Posted: December 20th, 2011 | Filed under: Architecture, Recent Work
With a residence that is constructed of nearly all glass I wondered if you can even say if it has a ‘front’ or a ‘back’. It lacks any classical references. It has no formal doorway flanked with columns, no orders or pediment. It is just a shiny clear box resting in nature.
This second attempt at the Glass House had me contemplating what I perceive to be the most symbolic aspects of the iconic structure. While it may not have been the intention of the architect, there is something polarizing about the large panes of glass, a by-product of the industrial age, and the bucolic Connecticut landscape. Even though the glass is transparent, it acts physically both as a gateway and a barrier to nature.
This time I chose to paint from the opposite side of the house, the side closest to Ponus Ridge road. Taking an extreme angle from the northeast corner, I could see through the waist high kitchen area, the large brick column that houses the fireplace, bathroom etc., and part of ‘Circus’ the double figured Elie Nadelman sculpture which humanizes the house. Reflected in the facade was a classic New England stone wall, a vibrant well-groomed lawn and a collection of mature sugar maples, whose amber and green tones indicated the later stages of Autumn.
I find painting landscapes one of the most daunting and intimidating subjects. There are a lot of strategic decisions to make regarding the level of detail to paint without slavishly rendering every facet of what appears before you. Normally, I steer clear of the predictable ‘plein air’ subject matter. Yet there I was, squarely in the middle of a landscape painting. The steel framework was the reference point which brought me back to what I had come to paint – the architecture.
Posted: December 20th, 2011 | Filed under: Architecture, Recent Work
After taking a tour of the famous ‘Glass House’ I realized that it would be an ideal place to continue to explore the ‘transparent reflection’ theme that I have been working on in recent years.
In the rear of the house which is perched on a ridge, the glass surface reflects the extensive acreage and dense trees beyond. I could see the reflected landscape as clearly as I could see inside of the home including its contents: the Mies Van Der Rohe furnishings, the large brick column which held the fireplace and stash of firewood, the lamp and through to other side of the building and the yard beyond.
I find balancing simultaneous and overlapping images compelling, both visually and technically. To capture and articulate such complexity, particularly in a live setting, requires your hands and eyes to work in concert on an entirely higher level of consciousness. For some artists, the prospect of working under these live circumstances and with demanding imagery might seem extremely unappealing. I find however that these factors propel me into new avenues of growth that I might not have experienced otherwise.
Posted: December 20th, 2011 | Filed under: Figure, Portraits, Recent Work
Every so often you meet someone who fills a hole in your life. They play the roll of friend, mentor, coach, father figure, boss or comrade. I met Jim, affectionately known as the ‘Old Man’, by way of Turn of River Fire Department (TRFD). I landed there when an old ladder engine parked behind the building caught my eye. I stopped and asked if I could set up my easel and paint over a period of days. During that week, the Old Man, among others, introduced himself. He came off as a fun-loving and good-natured Grandpa type but over the years I would come to discover that beneath that persona was a shrewd, insightful sage.
My impression, in the context of this particular fire company, was that there was a subtle secondary mission/tradition aside from the primary goal of fire fighting and public safety. The organization seemed to act as a lure, drawing in wandering souls, mostly adolescent men, who were seeking something other than fire fighting. In addition to the thrills, they sought leadership, roll models, guidance, a sense of purpose and fraternity. Within the company there were always several generations of veteran firemen to set an example for the newly adopted volunteer strays. In a way it seems that to mentor these young men was as important as the training they would receive to fight fires. Perhaps I developed this impression because of what I witnessed with regards to the Old Man’s roll in the fire department.
Over his 35 year membership at TRFD he had a lot of time to develop a keen sense of identifying the struggling or misguided. He would befriend these individuals quietly shepherding them with support and encouragement. I think he was as much admired for these qualities as he was for his playful nature.
When the Old Man passed this spring, leading members of the grieving fire department wanted to honor his memory and said that they were going to dedicate the conference room in his name. They asked me for suggestions on how to present the newly dedicated room. I gave them some ideas on how to physically and tastefully mark the space but I suspected that what they really wanted was a portrait. At the time, I too was grieving and not in the frame of mind to attempt the project.
Over the years I knew him, I had often playfully encouraged the Old Man to sit for a portrait. What he may not have known was that I was dead serious. He had kind of elongated, weathered features, a shock of grey hair and was perpetually wearing a baseball hat. He was without a doubt a real character. Since we were both avid jazz fans, I had even tried to entice him by offering to fill the sessions with endless doses of Stan Getz, Erroll Garner and the like. His self-effacing nature and never-ending work schedule would not allow it.
When I finally settled in to posthumously depict him, all I had as a model was a low-res digital photo that I had snapped the previous summer when I stopped by the Corporate Office Park, where he seemed to be always on duty. There too he was an endeared and long time member of the staff.
The photo was a classic representation of the Old Man and included all the markers that he was well known for: cell phone to his ear, wearing his blue work shirt and baseball hat, in his breast pocket a glimpse of a pack of cigarettes (which he was supposed to have quit), standing in front of his green pick up truck, which was parked next to what he referred to as the ‘round building’ with its distinctive 1960s architecture in the Corporate Office Park. The composite of all these elements somehow captured the essence of him.
Upon completion I had some concerns where the portrait should go since there might be several interested parties. I came back to the original solicitation by the fire department to honor the person who had touched so many. It seemed fitting that the Old Man (in the form of the portrait) would continue to look over and supervise Turn of River Fire Department and those who work there
Posted: December 18th, 2011 | Filed under: Architecture, Figure, Recent Work
During the last week of July, I found myself outside, in front of UConn’s (University of Connecticut) glass facade in Stamford, CT. I was intrigued by the reflected imagery as well as what the transparent shell revealed inside.
Across the street and behind me stood a Target department store. At the threshold of the store’s driveway was a Stop sign with its backside facing the street. Prominently placed in the building’s pilaster was the familiar Target logo, the red branded bulls-eye, which acted as both a symbolic and visual focal point. On the sidewalk, closest to the UConn edifice, was a modest sized tree whose trunk, branches and umbrella of leaves were completely evident in the reflection. And finally my own figure, planted on the scored concrete sidewalk with a familiar posture and expression of focused concentration. Through the sheer transparent exterior you could see a structural column which supported an elevated staircase, a grand piano and a few other subtle interior architectural details.
This project proved to be one of the most physically demanding. The height of the buildings in relation to the width of the street, along with the heavy traffic patterns, created a wind tunnel. The left side of the stretchers are smeared with paint from holding on to the canvas to prevent it from being carried off in a gust. Standing on the concrete for hours, in over 90 degree heat, fighting the wind tested both my physical and mental stamina.
Fortunately, I had a lot of visitors which helped to distract me from the challenges of the work. Several professional photographers and an online news agency stopped and asked if they could film while I worked. The most poignant moment came when a petite Guatemalan women approached holding a shopping bag. After a few pleasantries she revealed the contents of the bag: her handicraft. She showed me several embroidery pieces she was working on. The vibrantly colored thread work made me recall the indigenous textiles I’d seen while traveling south of the U.S. border. The two of us come from completely different backgrounds, have different colored skin, do not share the same native language. Nonetheless she came to connect, artist to artist, evidence that we are from the same tribe.
We continued to talk and then a middle-aged man dressed in a pin-striped blue suit came up and introduced himself. He explained that he was an accountant, worked a block away and had noticed me working. There stood the three of us: a domestic worker, a businessman and an artist. For a moment I felt like I was hosting an event. I found the unexpected gathering of individuals moving. This sort of encounter causes me to regard these projects as far more than the specific painting. They give me an unusual opportunity to observe the roll of artist in society, beyond the physical work that is created.
When I began this painting, I was vaguely aware that some of the imagery was symbolic: the Stop sign, the reversed Exit sign, the iconic Target bull’s-eye, the piano, my own reflected likeness, etc. I now realize that this piece represents a sort of professional crossroads. The well known branded logo becomes symbolic of marketing design which has been the cornerstone of my professional training. For more than 20 years I have made a livelihood out of ‘image making’ for large corporations, cultural institutions and small businesses. In a current advertising arena, where the greater emphasis is placed on data gathering and connectivity, I find myself seeking to do more than to create fleeting images for computer screens.
Posted: December 18th, 2011 | Filed under: Equipment, Recent Work
Battle Creek, MI
Standing at my easel in an aircraft hangar listening to the Harry James Orchestra in the midst of a collection of vintage biplanes seemed fitting. I had learned about Waco when I began working with Duncan Aviation several years ago. Located just next door, the business specializes in the manufacture and maintenance of replica of 1930’s era aircraft. Seeing these planes up close you can begin to understand why someone could fall in love with them. The open cockpit designs allows for one or two people and its range is around 400 miles. They are not terribly practical but their shape and color evoke a sensibility from a different time.
Parked in the center of the hangar and surrounded by models of every other color, the cadmium yellow plane was irresistible. Its tail would provide the primary compositional element for this painting. This semi-abstract composition gave me a starting point to explore nuances of form, color and light in the context of a recognizable subject. As I began to draw and paint, I analyzed how the aircraft is constructed. This exercise (like others in the past) was as much educational, as it was an artistic exploration.
As I began to block in large fields of yellow, on the second day the president of Waco approached me and asked if he could take a photo of me working. I told him of course and that I viewed photography as a natural part of the exchange. The following morning I received a call from the owner of the plane that was the centerpiece of the painting I had begun. Several minutes into the discussion we discovered that we live in neighboring Connecticut towns and that we belong to the same shooting club.
I am not sure how this happens: I go back to my small hometown in Michigan only to discover that the airplane I have chosen to paint belongs to a neighbor and fellow club member 750 miles away back in Connecticut!? The coincidence to me seems striking but maybe it is just a case of people with similar interests being drawn together… birds of a feather flock together.
Posted: December 18th, 2011 | Filed under: Recent Work
Battle Creek, MI
There is something comforting about returning to a well-known small town family business. In a small town, there is an almost intimate familiarity. You know so much about one another by proximity. There is no need to explain yourself i.e. where you went to school, what your father did for a living, or that you were tagged ‘artistic’ early in life. They know all of this. They knew you as a child. They played baseball with you in grade school. Your mothers played cards together. Your brothers were friends. Your fathers worked together. Very little needs to be explained. So when I show up with my easel and art supplies, they are welcoming and not surprised. A wave of the hand indicates both ‘hello’ and ‘the place is all yours’. This summer I returned to Lakeview Hardware to continue the ‘Pegboard’ series I started more than a year ago. The inspiration comes from my fascination with tools. I am drawn to the shapes, color & purpose of these everyday objects. Because they are items designed for the hand, there is compulsion to pick them up and touch them. The strong organic forms and utilitarian purpose carry a certain aesthetic.
The playful ‘Pegboard’ compositions are based on merchandise hung on pegboard and displayed throughout the store. The tools are depicted near actual size so when the paintings are placed on the pegboard they become fairly indistinguishable from the actual surroundings. It is the closest attempt I have made at ‘trompe-l’œil’. It is a satisfying, if not downright fun, exercise. After painting a few of these small canvases, I figured that a lot more would make an entertaining collection. I imagine an entire installation on pegboard of these little works, peppered with a few actual tools.
One day while I was painting, a middle-aged man who was browsing the adjacent aisle stumbled upon me while I worked. He thanked me because the smell of the turps I was using reminded him of his (deceased) mother who had also been a painter. If I do nothing else with these projects but bring small moments of joy like this to other people, then the work is worthwhile.
Posted: October 19th, 2010 | Filed under: Architecture, Figure, Recent Work
Home, Stamford, CT
The weekend of September 11 arrived, marking the 9th anniversary of the New York City attack. That Saturday afternoon I surprised myself by abruptly gathering my paint supplies and setting up outside our house. I suppose it was my own way of demonstrating that we cannot put off living fully. Life’s daily distractions tend to numb us into mundane routines.
There have been moments when I have allowed myself to become completely distracted by the never-ending responsibilities of being a home owner but my inherent creative instinct, curiosity and need to use my hands always seem to come to the surface. It (painting) is a compulsion which often makes very little practical sense yet there is a nagging urge to address it. With this project I have decided to confront those issues both compositionally and psychologically.
Several weeks earlier, while working in the yard, I caught a glimpse of myself in one of the windows of the house. The single hung, six-over-six sashes are framed with traditional flat milled trim consistent with a late 18th century home. The top of this particular window cap however is missing a piece of transitional molding. The absence of this piece which exposes the bare wood beneath and the surrounding imperfect yellow clapboards act as a physical reminder of the continual ‘to do’ list of repairs and upkeep for our old home. It is a tension point for me and I presume most women who act as primary caretakers of the home. There is an indoctrination of female members of the household to clean, maintain and improve-i.e. ‘nest’. For me this is additionally heightened by the fact that I am particularly sensitive to my surroundings. I am not exactly obsessive, but the urge to utilize my creative and conceptual skills beyond manual labor in the context of our home clash on a regular basis. I suppose this is one of the reasons why I have always chosen to paint on location, off-site. By removing myself from the home environment, I remove the distractions.
The afternoon sun was hot, exposing my left side to the last heat of the Summer. The drought of earlier months brought on an abundance of prematurely ripe acorns. The sound of dropping nuts behind me caused me on more than one occasion to look around to see if someone was sneaking up on me.
The technical and compositional theme of reflection that keeps reappearing in my work takes on a more conceptual meaning when the reflected subject is myself. I believe with all portraits the task is half technical and half spiritual. You have to be objective enough to allow your understanding of anatomy and drawing skills to construct the figure in front of you, yet you also have to be emotionally open to ‘catching’ the spirit of the individual. This, I feel, is more difficult the more intimately you know the subject. It goes without saying the psychological land mines you can encounter when attempting a self portrait.
The simplicity of the composition prompted me to examine more closely the quality and texture of the paint to enhance the effect of the piece. Over subsequent days I pushed myself to build up the paint texture on the architectural elements, i.e. the clapboards, window trim and the stone footing. My intent was to enhance and differentiate the two different spatial planes – the window itself and the surrounding woodwork.
The particular angle of the afternoon sunlight did not create the circumstances where the transparency was equally dominant as the reflection. My reflection was disrupted by transparency only in a small quadrant of the image. Storm windows were installed on the exterior side of the old sashes. During the summer months we raise the bottom storm window (and lower the screen) to allow circulation throughout the house. The upper storms gave one small indication of transparency but also the subtle illusion of a double image due to the overlapping of the two panes of glass.
I am left with the simplicity of my own image surrounded by the architectural elements. My easel, just out of frame, me looking, returning the persistent stare, a left fistful of brushes, my unseen right hand busy at work… ‘Housework’.
Posted: October 19th, 2010 | Filed under: Equipment, Recent Work
Duncan Aviation, Battle Creek, MI
After a week of vacation at Lake Michigan with family, I arranged to resume my work at Duncan Aviation. After meeting with Tom, my contact there, I spent the first hour saying hello to familiar faces and evaluating possible subjects.
This time the hangars were packed with small jets. It was a very different scene than last October. There were so many choices to work from it was almost distracting. One Dassault model kept catching my attention. The aircraft’s blue belly had a presence unlike some of the other adjacent planes. The cerulean blue wings and under-carriage caught reflections of light from the upper body of the plane. There was a water-like quality to these areas and I was attracted to the liquid nature and saturated color of the composition. The turquoise green protective film covered the exposed windows and an industrial orange safety strap hung vertically in front of the engine cowling. These simple elements created a stark, even abstract, composition.
When I asked which ‘pit boss’ was in charge of the servicing of that plane, I was informed that it was the older brother of a friend and classmate from my K-12 childhood education. A wonderful aspect of a small town upbringing is the familiarity and comfort of a shared history. Starting a project with this dynamic offers a certain element of relaxed congeniality which can help to facilitate the process. Over the next week I found that familiarity and flexibility valuable.
The first time I worked at the Duncan hangars, aircraft were scattered to the four corners of the building, away from the vast sliding doors which gave access to incoming and outgoing planes. This time however the hangars were filled to the point that when a plane needed to come in or out an elaborate ballet occurred with the moving and repositioning of the jets. I had unwittingly chosen a subject that was just in front of hangar doors.
I had scheduled only one week to complete the piece. While the composition was not particularly challenging, the circumstances tested me. Due to the placement of my muse, the hangar doors were subject to frequent openings and closings which meant alterations in light source. A change in lighting can completely change color, tone, value etc. I found myself changing these components several times throughout the week. Further, the aircraft I was working from had to be jockeyed to move other planes positioned deeper within the hangar. All of these disruptions made me a little concerned about completing what I had started.
One day, one of the employees brought in his granddaughter whom he had mentioned to me during my first visit to Duncan. He had explained how Brianna had begun to show a strong artistic aptitude even at her young age of 9. The visit with Brianna extended for several hours and involved me setting up a small still life and lending her some of my art supplies so that she could work along side of me. I had not planned for this tutelage during my work week but viewed it as a pleasant distraction. I reminded myself of the moments in my early years when someone dedicated time to foster my young artistic inclinations.
At one point during our time together, Brianna turned to me and asked: “Are you famous?” I laughed and said “No”. She then replied “Well, you should be! You need to get yourself out there more.”
This was just another example of how much I learn from the most unlikely sources while I am out working on a project. www.duncanaviation.aero