After spending months working in a bubble for the recent solo exhibition I had in New York and turning around a tight deadline for a group exhibition in Charleston, I am enjoying a slower pace in the studio — really good timing as we shift into summer.
I thought I’d share a painting that has yet to have a spotlight on this blog.
When working toward an exhibition I look back at my portfolio. And fourteen years ago I painted this clock and thought it was time to single it out again, this time putting it in the gallery in New York. It’s also available as a print.
In 2005 when I first painted this clock, I can distinctly remember the sense of urgency. Time was always precious and fleeting for me back then. I had two children under the age of three, a regular day job at a university teaching fine art photography and an old house that was always in desperate need of repairs.
This painting would have been done shortly after the kids were put down for a nap, or in the evening when there was a spare hour or two. I look back at my journal entries from then and marvel at how much I was able to do in a day. And when I look at this past painting I can see how I was trying to move toward considerably more detailed work but was crunched for time.
The past fourteen years have seen so much change in the way I operate through the day. I left my day job long ago once I was able to see I could sustain an actual livable income off of my paintings. My children grew up and are now bright-eyed teenagers who no longer need hands-on parenting while I spend countless hours through the day focussing on my paintings.
I have to admit that I am completely in awe when I think about what will change over the next fourteen years when I plan on picking this clock up from its spot on the shelf in my studio and painting it again.
May 3 is the opening day fora group exhibition called “Perfectionists” at the Robert Lange Studios in Charleston, South Carolina. Check out my contribution to the show below.
When I was invited to participate I thought about the idea of “perfectionism”. I’ll be honest — it’s sometimes my problem. I want everything to be perfect and in reality, it can’t be. The reason I keep painting is that I am trying to perfect my work. The previous painting I completed didn’t seem to work out exactly as I had planned, so I try again with another painting. If I live forever, will I paint forever, always chasing the elusive perfect painting?
When I set up a group of objects for a painting I always consider negative space, repeating elements, shapes, angles, lines, perspective — everything that moves the eye around the canvas. I use grids to help outline the composition. The objects I paint are engineered machines with symmetry and balance often baked right into their designs, so applying these rules to the paintings seems fitting. The overall effect I am trying to achieve is a sense of order, calmness and stability. Painting these objects transforms them from cold and banal tools to something more human and hopefully pulls a viewer in to think about how they relate to the world of objects around them.
These stacks of typewriters are framed and up on the gallery wall in New York today. I’m travelling to New York to attend the artist reception for my solo exhibition on March 28.
Artist receptions are always a bit of an anxiety-inducing experience, but I am bringing my both of my teens with me this time. I hope they provide enough of a distraction so the two hours of the reception passes a little quicker.
“Imagine a desk, a working desk, from somewhere around 1900 through the early 1960s.” That’s what I usually tell people when they ask what my favourite subject is to paint. Set in a clean, minimal composition there is a timelessness about them.
The top image shows an Underwood No.5 typewriter. Sturdy and classic. In production for over 30 years because why would you change something that was perfect?
Below is a Corona No.3, a foldable portable typewriter for when you’re on the move.
When I set to work thinking of the paintings that will be included in an exhibition I always make sure that each painting has a companion — the narrative becomes stronger when I make a few scenes depicting my subjects.
These two paintings are at the George Billis Gallery in New York City and ready to be hung in the main gallery space starting on March 26.
I shared an image of this painting in the final stages on the easel, and here it is complete — shown with some of the cameras I’ve collected so you can get a better idea of the scale of the painting.
This is a companion painting to the clocks that I recently painted. The objects are all functional, they serve a purpose and all fit in the hand. They are painted slightly larger than life-size.
The canvases are twice as wide as they are high — they make you look left to right and I deliberately composed them to form an arch — the images below demonstrate what I’m trying to get across.
The myriad of repetitive circles — the lenses and flashes of the cameras, the faces of the clocks also move your eye along and across the surface of the painting. The details hopefully pull you in. These objects all serve the same purpose, but they have subtle differences that make each one unique.
My goal was to take this very simple compositional style — an object shown straight forward on a white shelf — and transform it into a rather complex scene of minute detail.
Both of these paintings have already been claimed by collectors — I hope they make them happy for decades to come.
The one overarching theme that is consistent in my paintings is time. The passage of time, a subtle sense of nostalgia, perhaps the dread of time moving too fast, or moving too slow.
I’m showing the painting here along with some of the clocks I have collected not to be cheeky about the achievement, but rather to give a sense of scale. The painting is four feet across, the clocks are just a bit larger than life-size.
I have painted groupings of clocks before, but true to the theme of time in my work, the more time I spend painting, the closer I get to what I am trying to achieve. The process moves at a glacial pace. With each painting, with each passing year, I move toward a goal in the distance. The goal of a unique painting style and technique married to a solid and cohesive theme.
I was once asked why I paint realism, why I paint objects to look just as they are, and why I would not take photographs instead. The answer is simple – because painting is transformative. Now, I do not want to come across as someone who is anti-photography or a Luddite, in fact, I enjoy cameras and tech (see my other painting subjects for reference). But the thing is when you depict these objects in paint with a centuries-old painting process, the viewer will look at them differently. They’ll slow down and look closer. They’ll think about what it is they are seeing, they’ll connect what they see to their own ideas. At least that is what I hope they do.
I read this book 17 years ago – long before social media. How is it possible that things might be turning out worse than the fiction of the book? Perhaps we shouldn’t think about this too deeply and just find a funny and cute YouTube video to take our minds off things.
This Penguin Books classic edition of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is the perfect subject on many levels. Not only is the theme of the book relevant, but the simple graphic design of the cover with the symmetry and balance attracts me as well.
This past week I spent some time with some do-overs.
These two paintings are from a few years ago and although they don’t look too unusual for my work, they did before I repainted the backgrounds.
Before these pictures were taken, the backgrounds were what I call explosion blue. They were a vibrant, unnatural, unfamiliar, chemical blue.
They were complete and even hung in a gallery for some time, but I was happy to get them back to correct them. I was pleased with the balance and geometry of the compositions, but the blue was so peculiar to my eyes that I had a hard time looking at the paintings.
I removed the varnish and added some layers of a much more subtle and neutral tone — a white/grey with only the most subtle, barely perceptible hint of blue. Immediately it felt as though my own personality returned to the paintings.
I did the vibrant blue backgrounds on the suggestion from a friend who was giving some opinion on changes they thought would add some “pop” to my work. In a moment of weakness and confusion, I took their advice. It was as though my own signature was removed from my work.
The opportunity for the do-over has been very therapeutic.
Imagine if life were like a painting. Imagine if you could literally get a moment or an event back, remove the varnish and make your corrections.