Not About Nothing

This series of conceptual paintings was done for a show at Archway Gallery in 2003. They cover a variety of topics, including a short series based on a trip to China in 2000.


God of Wine
(Oil on Canvas, 36in x 20in, 2003)

As the title suggests, this work is about addiction, particularly alcoholism, which has millions of people. It is inspired by my own relationship to alcohol - and how at one point I felt that I was on a downward spiral with alcohol pulling me into an inescapable vortex.
The inspiration for this work comes from Big Chief's description of his father's alcoholism in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest - how the bottle drank from the man rather than the other way around. So I envisioned a prisoner of the bottle in the bottle.

Original painting SOLD


Modernism
(Oil on Canvas, 18in x 36in, 2002)

Modernism is a commentary on current trends in art and philosophy that seek to trivialize the accomplishments of Western culture, especially art and science, as fabrications of Eurocentrism. In this work, this philosophy is symbolized by the whitewashing of a Renaissance artwork. A detail of the Raphael¡¦s masterpiece ¡§The School of Athens¡¨ is chosen as a representative of the accomplishments of Western culture. Raphael¡¦s painting depicts Plato and Aristotle, the giants of Western philosophy, who Raphael modeled after Leonardo and Michelangelo, the giants Western painting. A suitable choice for the enemy of Modernist thought

Accepted into the Visual Arts Alliance Show, Houston, TX, November, 2002

Original painting SOLD


The Secret
(Oil on Canvas, 30in x 18in, 2002)

This work is inspired by a journey of self discovery that began several years ago and continues to this day. The secret is that inside every man is a little boy that was hurt a long time ago and is aching to be loved and healed. With these needs unmet, the child within acts out with violence, addiction and control as the consequences.
I have shown this by superimposing the image of a sad, angry boy over the heart of a strong man. The boy drives much of the man's behavior (and the same could be said for women). The secret to growth is to stay in awareness of the boy, to know what it is he wants, to heal the old wounds. Then the authentic the man can be.


Prayer Before Painting
(Oil on Canvas, 18in x 36in, 2003)

This is a piece on my fear as an artist and my constant struggle to realize the image on the canvas. My desire to paint is very great, but I am constantly limited by my abilities, feeling as though I am held back. This can become greatly frustrating. I am often reminded of Salieri’s pleading question to his confessor in Amadeus: “Why did God give me this desire for music, like a lust in my heart, and then make me mute?"
To capture this mood, I painted myself naked and vulnerable before the canvas in an act of desperation - pleading with Fate to lend a hand. Scrawled on the background, and barely visible through the paint, are the words "Not Good Enough". This is the voice of my critic who is always there to make a hard job even harder.


Clock Fight
(Oil on Canvas, 36in x 30in, 2003)

One of the things I was not prepared for, or even warned of, about getting older is the fact that time moves faster and faster with each passing year. Days now pass like hours, weeks like days, things lie around the house for years...as soon as I have the time. The clock is ticking! Time is money! Ding! your life is over!!
So I did a painting of a man struggling to keep the hands of time at bay. Along the top is a panorama encompassing sunrise to sunset. On the left is an hourglass and in the base is Sisyphus futilely pushing his stone up the sands of time, doomed to fail (my favorite metaphor from the piece). The dripping hour hand is a direct reference to Dali's soft clocks and in the drop a skull is reflected - an ever present reminder of our mortality. Below the figure are pyramids - symbols of timelessness. In the lower right we can see beyond the clock to a peaceful landscape - which is there to be enjoyed if only noticed.


Conventional
(Oil on Canvas, 18in x 36in, 2003)

For the last several years I have been working on small landscapes on paper and have struggled to enlarge these and still maintain the quality of the painting, particularly the color. I started this landscape to try again to paint a larger image and I must admit that I am pleased with the results. But when I was done, I asked myself the toughest question any artist can ask of themselves: "Who am I painting this for?" and I realized I had really just done this, as with many of the smaller landscapes, for an imaged audience of buyers. This realization brought on anger and this led me to write across this once-sellable painting the damning epitaph: CONVENTIONAL. Like many artists, I have struggled to balance what I want to paint against what will sell. But accepting that I have failed as a seller has brought great freedom and this is the primary reason this show is what it is: a collection of un-sellable conceptual paintings that I am very proud of.
I wonder if I should do a series of these. Perhaps they will be big sellers...?

Original painting SOLD


You are Being Heard
(Oil on Canvas, each 20in x 16in, 2002)

As a visual artist, I have often thought of the great differences between the visual and musical arts. When a visual artist finishes a work, it is a complete thing in itself and the viewer sees precisely what the artist intended. When a composer finishes a work, there is nothing but notes on a page. The composers work is a living thing that must be played. The work does not exist without performance.
So it is only when a composers work is performed that the music exists. It is the responsibility of the performer to carry on the music to succeeding generations. This is what defines our cultural traditions.
This reminds me of a trip I once made to the Grand Shrines of Ise Shi in Japan. There, in a forested area of the country, is a monastery consisting of a series of wooden temples. Every twenty years, the time of one generation, the residents of the monastery create exact duplicates of each temple and all its artifacts. In this way, knowledge of the construction is passed from one generation of monks to the next. And so it has gone on for the last several hundred years.
So it seems it is with the Western tradition of music. Each generation learns to perform the work of great composers and pass this knowledge on. The music is a living thing carried in the hearts of those entrusted with its treasures.
It was with this in mind that I conceived “You are Being Heard". The work is a series of portraits of four great composers: Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Brahms. The title may be read two ways: It is we speaking to them or they speaking to us. In the first reading, we are telling these musicians that their work lives on every time we perform. In the second reading, they are, in some sense, standing above us - listening.

Original painting SOLD


Sword of Damocles
(Oil on Paper, 24in x 30in, 2002)

Like many children of the Cold War, I grew up with the fear of nuclear war which hung over my head like the eponymous Sword and fed my childhood nightmares well into adolescence. In my suicide days of college and beyond I often wished for the end and kept a large poster of the Bikini atoll test. Though the immediate threat passed, to now be replaced by the terrorist's tools, I kept the poster, which I used as the model for this work. The pieces of the puzzle need only be put together...

Original painting $200


FLBJ
(Oil on Canvas, 20in x 30in, 2002)

This started as a simple conceptual piece when one morning I saw a gardener mowing wild flowers in a public space. But it evolved into a parody of conventional bluebonnet paintings. Since Lady Byrd Johnson is responsible for planting these flowers across Texas, it can also be interpreted on a political level, hence the chosen title. These flowers are small penance for her to pay for the irreparable damage her criminal husband did to this country.

Original painting SOLD


The Border
(Oil on Paper, 14in x 24in, 1999)

I did this painting after my first trip to Hong Kong, where I did a short visit across the border into the "People's Republic." Once across the border, I witnessed a drastic change in the environment. On that side, smiles were hard to come by and I was always aware of the presence of the military, who stood around stone-faced and staring. It was with relief that I re-crossed the bridge over the river that separates Hong Kong from China and returned. And while thinking of this trip, I conceived this painting. The central panel shows the river that is the border. One the left hand side, the People's Republic, I have placed a black, door-shaped rectangle, offset by the white rectangle on the right. For me, the difference between these two places (no longer can they be called nations), is as black and white as the two metaphorical doorways.

Original painting $150


The Great Wall
(Oil on Paper, 24in x 30in, 2002)

For me, the Great Wall symbolizes the history of China, with its relentless succession of tyrants, more than any other single cultural artifact. Here is a massive fortification, stretching thousands of miles, built by the forced labor of the Chinese peasant, whose military value was nearly worthless - having failed to keep out the Mongol invaders, among others. The history of the wall dates back to the formation of China as a nation in 200 BCE. But for this particular work, I was thinking of the expansion of the wall that took place in the seventeenth century, when one million laborers were forced to work on its reconstruction. The working conditions were so brutal that nearly one half million people died. For the Chinese people, the Wall is seen as both a symbol of the nation and a tragedy.
In this work, I have contrasted the beauty of the Wall with the horror that went into its construction. I tore the upper Wall piece and painted the edge blood red and laid it over an image of skulls (I took this image, rather appropriately, from photographs of the Cambodian killing fields). Underneath this popular tourist attraction are the bodies of a half million innocent Chinese.
By the way, the Great Wall is NOT visible from space with the naked eye.

Accepted into the Visual Arts Alliance Show, Houston, TX, May, 2003

Original painting $250


Clay Men
(Oil on Paper, 24in x 40in, 2001)

In 232 BCE, the emperor Qin succeeded in defeating his neighboring states, bringing the period of Warring States to an end, and creating the nation of China with its capital at Xian. The man was a brutal dictator and, like many despots, he wanted to have a grand funeral and ordered the construction of thousands of clay soldiers to guard his grave and protect him in the afterlife - no doubt he needed protection from all the people he brutalized. Each soldier bears the head of a real individual and so demanding was the work that if the emperor was not satisfied, the artist was executed. Like the Great Wall, this work symbolizes the tragedy that is the history of China and the victimization of innocent people.
In this work, I show three clay men with their typically fierce and fearless expressions. On the right is the real thing - a man overcome with fear, dirtied and bloodied from the horrors of fighting a war.

Original painting $150


China
(Oil on Canvas, 24in x 36in, 2002)

This is a portrait of my beautiful and dear wife, which I based on a photograph I took at sunset while we cruised down the Yangtze River. Although it may be easy to see this as a piece of Socialist Realism, my hope is that the expression on my wife's face tells a different story - one of pain and sadness. Not only for herself, but all Chinese women, and, indeed, for all of China. Her own family was deeply affected by the Cultural Revolution, having suffered imprisonment, torture, forced abortions and confiscation of property.
Compounded with this tragedy is the fact that the very river we were on would soon be dammed off by the Three Gorges Dam project, destroying the homes of millions of people who were soon to be subjected to forced displacement. As we cruised, we could see high above our heads the markings on the cliffs indicating the targeted water level, covering land that had been worked by farmers for thousands of years.

Original painting NOT FOR SALE


Tuesday Morning
(Oil on Canvas, 32in x 48in, 2003)

On a morning like any other I got a phone call from a friend and on television saw icons of my New York childhood being destroyed and the image of peace and prosperity that seemed so close at hand disappear behind clouds of dust.
Living for several years in Brooklyn Heights, the towers were a fixture on the cityscape that I viewed almost daily. How many times had I been to the top to look at the vast panorama of the city? To feel the giddiness of the height as I looked down? How many people jumped from that height in panic on a Tuesday morning?
Shortly after this I sketched a work in acrylic paint and then did this version in oil. It encompasses the horror and fear I felt at the time through icons of Western art. The painting forms a narrative from left to right as the New York landscape turns into the hills of Afghanistan. In the smoke can be seen a pair of sinister eyes - the eyes of the perpetrator (they are actually modeled on John Walker Lindh). Beneath the smoke are the writhing bodies of three victims in free fall - reminiscent of Michelangelo's The Last Judgment - that recall the people who leaped from the top floors of the towers. Helicopters move across the red sky bringing war which recalls Coppola's Apocalypse Now, a film I am obsessed with. On the Hudson River, which has now become the river Styx, is a small boat with Charon bringing a soul to the Island of the Dead, an image from Arnold Böcklin‘s work. On the far right is a collection of spears which is a reference to Velasquez's "The Surrender at Breda" - an optimistic hope for the future.
My hope with this work is to express my feelings of fear and horror, clinging to some semblance of optimism, without recourse to trite patriotic symbols. I truly believe that we as a species are on a journey towards of society of peace and justice, and that this attack was an opening salvo in another battle along this road. Each of us has a role to play in this journey to help create this world and I am aware of my role, small though it may be.

Original painting $500