Artist Talk during exhibition opening reception, March 31, In Ruin.
I come from a very rural area, my father was a builder and my mother was a maker. I used to work with my father laying asphalt, and I was very interested in how the material acted, how it behaved. I use bitumen in my work because I know how it behaves and how to manipulate it. I’m trying to find a different material because bitumen is dangerous to use, I mean I wear gloves and a ventilator mask, open the windows, turn on a fan. I can’t make anything that works the same way, though, I’m just so used to it.
I am influenced by materials, texture, scraps from other projects. Old fabric, old paint, tshirts, plants. Things that I find. That life force becomes part of the painting when added to the surface. There is a tremendous amount of ambiguous, neglected material, and I’ve always been attracted to it. There’s beauty in it. And out of these little things, these scraps, comes this [pointing to artwork].
I always work on multiple pieces at a time and let them speak to each other, let them communicate. The pieces work together and influence how I work with them. When plants grow, it’s the vibrations through the plant that turns it to grow more foliage and grow bigger. That’s how I think about my work - that pile of detriment in the ground is what inspires me to communicate through my work, each added piece growing it into something bigger. Working from the inside of the painting, out - that’s just the way that works for me.
Sometimes I know what they’re going to be about; I’ll have an overview of what they might be about, I just don’t know how to get there. This piece was one of those [pointing to artwork]. I struggled and painted and worked and worked, turned it around, vertical and this way and that way, upside down, put it in the corner, put it back on the wall, put it in the closet… but finally when I turned it this way [pointing] and stepped back, I saw the sail right there. Then all the stories of captain Williams came flooding back, all my experiences with him came back. “I’ve got to make this painting,” I told myself.
When I first moved to New York I think I was maybe twenty one or twenty two years old, right after grad school. I was so green, I knew nothing about the city, but one of my professors had an artist in New York City that was going to hire me as an apprentice. So the very first day that i showed up in New York - it was in November, and the weather was really terrible. Cold, windy. So I show up and he says, in his really bravado voice, “Come on, we’re going to a bachelor party!” I mean I literally walked in the door with my bags, all freaked out because I’m in New York City. That was the early 80s so Brooklyn was like brown all the time. It was so polluted there, it was nasty, and he lived in this nasty neighborhood. So anyway, I get there and he says, “Come on! We’re going to a bachelor’s party!” He’s got this big Harley, so we get on his Harley and rode over the Williamsburg bridge, and as I’m looking down over the bridge and seeing the water I’m like “oh my god, I’m going to die.”
So we went to the bachelor’s party for this friend of his that was getting married, he lived in the Chelsea Hotel with his fiancee. They had this huge party there. The girls were going to hang in the hotel, the apartment, and we were going out on Captain Williams’ sailboat. This guy was from the Netherlands, he had been a sailor all his life, and he was a very intense person. Right away he put his arm around me because he knew I was just a kid, and he says, “Come on!” and we go down to the Brooklyn Battery and we get on his sailboat, and now I’m like, “I’m really gonna die.”
The wind was just howling and there’s huge waves in the river - and we take off. As we’re going through the harbor, there’s like nine or ten of us guys, we’re all leaning way off the boat and this guy is just sailing his boat so fast. We sailed out under the Verrazzano Bridge and went around and came back in. It was harrowing but it was such an exhilarating, eye-opening experience of what my life was about to be like in New York City.
I made this painting in honor of Captain Williams, it’s titled Sailing the Narrows.