Q: Would you talk about your use of Mexican and Guatemalan folk art as a convenient way to study formal properties such as color, shape, pattern, composition, etc. in your pastel paintings?
A: For me an interesting visual property of these objects is that they readily present themselves as a vehicle for exploring formal artistic properties, like color, pattern, shape, etc. especially compared to my earlier subject matter: hyper-realistic portraits and still-lifes. Intent as I was on creating verisimilitude in the earlier work, there was little room for experimentation.
Many Mexican and Guatemalan folk art objects are wildly painted and being a lover of color, their brilliant colors and patterns are what initially attracted me. As a painter I am free to use their actual appearance as my starting point. I photograph them out-of-focus and through colored gels in order to change their appearance and make them strange, enacting my own particular version of “rendering the familiar strange.” Admittedly these objects are not so familiar to begin with.
When I make a pastel painting I look at my reference photograph and I also look at the objects, positioning them within eye-shot of my easel. There is no need whatsoever to be faithful to their actual appearance so my imagination takes over. As I experiment with thousands of soft pastels, with shape, with pattern, with composition, and all the rest, I have one goal in mind – to create the best pastel-on-sandpaper painting I am capable of making.
Comments are welcome!
A: By the time I left the Navy in 1989 to devote myself to making art, I had begun a career as a portrait painter. I needed to make money, this was the only way I could think of to do so, and I had perfected the craft of creating photo-realistic portraits in pastel. It worked for a little while.
A year later I found myself feeling bored and frustrated for many reasons. I didn’t like having to please a client because their concerns generally had little to do with art. Once I ensured that the portrait was a good (and usually flattering) likeness, there was no more room for experimentation, growth, or creativity. I believed (and still do) that I could never learn all there was to know about soft pastel. I wanted to explore color and composition and take this under-appreciated medium as far as possible. It seemed likely that painting portraits would not allow me to accomplish this. Also, I tended to underestimate the amount of time needed to make a portrait and charged too small a fee.
So I decided commissioned portraits were not for me and made the last one in 1990 (above). I feel fortunate to have the freedom to create work that does not answer to external concerns.
Comments are welcome!