I’ve had so many typewriters in my possession over the years, so I’ve come to appreciate the good and the bad. And this is good. Really good. This machine is just built better, with more precision, more care to build quality. Everything is just fit and finished and attention to detail. And so, as far as collector’s items go, this one is at the top and, therefore, way out of my price range. However, I was able to borrow it from a dealer and am grateful for the opportunity.
Sitting in my studio in the early summer morning, the painting I am working on was soaking up the light, so I quickly took a photo.
The colour of the painting was entirely dictated by the shifting tones in the light, a cool to warm gradation was passing over the surface of the three foot width of the painting.
These paintings are built up of thin layers of paint, even the large amount of white you see. As the light changes throughout the day and the year, I like to see how the paintings themselves seem to change as the light bounces around the room and off the painting’s surface. The mood of the work can be entirely dependent on the space they are in and the angles they are viewed and even the time of day.
I’m almost done with this piece. Then I’ll be focussing on a somewhat complicated commission.
Last week, I mentioned that I had spent much time painting typewriter keys in the past few months. So here’s an example of more typewriter keys.
Repetition, continuity, rhythm, symmetry and balance — these are all elements that drive my paintings. But also, they drive my studio practice. For centuries artists have repeated subjects, returning to the same thing repeatedly to improve upon their last iteration.
I have seen artists entirely give up on the idea of a career doing what they love because they get bored with the notion of always returning to the same subjects. The not-so-secret secret, it would seem, is to keep coming back to what you know.
Cézanne paintined Mont Sainte-Victiore dozens of times. The same view, over and over. Monet did a series of Rouen Cathedral 30 times. The precise same position and composition.
And so today, I return to painting yet more typewriter keys and other intricate details of the mechanisms that make these machines so interesting to me.
I have written in a journal for 29 years. Let me tell you if you dig up and read the first entry written by your adolescent self, it’s remarkably revealing. Over the years, the purpose of the writing has changed. It can sometimes be like a daily log, but the business of life means that it is hard to keep up and often pointless. So I have kept it up to write about and document significant events.
There are podcasts and radio programs where people are invited to read their journal entries from their adolescence — in front of audiences, no less. It seems like a mortifying experience, and after recently reading through the earliest entries, I am pondering ripping out a few of the pages.
I am most keenly aware of is how the early teen me conceived the passage of time. At 15-years-old, six months is like a lifetime. And now, in middle age, six months seems just around the corner.
This painting is recently finished. It took me over a month to complete, but I felt no sense of urgency. An urgency that in my 20s was always prevalent.
The final touches applied, this piece will soon be making its way to a collector in Japan.
It has been a rough few days in my house as the news of the sudden and unexpected loss of a close and important friend has left us feeling adrift.
Linda watched my career as a painter from the very beginning and took a keen interest in everything I did. She should be reading about this painting right now as she was part of my family’s everyday life, like a grandmother to my children, and like a mother to my wife — we shared a very unique and special relationship. I admired Linda greatly and it was a genuine privilege and honour to have known her.
I wish it wasn’t true that we have to say goodbye so soon. Every time I share new paintings here on this blog I will always think of how Linda would have enjoyed seeing my work. I will forever miss her feedback and wisdom.
I’m lucky to be a studio-based artist. For the past 15 years (maybe even more) I have become well-conditioned to long periods of self-isolation. I have spent endless hours getting lost in the details of the subjects I choose, like this Oliver No.3 typewriter from 1905.
I have another exhibition scheduled to open in New York City in September. For now, I work toward this goal as I stream radio, podcasts and audiobooks to keep me company.
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.