I've been contacted recently by the freelance journalist Simon Thurston of Pratique des Arts, a magazine in France for art enthusiasts. Pasted below are answers to some of his questions that will be translated (not by me) into French for an upcoming issue. A tangible copy can be purchased at a Parisian newsstand soon.
How do you choose your subjects?
Watercolor is a medium designed for travelers. And for me, this history and tradition of it taken along on adventures into new and exotic worlds, i.e. Sargent/Klee in Egypt or Homer in North America’s wilderness, attaches a transportive aesthetic to the medium itself. And I’m only now realizing this, after 15-20 years of working with watercolor and after recently expanding into acrylic inks and more recently oils, that when I pour a layer of cobalt blue onto paper I’m participating in a tradition of expression that speaks of the longing for the new, for wanderlust-ed horizons of adventure. It is a delicate and ethereal medium used historically to depict the ancient, sublime, monuments of empires of man or nature. A fantastic combination. And so what I look for is somewhere near to this: an angle of our city or civilization that is similarly tired, worn, and marked by millions, because this to me is what watercolor wants to paint.
Do you work from photos?
The deliberate part of my work is photography: examining the photograph, editing the photograph, and prepping the paper and sizing it, etc. There is quite a bit of this work that I consider less “creative”. Much of the painting is a production that I could probably hire out to an assistant if I were more ambitious, but I do everything myself and quite enjoy it. The mechanical aspect of stretching paper, much like a canvas minus the stretcher bars, and enlarging a photograph and taping it, these are steps that I find to be important. They lead up to the creative, ecstatic phase of applying paint. In fact, the more time I feel I invest in building a surface, i.e. panel, canvas, etc., the more precious that surface becomes, and therefore the more sacrosanct the process of painting upon it. It is a rush to spill paint or ink, and I’ve often found this loose application whether with a mop brush or literally tipping the jar to be the most creative thing I do, and yet it only lasts a small portion of the total time. It is when time seems to flow. In the end what you see is a building up of layers that shows a process of working, of developing.
Our culture is an automotive one. Machine based, rage guzzling. Still I’m interested in its experiential benefits, if indeed they objectively exist.
While day-to-day linear movement measures our drive and promotes our wellbeing, inside, the passenger is passive and reflective, unburdened from decisions.
Painting for me is simulating this experience of a passenger. I am contained. From my containment I gaze upon an arena marked by exhaust, haste, and turbulence. I see others, but mostly I see their containers. We are aligned and in accordance.
This is an automotive pastoral. A sensory deprivation vessel. A joyride of attention on the visual.
Snow falling. Not here at all. But it is in other parts, like in my memory of a winter when I spent the evenings reading James Breslin's biography of Mark Rothko. I needed that snow to fall, for the sky to darken, so that I'd come to a better understanding at that time of how Abstract Expressionism happened.
Rothko and DeKooning and their pals were my heroes due probably to a childhood visiting the Art Institute of Chicago. You see, the gallery space devoted to the avant garde at that time was still loyal to Abstract Expressionism. The earlier abstract work was mostly European, more formal, and down the hall. These Europeans felt small to me. They felt grey under the influence of world wars. The A E by contrast felt angry and free. And by the time I'd begun creating my own abstract paintings that winter of 1997 I'd realized how little I knew about the artists beyond what was described in Art History books. And well, I loathed then like I loathe now all Art History books.
To learn about Rothko was for me to learn about them all. Rothko chose to be a painter. Others thought he was wasting his talents. He painted whenever he could, with whomever he could. He tried mimicking what his master, Max Weber, instructed aspiring painters to do. This took him far, as can be seen in the image at the top. But it was during a middle life year after many attempts in varying directions that he paid closer attention to what and how children paint (he taught a children's art class). Painting became a question of how orange would look next to red. Painting for Rothko no longer aspired for complexity and instead led him thru a discovery of much simpler, more authentic questions of play.
I'm pleased to announce that Gallery Shoal Creek of Austin will be hosting a solo show of my newest work in oil. Yes, it will include some recent watercolors. The show's opening will take place on Friday, April 22nd.
When my grandparents' families emigrated to the US over one hundred years ago, they arrived from Poland and Croatia.
Leaving what was at that time Silesia (southern Poland) and Croatia (Hungary) my relatives were citizens of the Crown lands of Austria. They were disgruntled.
Simon Winder's Danubia and a book series entitled A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor together paint an interesting picture of central Europe before World War I. My fascination with this part of Europe is a natural, almost effortless extension from my family. This is one level.
I am interested in other things effortless. The way an empire lays out a city over time. The way we navigate them. The manner in which I construct my work (the concept that, on a good day, economizes time and effort). The way work can no longer seem like work.
This entry is dedicated to my mother's parents, Louis and Kay, who took such good care of me and who demonstrated the contentment found in simple living.
When it no longer appears to me as something that I'd have conceived, then I know it's turned the right corner.
Andi St.Leger, my dear spouse, is running for district judge of the 421st district court. (Wow.) The campaign became most real just this past weekend as I drove her around a corner, literally, in a convertible thru a parade. What makes it or anything real, and not surreal I wonder, could simply be the point when the experience detaches from what was to be expected. Suddenness. Athletes often describe their experiences as beyond words. Probably wise.
Working toward that point when the painting looks like something I wasn't originally working toward.
Herein lies the challenge to a commission. In this scenario I'm expected to paint what is supposed to resemble my paintings. Fortunately, there are those gracious commissioners who encourage me to work in the manner I see fit. Pheww.