Monday, February 21, 2022

Modes of Expression

It has always been difficult for me to write a single artist statement to encapsulate why I do what I do. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is simply that by the time I am able to hone in on a written explanation of my current body of work, the work inevitably veers off in a new direction, introducing new visual ideas and impulses that no longer quite fit the written statement. I think this is normal and healthy for any artist. If my work is not evolving, it becomes nothing more than craft, the reiteration of work that has become familiar and routine. And thus, for me at least, it quickly becomes tedious, a chore with little akin to what I think art is really about, which is exploration.

The other problem is that I rarely work for long in just a single mode. In the same way that I may be reading a novel one week, then switch to a science book the next, so my painting sometimes toggles between fictional and documentary modes with very different agendas. And then, on occasion, I'll find myself out in the world rearranging rocks and sticks. So far I am unable to even imagine an artist statement that could encompass all three modes of creative activity coherently.
"Relic" oil on canvas 36" x 52"

The majority of my current practice is in the fictional mode. This has always been the closest to my heart in many ways. It was what I wanted to do when I was a little kid, poring over picture books and sci-fi novel covers. I wanted to grow up illustrating ghost stories and greek myths. And in a sense, that is what I'm doing. Not overtly, but I think it is a deeply human thing to respond to the world around us with tales of magic, wonder, mystery and unease. So these paintings are my personal mythology if you will. My own ghost stories and tall tales.

"Six Studies of a Coal Fired Power Plant" oil on paper 12" x 16" each

As I got older I also became enormously enthralled with non-fiction, especially the natural sciences and certain aspects of history. Camp fires were and remain a recurring motif in my fictive work, but for four years, from 2013 to 2017 it became part of the subject matter of my sprawling visual essay on fire and fossil fuels called "A God in the Hearth". That project led me to explore the ravaged landscapes of wildfires and tour Oregon's last remaining coal fired power plant (which was finally demolished earlier this year). There was something especially satisfying in painting the industrial imagery of the power plant. I'm no engineer, so for me, they're just abstract shapes and colors, complex, mysterious and fascinating. I've since begun looking at other technological/industrial mysteries around me and hope to do more work like this.
"Collowash Color Wheel" Rearranged river rocks

Finally there is my outdoor work which has been only very occasional and only for purely personal reasons. But it engages me as deeply as my painting when I have the chance to explore it. All of my paintings engage in a kind of story telling, but this work does not. It is decidedly and necessarily abstract, perhaps because it is not a response to the world around me, but a direct engagement with it. I also tend to take a lot of abstract photographs when I'm out hiking or exploring. The mark of a brush or pen is an abstract thing in and of itself, and there is an allure in organizing those marks to create an illusion of reality. But sticks and rocks are not abstract, they are real things. So perhaps the allure is to organze them in a way that they unbecome themselves, transformed into abstraction.

So while a comprehensive artist statement for all of my modes of work will no doubt continue to elude me, I can at least say with cofidence that each of them is a direct response to the world around me and to the wonder and mystery it makes me feel.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A Journal entry

Most of what passes for important art is meant to shock and provoke, to push boundaries and challenge norms. Which is fine. Boundaries always need to be pushed and norms challenged although far too much of this kind of art fails to do either. A lot of this work is politically oriented and most of that does little more than mirror the chaotic political changes occurring with or without such art.

I was never much interested in shock and provocation, even as a young man. The profound and the sublime always seemed more meaningful to me. I've never imagined that I succeed in capturing or conveying this other ineffable calling of art. Sometimes an artist like Van Gogh managed to do both. Of course now his work is so mainstreamed into commercial consumption that the rebelliousness of it is mostly a historical note. Its sublimity remains for anyone who makes the effort to look.

I'm not trying to change the world. It needs changing. Always. But my art is my voice and I was never one to shout from the rooftops in protest, no matter how angry I felt. Others were always louder and angrier. I only wanted to find a way to show others the things that moved me but seemed inexpressible in words.

I only ever wanted to express myself, like Horton's Who yopping to the world so it would know I was here, to express something of myself, to say "This is how the world makes me feel: awed, sad, delighted, lonely, giddy, solemn, bewitched." My only goal is having someone else connects to a single piece of my art with some fraction of this same complex experience.

Light - oil on paper - 12" x 16"

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Studio Visit vol. 32

I am happy to have some pieces from my "God In The Hearth" project included in the latest volume of Studio Visit. You can actually download a digital version of the whole book and past issues online here. The latest volume (#32) is at the bottom of the page.

Professional Perspectives on Climate Change

So this was a thing that happened. Forgot to post here about it but I participated in a panel discussion about different professional perspectives on climate change. I was deeply honored to share the stage with the following people:

Sharon Delcambre

PCC Instructor and Climate Scientist
Panelist Sharon Delcambre earned her PhD at the Center for Climate Research and the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She teaches Global Climate Change at Portland Community College. Visit Sharon's website.

Michael Paul Nelson

Environmental Ethicist
Panelist Michael Paul Nelson is an environmental scholar, writer, teacher, speaker, consultant, and professor of environmental ethics and philosophy at Oregon State University. Visit Michael's website.

Cassandra Profita

Moderator Cassandra Profita is a reporter for EarthFix, an environmental journalism collaboration led by OPB in partnership with six other public media stations in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Visit Cassandra's website.

The conversation was in front of a small audience but that allowed it to be quite candid. Unfortunately it was not recorded, and I don't have any pictures. But Michael did give me a copy of this amazing book that he co-edited, with short essays on climate change as a moral issue by people like Barack Obama, The Dalai Lama, John Paul II, Ursula LeGuin, Gary Snyder, E. O. Wilson, and on and on.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A God In The Hearth

Fire Study #20 oil on paper  12" x 16"
I first began to think deeply about the relationship between human beings and fire in October of 2013 while at the Playa Artist Residency Program in eastern Oregon. The residency lies at the foot of a steep escarpment called Winter Ridge on the shores of the shallow alkaline Summer Lake. It is a wide open high desert landscape, populated more by cattle than people and not many of either. All along the steep slopes of the ridge stood dead juniper and ponderosa pine, the blackened remnants of the Toolbox Complex Fire in 2002, one of the worst in the nation that year. Many nights at the residency I sat in the common room enjoying the warmth and light of a large stone fireplace while snow whirled and blew outside. The contrast between the wildfire that had swept this landscape (and which had come very close to destroying the property on which I stayed) and it’s comforting cousin in the hearth before me, became a focus of contemplation. 

The paintings in this exhibit are the beginning of an ongoing visual essay exploring our deep connection to fire and the impacts of fossil fuels. Without fire we would not even exist. Cooking food allowed our guts to shrink enabling us to walk upright, and our caloric hungry brains to grow ever larger. Using fire we became like it, sweeping across landscapes and transforming them utterly. In it’s varied forms we simultaneously love fire and fear it. But all too often, at our peril, we take it for granted. To make matters worse the fires that fuel modern life are largely hidden. For millenia the hearth fire was the center of social life, a source not only of nourishment but of light in the dark and warmth in the cold. But now most of our fire is locked away in engines and power plants, sealed up like a genie in a bottle and made to do our bidding. 

"Burn (Cascade Creek fire, Mt. Adams WA 2012)"  48" x 114"
These paintings compare traditional fires and fireplaces to the hidden fires in engines and power plants. Comparisons are also drawn between coal and wood, a reminder that fossil fuels are essentially fossil landscapes from a time eons before human beings existed. One ironic result of their use may well be an increase in wildfires on today’ s landscapes, especially in the American West. The work as a whole is meant to remind us of the primacy of fire in our lives, and to make us consider both the necessity and the difficulty of weaning ourselves from this dependency. For as our hidden hearths blaze merrily away the climate of the planet is changing as a direct result. 

Just because we don’t see the flames doesn’t mean the world isn’t burning.

October 2015
"Four studies of the Coal Fired Power Plant at Boardman OR"
oil on paper  12" x 16" each

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"A God in the Hearth" now scheduled... twice

My show "A God in the Hearth" has now been officially scheduled. Twice.
The first showing will be at Portland Community College in the Cascade Campus gallery this November and will run through early January. Then the work will be shown at Betty Feves Gallery at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon from February into March of 2016. The first show will be a slightly smaller version than the second due to space limitations, but not too much smaller. I'm excited to experiment with the presentation as well, possibly including some installation work and a few choice quotes on the walls from my written essay on the topic like the one above. New work will be posted here soon.

Monday, May 11, 2015

People's Choice

My painting Burn in background at the West Coast Biennial in Redding CA.

This weekend I drove down to Redding California to pick up my painting "Burn" from the West Coast Biennial at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park Museum. When I got there I was told, "By the way, congratulations. You won the 'People's Choice' award".

I was and am incredibly touched. There is often a huge chasm between the aesthetics of the fine art world and the general public. What curators, museum directors and art critics pick out as noteworthy is often completely alien and incomprehensible to the individual who is likely to say, "I don't know much about art but I know what I like." Personally I never saw any reason why one couldn't or shouldn't try to engage both audiences. The fact that Bonnie Laing-Malcomson, the curator of northwest art at the Portland Art Museum selected my piece to be included in this show was enormously gratifying to me. Winning the "People's Choice" award is equally so, and gives me hope that my work can occasionally bridge that seeming chasm.

"Burn (Cascade Creek Fire, Mt. Adams WA 2012)" 48" x 114" oil on canvas