward….like we all do trying to find a way to balance the conflicting forces that threaten the best of our intentions and sometimes squeeze to the surface some of the worst.   

These paintings are like that….rich and full and ….beautiful in some sense.   But also deliberately and gloriously ugly….like a pimple that has finally come to a head…..and in its own little way….popped.

16″ x 12″

20 x 16”
By 2016 I had dug myself out of a very deep financial hole and was painting again. Besides a very few things, mostly works on paper, I hadn’t painted in 5 years. This was not the first painting but certainly one of the first. And it’s fitting that it would be Leopold who has been modeling for me since 2005.

Leopold is the most disabused model of my career. He lets me do anything to him for a photo shoot including dragging him through the cold November rain in search of rotten garden leftovers which later that evening we covered him with from head to toe for a harvest theme piece. One day during Covid we covered his body with thick dripping black paint and a giant rubber dildo to signify……well…something…I just haven’t thought of it yet. But it made an awesome painting.

He is the ultimate blank slate. Here, in this work, I start my painting process after a 5 year recess by exploring something that I have been working on for 25 years … the ways in which sculptural space and landscape space can coexist on the same canvas … with the help of Leopold’s sculptural head. Yes, there is a bit of a likeness, but who cares? Certainly not Leopold nor I. Whatever it is I’m working on Leopold is willing to expose himself to in so many ways to assist me. And I am so grateful to him for that.

But Leopold is also a creative artist. He has a highly developed way of costuming that blends animal and human as well as gender in gorgeous and confounding ways. It’s my hope that in the coming years I will be able to use my skills as a realist painter to celebrate, honor and preserve some of his art for future generations to enjoy, be inspired by and take the measure of their own inner freak by virtue of seeing what Leopold and I were up to.



“Triple Portrait”
30” x 24”

This is a portrait of Leopold, Richard and Myself all compressed into one. It helps that all 3 of us are bald, roughly the same age, all white and even look a little like each other in a very broad sense. But still…..

It wasn’t my intention to make a painting like this. Initially Leopold sat for me. It was just one sitting and very rough but he was definitely there. Later, Richard was available to sit for me but I didn’t have a blank canvas so I decided to just paint over the initial work of Leopold. Then, I tried to finish the painting in a third session by myself. Well, without a model, the piece took a decided turn towards looking like the face I am most familiar with…my own.

This would be interesting enough on its own, but due to the advent of facial recognition this takes on surprising relevance. What is it that makes a face recognizable as an individual? We all have essentially the same face by some very basic measures. Even slight deviations from this set of norms renders someone a spectacle on the street. So these variations of line, placement and size and features etc must be incredibly subtle in order to distinguish so many millions of individuals from one another.

The very notion of individuality and it’s connection to core values of democracy, due process and individual rights is so inextricably intertwined with uniqueness that it’s hard to distinguish this seemingly superficial quality from these important principles. And yet, there it is now under threat as AI driven cameras virtually everywhere project little boxes around even hundreds of faces in a single shot as it processes millions of faces and their millions of unique features in a database that threatens the very idea of privacy and individual rights.

It feels a little like the mythological story of Paul Bunyan chopping down trees faster than a tree chopping machine. Or that guy who beat the computer at chess. Until they didn’t of course. Here I am as the artist armed with his little brushes and keen eye making a complex portrait that is 3 people in one. Or is it the little artist failing in his battle with AI matching thousands of faces a second with impeccable accuracy?

I’m good. But I’m not that good. I may not be able to match AI or even the camera for that matter in terms of recreating a likeness. But unless there is an artist behind the camera or the code, those matches will reveal nothing about what lies within even a single likeness, much less the invisible force that binds them together yet allows them to be unique and individual. For that, I’m still the best. Or rather the force that works through me is still the best and probably always will be until my ego gets in the way.

Richard from Memory
Leopold from Life

“Leopold from Life”

“Self Portrait Emerging Through other Faces”
36” x 24”

This is what happens when you start a painting of a friend that looks a little like you and then try to finish it after watching too much Star Trek. Seriously, that is exactly what happened. After a sitting for a portrait with a friend I thought I would lust touch it up a bit. Well, that never works. After a few touches I had essentially ruined the painting and as such needed to completely rethink it.

So I added cobalt blue and altered the eyes making one of them look mechanical. At some point I accentuated the halo with cadmium yellow and flattened the background with a layer of grey. Finally, I gave the figure a black collar making the figure look part clown part Starship Captain. Since then I have considered painting over this many times. But each time I pull it out and get ready to paint over it, something stays my hand. I look at it for a few days and then put it back. Safe … for now.

But I still haven’t signed it.

Self Portrait Emerging Through other Faces