Monday, November 12, 2012

the object

most of my painting involves obliterating the object. I rely on visual stimuli from nature, but then boil it long enough that only a few of the strongest ingredients remain.

but sometimes, and usually in my drawing practice, I long for representing actual objects. it could just be a reaction to all of that loose, slapdashery that is my typical painting process, but the draw is strong none the less.

yesterday, here in Astoria, we walked by this dilapidated machine part (no idea what it is or was) sitting in the river just off the bank. it is probably twenty feet tall, and it is fantastically animated. it is like a sad, tired old robot that has been left in the sea to die. it reminds me of Rouault's Old King or the moon-skiing robot from Wallace and Gromit. sad and beautiful and funny (Rouault's king isn't funny... just sad and beautiful)

anyway, I felt compelled to draw this thing this morning.

Friday, November 2, 2012

the bravest artist

philip guston was certainly the bravest artist of the 20th century.  in the 50's and 60's he was creating these fantastic abstract paintings that put him in the ring with Pollock and De Kooning.  his dealer loved them, collectors loved them, and critics loved them.  they were challenging and original.  he was at the pinnacle of success in every way imaginable.

Philip Guston, "Dial", 1956
but then he starts painting like this.

Philip Guston, "By the Window", 1969

everyone tells him he has lost it.  even his artist friends ridicule him.  and yet he perseveres and continues to paint these incredible, shocking images for the next decade.  critics panned the first public exhibition of these paintings in 1970. imagine what was going through his mind.  imagine the conversations around the dinner table with his wife.  does he go back to what was "successful" in the past?  has he made a terrible error of judgement? 




and thankfully, ultimately, the paintings came to be understood and embraced by many as among the best of their day.

for his bravery he is one of my heroes.  i pray that i can muster the courage to be so honest in my work, in the face of everything that strives to conform it to expectations.  "define success", as my friend Kurt says. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

studio visit

i visited the Hirshhorn museum last week and spent a bit of time in a room full of de Kooning's women.  somehow he ended up coming home with me, and now he's hanging out in my studio.  de Kooning has been in my studio before, along with Mitchell and Guston.  they are the most frequent visitors anyway, and the hardest to get rid of.  i had, through great effort, just recently gotten rid of them; but now he's back.  it's going to be hard to get rid of him this time.  i'll just have to paint a lot of bad paintings and then he'll get pissed off or bored, and leave.  that or i'll run out of beer.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


i just completed the toughest commission i have ever received.  my friend and his family spent three months in hong kong this summer.  their adventures and routine constantly involved the MTR (hong kong's train system) and the map is a visual reminder of their travels.  he commissioned me to paint an abstract interpretation of it.
painting abstract interpretations is what i do, but the tough part was that the map already looks like one of my paintings.  what i do is take a lot of visual stimuli and reduce it and simplify it.  the map is already the perfectly reduced and simplified representation of land, sea, and rail lines.  in fact it is a textbook abstract painting. 

after many, many layers of paint, each looking too much like the original map, i let go and painted "my painting".  what i tend to do is loose and fast, and the process is more like a dance than a drawing.  once i started approaching the canvas in that way, and let go of the hard lines of the map, i was able to enter the consciousness (or exit the other-consciousness) necessary to paint without restraint.  the colors remained true to the map, and my mantra ("white is land, blue is sea, and lines are journeys") ensured that the map was the inspiration for the painting.
wanting to present my client with two options, i was simultaneously working on another version.  for a period both versions were looking too much alike, then on a trip to the beach, with typical oregon coast weather keeping us house-bound, i opened a Richard Diebenkorn book.  i was instantly struck by the obvious similarity between Diebenkorn's paintings and maps.  here was my inspiration and my affirmation that these simple forms, in two colors, with linear elements, could be handled in a painterly way with strong map-like familiarity.
both paintings are 35" x 56", and involve acrylic and spray paints.  the lower one also includes some conte crayon.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Well, it's a start

Don't know where this is going yet. Haven't yet connected back to making marks and thinking in a visual way. But, I can't stay away anymore, even if the studio is musty and the brushes are all hard. Thankful about my blogger pals who have kept the fire burning. Miss you guys, miss making a mark that moves me. Looking forward to what could be.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

what. ever.

I looked at a couple of paintings with a positive critical eye again today. Hopefully that means that maybe even tomorrow I'll actually work on them, in addition to seeking out ways to exhibit them if they turn out OK.

I guess being critical comes naturally, and for painters it can be even more strong. But when I look at my work I want to move straight from, "something's not working" to, "what can I strengthen to make it work."

I think it's really easy to see that a painting isn't currently successful and become bummed out, wondering what went wrong instead of what needs to go right.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

man or monkey?

i paint in a spontaneous manner.  if you have five minutes to spare, the below video will illustrate what i mean.  it is from a month ago or so.  my friend Randall watched it and said that i paint the hardest way possible.  i don't know if that's true, but i don't know any other way.

any way, my point is that by painting this way i create an environment where magic can happen.  by being less dictatorial about the process, and by allowing whims and fancies to inspire me as i go, i am open to anything.  don't get me wrong, much of the time this results in a disastrous muddy mess.  it happened last night.  frightful painting.

the painting in this video is not bad.  i don't think it's done, and will most likely go through another ten rounds like it went through this time, but i feel like the process is a good one, and the results, when they are solid, are worth the effort.

tuesday i opened myself up to that opportunity and a good painting came about in less than two hours.  today i was pretty tight and the painting isn't as good.

but get this.  so today i'm driving around and a thought entered my head.  if i thrash about on the canvas as i do, all meat-fisted and semi-conscious, am i just a thousand monkeys with paint brushes?  creating mostly junk but occasionally dipping the right brushes into the right combination of buckets and getting lucky!  is that all i am??

man, i tell you, i was in a panic.  i had a confidence-crisis moment.  that's probably why i tightened up today.  i guess the proof is in the painting.  in my higher state - my more evolved state, i created a less exciting painting.  the other one, the hundredth-monkey painting from tuesday, is hanging upstairs in my foyer and i think it looks pretty darn good.


here's the one from tuesday that i like:

A visit from The Past

painting is simultaneously the most frustrating and most fun thing i have ever done. it is such a struggle to wrench a painting out of all those marks.  the mental gymnastics required to jump from scene to painting, and the effort required to be master of each, and not just puppet, is exhausting and exhilarating.

today The Past was my uninvited studio guest.  i got him to leave eventually, but i'm not sure the painting survived the onslaught of suggestions he made while he was here.  he really wanted me to paint another Wilson River painting like "The Hollow", but I threw in these giant white rocks at the bottom to completely reconstruct the composition.

i'll probably leave it alone for a while and show it to my artist friends for criticism.  i think i'm too close to it to know what to do next... time will tell.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

to thine own self...

as i sit in my studio today, it is clear that Cage was right about everyone being in here with me.  i keep hearing them.  remarks about composition, mark variations, color choices.  one thought keeps streaming into my mind and fights them off: be true to yourself.  at the end of the day we have no one else to answer to.  the work has to be honest.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


I've been yakkety yak yakking about recent work with one of my artist buddies, whose opinion I take very seriously. That opinion, combined with my crippling self-doubt, is giving me the fucking vapors. I both totally agree with this person, and find that these opinions both make me want to drop sails and totally change tack, and also want to start working on my medical degree.

The most crazy-making part is that this stuff is all backed scrupulously by depth and breadth of knowledge.

In other words, I don't know what I know I don't know what I want to do.

It's no wonder dollars earned becomes the easiest way to measure whether art is successful or not.

Monday, April 2, 2012


My painting just told me to finish it up already. Usually I don't know when to quit; never been given my walking papers before!

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Really enjoying my big painting now. Lots of unseen things happening make those things that are seen pop more, and the whole work well even if it seems a little sparse to me right now.

The question is always how to know when to stop, and if it seems too soon do you honor that? I believe I'll just set it aside after tonight and revisit in a few days to see.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


It suddenly occurred to me what I need to do with my art to bring it to the next level. (Yeah, you know the level of which I speak.) In a certain aspect, this thing is sort of antithetical to my general aesthetic. But, what are you going to do?

Or will I?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I love the fact that being overcautious is a built in variable for my process.

If I'm nervous, I affect the painting lightly for a while. Was about to lay down some color a couple days ago, and thought the pigment might be too strong, so I diluted it by half.

Did my work and by the time it dried I could barely see it. Nevertheless, through a type of accretion the painting starts taking its direction, and even though the marks are hard to see they will still influence everything that comes after.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Have gotten over my fear of the big painting. Am now working with alacrity. Just reminded myself that it's a job, and that I've done this type of work for years now ...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I made one mark with a pencil. Hated it. Liked it the next morning. Was ambivalent about it the evening after. I've kind of forgotten about it now, but I know it's down there, watching, waiting for me.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


I've been holding off on making any marks, though my new big piece is now all covered with dry plaster. It feels solid and didn't warp, there is little torque, so it should be all good.

I hate the nerves that come with working on something big.

Won't someone please take my paintings?

Monday, February 13, 2012


Constructed the substrate for a painting today. 36" X 60" - my biggest single piece since I painted on refrigerator boxes in the late '80s.

(I did a huge sep-tych? 6 piece thing at PSU composed of 48" X 24" panels all hung in a row - Bill LePore called it 'outrageous' or something, but that doesn't count, anyway.)

I have to admit I'm a little nervous working that big, and not only because I have no storage!

Maybe my adoring public will go gaga over the size ...

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Separated black beans from lentils for a while in my basement studio. It helps with concentration. Getting back to work after an unneeded break. Working on small pieces and also trying to go big.

I'm eager to get to it, but circumstances have intervened, I guess. Have to remember and force myself to adhere to some new things I want to work on, while maintaining the good old throughput.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rearrange the studio

i rearranged my studio on friday. in the past i typically painted on unstretched canvas, pinned to the west wall of my studio, the canvas to be stretched later after the painting was complete. lately however i have been revisiting some of those old paintings that had been stretched, which were not up to snuff, essentially painting over the entire things. this posed a problem as i did not have an easel large enough for these big canvases (in the 40" x 60" neighborhood).

so i rearranged the studio to make more room. here is looking southeast. behind the desk area is the sink, and beyond that to the south is the storage half of the studio. my painting wall is unseen, to the right of where i was standing.

turning to the right, here is my painting wall. the material on the wall is a sort of insulation panel from home depot. it is what i pin my unstretched canvas on, like a large cork board. my new "easel" is two 2x4's on either side of the wall, with 3/4" holes drilled in at one foot increments and dowels sticking out of it which support the horizontal 2x4. this is perfect for large to medium canvases. (i have a traditional easel for the smaller canvases)

turning more to the right, now facing north, this is the entrance to the studio. i used to have a desk and shelving along the north wall, but all clutter has been moved to the storage half of my space, allowing more floor space to move around. i can now contemplate my paintings from a better distance and move from side to side freely.

it's amazing what energy i have from the new layout. just having a few more feet of floor space, and a proper set up for the paintings has given the space new life. not shown here is the painting i did on friday after fixing the space up. i think the shot of energy made its way down my arms and onto the canvas. i like it...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

rumors of my death

the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

although this painting might be the death of me. i started it a week ago and it was a gray gloomy mess. then yesterday morning it became this:

showed it to kurt at lunch, and he provided some good insight into compositional issues and so then it became this. while kurt's remarks were spot on, my efforts were disappointing. blech.

then this morning it morphed into this. still not there, but maybe better? this painting has been painted over at least 15 times in the last week. i've never struggled so hard to resolve a painting. Guston says "frustration is everything", so at least i'm successful in that regard.