My great-grandmother, whom I was close with growing up, was born on a farm in Poland in 1904. When she was ten years old, she and her family became shrouded in the brutality of World War I. The farm they lived and worked on became the stage of the Eastern Front. As a child, she was an eyewitness to the horrors of The Great War. We heard snippets of what they had to do to survive, but it was difficult for her to talk about the war. It was as awful as you could imagine.
She left Poland with her own young family in 1934, just after the Nazis came to power and just before World War II. The rest of her life was lived in peace in Canada.
She died in 2000, at age 96. I always thought about the scope of her life, about the profound changes the world went through over the near-century she was here. And now I am left wondering how she would think of the current situation.
I collect these vintage and antique books that I use in my paintings. This particular piece has a Victorian-era philosophy text long side classic Penguin paperbacks.
The ideas and stories in these books are not old, useless and out of date. Instead, it would seem that everything old is new again and in the wrong way — as evidenced in yet another terrifying war in Eastern Europe.
After several months of steady work, I have completed 22 new paintings that I have started shipping to the George Billis Gallery in Los Angeles for my upcoming solo exhibition that goes up on February 26 and runs through March 26. So you’ll be reading and seeing plenty from me now that the hard work is done.
I have been painting still life for over twenty years now. So much of what I do is honestly about making a balanced, crisp, clean composition of objects to entice the simple act of observation. I use the opportunity to paint to make something delightful and pleasing. Not only for myself but for other people to enjoy as well. I have always drawn my inspiration from the long-established still-life painting tradition, which was first introduced in the form we know today by the French painter Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin in the 18th century.
I could take a deep dive into the significance of Charin’s paintings to the world we live in, not just in art, but in all things, but I’ll spare you for now.
Instead, I want to show how I draw inspiration and remix the visuals he introduced centuries ago. His painting depicts “the attributes of the arts” — his palette and brushes on top of a box of paints, a plaster cast used to practice drawing, books with instructions and inspiration, and an award given to him for his accomplishments.
In my work, I use the propped books as Chardin did, but I have pencil crayons. Specifically, they are Laurentien pencil crayons which are an iconic part of a Canadian child’s early school experience. These were my introduction to the possibilities of art-making. My work is high-key (bright and airy) compared to the dark and shadowed Chardin visual world.
And here is the painting, varnished, framed and ready to ship to Los Angeles. Shown here along with another smaller painting (Trophy / 16 x 12 inches / oil on canvas / 2021) which is my nod to the rewarding life that painting has given me.
If anything, my paintings are about objects that can be touched and held in hand and have some history recent enough to make sense to the viewer but obsolete enough to become almost useless to modern life. To me, the experience of these objects is more melancholic than nostalgic.
“No age has a monopoly on misery,” and with that quote, the book featured in this painting starts the guidance on how to live an abundant life.
Published in 1950, The Art of Real Happiness is a reconciliation of old-age religious beliefs and modern psychology. I always try to have a book on the go, and I have been reading history books lately, and if there is one theme that is consistent through millennia, it is the collision of “old” and “new” ways of thinking.
It seems as though we are entering a new era where our conflicting ways of thinking, our myriad of philosophies and beliefs are colliding. And as a quiet observer of the world around me, I find myself straddling feelings of excitement and worry.
I have said it before on this blog, but the subjects that I choose are more than just neat objects that happen to be old. I use them as symbols more than anything.
Despite there being such easy ways to stay connected to people now, it’s remarkable that we still let some essential relationships fall to the side. The other day I was driving in my car and noticed someone walking on the street who looked remarkably like someone who I was once very close with and saw regularly. It was an uncanny resemblance, but it was not the person in question when I got a closer look.
For the rest of my drive, I was stuck recalling memories of time spent with this person who has faded from my life. How and why did we drift apart and lose touch? It is almost as though we all chose to leave our phones off the hook.
These paintings are on view at the George Billis Gallery in New York City until October 24.
I’m calling this The Lindstrom Chair. It belonged to my wife’s Great Grandfather Lindstrom and we are lucky to have it in our possession. It’s a great piece of furniture, sturdy and made to last. The painting just completed its journey across the continent and is now at the George Billis Gallery in New York City.
It’s a large painting, with a strong presence. This chair with books has been used a few times over the years, but never have I had a composition like this included in any of the five exhibitions I’ve had in New York.
I have now been shipping paintings all over the world for just over 16 years. Hundreds and hundreds of paintings handed over to various courier services. And every time I still get anxious while they are in transit.
I spend most of my time in the studio working inch by inch across the canvas, adding layers of paint to several paintings that surround me. Of course, I take breaks — I step away from the easel countless times throughout the day. There can be difficult passages and frustrating details to work out on a painting, and I know that a few minutes away from the canvas can be a quick reset. But there’s a trap door that is easy to fall through, and like everyone, I find myself taking a wrong step, during these quick breaks I pick up my phone and down I go into whatever app steals my attention and steals my time.
I recently deleted all the apps on my phone that lure me away with their alerts. The irony, of course, is that I do have to sit myself down in front of my computer in order to share these images with you. The trick is to not get tangled in the weeds of social media or the news, or the horrid hybrid of social-media-news that we now have to live with.
I picked up a well-used old copy of The Lord of the Rings and that’s where you’ll find me when I’m not painting, or doing the other work related to my painting such as packaging these up to ship to the framers in New York City before they’re delivered to the George Billis Gallery.
I collect almost everything that I paint, including these vintage Penguin Classic books.
I’ve had this piece hanging just outside my studio door for the past two years. I read it about fifteen years ago. A visual reminder of the way things were, the way things are, and the way things will be.