ANGELS: Where does inspiration come from?

This is a Q&A for The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, who are showing my Angels of the River / Hollywood Cemetery series during the month of July. An opening is scheduled for Thursday, July 18th.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how long you have been creating art?
I started drawing in the 7th grade when an art teacher made illustrations for theater posters, and I saw how she effortlessly drew these wonderful large sketches. I was immediately taken with her skill, and wanted to learn to do that.

What (or who) inspires you?
Today’s global challenges can no longer be ignored. I have been interested in landscape painting for many years, and now nature, and us, are in trouble. So that is my current preoccupation.

My Angels series, on the other hand, is a bit of seeking solace. I started making paintings of the Hollywood Cemetery neoclassical sculptures in a modernist style just to see if I could do it, and then after a while the idea of seeking a painting method that could convey complexity and serenity in one painting became the goal. And I also wanted a sense of simplicity or humility to the works, which is reflected in the matte varnish and basic framing style.

How did you find the medium that best worked for you? What was that process of discovery like?
I have always been a painter. I made my first painting in the 8th grade. And then started making posters and painting theater sets in high school. And then studied graphic design, and later became an illustrator and designer after college.

What were some of your early influences to pursue the arts? Did you always want to be an artist when you were a child?
My mother had put Picasso prints —of fruit bowls— and Impressionist prints in my room. I spent hours staring at those. (It is very interesting to think about the influences an environment has on the child.) I have to admit that art is the only thing I know how to do well. If I could do other things I probably would do them. I have certainly tried. But the demand of being expressive is very strong.

Outside of your art—what feeds your imagination and brings you joy?
I listen to a lot of music. My studio space is in a building with a recording studio and performance space, so there is music all around. Whenever I can, I work with music on, mostly trip hop and cool jazz. I am inspired by my family, who are all lively, opinionated, and very verbal. And whenever possible we go out into nature, especially to the river.

What creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
I think interactive installations would be very fun to do. I have some skills in computer art and video, so they would be colorful, light-filled and have a sense of narrative. Maybe a multimedia story of the visitors, who would provide the essential themes (i.e., data) and influence the direction.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever created?
My current series, Fragile Seas, is very interesting to me. I have only been painting these for a couple of months but already they are coming together. They use a number of mark making techniques I have learned in the last few years with the idea of a layered, heavily textured visual surface.

What are you trying to communicate with your art?
The Fragile Seas paintings communicate my feelings about global warming, and have a dusty, sun-drenched atmosphere to them. If you’re an art lover, this style of painting is called tonalism, where we are looking into the sun (W. M. Turner is the best known artist of this style.) The notion of distant seas, far horizons, and the burning sun are simply irresistible to paint.

What advice would you give to people looking to explore becoming an artist?
I would say really work on knowing yourself…the best way to start is simply to observe the world and your feelings about it. Then fill sketchbooks with your ideas. Those sketchbooks, even the ones from your first few years as an artist, can provide ideas and fuel for further exploration for years to come. I still look at old sketchbooks and revisit themes I had been interested in earlier. The Angels Series was inspired by trips to Europe and that old-world sensibility combined with modernist ideas I have had since I first went to college.

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