03 May 2016

Played for Laughs

Although most of my work has a serious intent, I haven't left humor out of the creative equation.  That's come through most directly in my drawings.  One of the earliest examples is this suave fellow:

Dites "Fromage!"
Graphite on paper
My inspiration stemmed from indelible images director Werner Herzog used in his classic Nosferatu, the Vampyre.  He opened the film with close-up shots of mummies -- withered, contorted limbs, shrunken heads and ghastly faces.   

I went looking for a suitable model; but once I had the right picture, I knew that I wanted to do something besides simply render the face.  Why not have some macabre fun?
So I decided to slip a beret on my new friend and give the piece a cheeky title.  

How about "Say 'cheese'?"  In French. Voila!

Another drawing that sold from the same 2009 show in New York was this one:

Jesus, He's Cool
Graphite on paper

Two inspirations here:  The Shroud of Turin and a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers. 

Irreverent?  Exactly the point.  

I might add that the drawing was purchased by a woman I know,  a good Irish 
Catholic . . . with a wicked sense of humor.

Finally, a piece that draws as much comment as anything I've done:

Graphite on paper
With apologies to Poe.

Edgar Allen would approve of my brother's dark thriller:

"It maps the tortures of the human soul in a completely unexpected and shocking way!" CE, Illinois

"A bumpy ride that you cannot put down!"  ML, Georgia

"A thrill all the way to the end!"  LS, Arizona

02 May 2016

Feel the 'Power'

Today, a recommendation.

A few years ago I stumbled on The Power of Art, which aired on the BBC in 2006.  It's the work of the noted British art historian Simon Schama.  In each of the eight nearly hour-long episodes, he focuses on the work of a single artist: 

David With the Head of Goliath

Apollo and Daphne

Night Watch

The Death of Marat
Jean-Louis David

The Slave Ship
J.M.W. Turner

Wheat Field with Crows
Van Gogh


Black on Maroon
Mark Rothko

"This is not a series about things that hang on walls, it is not about decor or prettiness. It is a series about the force, the need, the passion o
art...the power of art."

I found these explorations to be thought-provoking and exhilarating, impressive enough so that I bought the series, available as a boxed set.  It's also on YouTube.

I can't encourage you enough to dip in and see for yourself.

Also, I can't encourage you enough to check out my brother's thriller.  Readers love it!

"This novel picks you up by the scruff of your neck and doesn't let you go until the final pages!" VB, London (5 stars)

"A powerful exploration of real-life horror and psychological turmoil."  JC, Illinois (5 stars)

"I found myself not being able to put the book down!"  LS, Arizona (5 stars)

01 May 2016


Do you have a penchant for reworking a particular subject?  I've done it relatively little, but here's an example of the process and outcomes in one long-running case.

I began with a selfie, taken in 2014:

It was my intention to use the photo for a series of self-portraits, each incorporating a different palette and technique. The first of those paintings was done with brushes:

Selfie I
Acrylic on canvas

Next, I employed color and a more impressionistic approach using only knives:

Selfie II
Acrylic on canvas
I painted a third in the series with a completely different color mix;  but I was never pleased with the outcome, so after it hung on the wall for a few months, I took it down and slathered on the gesso so it could be re-purposed, I hoped, with a more satisfying outcome.

I wasn't done.

I had wanted to do a painting based on Edgar Allen Poe's chilling tale The Cask of Amontillado.  After repeated attempts that didn't yield the desired effect, I abandoned the idea . . . until I took a fresh look at Selfie II.  That gave me an idea, so I and pulled out my iPhone. After some tweaking, I had exactly what I failed to get with brush and knife:

For the Love of God, Montressor
Several more months went by, and then I had one more idea.   I revisited Selfie I with my iPhone, did the requisite manipulations and turned to my old friend irony in choosing a title:

The Golden Years

I think -- think -- I'm through.  If not, you'll be among the first to know.

I hope you'll give my brother's chilling new novel a read.  You won't be sorry!

"An amazing tale...that you cannot put down!" ML, Georgia

"This novel picks you up by the scruff of your neck and doesn't let you go!" VB, London

"It maps the tortures of the human soul in a completely unexpected and shocking way. Read it!" CE, Illinois

30 April 2016

The Zen of Agnes Martin

An exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art features minimalist work designed for maximal effect.

"'On a Clear Day' . . . unfolds as a progressively more vibrant experience of unified awakening. Visually, things begin to add up as you move through the suite.  Distractions fall away, equilibrium arrives."

You'll want to read my brother's chilling novel -- but when you do, leave the lights on!

"It takes hold from the first page and won't let go!"  CE, Illinois

"I found myself not being able to put the book down...it just got better and better!"  LS, Arizona

"Well-written and exciting. I would recommend it!" JR, Ohio

29 April 2016

In the Mind of the Beholder

In a post two days ago, I raised the issue of photographic "truth."  A picture may present an iconic image; but what informs the intent of the photographer, the context in which the image is presented and the viewer's predisposition? These questions are explored in another thought-provoking New York Times series by filmmaker Errol Morris published seven years ago.

One of Morris's blog posts deals with these questions succinctly.  To frame the discussion, he offers the same photograph, but labels each differently:


Questions arise and perceptions change immediately, based on how the photograph -- one of the most famous from the Dust Bowl days -- is identified.  I will leave you to explore these questions and Morris's pieces (they are well worth your time), while I apply the same idea to one drawing of mine:

Christianizing Native Peoples

Lord and Savior of All Men

White Man's Burden
I had a clear intent when I drew this image -- not to state a fact of proselytization, nor as a declaration of religious piety but as a sharp critique of American history (and by extension European colonialism).  The title, White Man's Burden, makes that intent plain. In the communication between artist and viewer, I have led you where I want you to go, and your reaction to the piece is shaped by your own view of American history.  You may share my opinion or reject it.  You may be indifferent, but I would venture to say your reaction to the drawing shifted, however slightly, with each title change.  It's a critical part in the artistic interaction, and it's fascinating.

I welcome your comments.

If you love a good horror story, this is the one for you!  

"An amazing tale...that you cannot put down!" ML, Georgia (5 stars)

"I read three chapters and was completely gripped."  VB, London (5 stars)

28 April 2016

What's Happening in the Windy City?

If you love contemporary art, then a trip to 111 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago should be on your itinerary.

The Art Institute is featuring an ongoing exhibit, The New Contemporary, which is a feast for the eye.

" . . . 44 iconic works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jasper Johns. Generously donated by Chicago collectors Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson, these 44 paintings, sculptures, and photographs transform the museum’s presentation of contemporary art, bringing new depth and perspective to the Art Institute’s already strong holdings."

My brother's new thriller has readers buzzing!

"I found myself not being able to put the book down...it just got better and better."  LS, Arizona (5 stars)

 "A powerful exploration of real-life horror and psychological turmoil."  JC, Illinois (5 stars)

27 April 2016

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

What do photographs tell us?  Are they indisputable records of fact?  Can we rely on them for the truth?  What does truth even mean?

In the age of Photoshop it seems all bets are off.  But decades before computer software allowed any of us with the requisite skills to construct or alter an image, there was monkey business afoot.

In 2007, I stumbled on the first of a fascinating series of inquiries into visual images and the "truth" by Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris in the New York Times.  The focal point -- these two photographs.

Which was taken first?  And why?  Does it matter?  

Morries throws down the gauntlet early on:
"Nothing is so obvious that it’s obvious. When someone says that something is obvious, it seems almost certain that it is anything but obvious – even to them. The use of the word 'obvious' indicates the absence of a logical argument – an attempt to convince the reader by asserting the truth of something by saying it a little louder."

You're going to want to order your copy of brother Jim's chilling tale now!

"It maps the tortures of the human soul in a completely unexpected and shocking way.  Read it!" CE, Illinois

26 April 2016

Silent Echoes

The evocative is an integral part of my work, whether it's the emotional investment of musicians in their work, the gravitas of writers or filmmakers or the mood of a setting.

I am particularly conscious of the latter as I choose scenes to photograph.  An idea will spring to mind -- sometimes a title as well -- and I will take the picture with the goal of shaping it to evoke time, place, emotion and mood.  And, as I've repeated many times, the importance of titling is critical.

Here are examples, starting with an iPhone picture taken during a walk in the neighborhood on a chilly late-winter morning:

Halloween, 1956

The heavy fog that obscured the winding road as it approached a curve immediately suggested an air of foreboding.  A bit of processing enhanced the feeling.  Now -- what to call it?  Foggy Morning?  Foggy Road?  Either of those would have been accurate but mundane.  Instead, I thought about the sensation of being swallowed up by the fog or the darkness.  I was reminded of those Halloween trick-or-treat excursions as a kid on windy, chill nights when I was certain ghosts and goblins lived and could have their way with me. 

With those memories in mind, the photo titled itself.

Turning roughly 110 degrees to my right on that walk, I was struck by the barrenness of a farm field, long shorn of its corn.  What remained were the stumps of stalks and the bleak tree line beyond:

Tunguska, 1908

An event leaped to mind that I believed I could evoke with this picture, processed and titled appropriately.   

Those who know the reference in the title, will immediately understand why I chose it. For those unfamiliar with Tunguska, you can learn all about it here.

I never like to give too much away in the title.  I would rather that viewers take an unfamiliar reference as a jumping-off point to deepen their knowledge, just as when an new word once looked up becomes part of an expanded vocabulary.

I always welcome your thoughts.

"This novel picks you up by the scruff of your neck and doesn't let you go until the final pages!" VB, London 

Why not order your copy of my brother's thriller now?

25 April 2016

Beg, Borrow and Steal

I read a thought-provoking piece in the New Yorker a few days ago dealing with the sometimes sticky subject of creativity.  I say "sometimes sticky" because, as is the focus of this piece, it edges into murky legal waters and accusations of misappropriation. Although the article is devoted to rock's greatest "what's-yours-is-mine" band, I thought the underlying issues also come into play with visual artists as well.

I wonder -- do you agree with writer Alex Ross's assertion:

"The latter-day insistence on unambiguous originality in musical composition—or in literature, for that matter—betrays a small-mindedness about the nature of creativity."

I welcome your comments.

In the mood for a thriller?  You can't do better than brother Jim's latest:

"I found myself not being able to put the book down...it just got better and better!"  LS, Arizona

24 April 2016

Giving Them Their Due

Much of my work focuses on artists I admire -- whether they create visual art, music or literature.  And when I choose a subject, it's important to try to evoke the personality and something of the nature of their work.  

One early piece that never fails to draw comment is this graphite portrait of Salvador Dali:

El Despertar de la Memoria Persistente
(The Awakening of Persistent Memory)

If you're familiar with Dali's work, you will recognize the touchstones immediately -- two of his paintings that never fail to resonate and are among his best-known pieces:

La Persistencia de la Memoria
(The Persistence of Memory)


Admirers of Dali cannot go wrong by visiting the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.  It is a trip!

The drawing of Dali was an homage.  This portrait of Richard Wright was meant to have a deeper, darker impact:

Native Son
Graphite on paper

Wright's prose has a raw power that, when I first read Native Son many years ago as part of a college course in African-American literature, affected me profoundly.  In this piece, it was important to echo the horrors faced by African-Americans that Wright wrote about so eloquently.  In my mind, nothing symbolized that more strikingly than the shadow of a noose.

As always, I welcome your thoughts on the creative process.

"This novel picks you up by the scruff of your neck and doesn't let you go until the final pages." VB, London 

"Intriguing...kept you wanting more." JS, Illinois

"An amazing tale...that you cannot put down!" ML, Georgia