Collectors often ask what inspired me when I show them a certain work. The question becomes more intense when they purchase one of my drawings or paintings. Why do I favor some colors, or what underlies the imagery?
I had my first exhibition when I was eighteen, and was asked, “What inspires you to create?” At first I was completely flummoxed by the question. Then I remembered a comment Picasso made. His reply, which I quoted at the time, was that to ask an artist such a question made no more sense than asking a bird why it sings.
In retrospect my reply was a bit of a wise ass response, but it got me off the hook. Not only did I have a decent comeback, but my reply cut off further questioning.
Today I would frame my answer differently. I would say that I always begin a work with some notion, some concept that is strong enough that it hovers in my mind like a photograph. This may be something as simple as a serpentine curve that I visualize, or as complex as an entire image that I want to recreate.
For instance, the abstract image entitled Norwalk Landscape (fig. 1 at the end of this blog) began as a memory of an ocean scene, a view of the Atlantic that I had seen that morning on my way to a studio in Connecticut. What I remembered was the dark over-reaching cliff that seemed to lean out into the sea, a red graffiti-painted rock, and the strange sand-colored sky over the ocean. My memory was just a snapshot, but it was compelling enough that I wanted to save it.
In contrast, several months later I made a piece entitled, Christina With French Curves (fig. 2). Rather than an abstract piece like Norwalk Landscape, Christina was conceived from the start as a play on a theme I have often returned to over the years.
In this piece I am playing with multiple views of the same girl–a young woman I photographed 15 years ago. I am also playing with curves, but in this instance the curves are subtle ones that repeat down her cheeks, and are echoed in her eyes, and are reflected in the strap of her dress. Although this work uses concrete and easily recognizable images, the same play of geometry is found in both pieces. And there is a disquieting subtlety to the image: The small face in the center of the work is that of a girl who was a member of the infamous 1970s German Red Army Faction (RAF), commonly known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang.
Why did I include her image? She contributes a whiff of danger to an otherwise saccharine piece, in the same way that the female face of every sphinx is attached to the body of a dog. Why a dog? The Egyptians played beauty against menace. The contrasting images echo a contemporary uneasiness that I find irresistible.
As a third example, my piece entitled, Double 3-Quarter Profile (fig. 3) is an identical play on a similar theme as it uses slightly disquieting imagery. A beautiful girl is shown twice, her complexion in one image partially reversed in tone, her overall expression meditative.
Notice that she, too, has a surrounding framework of curves and sweeping lines. These appear in almost all my work as they create both harmony and tension. Some of the lines help fill in her hair. Others allow a viewer’s eyes to be caught in an atmospheric swirl of color and shapes.
Directly below the left girl’s image is a small rectangular window. It has stars–clearly a night sky. And to the left of the night window is box. A black wave seems to be caught in motion as it moves toward the sky. The light striking the right girl’s image is partially reversed. A mystery seems to pervade the overall image; there is an atmosphere that is simultaneously unsettled, and yet alluring.
A fellow artist who saw this piece told me she thought the girl looked like a character in a novel, one that she wouldn’t be able to put down. I took that as a compliment.
For me art tells a story. As importantly, all of my images are explorations. Each work is a journey, and many are connected by a theme. The ocean landscape that initially inspired Norwalk Landscape (fig. 1) led me to create another work that used the same view. The second piece could be considered an abstract; in reality I was exploring waves and my fascination with oceans.
This same seascape, revisited in Norwalk Landscape 2 (fig. 4), takes place on a stormy day. The beach, graffiti-painted rock and sand-colored sky are gone, and the sun breaks through to strike waves only now and then. Predominately, the tone is turbulent.
In a final example–Girl In Profile (fig. 5, below)–I use a theme that has preoccupied me recently. In this image I draw a young woman who is compelling but far from classically beautiful. Her gaze is fixed on some distant object. She is preoccupied, perhaps brooding. We cannot comprehend what she sees. The cascading hooked curves to her left form a visual fence, yet we do not doubt that she sees through them without effort. Her distraction mirrors our own too frequent self-absorption. Here she is not blinded by idealism, nor is she overwhelmed by sentiment. Instead, she sees, perhaps far more clearly than we find comfortable.