Monday, March 11, 2013


Cigar Envy, 40" x 30", oil on linen, 2012 - 2013
What are you working on right now?
Since last January 2012, I’ve been working on a bunch of medium sized canvases ranging from 40” x 36” to 54” x 50”.  As I finish some I start others, so I’m now at the point where I’ve got maybe two dozen or so finished paintings. This is the first work I’ve done since moving upstate in 2010 after living in New York for 20 years. I had to put my studio work on hold as we made that transition. When I started working again, I began where I had left off, but it just didn’t feel right.  I went through a period of rejecting and reworking everything.  When things did finally fall into place, I ended up with the densest, most heavily-worked surfaces I’ve ever made.
Can you describe your working routine?
When I start my day in the studio, I usually have a pretty clear idea about what I need to focus on from the previous day’s work.  It’s usually midmorning before I’m in the studio, and by that time, I’m anxious to get started.  So mornings are generally not my time for serious looking and thinking.  I wait until I’m done working for the day and then I’ll sit down and look things over and plot my next move.  Once I’m into it, I like to keep the momentum going.  Spontaneity is everything, and it’s a struggle to find the path from control to freedom.   I try to get to the point each day where I’m working freely, taking risks in the work, and letting the painting lead me where it wants to go.  When all of these things come together, I’ve had a great day in the studio. 
Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.
I’m after an organic, generative process where one thing slowly leads to another with each piece resolving itself in it’s own way.  Working like this makes it impossible for me to duplicate what I’ve already done, keeping the process open and alive.  I always start several things at once, but am careful to quickly fold them into the work that is already in progress.  In a sense, my work never “starts” or “stops”, but instead is more like a continuous loop in which things are cycled in and out.  Ultimately, what I want is for the paintings to look like they’ve created themselves, much like a tree, or any other bit of nature, that slowly grew into it’s final form.   

Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?

As I mentioned previously, we moved in 2010 and building a studio was part of that project.  My wife is also an artist, so we needed a space that would accommodate both of us. The building is barn-like, with my studio on the ground floor and my wife’s on the second floor.  We were able to design the studios to provide maximum storage and working areas. My studio has a wall of glass on one side, two good walls with high ceilings, and the fourth wall is lined with painting racks. I work in the same spot by the bank of windows every day.  It’s been very different working here compared to working in the city. It’s so quiet, and the feeling of open space and the light is very different.  Strangely, my work has become denser and darker in this setting.

What are you having the most trouble resolving?

Over the years, I’ve made many large paintings.  I like working on a large  scale because it enables me to create an enveloping space.  Whenever I make smaller ones, it seems like I have to work longer and harder to resolve them, which I always find a bit ironic.  Now however, I have the opposite problem. As the surfaces have become denser and the marks smaller and more embedded in the ground, the larger paintings have become more challenging for me to resolve.  On the bigger paintings, the individual marks play a lesser role, especially when interacting with the dense surface, making it more difficult to clarify the structure and space.

Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
I like using traditional media; watercolor, pastel, charcoal and especially oil paint. 
I work with these same materials year after year.  I love being able to pull a painting out of my storage racks that I made years ago and think about how it relates to what I’m doing today.  The fact that my materials have remained constant becomes a kind of equalizer, enabling me to see more easily the changes in form, space, light, and color that have happened over the years.
What does the future hold for this work?
In the short term, I’m looking forward to the next step as I bring some larger canvases into the mix and expand upon what I’ve done this year.  And in the long term, I know that it will take what seems like an eternity for me to be able to “see” my own work.  So, it’s too early to tell what my work from this past year will lead to. What I do know is that this is an excruciatingly slow process, one full of contradictory and opposing forces, like the immediacy of the day to day work, juxtaposed with the slow process of gaining insight into it.  It’s kind of like a scroll, unraveling bit by bit, revealing more each day.
Magic Mountain, 54" x 50", oil on linen, 2012 - 2013
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you Valerie for giving me this opportunity to talk about my work.  And thanks for creating this blog which has introduced me to the work of so many great artists!
Here are a few images that relate to what I’ve been thinking about...

Vincent Van Gogh, The Potato Eaters, 1885
I love the empathetic relationship that Van Gogh has with his subjects. When I look at a Van Gogh painting, I forget that I’m looking at a painting. 

Soutine, Hill at Ceret, 1921
Soutine’s juggling act of balancing structure and control with total abandon is a constant source of inspiration. I love it when he stops describing things logically and the paint takes on a life of it’s own.
Marsden Hartley, Evening Storm, Schoodic Maine No. 2, 1942
I love Hartley’s spiritual connection with nature.
Philip Guston, Black Sea, 1977
I love the way Guston pushes paint around on a surface as if he’s modeling forms out of clay.  I always get the sense that he’s surprised himself by what’s emerged.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Held Close, 40 x 44", 2012
What are you working on in your studio right now?
I have eleven paintings in process kicking around the studio at the moment, plus a larger 7’ x 5’ painting that is in a holding pattern. I am building and finishing a table to use for one of my tabletop constructions of arranged drawings and found objects. Recently, I completed two prints. One is a woodcut that my friend Justin Quinn helped me print up in St. Cloud, Minnesota. We did four runs on the print and completed it in just two days. The other print was a more experimental print using inkjet and Xerox. It is a “double exposure” of an image of three doves. I think the images and forms from both prints are going to double back into the paintings that are in process in the studio. In February my solo show, “I Always Lie” opened at Jeff Bailey Gallery. The back wall of the gallery features an arrangement of ten paintings. Each painting needed to stand on its own and exist in a larger group. My goal was a sense of compression by hanging several paintings close together on one wall, while the rest of the gallery was relatively spaced out. I find myself thinking about the relationship between that back wall, the arrangements on the tables and my painting practice.

Upon the Sea, installation, 2011
Can you describe your working routine?
I alternate between studio days and teaching days and that really sets the rhythm for each week. On studio days I go into the studio at 8am. It takes me time to warm up to the idea of painting. I will read for twenty minutes or so and then start mixing paint or looking at the decisions I made during my last studio session. Being in the studio on the early side is wonderful. I relish the moment when I look at the clock and it is 10am and I have already made major decisions and progress and I still have a whole day to work. Around 4pm I stop painting to spend time with family, tend to professional and teaching responsibilities and then sometimes sneak in a little more studio time.
Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?
Right now I keep two studios here in Knoxville; one is at the University of Tennessee where I am on faculty. I use this space for larger paintings and projects. This is a nice space, high ceilings with windows looking towards the mountains. I am really pushing to do larger more ambitious paintings and this space definitely provides the room to work at a larger scale. I have several completed 7’ x 5’ canvases and an 8’ x 6’. There is also an 8’ x 20’ canvas prepped and ready to go.
My other studio space is at home. A little over a year ago, my wife and I decided to turn our garage into a studio space. We have three little boys and I wanted to be around them as much as possible, but still be able to get time in the studio. It is great. The space has a concrete slab floor, with four windows and about 500 sq ft divided between two rooms. I use the larger front room to work on paintings and larger works on paper. I have three open walls in the studio that I can work on and have paintings hanging around the room. The back space has a long table and it is where I work on small drawings, sort through source material, and store supplies. Having the dedicated space to work at home helps me get a lot accomplished.


Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.
In the studio, I do not think about making a series or making a show. There are generally 15-20 paintings in process at any point. I may not touch one of them for several months or even a year or more, but they are waiting around just in case. Paintings usually start from two different places. Some paintings begin with a found image, something like a quilt, gemstone, graffiti, architectural photograph, or child’s drawing. These source materials are starting points for the paintings. I paint from these source materials to find a way to understand the original image or object and my attraction to it.
The other way that paintings start is less structured and often results from taking left over paint and applying it to empty canvases. It is a strange mix of thrift and feeling around in the dark, trying to find a painting. Whether starting from a predetermined image or by “blindly” scrubbing and scrapping at an empty canvas with paint, I find that the two processes often meet somewhere in the middle as paint and image contend with each other on the surface of the canvas. Lately I have been thinking about how these two approaches relate to inductive and deductive reasoning.

What are you having the most trouble resolving?
I have this large canvas around 7 feet tall and I have literally been stuck on it for a year now. It has layers of transparent patterns on it and negative spaces that create four large circles and it needs a seismic change, but I have not found it yet, it is so frustrating but so exciting at the same time, trying to figure out what it needs, but not overdoing it at the same time. These “problems” are some of the most exciting things about painting.
Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
Yes and yes. New materials and approaches are great because they get me out of my habits and comfort zone and inform my eye and hand about what I do and do not know. But parameters like paint and canvas can be just as freeing and informative; they force me to imagine the infinite possibilities within a closed set of limitations.
I Always Lie, installation, 2013
What does the future hold for this work?
This summer I am going to be spending two months in residence at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. I am excited to live and work in west Texas, soaking in the striking, natural environment. I will spend time exploding my practice and pushing boundaries. While I do not know the exact ways the work will be impacted by this experience, I look forward to the twists and turns that wait.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you, Valerie, for the opportunity to be part of this project.
Here are some images from my catalog of source material that I use in the studio: