Notes on Precision, Part 2


While the seduction of a clearly understood image coupled with a clever narrative held my attention for a long time, I began to grow dissatisfied with only that.  As is common with me, I grew bored and needed more.  I found that I could begin to quietly address my growing concerns for the natural environment in these paintings and I conjured up the description “allegorical realism” to describe them.  I wanted to point out the challenges I saw facing the natural world, in particular what I described as “the silent inhabitants” we share this planet with.  In this way I could use my illusory and narrative skills to reflect my concern with what was happening to my beloved natural world.

As I’ve said many times, I did not want to hit people over the head with a strident, environmental point of view but rather, through symbolism, allegory and even humor, slip in a subtle message about threat, imbalance and loss.  This was and continues to be satisfying.  However, as the years progressed so has my awareness of what is and is not happening in our response to the greatest threat to life on the planet - human caused climate change, resource depletion and greed.  Was it enough any more to create soft-edged fairy tales which sort of point to the issues?  Was it realistic to expect my deep sorrow and concern for the issues to be expressed via a quiet, precise illustration?  But, I also knew I didn’t want or need to create images filled with horror and despair.  Could there be a middle way?  

As I’ve considered this for the past few years I’ve wondered if my need for a precise and tidy image has become a self-soothing fantasy.  In other words, I can create an image which subtly points to an issue via clever symbolic mechanisms like fragile teacups, a tenuous house of cards, a bird or elephant balancing on a tightrope, etc.  This is the work many of you know me for.  I love these paintings.  But, on a personal level I have been wondering if the high degree of precision in which they are rendered is insincere.  By this I mean, am I using the tidiness of the imagery to create a soft edge, a buffer between what I know is true in the world and what I would rather have.  The world is most definitely NOT a tidy place.  By using my working methods to tidy up a corner of it - one painting at a time, I could feel a little better.  And, my audience would feel better too.  As to say, “it’s going to be okay, don’t worry.  Everything in this painting is digestible and maybe even soothing”.  But, it feels there there is a disconnect between the image, the concept and it’s execution. Given my past described here, it’s starts to feel disingenuous.

So, I find myself seeking some middle way.  A way of being true to my core beliefs and concerns as a citizen as well as honoring my beliefs as a painter.  I remain subject ridden - and gratefully so.  I’m also falling in love again with the paint as it finds it way onto the canvas - in unexpected and sometimes messy ways.  I remember thinking of the canvas as a chalkboard, always in flux and holding visible residue of it’s history.  I see the world outside and within as beautiful smoky mirrors from which I can glean a small phrase or a story which will find it’s way via paint on canvas.  The old work I described earlier remains alive within me, it’s always been there and so many years later is as alive and pertinent as it was when first realized.  It’s a very interesting and very difficult time to be in the studio.  This is a great adventure but as with all true adventures, there is a tremendous amount of not knowing.  Not knowing what is next or how to get there.  Which is not all that different from how I feel about being in the world right now - many choices, much not knowing and much to learn.