Still Life 2006-2024

“Butterflies”
Oil/canvas
30” x 24”
2024

These are Monarch butterflies … in Thailand. I always thought Monarch butterflies were essentially an American insect. And maybe they are. But they are in Thailand. I painted this in Thailand as a gift. As it turns out, Monarch butterflies are common there and a favorite of many people.

Butterflies are terrible models. They incessantly move around. So I took photographs of them. And developed the painting with the help of photos on my phone. I think the tree they are gather on is a Plumeria.

It was over 100 degrees when I painted this. Since I live in Seattle most of the year where the temperature rarely gets above 70, this was a challenge. I did most of it with a wet towel draped over my head.

Butterflies

“Brown Pumpkin”
Oil/panel
30 x22” Approximate
2019

This is painted over an older painting that I did not feel was worth keeping. Instead of re-priming the painting and starting over, I simply started the new painting right on top of the original painting. This is usually confusing and messy at first since the original painting is competing with the new painting. However, if I simply keep going the new painting eventually gains in strength making it easier and easier to keep going. The process is it’s own fun but what also happens is the marks, texture and colors of the original piece poke through in various degrees adding visual texture and interest that I simply could not think of or create with a fresh blank canvas.

“Sunflower”
Oil/panel
12” x 12”
2017

Any artist who knows anything about art history must know who Van Gogh was. And while they may not understand how radical his paintings were at that time, they probably know he painted sunflowers… often. In fact, for those of us who do know a little more about art history we know that his sunflower paintings are often considered among his top couple of most seminal works.   

Those sunflower paintings confused and revolted his fellow Frenchmen way more than any of us can imagine these days because the other really radical thing that has changed a lot since then is that visual art just doesn’t matter as much to us now in the 21st century as it did to even the uneducated Frenchman in the mid 19th century.  

I did not say “art” doesn’t matter as much. It think it does. It’s just that “art” is now such a much broader term that includes everything from painting to urinating on public property and even making Youtube videos about it.  And that pithy little smart ass summery doesn’t even begin to capture it all. The fact is, the arts are thriving now in ways and in directions never imagined 150 years ago by even advanced creative thinkers like Van Gogh.   

Still, it was artists like Van Gogh who helped create a culture where creativity and individual expression would be elevated above other concerns like adherence to tradition and social propriety just to name a few things they upended. This process became faster and faster over the ensuing years but still remained largely within the confines of traditional art formats and disciplines. A painting was still a painting and a sculpture was still a sculpture and an artist was still somebody who at least knew enough about tradition to even know where he or she was breaking free from it… even a tradition that was only 10 years old.  

Well, in fact that is one thing that happened. Traditions became shorter and shorter until there simply wasn’t anymore tradition and moreover, almost no one even knew or cared anymore either. And of course that meant anyone and anything could be an artist and make something called art. Everyone was free to call themselves whatever they wanted and call their creations whatever they wanted.  There certainly was no more art academy as there was in Van Gogh’s day determining who could have access to art materials and who couldn’t, much less who could show their art in public spaces and who couldn’t.  It may be difficult for us to appreciate but in those days you couldn’t just waltz into Blick’s Art Supply and buy tubes of paint. They didn’t exist and you either had to make everything from scratch or work within the academy and guild system and earn the privilege of having access to materials. Pissing on concrete was not yet widely accepted as art.  

However, there was and is a downside to all that freedom. It meant that everyone would now potentially have the same challenge Van Gogh was facing which was how to find and maintain an understanding and appreciative audience who would also purchase the paintings. If everything is suitable to be considered art, why bother going out of your way to go see or spend extra time and money on art… especially when there are so many artists doing so many things.? It so confusing and overwhelming. 

Well, some people have answered that question for the rest of us who don’t have time or care to think about these things. The answer of course is because they say so, they being the newly evolving art world of gallerists, museum Trustees and auction houses who have found there is a lot of money to be made shaping the tastes of people with lots of money, no time or inclination about art and very much part of the “anything goes” culture of the moment. And not only that, a determined anti learning proclivity that makes one vulnerable to have other people do your thinking for you. And if there is one thing I have learned, it’s that when other people do your thinking for you it’s not usually in your best interests.  

Not only are these same folks eager to acquire that numinous thing called status which nothing quite provides like art enshrined with stratospheric price tags, but they are also interested in hiding their money in tax shelters or outright money laundering schemes where a can of soup is $3 in the grocery store but $3,000,000 in the art gallery. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll talk about art and money laundering another day.  

The point is, despite all that, some artists still see painting a sunflower as one of paintings highest challenges thanks to the breakthrough that Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings represent.   

So here they are… my own attempts to measure up. For my measuring stick I consider a variety of concerns: do they seem well constructed, do they have any painterly skill at all, do they add any fresh understanding about the beauty of flowers in general or sunflowers in particular and most of all… do they just seem authentic in some hard to define way?   

“Authenticity” is tricky to define. And I am not even going to start here. But I will say it’s a little like love in that it’s so hard to define but we almost all know it when we see or feel it… and usually it exists right there…in that hard to define space between seeing and feeling. 

The bold cadmium yellow orange and deep black seed heads also appealed to me. But it wasn’t until I walked among the rows of sunflowers on my uncle’s farm that were up to my eyes by over my mid July and reaching heights of 14’ by August did I appreciate just how magnificent and suited to my character these flowers actually were with their oversized excess and abundance.

Around this time I developed a body of work that grew out of my proclivity to do rituals of invocation and covered myself in mud. During these rituals I often held a sunflower and wielded it as part scepter part club. To me it was the manifestation of male and female energy. The thick stalk and crazy abundance of seeds was of course the male part. And the curling circular head with its ring of delicate flower petals was of course the female part.   

During this time in my life I would often chop the sunflowers down at harvest time and bring car loads of them back to my urban windowless studio in Seattle. I would hang them to dry and their heavy seedy smell would over power the oils and solvents that I used in my work for a while. These upside down hanging sunflowers were also so overpowering that even I forgot about Van Gogh and painted sunflowers in a way that made perfect sense to me: multiple views stacked one on top of the other more like a religious icon and inspired by the spiritual nuance of arrangement I had absorbed from Rothko’s work a decade earlier than the still genteel presentation of posies in a vase that the brute Van Gogh still used.  

I have an authentic way of painting sunflowers meant having a real relationship with them. It started with my visual and intellectual enjoyment of Van Gogh’s paintings of course. But that relationship developed further when I became involved with growing and harvesting them at my Uncle’s farm outside Portland Oregon. And then hanging them in my studio where I enjoyed them visually but got used to the musty earthy smell as they dried in the rafters of my studio. Up until them I always like sunflowers in a general sort of way thinking of them as a sturdy flower that would hold up longer in a vase than other cut flowers. But after seeing them grow from little seeds to towering giants in the course of one summer and then using them as powerful tools and props in my rituals gave me a feeling for them that yielded my own little fresh insight about how to paint them. If this gives someone a fresh way to think about sunflowers or even floral painting, well then so much the better.

“Grebe”
Oil/canvas
24” x18”
2015

Baby Rabbit

“Baby Rabbit”
Oil/canvas
24’ x 24’
2015

I painted this for my daughter. I don’t paint animals often even though I love them. And it was fun to paint it too. The painting even manages to have a numinous quality that is hard to put my finger on. I could maybe point to the sumptuous edge qualities, the slightly darkened hue saturation of the colors as though someone turned the lights down a bit, and just the plain ole cuteness of a bunny. And maybe what I like about this piece could be distilled into a list of qualities like the ones I’m describing here.

But I don’t think so.

Instead I think it is that it seems sincere or authentic. I genuinely enjoyed painting it. And I have some skills.

Now that we live in a world of AI generated imagery and high quality printing … even on canvas, authenticity may in fact become the thing that people seek most in art. If so, it would be a complete turn around from what people wanted most from art for the last 50 years or so. For most of my life what was sought after at the highest levels in art was ironic detachment, the appearance of not giving a fuck about…..anything. The more art mocked itself and art loving the better. Things like “beauty” were dirty words and “sincerity” and “authenticity” were derided as hopelessly naive. Skill? Hah… how last century. And wow … how so many other aspects of culture and social life have come to mirror that.

This little bunny painting makes me wonder if the epic levels of loneliness and depression will lead people to question their disdain for qualities that provide a place for hope and sincerity to take hold and in turn provide the serotonin they need to be a little happier. But maybe not. Maybe they will just pop some more pills and bitch about big pharma.

“Flock of Grebes”
Oil/panel
24” x 48”
2015

I’m not one hundred percent certain these are grebes. I like birds and watch them more closely than the average guy. But I would not dane to call myself a birder. These birds, whatever they are called, are a mostly ground hugging bird that scurry around bodies of fresh and salt water and stand out as elegant black accents in the long gray winters of the Northwest.

I often take walks around a large lake in Seattle called Green Lake. The mud flats and sandy shallows often have small gaggles of these birds nervously moving about avoiding people and leashed dogs. So one day I sat and did some pencil sketches of them on one of my walks. Then, I went home and created this painting.

Like so many other pieces in my oeuvre I often wonder why I don’t do more pieces like this. I enjoyed painting it and I enjoy looking at it. Maybe it’s lingering shame.

When I was a serious young artist in my 20’s I was living like a rat in Manhattan. But I was doing serious art and I wanted to be taken seriously. Doing quasi-impressionist wildlife art was probably the least likely way to get taken seriously. I remember one day telling some of my friends I was having a show of my “serious” art at a gallery in Seattle. They laughed and asked me with only a hint of sarcasm, “ isn’t that close to Alaska?” The implication was that Seattle was backwater and well…worthless for an artist.

That was 1988. Most people had not heard of Starbucks. Microsoft was a little project in Bill Gate’s garage and Jeff Bezos was not even selling books out of the back of his truck yet.

Well, I went to the show. Fell in love with Seattle’s cheap rent, cool people and gorgeous skies.  Three months later I packed up what I could into an old Dodge Swinger and left the rest behind.

Still, I never became a wildlife painter. Instead, I let landscape infuse my ideas and aspirations and created some seriously gorgeous work. And, at the risk of sounding a touch immodest, a body of work that is actually quite serious. It took awhile, but eventually I discovered how to blend my love of landscape, weather and climate with thought, memory, perception and how those things work together to inform and even make consciousness.

I am writing this citation a week before my 60th birthday. And I enjoy a level of health and energy more or less the same since my mid 40’s. So I think I have lots of time left to do some wildlife landscape paintings just for the pure fun of it. Be a shame not to. And frankly, not enjoying that would be perhaps more of a shame than having never done the so-called serious stuff. Perhaps that is the new measure of how precious the simple joy of living is becoming with each passing year. I’m not quite ready to sink into the recliner with my feet up, but I can definitely see myself spending more time perched on a stool painting pictures of birds, or squirrels or even dog portraits if that’s what I feel like painting. I’ll certainly feel freer to enjoy that than I would have ever done in my earlier years.

“Various Still Life Paintings”
Oil on panel and found plywood
30″ x 12” and various sizes
2012 and other years
 
Some people like sketches more than “finished” pieces. A sketch often captures an idea or feeling in its first blush. There is something pure and unadulterated about that. For some, that is more enjoyable than an idea all dressed up in a polished and grandly finished work. I get that. And I feel the same way sometimes.  
 
The problem with sketches is a very practice one. They are hard to display. If you want to hang it on the wall you can simply pin it up like a notice announcing that the bathroom is out of order. A couple of thumbtacks or some tape and done! However, the work is not protected and risks being seen as little more than a service announcement. If you want to protect and dignify the work it needs to be framed under glass and that is expensive. Then, when you rotate your exhibition storing the glass framed art is tricky too.  
 
One can keep them in a folio. Looking at folio’s of drawings is a rewarding and elegant way to spend some time looking at art. But who does that? I do, but I long ago realized what a freak of nature I am. “Born into the wrong century,” was something my ex wife liked to say. I’m not sure it was a compliment.  
 
This piece attempts to resolve that problem. It is a sketch in that it is a loose idea not formally and completely worked out but with a certain something worth looking at. The French would say it has, “je n’est se qui.” That means “I don’t know what.” But it implies that while I may not know what, there is something worthwhile that I just haven’t figured out yet and maybe is in the realm of mysterious things that just don’t need to be worked out.   
 
So it’s a sketch… yes… but it’s not on paper. It’s on panel so it can be hung like a painting and it is sturdy like a painting.  Even if one simply nails it on the wall unframed it looks like art… not a notice. And if one gets tired of it, you can toss it in the back of the closet with the shoes you haven’t worn in years and it will be fine.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“Pumpkin”
Oil/panel
20” x 12”
2012

Pumpkin

“Gourd”
Oil on canvas
24” x 18”
2011

“Bryan’s Beach”
Oil on canvas
4’ x 7’
2010

These two paintings were commissioned by my friend Bryan. The third image featured here is what one of the paintings looked like shortly after I painted it. I put these paintings in this section of the website because I don’t have a landscape section. And, as of the time of this writing, I don’t have a section of the website devoted to commissioned work either.

I don’t have a landscape section because I don’t have very many paintings I consider to be landscape paintings. Instead, I think it’s fair to say that landscape, or more correctly, climate, is a meaningful part of almost all my painting.

On the other hand, even when I have a section for commissioned work I will leave these pieces here, in still life. The reason is that even though they were commissioned with some basic parameters such as size and that they have some element of the sea, Bryan gave me free reign to create whatever I wanted. The result is two very beautiful pieces that he continues to enjoy 12 years after I painted them.

The landscape that forms most of the paintings is inspired by the mountains and Puget Sound that you can see from his modern home perched on a hill overlooking the Sound and the Cascade mountains to the west. The beach and tide flats are a short walk down the hill from his home where he and I have been taking walks for years both before and after these pieces were created. We see these kinds of drift wood and kelp covered stones all the time.

The elements featured in the foreground are painted with the quiet love I have of nuanced colors of old weathered wood, stone and other such elements of nature. This pictorial solution allowed me to indulge that fancy for realistic detail while delving into the sumptuous and mysterious duplicity of landscape space and abstract expression.

The paintings are both large. And I love painting large. So these were absolutely a delight to create. Perhaps I’ll paint some more for my own beach front house that I will perhaps own one day. In the meantime, I plan to continue my occasional walks with my friend and enjoy the quiet way our friendship has added layers that merge, melt and redefine themselves like the bands of sky, sea, sand and paint in these pictures. It’s hard to say how, but I venture to guess that for Bryan these pieces quietly invite him to contemplate the way memory, perception and consciousness are intertwined in ways that can never quite be figured out or pinned down.

“Blue Pattypan”
24” x 16”
Oil/panel
2009
 
I have ways had a love of painting vegetables that have a strong volumetric presence. It’s even better if they are stark white like these squash because you can reveal their three dimensionality more easily if they are white. I have to admit I don’t particularly like eating them, but I love painting them. And someday I hope to have a garden where I can grow them along with other volumetric vegetables like pumpkins and gourds.
“Blue Onion Still Life”
Oil/Panel
36″ x 28” Approximate
2009
“Dead Bird”
Oil/Panel
24” x 28”
2009
 
When I was a high school student I started painting watercolor paintings of dead birds. Since I lived in a rural setting I often found birds that were killed by cars or brought home by my cat. Back then I would carefully arrange them in my mother’s freezer to look like they were alive. Once they were frozen solid I would get them out and paint them for awhile and then put them back in the freezer.  
 
Later, when my identity as an artist was more developed, I began making paintings of dead animals the way I found them or the way they were presented to me. In this case, my friends brought me a sea gull they found somewhere wondering if I would paint it. They carefully placed it in a large black garbage bag and brought it to my studio. 
 
I was struck by the beauty and pathos of the poor creature as well as the rich contrast of its white plumage against the blood and shiny black plastic surrounding it. I immediately saw the black garbage bag as a kind of nest, a burial nest which struck me as an interesting analog to the life sustaining purpose and implication of nests in the way we typically think of them.