LEARNING TO LIVE IN THE WORLD
I don’t question why I paint what I paint but in the end the people in these paintings are self-portraits, as most artworks tend to be. I started painting people when I was four and I’ve never stopped. My interest in representation has included graduate study in medical and scientific illustration and work as an illustrator for Levi’s. In both of those styles of illustration the rendering had to be accurate, precise. That precision does influence my personal work, but I’m now more interested in making characters who exist in the realm of the painting – and with less precision, more movement. I’m always surprised with the character I end up with. With a few exceptions, the faces in this series are invented. Each is treated with the intention of conveying a quality of tenderness, introspection and the challenges of living in today’s world.
I started painting people when I was four and I’ve never stopped. My interest in respresentation has included graduate study in medical and scientific illustration and work as a freelance illustrator for Levi’s. In both of those styles of illustration the rendering had to be accurate, precise. The practice of observing and rendering is crucial to the study of medical drawing and that does influence my personal work, but I’m now more interested in inventing characters that exist only in the realm of the painting – and with less precision. I’m always surprised with the character I end up with.
I had a private club of imaginary friends when I was about five. Nice kids, mean kids, all types. I’d conjure them whenever my usual playmates were unavailable. The characters I create are an extension of that club. They exist in a world with each other, just a little bit removed rom ours.
WHAT WILL BECOME OF MY NAME
I don’t question why I paint what I paint but in the end the children in these paintings are self-portraits, as all artworks tend to be.
Kids hold memory, innocence, crime, knowledge, the whole package – without the disguise that comes with age. Each kid in these paintings started as a composite of various photographs reorganized into a small graphite study. I begin painting from the drawing and then put the drawing away and I work until the kid is real. I’m happiest when they seem like they’re about to move or maybe run off.
ACTS OF UNREMARKABLE BRAVERY
Art can communicate something fundamental, tell our stories, and this can provide a container for the observer’s story to add to the mix. The artist can’t know what the piece will look like before it’s done. The intention is to convey an idea, a moment. This series is a combination of work based on vintage photographs that have been given to me and invented portraits. The courage that is required of the artist and of those who give permission to use their photographs for inspiration is considerable and unremarkable.
PRAYER FOR THE PROTECTION OF ALL BEINGS
Evil is unspectacular and always human
And shares our bed and eats at our own table.
W. H. Auden, The Normalcy of Evil
Prayer for the Protection of All Beings is in the form of a confession. Am I capable of committing evil acts if pushed hard enough, or if tempted with enough? Have I been tested? I haven’t been the victim of serious violence, but I have been scared out of my wits. Sometimes I’m surprised at my composure in threatening situations. Other times, I have not been thrilled with the panic-driven thoughts and behavior that followed. What might change about my place in the world if I recognize and announce my capacities for good and for bad behavior?
The face presented in each piece is one that I’ve used before. Intended as a portrait of my own psyche, this character also represents all beings. The quality that labels each image is assigned randomly and can – and should, be used interchangeably with any other drawing in the series. Watching people respond to this work, I notice strong reactions to whichever quality a drawing is identified with. People recoil at a drawing labeled, I Have the Capacity to Kill, and respond warmly toward the same drawing when re-exhibited with the label, I Have the Capacity For Kindness. The soaps have been solicited and donated and have cleaned the bodies of people from various walks of life – artist, teacher, student, politician, conservative, liberal, inmate, lawyer, child, homeless, priest, police officer, celebrity and so on. The priest’s soap is not distinguishable from the felon’s, nor the homeowner’s from the homeless’. I am moved by the collaborative component of the donated soaps. They are gorgeous objects, deeply personal and offered with sincerity and a willingness to participate in this prayer. And soaps have the capacity to purify themselves.
THE TOWN IS CHANGING
These are portraits of strangers. When I see someone I’d like to paint, I ask if they’ll pose for a snapshot that I work from later. Very few have said no. We’re together for a few minutes. There is something in each character that I want to reveal – something that doesn’t show up in the photograph. I blur and distress the original photograph, draw it in graphite and I paint from the drawing. Because these portraits aren’t commissioned, obligations to the individuals vanish and the requirements of the paintings preside. I send each person an image of the completed painting. Some write back, some don’t – and that’s all that I know about them.
Every day I see at least one person who I’ve never seen before and who I will never see again. So many stories, each one complex and important. Since I am the center of my universe, they must also see themselves as the single most important thing. In what ways are we interconnected and in what ways are we separate?
As these portraits filled my studio, I started seeing them as a town. The mayor, the funny man, the rascal, the shy one, the beauty – they’re all present. Then I remembered something that happened several years ago. A little boy was standing outside my house. He was straining to look through my kitchen window at a painting. I invited him in and he kept looking at the painting. I asked him if he could tell me what the painting was about. He nodded and said, “The town is changing”. And then he ran back outside.
LESSER ANGELS & MINOR DEMONS
Most of the faces in this series are invented, with the exception of the backs of heads and the dogs. They’re painted to represent various archetypal personalities, with titles such as Superman, Androgyne and Femme, Mother Courage and Little Brat. A portrait is more believable when the person painted isn’t known. I start by drawing from one or more found photographs or from photographs that I’ve taken. I draw until I see an expression that interests me. The painting takes off from the drawing and the finished portrait is of someone new. The portrait is complete when I recognize someone – who resides exclusively in the realm of painting.
There is an inhibition in painting someone who is known that can be overcome by painting them from behind. The back of a person holds something essential and fundamental about them – often a tenderness that typically would not be projected honestly from the front side of the posed face.
Kids hope to be angels. Many kids are afraid of The Devil. Minor Demons were those other kids, the bad kids. We are all, of course, both. I’m interested in violating the taboo – drilled into me as a Catholic child – of associating with the devil. My intention is to weaken the fantasy that the demon is a being outside of the self.
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