After The Male Gaze, my 2018 show, I thought I would continue doing figure work. That was so until the pandemic hit in early 2020. I then found myself without models and with lots of time. Fortunately, my mind was full of ideas that had been sitting idle, some for many years. The intensity, focus and creativity of this work served as a necessary distraction from the severe anxiety I typically develop in extended idleness. Still, the isolation took its toll and I found myself falling into fits of grieving for the loss of the life I had known, most times while in the studio doing this work and listening to music. These emotional effects were instrumental in my choosing mental health charities as the beneficiaries of this show.
Ironically, the pandemic was good for my art. The change in direction dispelled doubts I had been harboring over doing another show of figure work, opened me up to pursue ideas I might have otherwise dismissed and allowed me to follow winding paths to new concepts. Despite the sadness of isolation much of the work contains strong elements of humor. The result is an expansive show of 100 pieces – far more than any other show I’ve done; its sheer size and diversity a testament to the effects of the pandemic and a key statement of the exhibition.
This piece came to me in a lucid dream in the early days of the pandemic when I was dealing with the sudden loss of my social life and found myself distraught and depressed. The painting simulates a work in progress where I use photographs as a guide to my images. The work shows this in several different layers: the photo of the photo of the photo... Each layer another level removed from the previous, similar to a meditation in which one becomes aware of ones thoughts from a distance. Here, that process continues creating a confusing space.
Authenticity is another work on self-examination and a metaphor for the search of the true self as indicated by the photo montage.
Second place winner in the Visual Arts Alliance Exhibition, November, 2020.
Like Solipsism, this work is self-referential. But if you look closely you will see that the self-portraits become younger as they move
inward. The image thus becomes one in time as well as space and this adds poignancy to the empty chair in the outermost image, a harbinger
of my mortality which was heightened during the pandemic.
This work was shown in the Art Car Museum's 2021 exhibition "What I did over my COVID vacation".
Self-Portrait with Fools Cap is my take on a traditional portrait, in particular Rembrandt’s tendency to paint himself in all sorts of costumes. What better costume for this artist than as a fool?
This work was accepted into the Visual Arts Alliance 36th Open Juried Exhibition in 2019.
Blurry Self Portrait is about my terrible vision, an unfortunate handicap for a visual artist.
Under a Rock is a piece I thought up as we emerged from the pandemic; a fitting metaphor for our emergence into the light.
After the pandemic hit and I could no longer access my models, I did the next best thing and hired Barbie and her friends.
Boner (Danse Macabre) is a piece I wanted to do as an icon for the Day of the Dead. But it ended up as a full canvas. I enjoy the candle icons and especially the idea of reversing the crucifix.
The Judgement of Paris is a traditional subject but here I’ve used Barbies of different races for the three goddesses (I still want to do this with live models). The background pieces are by Rubens on this and similar subjects. His Satyr is reflected in the compact where a gold-painted cherry serves as the awarded apple. The makeup serves as a reminder of the obsession over superficial female beauty. Pygmalion is what happened after being isolated in the studio for too long during lockdown.
Pygmalion is what happened after being isolated in the studio for too long during lockdown
Artist and Models is both funny – aren’t I cool? – and a statement on how ridiculous I find the stereotype of the promiscuous artist sleeping with all his models (I don’t sleep with my Barbies).
The series I Am Not a Robot is based on the ubiquitous – and annoying – checkbox seen on almost all websites. But for me, this serves as a reminder of the illusion of free will (note that the box in these works is NOT checked). The first depicts the despairing emotional reaction to this realization (though this idea has brought me great peace). The second, with its portrait of Napoleon, is inspired by Tolstoy’s digression on determinism in his novel War and Peace: “The king is a slave to history.” The last, and largest, of the series is a self-portrait with the added emphasis of having a microchip on my temple.
That cross you see in Social is a cropped Facebook icon. Zoomed is a metaphor for our virtual life under lockdowns. Dating Site Profile Picture is a self-portrait inspired by the despair I felt on dating sites in which almost all the women had at least one picture with a drink in hand. As a non-drinker, this was a turnoff, as were their pictures at sporting events. This only added to my sense of isolation and the feeling of being an outlier in our culture. My rebellion against this was to create a parody showing me passed out on a table surrounded by drugs and alcohol. And roses and candy.
The pandemic has given us a small taste of what ancient plagues must have been like. No wonder death is so prevalent in medieval art. These works employ the candle as a reminder of the fragility of life. In Out! Out! one of thirteen candles has just been extinguished. Survivor is the opposite situation. Endurance is a diptych with a comment on modernity: the LED outlasting its wax predecessor (I really did let them run out to see which would survive). The Great Equalizer is a two-sided panel in which size and status is emphasized on one side and the equalizer of death on the other. I was so pleased with the reversed crucifix imagery I used in Boner, I did With His Back Turned with that as the center of focus. A fallen icon serves as a metaphor in Lost Faith.
I included those ubiquitous produce stickers in Bar Code I and II. The cloudy background makes these works look like family portraits from a professional photographer. Conspicuous Consumption came about as I was learning how to use gold leaf for Icon for Eros. Someone mentioned that there are foods in which actual gold leaf is consumed and I thought that was the perfect, literal manifestation of conspicuous consumption. So here I have fruits and cakes covered in gold leaf. The roses, silver plates, and currency add to the ostentatious atmosphere.
These double-sided panels explore the still life further. Life-Death is a pandemic inspired memento mori. Lead-Follow plays with the idea of how differently things can appear when seen from another angle. Spacetime Discontinuum offers a visual paradox of a photograph taken from one side in which I appear taking the photograph from the opposite side.
These three larger works serve as a complement to the traditional beauty worship of the Venus subject. Aged Venus has her looking at a younger image of herself (Velasquez’s work). The Birth of Venus evokes Botticelli’s masterpiece. Venus Revisited uses the same model, but taped over Titian’s work, itself taped onto a background. Icarus arose during a model shoot when she and her partner were practicing acrobatic yoga and he tossed her into the air. Incredible.
This series started with the double-sided panel Eros and Agape to represent the two sides of love: the sensual and the spiritual. Experiments with gold leaf led to Icon for Eros 1 and 2, which evokes the idolization of sexuality, in particular the female form. I think of these as modern Venus figurines. Please Wait is parody of online porn, with an added death motif.
As a lapsed Catholic, I am rather obsessed with both its imagery and sexual shaming. Candlelight is a series of works using religious candle icons with a young woman to evoke these ideas. I experimented with several poses, painting each as a small work on wood, before choosing one for the large version. I also painted them in the style of 10 Generations.
As with Solipsism, these works show a painting in progress. Figure in Progress in Progress has two layers of references, hence the redundant title. Factory Girl is a smaller diptych in which I placed the figure within an industrial setting. I’ve always been attracted to the juxtaposition of such images.
I first thought of Reach at a sculpture display in The Silos. The grim, ill-lit grain silos reminded me of my old series of figures in dark rooms. To add poignancy I painted a bright, open seascape above her. Similarly, Recollection shows a thought of lost love hovering above the figure.
These works, which are the pre-pandemic direction originally intended for the show, use the figure to explore other subjects. Entwined used two models with long dreadlocks which we tied together as a comment on racial coexistence. Cutter only vaguely references this act of self-mutilation. Though it looks like a planet, Blue Light references a mammogram. Incubus has religious overtones and raises the subject of religion-induced sexual shame. Exhaustion and Reach are small figure studies. .
Ulysses I and II cast a woman in the role of the Homeric hero as I visualized it in Wordsworth’s famous poem: the aged warrior rousing himself for one last adventure. Like Entwined, the diptych Warriors has racial overtones.
I did these small works as a continuation of my paintings of torn and recovered photographs, exploring different themes. Flag is an obvious political reference; notice there are thirteen pieces. Recovery is another piece on self-examination and the discovery (or recovery) of the true self. Crucifix brings up religious topics, enhanced by the cross-like taping. Excised centers on sexual shame, the tear appearing just above the man’s sex. Finally, Destroyed Last Supper echoes Dali’s Exploding Persistence of Memory, which represented his break from his artistic past as I hope to do.
I’m sure that many of us are aware of the homeless living on the streets of various cities. My heart is filled with sadness when I think of their destitution and wasted potential. The mental health and addiction issues that led these men to the streets encouraged my selection of mental health charities as the beneficiary for this show. These images are taken from my encounters with the homeless in Houston and Portland, Oregon.
While doing the photography work for Solipsism, I noticed how the color of photographs would shift as they are repeatedly taken and printed. I followed this process through – taking photos of photos – until the colors stabilized, usually after 10 generations. I found the shift in color and form beautiful and painted a variety of subjects.
This idea of repeated imaging seemed an apt metaphor to the evolution of ideas over time, as when stories are passed from generation to generation. I captured this idea in the two double-sided panels Christ and Jefferson, focusing on the religious and political aspects of this process.
Better than the Real Thing offers the paradox that virtual reality can sometimes be better than reality itself, i.e., we can adjust the image to our liking; in this case, by increasing the saturation until we enter a post-impressionist alternate reality. Metaphor of Perception expands this idea in multiple layers; the perception of reality (the painting), its interpretation (the taped photo over the painting), recorded as a memory (the phone camera), and finally an awareness of this entire process (the photo taped over the entire image which contains the image itself). Positive-Negative plays with the idea of a photo negative. Skylines contrasts a city and a country road. What amazed me when I put this together is how the mountain range from west Texas mirrors the shape of the Houston skyline as seen approaching the city on 59.
These slide holders bring back memories of my childhood when they were once quite common. I once saw them used to hold photographs at an art show. Later, when a friend said his home no longer had space for anything larger than a postage stamp, I thought “Ah Ha!” I painted each side of the paper as mirror images to further the illusion of a transparent slide.