An artist's thesis

Originality is the art of concealing your sources. -Anon.

While certain facts shouldn’t impose themselves between viewer and object, it is often revealing to understand something of an artists personal history and range of influences, the paths taken and the trajectories that have intersected, maneuvering him or her to a certain point. My temporal trajectory began in California, in the beautiful hills of the Bay Area Peninsula. From an early age creative endeavors dominated much of my time- much more so, perhaps, than the "average" child. I was generally a solitary personality, and as a child could be characterized as intensely shy and iconoclastic. This shyness compelled me to create what I may describe as alternate environments and worlds, places within myself where I could function with the fluency I lacked in the real world. I believe we all create these alternate realities to some degree, hidden currents flowing beneath the surface of the tangible world we experience. The hidden currents in my life have come to be powered in part by the alternating gravity of abiding spiritual beliefs and a sense of eternal placement in opposition to the often oppressive din of a "modern" world that anesthetizes our finer and more fragile senses. The worlds these currents delineate seem at times to be more real than actual physical sensations because they are felt more acutely. Though I have overcome many of the emotional impediments of my youth (which weren’t terribly unique), the core sense of displacement, of being a wanderer in a strange land, continues with me and I have learned to appreciate, even prize, the vision that this attitude imparts.

While in high school I began to gravitate simultaneously toward a number of disparate and seemingly incongruous artistic movements. I was awed by the work of Baroque masters whose scope of achievement and power of expression seemed superhuman to a teenager, and seem so even today. Surrealist painting resonated with my love of the unexpected and the irrational made plausible. Conceptual site and earthwork artists such Christo and Smithson engaged my intellect and showed me that there were no limits to the media artists could employ to express thought and feeling. American Luminist and Hudson River School painters touched upon other centers in my psyche that held a profound love of the natural world and its power to convey through soundless shouts and whispers the sublime creation and divine presence. All these movements, and others, contributed seeds to my sensibilities that, in many ways, grew unnoticed for years while other facets of my character were developing. Now it is possible for me to see with more clarity how various schools of thought and expression, not necessarily specific artists, have blended and fused with my own personal vision to fashion the parameters of expression within which I am most comfortable.

Throughout my life I have spent a great deal of time climbing mountains and wandering amid deserts and canyons, experiencing intense physical and spiritual sensations that have contributed much to the development of my visual vocabulary as an artist, as well as to my perception of who and what I am. Those who have never ventured into personally unknown terrain will perhaps be at a disadvantage when confronted by the images I fashion, as the process of physically wandering through the wilderness has a uniquely consistent effect upon the heart and mind. The experience of traversing terra incognita tends to purge the soul, to propel thoughts beyond the temporal world, and contributes to a form of perspective not easily obtainable through other means.
Through all these experiences I have come to realize that I am one of those fortunate/unfortunate souls for whom creating is not an option. The lifelong struggle of fashioning "meaningful" images is not something that can be chosen in the traditional sense. The choice that my psyche seemed to offer me from an early age was "Create or go crazy, or at least be miserable!." Between insanity, misery, or the arts, the decision hardly seemed a difficult one. However, the process of creation comes equipped with enough pitfalls to make the undermining of one’s emotional foundation seem certain from time to time. The upside to having one’s soul stretched on a constant basis can be a richness of perception that occasionally translates into something visually meaningful. Or it can simply wear you out. The grail I seek is that infrequent moment when the paths of expressive potential, conceptual depth and aesthetic satisfaction all intersect. I have been using paint for more than three decades
and am not sure this grail, in its entirety, has fallen into my hands. I can identify fragments now and then, but I have accepted the fact that seeking those perfect intersections will be a lifelong struggle. Of one thing I am certain, the grail can’t be stolen, borrowed or bought. Mine can only be fashioned by me, welded together from fragments of my creative experience and desire.

The Center

I am hesitant to use the word "philosophy" to describe the locus of my beliefs, though perhaps I should, since it sounds better than "weltanshauung." I have always considered "philosophy", when viewed as a whole, to be a construct of constructs forming a rather dense jungle, one whose heart I have seldom had energy to explore, at least in the context of my art. I have never tried to fit my work into any system of philosophy, nor have I ever attempted to drape a particular philosophy over my art. My work is a distillation of personal belief (that which lies at my center) intersecting with an amalgam of personal experience (life) and viewed through my own lens of perception and aesthetic preference (the way in which my nature prompts me to an expression of the distillate).

Much of my core, or what I believe as "truth" and "absolute," is connected to my religious faith and its fashioning of my spiritual self. This constitutes one of the hidden currents of which I have spoken that flows beneath my visible world, giving form to internal environments that are felt rather than seen, as well as suggesting meaning for that which I do see. My work is therefore spiritual in nature, and while precepts of "doctrine" may be extrapolated from the images I create, what drives and vivifies the image for me is something more indefinable, something which derives from my core, from a place where neither words nor images exist. The devices I enlist in giving voice to this core are metaphoric, symbolic, and conceptual in nature. This is how I make sense of my world and what lies within me. My work is an attempt to explore and reference in various ways the spiritual environments which are generated by what lies at my center, and through which I sense my own passage. As stated in my proposal, I approach these paintings as meditations, attempts to provide myself with evidence of a spiritual process. They are also "offerings;" fashioned objects of devotion to be placed outside myself where they can be witnessed by others. Of course, few of these thoughts are present when I am in the act of painting, and it often takes a great deal of time for the various layers of significance in a work to crystallize in my mind.

Objects in a Wilderness

The image of ‘the wilderness" has provided me with a rich point of departure for visual exploration, a journey which is still in its infancy. A separate paper could be devoted to the concept of passage through the wilderness as a means of spiritual purification and as a type of the mortal journey. Sacred history, both ancient and modern, is replete with references to either individuals or entire nations passing through a wilderness to achieve some higher state of being, as a means of separation from the world, as an environment to undergo trials and receive knowledge and power. The wilderness can be in the desert, or in the austerity of a mountaintop, or anywhere in between. These are but metaphors for places that exist within me, for the journey is always an internal one. The image of the wilderness has become a broad stage that I manipulate in order to articulate for myself symbols of my passage.

Although I can identify the origins of my imagery, the genealogy still seems rather murky- perhaps because what I often notice when I am physically in those places is not what ultimately appears in my work. However, I have purposely avoided giving the issue too much thought for fear of chasing away whatever muse lurks beside me. What compels any artist to paint any given image? It is a single question that generates a million different answers. The arrays of images that appear in my work are the product of the paths I have walked and how my nature has either fused with or fought those paths. They are the result of conscious choices as well, of a waking struggle to find a voice. Just why certain modes of expression or images galvanize my psyche is a mystery to me, and I believe it should largely remain so. Nevertheless, I have learned not to doubt the worth of visions that intrude on the periphery of my senses and emotions. These visions, often indistinct and fleeting, seem to be a closer manifestation of my hidden world than what I consciously attempt to generate. As with dreams, the harder I try to arrest "The Vision" the more indistinct it becomes. My use of metaphor as a visual device is a way of sneaking up on these impressions, which, if literalized, would probably disappoint me. The resulting gap between inner vision and created object is frustrating, as every artist can attest, yet can provide a challenge that simultaneously humbles and energizes.
Much of what appears in my paintings also appears in the natural world, but my re-combination of elements is an attempt to generate relationships referencing that which comprises my process of passage. The intrusion of unreal or unexpected elements into a real (or realistically referenced environment) creates for me images that carry within them what I call the power of shifted perception. Representational painting naturally possesses the potential to generate a heightened cumulative perceptual experience that engaging the "real" world may not provide. The flat pictorial surface becomes the locus of an array of selective visual events and spatial relationships, which gain power because we make it the "privileged object of our attention." The reductive nature of represented space gives power to those areas of perception that often lie dormant when confronted by three-dimensional space. The representational pictorial surface "…yields not only the likeness of objects occupying a three dimensional space, but even clarifies our sense of volume and spatial relations." These activities contribute to the re-creation and acceptance within us of the world that we encounter on the picture plane. I attempt to reinforce this perceptual shift not only through the injection of the unexpected element, but also by the elimination of naturalistic color, by which the image is removed from the familiar and placed in a plausible context of its own, which otherwise would seem more irrational were it in a naturalistic setting. Also, my frequent use of monochrome or "extremely limited palette" is a response to an internal aesthetic. Quite frankly, I often "see" without color. I make sense of my world through concepts, ideas given form, relationships between object and environment all existing in a "colorless" world. The question of color is a difficult one- it has potential power, but its use often clouds my perception and confuses my aim. Color carries vast psychological import, and attaching that to the images I create is problematic, though not impossible.

Objects of Devotion

I usually avoid discussion of significance or literal meaning in my imagery, since its interpretation exists on various levels. I feel I have finally overcome the need to have all my intentions understood by the viewer, to impose my meaning. This is the result of two factors. First of all, I have come to appreciate the vision and perspectives brought to the work by others. Some viewers seem to understand more about the work than I do. This troubles me less now than in years past, when clear communication of my concept was the goal. If the viewer doesn’t "get it", there is a good chance that I don’t completely understand it either, and we share that much more common ground. Secondly, my work has become more enigmatic, complex, and mysterious to me. The pleasure I once derived from articulating clearly defined concepts has been subordinated by other forces residing at deeper levels within me- forces which I have only recently been able to link to anything visually tangible.

Another topic I seldom discuss is the process, both technical and emotional, leading to a painting. There is nothing very remarkable about my technique. In fact, sometimes I question whether or not I am truly a "painter" in the fullest sense of the word. I do not doubt that I am an artist of some species, but my self definition has become blurred a bit due to my personal aesthetic being propelled by a love of concept more than a love of paint and the painting process. As to my emotional process in executing a painting, there exists much more dialogue with the work in progress than many would guess. After all, my work is often rather "tight" and there is a perception that every detail must have been planned in advance of painting. The truth is, small changes as well as radical shifts are constantly occurring as I interact with the developing image. I work more from vague internal glimpses, almost an internal peripheral vision, than meticulously rendered battle plans.

One potential by product of the painting process that concerns me is the evidence of the artist’s "self" through personal stroke and mark making. A battle has raged within me for quite some time as to what extent "I" should be present in my work. I made the decision before beginning my project to produce works that were as self-less as possible. By this I refer to certain formal aspects which are also present in, for example, American luminist painting. The reduction of stroke and "painterliness" in an image (though not necessarily the elimination of all texture) helps to bypass the idea of the painting activity as well as the presence of the artist (myself) who stands between viewer and image, inhibiting seamless and fluid access to the scene. Anonymity is important to my concept. Stroke heightens the impression of time, sound, and action, all of which could violate the sense of otherworldliness, of meditative stillness I desired to convey. Although something is represented as occurring in many of my paintings, it occurs in "hierophantic time," eternal or static time, an everlasting stability.

One aspect with which my work varies somewhat from luminism is scale. The small size of luminist works create a paradox that Gaston Bachelard called "intimate immensity": "As soon as we become motionless, we are elsewhere; we are dreaming in a world that is immense… immensity is the movement of motionless man." Some of my paintings fit into this scale, others do not. In the larger scale paintings, the images seem to demand the impact that only physical scale can provide. However, I sense that other elements in these large works compensate for a lack of intimate scale and help to contribute to a sense of immensity and stillness which are central to my current conceptual and aesthetic concerns.

The Horizon

Verbalizing that which transcends language seems to create in me a fractal effect. The words take on their own impetus and trajectory- they want to multiply. This makes the decision of when to close my thoughts particularly difficult. The paradox of internal complexities driving me to paint such seemingly simple images demanded some personal exploration and explanation. Writing this paper has provided me with a new challenge and opportunity- to understand a little more of a subject I am only beginning to grapple with… myself.

I have come to realize that I’m not alone in cautiously picking my way across the talus field, trying not to upset some tenuous equilibrium. The field, after all, is life- it is mortality, where stones of decision and consequence lay in uneasy balance. The wilderness we each traverse in search of meaning and redemption is marked by enigmas and unobserved events that mock the inadequacy of images as well as words. It is this beautiful and frightening mystery that draws me in. It is a mystery not only of my passage, but yours as well. The immeasurable horizon that stretches across so many of my works is not an end; the solitary mountaintop is not the destination, but is simply another station in the vast circuit we travel. It is where we all walk.