Free Experience

When Rosalind Krauss wrote her 1979 essay, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” (October, Vol. 8., Spring 1979, pp. 30-44), she was making a claim for how infinitely malleable the category of sculpture had become. So malleable in fact that critical historicizing had left the very term sculpture without anchors to the very things that differentiated it from other three-dimensional objects, happenings, installations performances, and the like. Yet in spite of this expanded idea of what it had become, one could never deny, she wrote, that it would always remain a “historically bounded category and not a universal one.” That is, one would always regard sculpture in relationship to the historical precedents set by writers and critics before them who normalized what was new and strange in their time.

One could make the same claim for painting today, that in spite of the myriad ways that painting currently presents itself, one still considers painting in relationship to its historical precedent, which is a picture on a two-dimensional plain.

In my last series of work entitled Paint/Rags, I was exploring the ways in which painting as object could force a re-examining of the term painting. The three-dimensional Paint/Rags took the literal form of draped cloth, and became, like readymades, stand-ins for the objects they were representing.

In Free Experience, I have returned to the figure-ground relationship as a way of exploring the range of possibilities for the representation of an illusion in as many different ways as possible, from tromp-l’oeil to verisimilitude, while still remaining undeniably within the confines of a traditional painting. These paintings are a collision of abstraction and representation, of illusion and three-dimensional form.

Looking at art is a free experience. It costs you nothing. But it should also be an experience that is free from encumbrances, one that inspires you to see the world as if for the very first time. But perception is a tricky thing. It is never without personal history. How do we see, what do we think we see? What makes the phenomenological experience of looking at something, particularly a work of art so compelling?

The seductive nature of that mystery is what drives my exploration in this new body of work.

Paint/Rags 2015 – 2017

My Paint/Rag series began to develop, not just out of an interest in making the paint look and act like a rag, but in the linguistic idea which is embedded in the title: paint – slash – rag. To say and hear the word paint rag, is to conjure up an image of just that, a rag you would use to clean up paint, brushes, spills and the like. But to read the title is to apprehend the slash, which separates the material from the idea, both literally and metaphorically, and undercuts our assumptions about what exactly we’re looking at.

The slash captures the humor in its duplicity. What you see is not what you think you see. It also takes Duchamp’s notion of the readymade and turns it on its head by creating from scratch something that looks like a readymade. Making what I call a high falutin’ art object about something as abject and humble as a paint rag makes us look twice at the kind of thing we normally would toss in the garbage.

So while they appear to look like rags or decorative fabrics, they have in fact, no cloth or canvas behind them at all. They are made entirely of paint, and the colors and patterns you see are not only surface applications, but accretions of color that have been built up over time and make themselves apparent in the undersides and on the edges because of the way the paint has been manipulated, torn and draped.

Lingams 2013 – 2015

My recent interest in a form of Tantric painting inspired me to borrow the Lingam[1] motif as a way to create a single body of work with an infinite number of possible variations. Its oval form, a Hindu symbol of fecundity, is a creative as well as a meditative vehicle. With a Western, secular eye to formalism however, its simple geometric shape is also both a mirror and a void, a reflection of the world and a window into the unknown.

In Hindu culture, Tantric paintings of the Lingam are also infinite in their variety of expression. Unlike Western art however, they are not created and signed by an “artist.” They are humble objects made anonymously, often on used paper, and tacked up on the walls of homes as a focus for meditation. My own works on paper of the Lingam assume a similar modesty. They are small and made daily as a way of starting my day.

26 Letters for the Deaf, 2013

A 1972 gouache on paper by Calder provided the visual springboard for this body of work, which includes 26 paintings paper, the same number as letters in the alphabet. Each painting is like a symbol or a sign, the shapes taken from my One Big Love series, and together they stand for a visual language that is autonomous and pre-lingual.

Duchamp’s The Blind Man and Beatrice Wood’s entry in Volume I, “To laugh is very serious,” provided further inspiration. I am taking my cue from a moment in art history when the conventions of representation were on the brink of collapse to create a visual alphabet that is serious in its playfulness, joyful in its seriousness and resolute in its lack of linguistic fixity.

Each painting is done in gouache on paper and measures 11” x 7 ½.”

One Big Love, 2013

The series One Big Love was set in motion in 2007 but solidified the following year as a response to a New Yorker article (“The Eureka Hunt” by Jonah Lehrer, July 28, 2008), about the nature of insight. In a staged experiment to recreate the conditions in which one could most easily have those eureka moments, I charged myself to paint on panels no larger than 10” x 13” (a return to intimacy); to escape the tyranny of the rectangle by painting only on shaped panels; and to listen to music while working (hence the title, One Big Love, a song by Patty Griffin).

In an effort to take self-consciousness out of the studio experience, I drew on the baroque complexity and endless variations that the material could inherently provide, and produced a variety of forms that would bring to mind everything from cellular structures, sea coral and crashing waves, to skin, drapery and Victorian fashion.

Instinctively, my process has continued to address the dialectic between material memory and morphogenesis, allowing the paint to follow its inevitable path of least resistance. Oil paint has its own laws of behavior, and working with it as opposed to in spite of it has produced on lucky days, some surprising results and a kind of wowie zowie feeling in the studio. The shaped panels are conceived of intuitively, but aim for tenderness. A tilt to the left seems to pull the paint upward, while a bulge at the bottom can suggest a thrust from the top. All actions result in reactions.

While my artistic models have ranged from Tuttle, Murray, Price, and Nozkowski, to Guston, Fontana, Burchfield, and VanGogh, the tufa mounds of Cappadocia, the geothermal pools of Yellowstone and the salt flats of Danakil continue to provide an equal amount of inspiration and new thoughts about process.

To date I have completed 79 works in this series.


Foundation, 2012

The idea of rebuilding walls and foundations, as well as hope for the future, looms over all of us, not only the East Coast post Super storm Sandy, but over all of those effected by climate change.

Although initially inspired as a reaction to the years of housing construction projects surrounding my studio building, I came to think of the idea of building a wall that is mobile, adaptable, democratic and light weight as a way to also make a large scale work that is modular, and all over in terms of design and pattern, that can stand as a foundation for multiple variations.

Each brick shape is individually painted in acrylic on mylar in two layers. The first color is the foundation over which the second color is applied by dragging the paint across the surface, which sits on my paint encrusted work-table, thus creating the unique patterns on each “brick.”

The “bricks” are then cut out and collaged onto a 9’ x 42” hanging mylar sheet. The current state consists of five vertical sheets hung side by side and measures 17 ½’ wide.


Works on paper, 2011

This group of drawings is a direct outgrowth of my painting practice, where mounds of accumulated oil paint are created as a result of my daily palette cleanings. These mounds become objects in their own right, as well as documents of a physical process and a creative history. The drawings are a way of giving life back to something that seemed long dead.

I photograph the mounds in order to see them in isolation where they can be manipulated digitally, placing a further level of mediation between reality and its ultimate interpretation on paper. I then print the digital image and draw directly from the printed photograph. Many of the works involve a significant amount of cutting, collage and spray painting, highlighting the mutability of the subject as well as the process. In this way I strive to create a perfect tension between the physicality of the object, the subjective image, and the readability of its metaphors.

The drawings can be read quite literally as mountains of color, their shapes redolent of Chinese landscape formations or scholar rocks. But they are also akin to heaps of detritus, like the mounds of used clothing commonly seen in the backs of second-hand clothing stores, or steaming piles of toxic waste, calling to mind our culture of excess. The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident played a significant role the direction many of these works took and led to my incorporating figural elements from Japanese moss temples.

The largest and earliest drawing, “Twist and Shout,” represents a chronicle of my own recycling in the image of dried paint remnants extracted from earlier works to be reused in future paintings. I’ve drawn them directly from observation, cut them out and collaged them into a kind of DNA strand. One might call this a self-portrait of sorts.


Statement on painting and the nature of landscape, 2010

My relationship to landscape is rooted in memory and the particular light, colors and geography of the West where I grew up. Inspired by the 19th Century Romantic Landscape painters, I think about how I would articulate my reverence for nature but as a secular abstract artist in the 21st century. Rather than paint pictures of landscapes, I capture the corporeal essence of nature – the alchemical wonder of natural phenomena: compression, subduction, morphogenesis – so that the narrative passages are packed into the interstices of each successive layer of paint, testing the range of Richard Serra’s famous “Verb List” by pulling, scraping, folding, cutting and collaging the paint as form.

In the large horizontal multi-paneled pictures (a nod to Elizabeth Murray and Mary Heilmann) I create spaces that, while far from illusionary in the traditional sense, are nevertheless frontal compressions of movement in time. Generally read from left to right, they express the forces of moving water, shifting tectonic plates, and our toxic impact on the environment.

In the tall narrow vertical works, I reference Barnett Newman’s famous zip painting entitled “Wild,” isolating the gesture from its larger context by creating a virtual core sample, as if dug directly from the earth and hung on the wall.

I think of my paintings more as visual manifestations of physical forces rather than images of landscapes, which are meant to inspire a sensation that is analogous to being in the natural world. By eliminating traditional narrative as a mediator, I can capture the compression of time and history through abstraction and metaphor.


Photo statement

As an abstract painter I have focused on condensing the expansive arena of heroic painting into a tiny format, forcing a shift between size and scale, as if the world were on a thimble. Small painting, large scale.

In the photographs, this relational shift is turned back on itself. Intimacy is now achieved by blowing up the detail of a small painting into a large format.

Shot at eye level and in cross-section, the almost microscopic view creates a foil for one’s assumptions about space, material and context. These photographs document materiality (one might recognize the forms as paint, or as “art” of another medium). But plucked from their original context, the viewer is lead to question his or her associative responses, thus opening the door to fantasy. An illusion begets an illusion – placing photography and painting on a level playing field.