Mythic Figures

Oil/Panel
24″ x 18″/24″ x 18″
2021

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”
2020

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. 

“Buddha”
Oil on panel
18” x 12”
2020

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”
2020

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”
2020

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”
2020

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”
2020

“Portrait of Gio?”
Oil on panel
30” x 20”
2020

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.

“Relationships”
Oil on plywood
36” x 18”
2020

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”
Oil/Panels
24″ x 24″
2019
 

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.

“Yo-yo with Cat”
Oil/panel
48” x 32”
2015

“Yudelka”
Oil/Canvas
24″ x 16″
2012

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.

“Friends”
Oil on panel and canvas
30” x 24” and various sizes
2011

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”
Oil/panel
24” x 18”
2011

“Rebirth at the Old Studio”
Oil/Plywood
24″ x 10″
2011
 

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.  
“Leopold As Clown”
Oil/Panel
40″ x 30”
2010
 
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.

“Dark Muse”
Oil on panel
24” x 48”
2009

“Betrayal”
Oil on panel
48” x 24”
2009

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.

“The Divorcee”
Oil on panel
48” x 38”
2006

“Erotic Works”
Oil and ink on various materials
Various sizes
Various dates

“Melinda, Jeff, Sam and Lulu”
Oil on panel/canvas
Various sizes
2003-4

“Couple Dancing”
Oil/Paper
24″ x 18″
2004
 
“Sisyphus With Cart”
Oil/Cardboard
24″ x 36”
2002?
 
I don’t remember when I painted this piece. It looks like the visual vocabulary I created 10 years earlier in the early 90’s. However, even though the central focus of my work was figural realism and full on abstraction, I continue even to this day in 2020 to sketch in this manner. There is something about the handling of the paint that makes me think it was 2004 or so.
 
I am attracted to the myth of Sisyphus because it has so many layers of metaphors and speaks directly to the modern conundrum of “work vs. labor” and artistic creation vs. artwork. In the myth, Sisyphus is condemned by the gods to push a large rock up a hill each day. At the end of the day, the rock rolls back down and he must begin again. On one level, this is the story of my libido. Each day he must labor up the hill with the burden of his sex drive. The hill gets steeper and the road gets narrower as the day continues. With persistence and focus, he will keep it together and arrive at the top without ruining his life. There, he will have a brief moment of ecstasy only to find himself at the bottom of the hill again the next morning.
 
In this painting Sisyphus has transformed into a phallus and labors with an empty cart. I hardly need to elaborate. However, what is worth further comment, perhaps, is the fact that his head is a kind of visual pun with the mountain top, thus implying that the journey is not just to the top of the mountain but up and out of this continuous sex drive to a higher level of thinking. Or perhaps it suggests that the sex drive is a kind of fuel to arrive at something higher. It isn’t clear, but does imply questions like this.
 
As an artist, I feel it is important to have an empty cart, an empty bowl and an empty heart. The beggar is a metaphor for the emptiness and receptivity that is part of the creative spirit. Sisyphus begins his journey with an empty cart in hopes that indeed it will be full by the time he reaches the “top” of each day. 

“The Slide Review”
Oil on panel
20” x 18”
1999

“The Slide Review”
Oil on panel
48” x 24”
1997

“The Fisherman”
Oil on panel
6’ x 4’
1997

“Tamaki”
Oil/canvas
48” x 40”
1995

“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.

“Ron Rosemont”
Oil/Panel
40″ x 24”
1997
 
I had a neighbor at my Eastlake Studio named Ron. He had a carpentry shop where he mostly puttered. Ron was an intellectual and was modestly independently wealthy. He became a good friend and often helped me with projects around my studio, especially if they involved carpentry. I was broke most of the time I knew him. He never let me pay for anything when we went somewhere for a drink or lunch. I’m very grateful to his generosity and intellect.  
 
At one point he moved away and that’s the last I heard from him.  
“Ramon and Horse”
Oil/Panel
48″ x 24″
1994

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

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

“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

“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