Somebody else should be writing this. When you want to survey several decades of a painter’s work, you don’t want the subject to be in charge of the narrative. Yet that’s where we are. No one else wants or needs to do this so it falls to me.
The reasons why no writer wants to write about my art aren’t mine to know but I can make a few guesses. The work doesn’t fit well into any trend, fad, or movement of the past thirty-plus years. I’m not associated with an institution such as an art gallery, college, or museum. I’ve not done myself few favors in the ways I’ve interacted with the representatives of the art world. These are some of the factors that spring to mind to explain why this work has been virtually ignored by the press and arts establishment. But this will be the first and last place to mention the critical indifference under which I’ve conducted my varied creative pursuits these many years. I’m at least as bitter as the next guy but wallowing is neither a good look nor very entertaining.
Instead, I’ll try to describe the best I can what I was going for in the selected work. I won’t linger overlong on meaning or significance as I believe those are terrains reserved for the viewer rather than the painter. That’s not to say the paintings and drawings I’ve made mean nothing to me but rather that if I say what I think they’re about, it will influence those seeing them for the first time in possibly unhelpful or limiting ways. The thing about a picture is that it must read simultaneously through the eyes and the mind without the guidance of language. When I go to a museum, for instance, I hardly ever read the wall text. When I do it’s on a second or third go-around. What I want is an immediate experience. That’s what I wish for anyone that looks at my pictures too.
So I’m starting this book with two strikes against me: the wrong writer of a thing that maybe shouldn’t be written. But I’m doing it anyway. The reason is simple: I absolutely believe I’ve done enough good work to merit a book-length survey. Most of these pictures a long gone, sold or given away years ago. So the only way to experience so many of them together is via the internet. A screen is probably the worst way to look at a painting. The scale is lost, the colors are never accurate, there’s no context of any kind that survives the translation from canvas to pixel. An art book is hardly an ideal vessel for pictures but it has many advantages over the screen, chief among them being tangibility. The reproduction on the page can’t be shrunk or expanded or combined with a million other images. It may not be a perfect representation of the object it illustrates but it is an attempt to capture just that one discreet thing.
So, within the restrictions of the form, short of traveling to all the private homes that house the originals, I think a book is the best way to look through a representative sample of what I’ve been up to since the 1980s.
I designed a pin for Cine-FILE. Not sure whether they’re selling or giving them away but I’d bug Kat and/or Ben at the site if you’d like one.
My website turns twenty this month. It’s been the old car on blocks in the yard that I’ve been tinkering with the whole time. A hobby and distraction from “real” work but also, often, a completely consuming obsession.
It long ago stopped working well with current technology. I never learned how to mobile-optimize so it’s sort of a mess when viewed on a phone, the way the vast majority of people take in the internet the past near decade. It’s much too late and way above my technical capabilities to fix this. Reminds me of my first car, a 1972 Buick Skylark, that I needed to feed a lead additive to help run right with that new-fangled unleaded gasoline.
I have changed many many things on the site over the years. There’s a folder in my files called Retired Site Pages filled with failed or short-lived ideas. Like the one above when I scanned a dollar bill in for some reason to illustrate the Commissions page. I spend hours, sometimes days updating some small design thing like a background color because with hundreds and hundreds of distinct pages there’s just no way I know to automate the process. What this tedious repetitive coding provides—asides from the nominal improvement to the aesthetic of my dusty little corner of the internet—is a way of checking out of the day-to-day. When I’m changing the layout of a section it may as well be nuclear war outside for all I notice.
The Saturday before last I was at the Siskel for nearly eight hours watching a 1923 silent movie about a railroad engineer’s unseemly lust for the adopted daughter he rescued from a wreck. It’s one of the greatest movie experiences I’ve ever had and made me wish the silent era had gone on a couple decades longer.
I spent most of Thursday and Friday in the basement of the bookstore. First I culled all the doubles in Suspense. Joe decided there’s no need to keep hardcovers of endless series when we have paperbacks. That freed up a whole case for what I came to think of as “cozy crime” books. Clearly marketed at women of an advanced age, these feature homely covers and groaner pun titles about food, knitting, or crossword puzzles. Another shelf was free for boxes and boxes of literary criticism that Joe had hidden behind the bookcases.
I wanted to make a painting of the basement but I ran out of time. When I was done shelving the last of the poetry analyses and Shakespeare explainers I was running late to catch the new four hour Holocaust travelogue essay film running at the Siskel.
My portrait-drawing class starts Wednesday. I’m sort of looking forward to it, which is a little surprising. I don’t have the easiest relationship with education, especially on the receiving end. It was often a wrestling match for me to learn, the times I bothered to pay attention. The default attitude was resentment. I felt annoyed and inconvenienced by the hours wasted in classrooms. I didn’t respect most of my teachers and rarely connected with classmates. School was, for the most part, a real drag.
I dropped out of grad school after a semester thirty years ago because, among other realizations, it dawned on me that I didn’t want to be a college professor of art. That is the primary reason to get a master’s in painting aside from having a free couple years to fuck around before starting your adult working life. I thought of higher education in this country largely as a scam. I still mostly do.
I gave private lessons now and then over the years but never taught in a classroom until Frank called and asked if I’d take over two classes for a colleague who had to take a medical leave. It was winter of 2021, full on COVID restrictions, and colleges all over the land feared shuttering for good. This is why I was hired with no prior experience. The place was desperate to stay open so the usual barriers were down.
I had five students in one class and eleven or twelve in the other. About half capacity. Everyone was masked except for the model in the figure-drawing class. They posed unclothed behind what amounted to a giant sneeze-guard. The curriculum was in place so all I had to do mostly was follow it. It was surprisingly easy.
The class that begins Wednesday will be my own. I have materials from previous iterations taught by others but plan to adjust what I teach according to where my students are at. I won’t know that until I meet them. I’m going into this with an open mind. Perhaps I can give the twelve kids who signed up something I rarely got in my own school days.
Most of them will not go into art. They are taking this class as an elective; a break from whatever field they’re training to enter. What I can offer, if I do it right, is a way of looking that they may not be familiar with. Using eyes to look at the world rather than a screen is a dying practice. It will be my job to show them there’s some value in observing those around them using a pencil rather than a lens. It won’t be easy.