When I started working in stained glass as a student in 1980, I thought, “This is the thing that will never bore me!”--of course that didn’t turn out to be entirely true, but I think, over time, I have developed a true love for the medium and for it’s mostly unexplored expressive “painterly” possibilities.
When I went to art school, I thought for sure I would be a painter but the medium soon started feeling all wrong to me. I find few things more terrifying than a blank canvas and nothing is more easily filled with meaningless “arty” brushstrokes. I went through a phase when I would gesso over all the superfluous elements--and I would always end up staring at a white rectangle again. I can’t remember why, but around that time I took a stained glass elective class. Because it was not my major, I felt free to do junk. All my life I have been a compulsive “doodler” and I began interpreting these doodles in stained glass. This was the magic moment when I understood “secret of art”--and that I had been doing it all along without recognizing it!
I found my “artistic voice” was liberated not only by losing the inhibitions I associated with the high seriousness of the painting tradition but by the technical restrictions as well. Working with stained glass, I feel “in sync”--I like to keep my nervous hands busy, busy, busy and the tedium factor plus the variety of processes allow me focus my mind. The time it takes to make a piece fits with how often I have ideas worth making.
I am most often inspired by the process of drawing and the more distracted I am the better. Television, lectures, talk radio, music and telephone conversations all serve to improve my work. Nothing is more daunting than the pressure to come up with some Brilliant Artistic Idea. All my best drawings are accidents and mistakes and I can’t contrive or plan to develop, as I don’t know in advance what form this next step might take. I draw mostly heads and sometimes figures paying careful attention the expressions on their faces. I choose which drawings to use carefully; I have done thousands of faces at this point it seems, so I only pick the most interesting ones to make a finished piece out of. What constitutes an interesting face? I like them to be “all wrong in all the right ways”; distorted to the verge of ugly, yet beautiful; expressive of a range of emotional possibilities, yet ambiguous; universal enough for a lot of people to relate to them and not just specific to me. I like them exaggerated; original yet familiar; extraordinary, yet recognizable and down to earth. Sometimes I want them to have humor. They are portraits (I would say caricatures--but I don’t think they are sarcastic) of people who exist in my imagination, possibly surrogates for myself--but only insomuch as I am an “everyperson”.
With regard to subject matter, I don’t have narratives in mind and am trying to be deliberately vague and open to interpretation. Telling a story is never as fascinating as snatching a moment out of time and freezing forever in space. In order to create a full picture, I am forced to supply a context for the faces I draw. The context usually includes a full body and an environment--abstract or pictorial. This context could be seen as the life and/or world of the character. So my subject could be interpreted as “people” and “life”.
It would be misleading to speak about the significance of my work as if it came from some kind of master plan or philosophic stance. I rely mostly on my intuition when making them and I tend to understand them only with hindsight. Cliched and sentimental subjects and decorative designs fascinate me--not just as a forbidden fruit and not as a strategy for ironic commentary but because this is the stuff, that time and time again, I am obsessed with, in love with and that I have faith in.