Still Life-1988-2005

Home / Still Life-1988-2005

“Orange Pumpkin”
Oil/Panel
14″ x 11”
2005

“Yellow Pumpkin”
Oil/Panel
14″ x 11”
2004

“Gourd”
Oil on Canvas and Board
Many sizes
Almost every year
This citation does not apply to this piece in particular 
 
Almost every fall I paint my own versions of “still life“ paintings in homage to my love of nature in general and autumn in particular. I have always had a particular love of gourds. I love their unabashed firmness of volume and their rustic elegance. Additionally, I love that they don’t rot so they are both suggestive of life‘s brevity in that they look like vegetables which are transitory, but in fact, are more durable and suggest timelessness.
 
For a long period of time I would paint just one piece of fruit at a time, not an arrangement of fruits in the more conventional sense. I did this because I wanted to focus my adoration. Additionally, it seemed more authentic than an arbitrary and contrived arrangement in a typical still life way.  Finally, by just having one object I could concentrate on my experiments of relating the “object“ to the “background“ in a more singular way.
 
During these years, 2000 to 2004 or so, my paintings became more craftsman like, more realistic and the objects depicted became more distinct and separate from the background. In this and other paintings  at this time, I relied on the paint itself, it’s texture and brush marks to establish the numinous in between zones of stuff to create links between the thing painted, the painted background and the space in between. 

“Dick on a Stick”
Oil/panel
36 x 24”
2003

This painting is not strictly speaking a still life painting. However, the Figure Painting section of this website is very large and the Still Life section is very short. Also, the figure in this painting is very small so I decided to put it here. Some paintings just defy classification.

This was a spin-off from a large commission piece. The commission was for a large cabinet piece called “portrait of Animal.” A sign that a commission is actually a true part of my artistic output rather than simply something I am doing for money is the fact that it inspires other spin off works. In other words, the commission piece is inspiring additional creativity.

In this case, the subject of the commission piece is himself an artist. He is a glass blower with a very active shop in Seattle. I was fortunate to see him at work in his shop and took some photos of him and his glass blowing tools. Among other things he had a little cart with tiny metal wheels and a steel post for holding the molten ball of glass in and out of the furnace.

Around this time I was also thinking about emasculation. Not long after I created this piece. I’m not sure what it is about but clearly the broken wheel and the table with white clothe are significant parts of the story. It’s also clear the man is skulking off holding his crotch. This piece also reminds me of all the Sisyphus paintings I did of him pushing the burden of his sexual desire up a hill each day. Here, there is no hill. Just a winding trail that meanders off into a vague distance. Could it be that this is Sisyphus after having castrated himself and offering his cock on an altar in some kind of rite of purification?

I honestly don’t know. I’m just suggesting a few things someone might think about when seeing this piece.

Another noteworthy thing for me is that this is the smallest human figure I ever painted… by far. That is not a very significant fact for anyone but me. But it is something that I marvel at every time I see this painting. For many years I thought this opened up new territory for me as an artist. But the fact is, now almost 20 years later, I’m still not doing paintings with tiny figures. And I probably never will.

“Pumpkin Oil Sketch”
Oil/canvas
28 x24”
2002

This is how my paintings often look when I start them. I use oil paint to sketch the basic idea and composition on to the canvas. I do not use pencil as many artists do. Pencil might feel more comfortable to an artist because they are more familiar with it than a brush. However, marks made by a brush with oil paint are much easier to change than pencil marks. Also, at my age I have now spent many more hours with a paint brush in my hand than a pencil so I am more comfortable holding and thinking with a brush than a pencil.

And in this case, everything was just so perfect I didn’t see the need to go any further. Had I painted more I would have only diminished the fresh “just right” quality that is so delicate in a work of art, especially at the very beginning.

“Yellow Gourd”
Oil/panel
8” x 8”
2002

“Yellow Onion”
Oil on panel
20” x 14”
2001

“Sunflower Whiteout”
Oil on panel
20” x 30”
2001

“The Onion”
Oil/Board
30″ x 20” Approximate
2000
 
By the time I painted this I had clearly established the practice of constructing a painting this way. It is overall somewhere between an abstract painting and a landscape. There is usually a horizon line of sorts and in cases like this that line can double as the suggestion of above ground and below ground. As in this piece, I will sometimes paint an onion or bulb in the underground part to suggest any number of things.
 
I don’t usually start out with the plan or idea to do an onion painting. Often it just pops into my head during the painting process and I either act on the intuition or not.  Sometimes I do act and it’s clearly not helping. So I move on. Paint over it or add something. This whole process is both exhilarating and agonizing.  Sometimes it’s both in the same painting. Sometimes it’s exhilarating in one piece and agonizing in the next. And the quality of feeling seems to have no bearing on whether the piece seems “good” or not when I look at it later.
 
The whole business of deciding if something is good or not is tricky. I try not to get involved in that polemic while painting. And yet one does need to make choices constantly.  I suppose one way to state it is that while I’m painting I give more room for impulse and intuition. And later, when I’m looking at the painting without brush and paint in hand I give more credence to judgement and evaluation. In fact, in my current studio, I have a separate room where I put art that I think is finished. Only in that room do I allow myself to be the judge. In the actual painting room the judge may enter but he may not speak.

“Raven”
Oil/canvas
24” x 24”
1999
When I was a kid my first paintings were of birds and wildlife. In fact, I didn’t really know much about art beyond “wildlife art” until I went to college. As it turns out I was pretty good at it and this got me lots of special attention from my mother. Well, despite all that extra love and respect, once I discovered “real” art I stopped painting wildlife.  
 
Once in awhile, though, for no particular reason, I will paint a picture like this, reminiscent of the paintings I did at home in my teenage years. And yes, my mother always loved these pieces and wondered why I felt the need to paint so many other confusing and strange things….like the naked human body.   

“Elements of Nature”
Oil/Panel
18″ x 12”
1999
 
I don’t usually refer to Matisse as one of my influences. But it is clear I learned a lot from him. The way I use color and the white of the canvas showing through from underneath. This use of letting the white show through is common in water color painting which I did a lot of when I was still a teenager. And it’s also common in much of Chinese and Japanese painting, which I studied for years in my 20’s.  But the way I use it here and in many of my paintings is definitely something I learned from Matisse. 

“Pie Squash”
Oil/panel
24” X 24”
1998

“Gourd”
Oil/Panel
24” x 24”
1996-7

I used to think that every artist feels compelled to reinvent a traditional genre such as “still life.” I now realize that is not true. Most artists I have met over the years are for the most part oblivious to the idea of a tradition in any particular genre. They have heard of Van Gogh’s sunflowers and probably have even seen a reproduction of them, but they are for the most part unaware that Van Gogh’s flowers are part of a long tradition of something known as “still life” painting. And that his way of painting flowers was a big break from the traditional way that flowers were being painted by many others around him, including those making a good living at doing so. “Still life” refers to a type of painting where the artist selects some elements from life (usually nature but not always) and arranges them on a table or some kind of surface and then paints or photographs them. So much is expressed in the selection and the arrangement of the object before the artist even begins painting. What did the artist select? Why? What does it say about the life and times of the artist? Why did the artist arrange it that way? Somehow the restricted terms of the “still life” genre amplify and reveal so much of the inner life of the artist and his/her times.

Well… I love gourds. And I love the veneration that comes with selecting one item and effectively putting it on a pedestal for admiration and enjoyment. This notion of singular veneration comes from my enjoyment of such American masters as Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” and Mark Rothko’s reductive abstract paintings. I also read a lot of Pablo Neruda’s “Celebration of Things.” I owe a debt of gratitude to Picasso as well. Through my artistic upbringing, “still life” was always considered a minor genre, secondary to history painting or “the nude” or simply abstract painting and all the heroic efforts to reinvent the very terms of painting that characterized “important” art since the dawn of the modern age. Ironically, the artist held as the most important of the 20th century was Picasso, an artist who achieved his principal artistic and intellectual breakthroughs working with the “still life” as his mechanism. 

“Pie Pumpkin and Zucchini”
Oil/panel
24 x 30”
1996

This painting is really like a painting of a couple or at least of two people. The way they are arranged and the way they appear to be leaning away and toward each other looks so much like the way people often arrange themselves with each other when they sit down together.

At the time of this writing the world is hunkered down to try to contain the spread of COVID 19 carona virus. Part of that effort is the necessity of social distancing and people staying apart from one another at least 6’. Well, it seems that the pumpkin likes the zucchini but for whatever reason it appears the pumpkin has pulled away and is leaning back. The zucchini would like to be closer but appears to be unwilling to violate the pumpkins private space. He yearns and leans in but he dare not come any closer. Behind him the curtains and brush strokes swirl around him and the pumpkin seeming to both draw them together and yet hold them apart. It is almost like a loose grid that expresses the invisible dynamics of their relationship that may be more real than a more realistic portrayal of both the background and the protagonists themselves.

“White Pumpkin”
Oil/canvas
20 x 14” approximately
1996

When I painted this piece white pumpkins were pretty new on the fall shelves of suburban grocery shelves. I fell in love with them right away. I’m surprised I haven’t painted more.

“Pattypan With Grace”
Oil/Panel
48″ x 24”
1996

“Pattypan With Marni”
Oil/Panel
48″ x 24”
1996

“Skull and Snake Cidual”
Oil on panel
48” x 33”
1996

As part of my spiritual practice I created ciduals. These are symbols imbued with personal meaning and function as reminders of “principles” or concerns during meditation. Looking at a painting can be a form of meditation. The cidual has been whited out with layers of white paint making it obfuscated in varying degrees. The combination of the snake and stone along with the skull are frequently used elements to convey the intertwined aspects of life and death in our imagination.

“Vase with Flowers”
Oil/canvas
18” x 12”
1988

“Duck”
Ink/paper
14” x 12”
1988

I had just returned from living and painting in Taiwan for 4 years. I went there to study Chinese art and philosophy. Not as a student enrolled in a university. I went to be a bohemian the way artists would go to Paris in 1888. I soaked it up like a sponge. And it changed me and my art. To this day I make even essentially Western paintings with a consciousness about the energy of each stroke, something quintessential to most Chinese painting. And here, in this simple drawing, there is nowhere to hide. There is just the careful placement of a few marks. Each one must count. Each mark must have a balanced energy, full of personality but subordinate to the whole. The drama is a subtle act of stillness and energy. A beautiful timeless moment and a story unto itself.

Duck