A Visual Life History (a work in progress)

My visual life history:

Earliest Memory: my dad showing us how to draw some cartoon character from a cereal box. I spent a lot of time reading cereal boxes.
Elementary school: In first or second grade I made a “book” of fishes. This was undoubtedly based on Dr. Suess and fish identification type books. I illustrated them and invented my own fish, like a can-opener fish. 
 In third grade we moved into a brand new school half way through the school year (right after JFK was killed) 
and I remember spending a lot of time in the back of the classroom making a painting of the new school. I don’t remember if it was simply for a bulletin board or for some other venue. But it sorta became a regular thing for me – as the class was going over math or history I was off to the side working on some sort of art related project. This "My Weekly Reader" with the photograph was precisely the kind of thing that I would copy with pencil - usually on a piece of cardboard that I'd claim that backed my father's shirts from the laundry. I remember drawing the astronomers (like Copernicus), the presidents (all of them) and the Beatles (of course), and so on...By 5th or 6th grade I became "the artist" at our elementary school.
 I did find this card I made in the 6th grade.

Interestingly I don’t remember much about art in Junior High (now called Middle school). We had electives, and I MUST have taken art wouldn’t I have? I do remember Metal Shop, Electric Shop and Mechanical drawing/print shop…hummmm… But to show what a complete nerd I was back then, as I always had been obsessed with the US space program, I did this report in Jr. High, that featured this little illustration of the Mercury capsule. I was lucky to find this stuff on one of my last visits to my parents house in Va. Beach:

(My teacher thought it was good)
And it was in December of 1968, when I was in 8th grade I stayed up all night and charted the astronauts progress to the moon for the first time!
 I couldn't spell even back then...

Now I do remember by High School I was doing a fair amount of drawing on my own. I do remember taking a semester or a year of art as an elective – but I don’t remember a whole lot of motivation by any art instructor. Granted, granted I was much more concerned with being cool in high school – and was probably equally interested in tracking hurricanes on my father’s used US Navy weather maps. More about this activity perhaps when I discuss grad school later below. I found this old photo of my big brother sitting in the den of our old house, showing these rather obligatory "sofa art" sunsets - but I do remember having a real sense of accomplishment when I did them. Afterwards they became these sorta things that had always hung in the den...

This next image ends up being the only image I have left from those days in high school - (I threw out everything that I had ever done up to a point - seems that my hero Jasper Johns did something like this in his artistic career) - how this only image survived I really can't imagine:
Totally ripped off from a National Geographic magazine - that was about all I did in High School - copying photography as best I could.
Since I was a committed beach bum in high school I wasn’t going to college and I was generally adverse to meaningful employment in a trade – I joined the US Air Force. I spent a lot of my time drawing. By the time I was stationed in Alaska 
ALASKA!! This shot is from a badly damaged slide my puppy Sarah the dog chewed up in Alaska so long ago - and I just now so clumsily tried to repair.

I had what I felt to be a turning point in my drawing. Somehow I developed this way of hatching as a method of obtaining tonal gradations that on the one hand made the drawings (always still from someone else’s  photography) seem more realistic to me than ever before. On the other hand there was something about the aesthetic of graphite that I recognized for the first time. The process fascinated me and I became obsessive – drawing all the time outside of working on jet aircraft (never did see Russia) and hiking in the woods:
This was from a photo of Waylon Jennings I think - I didn't know who he was at the time.(the blue paint was "applied" much later).

This drawing came directly from an album cover or some other publicity photo. It's my version of Linda Ronstadt (I was in love).
This fisherman guy was an image I copied directly from the Alaska magazine if my memory serves me - I gave this drawing to my friend Chuck Minott (the person you see directly behind me in the above photo - the last time I talked to him on the phone he said he still had it hanging in his living room - can ya believe it?)

The closet door in my dorm room.
The immediate effect these drawings had on my life was that I decided to go to art school – to college. I had the GI bill coming to me and I wanted to see how far I could go.  I made an agreement with myself, for as “long as it made sense” for me to be in the art field I will give it a go. So I went to West Virginia University in Morgantown,  West (by God) Virginia - primarily because my brother KB was already there and finishing up school himself. Here are some examples of early art school:
I have no idea who this man is - it had to have come from a magazine type of reference.

This image at least someone I knew took the photo reference. This is my brother KB in Morgantown, WV around 1978.
This image came from a Bermuda magazine and depicts the Mariner's Museum guy who really did have a peg leg! My family was living in Bermuda when I was in undergraduate school - my dad was the head weatherman on the island (US Navy). I would spend holidays and summers there.
 In my room working up a self portrait homework assignment.
  In the above images you can see a strict dependence on what I already “knew”. I was in a lot of ways defensive and defiant towards learning new things. I think all that changed when I became friends with Curt Labitzke :
That's Curt on the right
Curt’s dad was a professional illustrator and he grew up on Long Island – he was just so far advanced of anything I understood about art I’m really lucky I met him when I did (before it was too late). He did stuff like this in undergraduate school: 
Curt was a printmaker and painter in undergrad school

 I felt like I suddenly knew nothing – and I had a lot to learn (I finally accepted it). So I tried developing away from my comfortable realism. I felt like I was on shakey ground. So much of what I was doing became what I was trying to come to terms with in learning Art History (for example). Thus I went through this distinctive cubist stage: 
My brother Danny tuning his guitar (but you can't tuna fish - he told me that joke).
 And sort of did some experimenting - mostly ending up undergraduate school doing stuff like this:
An Appalachian Lady - bought by WVU before I graduated and as far as I know still hangs on the second floor of the Mountainlair (Student Union).
A Self-portrait - a picture of me drawing a picture of me. I thought somehow there was some sort of irony here. (I guess).
 KB visiting the studio before moving to New York in 1982.

I was really lucky I think to even get into a grad school. I went to East Carolina University. When I got there I was basically shocked to see what was being done there. I felt like I spent my first semester, if not longer, learning what even the undergraduates knew. I continued the process, where my work really looked like what I was coming to terms with, especially learning about the works of Larry Rivers, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns. These three were perhaps the largest influence my work ever had – that and the work and conversations and direct input from Paul Hartley. Hartley was a soft-spoken man who was considered to be a genius by everyone who knew him. I of course agreed with this. My work became driven by experimentation with materials and process:

This was one of my first paintings in grad school - depicts the dead Soviet leader Brezhnev (still during the cold war) - little did I know that I was to be called (accused of being?) a "liberal" by my older brother in just a few short years. I don't think I payed much attention to politics back then.
Portrait of George (in three rags) - something having to do with American greed/economy I think - but in an naive way - somehow more appropriate of today.
There was a time boys and girls when we didn't put tamper-proof lids, etc. on over the counter meds - nor anything else. We experienced all sorts of home grown terrorist attacks on these kinds of things back in the early eighties. This particular image dealt with the feelings I had after the first Tylenol poisonings.

The Cow Story and Paul

This image is of my Great grandfather Paul - based on one of those really old tiny sepia-colored photographs - of course I loved the idea that he had this big old pipe in his hand. The other elements in this image are my memories of walking out to the garden with him as a tot, and the story my Grandfather Martin told me about - when he was small, Paul put he and his family on a train to move to southwestern Pennsylvania from western Maryland. Paul then walked with the family cow - took him two days (!)

I continued with this experimentation while continuing my studies in grad school - and came away with a number of series; Weather Symbols, March Recognition, and then my thesis body of work:

 As mentioned above, I did a series of weather symbols - based largely of my experience with my dad's used US Navy weather maps. My dad would give some of these to me from time to time and I would track hurricanes on the maps. (He gave me a special number to call for the latest info - waaay before the Weather Channel!) I got to understand that each weather forecaster had a distinctive style of making these symbols with markers on the maps - each with an individual flourish within the constraints of official weather reportage. I felt that with this series I was not only paying a kind of respect to the graphic achievements of weather forecasters everywhere - that I was taking this notion one step further and making it a "Fine Art". One of my first nods to Post-modernism I suppose.

 So in these images you see the hurricane symbol (my favorite) and thunderstorm symbols along with representations of isobars and stylized wave forms etc. etc. My experimentation with materials at this point I was using, for instance, RIT dye (from the grocery store) shot at the paper with the use of a turkey baster hypodermic needle (from the grocery store - hey - in school you have little money - ok?), the use of watered down gesso along with graphite, etc.

Same kind of thing here - but I noticed in this one that there are these highly stylized plate fork and spoon creeping into a juxtaposition here with hurricane symbols - seems that these pieces developed further than what I remembered!

In another series called "March Recognition", the imagery had to do with the sensation you have when you look straight down at your feet when a wave washes up past where you are standing and then recedes back before the next wave washes up again. I would often experience a sense of vertigo when doing this - something that I first noted when I was a little kid - and thought about ever since when standing in the surf. This series also, of course, had to do with a great emotional upheaval in my life - the kind you experience when breaking off a relationship you'd rather not break off, when you realize that you really have no choice in the matter and it's time to continue onward with your life.
 Somehow with this series, the vertical bands came to mean the different levels of the sea due to tides and storms, etc. The circles came to mean the sun and moon - and how they interact with the sea. These circles led to another series of circles - paintings of just circles, used symbolically for other reasons. One thing always leads to another doesn't it.
 After a while these horizontal bands started to get somewhat dimensional, wrapping around the rectangles (which were always symbols of the self-contained self). I'm not sure why, now, but they must have made sense to me back then...
Ok, enough of this series already...

 Of course Ann and I met in Greenville in the Grad painting studios and got married within a year of knowing each other.
 For my thesis body of work I concentrated on working somewhere in between the mediums of painting and printmaking. The idea I think was mixing media within a set range of materials and processes. What I ended up doing was to combine conventional painting methods with the most simple of printmaking processes - like relief and stencil methods. Here are just a few examples - the ones I liked better I suppose. Overall when I look back on this work it does very little for me - so here I don't even mind the poor scans from very old slides:
Even I have to remember that this was a time of the cold war and politicians were ratcheting up the rhetoric about each other's sides. So this is my version of a nuclear aftermath (along with "Pig-pen" style of rising dust).. 
Rather a simple and direct conception of finding a way to get along by super imposing both flags and neutralizing the colors. Most critics of this work saw too much influence of Jasper Johns and could not see the concept so much. I remember thinking if they said Vito Acconci they would have been more accurate.
Same idea here with flag imagery. The stenciled raindrops represent some kind of nuclear fall out I'm sure - even hung and painted a babydoll as part of the imagery (hey, it was the mid eighties - I showed this piece to a gallery called Civilian Warfare in the East Village for heaven's sake!)

Upon graduation from ECU I taught part-time while Ann was finishing up her MFA. Here are a few example of that circle series that I mentioned above. The circle is of course an ancient symbol - so all of my uses of it come directly from the world of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. I soon developed a kind of personal motif of a circle within an rectangle. The rectangle represented the personal spaces we all go to great length to construct and to maintain - sometimes at all costs: 
This would be an early conception of the Circles series. This piece is rather a narrative of two circles together - then apart - then together again - kind of like a Disney film!
A pretty "standard" version of my circles series. Here a paper piece - some of these grew to be 5 by 7 feet canvases! A good number of these were bought up by the Greyhound corp in LA.
This ended up being my favorite piece of this series. I don't even know where it is today - if it sold or I gave it away or traded it away. You can say I was rather professionally challenged (still am in a lot of ways).
As soon as we left town I got a job at a place in Cincinnati called Miller Gallery. I worked there for 14 months and learned a lot about the business, but was generally unsatisfied working in the retail gallery business. I needed an “out”. This “out” took the form of going back to school. It’s hard to quit a full time job to go back to a student poverty level of income (not that I was getting rich working as an assistant manager of a retail gallery). This was a sacrifice that Ann and I did not take lightly. So I entered the Art History department at the University of Cincinnati. I spent a glorious two years studying German, writing papers and reading a whole whole lot. I think every artist could benefit from such an experience – but it does take you away from the studio big time. The three years in Cincinnati I did manage making some artwork:     
This series came to be called my "Ocean Motion Series" The title I'm sure came from watching TV or something - but some how was a natural transition or evolution of my Weather Symbol series and Circle series - where the actual wave forms, etc. began to literalize some of the imagery I had developed in the past.
This piece and a few others represented sailboats on the water or something like that. They do fit into the series I suppose by the materials and processes. I was by this time experimenting more directly with fabric dyes and the way they bleed through water based media like acrylic and latex paint.
This is a good culmination piece - because i think I started it in Cincinnati and finished it here in Boone. In fact, the University bought it not long after we arrived and has been hanging in the student union for a long time now. By this time you can see how the rectangle/circle motif began to come apart, but all the while being easy enough to see how they or it should go back together. In this example I noticed that the motif was reassembled - but incorrectly (!) It's like a lot of psychology going on here...
I think that it was because I had all that post graduate art history (but alas without completing my MA in Art History) I was fortunate to get a teaching job here at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. I already knew Ed Midgett from ECU days – and it turns out that Boone is a beautiful place to live – an easy days drive to the coast – which is always a big big deal to both Ann and I – and now of course with Hannah too. I was also very eager to get back into the studio. I found that it wasn’t a very easy transition from Art History back into the studio. So progress was slow. But my first significant series was what I called my “Junkbox” series. This series started when we experienced a slight disaster our first winter in Boone. We had frozen pipes in a utility room – we found this out of course when the pipes thawed enough to shoot water all over everything that was in that room. One thing that I had in there was an old tackle box that held my accumulation of hardware that I collected through the years. This stuff then started rusting profusely – so becoming otherwise unusable. I decided that I had to do something with this stuff – I had been carrying it around with me for years and years…you just don’t go out and buy this sort of collection for heavens sake! So I started to place each of these pieces of hardware onto paper or canvas that was stretched across a plywood board and leave it out on the picnic table for a week or more – allowing the weather to develop it further. I would add RIT dyes and watered-down gesso , etc. to enhance the surface qualities. Sooner or later I would pick of each individual piece one at a time and treat the results as an under painting or first layers of a drawing. 
Here the junked hardware is juxtaposed with an actual dried flower (painted white). This juxtaposition between human-made objects with natural (often flowers) objects take on an environmental message of calling awareness (without - I hope - a stiff condemnation from any side of the issue).
This was a fairly ambitious scale for me with this series. It became a kind of social conversation piece as guests found themselves picking off or laying down some of these pieces of hardware (it took hours by myself). Here I had stretched a canvas across a piece of plywood - later to re-stretch it on a conventional stretcher bar set up.
Some of these were more subtle than others...

My next series of note came from not knowing what else to do - I'd moved by then twice with a fair amount of artwork that was doing basically nothing. Somehow I got the idea of cannibalizing old works and reconstitute them into new works. I began collaging the more interesting parts of older works into a new form. It didn't really take long to stumble upon the idea of masks or highly stylized face imagery - it seemed a natural thing to do without much conceptual development as to potential content. A close friend asked me about these works one day when I was showing him what I'd been up to -  and he asked me why make masks without making actual functional three-dimensional objects? Humm...good question. I didn't really have an answer for him that day but I managed to fumble out the idea that just as masks allow the wearer to take on a new persona - I felt that that's what traditional portraiture did also - so these were portraits in the traditional sense but using abstraction - or masks if you will...sounded good at the time. Haven't thought about it much since.

In my next series I wanted to focus on what I consider to be my attempt at contemporary drawing. I decided to work in the catagory of still life, in the "Vanitas" tradition. This is where all the objects signify meaning to the viewer, indicating that we are here on earth for only a short while and all is vanity. So, things like books, statuary, musical instruments and the like indicate the heights of achievement for humankind, while inclusion of snuffed-out candles, withering flowers, past-ripe fruit or of course a human skull - indicate that all things (ourselves included) must pass. So this series like the tradition is an act of juxtaposition. I was still (am still) enamored with the collage process - and could not give up on what I considered my work to be all about - the mixed media materials and processes. Also, being in the post-modern frame of mind, I was interested in choosing processes that were considered to be (merely) craft - and "raising" it to the level of "serious" art. This is how I came up with using rubbings of objects and textures in my work. I entitled this series "Millenial Vanitas", as we were approaching the Y2K:

One of these drawings wound up on the cover of KB's book "Drift", a book of his poems. So this was a kind of collaboration - something that we would explore a little further later on.

I took a semester off in order to work on learning digital  image manipulation softwares - primarily to see what I would do with them as a collage drawing and painting artist teaching guy. So I started with the kind of images I had most recently been creating, these Vanitas related still lifes. Early in the semester 9-11 occurred, so the subject/theme of the imagery changed a bit:
I think that this was the first image in this new series. It's pretty much what I'd been doing at the time, but with scans and digital manipulations of my "symbolic objects" then collaged, drawn and painted into, etc.
In this image I came up with the idea of invoking the God Janus (the Roman God who looks both backward and forward). Everyone on  the newscasts were telling us that life would never be the same after 9-11. Since Janus was the God to appeal to in time of new beginnings I sort of dedicated this body of work to him. (He didn't seem to be busy at the time - as many of the other Gods seemed to be at war with one another).
After the initial shock of 9-11 there commenced a period of Anthrax scares and the like. I was communicating with KB on a regular basis, and he was sharing with me the day to day life in New York at that time. I began using his writing directly into my work, snippets of his poetry that struck me as particularly vivid, expressing the general anxiety of those days.
With this series I got larger than conventional framing sizes so I wanted to think more about unconventional installations. I exhibited this work in a local alternative space primarily because I wanted to draw on the walls. The walls in this space were of differing materials (sheet rock versus painted brick) so I took an intermediate step of mounting my large images onto painted plywood and continued the drawing on them (and at times onto the walls).
Another of one of these images that had some wall drawing.

The next series that I did involved the connections in my head concerning the coast. It seems the older I get the more my mind wanders back there (and wants to stay there). For years I picked up these small pieces of polished shell fragments called shell hash and always thought that I'd do something with them. Never did - until I started one summer placing the objects themselves onto paper that I had painted on in response to the color. These objects to me always were about color. 
I called this series Hatteras Hash, which was the second series I did subtitled Avon - involving objects that I collected while there in Avon, NC. This work is very much about a sense of place, a kind of zen like focus on the beauty of even its smallest fragments.

In some pieces I ended up using nothing but the objects themselves mounted on stretched canvas.
Some of these became full sheet compositions.
I think that I liked this one the best.

To be continued sometime (not right now of course....)