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Artist Statement

After several decades of getting paint in my clothes, and even in my ears (how did it get there?) I still love painting. Most mornings after quickly eating homemade granola (my wife says I eat too fast), I virtually run to my art studio to dip a brush into some more ultramarine blue. When I paint, I’m in another world. My attention is so focused that I lose track of time, personal concerns disappear, and external circumstances no longer matter. I’m very grateful for this deep and extremely exhilarating sense of enjoyment day in, day out.

Some of the joy I get from painting stems from trips to the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, analyzing works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso, Romare Bearden, and others. I was at the museum as often as three times per week because it was so close to my residence when I attended Wayne State University. Soaking up centuries of great art, and studying paintings that have withstood the test of time, showed what was possible, and instilled in me the ability to “see” with an artistic eye.

After studying masterpieces for decades, I assumed there was a hidden secret to great painting that would give me a breakthrough in my own work. Just as I thought I was inches from this “secret”, a professor told me, “There is no secret because every artist finds his own way to paint.” To this day, I rank the professor’s statement as the most profound I’ve heard about painting, in part because it led me to throw out a number of “shoulds” from my head. I also threw out “supposed to’s” after discovering that my instincts are often more reliable than theory. I share insights similar to the professor’s when I mentor, teach, or do demonstrations in hopes that others might benefit from following their instincts as well.

The Joy of Painting

Discovering creative solutions for each piece, and problem solving is where much of my joy from painting originates. Like an Olympian pole-vaulter, I keep raising the bar, taking risks, experimenting, and stretching my skills.

Joy also comes from painting the people, places and things that I love and inspire me. I find people very intriguing to the extent that they are in almost every painting. In addition, I enjoy painting mundane or offbeat subjects to see if I can make something beautiful out of them, such as people standing on a street corner waiting for a traffic light to change.

Moreover, painting people in different cultures doing everyday things is a subject I keep returning to, such as men trading cattle in Senegal, and women washing their clothes in a river in Guatemala. I’ve been painting city scenes since the 1960’s, (my oldest series) and especially enjoy painting the city at night. Although those subjects are personal to me and I get a thrill out of painting them, they are interesting and engage the viewer’s imagination. What more could I ask?  

However, the primary subject of my paintings is shape. When I learnt to “see” and arrange shapes my painting took a quantum leap forward. Basically, I paint the relationships and differences between shapes...large and small shapes, dark and light shapes, cool and warm colored shapes. Sometimes, turning the painting upside down reveals some adjustments needed to really make the shapes mesh. Especially from this vantage point, the art is visible in the pattern, rather than in the objects and details themselves.

In fact, some collectors of my work seem to get more enjoyment from mystery than details because the areas of the paintings that I intentionally leave vague allow the collectors to conjure up their own images, and bring their own interpretations and stories. Consequently, they see something new each time and enjoy the painting for years to come.

The Painting Process

I use some reference materials like photographs and sketches, but mostly I use my imagination to swing my creative door “wide-open”. The great painting teacher, Robert Henri, said it best, “A work of art is not a copy of things....An artist who does not use his imagination is a mechanic." I’m definitely not the mechanical type!

For example, my sketch of a woman sitting alone in a room may well end up as a beach scene painting. I'll change the time of day, change the light direction, add or subtract people, merge and invent shapes, exaggerate certain aspects, or change one season to another to better express how the subject matter feels to me. In other words, like a stage director, I have the courage and conviction to build my own scene rather than copying what I see. I don’t look for perfect, ready-made scenes out there because they are rare. I have to build them for myself.

To keep visually attuned, I carry a sketchbook with me at all times, drawing images from everyday life with the deliberate practice of an athlete or musician. I literally draw everything everywhere to the extent that I even sketched a coral reef from life while I was fifty feet underwater in a submarine. These thumbnail, fast and loose practice drawings are mostly about “seeing” and arranging simple shapes. As a teenager, I followed my mother around the house, sketching her as she ironed and washed clothes. I would even take the bus to the end of the route, sketching noses one day and ears the next.

Today, I’m still a “sketch hunter” because it provides me with a rich source of entertainment and play, keeps my attention focused on beauty, and improves my painting. As a matter of fact, sketching a diversity of people, places, and things for decades has given me a vast pictorial inventory to paint from memory. I have deliberately set up my drawing practice to simulate 80% of the skills of painting, because when all is said and done, painting is drawing with a brush. This dedication to practicing has paid off to the extent that I can confidently take on any subject that appeals to me.

With my sketchbook, camera, or paintbrush, I collect sparks of ideas which ignite my imagination. I'm still amazed at how those sparks suddenly ignite an inspiring concept for a new painting. The birth of many of these ideas occur on trips where I am more likely to see shapes from a fresh perspective and excited frame of mind. I continue to be inspired by life’s images and endeavor to capture them in new ways through each painting. Take a look around and see for yourself some of the richness that life has to offer through a new lens.


 

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