What was your childhood like and when did your interest in art begin?
When I was a little kid, I did many things to entertain and express myself. I was fascinated with old TV shows like Zorro, Davy Crockett, Robin Hood, etc. They were my heroes. I had costumes for all these characters and I acted out everything that they did on TV. I would get lost for hours in a make believe world that became a reality for me.
I loved toy soldiers. They are like small sculptures and my imagination brought them to life whenever I played with them. I began to do simple drawings of Pirates, Romans, Cowboys, Indians, etc. Playing with toys was the first thing that led me into the world of art. The next thing I did was draw over top of mages in books and magazines. That led to copying characters from comic books. When I came remotely close to reproducing an image, a desire to become an artist began to excite me. I started taking art books out of the library and I tried to copy everything. It was difficult so I took tracing paper and traced the images. This made me feel like I was actually drawing and it encouraged me to work harder. It took a long time to learn how to draw. I drew everyday and at a young age I knew that creating art was what I wanted to do with my life. That’s how it all began and I’m still doing it.
How did you paint and draw before having this particular style of yours?
I spent years building a solid foundation by gaining an understanding of the basic concepts and fundamentals of art. I learned about composition, line, contours, positive and negative space, colors, tones, values, etc. The fundamentals needed to become a part of my nature. A strong foundation is required in order to create anything. I admire and respect realist but I was not interested in pursuing realism. It is not part of my nature and I don’t have the temperament for it. Reproducing things as they are true to life isn’t why I pursued art. I was after a style that belonged to me because I wanted to express my true inner self. I knew that I needed academic knowledge and skills in order to create real art before I could take the first steps on the long road that would eventually lead me to finding my own way. There is no way around this. It must be done.
Tell us about your artistic path.
I am a self taught artist. At a few of life’s many crossroads, fate brought some well established artists into my life. They saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself. After learning how to reproduce nature in a sufficient way, I began to create work that expressed intense emotions. I was driven to this type of painting out of need. Working in oils in a rough, emotional style was natural for me. It had a lot to do with purging inner emotions and turmoil.I turned to the German Expressionist and became obsessed with their raw intensity. I began using a black line after discovering Georges Rouault’s work. The Expressionist and Rouault influenced me more than any other artists because they were doing exactly what I wanted to do. They were expressing powerful emotions in a deeply personal way and their work touched my soul. I copied their art and they opened my eyes to a world that I understood. I worked in an expressionistic style for a long time. They taught me that I didn’t have to be a realist and that guided me further down the road that eventually led me to finding my own voice.
After working in a raw expressionistic style for a several years, life altering events began to change the way I felt about my art. There was a profound change in my thinking and what I needed to bring into the world through art radically changed. The need to create work that expressed dark emotions through expressionism began to leave me. My heart needed to move on and a strong desire to bring light into the world began to grow in me. I turned to works done by the Fauves for inspiration. I also studied works done by Stuart Davis, Léger, William H. Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Milton Avery, Matisse and many other artists. The flat planes and contours in my work are indicative of these artists. On day, I realized that the images in my work would stand on their own so I began to cut figures out of wood, dense boards, thick plastic and metal. This added another dimension to my work. I cut the images out, painted them and hung them on the wall. The figures seemed to walk out of my paintings and they took on a life of their own. I don’t search for new ideas or ways to move forward with my art. Growth comes through working. My art has a life of its own and it will continue to unfold unless I walk away from it; I’ve tried to walk away from my art but I always end up back in the studio.
What is your process or way of working?
The process is an amazing experience. It cannot be forced. Many ideas are rolling around inside of me but I do not create from my imagination. I always use some form of reference to get a composition started.
Once I start to work, the images begin to develop on their own. I distort images to express an inner, personal world and style. My first concern is the composition. Compositions need to be interesting, dynamic and well balanced. There is unevenness throughout my paintings. Symmetry is avoided.A high degree of simplification is what I aim for in all of my work. Details are avoided and left out on purpose. When the basic composition is laid out, I work on the lines with black paint. I work at a rapid, almost reckless pace which brings energy and movement into the art. I don’t labor over things because it takes the life out of the work. My paintings change quite a bit during this stage. After the black line is laid out I redefine and change the lines and shapes with gesso. I usually go back and forth with black paint and white gesso until I feel like I have a composition that works. When things start to feel right I begin to work with color. My colors are bold, bright and intense. There are many variations of gray in my work that are made by mixing complementary colors. This brings a sense of harmony into a painting. Grays are powerful because they enhance the pure colors and they help ground everything. It is important to understand color theory but something much deeper has to take over in order to bring the soul to life. I intuitively feel the next color. This must be similar to what musicians feel when they are improvising. One note leads to the next and for me one line, one shape or one color leads to the next.
I trust my instincts because they have served me well. At the same time, I cannot lose touch with the basics. Balance, movement, rhythm, contrast, color harmony and things of that nature are what hold a painting together so they have to be right. I always step back to make sure that I am where I need to be. The overall design is my primary concern. Throughout the entire process I am altering shapes and changing things in order to keep balance and harmony working in the painting. No matter how well a painting is executed it will eventually fall apart if it is not balanced. Nothing can be right if balance is lost. The same thing is true about everything in life. I usually know when a painting is finished. I do not waste time overworking things. When a painting is done I walk away from it and forget about it. A few words sum everything up for me. The process is mysterious and magical. I am suspended in time while I’m working. Losing touch with my conscious mind gets me in touch with my true emotions and when that mysterious force connects with my spirit, I know that I making original art.
What drives you on your road?
Good art has a message and it speaks a higher truth. Trying to create good art that carries a personal message is what drives me to paint. Getting in touch with and living my truth through art opened the door to my destiny. A voice from within kept telling me that I was an artist but I was consumed with self-doubt. This battle is something that I’ve struggled with throughout my entire life. It kicked me around a lot but I never allowed it to stop me. In fact, it made me work harder.
What really drives me is a need to bring light into the dark, desolate side of humanity through my art. That became one of the main reasons why I create art. The thought of doing something that might make this world a better place brings a deep sense of purpose into my life. One day the light that I create might shine back on my own soul in the form of salvation and redemption. I need both.
What is your state of mind throughout a working process?
When I am painting, I step through a mysterious doorway that leads into a remarkable world where I find things that are not accessible to me anywhere else. I believe my art comes from a spiritual wellspring of creativity. My understanding of how art materializes in this curious world is limited so I approach my work with sincere humility.At some point I begin to feel that I am being guided by someone who knows more than me. Once my instincts take over I enter into a trance like state and I lose touch with my surroundings. I become one with the work and nothing gets in the way of doing what needs to be done. This doesn’t happen all the time but when it does something magical usually takes place.
Creating is usually a lonely process. Is the artistic life a lonely one?
Creating in itself isn’t a lonely process but if the circumstances in my life bring on loneliness and the emptiness that comes with feeling all alone, I am dogged around while I am working. When I am mentally, emotionally and spiritually grounded the isolation is something that I long for but if I am in a depressed or anxious state of mind, the isolation becomes painful and unhealthy.
I imagine that the things that you decide to include in your paintings are as important as those you want to exclude. In what do you base your decisions?
Everything is important in its own way. The first thing that I consider is what I need to say. The next thing is the task of making a good composition. While doing this I am dealing with balance, relationships between images, size, shapes, rhythm etc. At times, I might have to leave out wonderful shapes because they won’t work in the composition. I sometimes labor over these decisions but most of the time a feeling usually tells me what is working and what isn’t working.
Based on what I know of you, I have the idea that you are a very spiritual person.
I am a flawed soul trying to be a decent human being while living in an imperfect world. I don’t follow any formal faith or religion. But, there are some things that ring true to me. I believe that I am only passing through this world. My soul is eternal. Where my soul goes after this life is a mystery and it would be arrogant for me to think that I have that type of wisdom. I don’t know who addresses my prayers but I believe that my prayers are being heard. They are rarely answered with what I want but they are usually answered with what I need. That’s the way it seems to work on this mystical path that I am travelling on. Radical, fundamental religions have been the source of diabolical conflict and bloodshed. They have divided humanity rather than bringing us together and if we don’t change the human race will eventually destroy itself and become extinct.
Are you always so peaceful?
I believe in peace and I try to bring a sense of it into the world through my art but I am not always peaceful. It is something that I strive for everyday. Most of my conflicts are with my own heart, mind and emotions. If they gain ground, they usually rob me of my serenity and that puts me at odds with myself and with the world around me.
Do you ever get furious?
Yes, I do get angry and when I do it always works against me. I try to get rid of anger and resentments quickly because they ultimately bring suffering into my life. I have been afflicted with chronic depression on and off throughout most of my life. Allowing anger to take hold is dangerous because it eventually turns inward and that leads to more depression. Creating the work that I do has deep meaning to me because it helps battle the darkness. The fact that I am able to create hopeful work while struggling with depression is why I believe art comes from a wellspring that exists in a spiritual realm. I don’t understand it because my connection with this mysterious world is somewhere beneath the threshold of my conscientiousness.
Describe something you love … why?
I love my children deeply. They brought an abundance of love, meaning and fulfillment into my life. What they have done for me has changed my life forever.
What’s the strongest memory of your childhood?
My strongest childhood memory is having the energy to play non-stop from the time I woke up until I fell fast asleep at night. I didn’t have a care in the world. It was all about what I could do to have fun. Every day was a new adventure and I loved it.