RECENT URBAN WORKS
I live in an area where natural and fabricated elements collide, overlap and coexist. The route from my home to my studio bisects an assortment of districts: from manicured seaside parks, to concrete canyons in the downtown core; from leafy residential neighbourhoods, to derelict slums and industrial sprawl. This daily journey is a cross section and microcosm of human urban experience, and one that never ceases to inspire and inform my work.
My creative process involves absorbing and synthesizing these external elements into personal descriptions, reactions and interpretations, drawing upon my own formal preoccupations with line, shape, colour, gesture and texture. Although the built environment is generally used as a starting point, the works evolve and transform in an intuitive fashion to the point where representational elements are distilled, intensified and occasionally obliterated by subconscious narratives and aesthetic impulses. The resulting images are a coalescence of external and internal forces, so to speak.
My imagery is both architectural and organic, often conveying the uneasy relationship between seemingly disparate urban elements. In recent years, the human figure has made an occasional appearance in these abstracted urban landscapes.
The artworks are not so much about a specific city or neighbourhood, but act, rather, as more of an essence or archetype that expresses the idea of urban-ness. They are visual and psychological metaphors for all that a city thrusts at us, encapsulating the yin and yang of contemporary urban existence.
Although historically a painter, I have more recently been exploring photography and digital manipulation, creating digital composites derived from my photographs and paintings. I have been printing these hybrid images on aluminum.
BARFLIES CELLISTS AND OTHER HUMANS
This series presents people as nameless characters, often in ambiguous, sterile, urban environments, providing no explanations as to how they arrived there or where they came from. The only snippets of background information are provided in the titles, thus prompting the viewer to make assumptions and create underlying narratives. They are characters in search of an author, so to speak, and since that author is in part the viewer, a trialogue is established between the viewer, the painting, and the artist. There are no absolutes—all is open to perception and interpretation. Perceptions, assumptions and narratives will vary significantly from viewer to viewer, and will indicate as much about the observer as they do about the subject. We are all to some degree prejudicial or at least presumptive in our beliefs about other people’s race, gender, identity, appearance, occupation, and/or place of origin. The paintings and their titles address the idea of labelling and stereotyping, and the inherent dangers in doing so.
On a more personal level, I wanted to show these characters in moments of isolation, self-reflection and/or vulnerability. In an age of once-removed digital imagery, environments, and experiences, I wanted my people to be as "analogue" as possible, exposing their humanity (and mine), with all its warts and blemishes. The portraits have become even more relevant and compelling in our current period of coronavirus isolation.
FIRE AND RAIN: A Journey to Extremes
In 2017 I embarked on a 9,000 km journey through western North America, a remarkably diverse region formed largely by dynamic volcanic and hydrological forces. My trek took me from the fiery desert canyons of the Southwest, through the glaciated gorges of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada, and on to the rain-soaked forests and beaches of the Northwest. Camping alone for weeks in these extreme environments, I found peace, solace, simplicity, and ultimately creative inspiration.
The resulting paintings are a visual journal of my experiences, ranging stylistically from impressionism to abstract expressionism, while always focusing on the underlying essence or spirit of the subject rather than the incidental details.
I have no manifesto, nor do I subscribe to any esoteric art theories or practices. I simply explored these landscapes because they intrigued me, and I hope my love and passion for the wilderness resonates within the viewer in some inexplicably profound way.
STATION TO STATION
In 2016, I inexplicably felt compelled to paint train tracks, stations, terminals, depots and other transport hubs. Then my mind got busy, and I began to question why. Perhaps it was because my studio is flanked by a rail yard, or because I’d spent countless hours in and around such places in my daily life, in my travels, and as a result of unfortunate summer employment when I was a student. Then again, maybe I was intrigued by the allegorical implications inherent in train tracks converging and vanishing on a horizon line, or by the pictorial allusions to the transitory nature of existence: always arriving and departing at the same time, and never in a state of permanence. And what about the mystical connotations implied by…
Shut up and paint, I reproached myself, my mantra when in doubt about the worthiness or significance of a particular subject matter.
Each work generally began with reference to a photo or memory, but then, as usual, intuitive aesthetic impulses took over. I recalled the words of Hans Hoffman who said, “Eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” Each painting consequently evolved into something not so much about a particular place, but represented, rather, more of an essence or archetype of such places, in varying degrees of representation and abstraction.
There are an abundance of valid interpretations for this series—and of course I have a few of my own—but I would never be so arrogant as to suggest what the viewer should see, feel or understand. It’s up for discussion, and that is the enigmatic character of art that has sustained my curiosity and passion for over 40 years. Have at it.
My artistic lineage goes directly back to the roots of abstract expressionism. My instructor, Gordon Smith, was taught by important San Francisco Bay area painter Elmer Bischoff, who was on faculty at the University of California Berkeley with the likes of Richard Diebenkorn and Clyfford Still in the 1940s and 50s.
Still, of course, was an important if reluctant member of the so-called “New York School” in the 1940s and 50s, along with Jackson Pollock, Willem deKooning, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and many others of note.
Diebenkorn and Bischoff headed up the Bay Area painters, who alternated between figurative and abstract expressionism.
This lineage has deeply affected my artistic sensibility and my approach to painting, and I feel fortunate and honoured to be the progeny, so to speak, of such an esteemed group.
My work is inspired and informed by locations ranging from pristine wilderness to urban sprawl. My chosen subjects are used as starting points from which each painting evolves and transforms, until representational elements are distilled, intensified, and sometimes obliterated by aesthetic impulses and considerations. My goal is to create an image filled with vitality and stated in as few brush strokes as necessary. I’ve found that once the inexplicably “correct” strokes have been executed, petting or tidying the paintings only detracts from their vigor. Paint inherently runs, drips and bleeds, and I find much of the expressive potential and beauty in this very fact.