In 2016 in preparation for a sabbatical and also for an exhibition at Anderson O’Brien Gallery in Omaha, NE, I had started working on a number of paintings prior to the actual start of my sabbatical. Generally, up to that point the content of my work had been precautionary in that one imaginatively looked through the surface of the painting as if it were a window towards something, often a threatening storm, off at some distance with an impact to be felt in the future. The idea was to convey my concern about and encourage awareness of climate change. The result was often work reminiscent of sublime imagery from the Romantic period. Then, we had a presidential election and it seemed to me that the threatening storm was no longer at a distance but had erupted into my world. Suddenly the old metaphor seemed inadequate, and I began incorporating tromp-l’oeil elements into the work. Tromp-l’oeil is an old painting term that means to deceive or fool the eye, and in this sort of imagery, the illusion is created of objects projecting into the viewer’s space. For example, one large scale work that had been in progress during the election season depicted a road approaching a “T” with a view to the right showing a blustery storm and clearing to the left. I thought of it as a metaphor for all of the worrisome divisive campaign rhetoric “on the right”. I remember being especially disturbed by the racially charged language on the far right, and the use of memes like the cartoon character Pepe the Frog as symbol for white supremacy. All of these ideas came together in my mind when I saw a cartoon frog balloon at the grocery store which I decided to incorporate as a tromp-l’oeil element in the painting. I liked that it was a balloon because that reminded me of the 16thcentury “Vanitas” tradition in painting in which depictions of impermanent fragile still life elements are used to remind viewers of life’s precious fleeting nature and to encourage moral behavior. I liked that tromp-l’oeil rhymed with Trump-l’oeil and could be used to convey my concern that some of those most vulnerable in our society might be most susceptible to deceptive campaign rhetoric. To make a long story short, I began disrupting my “picturesque” imagery with vanitas-type tromp-l’oeil elements and other abstract elements in an attempt to accurately describe my perception of the current state of the world. The challenge of finding a synergy between all of these elements has been cathartic and has inspired a large body of work. While Art Historically informed, I have purposefully employed skillful deliberate effort in the hopes of connecting with a broad audience. I believe these paintings are thought provoking on many levels.
These painting owe much to the philosophical notion of the sublime and to various Romantic landscape traditions such as the Hudson River School. In contemporary context however, the immenseness represented by a foreboding sky reflects more on the long-term impacts of climate change.
These paintings evolved from the landscapes. I became fascinated with the challenge of depicting a cloud’s fractal nature: endlessly complex and also endlessly self similar. Similarly, clouds are good a metaphor for the self, because while they seem substantial they are impermanent and in constant change.
This body of work grew from my study of the elaborate fractal patterns in the cloud paintings. In my abstractions, I sought to create the same sort of complexity. I have made hundreds of these drawings starting each with a line scribbled line as spontaneously as possible followed by a search for compelling shapes. It is a process of trial and error with each choice impacting the next. This work continues to evolve, and the process has been incorporated into some of my recent paintings.
The use multiple point perspective in these paintings draws the viewer into the space and suggests movement and maybe the possibility of an animate world. This amplifies the psychological impact of the images.
Daily routines offer an opportunity for regular mindful reflection. These paintings explore the infinite narrative and visual potential latent in even the most ordinary activity.