Blog: Thoughts on Life and Painting

The midtone challenge

Paintings that explore a vista of the sea.
These are interesting to do because I have to control the value (darkness and lightness) very carefully. The painting needs to be an overall midtone, so that the sun can shine against a darker background in order to get the effect of light, but not so dark as to be gloomy. And blending a naturalistic view with abstraction is always a challenge.

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This Fragile Earth

At this juncture in human history, a recognition of the overwhelming problem facing our species seems inevitable. Each of us has a personal connection with this Earth. She nourishes and sustains us, yet is dependent upon us for her caretaking. This work makes us aware of the beauty and fragility of our world. And provides inspiration for you to make a difference.

The techniques to express the complexity of this visual world evolved from an interest in impressionism, that eventually transitioned to modernism, and is now contemporary abstraction.

Abstract representative improvisation, a term at the intersection of an arranged eloquence and expressionism, enables us to construct dream worlds that are self-aware, and conscious of the external cumulative influences of all the myriad artistic occurrences that precede and are concurrent with our present reality. Our purview includes the use of internal dreams, landscapes, contemporary events, mythologies, and widely disparate textures and surfaces with which to depict our visions.

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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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Fragile Seas

Some thoughts from the people working on the problem:

Healthy oceans are the life support system for our planet, providing 97 percent of the Earth’s livable habitat and a home to more than 700,000 species. The oceans are vital to human health as well, providing jobs, enjoyment and food to billions of people. Half of the oxygen we breathe is generated by our oceans. (

Our oceans are taking a beating from overfishing, pollution, acidification and warming, putting at risk the many creatures who make their home in seawater. But when most people think of struggling ocean species, the first animals that come to mind are probably whales, seals or sea turtles. (

The world’s oceans are in trouble. Every day, 22 million tons of carbon dioxide from factories, cars, power plants and other human sources are absorbed by the world’s oceans.

The result? A frightening phenomenon that’s making seawater more acidic, spelling disaster for many marine animals, from plankton and coral up the food chain to sea stars, salmon, sea otters, whales — and ultimately people, who rely on oceans for food.

The oceans have become 30 percent more acidic because of the carbon pollution we’re pumping into the atmosphere. We’re already seeing the effects as coral reefs collapse, oyster beds disappear and tiny creatures that are important food sources get smaller and weaker.

Today, there are serious challenges ahead: a warming climate, unprecedented levels of pollution, and powerful special interests undermining basic protections. There’s no time to waste in coming together for new solutions.

A percentage of the profits from the sale of the Fragile Seas project artwork will be donated to The Sierra Club and The Southern Environmental Law Center.



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Fragility and mystery

Angels of The River at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, July 1-30; Artists’ Reception July 18.

These paintings explore the fragility and mystery of the angel within dynamic abstract environments.

“Hollywood Cemetery is the biggest art gallery in the city. Its 145 hilly acres unfold like a textbook on Victorian stonework …Here, amid the graves of presidents, governors, Civil War heroes and notable Richmonders, is sculpture of bronze, marble and granite,” according to the Richmond Times Dispatch. With a Pre-Raphealite sensibility of mournful delicacy, the angels preside over these memories with their Victorian grace, still able to charm us even today.

Overflowing with hauntingly beautiful funerary statues, Hollywood Cemetery attracts visitors who stroll among the rolling hills overlooking the James River and the downtown Richmond area. It offers scenic views as well as poignant spots for reflection in the Gothic landscape. The angels of the Cemetery adorn those rolling hills with their quiet vigilance and simple elegance. Among the august personages of the Richmond elite, there are numerous poignant stories of local families who had the means and taste to adorn a monument with a graceful spirit who had taken wing. Especially moving are those memorials of lost sons and daughters, one of Bowles’ favorite subjects in this series. 

When I was in art school at VCU, I was enticed by the Victorian sculptures there, and realized they spoke of Richmond’s gentile past, and the care one took with remembrances. My reaction to the Neoclassical angels has always been one of awe and envy, that one artist could sculpt something so timeless and beautiful. In my college days, when we would visit the cemetery and take photographs, the angels were the most compelling attractions there.

The experience of painting the angels is at times fascinating. Or confusing. Though I have painted the figure within an abstract environment in the past, this time the exploration involves finding a “lightness” in the picture, perhaps even transcendence. In other words, I want to make paintings that encompass the feeling of floating, of light… an expression of the spiritual. I want each painting to be like a flower, something that simply grows, as if by magic. Something God put there for our sustenance. Something that just happened.

The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen offers residents and visitors an unparalleled opportunity to experience the arts, entertain new ideas, develop a new talent, and experience first-hand, all the best this community has to offer. Utilizing the unique and memorable features of the old Glen Allen School, this 50,300 square foot multi-use facility opened as The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen in 1999. To bring together the best in visual, literary and performing arts, the Center presents impeccable programming, as well as hosts outside arts organizations.

The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen is located at 2880 Mountain Road, Glen Allen, VA 23060.

Hours are 
Monday – Thursday, 9am-9pm
Friday, 9am-5pm
Saturday, 9am-5pm
Sunday, noon-5pm

For more information on The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen call 1-804-261-2787 (ARTS) or see them online at

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This Fragile Earth

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. “
Chief Seattle, Duwamish

The Sky Touches the River Rocks

I have begun a new series of paintings called “This Fragile Earth”.

This work is a gentle suggestion to become engaged in the struggle to combat climate change. It is a notice to understand the beauty and drama of our natural world, to stop our rapacious ways—which have been going on for centuries, and recognize the overwhelming need we have to protect our planet.

Sky Twilight

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
North American Indian proverb

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This world we inhabit together

I am, like many of us today, an observer. Occasionally I comment. The observations take the form of paintings, of irony, pathos, ridicule, or escapism. Realizing these notions takes some structure of thought and action. Yet talking about it is near to the edge of futility. And so many people, namely collectors and gallery folks, want me to talk about the work. (Painting has its own language, and my art increasingly has its own personal language–a visual one.) Picasso said it is not the intent of the artist people are interested in, but the actual doing of a thing. For me, the statements I make in paint, (or any medium for that matter), must be sufficiently intriguing to deserve visual articulation. Don’t ask me what intriguing means. It changes from day to day, but in this quarter, there is no more interest in the fluff, the dust bunnies of human experience, unless that trifle yields a sigh of appreciation for life and this world we inhabit together. The rest is detritus.


Light The Way, 12×12 inch, 3 piece triptych, mixed media on canvas, click to view detail
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Manet’s “The Old Musician”

It is interesting to note that primarily being influenced by Velasquez, Manet also was aware of Caravaggio, and used an Italian “type” of boy in this painting. Examples of Caravaggio’s paintings are below. Manet eschewed the shadowed modeling in favor of flattened light, blown out highlights, and only cursory shadows.

Sick Young Bacchus by Caravaggio

The National Gallery of Art published an interesting article on this painting several years ago:

The Musicians (Youth Concert) by Caravaggio

Article continues here: (JSTOR)

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Other sources:

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Mixed Media Surfaces

Railroad Bridge and Stripes, 36×20, Mixed Media on Wood Panel

I have a new emphasis on what I call a mixed media surface for this latest work. The surfaces are rich with various marks, and look wet, with a glossy movement of light, impasto highlights, expressionist palette knife work, and scraffito. All the art is on 1.5” wood panels (for toughness and durability), with wraparound painted finished edges.

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