HOW I WORK
Painting is a solitary endeavor of endless hours in the studio. Time flies by with little notice. What I do notice is the joy, the struggle, and knowing I have learned something.
Usually I start painting a new piece loosely with abandon, while having a general idea where I hope to end up. As the painting progresses there are many ups and downs and unexpected turns along the way. The sensibility, composition and even the palate can flip in a new direction as I respond to the wet canvas before me.
As I press on, my brush strokes start to slow, they become more controlled and I take increasingly longer periods to step back and contemplate the work in progress. I start looking for the most successful elements to set the tone and guide the painting forward. Above all I need to listen to the work, figure out what is its visual language. What patterns, structures or rules make the piece strong, distinctive, and expressive? This contemplation can be a decidedly deliberate analysis along with – and this is most critical – to listen to my gut instincts, staying in touch with that impulse that defies explanation but feels real, immediate and compelling. Often my best decisions come from allowing these impulses to materialize.
The ongoing task is to figure out how to strengthen the piece and make it “pop”. Van Gogh said, “A painting should have a singular resonance”. It is that initial viewing of a work of art, in that first few seconds, you should have an instant distinctive and compelling feeling. If there is no initial sensation, then there probably never will be. I think great art has an immediate power and then keeps holding your attention as you become more intimate and familiar with it.
Even a finished piece, one that looks fully resolved, is open to being re-worked if it is still in my clutches. There’s always the tempting ‘what if’ lurking that I can make it even better or it is an opportunity for experimentation. All part of the adventure and is the process in the constant dance between making it better or wrecking a perfectly good painting.
Usually I am glad I pressed forward by taking the risk when re-working a painting, the results are usually good, although there have been times when something wonderful has been lost. Part of the advantage of this process is I am able to build on the previous work, select, edit, add, subtract until I get it right. I come with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective when I re-visit a piece that has been out of sight for a while.
The massing of the layers of paint plays an important role in my work. The thickness and build up of layers plays an important role along with the resulting appearance of texture and color such as the ‘peek-a-boo’ slivers of color, or the tint of a lower layer oozing through the top layer with an almost imperceptible yet critical effect.
For many years I studied and drew maps and my early paintings show that influence. As time passes I find new sources informing my art such as architecture, design, fashion and landscape. The cartographic view from above increasingly is being replaced by what I see here on the ground. Other artists have always been inspiring, particularly Richard Diebenkorn and Willem de Kooning but also, Gerhard Richter, Conrad Marca-Relli, Ed Moses, Brice Marden and Franz Kline.
My Morphic paintings are primarily informed by my extensive and complex body of work from twenty-plus years of painting. This is most evident in my Morphic series which is a fusion of my Scrape and Chroma and to a lesser extent my Mulholland, Trevi and Karst series. The Del Mar, Floreana, Landmark and Arcadia series are subsets of the Morphic body of work.
The first Chroma Cluster painting (also a subset of the Morphics) was started on New Year’s Day 2010. I knew 2010 would be filled with challenging life altering change so I decided to declare the year ‘transformative’ and set out to create optimistic abstract art. The technique in this work employs the regular short brushwork found on my Chroma series turned into circular forms found in my Trevi paintings. 2010 did turn out to be a challenge but by December it proved to be triumphant with all the optimism and good-feelings as embodied in those first Chroma Cluster canvases.
The Essex series was born out of aerial images of Essex County, England in the winter. The fields and pastures were laden with snow while in the villages the snow has melted or cleared so the houses and streets are various colors of gray. Drawing on this geographic pattern, I explored variations. The Essex tends to be rectilinear, defined by contorted rectangles and thin fines lines.
It was not long before thoughts of the English countryside as inspiration of this series gave way to a stylized look influenced by mid 20th century modern graphics.
The Chromas came about in 2003 somewhat by accident. I was not pleased with the brushwork on a painting I was working on so I decided to paint rows of short uniform strokes to block out the work. Then I noticed how pleasing these new strokes were and a new series was born. But then it took several years and several hundred hours creating these work before I got the technique down that is the look of Chromas today. The regularity and subtle differences in the strokes add an architectural quality to it. I also likened it to a map with an expanse of consistent rectangular city blocks. The chromas are all about nuance and color. When I paint them I go a quasi-meditative trance.
The Chroma paintings are on canvas and also as four Chroma works on paper series: Chroma J Series, 17 x 14 inches, Chroma K Series, 24 x 19 inches, Chroma Q Series, 30 x 22 inches, Chroma A Series, 40 x 26 inches.
Early on I painted a lot on paper because it allowed me to “sketch” a lot with oil paint. My Coldwater Series are based on Coldwater Canyon Drive from Sunset Boulevard in the Los Angeles Basin up to Mulholland Drive. As you drive up the road it weaves and undulates. I love the feeling of the bending of the road. It inspired these paintings that repeat this pattern over and over with many variations on the original path up the canyon to top of the Santa Monica Mountains.
The dots in the paintings are focal points and counterpoints to the linear lines of the road. The dots keep your eyes from shooting upward too quickly; they are fixed points for your eye to stop, pause as you explore the piece.
One of the goals is to attain a translucency with the thinned down oil paint so you can see through to the layering of crisscrossing paths. Another goal is to reference a bouquet-like composition, hinting at an abstracted still life, with the lines at the bottom clustered and then they fan out as they travel upward.
Many observers see an underwater image of kelp and air bubbles.
Coldwaters are works on paper in two sizes: 17 x 14 and 24 x 19 inches. I hope to start a 40 x 32 series when time allows.
Just as the Coldwaters, this series is inspired by the street of the same name.
The Dagwoods are a subset of the Morphics. They are simply defined blips of scraped and brushed elements in a stacked arrangement isolated in a simple flat background inspired by the dramatic stacked rock formations of Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Monument Valley. The Dagwood name (the comic strip character in the Blondie comic strip that was fond of over-stacked sandwiches) was assigned as as an afterthought.
The Scrape series comes from a very physical process of using enormous amounts of paint, slathering on thick layers, pushing them, digging them off the canvas and re-depositing them. The on-canvas dragging, mixing and blending is both exhilarating and harrowing. Here I am working for geographic forms or a palate or feel that evokes a specific place. The scrapes can be the most difficult and unpredictable process, but when it works, the results are gratifying.
My map paintings are the beginning of my process of applying my cartography to painting. Breaking away from the strict rules of mapping, I applied a freeform application of color, played with scale, orientation, and other cartographic standards were tossed aside. Quite liberating.