Thursday, July 1, 2021

Ax Wielding Maniacs

Click for bigness!


“Ax Wielding Maniacs” is 32" x 32" stained glass: engraved and painted (but mostly engraved)


This piece is supposed to be funny…. I mean, a real ax wielding maniac would be anything but funny, but c’mon…sometimes you just gotta laugh or you’ll perish from the godforsaken horror of it all, right?

I should know, I have seen every episode of Forensic Files…more than once!  I own a Ring doorbell…I have known fear of the monsters that lurch in the human soul (including my own).  So, this time out, I choose to laugh a bit and I hope you do too.


It all began innocently enough. How to depict something about deforestation that would speak to the issue in such a way that people wouldn’t nod their heads in robotic liberal agreement or send them running to their climate change denial pals for e-vilidation before they even considered the nuances of the message.

I figured I would draw a sad lumberjack.  I would draw a person who regretted being sucked into and trapped in a system that was perfectly acceptable until it wasn’t.  I drew a lumberjack…and then another…and another…all in all I drew a bunch of lumberjacks.  Please see my previous post about the drawings here.  In it, I discuss my Pennsylvania family history (Wood hicks, the lot!) and other things that I won’t go into again but may explain some of the motivation further.  Ultimately, I decided to use all the lumberjacks in a single image.  Probably the single most clever thing I did was trade the stumps in that last "final version" for logs.


The stumps just were NOT working.

Logs.  Logs are so…long and cylindrical…. How did a piece about climate change come to be about toxic masculinity?  A few words before I get into that.  I hope the humor of the piece functions like this: I hope it makes the piece, instead of preachy, into a loving ribbing.  I have no desire to lecture anyone on the odious consequences of “toxic masculinity” of which, I assume you are already intimately familiar.  I have no desire to paint all males with the same brush. I LOVE MEN, OK?  YOU ARE NOT ALL THE SAME, OK? MEN AREN'T NECESSARILY EVIL, OK? For the record, I deeply believe malefolk are amongst the deeply damaged and are every bit as much persecuted by rigid ideas of gender as anyone. The patriarchy perpetuates a system potentially fatal to all persons, although some get more swag before they die of stress related diseases like broken hearts.


Who in class doesn’t see a connection between deforestation and systems of male dominance?  Anyone….anyone?  Bueller?  Ok, good, so I won't spell that one out for you, despite the fact that it is absolutely central to the piece, in my mind.


Another thing I will only mention superficially is the creative struggle. Whenever someone looks at a finished art work, it appears as a fait accompli, but each one comes with its very own mid-life identity crisis! Of all my pieces (239 at this point) maybe five did not come with a crisis.   I assume this is common amongst artists and I think it results from two contrary things I  "learned" (more like absorbed) in art school: 1. that inspiration is an unnecessary luxury strictly for amateurs and 2. artists should always be incredibly inspired. OY VEY! Which is it? Both and neither perhaps? What do I do when my idea, which was so rapturously excellent one day becomes a vile and pestilent congregation of vapors the next? I have learned the following.  The issue is not with the idea or the piece!  The issue is with my vision--and I can sometimes regain that vision if I try.  Yes, sometimes an idea has a shelf life.  But more often, I am just imposing my mood on an innocent set of starting points.  Learn from my mis-steps, grasshoppers! Learn to identify when you are intruding upon your own creative process! And yes, this piece was no different.

The struggle is real!

Back to maniac with axes. The design, like many of my pieces lately, is close to being a repeating pattern, like wallpaper or fabric. 

I like the idea that is only implies a repeat while failing to do so perfectly. Its like a little secret between you and I.  I could make it repeat perfectly if I felt like it.  Many fabrics and wallpapers have imperfect seams, and contemplating those mis-registrations gave me much angsty joy as a weird little kid.  It was like finding out Santa was actually my dad or that the Wizard of Oz was a snake-oil salesman and yet: happy endings abound! Comforting to know that the world doesn't spin off its axis when the prints don't register right and I, in turn, offer that up to you.

(In this sketch, it does repeat perfectly, perfect for little children's rooms)  

Why imply a repeat at all then?  Well, in this case I feel I am on solid conceptual ground. One way we learn societal gender roles is by our environment.  Some years ago, a friend of mine (a gay man, for what it worth) papered his spare room in 1960’s cowboy wallpaper intended for use in little boy's bedrooms. I was impressed by this multivalent act of irony, tenderness and nostalgia; this nod to a time when one could innocently assume this wallpaper was somehow not going to possibly perpetrate violent brain scrubbing on human souls.  I am serious here….People learn a LOT MORE from wallpaper and fabric and dishes than they do paintings!  Right?  Because they live with that stuff!  They see it day in and day out…its damned inescapable! The art museum only holds sway on special field trip occasions…wallpaper is your nanny; fabric is your babysitter, you literally see it more than TV (if you have wallpaper or printed fabric or any pictorial domestic goods)…. all the time spreading its pervasive pernicious, subterranean messages of darkness and assumption.  When people say things like “white privilege is the veritable air we breathe” (to give but one example) this is what they mean.  Long live the ALL-POWERFUL crafts!!!  Influencing your children a thousand times more than art can ever dream of! No wonder artists are so jealous! So yeah, check out the unintentionally political but vastly influential 50’s and 60’s wallpaper!  They had cowboys, policemen, spacemen (and spacegirls too, yay--it wasn't all dreadful!) etc.  So why not ax wielding maniacs??? It seems only appropriate to include them in the canon of male role models. In fact, they seemed conspicuously absent.

More adorbs role models for U!

So, this piece, oddly enough is really a proposal for wallpaper disguised as art. In fact, lately all my art is a proposal for wallpaper disguised as art. How have we come to such a place in the culture? Maybe its just me.

Nods to Virgil Marti who did it first. (And William Morris who, in his way, was also subversive with wallpaper).


A little housekeeping: yes, yes, a thousand times yes, I know they are not using the axes properly.  Thank you, social media!  I wasn’t trying to produce a treatise on proper tree chopping posture.


Finally: I am begging you to read this book.










Monday, April 5, 2021

Raft of the Medusa

This is what happens when an artist publicly declares they are moving away from human figure

The journey towards making this piece began way before Covid and I did a previous post about it.  In painstaking detail the post describes the journey of the drawing from cradle to grave.  If you want to call the resolution of an artwork “the grave” and I find that I do. This piece is heavy on drawing so if you want to know more, please read the post here.

I also made a short video introducing the piece which you can watch if you would prefer.  It will be based on the text below plus that previous post so you don’t need to read a single more word if you'd rather watch. Plus it will have even MORE info and pictures as its easier to talk than write.

Some context:

·      I have always been fascinated by the following works of art:

“Raft of the Medusa” by Theodore Gericault, “Battle of the NakedMen”, 1465–1475 Antonio del Pollaiuolo.

·      I have done “battle scenes” since I was a painting major in 1981.  


·      I have an urge to depict “piles of things” or interlocking things. 

·      Perhaps related to that urge, is a strong urge to do repeating, tessellated patterns. 

·      I think Escher is an under-rated artist. Seriously.

·      Swearing off figures makes it into an irresistible forbidden fruit.

·      The summer of 2020. 


 That’s the brain brew that grew “Raft of the Medusa”.

As for the narrative content…i.e. “subject matter”: First off, a caveat. In discussing, analyzing or critiquing art, the urge to understand “subject matter” or “narrative content” as somehow separate from design and material concerns HAS GOT TO STOP……she said, possibly rushing forward right into that very trap…. Subject matter alone is not “Concept”.  “Concept” is not a synonym for meaning…just stop it people, would you?? The meaning of a work of art is in its gestalt—the experience of its subject/design/material all play integral parts, and all generate aspects of meaning. 

“Raft of the Medusa” was a very direct attempt to come to terms with the very traumatic summer of 2020. This time period, I know you haven’t forgotten and won’t for a long time, was marked by social isolation from covid and social unrest from Black Lives Matter protests.  To crowd or not to crowd...that was the question or for many, it became worth it to demonstrate that some issues are worth risking death for, so demonstrate some people did.  


 Donald Trump and his policies, administration etc. filled me (and many, many artists) with the urge to say something. Why is it so hard to get along?  I think we do want to love one another, but it’s so very, very difficult. Even loving a single other person is a difficult task that involves facing one’s own shadow self, let alone trying to love human-kind as a clump. And loving neighbors…well loving thy neighbor is probably the hardest thing to ask in the whole world! How can I possibly when they are hoarders who smoke? Or vote differently or have different beliefs? 

I have always thought that disapproving of one’s “neighbors” (i.e. “others”) is not really about them anyway, but about coming to terms with the parts of ourselves that are most hard to reconcile, to love. Being angry with your “neighbor” is the single most effective strategy to avoid recognizing the parts of yourself you hate!  But that’s because it’s easy: they are, almost by definition, strange and alien and you can consolidate your love for your family and friends at their expense, without threat. I mean that without a ton of judgment—it’s kind of our default setting and hard to change.

Last summer, even die-hard soft-hearted liberals were unfriending their neighbors and families on Facebook over social policy disagreements. And all this played out with a deadly pandemic urging us to ISOLATE!  HIDE!  Duck and cover…. We have met the enemy and he is virus-us.

Covid brought all this out, it’s not a coincidence it all happened at once.

I hope this isn’t too moralistic and preachy—I don’t want to tell people how to think.  Just, perhaps make mild suggestions.


SO, I made a picture, which, I hope, expresses and externalizes the all-too-human struggle to deal with our fear and aggression towards others, our loved ones and ultimately our own selves. It’s all the same fear. That which I imagine to be outside of myself is always within and to come to terms with that is the essence of love.

In the image, I included a lot of people struggling and writhing in discomfort and dis-ease, together and alone and there all stuck together on this tiny “raft” (not pictured!) and there are even some moments of tenderness if you look for them.




Painting in progress

Design Concerns:

I have an urge to depict “piles of things” or interlocking things.  What is this about?

Despite the contemporary pressure for an artist to analyze themselves to death I am going to attempt to reclaim the following: “my work is an attempt to know myself and by extension to understand other and the entire world outside of my brain.  Any claims of a-priori conclusion would be absurdly premature. In other words, I work intuitively and am utterly in service to my subconscious.  And although they (i.e. neurologists) will never locate a “collective subconscious” in the brain, its metaphorically true enough. Suck it up, buttercup!”  I hope you enjoyed that bit of art-speak for “no clue.”

Perhaps related to that urge, is a strong urge to do repeating, tessellated patterns.  Also “no clue”—but I would suggest that much of what a brain wants to do is draw pictures of itself and often that self is strangely mathematical.  I read somewhere (and I deeply regret I can’t remember where) that many of their abstract doodlings a person is compelled to do resemble nothing so much as biological phenomena such as phosphenes.  Who knows what we will figure out in terms of how the brain encodes self-generated images in the future.  I look forward to whatever it is.


Super bonus! I also made a tiny version of this for Shelter in Place Gallery:



The gallery is a perfect scale model and my piece appears to be gigantic!


Saturday, January 9, 2021

Dirty Snow

"Dirty Snow" 32" x 32"

As I write this, I have a glass sliver in my forefinger making it hard to type.  Gritty, hard livin’ type that I am I would usually operate with my #11 knife and be done with it.  However, this one is so deep that that would involve too much invasive probing and gore; plus, I’d probably get an infection.  So please excuse me, but this time, my typos happened for a reason!

If you don’t want to read a lot of blahdeblah, please skip down to the asterisk.

 As is often the case, the figure was imagined and fabricated a while ago.  I wanted to do a puffy coat.  Why?  Do I have to know?  Does the reason need to be a solid, conceptual scaffold on which profundities can be constructed into edifices reaching heavenward towards a theoretical interrogation of all that is assumed culminating in an apotheosis which proposes a new framework on which to model our culture, society, world etc??  Well, I hope not because I honestly just wanted to make a puffy coat on a lark. I mean, puffy coats…they’re funny!  And so very practical.  During the energy crisis of the 1970’s my parents kept the heat down when they weren’t home.  I had a men’s large puffy coat that I wore around the house like a bathrobe.  OK, try to unimagine that please. I swore them off and only wore leather motorcycle jackets, Carhart prole-wear or long black coats when they were for film students not school shooters. Then, about three years ago, I broke down and got one because AS GOD IS MY WITNESS, I NEVER WANT TO BE COLD AGAIN!!


I just want you to know I have a history of deep thoughts on puffy coats.


When I have a fully realized glass character, I am faced with a dilemma.  Who is this character? Where are they?  What are they doing?  Should I put them in an interior space? A landscape? And abstract space (a favorite solution of mine)? I can force things to happen; but usually I like things to arise on their own, so I often table it to see what happens. Meaning—if I work on other ideas, boundaries tend to blur and sometimes a solution for a different piece works for this one.  Also, I take a picture of the figure, input to Photoshop and mess around putting the character in different situations.


Puffy coat, go figure, seemed to suggest an outdoor scene in winter. But are we talking day or night?  Country or city?   Without detailing every machination of my imagination (and believe me there were millions of options I considered), I chose a city scene at night. While I may hate being cold, I like winter.  I get weird winter feelings—sort of the opposite of seasonal affective disorder.  I get happier when the sun goes down at 4 and rises after 7 am!  There is something about fading light and bare trees that evokes in me a keening sense of, well, I dunno what but for some reason it always brings me back to a moment in 1983 when I was walking to my apartment on Hope street in Providence Rhode Island.  Was I thinking something special?  I have no recollection.  Was there a sublime sunset? I was walking south,  so no.  But everyone must have these memories, of some time ages ago that we can’t remember but we can recall it very vividly—at least in a visual way.  I worked pretty hard to evoke this keening sense of winter in this piece.


*On my covid walks, I have noticed something that made it into this piece. People, everywhere around me are people walking around with little bags of poop. (Never mind this has a practical aspect regarding dog walking, I literally saw this as an alien on their first visit to earth.  I saw it completely afresh—like “Oh look at the humans with their little bags of poo!”)

I know it sounds amusing, but I truly found it to be a poignant human thing.  For one thing, don’t we all walk around metaphorically speaking with a little bag of sh*t?  Just a small one, one that we seek to dispose of, so others don’t have to step in it.  What a decent thing to do!

But I was afraid it would be seen as a gag.  And yeah, maybe it will be.  But this statement is a small way I can put forward the idea that it might be funny but it also sweet and kind and to memorialize that is a good and appropriate thing to do.

Technical details:  Dirty snow is represented by the side panels.  I call those designs “pongs”.  I looked back and figured out I had not made pongs in ten (!!) years. I used to do them all the time, but I definitely reached a point where if I made another, I was gonna rampage.  So, I asked myself if I really wanted to do this motif…if I had anything new to say.  The answer, as it turns out was yes indeed. 


Dirty snowflake jawns.


 Shout out to Karisa Gregorio who helped with cutting ALL. THESE. HEXAGONS.

I have done a city at night before.  This city sky was done with some acid etching (or to be totally transparent (!) about it, Armor Etch).  Since I don’t usually use that technique, I thought it was worth mentioning.  Another example is the body of the whale in “Beached Whale” (scroll down).

"Landscape with Underpants", also featuring a city skyline at night.

Also, I did the head thrice:


Another version of the face that I rejected.

1st version of face, which I rejected. You know what?  I honestly have no clue why I didn't like it.