“Voracious Vehemance” mixed media on wood panel 36×48
“Be Recumbent and Hushed” mixed media on wood panel 36×48
“Staunter Through Subversion” mixed media on wood panel 24×36
“Freedom Patrol” mixed media on wood panel 48×48
My studio is about 200 square feet. I have one window that lets in morning and afternoon light and fresh city air to dissipate the turpentine. I have a fluorescent lamp overhead giving decent fake illumination, a sturdy wood easel, a thigh-high file cabinet that holds oil and acrylic paints, brushes, mediums, knives, tools, rags and my various paint pallets that are each an inch thick with years of pigment. Piled on the floor is a collection of wall-paper sample books that I’ve acquired through various sources. My main supplier has been a store down in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. They usually have several books for me that would otherwise be garbage. Getting them home can be a hassle: it’s a long walk to and from the R train carrying them by their plastic straps. Wallpaper is an important part to the collage stage; my other important supplier is Giuliana, the owner of the gallery representing me in Milan. I get a package from her every few months containing miscellaneous labels, maps, stamps and ticket stubs. The hunt and the searching for these raw materials is endlessly inspiring. It might be just a color or a repetition that starts the creative process, that makes me wonder: What kind of narrative can I create out of someone’s discarded junk?
When I start a piece I work from a variety of sketches and photos, from a loose idea that stems from a common scene or situation. The subjects are unnamed characters or unknown places, often it might be a mundane everyday activity represented but it leads to a setup for some unseen story. I use my wife and myself as models a lot because it is convenient. I like to have a life reference for things like hands, toes and noses. It’s hard to invent the subtle ways that light affects form.
After some quick thumbnails I do a quick line drawing with an oil crayon on a sheet of wood panel that has been primed with a neutral toned latex paint, usually a brick red or a warm gray. Wood panel is also a hassle to get home. Sometimes I rent a van and get several pieces, it comes 48 inches by 96 inches, but storage in a Brooklyn studio is limited. I often find myself getting a piece at the lumber yard that has been cut in half and I hump it home on the subway. Sometimes the saw there is busted and I end up cutting it up myself on the sidewalk with a utility knife. Though acquiring these materials is sometimes an arduous task, on my trek from the lumber yard to the studio, I get excited by the blank panels, and see them each as an opportunity.
After my drawing is applied the next step is gluing the collage elements down with gel-medium. This stage can be the longest and requires patience and precision. I’m working with pattern, color and texture, big to small, background to foreground— the mess created can get quite exhilarating. Next I block-in flat areas with acrylic paint using a pallet knife, again big to small, out of focus into focus. By scraping over the collage elements, I let some colors pop through while covering other areas up. A kind of chaos is created. After it has dried thoroughly I rescue it, make sense of the seemingly senseless with oil paint. This can also be labor intensive, becoming precious at this point.
It takes a few days looking to decide if I’m done or not. Every shape has to be in its correct location, shadows have to be the correct temperature. Highlights on eyeballs and fingernails have to give a sense of realism. To be fully satisfied with a work of art it has to hold some kind of personal gesture that maybe only I get. It might be a note that my wife has left for me, a used UPS bill, a reference to a comic book I read years ago, or maybe some element is a complete surprise that is done intuitively, something that might have been on my mind prior to starting. If in fact I am finished I’ll sign it. The last step right before I photograph it is to apply a protective layer of varnish. This is done outside of course and seals it up for good.