This first answer is
from August, when I began writing this piece.
My 'studio' for August is the backyard of a fishing 'shack' in RI. For
years and years I've worked in natural environments and there developed imagery
that comes back with me to NYC. I brought a heavy-textured watercolor book I
began in my Queens studio. I was listening to jazz and became taken over by
thoughts of my mother, who played jazzy piano and died 8 yrs ago. This book has
become about thoughts of her life and her early decline. This is now spliced
with garden imagery.
I'm working on new canvases, creating rhythms and linear characters as the
animation around me soaks in. I’ve brought small unfinished canvases from the
last months and years. My abstract paintings try to express living presences in
the forms I delineate by drawing w/ the brush and graphite. One painting
suggested two abstract figures in cage-like structures; one comfortably
ensconced and the other struggling to get in or out of its cage. This was an
interaction I saw but could be read or not read any number of ways by the
viewer, and has since disappeared anyway! That struggle is gone and it now
seems to be about a window to the boat marina across the street with a figure
trying to look out. Another suggests a tree-form gaining traction with a
slumbering cloud-rock form above it, like Zeus holding the weight of the sky,
and now has an amber barely visible dusk light. Narrative elements arrive for
me after the automatic drawing and forms have begun to inhabit the space.
I develop or discard them according to what the painting is trying to express.
Can you describe your working routine?
It takes me a long time to get to painting. I read, I write, I
peruse the computer (here at this retreat I do outdoorsy things) I have to get
through veils and veils of consciousness and emotions. After hours of this,
much of it happening in the studio while taking in my work I 'give in' or 'give
over' and I start. A deep rhythm catches hold between all the pieces and I'm
off. Working on new paintings always frees up the older ones. At home in
Queens, and before that in Williamsburg, by far my most productive work periods
start in the afternoon, when the rest of the working world is coming home! From
about 4-10pm. When I have shorter periods to work. I'll develop a body of works
on paper, or focus on one or two larger paintings I'm involved with.
Can you describe your studio space, and if, at all, that affects your work?
My studio space has been a portion of my home or loft for 20yrs and has
been a strong presence in developing my vision of the world. What becomes dramatized in addition
to the light and structures is the inner-outer play between inner life, studio realm and outside world.
My current studio in Queens is the front room of a first floor house apt. with
a wall of windows facing the tree-lined dead-end street. This after 17yrs of being suspended in a concrete box over
the East River and Williamsburg Bridge!
My initial work here was an abstract meditation on coziness, furtiveness:
The weathered browns of the wood floors and doors, the shade of the big
sycamores and the procession of Queensy semi-attached houses. In the loft, with
a wall of windows overlooking the bridge and river from up high, my work in one
form or another took in that expanse. I saw color as blocks, sheets and panels
of light, with the linear imagery of loft or bridge elements woven in. It was
at rural residencies where I not only continued my parallel involvement with
landscape but began dividing the canvas into quadrants as a response to the
studio windows cutting landscape into separate compositions - I began 'reading'
the imagery from top left(nw) to bottom right(se). These divisions of forms
resonated on a primal note with my psychology as an identicaltwin with identical twin brothers
– one of a set, and a set amongst two sets: The push-pull of identity, the
incremental changes that make each twin unique. It also fed my interest in
narrative readings of abstract paintings. Imagery sometimes took on the look of
'specimens' resting in shelves. I saw or read the imagery simultaneously and
these separate but connected rhythms was important to me.
painting in RI
Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve, etc.
Firstly, with the oil paintings I don't work on white when I start, I tone
the gesso out with a color.I then start drawing creatural forms. The line in art is the essential
ingredient that inhabits my imagination. Forms can be branch-like,
crazy-figurative hybrids, rocks, pillow-forms. Often they are unseen energy.
The energy of the forms needs to inhabit a space, which as I've referred to
above, gets worked in. There is a power-play between large and small forms.
Forms reach toward one another, pull away from oneanother, or maintain a
solitary distance. In my life I've generally been attracted to big
personalities – this took root with my father, my sister and then onward. The
dynamic is there and fuels my work, which in a way is a pushing back at these
personalities. This leads to colors that bolster that – heavy and intense,pale and fragile. Red and
black are alive and demonstrative, green and blue are soothing. Pastels are
unsure, guiltless. Yellows, life-affirming. And there is anger there: I
want some of the forms to be safe, enclosed, and others to be looming,
oppressive. This place I go in the last several years tends to be an invented
landscape – I want the viewer and myself to be able to move into a realm.
Landscape doesn't push back, like the world. It just is, in all it's generous independence, unlimited stature and
fragility, minute animations, causes and effects.
I work from all 4 directions, 4 scenarios. Works sit for awhile, then I add
transparent areas of color to create a density that I like. I start to work on
top of that with new imagery, and wipe back to forms from below. There is a
metaphor for the interior spaces and consciousness we have while maintaining an
exterior whole. They're also like secrets, or like seeing the totality of a
landscape and then noticing the little rabbit under the brush. I incorporate
memory: A landscape I've visited can stay in my mind for months, years, as a
personal archetype of a journey. There's a lot of destruction, losing earlier
imagery to build new tensions. Unresolved paintings get picked up again - this process
goes on for months and years. Others funnily can start and conclude, like
hopefully ones here at the beach, and be a wrap.
What are you having the most trouble resolving?
I am trying to resolve paintings for a show in a few weeks and I'm not sure
what they need, or what needs to be taken away. When a painting is nearly there
I have a terribly difficult time seeing it to the 'end'. Generally what I see
is not what others will see. When that comes together, or the differences are
articulated, that process is invaluable. Paintings that are worked on
over a long period of time are the most difficult to resolve. You lose touch
with the possibility for clarity. You need to either go for destruction – the
big moves -or adapt the slower skill of burnishing the details, making every
relationship count.Paintings that start fresh look good – light, clean,
hopeful, like children. This is suspect, as we all know it's easy to start a painting
and hard as hell to finish one. This is a philosophical dilemma, but I force
myself to mess it up, deepen the space, complicate it, and then return
eventually to clarity. The painting tells you after a while if it no longer has
the tension to sustain it and needs development. That said, there is so much
growth in starting new canvases – they can give us more than the staid older
ones, which reference another time, another you.
Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within
I'm straightforward and rather traditional: My parameters are mixed media
on paper, oil on canvas, panels and gessoed paper. I'll add new kinds of
pigments to the works on paper – like adding Guerra pigments a few years ago,
and different papers, like this heavy watercolor that is handmade, or very thin
rice paper, or graph paper. I started painting the oils on wood panels that I
found on Williamsburg streets and gessoed foamcore. On the panel paintings I
found myself drawing by cutting away with a blade to the layers of color or
white support below – I love this somewhat violent act, because it's delicate
at the same time. I've also done quite a bit of collaging drawings onto
canvases - one rectangle within the larger whole – there's a footnote,
inner-outer dialogue I like. It's like experiencing a place and then the small drawing is the memory of
that place seen simultaneously. I often mount painted paper onto a stretched
I recently started a group of collages, cutting up old works on paper and
reconfiguring them – this is something I've really never done, and is a great
process. It is more crafted, gluing flat pieces of drawings and watercolors
together to create new shapes. I was teaching elementary school art last year
and the kids did great collages, they were an inspiration to me.There was a period years ago when I was making drawings of men I was in
relationships with, like intimate drawing diaries, and I created tableaus
collaging them into painted wood wine crates. Paintings opening up to little
theaters. One day it would be interesting to return to those.
Marina, oil on canvas, 18 x 18", 2014
What does the future hold for this work?
I've not been using the 'quadrants' for awhile and will probably continue
this way and then possibly return to them. I need the work to be more and more
emotionally present. I want to push the place that the painting occupies in amore dynamic way. This means I
have to be really present and unguarded. We have secrets, hidden personas that
should be out there. Also more texture within the imagery to get in between
forms as my aesthetic is rather graphic. I've been enhancing my color
again, after this 'brown' period. My drawing-based work can get so frail,
championing the moth over the steer, I want to oppose that.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
I'd like to thank Valerie for her interest, kindness and patience in
putting this piece together. Also, I'd like to mention my upcoming show at Andre Zarre gallery,
Chelsea, opening on Nov.13, 2014.It is with Dana Gordon and Irene Rice
Currently I am concentrating on 42" x
36" paintings with smaller works in the periphery. In the next month I
will begin a group of 72" x 60" paintings. It has been many years
since I have worked at this scale so there is an anticipation I am enjoying
before I begin.
Can you describe your working routine?
I am usually in the studio by 10 am, rarely do I
immediately enter into painting. I typically spend an hour just looking at what
was done the previous day and try to prepare myself for reentry into the work.
My goal every morning in the studio is to dissolve the day. I find the best
work is created when I lose track of time, afternoon becomes evening and I have
not ceased activity once. I wish these days came more frequently but honestly I
struggle a great deal, I redraw paintings, I make notes, and I try to rid my
studio of extraneous work. When I feel I am hitting a dead-end or not attaining
desired focus I find physical exercise clears my mind, interval training at the
local soccer field seems to work best. Rigorous exercise gives me clarity and
makes me feel prepared for the studio.
Can you describe your studio space and how, if
at all, that affects your work?
I work out of a home studio that is quite small
(200 sq ft) and inevitably the paintings move into the entire house. In
addition to taking over flow from my studio the house is filled with an
ever-growing collection of art, antiques, books, and records all of which are
important to my creative process. I am very fortunate my wife enjoys living in
a visually dense space but for me spending most of my day in the studio/home I
often wish for more room.
It is important for me to keep our home and my
studio organized, I am always trying to impose some order on the chaos that is
our living space. Similarly the space limitations of my studio require removal
of anything unnecessary to my work. I find this practice reflected in my
paintings, constantly adding layers of color and form, simultaneously trying to
arrive at a refined powerful image. This seemingly contradictory struggle is
something that keeps me engaged with my work and I feel in my most successful
paintings the reward is a sense of visual and psychological tension.
Power Form v.14 Red Shift,
2014, oil on canvas, 42" x 36"
Tell me about your process, where things begin,
how they evolve etc.
A lot of my time is spent reading, taking notes,
and making small loose sketches. I find writing quick notations, recording
phrases, or making simple written lists often stimulates drawings that can
become a portal to explore an idea in the form of a two-dimensional image. Most
paintings are started with these preliminary drawings or informed by existing
works. If feeling stifled or inhibited and a new course is desired I respond
with accident and chance making marks and forms intuitively until I find a
passage into a painting. Regardless of my entry point, once an image emerges I
am able to start making critical decisions that will determine the identity of
the work. I can spend anywhere from two weeks to eight
months on a painting. Although I am trying to finish paintings faster these
days, I do not determine the success of a painting based upon the amount of
time spent. Some paintings are realized with relative ease others demand more
attention. Either course long or short will lead to one of two things a new
image or a new beginning.
What are you having the most trouble resolving?
I am in the process of scaling up the size of my
paintings and my available space is a major concern. I tend to work on five to
ten paintings at once, which congests my studio. I certainly do not have the
room to work in this manner at a larger scale.
Top: Untitled, 2014,
oil on paper, 11" x 8 1/2"
2014, oil on paper, 11" x 8 1/2"
Do you experiment with different materials a lot
or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
Experimentation is crucial to my image making
process but not much in terms of materials. I keep traditional oil painting
mediums as my primary tools for manifesting an image. I experiment with process
and mark making in pursuit of strong visual imagery and psychological tension.
I try to vary the methods in which I apply paint, the amount of time I spend on
each work, and whether I attempt to follow a path of intuition or
determination. Parameters set for myself typically consist of scale,
orientation, and color. I find that restricting physical characteristics of the
work invites deeper psychic involvement.
What does the future hold for this work?
Over the next four months I am focusing on a
group of paintings to be exhibited at TOPS Gallery in Memphis, TN in March
2015. TOPS is one of the most innovative spaces in the southeastern United
States, the subterranean gallery has a mood and energy unlike any other in this
Is there anything else you would like to
Thank you Valerie for giving me this opportunity
to discuss the day-to-day aspects of painting. Sites like StudioCritical and
some other personal favorites AbstractCritical, StructureAndImagery,
CuratingContemporary, and PaintersTable make being an artist outside of the
major art centers of the world much easier. I appreciate your interest and
support of artists across the globe.
Ragged Glory, 46.5 x 55.25", acrylic on canvas, 2014
What are you
working on in your studio right now?
painterly landscapes using loose, expressionistic drawings as the reference
material, and occasionally some non-objective pictures called "Carve
Outs". I've also been making "Tree Portraits" which have been
ongoing since about 1998. I make them sporadically, but they are forming a
significant body of work. Three of these were recently shown at Tabla Rasa
Gallery in Brooklyn. They are most often close ups of tree trunks and have a
range of more and less abstract, but have tended to lean more to the
representational. I've been painting landscapes since about 1990, and these
newest ones seem to be closer to who I am as a painter than before. At least
that's how it feels to me.
I'm letting influences
from my early days as a painter come to the front:Marin, Hartley, Dove, Burchfield, Maurer,
Avery, and other early American Modernists. These were my first strong
influences on the representational side, with painters like Hoffman,
Frankenthaler, Olitski, Poons, Boxer, Bush, Noland, and others, on the
non-objective side. It was around 1974 that I began my career as a painter and
I was primarily making non-objective pictures from that point in time until
about 1990. While all good and
great painting that I've ever seen are my broad influences, with Bonnard and
Matisse at the core, along with Cezanne, Manet, Velasquez, Titian and others,
it is the combined and hybridized influences of both the non-objective and
representational painting and sculpture that I consider great, along with the
sense of wonder I’ve had since I was a kid, that comprises my inspiration. I
need the woods and fields around me.
In any case, I feel
like I'm coming full circle, after decades of exploring a wide variety of
different types of picture making, both representational and non-objective, so
that these newest paintings seem to be more fully realized in terms of how I am
integrating my influences via my specific talents, proclivities and character
as a painter. Kind of like what
TS Elliot said:"We shall not cease
from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we
started and know the place for the first time."
The Carve Outs have
been important in helping to lead me to these new landscapes, and keeping me
just off balance enough to make it interesting. And the Tree Portraits keep me
in practice with a certain kind of vision and way of painting
representationally. I like the completely open-ended form, color and
composition elements of making non-objective pictures, and this practice feeds
back into my representational work to keep it fresh. Whether I am comfortable
with it or not, my varied ways of working seem to have a valuable function:
Keeping habits at bay so my practice is always ready to re-invent itself, if
needed, to keep the art at its highest level. That is the goal.
I've also started
doing something I've never done before: making paintings from images of
specific paintings of masters like Delacroix, Courbet and Titian. This has been
a blast, and grew out of my present method of working from small drawings. I
thought,. well, I am making these drawings from life, from photos I take, from
other resource material, whatever catches my eye, why not make drawings from
paintings I love and then make paintings from those drawings? Why not use these
paintings or images of these paintings, as inspiration for resource material?
Of course, there is a long history of copying old masters, etc, but this is
different. I want to borrow compositions, color ideas, etc, from these
paintings and use them for my own purposes, and make them my own. So I did, and so
far only have a few, but have been pleasantly surprised. It was very liberating
to do this, to derive so directly and consciously, and to make it my own.
Drawing is very personal and the transformation happens when I draw.
Can you describe
your working routine?
I get up around
6:30 or 7, make coffee for Cheryl and myself, and feed Ping and Lucy, our cats.
I'm fussy about my coffee, and need it to taste a certain way, so I have honed
my method over the years, experimenting with different coffee beans, blends and
ways to grind the beans. I have an old Gaggia espresso maker. Not the new fancy
computerized types you can get today, but a simple and beautiful machine. I've
replaced the pump once, and over almost 20 years, it still makes great
espresso. I hand carved a wood handle for the portafilter after the plastic one
came apart. Making good coffee is kind of like making art, but a lot easier. I hand
grind the blended beans ( dark and city roast ) to very fine, tamp down just
right, pour the espresso into warmed half and half and milk in a cup that I
like. Tiny bit of sugar allowed to settle to the bottom of the cup. A sprinkle
of cocoa. Tastes wonderful and gives me a good start to the day. Cheryl and I
sit outside on the porch if the weather is nice and have our coffee, listen to
the birds, and enjoy the morning light and air.
I might check email
and facebook, and then head to the studio. I put in 3 or 4 hours. In the
afternoons I head back to my office and begin my work for Golden Artist Colors,
answering technical questions from artists. After 4 I head back to the studio,
unless the lawn needs mowing, or some other domestic activity needs doing. I
cook dinner, watch the news and then back to the office to check email and
Facebook and work on processing images, website tinkering, writing, art
business stuff, etc. If there is a painting drying in the studio, I will head
out to check on it. Sometimes this leads to an evening session.
Can you describe
your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?
I have a relatively
new studio that we built on our property, finished just several years ago. I
feel very fortunate to have this new space. It's a 24 x 40' building that is
insulated to the hilt, with electric, heat, and great lighting via fluorescents
and LED track lights. The floor is concrete, with a special painting platform
that is made of particleboard covered with indoor/outdoor carpeting. I can roll
out a piece of canvas, staple it down and start working. I almost always start
on the floor. Medium and smaller works are on painting boards that I can move
around. I divided the open
space into three parts: Studio, storage and wood shop. The painting area or
studio is about 23 x 22 feet, with the rest of the space equally divided for
storage racks and the wood shop or stretcher building area. The studio is about
60 feet from my front door, so a short walk from the house. For decades I had
rented studio space at Delavan Center in Syracuse, a great old commercial
warehouse with a landlord who loves having artists in his building and has been
a great supporter of the arts over the years. I still rent storage space there.
It seems there is never quite enough space, and this is probably true for most
artists. I feel very grateful for my studio and expect this will be my last
one. Having this self-designed space a short walk from the house allows me to
be more productive.
Tell me about your
process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.
I start on the
floor, and use drawings or watercolours as my resource
material. I paint on un-stretched canvas, stapled to painting boards or my
painting floor, and the work is cropped afterwards.This allows for very wet and liquid painting
methods, which is typically how I start. I like to have a lot of flexibility
built in to my method so I have lots of options as I work. I find the edges of
the painting, along with the final shape as the painting progresses, and
usually after its dry and on the viewing wall. I use joint tape to crop the
painting, mark the edges, measure and build the stretcher to size. A sixteenth
of an inch makes a difference for any painting, whether it's abstract,
non-objective or representational,… and getting the crop right is an important
part of the process for me. I've been working like this since the 70's. This
way of working is not new,….a tradition handed down from long ago. Bonnard
worked in a similar way with canvases tacked to the wall. Most of the painters
I mentioned who were modern influences for me worked like this: Noland,
Frankenthaler, Olitski, Bush and others. It frees me up to paint beyond the
edge, since I don't know where that edge will ultimately be. Better not to
know. This allows for a much more open-ended picture making process.
"palette" is contained within hundreds of plastic containers of
different mixtures of acrylic paints, mediums, gels and pastes. They are
loosely organized by color and consistency. I have shelves of very liquid,
pourable paints, and I have buckets of thick, gooey paints, rough aggregate
mixes, and everything in between. Some have a lot of gel or medium added so are
glaze like and translucent, while others are loaded up with pigment and densely
colored. I like to have a very full range of these mixtures on hand at all
times so that my choices, while working, will be as specific and targeted as
I most often start
with raw canvas, but often change it up with colored grounds, absorbent
grounds, resistant grounds, etc. I like surprise, and I will often orchestrate
things so the unexpected is invited. In the beginning, in particular, I often
use a lot of water and very fluid paints, combined with thicker mixtures, so
working horizontally is necessary. I've been pouring a lot. I can always move
the board to allow for movement if I want. Of course, with lots of fluid paint
on the canvas, there is often a lot of unexpected movement and this is part of
the process.But, I can exert some
control when it is needed. Thick passages of paint can be used to dam up
flowing areas if I want, and that leads to something new and unexpected in
itself. On and on. I like to feel just enough on the edge with the process, so that
the paint stays alive, and just enough in control so the picture is as fully
realized as possible.
Still Life, acrylic on canvas,19.25 x 22.5", 2014
What are you having
the most trouble resolving?
Over the years, my
biggest complaint has been my large output of different kinds of pictures. I’ve
even made botanical watercolors concurrent with my acrylics on canvas at the
time. A critic friend of mine once told me.." Hoffman had the same
problem". This was a kind way of saying, .."well, it can hurt your
career, because you will confuse your audience, but you'll make some great
pictures." I have a lot of curiosity with picture making and go with what
I think are my best instincts. This has paved a long and circuitous path for
me, but I feel like the decades of varied exploration, and living in the "provinces"
has been good for my art. I like to think that this has enabled some resistance
to easy answers and the fashions of the moment.
Do you experiment
with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain
I find acrylic
paints, mediums and canvas offers more than enough in the way of materials. I
love paint, and I love to have a lot of materials on hand so I don't feel any
need to draw back or reduce, or hesitate. I go with what David Smith says about
materials. Essentially,..Do not skimp. My parameters are: Acrylic paints and
mediums, and canvas. I also make lots of pencil drawings and watercolors which
I use as take off points for my paintings.
What does the future hold for this work?
Who knows the
answer to that? My ambition is to continue to make the best art I know how to
make, and to do so for as long as possible. I'd like to have more shows, more
representation. And, once again I would reference David Smith, and in
particular his "Questions to Students", written in the early to mid
50's. It's a list of 44 questions. Here is number 44: Do you think acclaim can
help you? Can you trust it, for you know in your secret self how far short of
attainment you always are? Can you trust any acclaim any farther than adverse
criticism? Should either have any effect upon you as an artist?"
Is there anything
else you would like to add?
Thank you for this
opportunity to talk about my work