My paintings have always been autobiographical and make visible my search to explore those things I deeply care about. Looking back, I see patterns revealed through decades of artmaking. At first in work that is abstracted and explores visual transparency; then in themes with dream imagery that document my psyche’s struggle to be more fully conscious; and now in paintings with meticulous detailed spaces that include contemplative figures who are engaged with the world and their environment. If I consider whether or not I have a spiritual practice, I realize it is and has always been with the painted canvas.
There are things we can control and things that just happen and require us to respond or not respond. For me, now, time and place—living in a rural, somewhat remote mountainous area—just happened. I chose to respond purposefully by seeking out the people who inhabit these surroundings. I acquainted myself with my family members, my neighbors, my colleagues at work, my students, and I saw patterns in their lives: an interest to be engaged in culture and politics beyond their immediate locale; a reliance on often unreliable internet and cell towers to do that; suspicion about how to tell which internet sources wouldn’t troll or manipulate truth; and always pressure—pressure to piece together multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. All of this is driven by acres of poverty with pockets of great wealth. It is evident that there are frictions here that result from shifting and aging populations, and these I document through ordinary objects and people, frayed cuffs and halos of light, non-traditional alignments of the pedestrian and the sublime.
I have chosen to paint the diversity of people I meet and the ideas that they speak of that have both surprised and inspired me. My figures are thinking and introspective, and the people they depict have stories to tell. They want us all to listen. Some feel insignificant or frustrated by poverty, or perhaps a lack of accomplishment, while others are accomplished, but angry or disappointed in general. They all have ideas for personal or systemic, societal improvement, and all have ideas for a brighter future. Some feel invincible, while others feel vulnerable. All search for meaning.
Each painting begins very differently. Sometimes I have an idea that is triggered by my reaction to a recent news event—the death of another black man or yet another attack on a synagogue or mosque or school, or something someone in power says or does—and I consider who might also feel strongly about what just happened. And then I reach out in my community and begin to ask questions. Other times I might be just having a conversation with a neighbor or a student and they mention something that I hadn’t known or considered. An example of that is our small Latinx community’s apprehension about leaving their urban environment for the “deep north.” And sometimes I just stumble upon a beautiful image and have the presence of mind to use my phone to snap a photo. Often, and I’m never sure why at the time, I intuit that it will be a good photo reference at some point. Sometimes those spontaneous photos are prompts for paintings that are the most personal, such as the photo I took of my father just weeks before he died. And often, I go back to that setting and take more photos. I compile multiple photographic references that are enhanced by my own perceptions of the figure or figures and the space they inhabit. And, finally, I go about my process of making a painting.
Each painting is an exploration of what I see, what I understand, and what I feel. I am interested in detailed accuracy, but at the same time I want to convey the introspection in the subjects of my paintings. I use close observation and work in small sections in thick, economical, alla prima marks often subtracting the excess information to complete details. Thus, some of these sections develop in the same way as the conversation with the subjects in them: at the center of each conversation lies a central thought, theme, or idea that helps me generate the narrative—the setting, the pose, the curated objects—in the image. Other times I paint a small area, strategizing from “general to specific” finishes, with little or no revision. These sections reflect other moments when little or no editing is necessary: where the subjects present themselves spontaneously and without artifice, where the image and idea are simply there and I capture and translate them in paint. And in other areas I explore impasto paint texture and intense light to fragment or abstract selected forms. These sections, too, inform the narrative as I want the emphasis to be on the transforming power of an idea—a kind of enlightenment—as revealed by intense light. For me, these light patches invite us all to slow down, stop, pay attention. My paintings ask questions not only of me, but also the subject, and ultimately, the viewer. Sometimes the sitter comes up with the title for the painting, and sometimes I try to summarize a title from our many conversations. Each title gives clues to the painting’s narrative.
I don’t think I will every tire of the subject of time and place, for there are uncountable people and always their stories to paint. The poet Muriel Rukeyzer wrote that “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” Perhaps the way a writer develops a narrative letter by letter, word by word, until the story unfolds, so too I develop each painting brushstroke by brushstroke, section by section, and in stillness, overtime, and in solitude. I choose to navigate in this world of other people’s stories realizing, too, that my own story unfolds before me as I paint. Ultimately, I see this body of work as a complex point of entry into not simply a physical space but to a time in history and a challenge to the perceptions and easy assumptions we make about ourselves and others.