As a result of my background in printmaking and sculpture, I have sought to develop reductive methods of painting that often combine drawing and mixed media elements.
When creating an etching plate, the artist is engaged in a process of removal. Acid and sharp tools are used to create marks on the plate that will hold ink. Later, during printing, the artist may print the plate multiple times using different colors or combine multiple plates to create one elaborate print.
Sculptors who work with metal or found materials are engaged in the same additive/subtractive process. Pieces of metal may be scavenged and incorporated into a piece then cut away leaving parts of the original material still attached to the sculpture. Building up and taking away is nature’s way. The Earth compresses elements into stone. Continents emerge and drift across the face of the planet for billions of years then collide to make mountains. The wind and rain erode them over an equally impossible period of time.
When I was introduced to printmaking in the mid-nineties it re-energized my interest in drawing. Printmaking - etching in particular - through its process, had the effect of abstracting drawing for me. The steps and all of the material that was removed from the plate before I ever saw the first proof added unpredictability. The simple act of mark making became as exciting as it had been when I was a child.
The energy I discovered in printmaking is something I have tried to carry over into painting. As a result, I have developed techniques that enable me to remove material from the surface of the painting. I do this by building up layers then scraping and sanding them away. Sometimes I arrive at smooth perfected surfaces; other times I work towards a very rugged, highly textures surface.
The landscapes I have chosen as my recent subjects mirror the techniques used to create them in nature. Scraping away the surface of the painting is a direct physical analogy to the way that the landscape is defined by the scraping of glaciers and machines or the way that an abandoned building weathers in wind and rain.
I begin treating my surfaces before the first layer of gesso is spread across the panel and, as a result, have become more and more a perfectionist about the surfaces of my paintings - albeit a perfectionist seeking an imperfect kind of perfection. I may apply and sand a dozen or more layers across the entire surface of one of my panels, but the quality of that surface is just as important to the integrity of the finished piece as the splintering edges of the wood itself. It is those qualities that make a painting as much a part of the landscape as the shapes and colors depicted in the actual image.
I do not subscribe to any hierarchy of subjects. The visual vocabulary I have developed to mirror a bleak stretch of farmland serve to describe so much more than the place. I do not think of myself as a “landscape painter” in the classical sense. I am not interested in capturing the beauty of the land, but rather, strength and what I can only describe as its “quality of haunted-ness.” An author like J.G. Ballard can describe blasted out landscapes of broken concrete for page after page until the setting becomes a metaphor for the psychological condition of the characters within the story. I seek to do this with my paintings.
That any degree of realism is retained within my paintings is the direct effect of my subtractive techniques. Because they reflect nature so accurately, it is nearly impossible to completely divorce myself from literal representation. It is the ultimate illusion, like discovering the intricate matrix of microscopic abstractions that comprise one of Andrew Wyeth’s or Gerhardt Richter’s stunning portraits. I have found a way to flatten out and schematize what I see while making the image to appear, superficially, more like an optical illusion than the blueprint that it really is.
Human Progress is overrated.