The roller can also end abruptly allowing paint to puddle on the paper directly in front of the roller. Then, if you pull the roller backward, it will lift some of this puddled paint onto itself and then deposit it on the paper as the roller makes a full 360 degree turn.
One can also go over the same spot on the paper multiple times essentially grinding the mark into the very fiber of even the smoothest paper. Furthermore, one can paint directly on the roller. These “brush marks” will be transferred from the roller to the paper with diminishing clarity with each subsequent revolution of the roller.
These are just a few of the techniques that make working with this tool so rich for creative expression as well as invention.
“Landscape Memories from Northern Sung Masters
30 x 18”
After graduating from Penn State in 1983, I went to Taiwan to study Chinese philosophy and art history. To be more precise, I wanted to know how the principles of Chinese thought resulted in an aesthetic that was so different and yet as rich and powerful as the Western traditions I had studied so intently in my undergraduate studies. Additionally, the ideas of ancient Chinese thought had just a generation before me started to meaningfully influence Western thinking; such as the emphasis on being more fully aware of the present moment, meditation and a connection to nature that was philosophical, not just about exercise or clean living.
At that time, China was still closed to foreigners, so if you wanted to study Chinese art or culture you had to go to Taiwan. Fortunately for me, when people of means and art fled China as Mao gained control in the 1940’s, they took with them many of China’s great masterpieces. They built a large museum in Taiwan’s capitol city of Taipei and I got an apartment just up the road from it. Somehow, with a little luck I ended up becoming acquainted with a prominent British art historian who was teaching and working at the museum. Through him I gained access to the museum’s vast collection and more importantly became acquainted with someone with a deep knowledge of Chinese art as well as an ability to communicate this to me in English.
I ended up spending 4 years there and eventually could speak Chinese well. However, even if I was fluent in Mandarin I would never have gained as thorough and understanding of the basic principles of Chinese art and how they related to the underlying philosophical and cultural principles had it not need for my opportunity to study under George Rowley.
Now, about 40 years later I feel like I am finally doing work that builds on those understandings which are grounded in Chinese art over a thousand years old such as the pieces featured below by the artist Fan Kwang. But add something of the way our culture works.
These pieces are not just suggestive of landscape but are suggestive of landscape painting. They are conceptual paintings in that they reflect something of the way we remember and think about landscape paintings and Chinese landscape painting in particular. I hope people will also experience some of the sentiments that one has with a direct experience of nature itself as well.
Like my so called “conceptual landscape” pieces these paintings are made with rollers allowing the image to repeat itself the way we thumb over memories repeatedly. And like memories they blend and are altered by the other feelings and thoughts that we may be having at the same time.
The blank spaces are both an homage to the highly charged empty spaces of the ancient Chinese artists as well as the empty spaces of modern abstract painters. Along the way I have seen many artists try to blend ancient Chinese painting traditions with Western approaches to art making.I have seen this among Chinese artists as well as western artists. It usually falls flat and looks like a wishful mishmash of the worst of both cultures. Once in awhile someone or even a group gets it right. Arguably, Van Gogh and all the so called Post Impressionists are a group that did that and got it right. They were deeply inspired and influenced by the flatness and design sensibilities of 18th and 19th century Japanese art, especially wood cutting artists.
I would like to think that my own efforts also add something fresh beyond the well intentioned wish to blend cultural traditions as an end in itself. Instead, I am hoping to draw from two rich traditions to answer the need I have to make sense of and communicate a way to experience and think about nature and tradition: a way that many of us must be experiencing as living beings in this time but for which no one as of yet has presented a visual vocabulary to better understand what’s going on in our brains.
“The Red Door”
Oil on panel
6’ x 4’
Someday I will take a picture of a painting every 5 minutes and show all the steps that it goes through on its way from start to finish. In this case I just took one photograph. Here it is.
People often ask artists how they know when a painting is finished. It’s a good question and must be perplexing to people who don’t do work that is as open ended as making art. Most of the tasks we perform throughout the day seem at one level to have clear endings or measures of completion. When we are washing the dishes we know we are done because all the dishes are washed.
But are we really done? Maybe the sink should also be cleaned. Or the table wiped off. What about taking out the garbage or drying the dishes? Putting them away? Are there old leftovers in the fridge that should be thrown away? You see where this is going.
Well, a painting is a little more like this deeper level of decision making. Yes, the painting is done in some basic way. And most likely someone will love it no matter stage you stop. But in an intuitive hard to define way you know it does not say what you wanted it to say. Or worse, it says says something that you don’t want it to say.
Sometimes it’s very clear. It’s done. Even if part of the canvas has never felt your brush. Other times you need to let it sit for days or weeks or even months. In this case, it is painted over a painting I thought was done years ago. However, every time I flipped through my racks of paintings and saw this one I knew is was not right. So one day I put it on my painting wall and went to work. Now, it looks completely different and I am much more certain it says what I want and maybe even more than I know.
Frankly, that is when I’m really sure it’s done…when it tickles something in the imagination…something that will allow it to continue to live and grow in the mind of someone who sees it. So in that sense it is still alive and changing.
Perhaps a short way of answering the question as to how I know when it is done is when I sense the piece has a shot at immortality.
“Landscape Abstract Figure”
Oil on panel
48” x 34”
Paintings are often lumped into categories for various reasons. One good reason is to locate them more quickly if you are looking through your racks of paintings of for the image in your online inventory. A not so good reason is that these become barriers against free expression. The artist starts altering his or her expression so that the piece can fit in this or that category. And that would be unfortunate.
In this case, I deliberately tried to use certain overarching design sentiments to put together a painting that uses sculptural space and landscape space as design elements. And treats the painting as an abstract piece overall.
I think…somehow it works. It comes together in a way that is pleasing, challenging, thought provoking and just enjoyable on its face. This might have seemed like a difficult challenge. And at first it was. But once I stopped trying to intellectually combine the deep space of landscape with the volumetric space of bodies and instead treated them as design elements…it was actually quite easy and fun. I’m sure I will paint many more.
Oil on panel
24” x 24”
“Conceptual Impressionist Piece”
24” x 18”
In the early 1990’s I did a series of paintings inspired by the myth of Prometheus. The part of the myth that inspired me was the aspect of the half god half man sacrificing himself for the greater good. I was fascinated by the idea that his punishment for stealing something from the gods to help others, not himself, was something he had to endure over and over again. It was not a once and done punishment. No, each day an eagle would come down and pluck out his spleen (which to the ancient Greeks was equivalent to how we would describe our heart….the seat of our soul.). And then each night it would heal only to be plucked out again. It was always plucked out by an eagle.
The eagle symbolized his higher self coming down to take his soul to be reconnected with spirit but he was not ready to let go so it kept growing back. That was my idea anyway.
Well, I I’d several paintings on this theme inspired by the ideas of the myth itself and a truly grand painting that when I first saw it in Philadelphia nearly made me fall down in shock. It’s by Rubens and it’s featured below with several paintings of my own. My own cartoonish versions tried to cleave closer to the core ideas of the myth rather than the optical spectacle of the story.
Then, years later, I decided one of the many versions of this idea that I painted almost 30 years ago needed a makeover. I added marks with a roller and brushes creating a kind of landscape. The distorted eagle flying off with Prometheus’s spleen now looks like Mt. Rainier. And then there is a whole separate landscape within the landscape right in the middle of the painting.
In the end, I don’t think it has anything to do with the myth of Prometheus. But it is certainly a better painting than it was. But why? I’m not sure. But after seeing it everyday on my wall of my bathroom for six months I still find mystery and beauty in it and that is saying something. And now, as I approach 60 I am beginning to understand all those old men jokes about taking a piss and realizing there may be a new kind of torture for Prometheus for me to paint about someday soon.
14” x 11”
Most of the paintings in this category combine some quality of landscape painting along with elements of pure abstract painting. In this case I also added an element of drawing. It is an almost symbolic drawing of a bird.
This little painting hung on the wall near the door to my studio for a few months. There is a tiny wall between the studio and the bathroom. The wall is barely wide enough for this small painting so in some ways it was the perfect spot for this painting. Everyday I looked at it an enjoyed seeing it. So, in that sense it is a good painting. I even miss seeing it now since I have replaced it with something newer.
However, every time I see this piece here on the website I cringe a little. It doesn’t look good to me. The bird looks unintegrated into the picture. It looks just flopped on top of both the landscape and the abstract sensibilities. And of course that’s what it is. But other flops and after thoughts have resulted in some of my best work so that can’t be it.
Maybe it’s just that it stands too alone on the website. There are not any other pieces on the site yet that combine these 3 aspects of my work. Maybe I should add a few more and see if that resolves the cringe I feel when I see it here.
Meanwhile, I’ll dig it out of storage and put it back up on that little wall so I can enjoy it some more on my trips to and from the bathroom.