Writings

Artist's Statement

For me, art is primarily a visual experience. I have no real stories to tell, and while politics and social issues are important to me, I have little to express through art in that sphere, other than celebrating nature and wild places, often the result of preservation efforts by political entities. When looking at art of the past, my main interest is in the visual structure of the work, how the artist made visual choices, or looking at the technical process of the work, rather than the story it has to tell, whether that be religious, hitorical or cultural. My interest in contemporary art is broad, encompassing the work of many artists whose work bears little or no relation to mine. I have little interest in art that requires a lengthy explanation to understand. I want my eyes to be challenged. 

 

My training and early career in the 1960s and 70s coincided with an orientation in American art toward formal concerns: color, scale, surface and the act of painting. For me these found fruition in a body of nonrepresentational paintings, and then increasingly incorporated landscape elements. As a passionate naturalist, landscape resonated especially strongly with me and became my most compelling subject. It has continued to command my attention since and I continue to be most inspired by the visual experience of landscape. For approximately the past ten years, I have been concentrating my subject-matter on rocks: monumental glacial erratics and rocky fields in Maine, the magnificent uplifted eroded granite in Joshua Tree National Park (CA), and other locations where the geology is dramatically exposed. Many of these rock-scapes I approach as a painter might approach a portrait, or a still-life, rather than a landscape, per se.

 

 Earlier in my career, I painted small studies (usually en plein air  about 18" x 24") and then used them as models for larger paintings, between 5 and 6 feet wide. However, it was the small paintings that I felt were the most lively, direct statements of my experience and several of my close friends and fellow artists had the same opinion of my work. Still, I was suspicious: shouldn't I be doing big, "important" work, the stuff I was indoctrinated to paint (bigger is better was a kind of contemporary art mantra in the 60s and 70s)? I turned to the work I was reacting most strongly to in museums and exhibitions: an exhibition in London of gouache sketches on colored board by Turner; a series of small oil sketches by Sargent, done on a trip in the Alps, at the St. Louis Museum; the oil sketches of Frederick Church and the other Hudson River painters; the en plein air paintings of Neil Welliver and Yvonne Jacquette, my teachers: all spoke to me more clearly than their large works. And I began to think of their equivalents in other arts: solo keyboard works, chamber music, poems: these were the expressions that moved me and became the philosophical models for my art.

 

 Another aspect of doing smaller works from life was, in a sense, practical: many of the locationst that I wanted to paint were remote from my Philadelphia studio (mid-coast Maine, locations in the west such as Utah, New Mexico and California). Often, I had the opportunity to add several days of painting to a trip to work with an author during my "day-job" profession as a developer of illustration programs for science texts. An efficient, portable studio was one of the requisites of this situation, and so I began to work with pastel on colored paper, or gouache on colored paper, both of which were compact and allowed for a great density of color, a "calligraphic", direct application, and workig quickly in the changing lighting conditions of a plein air  situation. The works done in these media have sometimes found fruition in studio paintings, often larger in size, but often the direct work from nature stands on its own as the best statement. 

 

Typically, I work in series: a group of works that explore a relatively narrow range of options within a given subject. A series is usually the same size also. That began as a pragmatic decision when painting in oil outside (two wet paintings of the same size could be transported, fastened together face-to-face with a small space between, while the paint dried). But more than the practical consideration, I found that I liked to work with "controls" in a particular group of work, for example, the same size, a consistent ground color, or palette range so that the variables I was exploring would share a common base.