An Interview I gave about What Led Me to Art
As My Career
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in the southwest deserts of Arizona. My mother is an avid folk artist and toll painter so I grew up surrounded by art and art books that inspired my imagination. I began taking art classes in high school; a couple of my high school drawings hung at the Arizona State House for a few years. After high school I spent two years in Brazil getting to know the language, drawing the people and places I visited along the way.
I studied drawing, painting, and printmaking at Utah State University in Logan. Logan is nestled in the valley of the towering Wasatch Mountains and smack in the middle of the migration corridor for elk and deer. A large wetland just out of town draws all sorts of ducks and migratory birds. The unique play of light on this incredible landscape made a lasting impression on me. It was hard not to be inspired by such beautiful country.
I began showing in galleries during my college years and have been in many galleries throughout the Southwest all during my professional career. My illustration work has appeared in many publications and books. My body of work includes commissioned pieces which reside in private collections all over the world. While I paint and draw anything from the figure to wildlife, I return again and again to landscapes. The Southwest has always held a certain a mystique and wonder all its own, which inspires my artwork to this day.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I enjoy hiking in the deserts, wandering the canyons and mountains. There are so many unexplored canyons and remote country, it’s fun to go on an adventure deep in the Superstition Mountains and find a small pass or canyon that makes you feel like you are the first to have discovered it.
One of my other loves is dancing. Ever since I can remember my family was singing and dancing and playing music. It’s something that’s stayed with me to this day. I especially enjoy ballroom dancing. There’s nothing more fun than dancing an elegant waltz in a formal ballroom or kicking it up with some spicy salsa in a Latin club.
What would be the title of your memoir? Why?
Letters to Van Gogh
Many years ago I actually did write letters to Van Gogh. In these I talk about some of the different trials I was going through and tried to articulate my theories about art. I always enjoyed Van Gogh’s work. He had such a tumultuous life and so many challenges, I thought there was a connection. I was trying to establish my direction with my art, trying to find my style and tone in my paintings. It seemed like a good exercise to articulate one’s thoughts to someone who would understand, even though that person was no longer living. Creating those letters in such a personal way helped me process my ideas and record my concerns. These particular letters are dear to me and were very important to the formulation of my approach to painting.
Where does your inspiration come from?
The world around me. As a landscape artist, I constantly see paintings I want to execute: the light as it hits a tree or the color in the clouds after a storm. I am inspired by the beauty that we sometimes take for granted. I am concerned about overdevelopment and land that is quickly disappearing. I enjoy painting areas before they are developed. I’ve painted many landscapes that no longer exist except as asphalt and cookie cutter houses.
What does handmade mean to you?
Handmade has a touch of the artist to it. The closer a connection an artist has to the work, the better the work will be and the greater the ability the artist has to leave his unique stamp on something. In terms of painting, the more your hand is in it, whether it be stretching canvas or making frames, the more you will leave your emotional investment in that product and the more you will care about the image. That connection will translate to the viewer.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
That’s a hard question. As a painter there’s such a rich history of painting and images to look at. I was largely influenced by Renaissance masters such as Michelangelo and Da Vinci, as well as French Impressionists of the 19th century. I’m also influenced by more modern artists such as NC Wyeth and Andrew Wyeth. Among the living, I admire the work of painters Scott Christensen and Richard Schmid.
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
I was in the first grade. In school we were creating a book with illustrations. I remember creating these little pictures of a girl holding a rabbit; it was basically a story about a girl and her pet rabbit. The drawings weren’t quite what I wanted or how I visualized them. Ever since then I’ve been trying to develop the ability to put on canvas what I see in my mind. As an artist, that’s your biggest challenge, to be able to take the visions you see in your mind and express them in your art. In fact it takes a lifetime. That’s what makes it so enjoyable, is that journey.
How would you describe your creative process?
When approaching my landscape paintings, I always look for interesting light effects: the way the sun falls on a branch or lights up the earth or the way it interacts with the atmosphere in the clouds, especially towards sunset. These are a jumping off point for translating the landscape into paint. My objective, however, is not just to create the effects or illusion of reality, but to add the abstractions of paint itself, with aggressive textures or brushstrokes. This is sometimes referred to as ‘painting calligraphy.’ To me the brushwork is just as exciting as the scene I’m trying to create.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
I’ve always wanted to visit Edgar Degas’ studio. Degas was known to be a real character, not just because of his personality but because of the way he approached his techniques, especially in pastel. Many experts are still fascinated by the different techniques that he used to achieve his pastel paintings. He worked outside the norms. He pushed the bounds of what could be done with pastel beyond the conventional use. I’d love to be able to see what that man’s studio was like and to watch him at the easel creating one of his masterpieces. And maybe even grab a croissant afterwards.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
I was given a hand pulled print by Joseph Mugnaini. Joseph was quite a character. He was a former military man who served in the second World War and a tough Italian with the energy of a 20-year-old. His language was as colorful as his stories were interesting. Joseph gave me this wonderful gift after I’d helped him with one of his painting workshops. It’s personalized by the artist. In the note he said the print had been in a show with Leonard Baskin, whose work I really enjoy. That made it even more dear to me.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I’d like to be in a cottage in Florence, close to the artists who inspired my drawings as a young man, painting from the landscape that continues to inspire me, and eating tiramisu on a daily basis.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
The great thing about being an artist is there’s always so much to do. If for some reason I feel like I can’t paint or I’m not in the right frame of mind, that’s a great time for making frames or stretching canvas or making mediums. All these things need to be done around the studio, but never seem to be accomplished when you’re feverishly painting. If I’m really in a rut, I visit museums and art galleries to get my creative juices flowing.
Where does your inspiration come from?
The great thing about being a landscape artist living in the Southwest is that for the entire time I’m outside and my eyes are open, every turn and every vista creates in me the desire to paint. I love the outdoors. To me the desert is so refreshing and so unique that I can’t wait to get back into studio and put it down on canvas.