At age 18, I took a painting class as a freshman at a small college in North Carolina. As a result, I didn't so much decide to become an artist as I came to realize that this was what I was and would always be. Making art came naturally. While not the most talented draftsman, I realized an instinctive ability to see and understand shapes and forms in relation to one another. I have also come to realize that growing up around Washington DC in the midst of some of the greatest museums in the country provided an important early exposure to great art from all periods.
Early on, it was apparent that I had a good grasp of anatomy and the human form. I pursued this study as an apprentice with Dr. Graham Weathers, a local sculptor in North Carolina, whom I met in 1979.
Dr. Weathers' work emphasized anatomical precision, and this experience gave me the foundational tools I needed, in both a material and aesthetic sense, to begin my work as a sculptor. During this formative period, I began to develop the ability to see forms and shapes as they existed in space, aware that relationships were musical and visual compositions, creating rhythms by orchestrating forms in space.
After completing my BFA from Belmont Abbey College, I returned to the D.C. area focused on making sculpture. It never seemed to matter what materials I used; I worked with what was available. I have always had a strong confidence in my ability to make art with almost any medium. I was twenty-one, a young sculptor with a lot of energy, a chainsaw, and a forest of fallen trees available to me. I began carving wood and assembling masses of tree parts. While these pieces were somewhat representational, they were the beginning of my truly realizing and developing forms in relation to space.
By day, I worked construction jobs; by night, I made art. My inclination was always to work large, and this preference that started with the human form and Dr. Weathers carried over to wood carving. I did this relentlessly for two years with very little social life.
What emerged was a growing understanding of nonobjective forms, and I began to see, without hesitation, shapes, lines and forms as feeling, forms that took on an expression without depending on any recognizable image. I began to see the relationship between our human feeling and how these forms took on an expression without depending on any recognizable image. My work became increasingly nonobjective.
I started graduate school at Bradley University, Peoria, IL in 1981, with an assistantship. At this point my sculpture had become completely nonobjective, large scale steel and wood constructions. Simultaneously I quietly continued to draw the figure and sculpt small figures in wax, seeing everything I did in terms of form and intuitive feeling. Consequently, I had become well rounded technically with confidence in any medium.
My focus became increasingly philosophical, and I discovered a great kinship between my own thoughts and the writings of Susanne K Langer. I began to comprehend reasoning for making art that was beyond talent and skill; most importantly I was forming a tighter bond of understanding between my self and the work I was creating. My reading of Langer confirmed my growing understanding of art as an arrangement of forms, shapes, colors and lines that were elements that had the power to exude feeling.
The lines between various art forms began to fade as I considered writing and music, words and notes, composed to make beautiful, meaningful sounds, structures, and stories. I could see the interrelationships of painting, sculpture, abstract, realism, writing, film, music, dance—all with a cohesive relationship to one another. Formal elements could be composed in a way that translated to feelings, passion and, most of all, love, whatever the medium.
I concluded my MFA in 1985 by confounding my professors with my thesis exhibit, which consisted entirely of life size figurative sculpture and large-scale self-portrait charcoal drawings. To this point, faculty had only known me as a welding, wood carving sculptor. It was apparent that I was inherently a figurative artist; the human form played a vital role in my work.
Graduate school was the last time I would be able to focus all my energy on making art. I continued to live in spaces that would allow me to make large figurative sculpture while I also continued to draw with a preference for large charcoal drawings on Kraft paper, not considering them finished pieces.
My figurative sculpture was well received, creating a buzz in a range of university and community art circles, especially with solo exhibits in the greater Chicago area, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Washington DC. I secured a number of outdoor commissions along the way, including public sculpture for Purdue University Calumet, Valparaiso University, Bradley University and some private collections. For my outdoor commissions, I generally proposed a nonobjective piece, which I believed increased the chances of securing the commission.
For a time, I kept pace with raising a family and earning a living by building custom homes under my own name and subcontracting finish carpentry for others while managing to sustain my artwork. Life's challenges began to overwhelm me with the crash of the housing market in 2008 and a divorce. Suddenly with no space to build sculpture of any kind, I turned again primarily to drawing and small wax figures.
Not creating anything was never an option, and I was determined to make art with the materials, within the spaces, that were available to me. As I sharpened my drawing skills once again, I honed an understanding of and new direction with two-dimensional work. I stayed with the drawing and small waxes for about four years, then decided I needed to produce more substantive representations of my two-dimensional work.
When I started to paint, I entered uncharted waters. My approach was not out of a love for the medium, but as a means to an end, with my relationship with the medium steadily growing more intimate. Painting began to change the way I looked at my art. Having spent years focused on forms in space, relationships of line and shapes, I realized that painting is all this—and more. Color and its ability to impact the emotional content of work can be overwhelming.
Painting is more complex than sculpture, with so many variables to contend with and relationships to coordinate. Also there is the unavoidable story line associated with representational work, something I tried to deny with sculpture, only wanting to see the formal elements. Painting has taught me to love a good story line and even more about composition, relationships of lines, shapes, forms, colors and their significance to the story line. Titles suddenly became important, influencing the way an individual may view the piece.
The title needs to blend with the visual and leave the viewer room to form his or her own interpretation, always valid. The words need to complete the work and, in a way, become small compositions themselves.
I have always maintained a “day job” for general subsistence purposes, but have been steadily stepping up my allocation of time to art for several years, particularly as my three children became increasingly independent. While I still work in construction, both hands-on under my own label and in a supervisory capacity as a subcontractor, I devote my very early morning hours, virtually every evening and all weekend days to painting and sculpting. Lack of funds has thwarted my artistic growth, but it has also forced my exploration of other media and distilled my time commitment to art.
I have worked steadily to increase my exposure and income through sales, awards, solo shows, and grants. The last three years or so have been especially fruitful, particularly in terms of solo and gallery shows.
While I have not participated in as many shows as I would like, the experience has been consistently quite positive, generating energy within each community where I exhibited. Winning the Sam and Renee Denmark award in 2016 gave me confirmation that my painting was to be taken seriously, and the money was a springboard to purchasing more materials. Solo shows and awards have generated confidence and momentum.
Having spent 40 years thinking about and making art, I have realized significant artistic growth and have achieved my own visual style. Maybe 15 percent of that comes from natural ability; the rest, I believe comes from life experiences, including experiences I may have had even before memory came into play, experiences from family, friends, foes, lovers, or just casual passers-by on the street.
Inspiration is constant; it comes from study, other artists, from the gaze or touch or scent of another. My work springs from a sense of longing—for love, the past, the future, memories, and the stimulation of small experiences all around every day. My goal is to speak my experience, express my love and passion, with hope that those who view my work will be touched in a way that speaks to their own understanding of life, love, memories, and the feelings imprinted upon us.