Crimes Against Art

This series of conceptual paintings was done for a show at Archway Gallery in 2005. At the reception for this show, I gave a speech on my views of art, which you may find at the bottom of this page.

Death of Painting
(Oil on Canvas, 24in x 36in, 2004)

This work is motivated by my disapproval of the obsession of modern art with the substance of paint rather than its content. It's not what you paint, but how you paint it. Assaulted by photography, painting has retreated to discussions about its own language. Thus, museums are filled with modern works exploring what constitutes a painting. Thick paint, thin paint, burned paint, sandpapered paint, paint dragged behind a moving vehicle, dripped paint, etc. Paintings about paint are to art as linguistic philosophy is to philosophy. Interesting, but not the kind of ideas one can sink ones teeth into. I would rather look at art that comments on the human condition. Art as teacher. Art as shared experience. Art as spirituality.
The odd thing is that I am doing a show about painting...

Accepted into The Big Show, Lawndale Art Center, Houston, TX, July, 2007
Accepted into the Visual Arts Alliance Show, Houston, TX, March, 2005

Original painting $500

Couch Painting
(Oil on Canvas, 24in x 36in, 2005)

This work is a continuation of the concept behind the painting "Conventional" from my last show, "Not About Nothing". In that work I painted a large sunset and wrote conventional across it, the word symbolizing the struggle between artistry and marketing. "Couch Painting" expresses the same idea in an even more blatant manner. What could be more trite than a bluebonnet painting?

Honorable Mention, Visual Arts Alliance Show, Houston, TX, September, 2005

Original painting SOLD

How to Sell a Landscape
(Oil on Canvas, 24in x 36in, 2005)

Continuing the exploration of the struggle between artistry and marketing is this work. Here, I have added those elements that improve the chances of a sale: the "Sound of Music" landscape, the Victoria's Secret sexual imagery (of course sex can sell anything), and the addition of a complementary color to keep the viewer interested - in this case the color red which I have blatantly written on the canvas just in case its not obvious enough. Some recent research (see Nancy Aiken and "The Biological Origins of Art") has shown that there are certain characteristics that make a work more agreeable - open, grassy, brightly lit fields, scattered stands of branchy trees, hills and mountains, a place of refuge. As a parody of this idea Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid in "Painting by Numbers: Komar and Melamid's Scientific Guide to Art" placed George Washington in the landscape to appeal to the American mentality. Here, following this cue and in keeping with the long tradition of find-the-bunny art, I have hidden George's portrait in the foreground foliage.

Accepted into the Visual Arts Alliance Show, Houston, TX, September, 2005

Original painting SOLD

Supermarket Still Life
(Oil on Canvas, 18in x 24in, 2005)

A couple of years ago I miraculously got a painting into a very nice gallery exhibit whose judge was a teacher and master of the still life. I couldn't help but think, looking at all those Chinese vases, grapes, eucalypti, and other objects, just how trite this art form had become. Peal the onion and there is nothing underneath. Coincident with this idea was my recent experiences in the Chinese supermarkets in Chinatown and elsewhere. Walk in the door and you know there is raw food about. Stuff you won't find at the local Randall's - organ meat and the like - and not even shrink-wrapped! Then it occurred to me what a laugh to do a still life with everything wrapped up in the typically hygienic, sterile American way. Thus begat "Supermarket Still Life". A short trip to HEB and I had it all set up and here it is, immortalized. It really symbolizes to me my own antiseptic approach to food. I am so disconnected from its source I am certain to starve on a farm. At least this onion has one layer.

Accepted into the Visual Arts Alliance Show, Houston, TX, September, 2005

Original painting SOLD

(Oil on Paper, 30in x 30in, 2003)

Many years ago I went into an art supply store to stock up on goodies. The proprietor offered an art class and proudly noted the fact that they did a duck painting as an exercise. Oh boy! My very own duck painting! It seems that every beginner's oil painting class gets their students to do a ducks-over-a-pond work. I often thought of how I could parody this type of work and then it finally came to me at a Chinese restaurant where the ducks were literally staring me in the face. The rest, as they say, is art history.

Original painting $250

(Oil on Canvas, 30in x 36in, 2005)

The following is an excerpt from a review by a respected critic from a prestigious art magazine:

Probably the most intriguing work in the show is Dr. Slaby's "Eponymous" - a haunting white canvas with the words "This painting intentionally left blank" meticulously written across the middle of the canvas in oil paint. This work clearly evokes images of corporate reports and thus invites the viewer to participate in the deconstruction of corporate America, in which corporations are in control of reality, the profit motive and, indeed, the entire capitalist system. The use of courier font, the "lingua franca" of the oppressive, profit-greedy executive, furthers this context. The painting is covered in titanium white, the precious metal of the military-industrial complex. A small smudge of black near the words invites environmentalist interpretations. The paradoxical nature of the work, the painting is in fact not blank, shows the artist is familiar with Godel's theorem of self-referential systems. Further, the miter folds of the canvas at the corners is clearly evocative of the vaginal fold, linking the work to the repressed sexuality theories of Freud.

Another paradox is that the work appears to be on a typeset work on paper, yet is done with oils on smooth canvas, thus challenging conventional views of the reliability of sensory perception and in fact of objective reality itself. We think it is paper because we have been conditioned to do so by pervasive mass media, stooges of the power-elite.

The work courageously rejects all conventional aesthetic standards, as any great work of art must, condemning such banal, bourgeois attitudes as saccharine (another corporate poison foisted on the innocents for the sake of profit). The painting is a slap in the face to conventional bourgeois tastes, placing it in the pantheon of great art and reminding us of Flaubert's truth "contempt for the middle class is the beginning of all virtue".

This subversive work should restore vigor to the impotent post-modernist mission of challenging conventional mores and cause a sea change in the political foundations of our corrupt society. Has this work saved painting? Can it alone do penance for centuries of servitude to the oppressive power structures? We hope so.

Dr. Slaby clearly is a world-class genius, a fountainhead of creativity, and a rebel ahead of his times. Why has such a towering great not yet been recognized? Says Dr. Slaby of this conundrum "I should have slept with Peggy Guggenheim."

End quote.

Original painting $50,000

Ode to Coi
(Oil on Canvas, 28in x 36in, 2003)

Another common art form is the coi painting. In this case I joined a coi painting with one of my favorite novels, Moby Dick. The result is "Ode to Coi: where monstrous coi are hunted down by whaleboats.

Original painting SOLD

Grand Canyon Gargoyle
(Oil on Paper, 24in x 30in, 2003)

Interstate Venus
(Oil on Paper, 24in x 30in, 2003)

Bryce Canyon David
(Oil on Paper, 24in x 30in, 2003)

Monument Valley Graces
(Oil on Paper, 24in x 30in, 2003)

About ten years ago I did a road trip through Arizona after another unsuccessful outdoor art show. I was greatly taken with the landscape of northern Arizona and southern Utah and have used these images in many of my paintings. While there, however, I really felt compelled to use the figure in some of these images. After my wife and I traveled to Paris several years ago, I decided to incorporate sculpture and this has worked out quite nicely, I think. I am struck by the two forms of beauty embodied in each: the objective beauty of the sculpture and the abstract beauty of the landscape. One is seemingly random in its formation, which took place over eons of time, and the other tightly controlled and carefully executed. Each work comments on this in its own way. "Monument Valley Graces" has a nice parallel between the three mesas and the three graces; in "Grand Canyon Gargoyle" the gargoyle really feels like it belongs there, preferring to overlook the canyon instead of Paris; "Bryce Canyon David" seems to imply the entropy-defying idea that the image of David has spontaneously arisen from the rock; and "Interstate Venus" is the most man-influenced of the group - the road and cut through the hill reflecting the sculpture itself.

OK, well, these paintings don't fit into the theme of the show but I've been sitting on them for three years now waiting for a good opportunity to show them. Besides, its nice to have a positive art image, otherwise you'll think I'm really bitter.

Original paintings SOLD

Portrait of Christo
(Oil on Paper, 9in x 7in, 2005)

I did this quick little painting in honor of the one-hit-wonder that just completed "The Gates" project in New York City. This man has managed to make an entire art living from one idea: cover large objects with cloth. This has gotten as grandiose as the Reichstag in Berlin and now the Central Park project in New York. Christo states his works have no intended purpose nor are they subject to interpretation. So why bother? The idea isn't even original as the surrealists offered a sewing machine covered in cloth - which is far more clever. I guess all it takes to make it in the art world is to confuse people and have a single name. Just call me SLABY.

Original painting SOLD

Abstract Rorschach
(Acrylic on Canvas, 12in x 12in, 2005)

Because of its non-objective nature, abstract work allows the viewer to see whatever they wish - the range of interpretation is quite wide. I believe this is also why it seems to have such wide appeal. For some, this can mean removing the artist entirely and leaving the art, if you will, to the viewer. The motivation of the artist becomes unimportant. If the work is "accidental", then so much the better. There is no message, no meaning and no intention. The art is not communicative. In this sense, the work becomes a Rorschach test (the famous ink blots) where the interpretation says more about the viewer than the artist. For me, this approach seems inferior to work with message, meaning and intention, which provides the opportunity to learn and connect on a deep level with the artist. This is the basis of art's spirituality.

Death of Painting II
(Oil on Paper with Photograph, 13in x 9in, 2005)

At the opposite end of abstract painting is photorealism, which always begs the question: Why bother if you have a photo? One could always reply that there is more freedom in painting, but the advent of readily available photo editing software provides an equivalent degree of freedom. Now, with relatively minor manipulation, one can take the most mediocre photograph and turn it into an impressionist painting, as I did here. (For you PhotoShop weenies, I increased the saturation and applied the glass distortion.) This has been bothering me more as of late since the statue-landscapes shown elsewhere in the show could probably be done pretty easily on a computer.

Text of Speech

Welcome to "Crimes Against Art". I started on these paintings after my last show two years ago, so a number of them are dated from 2003. Unlike most of my past shows, this one has, I hope, quite a good sense of humor. I have always liked the idea of the art parody. After my last show, I had a couple of ideas along this line and so over time I began to think more on this subject and from that this show evolved to what you see here today.

I have parodied a number of different art subjects in this show: the bluebonnet painting, the duck painting, the koi painting, the still life, the drip painting, the minimalist painting, the abstract painting, and so forth. I guaranteed that you would be amused or annoyed and I hope there is more of the former than the latter.

Well, of course there's a lot of good humor here. But underneath are some serious ideas. And this is where I like to place my work - in the realm of ideas - rather than art for decoration. Not that there is anything wrong with decoration.

Decorative art can provide beauty, calm and peace. Place a pretty landscape in your home, and the room is much improved. In the realist tradition, the artist directly copies from nature. Of course, a photograph can do the same thing. Nowadays with computer software anybody can turn a photo into something that looks like a painting and this is why I did "Death of Painting (Again)".

The subject of realist decorative art could be a landscape, a still life or whatever. Many of these subjects have been done so many times they have become cliches. So I have made fun of some of these with "Ducks", "Ode to Koi", "Supermarket Still Life", and "How to Sell a Landscape". It's as though we have run out of formulae for the realist tradition or the formulae have been overworked so much as to run out of creativity.

Decorative work can also appear in an abstract form. In this case, the paintings have little connection with nature. They are non-objective; there is no object to be observed in the work. They also have little or no depth. With no object to be observed and no clear intention behind the work, we have less to identify with. You can see whatever you want in the work. This makes them similar to the old inkblot psychology tests that I have parodied in "Abstract Rorschach".

Regardless of its form - realist or abstract - decorative work leaves little to Stimulate the mind. It is thus rather passive - often it is reduced to the role of blending with the furniture, which I have parodied with "Couch Painting".

A key motivation for the modernist movement was the rejection of this type of work for these very reasons. They reject any accepted notions of beauty and many modernists desire only to create ugly objects. They also wish to avoid the meaninglessness of decorative work and embrace some extreme political views. Many of these views hold a great deal of hatred for the middle class. So a key qualification for a modernist work is that the average person hates it, is offended by it or simply doesn't get it.

This is why we have contemporary museums filled with works lacking any beauty or craftsmanship. When a visitor sees work like this and says, "I could have done that" or "My kid could have done that", rest assured, you are probably right.

Instead of craftsmanship, modernist works are often based on complex theories. So the work lacks what most people look for in a work of art: a difficult skill that the viewer appreciates. As Tom Wolf said, the art exists only to illustrate the text. My work "Eponymous" makes fun of this idea.

In my art I have tried to combine the beauty of the decorative movement with the mental stimulation of the modernist movement without the pitfalls of each. I want my art to have beauty and to stimulate the mind. I want to avoid the trite forms of decorative art and the adolescent anger of modernist art. I want my art to be active in that it provokes thought rather than passive. I want my art to go with your brain, not with your couch.

I want my art to be infused with meaning and intention - to provoke thoughts and feelings by sharing my thoughts and feelings on a variety of topics from our shared human experience. This creates a connection between the viewer and myself. A connection based on our shared human experience. And it is this connection that provides the spirituality in art.

I crave this spirituality and it is the reason I paint. I often wonder if I would paint if no one were to see the art. Perhaps not. I wonder if this is a good thing because so much of my happiness depends on the response of my audience. One of the hardest challenges for me is to remove myself from these expectations.

Related to this is the paradox between marketing and pure self-expression. I must continually ask myself whom I am painting for. The more I paint for my audience the closer I am tied to expectations about their response. The more I paint for myself, the happier I am with my end product. You would think choosing who to paint for would therefore be an easy decision - but sadly for me it often is not.

So I will keep doing my work and my house will continue to fill with my paintings, though I am running a little tight on wall space. Nonetheless, for a night like this surrounded by my friends who came out here to see my work it seems all worth it. Having you all here fills me with joy.

I would like to close with one more observation.

One day my wife and I were out walking our neighborhood and saw a man working in his yard. We began a conversation and he spoke of his plans for his garden. How he would lay out his beds, plant his flowers, the arrangement of colors and so forth. And it occurred to me then that he was an artist. That his yard was his canvas and his flowers were his colors. Since then I have looked at many activities in this way. If art is the creation of beauty through self-expression, then I believe we are all artists. Any creative activity is our art. Painting, sculpture, music, planting a garden, decorating a home, construction, cooking or (dare I say it) programming - are art forms. There is beauty in all these activities sprung from the desire to express oneself. This makes them art.

This is my art. Thank you for coming to see it.