1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, both as an artist and as a person? Where did you grow up, and when did you realize you want to pursue art as a career?
I was exposed to lots of art early and felt the pull, I knew I would always paint and that it would be a part of my life when I was an undergrad. I’m not sure I consider art a career, maybe more that I have a career so I can paint. Also a lot of the artists that made me want to paint are dead and being a part of that long conversation was always more exciting and motivating to me that art as a career in the traditional sense. William Faulkner said you should always be an amateur, for the sake of the work itself so that your professional persona doesn’t dictate everything for you. As a child, I only wanted to draw and read books, so my parents put me in gymnastics which gave me a good sense of discipline and I also realized that painting was something I could do my whole life, as opposed to gymnastics which has a short shelf-life. I’m from Albuquerque, New Mexico, its big sky country like Montana and the land keeps you aware that you’re a small figure in a vast landscape which makes sense to me as a worldview and manifests itself in the paintings in the way I tend to scale the figures, they’re important but are held in check by scale.
2. Can you describe your creative process? What inspires you, and what happens between the moment of inspiration and the finished painting?
Other paintings are what made me want to paint in the first place as well as defining what painting is, so looking at other work is the first part of a three part cycle, the second is going into the world to see what I think could make a good painting based on that and the third is making the work itself, which test all of the ideas that I have going into it. How do I know how I’m doing? Back to step one. Making is thinking, and if you’re making something visual, it makes sense to me to sort it out visually, which means lots of drawing. I do preparatory grisailles before I start a painting to both sort out what I want from the painting visually and to more fully imaginatively own what I’m painting. The paintings are like one frame movies, where I build the set, light it and cast it how I want. I tend to work within my larger area of investigation, which is this sort of North American purgatory, places that people don’t go to be there. The side projects, like the fast food still life paintings or the drive-thru paintings are subsets of that larger subject.
3. What are your biggest artistic influences? Which painters, classical or contemporary, do you look to for inspiration?
A lot of what painting is has been defined for me by the old masters and I make the paintings with pictorial strategies and even techniques, like underpainting in what the Dutch called a dead color layer, which I’ve taken from these artists. An important part of my work is bringing this long, slow, careful way of looking to bear on these places we’ve built to pass through quickly, places that are designed for you to get what you need and go, as opposed the architecture of say, the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. Dostoyevsky said that ‘looking forward we die too soon and looking back we die too late’. We spend a lot of our lives in this condition, this little existential sliver where we think about what we’ve done in the past or what we want to do in the future instead of being in the living moment; the places in the paintings are like architectural instantiations of this state of mind. Painting is a powerful form in its own way, ‘Landscape with a Stone Bridge’ by Rembrandt in the Rijksmueum in Amsterdam is the reason I didn’t go to graduate school for film. While film is a more socially powerful medium, there is something moving about the human scale of painting, and the actual touch of the artist in front of you, painting addresses being human in an intimate way that film can’t do in the same way. Painting and film are different forms, and the reason for making a painting needs to have something to do with what painting is. William Bailey and Andrew Forge at Yale were both big influences and mentors to me and I’ve written about their work and teaching on Huffington Post.
4. Is painting your full time career, or do you have a day job? If so, how do you balance it with your life as an artist?
I’m also a full Professor at Santa Monica College, the figure drawing and painting Professor, which is great since it feeds right into my work and I also really like my students. I have had other jobs, though, where the balance was harder to keep. Keeping a space you reserve for your creative work is a good strategy to keep some momentum and continuity going when you don’t have as much time as you’d like.
5. If you had a year with unlimited time to paint, and unlimited funds, how would you spend that year? What would be your dream project?
It would be fun to plein air paint some places that are expensive to get to, and to bring interested friends since my hypothetical funds are unlimited. On that note, I am teaching a plein air workshop in Rome this summer- https://www.romeartworkshops.com/workshops/painting-rome/
Maybe paint the Seven Wonders of the World and bring friends who wanted to do it? My friend Andrew Hem wanted to do that and I know he has a few to check off still..