Tuesday, November 4, 2014


nunc stans 1, 2014, acrylic and ink on paper, 20” x 20”

What are you working on in your studio right now?

I’ve primarily been working on three aspects of studio work: one is larger scale acrylic paintings (ranging from about 4’ x 4’ to 4’ x 6’) as I’ve taken some to a gallery here in Des Moines and freed up a bit of my storage space.  I really love working big but have a studio that is only about 120 square feet with a working wall that is only about 8’ x 10’, so it is prohibitive in how large I can work.  Secondly, I’ve started a new series of drawings called nunc stans—from some reading of Mircea Eliade I’ve been doing about the concept of the eternal present—that use layers of ink and acrylic in which the ink bleeds through multiple layers of paint.  The last important part of my studio production is sculpture, which tends to take a bit of a back seat to the painting, but is always in the back of my mind.  Right now I’m working on some totemic wood carvings that are in various stages of being finished. 

I’m also curating two exhibitions in Des Moines, which a lot of the email, planning, and coordination takes place in my studio.  I try to be in my studio as much as I can, even doing mundane tasks like answering email or scheduling meetings because I like to be around the work, I feel in some ways that I can continue to think about it on a different level even if I’m not physically working on a piece.  The two exhibitions are everyday abstraction here at Anderson Gallery, Drake University and DUST at Viaduct Gallery, Des Moines Social Club. 


cathedral (bones), 2014, acrylic on panel  72” x 48” (triptych)
Can you describe your working routine?
My studio is the guest bedroom in our house, so on days that I’m teaching I might only step in for a half an hour or so, but I still try to put something down on paper or panel every day.  On studio days, I typically exercise first thing in the morning, make breakfast and coffee, and am in the studio by 10 or so and work until 4pm or so in the afternoon.  Depending on the time of year I will walk outside or putz in the garden a bit while paint is drying.  I tend to have streaming television or movies on in the background, though I don’t always watch what is going on.  That background noise is important for some reason.  I occasionally will listen to music, too, but it tends to distract me from my work—I start singing or thinking about the lyrics too much and want to make music instead of paint.  I tend to spend a few hours making dinner for my spouse and I, occasionally heading back to the studio for a night shift.  Unless I’m out of town, I do everything I can to at least look at the paintings in my studio once a day—visual thinking is an important part of my studio routine, thinking through formal ideas and rearranging composition, color, and form in my work as a way of figuring out what my next step with a painting is.
Can you describe your studio space and how, if at all, that affects your work?
Though my studio is small, it is on the second floor and overlooks our garden and our neighborhood that is dense with old white oak trees.  We live in the city but near a ravine and so it feels somewhat secluded, which I feed off of.  My studio is packed with books, furniture that I’ve accumulated or made, and notes that I’ve written to myself on the wall.  I have one primary table that is covered in paint, a large easel that mostly holds work, and two great wooden chairs—just like old cathedrals, I don’t want to get too comfortable sitting in there, I need to be somewhat austere in the studio, to make it feel like work and a process.  I do feel that it is important, too, that my studio is in my house; I’ve been in that situation since 2005, so I’m not sure that I am incapable of having a studio outside of my house, but there is also an element of domestic comfort in conjunction with the austerity of the furniture.  I also have worked with paintings and drawings that use dead plants, so there are a number of those hanging on the walls.  I also have a candlebox that I made a few years back for my brushes mounted on the wall, some gifts from other artists, and an old hand-drawn map of the Roman Empire—drawn by a student, potentially in the 1930’s.  I saw that map at a book store and couldn’t pass it up.    


Tell me about your process, where things begin, how they evolve etc.

I think a lot about my process, especially in terms of what is important and what is a sort of momentary habit.  I think the enduring parts of my process are working with impulse first—not overthinking the basis for a painting, whether its on panel or paper.  Making these first marks and forms are what determines a lot of the subsequent marks, forms, and colors; once the first marks are made I respond to them—negating them, re-emphasize them, painting over, obscuring, erasing, or bringing them back from the dead.  I think best, compositionally and in terms of color, when I have something to react and respond to, so I can’t let the first part bog me down. 

I think this process allows me to make work that has a complex sense of space that doesn’t necessarily fit neatly into the established categories; there are elements of geometric abstraction but my hand is most always present and I rarely tape things off; I’m not, though, purely relying on gesture or expression to give meaning.  The space that is represented (or denied) in my work is an important aspect of a work being finished.


in progress
What are you having the most trouble resolving?
Modernism and Abstract Expressionism, as histories in art and theory.  I’m dedicated to painting and firmly believe that painting is an effective form of communication and social engagement, but I think a lot about how I fit in with the history of abstraction and painting and ab ex is the hardest thing for me to resolve (in terms of understand how my work fits within that history).
Do you experiment with different materials a lot or do you prefer to work within certain parameters?
Absolutely, I’m always trying new materials and experimenting with new types of paint.  I tend to be rooted firmly in water-based materials, I am a bit sensitive to oil-based solvents.  I really enjoy working with pigment dispersions and feel like I can get some of the best hue quality from dispersions and working with a range of finishes in water-based medium.  I’m a bit of a pack rat, too, particularly with scraps of paint, paper, and fabric, so I feel like that is a constantly surprising and evolving source of materials.  Paint works as a great adhesive, so collage and painting go hand in hand in my studio.   
Wrenwood #66, 2014,
acrylic, ink, collage and pencil on paper, all 15” x 11”
What does the future hold for this work?
I have to try to anticipate how work will play out for a few grant applications that I apply for through the university, and I’ve applied for a few grants with hopes of making more large-scale work including paintings on panel and outdoor sculptures.  I really like to work outside when possible, even during the winter, so I’ve wanted to develop that side of my studio practice.  I’ve been working on a bronze casting at the university with a few artists and students, and its been amazing to learn the lost wax casting process.  One of the reasons that I’m an artist and painter is because I need to be constantly engaged and learning about my profession, so my future is largely based on learning new things and working through different methods of communicating ideas.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thanks so much for inviting me to be a part of Studio Critical.  It is great to meet so many artists through social media and see what everyone is working on.  Take care! 
Wrenwood #76, 2014,
acrylic, ink, collage and pencil on paper, all 15” x 11”

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