There are certain qualities I try to achieve in my paintings. First and foremost is to release images from my imagination. Every painting design comes from some quirky interior burst or blip of imagination, some image that I just have to paint to see how it looks outside my fevered brain. In the Strange Visions gallery are many such pictures that are just that: my strange, imaginary visions.
My painting designs are direct, usually focusing on one or two central figures, painted somewhat realistically. At the same time, the central figure typically exists in an imaginary landscape that enables an acute perception of its local psychic environment, such that the scene is complete and compelling. This approach could be called ‘psychological’ in that it explores the relationships between the deep mind and our modern visual sense.
Like standing on the threshold of a door to a spirit world, from many years of travels and exposure to third world cultures I find myself yearning to unveil the universal archetypes underlying sacred visions, on one hand, and material cultures on the other. In these paintings the mysteries of the present can fuse with those of the deep past of our human experience.
In some cases, such as the Seven Shamans series in the Spirits and Shamans gallery, the imagery derives from a kind of surrealist experiment in automatic drawing. From a place of deep relaxation I let imagery flood my primal consciousness, gradually allowing one image to come into focus over the others. Eyes closed, I let my pencil try to capture the reality of this image as it rapidly sketches it onto paper. Many such drawings end in a chaos of confusing lines, but sometimes one will burst forth in a form that can be realized in paint, containing an obvious power I want to depict as realistically as possible, despite the clearly ‘unreal’ nature of it. From this process, one might discern both mythological and spiritual elements. I make no attempt to force a conceptual structure on the image, such as life or death or survival or destruction; my images can best be appreciated as psychologically-charged bubbles of consciousness, even perhaps artifacts of ‘absurdity’ in the most surrealist sense.
Then, I attempt to breathe life into the idea, something that makes the image come alive in the viewer’s mind. I believe that our subconscious speaks to us in specific images. Sometimes I feel almost like a psychic medium, downloading images from an alternate dimension onto the canvas. The pictures develop like a photo in a darkroom, emerging bit by bit from the basic design into a unified whole. Often, I have a crisis of sorts about three-quarters of the way to completion: I struggle, it’s not working, I think. But then, as I keep at it, the picture suddenly comes into focus. I know I’m done when the picture releases me to move on. It’s exhausting and maybe dangerous to be ruled, even temporarily, by another dimension.
But what’s in it for you? I want my paintings to be interesting, to grab you. A successful painting seizes your eye and takes you for a journey. It forcibly directs your vision around the canvas, stopping here and there, with different things revealing themselves at different times. You keep coming back until it allows you, temporarily, to catch your breath. If I can create a painting that does all that, I’m happy. If any painting is just passively absorbing your gaze and not giving anything back, to me it’s a dud.
One series I come back to occasionally, the Toy Portraits, are almost like formal portraits of objects that intrigue me: folk art, toys, old things I stumble on in out of the way places. Like the open-air market in Katmandu's Durbar square, where I’ve been many times and where one day I scooped up a hoard of old carved, painted wooden monkey figures. The figures in the Toy Portraits often combine a strange emotional tension with a whimsical quality that appeals to children and adults alike. I might place them in encounters where their worlds collide, unexpectedly.
Once in a while I'll continue my Guitar Portrait series, with snazzy electric guitars, record albums, oriental rugs and who knows what else. The Guitar Portraits began with “Blue Jag,” a portrait of a vintage Fender Jaguar electric guitar atop an imaginary Nepalese rug loosely based on a rug I bought long ago in a small village in Nepal during a lengthy trek through the Himalayas. This painting is currently in the collection of a wealthy guitar-loving art collector based in Florida. Many more guitar portraits have followed. These unique, kaleidoscopic compositions create a tableau of intense detail that challenge the viewer to reach deeper and deeper into the painting.
A relatively recent body of work involves a sometimes radical departure from the visual elements associated with Buddhist/Hindu religious art that has a history thousands of years old. Using the basic structural elements of Buddhist sculpture, this growing collection juxtaposes classical poses of Buddhist figures with new interpretations – these paintings create a dichotomy in the mind, as you shift between ancient and possibly future worlds.
I usually start with a simple pencil sketch design. The colors are never part of the design - each picture generates its own color palette as I paint. Using traditional oil painting techniques I underpaint everything, building up a basic color spectrum. Then I layer over and over. I let the color take over the painting naturally, never forcing it. I know that a painting will eventually take on a life of its own. If I try to exert too much control, the picture fights back and goes sour. So I let it run. Sometimes an image appears and simply won’t be denied. It demands to join the painting, even if it means a lot of re-work. Coco Got Loose was like that - I had the rug, the guitars, and what seemed like a finished picture. Then Coco the crocodile appeared and had to be included.
There are a thousand painters I admire, a hundred I love, and a few that just plain knock me out. Rembrandt, for example. Have you ever stood in front of his pair of oval “pendant” portraits of an elderly Dutch couple in the Met? I can stand there, staring at them, absorbing their weird, compelling communication until my feet get sore and the guards are getting nervous. What about Goya! But there is just one whom I’d really, really want to be (art-wise, that is) if I could be one painter: Henri Rousseau.
“The artist is not a person endowed with free will, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him. …The creative process ….consists in the unconscious activation of an archetypal image and elaborating and shaping the image into the finished work. By giving it shape, the artist translates it into the language of the present and so makes it possible for us to find our way back to the deepest springs of life. …The unsatisfied yearning of the artist reaches back to the primordial image in the unconscious.”
--Carl Jung, Psychology and Literature