A powerful metaphor for the loss of innocence we all experience after entering this world, the Biblical description of the Garden of Eden and the fall of man is one of our culture’s most enduring dramas. Through its rich imagery the story ignites a longing for a pristine world where suffering does not exist.
In seeking ways to create our own, private safe havens, homeowners furnish their houses with objects of comfort; gardeners tame the land with domestic ground cover; artists fill canvasses with images of the ideal world. Apartment dwellers tend small plants and window boxes to keep them connected to the sacred place of our origins.
We equate beauty with perfection. A beautiful garden brings us back to Eden. Lush fruit trees remind us life is good. Flowers in their fleeting moment return us to past glory. Painted flowers freeze time through a simple gesture, a single line. Capturing this ephemeral beauty has been the quest of artists through the centuries, even as we pollute and destroy the very earth that inspires us to imagine a more sublime world. Centuries of overuse of the once verdant Fertile Crescent has rendered the area a virtual desert, impoverishing and embittering its people from a part of their spiritual nourishment. The original Garden of Eden no longer exists, but its legacy lives on in the imagination of every generation, helping to restore our guilelessness, however briefly.
In my landscape paintings I have always tried to take the viewer to another place. This group of paintings is no different. I have come to the realization that it is through the act of painting trees, flowers and animals that I recreate the Garden of Eden for myself. A bent apple tree in a friend’s garden caught my attention a few years ago. I sketched it in my journal and used that drawing as the central image in “Eve’s Garden.” That piece led to “Ten Years Later,” an imaginary scene showing the Garden of Eden as an overgrown lot, sullied with beer cans and a petrified apple core, abandoned by the descendents of its original occupants.
The landscape also figures prominently in my dream world, where it is often infused with a foreboding element of mystery. Travelling through these imaginary forests and farmlands refreshes my being, preparing me for whatever the day may bring.
Inspiration to experiment with this subject came to me after reading Milton’s Paradise Lost, Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Adam and Eve, and from looking at the paintings of the Hudson River School artists.
Big City Murals
January 10, 1977: After six turbulent years spent in three different art schools I arrived in NYC to fulfill my dream of becoming a professional painter. The artistic road ahead was unmarked. My student years had exposed me to the full gamut of artistic styles and genres. In the summer of 1976, after completing my MFA at the Yale University School of Art, I kicked off my chosen career with a three month museum tour of Europe and Egypt. My head exploded with ideas for new paintings after this incredible sensory bombardment. I was still sorting out these influences when I set up my first New York studio in a cold water commercial loft space in Midtown Manhattan.
To pay the bills I scrambled for work taking any kind of job that came my way, eventually getting into house painting and then carpentry. I had decided to forego a career in academia because it would have meant moving away from New York City. I understood enough about my own working process that I knew I would be most productive in a high energy city like New York. With access to great museums, galleries, and thousands of fellow artists I felt right at home.
The dominant style of painting during my student years was abstraction. The museums and galleries mounted a steady stream of non-objective painting and Minimalism. Purporting abstraction to be the heir apparent of Cubism and thereby the very acme of painting, some pure abstractionists relegated figuration an atavistic anomaly. This polarization was felt more on the East Coast where the New York School of Abstract Expressionism had dominated the art world for decades.
Being a Midwestern artist I was less affected by this chapter of recent art history. The art scene in Minneapolis was more influenced by the figure based Chicago School, which was decidedly anti New York.
My work, mostly influenced by early Modernism, Surrealism, and German Expressionism, had personal narrative content. I used recognizable images painted in a nonrealistic style. My understanding was that the language of painting is ninety percent abstract, but I needed the figure to give me both a starting point and ending point to work with. While studying in England I experimented with non objective pattern painting but could not make the leap of faith to pure abstraction. My content was too visceral. Without a figure based subject matter my work felt lost and incomplete.
Within a few weeks of moving to New York I was invited to attend the weekly meetings of The Alliance of Figurative Painters. There I encountered a motley group of artists who debated fiercely the virtues and vices of figuration, historical themes, subject matter, content, and figurative art’s tangential relationship to the art world. It was inspiring to see these artists banding together in defiance of an art world that had written figuration off and marginalized artists working within the traditional boundaries of figurative painting. I was fascinated to see artists attempting to make heroic paintings, using historical narratives from the Bible and Greek and Roman mythology as the European masters had done before them. When Alliance member Paul Georges began his informal Sunday night tutorials on composition and the Renaissance masters, I became completely engrossed with his well articulated analysis of what makes a great painting work. The sessions were held at different artist studios every week. We studied closely the works of Giotto, Masaccio, Mantegna, Raphael, Titian, and Veronese, with Georges offering his insight into the expressive techniques that these masters used as it related to the modernist theories of Hans Hoffman. Applying these lessons to my newest paintings, I was able to expand both the breadth and scope of my expression.
My recent travels had instilled in me the desire to create something big, even monumental. The lessons with Georges gave me the means to execute mural size pieces. My next task was to develop the subject and content for my newest paintings.