Tell us about yourself, where are you from and what drew you to art?
I was born on the west coast of Canada and raised in a rural area of Vancouver Island. I spent a lot of time outside surrounded by rocky beaches, tidal swamps, dense forests and shallow creeks, and I drew a lot. In kindergarten I was told to stop painting so much and go play house, and I remember, at the age of 5, thinking there must be something wrong with telling a kid to stop painting. I don’t remember painting again until first year of art school, where I fell head-over-heels with painting again.
My late twenties were spent immersed in a group project of young artists led by a philosopher and a painter, both in their sixties. We applied elements of quantum physics, evolution, and non-Euclidean geometry to the fundamentals of visual art, such as pictorial space, colour, and narrative. I then completed a double-major in Philosophy/History in Art, while continuing to paint and exhibit locally, and start a family. Much of my work of the last 15 years (car crashes, strange landscapes) has been a bit of a reaction to the almost over-theoretical work of my younger days, but I do sense a kind of synthesis coming on.
What are the major themes or questions you explore in your art?
My current work doesn’t start with themes, questions or ideas. Or even images in my head, or drawings. In fact, almost everything I’ve done as an artist began when something reached out and grabbed me and wouldn’t let go, and I tend to not know what I’m doing for years at a time. I mean, I have certain beliefs about the world, and what makes good art, but at some point the origin and justification for my work became not ideas, but visual exhilaration (n. a feeling of happiness and excitement combined with a heightened sense of being alive). I love the physical act of painting, and I strive to somehow channel my experience, knowledge and feelings about my part in the world, nature, and the strangeness and wonder of existence, and include it in the act of putting paint down. It’s always in retrospect that I decipher what I have been doing, and once I get a grip on that, I usually move on to something else, often not without a painful transition period. When I asked my 11-year-old son what he thought my answer to your question would be, he said, “life and death.” He pretty much nailed it.
How do you feel your style has developed?
I’ve been through many changes, stylistically and conceptually. I’ve worked meticulously within a curved pictorial space, dabbled in abstraction, and painted realistically from life and photographs. Conceptually, the art school approach was to express your true self, and original art would result. Later, I was convinced that to make Great Art, the artist must be immersed in the cutting-edge scientific, philosophical, and cultural thinking of the day, and must embed those ideas into his or her method.
Lately, influenced by outsider art, lo-fi folk-punk music and Bukowski’s “don’t try” mantra, I somewhat absurdly try hard not to try too hard, and trust in my process, which is set up to embody some of my stronger beliefs about the world, such as the paradoxical dual-singularity of the universe, its inherent evolutionary randomness, the mystery of why there is anything at all, and the idea that reality is something we make up as we go. So I don’t plan ahead or impose anything, but simply start painting in one area and let the painting evolve organically without reference to source materials, or even conscious memories. I try to remain open and in-the-moment, responding to what is happening in front of me, and continuing to work until the painting feels right.
You have a series called “Rural Disasters”. What made you create this series?
This series came about completely by accident, in response to a found photograph of the aftermath of a car accident. I found it so beautiful that I downloaded it and a few more like it, just to possess them. It took me months to actually paint them, as working realistically from photographs was against what I believed art should be, and it was so utterly different from my current practice. But eventually I couldn’t help myself, and I became obsessed with wading through thousands of such photographs available in the archives of fire department websites. Although taken for documentation and investigation purposes, occasionally a photograph would be so strikingly and accidentally beautiful, that I needed to paint it. I eventually came to realize that it was the intrusion of the camera that was responsible for what I was seeing. Thus the Rural Disasters are literally paintings of photographs, as much as depictions of events. It was the digital image on my screen that I fell in love with, complete with traces of how the camera lights up, distorts and otherwise alters the event, creating a version of the incident so compelling that I was moved to make a version of my own.
Who have been your greatest influences?
The five years in my late twenties that I spent in what was called an “Art Cult” by the local arts and entertainment newspaper was an extremely formative time, and it led into my university studies where I specialized in phenomenology, existentialism, philosophy of art, and art history. My list of favourite artists includes Soutine, Burchfield, Guston, E.J. Hughes, Tom Thompson, Henry Darger, and Emily Carr. I love Medieval art, outsider art, early cubism, and some surrealism. I also gravitate toward serious, ambitious current painters such as Siro Cugosi, Ambera Wellmann, Julius Hofmann, Danica Lundy, Kim Dorland, and Alison Shulnick, and my good friend and great photorealist Neil MacCormick has helped me find my way more than once. I am also indebted to songwriters and musicians in the folk-punk, alt-country, and indie music genres. Artists such as Bill Callahan, the Silver Jews, the Magnetic Fields, Neutral Milk Hotel, Okkervil River, and The Unicorns, along with the great American poet Charles Bukowski, have all been influences over the years. And although I lead a secular life now, I grew up attending Sunday School at a little evangelical church in the woods, and my mothers spirituality has certainly rubbed off on me.
What’s next for you in 2021 and what are you looking forward to?
2021 is going to be great. 2020, with a few months off from work, has kickstarted things for me again, and I feel the momentum building. In January, the exhibition Admirational Invitational continued in Seattle, and I’m excited to be part of Earth Sign, a group show of contemporary landscape painting in San Diego at False Cast, a new contemporary gallery there. As someone who takes art seriously but has been fairly isolated on this island, I feel like my work is just now reaching a larger audience, and along with my fairly enthusiastic Instagram following, I’ve been getting inquiries from collectors and galleries in the US, UK and Europe. I feel like things are really looking up, and my long worked-for transition from full-time cooking to full-time painting seems closer now than ever. This is great timing as I’ve just received the permits to build my beautiful new studio on my property here in Victoria. It will triple my studio space and time, and I intend to utilize it to the fullest; it will allow me to work larger again, which I have done in the past, and the extra time will be a dream come true.
Tell us about your studio, or do you work more plein air?
My current studio is a 10’x12’ space in a building in the light industrial part of Victoria. It’s too small now, but it certainly beats the unheated garages and rat-filled basements I used in the past. My new studio should be ready by summer and will have 12-15 foot ceilings, a polished concrete floor, a storage loft and northern light. My young artist friends and I used to claim that there was an inverse relationship between how nice your studio was and the quality of the art being produced there. But now I say “Fuck it! I’m gonna build myself a nice studio!”
I also paint outside, and from my car, both in daylight and at night. When I paint outdoors it’s kind of all-or-nothing. I paint fast, and hope for the best. I don’t plan anything—I drive or walk around until something makes my heart jump, then I go for it, and finish a painting in one session, almost never touching them up back at the studio. They take between 15 minutes and four hours, and if they don’t have the magic on the spot there’s usually little I can do to fix them.
Finally, if you were able to interview any artist past or present, who would it be and why?
What a great and difficult-to-answer question. I immediately think of artists of the past. Some answers seem too obvious, others I would be too intimidated to talk to! They were all just people though weren’t they? It’s been easier to realize this the longer I am at it, but the great artists of the past all seemed superhuman to me at one time.
There is an artist working now on the island of Sardinia, Italy, and I don’t know much about him but I feel a certain kinship. His name is Siro Cugusi and he’s one of my favourite artists working today. His work has elements of landscape, still-life, surrealism, abstraction, expressionism and more, and I relate to his ambitious approach and scale of working, and I feel like we may have share some similar influences. I’d like to see his work in person and I sense I could learn a lot by talking to him.