The Elegiac Impulse 

My Approach


My recent work began when I first used a model to represent a person I had been close to, who had died some years before. As the work came into resolution, a disquieting but not unpleasant sensation overcame me; it was as if I had been able to call the spirit of that person into my studio, to be alone with her again. At first I wasn’t quite sure of what to make of it, but it did suggest that there was something significant to be gained by utilizing the images of people I knew and cared about. It was a new, perhaps shamanistic level of poetic imaginings. Later, I realized that I had chanced upon what Leone Battista Alberti called painting’s fundamental magic: to call forth those who are absent, to bring them into the light, to give them the semblance of a living presence. 

As I work, I am guided and inspired by this elegiac impulse through the sensations and feelings that emerge. Each painting becomes a reflecting pool in which I recast emotional states and stories about people through the distorting ripples of myth, memory, and new metaphoric uses of pictorial forms. To the extent it is possible, I try to empathize with those I paint, recognizing that they are also emanations of myself. These works must have a certain strangeness or they would convey no inhabited depths or value. Thus my frequent mixing of disparate form treatments (abstraction vs. figuration, form vs. light, sculptural vs. impressionist) has become essential; realism, by itself, seems unable to transmute thought into dream.

What possesses me in a heightened way is the existential drama of the shifting self and others, and especially the unspoken thoughts and sensations that constitute a complex sense of our paradoxical individuality. An event or dilemma in a person’s life is the initial point of departure. Some images depicting these events are full of momentary recognition or ambivalence; others define primal scenes that may evolve into metaphor. Obliquely inspired by poets like Ovid and Dante, I often use images of an “underworld” – the Petrified Forest or the Painted Desert – landscapes that evoke a kind of psychic interior. Hints left for the viewer in image and title are less clues or puzzles to be solved than simple pointers to the mysteries of the painting.

My current ambition is to fuse these themes in an alternate reality, where feeling establishes an expressive structure, a pictorial depth, and that ineffable quality revealed in the mystery of color-tones – what one thinks of as painting’s music. The qualities of past and recent art traditions are carried uniquely in every work; these are concepts continually reformed according to my own personality, determining each painting’s character. These inventions seek to express inner feelings as distinctly sensuous manifestations, visceral recognitions of the wonder of our lives, either joyous, tragic, comic or bittersweet.

On Some Recent Works

"The Cave of Making" portrays the early modernist dilemma between flesh and the spirit, between art and reality, as understood by my artist father. The cave itself actually exisits in Teotihuacan, Mexico, near the Aztec Pyramids and the Avenue of the Dead.

“In Shadow Play” and “The Haunted Host”, scenes from the tragic story of Joe Cino are envisioned. He has been called a “saint in a sweatshirt” who created Off Off Broadway and midwifed Gay Theater at his Greenwich Village coffeehouse, Caffe Cino.  In the large work, various habitués are simultaneously seen inside and outside the cafe, among scenes from performances that, on one level, celebrate the euphoric delight in campy farce like Tom Eyen’s “Why Hannah’s Skirt Won’t Stay Down” or “Lanford Wilson’s “The Madness of Lady Bright”.  And on another, allusions to Cino's inner dilemmas are suggested. With the more intimate painting, we witness, as in a dream, Cino hallucinating the image of his recently deceased lover Johnny Torrey, in the moment before attempting suicide. The title comes from a prescient play about Cino by Robert Patrick.
 
A group of four works, “Inherent Anxieties”, “The Age Old Paradox” and “The Sacrifice of the Archaeologist Khaled al-Assad,” "Neither Out Far Nor In Deep", reference the current conflict in Syria. Throughout these  political laments are a fractured, fragmented  imagery and explosive forces, metaphors for a disturbing meaning: the discharge of a terrible inward tension and hostility projected onto another, or the outside world. Individuals, like sects, religions and countries find a respite from themselves in acts of betrayal, brutality, mass destruction and the obliteration of cultural memory.

In the first work, there is a contrast between privileged white Americans’ petty betrayals and the profound devastation of the Syrian people. In the second painting, there is the bitter paradox of the “Good Shepherd”, claiming to be protective, but always seeking sacrifice. This work is also my way of honoring the “White Helmets”, the men who stayed behind to rescue people after the Russian bombings of Syrian cities like Aleppo. In the third project, I pay homage to  Khaled al-Assad, archaeologist and head of antiquities for Palmyra, who stayed behind to face members of ISIS and stand by his life’s work, the irreplaceable treasure that was Palmyra, the first great city of cultural diversity. The fourth work, completed during New York's pandemic lockdown, depicts the spectre of refugees  in peril at sea,  set against the indifference of our western tourist culture. The title , borrowed from a poem by Robert Frost, resonates with the painting.

Another work, completed during the lockdown, "The Deleted City" presents a sense of  homelessness and destruction contrasted with a dehumanizing gentrification. The Lower East Side of Manhattan was once the center of socially concerned political ideas brought here from Eastern Europe. The central building, destroyed by arson, was a historically significant synagogue built in 1850 to serve emigree's from Eastern Europe.

 Against the contemporary drive to dismiss the facts of history, to efface memory, these paintings act to gather up the spirits of the dead into a painted present. Here they each enact a pivotal primal scene where the often incomprehensible is given shape by a haunted and melancholic imagining.