There is an entire world in the luxe, multi-layered surface of an oil painting. Each canvas is a document of daily living bound up and fossilized in the lovely chemistry of the paint skin. Some painters fawn over their materials, going on and on about the smells and sensations, how they are “in love” with paint. I confess to being such an artist. I could work on one canvas for the rest of my life and never truly be finished, adding layer after layer of thick texture, and then sanding it down into a hazy blur. With each layer that is added, paradoxically, life is uncovered. Characters appear, complex relationships play out before me, and I feel an ardent devotion to their well-being; each encounter feels extraordinary and unique.
My work combines two methods of paint handling: complex layers of abstraction with selected areas of realistic rendering. Creating a focal area of light and shadow is how I recognize the personhood of the floating creatures that populate my work.
Painting is … unearthing or unmasking the sentient beings that are embedded in scribble and abstraction. It is an obsession to find out who is in there. I have to know. They communicate something vital about human existence. Painting is a repeated exercise of unearthing them, separating them from an entanglement of thick paint texture, sanding, scraping, extracting them one by one. There is a point when a painting ceases to be a project or an academic endeavor – when materials become ‘someone’.
The characters that appear in my work are the encoded puppetry of my most guarded inner dialog. They are the darlings of pure abstraction.
Journey to Alpha Selona is a series of eight paintings completed over 25 months (3/2017 – 4/2019). They tell a story of an extraordinary transformation in my studio – how it spanned across many canvases and took the shape of an interstellar journey to the imaginary planet, Alpha Selona. They are my first departure from traditional oil technique in my 36 years of painting.
I was sifting through some family genealogy records dating back to the 1700s, when I came across a woman named Selona Vining. The instant I discovered her, a metaphor planet Alpha Selona came into being.
Why did my connection to family lineage take the form of space travel to another world? The answer is embedded in the skin of these paintings. Oil paint has it’s own lineage. When you’re an oil painter, everything you do and touch is so loaded with history, you can actually feel the human psyche in your tools. I am standing on the shoulders of six hundred years of oil painters – all of the souls who have wrestled with this stuff before me. I call this presence in my studio: the murmur in my tools.
Each canvas embodies a specific life event of mine – an extraordinary personal transformation, separation and loss, surrender to the unknown, and gaining new perspective. The planet Alpha Selona represents a deep feeling of resolution, thought of as “home” or a state of oneness.
The final two canvases in this series depict the arrival to the blue planet, Alpha Selona. These arrival scenes were painted exclusively with the Classical color palette from the time Selona Vining lived, bridging our ancestral connection.
In the two years it took to create these paintings, I scarcely used a brush. I poured loose glazes over the canvases horizontally on a table – scraping through the elastic skin with cleaning scrub brushes, barber combs, and sandpaper folded into blunt shapes. I sprayed turpentine over the thick, weathered surface, soaking loose material with rags, house painting roller covers, pieces of cardboard, and fistfuls of saran wrap bunched into crystallized sponges.