“Ever since I can remember, I’ve been troubled by the state of things. Maybe it was all that talk about heaven in Sunday school. A perfect world, why isn’t it like that here? I feel ripped off.
Even the animals didn’t eat each other in heaven.
Can you tell us where you were born and a little history about your childhood?
I was born in 1950 in Southern California. It was still a nice place to live back then. We lived about five miles from the place where they made the moon rockets. My father had his own business, first making paint and then owning a decorating store. He was an independent sort. We lived a pretty much middle class life in white suburbia. My mom did the bookkeeping and raised the kids. She was very artistic, always some kind of fun project in the works. Probably I got the art bug from her. The Fifties and Sixties were the times of the cold war and high anxiety about atomic bombs raining down at any minute. Folks were building shelters in my neighborhood, (very disturbing for a sensitive little boy). Also cheesy Sci-Fi and horror movies, The Twilight Zone, comics and Mad Magazine were the big cultural items in my life. All that stuff has had a big influence on my work. When I was about ten a friend gave me a giant book of the work of Salvador Dali. From then on I knew what I wanted to do.
Is there an event or experience that helped form who you are today?
As a kid I was kind of small and shy with very little self-confidence. I did have an ability to draw which soon got the attention of the other kids. It was maybe the only way to get some status and of course I liked doing it as well. Probably because of that I became “the artist” and have been doing that ever since. Evolutionary biologists would say that most of our motivations are rooted in a desire to get more sex. If it can work for Woody Allen and Tom Waits then surely it can work for me.
What was the first piece of art that you remember creating? The media?
Wow, hmmm. I can’t say I can remember a particular piece but there were some subjects that I loved and used repeatedly early on. Paintings of the Mayflower (which eventually transformed into pirate ships), tractors, spaceships, astronauts, battleships, bombers, super heroes, bunnies and Abraham Lincoln come to mind.
What generally inspires you to create a piece?
I think I have two ways of working. In my political and social comment pieces I usually have an idea first and mostly these come because I am pissed off about something. I try to portray the situation as I see it in a satirical manner. The second way I work is more from the subconscious. In these works I don’t plan them at all and usually I just start painting on the canvas and slowly the idea or vision will crystallize. These paintings often go through many transformations. It is like dreaming while awake. This process can be frustrating and take forever but it can also be the most fun because the outcome is not known.
If there was an artist, dead or alive, that you could spend 24 hours with; who would it be and what would you do?
Jeez, there are about 50 of them. Who I would choose? Probably my choice would change with my mood.
So, right now, I’ll say Gustave Dore, to me an absolutely amazing and prolific illustrator. (see image below) His skill as a draftsman and his sense of cosmic drama are among the best ever. For a day with him I would first get a French translator and go to his studio and just watch and ask questions. After a while we’d have some wine and maybe a little cheese. I would tease him a bit and tell him how much better the artists are nowadays. He could tell me about French women and I could tell him about nuclear missiles and robots. We would both be amazed and become great friends.
What materials, specific brand of paint/glue/pencil do you prefer to use? A favorite? And why?
Besides painting I used to make sculpture, drawings, constructions and even video performance but for the last few years my focus has narrowed to just painting. So, I use ordinary oil paints of descent quality. Good brushes are also very important. If your brushes suck, so will you paintings. I use mostly synthetic filberts. My large pieces are on canvas but occasionally I paint on plywood panels with frames. Paint looks and behaves quite differently on panel. I have been using Gamblin mediums and thinners for quite a while. I have found them to be the least toxic. At one point I almost quit using oil paints entirely because I could not tolerate the fumes from turpentine and traditional mediums.
Is there a technique, procedure or tip that you have discovered, you could pass onto other artists? A specific tidbit of craft, advice or mechanical expertise?
I think the biggest change to my technique and the most useful was to start using only sepia and white in the beginning stages of a new painting. I use an acrylic primer type paint. Using only monochrome allows me to focus more on the composition, drawing and values of the piece without the extra confusion of color. The water based paint also allows for quick drying time and rapid changes. Once I am happy with the overall design and drawing aspects, I then begin to paint over this with color in oil paint.
What is your favorite word? Last song you chose to listen to?
I think “actually” is a word I must use a fair amount. I know this because my granddaughter started repeating it over and over (she’s two) the last time I was visiting her. She likes the sound of it as well. I went to a great party on Saturday. They were playing Grace Jones’ “Pull up to the bumper, Baby” – it was awesome for dancing.
If you could pick one piece of art to own, out of the world’s museums, personal collections and galleries, what would it be?
Bruegel’s “The Tower of Babel” (below)
Of all the exhibits and shows you have been in, are there a few that stand out in your mind as far as the overall quality of work? If so what were they?
I was part of a show at the Meridian Gallery in San Francisco in 2008. This exhibition was part of a nationwide show in galleries across the country called “The Art of Democracy”. This was a showcase for artists whose work deals with politics, war, social justice and related issues. Almost all the work was strong in execution and content. Most notable was Ferdinand Botero’s contribution of works about torture.
Of all your works, what is your own personal favorite? What was the thought or vision behind the work and why is it your favorite?
“The Promised Land” (see below) With so many pieces created over a long period of time it’s hard to pick a favorite but after looking through my web site this one for now seems to be it. I like it so much because of its’ grand vista and the mystery of its’ message. Men in business suits struggle to pull skyscrapers across a bucolic landscape. Reminiscent of the building of the pyramids, how can they do this impossible thing and why? I created this after the 9/11 tragedy. It has many levels of interpretation which to me makes it so intriguing. They could be rescuing famous buildings and taking then to a safe haven or it could be about dragging a culture and reality along with them and failing to see the beauty of the moment all around them.
Last words? Commentary? Story of interest?
I heard a quote a few days ago which I liked very much. It was something like “ An artist’s job is to be a witness to the times he lives in” I agree with that sentiment. There is nothing really new in human experience other than the times we live in. For me, art is about sharing our thoughts, feelings observations and experiences with others. I believe the arts bring us together and help to inform us to what it means to be a human being. In Gauguin’s most famous painting he asks ” Whence do we come? What are we? Whither are we going?” For me, those questions are always worth trying to answer and art is the attempt to do that.
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(This entry was originally posted on 8/24/10 )
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