How I work
When I paint, I draw on my background as a professor of British literature, starting with the work of poet John Keats whose idea of “negative capability” serves as a guide to total engagement with experience and confidence in the face of mystery. Also core to my vision are Sigmund Freud, whose matrix of id, ego, and super ego gives us a way to envisage the often conflicted layers of being in each individual, and Carl Jung, whose theories of the collective unconscious and archetypal symbology show us our mutual interconnectedness. I’m indebted finally to existential philosophy as articulated by Jean-Paul Sartre, to the concepts of Susan Langer, especially in regard to the possibilities of symbolic and nonstructural thinking, and to the deconstructionists who assert the primacy of text and the role of uncertainty.
As I paint, I relish the chance to challenge artistic dogma and defy conventions in ways more intellectual than intuitive, more structured than spontaneous. I begin with an idea usually drawn from literature, mythology, or jazz. I develop a plan for its embodiment based on a heuristic involving the thinkers named above and focused on the energy and vitality of the subject as well as of the creative act itself. I shape the canvas to be organic to the subject and to suggest that the energy in a work can’t be confined by a rectangle or square. Then I paint.
Because the paintings are well planned, I can work steadily on several at once, without needing to stop for inspiration to strike.
From inception to final brush stroke, I strive to capture the complex, deep interplay between myself and the universe we inhabit. I consider the selves we are, the selves we were, the selves we encounter intimately or at distances over time and space, our diverse cultures and heritages—all of which converge to produce creative tensions that my art abstracts. I reject the minimalist approach which seems to strive for calm amid chaos and think of myself as a maximalist. Thus, my work involves the image on the canvas, the subtext of the subject such as lines from a poem or notes from a jazz riff, and the metatext of the shaped canvas which serves as a visual icon.
The finished work is a combination of conceptualization and expressionism—idea depicted to capture its emotional content.
I work in oils, acrylics, enamels, inks, often using all on the same canvas.
Each piece starts with an idea, rendered in a series of sketches, and preparatory work such as building a stretcher. After the canvas is stretched and sized, I add the shapes to the edges and fill in the resulting crack with acrylic modeling paste. I often cover that with spackle and papers or impasto. Doing all this takes several days.
Once the canvas is ready, I often begin with a ground of powdered graphite in clear acrylic gesso, blotting it off to give a sense of crystalline structure.
Then I use acrylics to block in the image.
Finally, I use oils, enamels, and inks to create the complete image. This part is the slowest, usually taking weeks.