Dear Martin, Gabrielle, Amara:
Bach’s “St. John Passion” begins to fill the room. I sit awaiting the chorus. Voices float upward, separate yet together, entwined in their common need... to be heard. Round and round the voices circle. until they stop. and one voice begins.
It is early. and rainy. The wind is riled and railing against the two windows on either side of me. I have finished a painting I am very proud of. Dedicated to my grandfather, the painting shows a sea gull standing boldly on a piling. Its yellow eye stares out intensely from its otherwise monochromatic surroundings. A lone cloud is situated just above and behind the sea gull. a halo, a companion, another fellow traveler caught momentarily and steadfastly in relation to a like being?
Tomorrow, I will enter my dusty studio and continue to work on a six foot canvas. A train sweeps in an arc through what will be an “Arles” like yellow. Blue trees pop up joyously, singular yet in unison, replicating the upward puffs of the train's white exhaust.
I am slowly (you know how I work) adding more pictorial elements, or painted forms to the canvas. All the elements are suspended in fixed relation to one another. And no element (image, form, brush stroke, color) is sacrificed for the overall good of the final composition. Each element maintains an individual integrity which reinforces or parallels the wholeness of the final painting. In other words, a composition is only as good as its individual parts; a composition is complete only when each element (and component) is in itself complete.
I suppose this is all basic and does not necessarily need to be discussed. But I sit here alone and reflect on the banalities and necessities of my painting. The rain prevents me from stepping outside... but its sound...
Excerpt from letter to Martin:
I just re-read your last letter and find myself warmed by your descriptions of Zutphen and your daily life within the town’s embrace. I am reminded of my stay in Ireland and the smile I wore for that entire year. There is definitely a difference between European living and, as you recognize, New York surviving. I miss the little things which are easily overlooked in the midst of New York’s madness. And I remember the big things like Nature which wait patiently on the other side of this confining cityscape...
...For some time now, though lately it has become more apparent, I feel as though I am drifting; I am stalked by this ever present “Unbearable Lightness of Being” feeling. I walk through this city detached, unaffected. No, affected. I long for something more real in the way you describe when you say you have “come home” to Europe and your people. I don’t seem to mind that I am not exhibiting. And now, I have taken a break from painting. The paintings I have made are an attempt to reacquaint myself with another place, in another time – a more innocent time, perhaps. But I am removed from this place where as Van Gogh is completely immersed. Van Gogh’s paintings are real because his relationship with Nature and his surroundings is real. Mine are false in that there is a longing for the real without ever connecting to it. But, my attempt is real and honorable and reveals the honesty of my situation. New York has crept into my paintings despite the imagery. The paintings display disparate elements. And these elements remain frozen, waiting for connection – waiting as I am for a change.
Excerpt from letter to Lisa:
...Continuing, I approach each artwork with a formal precision. And within the composition, I emphasize a “placed” idea to isolate form so that form is at once a part of and separate from the composition I create. This idea allows for an interesting philosophical content as well as a psychological read. But other subject matter aside from pictorial subject matter is more easily discernible while standing in front of the work itself. My art, unfortunately, does not translate well through photos. People too easily categorize the work by its most obvious device, my use of American landscape imagery. As a matter of fact, just recently, I ran into an artist friend who was surprised to hear that I was still involved in using images. “So you are a figurative painter”, he said. “I thought you were an abstract painter.” Of all the people I know, I was surprised by his comment, confused by his need to make such distinctions. Why adhere to such limitations? My paintings incorporate the best of both worlds. Art is freedom. And in my work, an image, a brush stroke or even a blip of color has an impact; each resonates with an equal intensity.
Excerpt from letter to Martin:
...a painting betrays its natural exultation; a painting is always a battle cry...
Letter of reflection:
I traveled to Australia after graduating from Syracuse University in 1989. I lived abroad working a variety of odd jobs for over fourteen months, visiting Singapore and Thailand before returning to America to begin the process of becoming a painter. I moved in with my brother, Stephen, for six months allowing me an opportunity to adjust to new surroundings while searching for work. I was 22 or 23. I found my first job in NYC as an assistant to the artist, Art Guerra, who owns Guerra Paints in the East Village. We would drive around Brooklyn in Art’s old van with his five dogs picking up large barrels of dry pigments, which later would be converted into acrylic and oil paints. Also, I worked briefly with artists Gregory Amenoff and Julian Schnabel. Gregory was a real pro. And Schnabel, well, he had a kind of Midas touch; I walked around his studio amazed by what appeared to be wood tables and large wood beams, all of which had been cast into bronze. Conversely, his “plate” paintings looked shabby and fragile, some shards clinking to the ground as his manager hammered on supports for a framework. I still have one of these plate fragments as a reminder. Schnabel’s studio was extravagant, impressive; the mediocrity found there palpable and pervasive.
I worked as a freelance production assistant for music videos and commercials while continuing to work with the artists. The hours were brutal, though not steady, the pay average. I moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I set up my first studio in a side room off the bedroom. Williamsburg was quiet then in 1993; things have changed. I soon landed a job as a security guard at the Guggenheim Museum, relieving me of the tension that comes with freelance living. The Guggenheim hired as their guard staff, then, artists, musicians, writers and other degenerates, dressing us in blue suits to greet the public. Over the years, the artist crowd moved on to their calling, or at least to other jobs. It took me six years before I did the same.
I entered Hunter College’s MFA program in 1994. The studio I was offered was huge and would have cost more than the program itself if I had had to rent the space off the college premises. I balanced my day job with class time and night painting sessions. I graduated at the end of 1996, amused by all of my peers attempts at creating showy thesis exhibitions, some of which took weeks, if not large sums of money, to prepare their installations. I put nails in the wall and hung my paintings in half an hour. Of course, I then organized the Opening Party's food and drinks in my exhibition room so that my work would be highlighted. Suckers!
I visited a friend of a friend, John Woodward of Woodward Gallery, during a blizzard. With the world shut down, he had time to talk, look at my work, offer me advice in approaching galleries, etc. In fact, we hit it off and he decided to have a summer exhibition based on seeing my “Piano” painting. My friend, Luke, and I walked the 6’ x 6’ painting down West Broadway in Soho, catching the attention of Valerie Dillon of Dillon Gallery. She followed us to Broome Street, later conversing with John Woodward. He said that I should stop by the Dillon and say hi. This was a little before my Thesis Exhibition. Valerie came to Hunter College to see my six or seven paintings. She said she thought we might be able to do something together.
Preparing for a solo exhibition in Soho, NYC taught me two things. One, it was possible for me to create a cohesive body of work, twenty-five paintings to be exact, when the pressure was on, challenging my usually slow and methodical painting process. And two, it was possible to make money by doing this. The New Yorker reviewed my “House” paintings positively in their March, 1999, issue: “Landscapes with a rare combination of qualities: terse, mysterious, comical. Lonely Victorian houses in solid colors (yellow, red, green, gray) loom against cloudless skies. O.K., maybe one cloud, or a tree. Some clapboard homes dawdle in the distance like maiden aunts, and some crowd to the foreground with an almost laughable pride. The blinds are drawn in all the windows, and still the dwellings burst with character.” My review was next to Picasso’s own moderate appraisal. The Dillon show sold out. I quit my job as a guard.
Soon after, the Dillon closed. I broke up with a girlfriend. I spent all of my money. I took a job at a fancy restaurant as a waiter. I was a terrible waiter. I became an assistant manager at a high end furniture store. I helped at a quirky Americana store/gallery, too, on the upper Eastside; flag pins were the rage in 2001. I soon secured a job as the manager of a French antiques store in Soho, where the owner lied to people saying that he was actually Italian. I knew nothing of antiquities or designers. Ce la vie.
I still had my painting studio in Chelsea, a small box but with a window. I had taken over the studio from a friend from Hunter College who was a freelance writer for American Artist magazine. Chris Willard included me in an article called, “Cultivating a Series”. The Dillon Gallery reopened in Oyster Bay, Long Island, sometime in 2001. All of the artists reconnected at the opening, drinking heavily, laughing. Things were on the up.
I had taken a train down to Red Bank, NJ to visit with family when I came upon a friend’s painting in a gallery window. Soon after, I began showing with the Laurel Tracey Gallery. The Laurel Tracey picked up a number of the Dillon’s artists after Valerie closed Soho, causing much friction between the gallery owners. But a satellite position outside the City made a lot of sense. Also, another gallery in Richmond, VA contacted me. More, a publishing company, Art Beats - an affiliate of the New York Graphic Society, picked eight of my images for the print market, after my approaching about thirty top companies. I viewed the print concept as a giant Ad campaign, as my name and web site info was included on each poster. But when I received an email from someone who bought one of my posters at a Hobby Lobby asking if I could make them an original painting to match their kids’ bunk beds for roughly the same cost as the posters, I became a little jaded.
I applied to a competition to design Artwork for the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority in 2005. I was one of five artists chosen to win one of five stations along the J line in Brooklyn. I got Alabama Avenue. While managing a men’s clothing store in Greenwich Village, I worked with both the MTA and The Willet Hauser Architectural Glass Company in Minnesota, who I hired to translate my work through a “faceted glass” medium. This was all done through emails over a twenty-month period. So as I helped people shop for John Varvatos and Ted Baker, I considered the epoxy cuts, color studies, glass samples, etc., through daily emails, phone conversations and occasional Fed Ex packages. The seven glass panels we created were finished and installed, permanently, by the end of 2007. Though, the Art may be a work in progress, as inhabitants of East New York keep adding graffiti to the panels.
I was invited out to an artist residency in Ballinskelligs, County Kerry, Ireland in March of 2008. I was provided a simple, rustic stone cottage with a studio, one of seven. I painted outside each day with my friend, the Irish artist, Rod Coyne. What I wrote to him after sums up my Plein Air experience:
“Plein Air has never held much interest for me because I see so many artists making “pictures” of nature; cheap reproductions or abstractions achieved by replicating a natural scene. Ugh! Why? -- What I learned in Ireland, following your advice of “Just paint what you see”, has altered my view of Plein Air however. To start, your sentiment frees the mind of restricting thoughts. There is no concern if you are simply working with what is in front of you. Here is your material, there is your inspiration; now go! Then the rain falls, the hail follows, perhaps a bout of sun. A painter is immediately confronted by the natural elements of his surrounding; he looks up; his studio is vast and unrelenting; and his subject grows large as the pictorial subject/image he seeks diminishes. Painting is so much more than what you see! ...”
I came back from Ireland feeling refreshed and optimistic.
I am losing my current Art studio on 24th street. But the fellow I rent from, Thierry, is allowing me a little time to complete my next exhibit, “The Farmland Paintings”, with the Dillon Gallery in Chelsea, September, 2008 before I must vacate. It is June. I have three months to finish another five paintings. And then I will pack up and move.
The artist’s way has its ups and downs and most certainly is not for just anybody. But even the downs may be ups depending on how you look at it, which reminds me of something. My grandfather, who was a boating man, used to say while he was drunk, “I’m not swaying, I’m tacking!” Good stuff.