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Friday, January 7, 2011


The work I’m doing today has roots going back to the 70’s with The New Realists, this being a specific movement, it was an offshoot from the reactionary Pop movement of the 60’s. But in effect it was an ongoing part of realism throughout the history of painting and sculpture. Realism in the arts, even today, is frequently used as a collective term describing representational work, work that appears to be representing things, situations or people. But in effect may contain symbolism, magic, idealism, metaphor - most often, in the past with religious implication, in modern times more often reflecting social or political motivations - as embellishments that are more reflective of the intent or commentary of the artist rather than a simple depiction of reality as it exists. 

In earlier periods these embellishments were acceptable for realism as they were opportunities for artists of the day to break free from conventions while maintaining the common intention. Instead of the depiction of royalty or other idealized figures in telling their story, the artist might choose everyday people of more humble origins. Instead of gold and silver, everyday household objects might serve as symbols of intent. But for the most part acceptable paintings were filled with the attempts to depict something other than reality, the representation was merely a conveyance, but objects were used as metaphor for what might in effect be issues of the time the paintings were done. Interesting in an academic point of view relative to their society, but ignorant, or unbothered, by the presence of the common man.

Throughout history various schools of thought maintained the acceptability of painting for the time, but often there were those who broke free from the expected to do work using simple and unadorned figures, scenes, and objects in their painting. Caravaggio, many of the Dutch painters such as Vermeer, Courbet, Degas, Eakins, Millet, Homer, Hopper, Sheeler carry one through history leading up to the reactionary New Realists in the 60’s and early 70's who were breaking free of the convention of Abstract Expressionism that had such a stranglehold on art from the 50’s well into the 70’s. Most every art school in the country offered only abstraction as instruction for young artists.

In this painting by Caravaggio, "The Crucufiction Of Peter", the artist is dealing with a significant story of the time but his depiction includes clothing and other supporting objects that are unadorned, plain people wearing simple clothing, using tools purely for utility. Clearly not the expected glorified imagery of the day, no obvious symbolic objects or metaphor is used to tell the story. 

When I came of age I was in San Francisco and chose to go to art school at San Francisco State College. I happened to walk into the influence of Robert Bechtle and Richard Mclean (image #2). I was unaware of their importance at that moment, but I was seriously taken with  their sense of reality and humor, and by their new take on realism. These guys along with Richard Estes, Duane Hanson (image #3), Robert Graham, John De Andrea, Ralph Goings, Robert Cottingham were the most influential artists working this way at that time.

But Bechtle probably had the most impact on my formative thinking as a young man. His insistence on the slice of time, a moment captured only by a photograph, without outward commentary struck a chord in me. (image #1)

Having grown up in LA, I carried with me a wry sense of humor, being drawn to the sensibilities of Mel Ramos (image #4), Ed Ruscha, Larry Sultan, and others with the offbeat irony as a reaction to the glamour of Hollywood and the media expectation of beauty and value. There was a coldness of course to Bob’s view of the world, it didn’t feel objectionable to me, rather, as Ivan Karp said, it had a calmness and an utter truthfulness to things and people without commentary, without embellishment.

What this did to me was it gave me a validation for my rejection of the value systems of the 50’s and 60’s, particularly Southern California. It taught me to find humor and beauty in places not readily noticed. It made me dig deep for subtlety, and find beauty without obvious ‘classic’ presentation in the arts. Beauty comes from many places, my goal is not to use the overt, the ‘Angelina Jolie’ imagery, or symbolism and extreme subject matter, but rather to draw out beauty from unlikely sources like garden hoses, sidewalks, popsicle sticks, and regular everyday people. This kind of beauty makes me smile, maybe with some irony, but it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside....or something like that. This became my challenge as a student and has stuck with me through the years.

This Mel Ramos painting is an iconic depiction of the significance of the media attention to beauty.

                In the mid 70's I carried on with this point of view. My fascination for my new discovery and soon appreciation for such things as construction sites and all the wonders of these beautiful little details I found. My young suburdan doctors son perspective on life changed, my obsession for things made was awakened. I began a whole series of sculptures and 2D work with my rather unique perspective, on how to make things. I think they call it DIY today...this is a drawing from 1975.

My obsession for exposing things carried me into wonderful adventures and new discoveries, kind of like discovering The New World...this is a watercolor from 1976

Sadly, this purety of thought didn’t last long as a movement. New Realism was overtaken with photorealism which carried the trappings, the look of the New Realists, but unmercifully became a freakfest of copy work, relying on the photograph as the object of desire with technical virtuosity as the challenge. Reflected glass, car bumpers, fruit stands, and glamorous naked bodies over and over again left me feeling nauseated.

And they called it Photorealism.

By the mid 80’s it was so bastardized that I lost interest and spent most of the next 25 years designing and building unusual furniture (my other persona, see my website if you are interested):

But then, there is this hose I have been acquainting myself with lately...

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