1. Where are you from? Where did you start?
I grew up in a lot of small towns east of the Mississippi, but I only started traveling in 1971. After a long trip cross country to Mexico (think: Easy Rider era) I went to Rome for my fourth year at RISD. From there I moved to Paris. It wasn’t the honey colored tourist haven that it is now. It was a gritty cold war city in political turmoil with terrorist bombs going off periodically in the department stores, frequent strikes and demonstrations, and, with the uprisings of 1968 still very fresh, busloads of cops with machine guns on street corners, There were a very few really interesting galleries and dedicated collectors and the art world was tight. The focus was intellectual not financial and it was vividly engaged. The French artists I knew were fascinated and appalled by the professionalism and careerism of the Americans who came through. The first book I managed to read in my self-taught French was Foucault, which I really needed it to keep up with dinner conversations. Grad school was superfluous. I got in to the 9th Biennial with some works on paper I was doing. They were about time and duration, error and mutability, things I still think about, though the visual aspect has evolved. I worked with Daniel Templon, Ileana Sonnabend and a few independent dealers. After the election of the first socialist government, and the first of the OPEC oil embargos, the economy collapsed and it was no longer possible for me to live, however meagerly, by selling my work, so I started going back and forth to NY where I could get a job, make some money and return to Paris. This went on for years. NY was no picnic either and dark in a wholly different way. Rivington was an open heroin market not a gallery hub, and the Bowery was a pit of human misery. Living downtown was like urban wildcatting, precarious and interesting.
2. What continues to inspire you, keep you motivated in the studio?
I’m working on a new series of abstract paintings; images of flowers primarily, which might seem contradictory. I think of it as a conundrum. Each piece raises issues and proposes problems that beg for solutions. Each new painting addresses those ideas and attempts an uneasy resolution. I think we swim in the ocean of our minds. Some of us rather usefully navigate the surface currents to arrive somewhere, some of us explore below where the idea of progress is a bit murkier, so to speak.
3. How do you work physically?
It is rather simple really. I pick up a brush and paint. I work flat on a table. My right shoulder was injured some time ago and I can’t hold it up to paint vertically. This has also forced some adaptations in the scale of my paintings and the weight of my materials.
4. What do you find frustrating/enjoy about your process?
No endeavor is ever easy. Frustration is inherent to painting. I enjoy looking. I work directly from observation and the lenses I use are my own. I do not use photography. The eye/mind/hand connection is so extraordinarily complex and intricate that I become totally absorbed in the process of translating one kind of experience into another. I believe the neuropsychologists call it “flow” when your focus is so acute that you loose time completely. That is an immense pleasure.
5. What is your medium of choice? Why?
Light is everything. I paint on Duralar, which is a polyester film. It is lightweight, durable and has a clean translucent surface. The light goes through it, gets bounced back through the surface from the wall behind it to produce a kind of luminous glow. Oil paint was invented centuries ago in India and China for its luminous qualities and then imported to Europe, I imagine by the seafaring Netherlanders, in about the 14th Century. I saw an extraordinary show two years ago at the Huntington Library in California. There were Flemish portraits in oil and Italian portraits from the same years that were painted in tempera. Exquisite to be sure, but dull compared to their Northern colleagues who had discovered this new medium. Within very few years the Italians had abandoned their opaque paints and were using the new technology. It was remarkable to see the transformation, not unlike abandoning the typewriter for the keyboard in our own time. So, I’ve taken a look back to the moment of discovery of luminosity to revivify the experience of paint.
6. How has your practice evolved over the years?
It would be hard to encapsulate forty some odd years of thinking and doing into a paragraph or two. I can only say that the farther out you go from the beginning you begin to realize that the trajectory is elliptical. I only hope to live long and productively enough to close the gap that remains.
7. Tell us about your creative and conceptual process. Where do your ideas come from/relate to?
Ideas always engender ideas. Currently I am toying with ideas about spatial organization or, to use an outmoded term, composition, the idea of the primacy of the frame, of what is framed and the means by which that frame is produced. That can mean not only the borders of the painting surface but also the edges operating within the image, the boundaries between areas defined by one information set abutting another. Hence, the appearance of the flowers, which mean nothing and so are as abstract as the voids. The interior transections in the paintings, a straight line, an arc or a waveform, are defined simply, by freehand pencil lines drawn behind the surface, like a persistent and determining ghost. A pencil line always reads as something provisional: this, for now, and evolving. By this gesture the image shifts away from a too-stable set of conventions. I am tired of the all-over strategy, so reliably employed by so many painters, that automatically reads as “modern” or “contemporary” but to me just says, mid 20th century. I am equally repelled by the other tradition of the “window”, which is best left to photgraphy at this point. Once I started painting the plants I realized that they related to a long thread of flower painting that runs through every culture and every era. They are everywhere, on vases and architectural elements, on clothing, furniture, ceramics, armaments, and paintings. Flowers are not just found on these often dimensionally curved surfaces but they are also projected onto the social body as well. They are often anonymous and since the 16th C in Europe, codified into the hierarchy of genres. I’m interested in that hierarchy for many reasons, not the least of which is the marginalization of women and the domestic space.
7.Who? what motivates/ Influences your work? Why?
It is pretty far-ranging, and not limited to painting shows and art exhibitions. I am interested in the use of space in conjunction with complex natural shapes. I am very interested in contemporary architecture for example, like Kazuyo Sejima, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Bjarke Ingels, and in contemporary garden design, particulary the work of the northern Europeans, like Piet Oudolf, Jacques and Peter Wirtz , Noel Kingsbury, and Dan Pearson with their ideas about the New Perennial Garden, to name a few. I read essays on contemporary art criticism and science publications. I am intrigued by the condensation of experience in poetry, like the exquisite drawn poetry of Robert Grenier and the poems of Barbara Henning who always lets the air in. And I look, I look at everything.
8.Real life situations that inspire you?
I don’t believe in inspiration. The word itself bothers me. To breath in, as if some holy spirit enters from elsewhere stirring the heart. I’ve always loved Chuck Close’s “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just go to work every day”.
9. How do you think/want people to respond to your work?
The answer to that is, yes, I want people to respond to it.
10.What was the last show you saw that knocked your socks off?
The Metropolitan is my favorite hometown museum. There are always thought provoking exhibitions there on any given day of the week. They weren’t the last shows I saw, but I was really impressed with a couple of great ones at the Met in the last couple of years: “The Interwoven Globe: Worldwide Textile Art 1500-1800”, which whirled conceptually through fantastic multicultural global exchanges, proving that globalization in art ideas didn’t begin yesterday, and “Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity” which blew the pastel covers off of the steamy union of ambitious urbanity and modern art. I loved the Ken Price retrospective and the thrilling “Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa”, both artists in whom I have had a life long interest. The Dickinson/Walser show at the Drawing Center was very important to me as well as the show I mentioned at the Huntington Library. It didn’t knock my socks off but I thought the “America is Hard to See” show at the new Whitney was pretty good because the curatorial revision of the collection shifted the discourse a hair away from the Big White Boys discourse of the 20th Century. The remarkable painting by Elsie Driggs was a revelation and I was pleased to see that there was a sculpture by Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, whose hideously neglected work I had discovered at The RISD Museum of Art last year.
11.Current adventures/future plans?
I have a show of recent works at the Senior and Shopmaker Gallery in Chelsea June 4th–July 24th 2015. This is my first painting show in NYC since 2008, so this will be an opportunity to reintroduce my ideas to my friends and colleagues.
12.Any advice to other artists? What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
I taught for ten years at the School of Visual Arts and NYU, so I am happy to say that my advice giving years are behind me, but I could always use some.