New York, New York
How did you start painting?
My first interest was actually probably in drawing – in comic book characters. That was very early on, in junior high school. Then, I had a couple of mentors in high school that quite inspired me – they were very nice and funny people but their paintings were very dark. That contrast interested me a lot. That started my passion for painting. I later dabbled in architecture and printmaking – I was always looking for my true direction but at the same time, I found myself always returning to painting. When I was spending too much time in the architecture studio, I would think, oh no, this is good but I’ve got to get back to the studio! Painting kept calling me.
How did you know wanted to focus on painting exclusively?
As an undergrad - I got a degree at Hunter for painting and printmaking, which enabled me to have a teaching job like the ones my mentors in high school so enjoyed. They were able to juggle and meld their lives as a professional and an artist. At one point I considered graphic design work briefly and then that’s not the path my life took – I pursued teaching art and making art. I’ve had a studio now downtown for quite a long time now.
The first studio I got was in 1987, while I was in graduate school. The studio was down on North Moore Street. Then, for three or four years I moved to a place in Jersey City, which was fine. The place was a live/work situation. Then I found space in SoHo on Mercer Street and I was there for about twelve years. But then the prices rose and I had to move. Actually this studio now was a close one. Right when I was joining Artsicle, the building was a lot rougher, and I guess it got sold or there was a foreclosure – there was going to be a massive renovation that didn’t happen. Long story short, a new company came in and finished all this work to make the building look a little nicer and increase my rent but they did not ask me to leave. This was a concern because that had happened in the previous two spaces: my studio was wanted for storage, new gallery spaces, or condos . It’s surprising because the studios are often not the most attractive spaces – basements or what have you. One of my old studios, though, the one right on Grand Street, is still empty three years later.
And I’m sure that had to do with the crash.
Yes, I’m sure – someone lost their shirt, someone lost their funding. I’m sure though that it’ll come back but that space is still sitting there. All in all, though, I’ve been painting in downtown Manhattan for the past twenty years.
Where and what do you teach?
I teach general art at a prep school uptown called Cathedral.
Do you find that working with the kids influences your work here or is it pretty separate?
More vice versa – the work I do on my own influences what I teach them. Let me give you a concrete example. For a long time I was making road signs – I would take images of masterpiece paintings and sculptures and turn them into road signs, like the Bust available on Artsicle. I was fascinated with the idea of road signs and did a project where we created a “Saving the Animals” road sign.
Something that I’ve noticed in your landscapes is the extreme absence of anything man-made that I begin to feel the absence as a presence – is that what you intended?
Yes, in a way. I’ve progressively removed architecture from my landscapes as time has gone on. For a while, I did a series on high ways there were based on scenes from Key West, with the long bridges and smalls cars. There was nothing heavily industrial but there were man-made elements.
Ultimately, though, I think that there’s a nice contrast in that you are in a car, seeing these road situations from a car point of view, but you can’t see the vehicle you’re in. A lot of my earlier pieces had dashboards or steering wheels, and sometimes even rear view mirrors, but over time I took those out. I know that I wanted the same perspective but without machine-made things in the way. I wanted the viewer to enter into the landscape but still have a fixed point of view.
The point of view seems to me to indicate an invitation of an open-ended interpretation of what’s going on or who else is in the car.
Very much so. The landscapes of this type that I’ve sold have a way of serving as an escape. People put them in their office as something to take them away from where they are, perhaps to suggest to where they are going that weekend, or just another imagined place. That’s the reason why these skies are very important – a lot of the pieces have low horizon lines. It’s kind of a car element – that’s where these machines I’m making now come from. My earliest work, in graduate school, was much more organic, isolated abstract forms but then I started integrating manmade things. I’ve always been interested in the dichotomy between what is manmade and what is natural in my work. I made these abstractions with airplanes, and then those pieces became more symbolic. Then I started getting interested in airplanes as road signs, and then coats of arms as road signs, and then the road signs got me interested in the road.
Obviously, a car is in motion but to me your work seems very static – did you intend that as well?
Yes. You could be standing still, you could be moving, but I didn’t want anything in my images to be a blur. I’ve run the gamut in terms of trying out different angles on certain concepts, over long amounts of time. I did landscapes for ten years. But now I’m thinking about the surfaces of the objects, the texture of the canvas, the way the shapes interact.
I’m trying to streamline what I have on Artsicle into three categories – the landscape, the baroque pattern figure, and then the engines.
How did you start working originally from collage?
They’re kind of almost a montage of photographs – there’s always an element that comes from my architecture background. I had a teacher who was inspired by all the forgotten, in between spaces and I never really forgot that line so I also thought about roads a lot. When you’re on a road, you’re going to some place, but you might not be paying too much attention to what’s going on along the way. Those mundane, in between spaces, like when you’re in a car going from place to place, have their own beauty too. The beauty of getting there, I guess, is what I’m thinking of.
The collages came from finding images of car engines in magazines and newspapers. The shapes were really interesting to me because they were slightly organic – and that again is something that I’ve grappled with. The tension between inorganic and organic is present because a lot of these engines have organic forms even though there are completely inorganic materials.
I did a series of animals as well. I was fascinated by Pompeii, and used the texture of Roman frescoes in the portraits of animals, but they are also these organic machines. So my work has reoccurring themes: what’s beautiful, what is the essence of these things, what’s organic vs. inorganic?
It seems like a lot of your work is very conceptual and has a clear genesis. Many other artists I’ve talked to say their feel their inspiration flows out of them while their working, but I wonder if you would say that same thing.
No, I would not. I would say my process is more of a game plan – there’s a certain methodology to the way I work. I will definitely linger in certain areas, if I’m a little more inspired, more awake, whatever. Through drawing and making other things, I will often test out what I want to paint on a large scale and explore ideas and have ideas loop in on themselves. The concepts that we talked about earlier that I see in my work are much more of a reflection of everything as a whole, but I can also see a thread as I’m building my work. I can see the threat pulling me forward, just made out its head and know I want to continue.