Sunday, January 25, 2009

Wonder Years

No.  Not the TV show.  Though I must admit that my crush on Winnie Cooper has yet to faulter.

Below are two paintings - actually, let me stop and correct myself for a second.  It's one painting.  A diptych.  One composition in two parts.  The patrons who commissioned it have since decided to hang it separately, albeit in the same room.  I'm not sure how I feel about that exactly.  I guess I'm okay with it.  It's their property now.  Not mine.

When I was commissioned to create this work, the topic was sort of predestined.  The couple who ordered the piece are friends of mine and they wanted a painting for their then unborn daughter. So, I painted childhood.  I thought back to the time of childhood when things were filled with wonder and mystery.  Discovery and simple joys.  Gum balls and crayons. Dandelions and earthworms.  Colors streaking the summer sky.  And then I painted it.

I was once told by one of my college professors that who we are is dictated by where we where when.  That is very true.  The fact that I grew up in a tiny town that barely dots the middle of Illinois contributed to the person I am now.  The fact that I'm here now continues to shape me, and my art.  Enjoy.


Sunday, January 11, 2009


I probably should at some point, reconcile the difference between what I should do and what I actually do.  I'm a smart guy.  I know what needs to be done.  There's always a list of things to do the length of my arm, and considering the space time continuum issues I've been feeling as I get older, things probably aren't going to slow up any time soon.  I know I have to live up to my professional responsibilities, and I have to meet the personal responsibilities that I've laid out for myself as an artist and as a person.  

So why can't I get anything done.  Why do whole weeks go by in flash and I feel like I have barely made a dent?  I know I have a tight schedule, and that I've made certain professional decisions that mean I'm going to be pulled a lot of directions.  That's all to be expected.  I know things are going to get crazy, and I'm going to get tired, and I'm going to feel emotionally and creatively zapped - but I need to find enough fight to feel like I'm not wasting my chance.

So how do I balance my professional and artistic life?  I'm staring down what's probably going to be the most demanding spring of my life and on top of all of that I need to be artistically productive as well.  I know this is really going to test my ability to budget and manage time.  I suck at that.  Really badly.  I think to myself that I'll just try my best.  Then in the back of my mind, as the geek that I am, I hear Yoda's voice saying, "Do or do not.  There is no try."  Fuckin' Yoda.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Little Boxes

At some point I started paying a lot of attention to how my visual memory is connected to my life experiences, and in 2001 I started noticing how certain patterns would remind me of people.  Let's take toile for example.  At that time, I didn't know what toile was.  I'd never heard that word before.  My friend Sarah, who I was working with at the time, determined to educate me on this, drug me into Pottery Barn and showed me a very nice chair upholstered in a toile patterned fabric.  And every since, toile has made me think of Sarah.  Just like Burberry plaid makes me think of Carrie, and the Simpsons' kitchen curtains make me think of Joe.

So I started a list.  I think of that list (which I carry around in a little Moleskin journal) as a sort of inventory.  It's an inventory of a collection.  We all collect things - baseball cards, egg cups, Hummel figures, vintage porn, action figures, classic cars, shoes, Elvis paraphernalia  cookbooks.  It's different for everyone I suppose, but in my case, my list was documenting the people I have collected in my life.  The ones that I have picked up along the way.  The ones I wish were near me. The ones I want to hang onto.  My people.

And this list was made for a reason.  It's the starting point for a series of paintings that shows those visual connections that I continue to make between the things I see and the people I know.  It started with just patterns, but that wasn't enough.  Some patterns remind me of more than one person, and there aren't really patterns for everyone I wanted to document.  So I expanded the possible subject matter to everything visual.  I also decided to include collage and to use the 4" square format for each of the paintings.  Tiny.  Intimate.  As of right now, there are about 400 paintings planned for this series. 

I admit that I'm really quite excited to see them all together.  I imagine them in a big gallery, usually they are in the 12 x 12 room at the Chicago MCA when I imagine it, arranged in a sort of here and there crossword puzzle sort of way.  A remix of our world, documenting those I've known, and what I've seen.  I can't wait to have it all finished.  

I know it's futile to hang onto things.  Nothing lasts.  It all goes by.  But I also know that the reason we are blessed with memory is so that we can take this life that goes by far too fast and revisit the moments that we didn't get enough time with the first time.

So the little boxes will continue to progress, and as they do, I'll continue to post them.  And someday, I'll reach the end of that list.  Someday.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


I haven't spent as much time looking at my work from the past as I have today in a very long time.  I don't have any of that work anymore. That's a lie.  I have Mr. Happy Pants.  He was a sort of milestone for me, and I won't part with him.  The rest exist as images.  They are jpegs and slides.

Looking back though, there are things that I am proud of, that I'm glad I've decided to keep as part of the new work.

Color would be a good example of that.  I have always had a love affair with color.  The relationship between two colors is something that lights a fire in me that I don't quite know how to explain.  The way pink lays on orange.  The way two variations of the same color vibrate against each other.  Blue.  Blue in all it's guises.  My friend Chris used to refer to me as a chromo-philiac.  Granted, he used the suffix philia as a joke, but philia in it's ancient greek root just means fondness or friendship.  Take that Chris.  

But he's not wrong.  I do love color.  Always will.

Another thing I've kept is how I like the 2-D space of my picture plane filled  with multiple visual layers - those deep layers of implied space that build a dream space or mental space opposed to suggesting an orderly and static physical space.  I don't even think I can think with that much order.  It'd drive me crazy if I had to build visual settings made of lines and planes.  I have so much respect for painters who can build complex and meticulous physical spaces within their work though.  Take Richard Estes for example.  Man.  His work possess a kind of order that seems almost foreign to me.

Newer works and works in progress will be coming soon.  Here's a couple of teasers in the meantime.

These are part of a series called Little Boxes, that I'll explain soon.  This first one has been "finished" twice already, and I think I'm going to change one more time.  I'm still in the process of making some final design choices regarding these little ones.  Oh, yeah, they're only 4" squares.  The second one is done.  It was a prototype for the series that I finally called done this summer.

Sarah, 2006/2008

My Favorite Pencil, 2008

And Still More Old Work

College and After (1998-2001) Continued

The King of Nothing Special, 2001

Open Minded, 2001

Now What?, 1998

More Old Work

College and After (1998-2001) Continued

Galatea (My Mona Lisa), 2000

Crazy Guy, 1999 (one of my FEW intaglio prints)

Untitled Diptych (She's Gone), 1998

Charlie Bird, 1999

History & Intentions

I won’t get much work done in the studio today, but this might be a good time to communicate some of my artistic intentions. Meaning, I should begin to communicate what I’m attempting to do with my art.

Historically (see some old stuff below and in later posts), my work has been about the way we connect - with each other and with the world at large - commentaries on who we are as a people and how we interact. They are great pictures. Exciting. Layered in content. Well constructed color use and composition. And that’s all well and good but they ultimately became the product of a dangerous artistic pitfall. The pitfall I speak of is when a painter (or any artist) starts to use his art as psychotherapy. The art becomes too self-contained, and stops being the reflection of society that art should be. The art was still focusing on connectedness and interactions, but it became entirely personal. I was answering my own questions without regard for the world at large. Who loved me? Who didn't? Who hurt me? I was pulling a Picasso, tying my artistic productivity to the muses that drove my heart. Only I was doing it 70 years late, and it was it bit tired. I mean it's so predictably collegiate. So unabashedly self-involved. Me. Me. Me. The 32 year old cynic looks back at the 22 year old idealist and cringes. On a more sentimental note though, when I look back on that work it does seem kind of brave. Naively so, but brave none the less. In the end though, that sort of expressionistic schtick can get pretty tired, and tiring. Who wants to wear his heart on his sleeve every day of his life? Worse still, who wants to watch a guy wear his heart on his sleeve every day of his life!?

So what about now? I still want the work to have heart. Art should. No matter how cynical or analytical it gets, it has to care about something. No one listens if it isn't genuine. Even the darkest satire and most bitter commentary comes from a position of caring. I still spend a lot of time considering how we connect, but I don’t need to spend hours expounding on how I feel about those connections. Not really my thing anymore.

But let's get back to the point. Intentions. If all that history is the foundation that I have laid, then what do I build on it? I have a few ideas.

  • OFFER AN INTELLIGENT AND FRESH POINT OF VIEW. All artists offer a perspective on the topics they address. Some are really interesting and fresh. They start us thinking. They make us reconsider. They challenge us to change our own points of view. not. There are artists who regurgitate tired old ideas and offer up points of view that are blatantly obvious and painfully trite. I think that anyone who makes art should really consider what they're putting into the world.
  • USE PAINT. Only an art geek who loves his materials too much can possibly understand this. I don’t just mean use in the most basic sense of the word; I mean it in every sense of the word. Paint is capable of achieving so much, and I want to show paint in all of its manifestations, with all its visual possibilities, without limiting or restraining it for the sake of style or composition. I want to finesse it. I want to contort it. I want to bitch slap it. I want to give it a big hug.
  • DEFY CONVENTION WHILE RESPECTING TRADITION. Is that possible, or is it an immediate contradiction? Can I challenge and rethink, while respecting and upholding? I think I can. The breaking of rules while respecting the unbreakable laws of painting is the exact formula followed by every painter that's ever made a difference in Painting with a capital P. The envelope must be pushed. The line must be crossed. The status quo has to be looked in the eye and told to fuck off.
  • MAKE AWESOME PICTURES. REALLY? A painter who wants to make cool pictures? That is just crazy talk! Honestly though, the pictures I want to paint are right here in my mind. I see them. Everyday, they fill my head with swirling colors and shapes; with images of our world; with words; with thoughts, and they are awesome. I just need to get them out so everyone else can see them.
Okay, here's some work. More soon.

College and After (1998-2001)

Mr. Happy Pants, 1998

god, 1998