As a child, I remember watching my granddad make things. He had an old, green Opal station wagon packed with tools, wood, string, and all sorts of cool stuff that absolutely fascinated me. Some of my favorite things were the small trinkets he whittled and carved for Boy Scouts. I was also intrigued by the giant Fourth-of-July firecrackers he built for decorations in his yard and the dollar bill flower arrangements he gave his friends on their birthdays. My mom was also a maker. It seemed like she always had my sisters and me working on some project, whether it was a table centerpiece for our Thanksgiving feast, or an aluminum foil-wrapped cardboard box crafted for stellar travels of the imagination. I used to believe that my mom could fix, make, or build just about anything. My mom and granddad weren’t necessarily artists in the “fine art” sense, but their passion for bringing new things into the world undoubtedly affected me.
“It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey.”
-- Wendell Berry
I can’t remember when I actually started drawing and painting, but it seems to me like I have been making things all of my life. As I came of age, I went off to college in search of my “calling” -- architecture seemed to fit the bill. With it came a degree, a license, and a profession. It is a wonderfully complex and rewarding job, and it has definitely paid the bills; however, it simply doesn’t satisfy all of my creative urges. Like a maze that has to be muddled through, architecture is rife with rules, regulations, and requirements that sometimes seem overwhelming and formidable. In response to the mundane aspects of practicing architecture during the day, I made things at home during the evenings, on weekends, or whenever I could find the time. My passion drove me to want more. I wanted to make art my life, not just a pastime. In a sense, I wanted “a license” to be an artist. I wanted discipline, discussion, and guidance. Graduate school gave me those opportunities and much more.
Emerging from my experience as an architect, I work in both two- and three-dimensional formats. I especially like the clear, mathematical geometry of rectangles, squares, and cubes as a ground for the work I produce, because the rigidity of these forms provides something solid for my “imagery” to hold onto. This fundamental foundation is very important to me because I believe it gives me license to be free in other manners within my art. Frequently, I utilize the Golden Mean rectangle in my work because of its infinite depth and precision, and in opposition to this, I set up artificial rules, and break them with delight. Juxtapositions of order and chaos, beauty and ugliness, complexity and contradiction: these dichotomies fascinate me.
“Every good artist paints what he is.”
-- Jackson Pollock
I see the creation of art as an adventure, or a search for a place that has no destination. Given the rapid changes in our current world culture, the flashes and promises in news and advertising, and the awareness of global events both small and large, I find it difficult to process all of this information and know what, if anything, a single person can do to participate in it. Psychologically and emotionally, I have a tendency to go to some pretty dark places, and I fight that every day. This current body of work, entitled -- Falling Upward -- is my attempt to embrace hopefulness. Through my positive outlook, I do not deny the darkness and ugliness of reality, but accept it and push onward in search of the beauty that surrounds it.
Rarely do I have a clear image in mind when I begin a new piece, and when completed, I am usually amazed by the journey taken. Many of my works evolve out of detailed research about something that fascinates me: an event, a place, an idea, a thing, or a person. I sometimes spend hours online or in the library learning as much as I can about a subject, and I print images related to it. I devour novels, history books, maps, poetry, biographies, and music of all types, weaving them in and through my consciousness which, I believe, impacts my work. For example, my painting titled Falling Upward was influenced by research of classical images depicting angels ascending into heaven. I looked at hundreds of diptychs, triptychs, chapel ceilings, altar pieces, and paintings; I read about the artists who created them; and, I listened to music associated with them. I began this particular piece by developing large print-outs of some of the images I had collected, and then I cut them up, selectively editing them for their embodied movement and tension. I fragmented them further as I applied them to the panels, alternating between adding on and sanding off. Even further, I drew and painted on top of these images, adding new forms as the painting progressed. It is a labor-intensive process and the actual “work” is meditative for me, especially in its repetitions. I enjoy spending time in that place. Intentionally allegorical in nature, the result is a palimpsest that reveals traces of my choices and opens possibilities for multiple interpretations, constantly blurring the lines between representation and abstraction.
Each piece that I make has a similar, though unique, history behind its creation, and each piece has a personality all its own. As for my three-dimensional work, it is frequently cubic in shape based on research I began while studying architecture at Harvard. At that time, I became fascinated with a passage in the Bible that describes the Holy City -- the New Jerusalem -- whatever that might actually mean. Since that discovery, I have made countless cubes as my way of groping with the concept. My large sculptural piece entitled – Blue Skies -- is an example of this search. My intention is not to “illustrate” or “represent” the Biblical description, but to seek a glimpse of something new. I think of Blue Skies as a place I have been to, or, better yet, a place where I am going. It is constructed of scraps of wood from old buildings and furniture -- debris originally intended to be thrown away. Some of the fragments were found with bits of color already on them, and some I have painted. Wanting greater unification of the overall form, each wood slat was brushed with a thin, milky whitewash. The building-like shape hovers above the ground with a weighty weightlessness, an accumulation of vague memories from the past, tangible fragments of the moment, and hazy visions of an unpredictable future.
My work is grounded in these romantic and figurative narratives; however, as stated above, it is not an attempt to illustrate or represent them. I am much more intrigued by the complexities of abstraction, and I like what the artist Mark Bradford says about abstract painting: “It’s kind of like coming in the back door.” He says it provides an alternative way of speaking, a form of “indirect speaking.” I like this approach because it liberates me from any set rules or fixed parameters, and it lets my work become what it wants to become. Abstraction merges my intuition with my cognitive thinking without limiting, or prescribing, the outcome.
Beyond the initial momentum developed through my research, I let process drive my work, packing it, like my granddad’s Opal, with images, colors, and ideas that fascinate me. Rarely woven together in a clearly discernable way, patterns emerge and formal aspects resolve themselves as I push onward. I do not limit myself to any specific media, and most of my material selections are readily available: old children’s books, family journals, house paint, plywood, pencil marks, Elmer’s glue, etc. I feel that these materials possess a humility in their commonness, and I believe they have a memory of something good embedded within them. Some are old and faded and if not re-used by me, would probably have been lost or thrown away. I combine these elements, layer by layer, pushing and pulling, adding and removing, constantly searching for images that look beyond what I am accustomed to seeing. As I cut, glue, paint, draw, scrape, and sand, some alterations are carefully calculated and precise, and others are purely spontaneous and intuitive. Patterns and thoughts crystalize and the pieces come alive. Ultimately, I like it when my work becomes thickly layered and visually rich. I see it as being akin to looking through a glass, darkly. The work emerges, never whole, never closed.
Because of this, I am interested in the notion that, as wonderfully beautiful and complex as it is, this life reveals only a fraction of what we can actually see. I want my art to be difficult, where interpretation and answers are not clear. Through this process I have learned that although I like rules, I also like to break them. I like searching for the unknown. I like the freedom of being an artist, and I have a new respect for the courage it takes to be one. I have also learned not to take myself too seriously. Like the joy I witnessed watching my granddad and my mom bring new things into the world, it is important for me to express myself openly. I believe art has the ability to actually change the world by transforming the way we see, transforming the way we think, and hopefulness is part of the change I want to espouse in my art. I am searching for visions, though usually brief and fleeting, of something new. Of course I will continue to stumble and fall -- always upward, always upward.
“For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”
-- Hebrews 13:14