And the Fire Burns On…

  I had an EXCELLENT critique today , it couldn’t have been more in contrast to Wednesday’s. My critic, the artist Patricia Traub, upon entering my studio let out a delighted giggle . That really is all I could ask for .
In addition to our shared passions for animal rights ( you have to check out her work , it is mind blowing ) and LeBrun , she seemed to understand where I was going . As can be imagined this was deeply gratifying .

She felt my drawing to be very strong and assertive and for me to put aside the paintings I have been fretting over and to just draw.

She also feels my paintings need to be massive , along the scale of Benjamin West’s panoramic canvases – now to find that ever expanding studio space.

But for today I just drew , the above a work in progress .

Off to Shabbos dinner with a friend from LA, then tomorrow , more drawing . A good day indeed.


 This sculpture in the courtyard of PAFA is an apt metaphor for my dashed hopes concerning this place. I am preparing for another critique this morning , one might say girding my loins. I don’t think I need to fret too much, today’s critic is an artist who definitely does not adhere to the Smudgy Line School so revered here at the Academy.
But there is loss, loss of a romantic notion perhaps . What I have gained is a clarity of the direction I want to take and PAFA doesn’t seem to be that direction.

 To be told that when I am ready to learn, ready to obliterate all I have learnt and experienced and ready to be the empty vessel this experience seems to demand THEN they will be there to make me into a Serious artist.

Thanks, but no thanks.

I feel I dodged a very expensive bullet. Friends , many artists amidst the mix, from Berlin to Portland, have told me of their experiences of academies , of the academic promotion of a certain orthodoxy , of only being able to truly express their creativity after the process . I want to improve my technical skills but I have no interest in erasing what is essential to my work.

My last critic may have felt I needed to destroy my work in order to create the sublime ; I’m going to find another way.

Wish me luck.

The Ambivalent Object

I’ve (we’ve ) invested quite a lot of energy ( and money) into my attending this summer critique program . Searching for direction and clarity in how and perhaps where to take my work and its development .This morning in a group critique led by the head of this program and a well regarded artist here ( and abroad ) , I had my moment of (ambivalent) clarity.

I had been wrestling with the issue of an academy , of how academies themselves  have wrestled with their own bias/preferences/ directions . Orthodoxy , though publicly decried , has a place here, and I suppose in every institution to some extent. Grand history painting and allegory may be chucked for dystopic nudes and the  lush color field but there is still an academic tradition that’s must be defended .

Today I felt at odds with that well defended force and now feel eviscerated. I’m not the first to feel this, nor will I be the last. But I’m left feeling where do the Misfit Toys go to hide? 

 Inward in my case.

Many valid points were made, the learning of basic tools such as light and space , all quite valid and attainable . Yet the prevailing ethos of “rawness”, “destruction ” and “randomness ” confounds me and sent me adrift . My clarity was that this is not the place for me; perhaps as a place to gain technical skills, which being self taught I am ( quite literally ) painfully aware of. But unless this place has room for expression outside of Guston, Richter and Carravagio with their robust forcefulness, it is a bad fit.

This quest for displays of rawness and random brutality ( with the ubiquitous drip of frenzied creativity ) has little appeal to me. The macho posturing of the Abstract Expressionists has arisen anew here . If I hear “muscular, juicy, raw, meaty” one more time I’m going to scream .

I sense on a visceral level that I just rubbed this critic the wrong way . I wasn’t an open enough vessel for him. His “positive”advice for me was to become acquainted with Bosch, Jung and Campbell. I explained that I am familiar with that Holy Trinity. 

That might not have pleased him. 

Plus my work is effete and theatrical, relying upon tricks of the stage at times . I get why such a Serious artist would dismiss it or have issue . 

My ambivalence is rooted in my being so self- taught and yet desiring more skill to better express my mystical dreamscapes . 

I know I’m not there yet, but I do know I’m developing my own vocabulary. One full of errors and missteps perhaps , but my own .

This artist suggested I discard the painting I’ve been working on and instead focus upon the Fish ( above ); THAT he declared was THE painting, in fact not the fish, just its eye.

 Silliness and the Emperor’s Finery.

I almost chuckled but instead scoffed,claiming that the weakest link of the painting is that element, that it is the most derivative  ( reminding me of a platter by Picasso) and certainly the least authentic .

I’m not ready to throw the baby out but the bath water is decidedly tepid and unpleasant at the moment . There is an artist at PAFA I sincerely admire , her work being singular and clearly her own. I’m going to reach out to her, if she is willing  and get her opinion as if this could be a good fit.

But at the moment I lament the money and time invested; also the letting go of a romantic notion.

Until next time, be well,


At Day’s End

Tomorrow we have an added critique , which should be a positive experience in that it will be a group critique. I hustled about in good company today  as my sister Pamela spent the day at the studio.

Pretty much what I accomplished today  was this merfellow.

  Will need to see how he is recieved; he delights me quite a bit.

Packing up for the day,pooped and bleary eyed; I am first on the firing line tomorrow ,bright and early at 9am.


  Happy news, one of my favorite paintings Genesis (one that is quite finished, if I may be a bit snarky) was accepted in the upcoming 2015 California Open Exhibition at the Tag Gallery in Santa Monica. Acceptance in this show is very validating to me because of the artist who juried it. Jim Morphesis is a painter I admire a great deal: from his subject matter ( martyrdom , crucifixions , the torments and ecstasy of the flesh),to how he handles paint . So for Morphesis to choose 56 works out of 1,625 submissions and for Genesis to be part of that lucky lot makes me very happy indeed.
Sadly it opens August 12th and I will still be here in Philadelphia- David will have to be my proxy.

I’m so thrilled .

What “finished ” means…

I had my second critique of this program at PAFA with Stuart Shils, a fine artist and an affable fellow . He offered earnest advice and once again I was told in this program there aren’t many folks making this sort of work . Now that may be a good thing or it could mean my work isn’t very good . I will wait and see, until I know for sure I will carry on.

One salient point he repeatedly made and one that echoes my very initial critique with Neysa Grassi, was to not overwork the surface. Both Grassi and Shils insisted Goblin Market  was finished  ( when Grassi declared it essentially finished, it was still pretty much a drawing, a nice drawing but not a painting in my limited concept of what makes a painting ). 

That’s flattering , but it isn’t  finished.

How does one sit with work when it is still evolving . I’m not trying to be priggish and insist upon a lacquer finish ( although I do admire that approach quite frequently ) , but I do see much further development with this painting.

Shils parting words were:  ” don’t mess it up “.


My way of dealing with that warning  was to work on another piece. Saturday is my drawing class with blessedly tangible means to an end. Monday I will face my demons , or in this case goblins , and begin anew. Contrary to advice I came here for, I need to be true to how I see this painting . If I “mess” it up, there is this photograph in it’s one moment of glory.

A Daub at a Time

In my second week I am making decent progress and the encouragement and camaraderie of the faculty and comrades has been very helpful. But as the day sinks into dusk and you have been in the studio since the rise of Apollo , one becomes weary.

I’ve been working on the larger canvas today , I believe it is eight by five feet. It literally has been a daub at a time but I feel at last the painting is beginning to reveal itself. I think I’m naming it Orpheus’ Lament.

  I will be back at again bright and early , but for now dinner, and if I am particularly ambitious , laundry. 

What a fast and exciting life I lead…

The Prodigal Son(?)

  Anyone who knows me, our home or my work can sense a Catholic ( upper and lower case) influence . But although raised Roman Catholic I have not attended mass in well over twenty years, aside from a few weddings. 
I have been an on again- off again Episcopalian , but sometimes finding the churches a bit pretentious – who is more High Church than thou sort of silliness . Eastern faiths delight but mystify in an unhelpful way. So it has been the faith of my youth that has been how I identify when I identify as anything aside from a humanist . But with the Church’s mean spiritedness I have hesitated to attend ; until this new saint of a Pope. 

And an unlikely evangelist at the front door of St John the Evangelist Catholic Church here in town on 13th.

Last week my sister Kat and I were wandering about and we stumbled upon this lovely ,yet unremarkable for a city so rich in churches, Gothic Revival church. What made it remarkable was the little woman greeting visitors at the front door . So sweet and so welcoming . I believe she is Phillipina and aptly named, for Philadelphia anyway , Liberty. She invited us to mass but we declined but I promised her I would attend soon.

I made good on my promise and the church was as joyous as Liberty. The placard on the front door asserts that it is an inclusive place and from looking about from my pew I would agree with that. The church offers two masses in Mandarin, has a strong Asian American presence as well as an African American presence ( hence the music being so much better ). Young folks , old folks , babies and homeless people, all crammed in. The church is run by Capuchin Friars and it was delightful to hear the priest railing against capitalism and praising the Holy Father’s position on the environment . With his simple linen vestments the priest was a delightful opposition to High Church puffery; let the pretty architecture attend to that need.

It seemed fitting the church would be dedicated to John the Blessed, the Evangelist. I turn to him in my own work and I guess other gay artists have in the past as well. Most famously Leonardo, who painted him with such physical beauty that nincompoops have insisted it is the Magdalene and not John. So silly, this inability to imagine same sex bonding, chaste or not.

The other day I snapped this detail at the Academy of Benjamin West’ massive depiction of the Ecce Homo  presented before Pilate. As you can see he is quite a looker.

  Will I return to the Church when I return to LA? probably not. To be shallow, most are mid century monstrosities and the pretty ones offer mostly masses in Spanish. But for now , for the next six weeks , I will attend. Let me know if you want me to light a candle for you.
Pax vobiscum