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“Art never expresses anything but itself. It has an independent life just as thought has, and develops purely on its own lines. It is not necessarily realistic in an age of realism, nor spiritual in an age of faith. So far from being the creation of its time, it is usually in direct opposition to it, and the only history that it preserves for us is the history of its own progress. Sometimes it returns upon its footsteps, and revives some antique form, as happened in the archaistic movement of late Greek art, and in the pre-Raphaelite movement of our own day. At other times it entirely anticipates its age, and produces in one century work that it takes another century to understand, to appreciate, and to enjoy”

The Decay of Lying
Oscar Wilde


When I began constructing artwork at the undergraduate level I found it impossible to avoid putting language with my work. I felt that by talking about the artwork in formal critiques, writing artist statements, and displaying these works with long complicated paragraph-like titles I could springboard my audience into the object and aid them in their “naïve reading” of the piece. Now I realize I was being naïve; instead of a springboard I had given these spectators a plank from which to plummet and moreover, was forcing my words to make up for insufficiencies in my work. In a sense I was denying that what I made had consequences and only allowed onlookers to see my intentions. Since attending the graduate program at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and exhibiting work that I could not physically stand by and explain, I have realized that artist’s intentions are only of little concern once a piece leaves the artist’s possession. Moreover, these intentions can give my spectators tunnel vision not allowing them to experience all that a work has to offer. To this end I have created works that do not need words to explain and actually advance to a level where words can no longer sufficiently aid. They are powerful not only visually, but also in their ability to induce viewer’s reactions and inquisitions.

If I had a choice, I would spend little energy publicly lecturing (written or oral) about the work featured in this exhibition and would allow the work to speak for itself, however this is often frowned upon in academia. Since I do have freedoms, the following essay will focus more on how I came to create what I have and what I see it relating to, than how the viewer should feel and what my initial intentions were (since the effect of such literature could only appear weak in comparison to my work). Above all, I want those who view my work to experience what they see and focus on how it makes them react, not on what is written here.

What is seen in my work is difficult to label. My artwork is primarily flat. Positive and negative shapes are arranged in such a way as to depict a stylized and romanticized version of what can be found in the world. Lines, plains, and visual textures harmoniously come together and interweave with each other to fabricate beautiful composition. Brushed and sponged on paint, light and dark washes of patinas, and power-coat automotive finishing come together to give these objects life and make them stand off of the stark white “ground” behind them. All of this leads a reader of this essay to believe these are some interesting drawings or possibly even paintings, but any art viewer knows that that is not entirely the case.

These drawings come off the wall, set on the floor and hang from the ceiling. They occupy real space, cast fanciful shadows, and are supported by architectural elements other than flat walls. They move through the space and force the viewer to respond to these movements. In addition to the pigments and drawing-like compositions this work is made of metal, wood, ceramics, and other sculptural materials. What a viewer is confronted with are objects. Sculptures that are not exactly sculpted and drawings that are not entirely drawn fuse to make these things, these works of art.

This in not surprising to anyone who has followed my career and has followed my shifts in artistic expression. Being an undergraduate “painter” did not stop me from taking three-dimensional objects and attaching them to my two-dimensional canvases, nor from using modeling paste to create thick sculptural canvases and panels on which to paint. More recently as a “sculptor” I search out ways to deal with surface qualities as much as three-dimensional forms. These labels never meant much to me; an artist is an artist once you get down to the heart of the matter. Though, if I had to use these labels on myself I would reluctantly call myself a sculptor for that has become the blanket label almost as big as visual art itself and is often used to identify everything from jewelry to furniture to utilitarian ceramics to film to installation art to performance.

It is not surprising to those followers that my work makes use of silhouette imagery. Since childhood I have been fascinated with this simplification of nature. Growing up I preferred to cut paper into valentines and snowflakes more than to color in coloring-books. There was more freedom in this than in filling in other people’s work. These childhood practices did not quickly fade either. I took art classes throughout my secondary school years and most everything that I remember utilized stark contrast or cut out shapes. Perhaps this came from Sheila McCormick, my high school art instructor, who cried “make your darks dark and lights light.” I took her idea to the extreme in an art/computer graphics Summer Honors Program at Indiana State University. Due to the now “prehistoric” computers, with their lack of print quality and absence of color monitors, I found that lifeless representations could be made excitingly bold by adjusting the contrast to stark black and white planes. Returning to finish high school and starting school as an undergraduate, I did not quickly forget these lessons. My exploration into silhouette imagery continued in beginning level sculpture, photography, and drawing classes. Key projects in all of these show a direct progression to the work of this thesis exhibition, but something hastened this advance. As is often the case in education (even in the arts, or especially in the arts) I became influenced by the instructors and artists around me. My instructors’ views of art and the work they created were firmly rooted in Abstract Expressionism that this still so strong in the Midwestern United States. I found myself investigating surface treatments and “the mark.” Responding strongly to the personalities and ideas of the painting and drawing instructors at Wabash College, and having had my primary artistic background in two-dimensional art, I found myself concerned with surface qualities, abstract subject matter, spirituality, and expressionism. I returned to the idea of silhouettes in my final year of study at Wabash and concurrently enrolled in more advanced sculpture classes.

These sculpture classes made me hunger for more, so when the opportunity arose to study sculpture at UNLV I snatched it. Continuing to explore silhouettes in classes like Jackson Boeltz’ digital seminar, I took time to investigate the wide berth of sculptural materials. I began with wood, then steel, and found objects, then wax, glass, concrete, and paper, Plexi-glass, and clay, plaster, and… The list goes on, but soon enough I returned to the silhouette images and assembled my first well-received solo exhibition of paper drawings and aluminum silhouettes.

“Eleven Native Las Vegans” was successful beyond my expectations. I enjoyed the enthusiastic reactions from my audience, their comments, criticisms, and their facial expressions. The commentary that surrounded the exhibition was also exceptionally positive, but this taste of success left me wanting even more. Like a motorcycle-dare-devil who jumped his first car, I had to figure out how to make my “trick” bigger and better.

With the thoughts of whirling motorcycles, flaming hoops, and impossible stunts in my mind I returned to the studio to work out my coup de grâce, but soon realized that I was far from being ready to start producing. My midway exhibition was more than an opportunity to show my work, it offered a occasion to analyze what my work was, how its strengths could be enhanced, and what technical skills could be improved. This required research. I began by looking at the work of Albert Paley and studying his philosophies. Then I investigated the artwork of a group of cutting edge contemporary painters primarily based in Los Angeles. Having seen this, I thrust myself into the wealth of information that is architectural ironwork. More than any other, the metalworkings that most interested me were those of the turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau period. Recently, this research led me to explore other Art Nouveau ideas and architecture roughly the of a same time.

With my study of Art Nouveau, I realized that my response to its work is enthusiastically invigorating and that there is a strong connection to what I have created in my studio. Interestingly, there are many ties between these artists’ philosophies and my own and the corresponding social climates of our times. Theirs was a time of massive advancements in technology. The industrial revolutions of the mid-nineteenth century and early twentieth century are paralleled only by the information and computer revolutions that happened at the end of the last millennium and continue today. With these advances, commerce bustles, economies grow, and individuals gain more social freedoms. But the early Art Nouveau artists and critics saw two dreadful consequences. Quality and craftsmanship had been compromised in the search for speed, efficiency, cost effectiveness. Equally, nothing “new” was being produced. These incredible factories were ultimately producing second rate knock-offs of bygone eras. John Ruskin was the first to see this, and his “ideas were taken up by his disciple, the craftsman, poet, pamphleteer, printer, erstwhile painter and architect, William Morris” (Hardy 14). Morris was revolutionary and an extremist. He called for completely original work that referenced little of the High Victorian and a return to traditional tool and techniques of a hand craftsman. Morris’ earnest desire to combine all of the visual arts and crafts, which is to a great extent equaled today is exemplified in Morris and Co.’s interior spaces. Wallpaper and rugs, paintings and furniture, trim and decorative objects, architecture and most every other aspect fused to create a harmonious environment. Although I agree with and have striven for everything that Morris calls for (with the exception of his extremist views against using the most modern technologies), for me the period’s best exemplar is Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo. Mackmurdo followed the model set by his predecessor, but used those modern technologies along with quality craftsmanship. “…It was Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo (1851-1942), the English architect, graphic artist, craftsman and (later) economist, who provided its earliest practical implementations of the field of design. Mackmurdo’s designs were in marked contrast to anything in Europe at the time. Two elements, in particular, established him as an unprecedented talent: his pursuit of linear simplicity and his asymmetrical compositions rendering in boldly contrasting colors, such as black and white” (Duncan 11). I am in accord with many of this style’s two fathers’ ideas about art and society, and as can be seen from the above quotation and a brief walk through the Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery, I strongly share visual “taste” with Mackmurdo as well.

The visual imagery that I use relates to more than that of Mackmurdo. The line quality is very “Art Nouveau.” Even the natural subject matter is “Art Nouveau.” These are best seen in the cast iron work of the period; metalwork similar to my aluminum cutouts.

A close reader may notice that I am contradictory or paradoxical at best (Morris called for something entirely new and my work alludes to his and others’ works from roughly one hundred ago). But let me assure you I am neither. Art Nouveau, although “new art” directly referenced work that preceded it. Medieval, and Celtic art, Nordic, and Oriental art, and even influences from Muslim art can be directly seen in this Post-Victorian movement. This does not mean the work was not entirely new, it just pulls from similar aesthetics, imagery, design, and composition. This is true of my work as well. I redirect you to the introductory Oscar Wilde quotation and add, “it is only the modern that ever becomes old-fashioned” (686). To be entirely honest, I do not know why my work resembles the art of this time. My aim was not to create work that resembled Art Nouveau objects and I only fully researched this period after making much of this artistic body. I enjoy the work. I find it refreshing. This may be the result of living in an 1840’s Victorian house and being surrounded by Victorian furniture as a youngster. My reactions to that environment could have be similar to those reactions of Mackmurdo, Morris, the others. I could have seen their work and unknowingly drawn from it. Or, the social climate and technological advances of our time could be so similar to the Victorian that I was compelled me make similarly styled work.

My work draws from other art I have seen, my life’s experiences, functional objects that surround me, my non-art related education, and probably I could go so far to say my genetic makeup. Certainly it extends beyond Art Nouveau style, but it is impossible for me to explain or even comprehend all of these influences. However, one contemporary artist is worthy of mention above all else. When I was first guided to the work of Albert Paley I was hesitant. I was initially told of his functional pieces, and while in the Masters of Fine Arts program, was leery about opening myself to the art vs. craft debate. But discovering his breathtaking work, I decided that there was no way to hide my feelings about my fondness for “craft objects.” Paley is far more than a mere craftsman; he fabricates sculptures, jewelry, architectural elements, furniture, table ware, and much more, but his functional screens and gates inspire me most (While on the subject of art vs. craft, I am compelled to say a few words. The issue is far more than material based, i.e. ceramics is craft and oil on canvas is art, and is rooted in more than utility. It is concept and aesthetics, intent and consequences that make something not only art or craft, but also good or bad.). What I admire most about Paley’s work is his ability to manipulate line, form, color, and space within the perimeters of his chosen materials. The artwork that he creates uses beautiful combinations of materials arranged into elaborate and visually exciting objects/images that are often functional. They speak similarly to the works of even more contemporary abstract painters, some of whom appeared in 1998’s exhibition “Abstract Painting Once Removed.” For comparison sake, take the work of Ingrid Calame. While Paley takes different colors of metals, says “see what different forms they can take” and arranges them into compositions to span openings in a fence (like Portal Gate 1974 for the Renwick Gallery), Calame’s colors tracings of drips found on the street, says “see what different forms they can take” and she arranges them into compositions to span openings on walls (like p-CHEEW-chtu-chtu 1998 from David Reed’s collection).

Along with Calame, many of these “Once Removed” abstract painters are of great interest to me. The works of Sally Elesby, Callum Innes, Takashi Murakami, Aaron Parazette, Monique Prieto, Kevin Appel, Jason Eoff, Llyn Foulkes, Uta Barth, and Jack Goldstein all make use of energized and exciting visual plains of color, or silhouettes. My silhouette “drawings” relate to and extend beyond the well-planned and well-painted drips, splashes, and rings of these artists into real tangible concrete solids. I have chosen to limit my palette in these “sculptures” to focus the viewers’ attention to form, shadow, and space much like Louise Nevelson did in her monotone constructions.