Somethings to Think About

This series of conceptual paintings was done for a show at Mossrock Studio in 2008.

(Oil on Canvas, 24in x 20in, 2007)

Vanitas (Latin for ‘emptiness’) is a common theme portrayed in still lifes of the 17th century, where the trappings of the material world are displayed alongside some spiritual or mortality image to remind us of the transience of this world and the fleeting nature of youth and physical beauty. Here the jewelry, makeup, and mirror symbolize these trappings. The elaborate mirror reflects a girl, the symbol of youth and beauty, admiring an earring. It is aligned so that the girl’s position matches that of the viewer, thus involving the viewer in the piece. The cell phone shows her boyfriend, a further preoccupation of youth. I used an old photograph of my mother and great-grand uncle to serve as the memento mori or reminder of mortality. The antique mirror, an art nouveau piece which once belonged to my grand aunt, also serves this purpose. I intentionally added the cell phone to modernize the subject matter; except for which, the picture could be decades old.

Accepted into the Visual Arts Alliance Show, Houston, TX, May, 2008

Original painting SOLD

Night Train Express
(Oil on Canvas, 18in x 26in, 2008)

Many years ago a friend of mine met an old drunk on the subway in New York drinking this wine, which he jokingly referred to as ‘medicine’. He was a thin man and clearly overcome by his addiction. I bought a bottle as a gag for my friend, which we sampled. It tasted like Hawaiian punch and fuel-grade ethanol.

There also seems to be a fad in recent years of these very sophisticated looking wine bottle paintings. My purpose then is to contrast these works of sophisticated, high- class fine wines presented in lush surroundings with the other side of alcohol: cheap, low-class fortified wines imbibed by down-and-out addicts in a dark alley.

Original painting SOLD

(Oil on Canvas, 26in x 24in, 2008)

Some time ago I was thinking of the legacy of the German Idealist school of philosophy: Kant, Hegel, Marx and Nietzsche and the tremendous damage their philosophies wrought on the twentieth century, particularly Communism and Nazism. This crystallized for me when I read Jung Chang’s biography on Mao Tse Tung, which described his power hungry egomania that lead to the death of 75 million Chinese people and the irreparable loss of so much Chinese culture.

This still life brings to the fore all the elements of his misrule. The skull, of course, is the symbol of the deaths that he brought to the nation; the toy soldiers the military games he played solely for political purposes, particularly the long march (in which he didn’t do any marching) and the Korean war (a failed attempt to grind down the West and coerce the Soviets into giving him the Bomb); the flag the shallow patriotism used to manipulate people; the button the symbol of the cult of personality that he encouraged as well as the stack of the “Little Red Book” of his quotations - a work of abysmal boredom that I could not bring myself to finish. A collection of self-serving definitions and tautologies, it wasn’t even good for a laugh, unlike the hysterical “Communist Manifesto.” Here is just one gem:

“A revolutionary party is carrying out a policy whenever it takes any action. If it is not carrying out a correct policy it is carrying out an incorrect policy.”

Not exactly the Federalist Papers.

Also shown in the painting is a terracotta soldier from Xian, whose face has been broken – a symbol of the terror of the Cultural Revolution in which irreplaceable artifacts of Chinese culture were destroyed. (This, fortunately, is an anachronism, as these were not discovered until after the Cultural Revolution. Fortunately, since had then been known to exist, they would have been destroyed also.)

Lastly, is the rice bowl. This is a plain bowl typically used by peasants. It is cracked and empty symbolizing the famines created by Mao’s disastrous agricultural policy and exportation of goods used to generate revenue to fund the military. Beside this bowl are the destroyed remains of another. This one is red, typically used by the wealthy and represents the destruction not only of these people, but of the wealth of China as a whole.

Above all this hangs Mao’s famous portrait which today still haunts Tiananmen Square.

Honorable Mention, Visual Arts Alliance Show, Houston, TX, November, 2009
Accepted into Genocide, an exhibition at the Holocaust Museum, Houston, TX, September, 2016

Original painting SOLD

(Oil on Canvas, 20in x 16in, 2008)

This is a still life about old age where the medications to alleviate the decay of the body are arranged on a table top. The candle, which is a traditional symbol of mortality, is nearly burned out as we can presume is the life of the owner. The pill box is open to the eponymous day – deliberately chosen near the end of the week. The MRI images are my own, though my candle still has some wax left (I hope). The image of the young girl, presumably there to provide hope, is intentionally misleading. This young woman died at the age of eighteen, presenting the contrast between the life tragically cut short and the end game of senescence and decay.

Original painting SOLD

(Oil on Canvas, 18in x 30in, 2008)

An exploration into male sexuality and the conflict psychologists call the Madonna-whore dichotomy – the struggle between sexual and spiritual desires. The whore portion occupies the left side of the painting where lies a Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated, which should truthfully be called the Masturbation Issue. The Madonna portion occupies the right side, where is placed a candle of the Madonna of Guadalupe as well as a Bible. The painting can also be seen as the struggle between the temporal and the spiritual.

Accepted into the Visual Arts Alliance Show, Houston, TX, November, 2010

Original painting $250

(Oil on Canvas, 36in x 34in, 2007)

It is hard for me to go to a museum and not be overwhelmed with what I see and be impelled to copy the methods and techniques of the great masters. The still lifes in this exhibit are one example of this and Copyrights is another. In fact, this is the third Monet knock-off I have done, each, in my judgment, very successful. This piece can have a variety of interpretations. My initial intention was to mock the idea of making a direct copy of a great piece. But this can also be seen as an example of the litigious nature of our society.

Accepted into The Big Show, Lawndale Art Center, Houston, TX, July, 2007

Original painting SOLD

Landscape With Cursor
(Oil on Canvas, 26in x 30in, 2007)

An area I have explored before, Landscape with Cursor, is an examination in the ubiquity of the digital image. By placing the cursor, only associated with the digital world of the computer, on the painting, the traditional analog method of imagery, I have conflicted the digital and analog worlds. The fun part is viewing an image of the painting on the computer and finding myself instinctively moving the mouse to get the cursor out of the way.

Accepted into The Big Show, Lawndale Art Center, Houston, TX, July, 2007

Original painting SOLD

Three Graces
(Oil on Canvas, 24in x 18in, 2007)

A fun image I found while driving the frontage road along the interstate towards Dallas. I was thinking of doing a figure piece on this famous subject, as it provides the artist with an opportunity for some great figure work. But one thing or another prevented me from getting three female models. So I had to substitute old tires.

Tires instead of women. How sad.

Original painting SOLD

Text of Speech Given at Opening Reception

Welcome to “Somethings to Think About”. Let me begin by thanking Andy for giving me this wonderful space to show my work.

Andy asked me to say a few words and I had a lot of trouble thinking of what to say. You will not get any profound wisdom tonight. So this may sound like some Faulkner stream-of-consciousness. This is another way of saying I want to lower your expectations.

I suppose one of the reasons I had trouble of thinking of what to say is that there is no real unifying theme here. This show is all over the place and I guess so am I.

One reason this has come about because some time ago I moved away from painting for an audience and just wanted to paint whatever I felt like. So in a sense, this show is a reflection of my life over the last year or so, which is how long it took me to do these paintings.

Not painting for an audience has liberated me. My last show I called “Paintings You Won’t Buy” and, paradoxically I sold pretty well.

In a way I am very lucky because I have a good day job which I kind of like and only have to do part time. I think the composer Charles Ives is my prototype. He was successful in the insurance business and composed music in his free time. Knowing he didn’t have to make money from his music liberated him to compose as he wished – and he did some mighty strange things, some very groundbreaking things.

If there is any one form that is here more than others it is the still life. This form gives me a platform to say all kinds of things simply by arranging specific objects on a table in a certain way.

So as I said, this show is a reflection of where I have been, what I have been doing. These things include going to art museums and being intimidated, reading history, travelling, contemplating youth and beauty and sexuality, fearing old age, drinking too much.

As you can see, this is very personal work. If you go to my website and see my work you can learn all about me – probably more than you want. In a sense each painting is a confession. I guess that makes me a Romantic. But it also runs the risk of being self-indulgent.

I want honesty in my work and am not afraid to open up. I think this invites a connection with others and, for me, that is what art is about.

If you do go to my website you will learn I was raised a Catholic but am not one anymore. Some people feel that a loss of faith is a liberation, others that it is a bereavement. I think I fall into the latter category and this is why there is so much religion in my art.

If anyone asks me if I go to church I reply with the wonderful double entendre “I never miss church on Sunday”. I usually spend my Sunday’s painting.

Painting is my spiritual experience. This comes from two aspects. The first is the creation of something from nothing. The blank canvas taking on form. Beauty ex nihilo. That’s what I get on my Sunday’s. The second is the showing, the connection with others. That’s what I am getting tonight and I hope that you can share in that. This is my spirituality. This place is my church.

I want to close with two more things that probably have nothing to do with anything but I feel compelled to say them. One of them is about greatness and the other is about fear.

First, let me talk about greatness. Lately I have been thinking about Franz Schubert, the great composer of the eighteenth century. I play some piano as well and am playing through a couple of his pieces, which are very passionate works. Also, a friend of mine, Clive Swansbourne is doing a series of Schubert recitals at the Rothko Chapel. This has gotten me thinking about Schubert.

Schubert was pretty remarkable. To paraphrase an old joke, when he was my age, he had been dead for 17 years. He wrote hundreds of songs, symphonies and sonatas before he died at 31. In the last years of his life, when he knew he was dying, he locked himself in a room and did nothing but compose. He compressed a lifetime of creation into a few short years. That must have been something. Knowing that death was coming; racing against death to create music; his music. He must have known it was worth it; that it would be heard. At some level he had to believe. He had to have faith.

Now I will end with a word about fear. This is from Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge:

“Years ago, when I was young, I knew a man who was a doctor, and not a bad one either, but he didn’t practice. He spent years burrowing away in the library of the British Museum and at long intervals produced a huge pseudo-scientific, pseudo-philosophical book that nobody read and that he had to publish at his own expense. He wrote four or five of them before he died and they were absolutely worthless. He had a son who wanted to go into the army, but there was no money to send him to Sandhurst, so he had to enlist. He was killed in the war. He had a daughter too. She was very pretty and I was rather taken with her. She went on the stage, but she had no talent and she traipsed around the provinces playing small parts in second-rate companies at a miserable salary. His wife, after years of dreary, sordid drudgery, broke down in health and the girl had to come home and nurse her and take on the drudgery her mother no longer had the strength for. Wasted, thwarted lives and all to no purpose. It’s a toss-up when you decide to leave the beaten track. Many are called but few are chosen.”

Thank you.