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I was born in Chicago in 1948 and grew up in the city and then the suburbs.
I won a scholarship out of high school to the Minneapolis School of Art, but turned it down. Coming from a traditional suburban background, there was a strong influence to do something practical to make a living. Becoming an artist was not one of them. After going to 2 other universities I landed at the University of Illinois to study medical illustration, a logical choice, to put my meticulous drawing skills to use, illustrating medical and biological subject matter. Luckily I had a professor who encouraged my fine art possibilities and told me I could make a living by teaching art. By the time I entered graduate school on another scholarship at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore I didn’t want to teach. I just wanted to make art. My mentor there was Grace Hartigan the abstract expressionist. With her influence and insights I became convinced of that choice. I graduated and received a Tiffany Foundation Fellowship that paid my living expenses for about a year as I embarked on my career as an artist. I’ve lived in Philly since 1973. I met my wife Jen in 1975, bought our building in 1977, got married in 1978 and have lived in Northern Liberties ever since. While Jen worked as a lab manager at Penn I rehabbed buildings into rental properties to create a perpetual income to afford me my time in the studio.
Probably, as has been the case with many artists, as a child I was given positive encouragement about what I did creatively. Whether it was true or not, at a young age if an adult tells a child he is good at something he tends to believe it. I confirmed it for myself when, at around 10 years of age, I drew a picture of my father that looked exactly like him. Wow I can do something pretty cool.
I think about the making of art in a number of different ways. There is the element of nature, what you are born with in both the physical and mental aspects of life. On the physical side there is the ability to use your body to do those tasks that your psychological side in a sense demands you to do. I always liked using my hands to make things. I could figure out how things worked or how parts of things fit together. I was compelled to do it without explanation.
That desire comes from nature. Then as you age you need to decide what to do with those abilities to make sense and purpose out of your life. I always try to make sense out of reality, to see things clearly and not shy away from the truth of things, to make sense of things so life works. In a way for me my art is like personal psychotherapy, a way to understand my own contrarian personality.
As I developed my skills I always found myself trying to tell a story. A lot of it was sort of a running narration of my own existence. I would include myself, as well as family and friends as characters in theseplays of my own design. But I would always try to make the story have some sort of metaphorical meaning. I want the viewer to be encouraged to ponder the image and have it impart some value of thought regardless of whether that thought was what I as the artist intended.
These are thoughts from notes I write to myself from time to time. They represent my overall view of life and what I do.
#1It’s about insecurity and confidence at the same time. The confidence comes in the isolation of the studio, knowing how to make an image the way I imagine I want it to be. The insecurity comes with trying to put what I do in the context of it’s relevance outside of my sanctum. Does it mean anything in the world at large or the art world realm where we try to make our professional way as artists? Does it connect? Why keep doing it if it doesn’t?
#2 Try and create singular and unique story telling, not illustrations of the famous or the currently topical newsie subject matter. That’s what makes for a powerful, timeless, and important narrative. There is a narrative tightrope to be walked. With less common storylines that connect collective understanding, it is more difficult now to find easily recognizable imagery that carries metaphorical power that most people would understand with out becoming hokey or glib.
#3 - It’s about randomness and our inability to control that randomness. Things happen, anything can happen and we want somehow to control it. But in the end we really can’t. The tightness of the way I work seems a futile attempt to exert that control.
#4 - Art needs to have meaning, to be done as if it’s existence can change the world. A lot of art gets too caught up in the weeds of “art for arts sake”, art about art, and art lingo/jargon. I don’t know much about that other than the endeavor of making art at it’s core should be pure. When it’s done with that motive it takes the artist as he/she is making it and subsequently the viewer, to somewhere new and exhilarating.
In answer to a question in an interview I did - What do you like/dislike about the art world?
I love when I see art that is truly transformative, that is true, and that takes you to a place you’ve never been before. However when the mercenary business aspect and false hype that accompanies and infuses the art world is applied I find it very distasteful. On the one hand art is indispensable because it can bring joy, expand the senses and the mind, and give us something that truly makes us human. On the other hand when a monetary value must be placed upon it to say what it’s worth in the marketplace it distorts that true value. When it becomes a commodity it’s purity is diminished. I always find it difficult to reconcile those two elements of the art world.
#5 - Fashion is ephemeral, so I never concern myself with what is fashionable, which in the end puts me in and out of fashion depending in what decade my work is being considered. I’ve been doing some version of the same thing for 50 years – narrative as the frame combined with the visual as the draw, the hook.
#6 - At the elemental level of life itself, if you stop and think, everything is essentially something we do to keep ourselves busy between birth and death. The in between is the variable from one person to the next. Are you decent, are you compassionate, do you seek truth and a clear understanding of reality? Those are the questions I ponder to justify my life and what I do with my time.
#7 - What makes us what we are?
#8 - I relate to this quote by Fellini “I put myself at the service of my fantasies.”
#9 - Art should have quality of craft, clarity of purpose, and meaning.