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Artist’s Statement

"Flea Market Sublime" (2012)

The paintings in this series reflect my continuing preoccupations with compositional austerity, textural variety (here conveyed through vintage objects rusted, chipped, patinated or otherwise distressed over time), and dramatic contrasts of light and shadow. The mid-century imagery, with its utilitarian shapes and weathered, plain-spoken character, undergoes an arresting transformation - a kind of abstraction or sublimation -- under the influence of arrangement and lighting. Allusions to the recent past (objects) and the deep past (lighting, technique) are filtered through a contemporary sensibility, suggesting whispered dialog amid the suspended calm.

April 2011

I began the Bottlescapes series with the desire to imbue the traditional still-life with some of the monumental beauty of the Chicago skyline.  As a Chicago resident who often walks and drives along the lakefront, I have long admired the breathtaking views of its downtown buildings.  These man-made towers of glass and steel take on a dignified, breathing, organic quality when seen at a slight distance (as, say, from the Adler Planetarium).  As it unfolded, my project was to evoke a similar viewer response from compositions based exclusively on antique glass and earthenware bottles.
After having painted several series of small-scale still-lifes over the past few years, I faced the challenge to managing the texture and rhythm of the image over a much larger surface.  With regard to technique, this required me to adapt to larger brushes, broaden and vary my brush strokes, and devote more time and effort to the under-painting, where the relationships between elements get established.  Working with a large number of elements within the compositional frame posed new opportunities and difficulties. My goal was to create harmonious, unified compositions in which the autonomy of individual elements (bottles) is affected by their placement in a community.

Once I had arrived, after several false starts, at a working method, I introduced small harmonic changes from painting to painting through adjustments in composition, background, support and lighting.  In a similar way, the emotional resonance of the Chicago skyline depends on when and where one views it.  Monet’s famous series of haystacks, poplars and cathedrals illustrate this principle.  I have tried to incorporate a small part of this lesson in my Bottlescapes.

September 2008

Last spring, after completing a series of paintings based on macro photographs of flowers, I returned to the challenges (and rewards) of the studio still life.  In part I wanted to experiment with certain effects of interior lighting.  But I was also challenged by the idea of painting on a smaller scale than had been customary for me:  Smaller canvasses and smaller brushes in the service of greater specificity and intimacy.

Some of the compositions in the series are lit by natural light, others by studio light.  I have used studio light to create dramatic effects of shadow and reflection unavailable to me without it.  Studio lighting can also heighten the contrast between foreground and background to dramatic effect, bringing something of the Renaissance atmosphere to even the most contemporary of subjects.  This effect is dominant in many, but not all, of the paintings in this series.

One of the challenges for me has been to compose the elements of the paintings without  cliché or gimmickry.  One sometimes labors mightily to avoid the appearance of laboriousness.  A successful still-life arrangement, I think, should combine elements of the natural and the artificial in fresh ways consistent with the mood being communicated.  And that is what I have tried to do.  Of course the arrangement, once conceived and properly lit, needs to be bathed in the artist’s individual sensibility if it is to live.  I hope I have succeeded in breathing life into some of mine.

I have also tried to have fun with the project, to highlight the playful, sometimes surprising effects of lighting and reflection, showcase textural contrasts, and (hopefully) create some arresting illusions of perspective.  Everything is grounded in nature and observation.  My goal was to create unified, well-painted images that continue to delight the viewer.