Image credit: Mart Wittfooth
What influences your animal-hybrid narratives?
I listen to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks as I work, and they help to conjure up topics that I want to address in my paintings, as do conversations with friends, primarily other artists, musicians, and authors. As for the paintings themselves, I get inspiration from all over — most often but not limited to classical paintings that I see at the Met, the Frick Collection, the Brooklyn Museum, in books, and so on. The Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side has been a wellspring of ideas as well, and some elements in the various dioramas they have on display there have made cameos in my work. I try and get out to do the Chelsea gallery rounds once a month, too, because I tend to always unexpectedly stumble into one show or another that has some souvenir of inspiration to bring back to my studio.
Image credit: Martin Wittfooth
Your work depicts a world created by mankind, but totally avoids the human form. Why did you choose to exclude people from your paintings?
I get asked this a lot. I think the simplest way of putting it is that by creating allegories with animal protagonists I speak with a symbolic vocabulary that is rather universal. There are inherent connotations in various animal forms that we all on some level understand and respond to in broad, instinctive terms. This allows for these figures to suggest themes and ideas that pertain to our — the human — condition: in a sense I aim to present portraits of ourselves in these pieces, even though a recognizable “I” or “we” are not present. Something I set out to avoid from the beginning is the projection of a human “agent” in my work: I often feel that works that feature human figures are telling someone else’s story, that whatever scene we’re witnessing is being acted out by another individual or group. I’m attempting to place my audience in the passenger seat, to feel immersed in (and collectively responsible for) the scenes I present and to see some aspect of ourselves reflected back at us.
It’s clear that you are a “painterly painter,” taking the tradition of painting very seriously. Are you interested in modern art, or more into masters?
I don’t place any barriers in front of “modern art” as a potential wellspring for inspiration and motivation toward exploring the medium. In fact, I’ve come across plenty of work created in the last few decades that has gotten me to consider different techniques that I could bring into my own painting repertoire. I’ve recently been moved to get looser and more playful with some aspects of my painting, facilitated by the fact that a lot of my canvases are getting much larger, with more room to explore.
Image credit: Martin Wittfooth
Now that you’re an experienced artist, what do you hope to convey with your oeuvre?
That painting need not be hostage to a linear trajectory, theory, market trend, or particular degree from a particular institution. It looked to be going that way for some time, but those boundaries seem to be eroding across the board, and even if some are still in place we should feel empowered to see right past them.
What’s on the docket for you this year?
I’m working on a series of overdue commissions for the first part of the year and then beginning a new series destined for my next solo show in Seattle in May 2014. There are also a couple of museum shows on the horizon that I’m planning very ambitious works for. In the meantime, I’m hunting down some property to buy upstate to serve as a little nature-bound retreat, which is soaking up a good amount of my attention at the moment.