My visits to the prehistoric painted caves and standing stones in France have profoundly influenced my current work. My particular fascination is with the abstract marks on the landscape and on the walls of the caves (rather than with the representational images of animal talismans). In recent years I have spent time in France exploring prehistoric sites, and I have been overwhelmed repeatedly by a feeling of connection across time.
At first glance, the two dimensional dot constellations on the walls of Paleolithic caves may appear to be nothing more than a grid of polka dots upon a bumpy topography. To me they are more complex and inspiring. These marks transcend the merely descriptive and move to the abstract, if you will, toward a visual poetry. In Brittany, the 3000 standing stones, running across the landscape at Carnac were, to my eyes, analogous to those very same cave dots, now manifest in three dimensions, transported onto an actual landscape in what can best be described as intuitively aligned rows, where each massive stone points skyward, as far as the eye can see. The day prior to walking among the Alignements at Carnac, I had a similar sensation as I walked in a very different but similarly poignant field of standing stones: the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy. Looking in any direction, the white marble grave markers lined up, replacing with a sense of bedazzling regularity the hellish and cataclysmic turmoil of a World War. The arrangement of precisely placed grave stones was a human solution to place the incomprehensible into calming order. At Carnac the numerous rocks, some standing since 4500 BC, have no bodies buried beneath them, but seem to me to be the products of the same urge to wrest order out of chaos. Carnac’s dot-like boulders and the clusters of dots in the painted caves tell the story of how human culture has instinctively grappled with chaos for eons.
In my own work I follow in the footsteps of the prehistoric artists, placing marks upon long sheets of canvas in a way that makes imperfect sense. While my painting is no exercise in archaeology or anthropology study, it is a study of the creation of equilibrium, of a refuge against the chaos of the world. In a sense, I am rearranging the dots and the stones with each new painting. I paint both sides of the canvas. The resultant two-sided paintings do not depict stones or polka dots, as such, but act as a poem for the eyes. Visual poetry can calm us, following an age old tradition of trying to bring balance where there is none. A painting can be a doorway, an escape hatch and not just a view through a window.
Neither Shrinkage nor Size
When the raw canvas is chopped into pieces that fit my studio floor, they begin as seven feet by fifteen feet pieces, lopped from 300 foot bolts of canvas. I have not measured the individual dried canvases, but they do shrink more in length than width from 7 X 15. What began as a single bolt of heavyweight canvas has grown to three bolts. Lest you think the paintings are about size or quantity, I would correct that notion.
The paintings follow each other, like one thought that leads to the next, or one footstep after another until one notices the scenery has changed and what was a single step is forward motion; a continuing meander. Each painting is not so much a description or map of a journey, but is the dried evidence of a continuing adventure. One canvas follows another, as one walking on a sidewalk looks down and notices the concrete is a path of segments; one grey rectangular slab before and after the one we are standing upon. My painter’s voyage or walk is sometimes striding, and at other times on my knees, nose into the wet paint. I am within the canvas until it is dried, then I move on to the next. Each individual canvas is not unlike a short poem. I do not know what happens next. The paint and the canvas lead me onward. Stepping stones, perhaps.
John Cage made the statement, “I have nothing to say and I’m saying it”.
I will paraphrase Cage as I begin to paint: “I have nothing to lose and I’m losing it”.
I have loads of canvas to animate. As an artist I have become pretty much invisible, at least compared to the past. Back in the 80s my work was shown by no less than 49 galleries across the USA, Japan, and Europe. I no longer have representation. Having no galleries showing my work means I am free from expectations of selling my paintings. That puts me in the position of having nothing to lose. I have and buckets and buckets of paint, a warehouse, and more canvas than most people see in a lifetime.
No one needs large paintings seven feet tall by fifteen feet wide. Besides, paintings aren’t about size. It is about what happens on the canvas that matters, not how big or small it is. Scale and impact are two elements of greater significance that height and length.
I have no prospect of exhibiting such enormous canvases. They will be painted and rolled up and put away. The important thing is they will be painted. I have nothing to lose by painting. That being the case, I also cannot fail or disappoint myself.
Suggested reading: Drawing Inside the Box
These paintings, not so gigantic as a movie theater screen, are still pretty large, almost, but not quite panoramic. Perhaps they are the size of a small, Art-house film screen. For scale, I stand with a photographic color chart in front of one canvas.15 Foot Paintings