As a painter I have never known how to describe myself by any one particular phrase or label. Having borrowed from many disciplines, all I have ever tried to be is a school of one as an individual. But when I attempt to describe my work to other people; labels are inescapable. At close inspection my paintings do contain elements of both Classic Realism and Impressionism. Lacking a better term, I have called myself a Realist / Impressionist. To me, this is a reasonable description for my style or technique but it does not describe the spirit of my work. My goal has never been to paint reality just the way it looks and I have never tried to paint my initial impression of it. Without consciously trying to direct my own perspective, it seems my view has always come from the other end of the spectrum. I have been trying to paint reality the way my subconscious sees it.
Acknowledging this dependence on my subconscious view I tried calling myself a Surrealist. But with no flaming feet or melting clocks in my paintings and no succinct explanation, this new label only made an understanding of my work more difficult. Although I don’t think of myself as being a Classic Surrealist either, what follows is an explanation of the connection that I see. My most poignant dreams have not been nightmares. They come with soft distortions and muted sounds instead of screams. Whether this qualifies me as being a Surrealist or not, this is the way I paint. Rather than the Surrealism of Dali or Margritte, I feel closer to the Surrealism of Edward Hopper or Vermeer. By filtering the reality of their own times through inner vision, they both said something about time itself, without a dependence on the fantastic or grotesque. Their work is strong because it’s subtle. Like them, I don’t paint my dreams and I don’t invent my own dream-like images. But I do use dreams as a reference along with another conscious phenomena that taps my subconscious view directly.
To me, memories often seem like dreams. When we think of a childhood home, we may remember the image of our first room, the yard, events, etc. With effort, many other details surface that seemed forgotten. But many times, the most vivid memories of such a place are spontaneous and unsolicited. They come in a flash of recognition, with almost photographic clarity, and like odd dreams, the conscious mind may dismiss these images as being weird or insignificant. Rather than remembering things that we deem to be worthwhile, sometimes things emerge that defy our sense of logic. Instead of visualizing the “Norman Rockwell” dinner scene that we might want to see our subconscious mind might represent that moment with the image of a gravy ladle or an empty corner of a room. It might be the image of an obscure plastic chair, rather than the Sistine Chapel, that makes us feel like we are still on a recent trip to Rome. My unsolicited memories not only look like the dreams I have, they serve the same larger purpose. Everything from the subconscious mind is an affirmation that we are actually seeing more of our reality than we think. Using my subconscious as a guide, I take photographs of things that strike me in a similar way. Then I use these images and my drawings to do my paintings. If a waiter from France would do better in New York, I will put him there. If a distortion or mistake suites its’ space, it is left uncorrected or it may even be enhanced.
Both in the mechanics of what I do and in my thoughts I do my best to let openness direct my actions instead of intellect. I don’t want the shallowness that comes from trying to be deep. But I am also not waiting for a Zen-like trance or inspiration. Being open, I am free to think while the painting follows its’ own direction. I enjoy trying to analyze why I liked my composition to begin with, or why the significance of a simple object changes when its’ painted. I am intrigued by other things that almost can’t be changed, like the odd stillness of something that should be moving or a certain likeness that looks like someone else. Often unexpected elements become important symbols while I’m painting while preconceived ideas just disappear. But the thoughts I have when I am painting never seem to take me closer to what my painting actually means. Just as in the best of dreams, I know I’ve done my best work when my final message is a mystery to me. What I don’t try to say in my paintings has always been much clearer. I have never tried to make a social statement or to teach anyone something. I don’t try to amuse or shock anyone, and I have never tried to paint a “charming frozen moment.”
Although I still can’t find an acceptable label or description for myself, I do have a good idea of what I want my work to be. I want it to be like a living moment, with a past, a present and a future that moves on unresolved saying something indistinct. Rather than trying to paint reality just the way it looks or painting my impression of it, I would like my paintings to say something of it’s essence. I would like my work to haunt.