Archives for the month of: September, 2015

Mode Irrealis
Irrealis Mode, acrylic on 30″ x 40″ canvas, 2006

The Strata series consists of horizontal layers and pentimenti (visible traces of the earlier stages of the painting), which are used to represent a priori truths, or what lies beneath experiential knowledge. This series explores consciousness, memory, and the overlapping texts of fear and desire.

With the Strata paintings, I departed from my previous monochrome work, avoiding dominant forms and using color to elicit emotion. Although color field painting is nothing new, it was certainly an unfamiliar practice for me, though a liberating one.

Irrealis Mode (above) was the first in the series. I had just come back from spending time in the Bay Area, and the clarion California light profoundly influenced me. The painting has an oneiric, or dream-like, quality like something yearned for or remembered. The ineffable seems to lurk between the layers, so the title refers to a grammatical mode used to describe the unreal.

Laguna, acrylic on 30″ x 48″ canvas, 2007

The painting above took almost three years to finish. I wanted to create a piece that had both fearsome and beguiling elements. The latter appear as fields of aqua (an unusually complex color in this case, carrying a blush of pink) and sea green. By contrast, electric patches of cadmium orange and ultramarine vibrate and shimmer as you get close. An underlying dark structure emerges–part of the earlier painting–representing the limits of mortality, an underworld, or an unresolved trauma.

Sea Change
Sea Change, acrylic on 30″ x 48″ canvas, 2006

Unlike Laguna, this piece took less than an hour to complete and is very minimal. It uses only three colors, and nearly a third of the painting is raw canvas. By sheer luck, a few dribbles of paint appeared in just the right places, so I let them travel down. When creating Sea Change, I was thinking of the color of the sky before a storm–that ominous but captivating shade of yellowish gray–and the uncertain psychological climate around major changes.

Here are a few smaller pieces in the series.

Untitled, acrylic on 8″ x 12″ canvas, 2010

Small strata
Untitled, acrylic on 5″ x 7″ canvas, 2006

I find that abstraction enables a more mutable vocabulary than figurative art, and is more apt to reveal subconscious processes. Although modern art is often all about the surface, there is a lot more beneath, through more readings than one.

These days I’ve been developing a new body of work around race, but I plan to return to the Strata series. In the meantime, it waits for me like an alluring memory or an unfinished dream.

You can see more of my paintings at:

Tattoo 3
None of these tattoos are real

When I was 16, I cut class and went to meet a local tattoo artist at a nearby McDonald’s. My plan was to drop out of high school and get apprenticed under him, so I took along some of my best pen-and-ink drawings. The guy turned out to be this sunburnt dude with a bleached-yellow mullet in a teeshirt that promoted drunk surfing in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. He spoke with a hillbilly accent and was the color of ham and eggs. I noticed a pastiche of bad tattoos on his left arm: wizards, skulls vomiting out other skulls, and the occasional lopsided guitar. He proudly pointed at them and told me he’d had lots of practice tattooing.

When I asked the guy what he was working on these days, he described an elaborate bower of roses winding up from his right knee and arching over his groin. Then he stood up, unzipped his pants, and said, “Here, you wanna see it?” I got the hell out of that McDonald’s, but not before shelving my tattooing dreams right then and there.

It was a pity because I’d already had lots of practice drawing badass shit on people. As a high school freshman, I brought a steel-gray magic marker to school every day and inscribed king cobras and cracked skulls on the punks and heavy metal kids. I hit the big time a year later, when I was asked to give someone a tattoo using a homemade gun made out of a spoon, a guitar string, and a needle, powered by an electric train track. (I ducked out because the gun was rickety and had a reputation of getting “a little too close” to the bloodstream.) In the meantime, I always gave myself Sharpie tattoos as preparation for the real thing.

Tattoo 2
Me at 16 with my homemade tiger tattoo

So you would expect me at this point, decades later, to be covered head to toe with tattoos, right? Well, I’m one of the few people walking around without a single one. When asked why, I’ve always said there was nothing—no image or text—I could commit to wearing full time on my body. But the other day, I was surprised to find out the real reason why.

It all started when a coworker wanted to throw a punk-themed party at my workplace. I was brought in as a “consultant,” or a punk SME (subject matter expert), having spent 25 years in the scene. A few weeks later, the office’s main conference room was transformed into the grungy cavern of the now-defunct NYC nightclub CBGB. With trash on the floor and loud ’70s punk rock on the sound system, it looked and felt surprisingly authentic, not like a lame mockery of the counterculture.

For the party, I donned a tank top constructed out of two Plasmatics backpieces strung together with safety pins, along with an old Crass patch and the DIY jewelry I’d worn as a punk in high school. Of course, I had to add some tattoos in permanent marker. Here’s what it looked like.

Tat sdetail 1
On my right arm, tattoos done by me: the international squatters symbol; skull with spiderweb, rope, booze bottle, and nails; a bloody razor blade with “City Baby” (GBH reference) on it; a kitchen knife with “Punks Not Dead” (Exploited reference); two snakes (one not pictured); and a sprig of dying roses

Tats detail 2 

On my left arm, tattoos done by friends: a psycho skull, lightning bolts, a snake, and a “DC Hardcore” symbol (not pictured)

I drew some spider webs, skulls, dangerous weapons, and the international squatters symbol, which resonated with my anarchist beliefs. I included references to some of my favorite punk bands and added “ACAB” (All Cops Are Bastards) on the knuckles on my right hand. A friend later wrote “BIAS” on my left knuckles as a joke.

The fake tats didn’t make me feel like a poser, but they did make me unrecognizable to myself, like “Whoa, whose arm is that, and why are they cutting my tomato?” As I got used to having them, I began to feel confined, as if the tattoos defined me a little too much. They seemed to set people’s expectations and subconsciously set mine too. I understood why people get tattooed, because these permanent emblems can reinforce one’s identity. But in my case, they were restrictive, as if I could be nobody else except what these tattoos required me to be. I felt self-contradictory listening to anything but punk rock and surprisingly out of place when I went to see my friend’s ’60s mod band play that night.

I also noticed my behavior becoming more jaded, cynical, and a little more regressive (yes, even more than it already is!). It was hard to stay professional at work when my tats reminded me that what I really wanted to do was down PBRs and listen to seven-inches all day. Plus, no matter what I wore, my arms and knuckles gave the outfit a certain slant, which wasn’t always what I wanted.

The Sharpie tats lasted a few days, and they made me realize how much I need to be free and unfettered. Markings that defined me also constricted me; without them, I could continue to be mercurial, endlessly transforming myself, even while staying true to who I am. Ultimately, the whole experience made me realize that I don’t need to wear tangible reminders of my past or interests on myself. They are all in me, behind my eyes, under my skin, and in the bloodstream that continuously leads to my heart.


The final result, pictured with my buddy Dionne, the other punk SME and artist of the psycho skull above