Painting feels like excavation as much as an act of building. When I start a painting, I don’t know exactly what I’m after. Instead I find out what is there by doing the work. The act of making a painting externalizes the cause and effect of inspiration. I can see it, touch it, think about it, share it.
Themes in my work vary with themes in my life Some of the themes are documentary. One summer, after a semester of long and frequent car trips, I painted a series of parking lots. I had been spending so much time getting in and out of cars, I thought that work would be about cars. It wasn’t long before I realized I was actually interested in the parking lots as spaces. The gray asphalt bellies reflected the colors of the sky and they and the sky were always changing. It was a surprise to see the way that gray seemed simultaneously to be bluish and pinkish and yellowish.
Another time I made a series of watercolor still life paintings of lunches I ate at work. I had a forty hour a week retail job at the time. Retail was a labor of getting by rather than of love. I thought about my lunch break as a little freedom in the middle of the day. Painting my lunch was a way of staking out a claim in the day for creativity. It was a good project. I started curating my lunches for color and shape.
Other themes are imaginative. One way I entertain myself is to follow trails of thought that begin with something I am curious about and end someplace absurd. During graduate school, I heard a line in a Tom Waits song about a sideshow actor named Joe-Joe the Dog-Faced Boy and I started to imagine what it meant to be a dog-faced boy and soon I made a painting of three boys in dog masks. This led to a group of paintings about pretending.
My most recent body of work is a series of paintings made outdoors at a roadside scenic overlook. I found this scenic overlook by accident on a drive between one place and another. I got out of the car and walked to the edge of the parking lot. This parking lot is perched on a ridge high above the Potomac River. On the other side of the river, a hill reaches up to touch the sky. The hill is tree covered and dotted with houses. Roads cut across the hill at diagonals, each one marking the top of a tier. Each tier of the hill steps back a little from the preceding one. From the moment I saw this place, I knew it was special. I decided to spend some time getting to know it. Over the course of a year I learned slowly about the nature of that place and the ways you can observe seasonal changes happening a little at a time all year around.
Because landscape painting was new for me, I had decided early on to try to match the colors as closely as I could to what I was seeing. In the summer I was surprised to find that I could tell when the summer had passed its peak because I started having to dull the greens down to make them match the trees. To my naked eye, everything still looked bright and summery at the time, but I knew that the change meant the leaves were already heading toward autumn. When the leaves fell, there were more surprises. The sparkling white twisted limbs of Sycamore trees suddenly became part of the scene. The ground was much redder than I expected it to be. Fragments of road I could see peeking out from behind summer trees crystallized into a big oval shaped parking lot for a park I would explore later on. When I did finally visit the hill on the other side from the overlook, I had been painting it for a year. Because I knew them so well by then from a distance, the houses and trees I had been painting had an air of celebrity when I saw them up close. Walking there was like being inside a painting.
My work as an artist is intrinsically linked to my way of being in the world. Making work is a way of externalizing what is internal in order to get a good look at it. I believe the job of an artist is to use their voice to say something to the world about what it’s like to be a person in their time. What I hope for my work is that my version of events will resonate with others in a way that feels true, and affirming, and good.