Art history, painting from observation, and the construction of a coherent pictorial space are all crucial to my work. I believe that the history of painting—the sum of known painted images—forms a language that is vast, rich, and recyclable. No style, subject-matter, technique, or formal device is obsolete—all are fair game for the contemporary artist. History is the new frontier—only by looking backward can the artist go forward.
I also believe that painting from observation allows artists to commune with something outside themselve — a subject contemplating an object. This belief raises questions that, I think, are central to representational art: Where does the subject or self end and the object or other begin? How much of each is contained in the other? If objects are always perceived through the screen of our desire, then our vision of the world is self-interested, not objective. I do not consider myself a realist. I am an allegorist who paints the collusion between past and present, fiction and fact. I insist on pictorial or illusory space in my work, because I want to create a stage for the shadows that dreams cast upon the world. I want to create a space that the viewer’s imagination can enter and explore—a world in which the mind can wander and linger.
I paint still life because I’m interested in what objects mean and how they mean. Even now, at the beginning of the 21st century, many people interpret still life using formalist clichés nearly a hundred years old. For them, still lifes are formal exercises—aesthetic arrangements of shapes; abstract forms pinned down by the force of gravity. Before the advent of modernism, however, artists used the genre to meditate on philosophic, moral, and political concerns. One need only look back at 17th century vanitas painting—allegorical disquisitions on the fleeting nature of wealth and human existence—to rediscover the kind of profound (and disturbing) content that still life can articulate.
My still lifes reconnect with this allegorical tradition but give it a contemporary twist. Influenced by surrealism and metaphysical painting, they attempt to seek out and dramatize the metaphoric and symbolic meanings of objects, and the relationships between them. The “Elements” and “Body” series, for example, give metaphoric expression to psychological states and explore the relation of the ego to the unconscious, the body, and the world. Often my paintings have autobiographical underpinnings. “After the Hunt,” for instance, was inspired by the loss of several family members.