It’s easier to admire your shoes when you hold them in your hands.
It’s hard to be a hero when you trip over your Helmut Langs.
It’s hard to be a rock star when you’re not in a band.
It’s hard to be the avenger when you see only mirrors on the other end.
For the past seven years I have been making paintings of rodeo bulls and bull riding that contain elements, mostly abstract, culled from my own varied history as an artist. I am not trying to present a contest of styles in these works, but instead, to focus my attention on an exploration of painting language. These elements function as interventions that shift and modify the perception of the bull and of the entire painting. They can interrupt or support the bull and its space, but always provide an alternate and combined conceptual space in which to understand the paintings, and, I hope, offer a more complex consciousness of experience. More recently, I have replaced the geometric elements with color and surface environments.
About three years ago, I decided to eliminate the riders from my paintings. I felt that their inclusion overly specified the associations of my paintings and interfered with my intention. The bulls seemed to be more than enough to interact with the other elements in the paintings, and it also felt to me that without the spectacle of the ride, they could elicit a sense of empathy and vulnerability in addition to their ferocity. Without the rider, I was able to identify with the bull and its relationship to its unlikely surroundings. In many of these paintings, the bull seems to me to be trapped in a failed attempt at an escape from modernism and the world of painting. In fleeing from the geometry, for example, it runs into a corner of the painting, and has nowhere to go. Its fate is to become just another compositional element in a painting. This story line brings into focus my own view of the difficulties in the relationship between all subject matter and the aestheticized language of painting.
During the past two years I have shifted to using my hands, rather than brushes to apply paint. This process feels liberating to me, and has enabled me to intensify my physical immersion in the act of painting. It recalls a much earlier group of abstract paintings that occupied me for seven years, which I also painted entirely with my hands.
My history as an artist has included: large paintings of Italian Baroque church interiors, 1969-1977; a series of self-portrait photographs taken intermittently for several years in which I acted out improvised personal dramas in a subterranean funeral chapel in Rome designed by Borromini, 1971-1974; experiments I conducted in which I blindfolded myself at night and crawled through my entire loft, attempting to navigate and criss-cross the space, then locating strategically placed sheets of drawing paper and black oil pastels, and attempting to retrace the path I had taken, while still blindfolded, 1976; large abstract paintings and pastel drawings made during a 15 year period, at first inspired by Baroque architecture and my nighttime crawling experiments, and subsequently, large-scale, eccentrically shaped paintings influenced by constructivist forms as well as Baroque architecture,1976-1991; large computer based word paintings, with symbols and images, that focused on an exploration of my outside status in relation to my subject as a Jewish person from Queens obsessed with Italian Baroque church architecture, 1991-1994; a series of paintings thatfocused on the responsibilities of parenthood, in which I dressed as a doctor with dozens of stethoscopes, interacting with my children, titled “The Artist as Good Provider”, 1994-1997; a series of portraits of one of my sons, who is a musician, dressed in eccentric rock and roll outfits, weighed down by numerous electric guitars and other paraphernalia (part of the “Artist as Good Provider” series), 1998-2001; a group of large self-portraits in which I was dressed in spandex outfits attempting to perform various athletic acts such as bowling or climbing a gym rope (a self-mocking critique of my experience of aging, and trying to look cool in the process), 2002-2007; a series of paintings of a Korean Buddhist monk I became friendly with, easily climbing the same rope, 2007-2008; and finally rodeo bull riding. When I began the paintings of bull riding in 2009, I saw them as meditations on mortality, unstoppable natural forces, vanity, virtuosity, both faux and real, and posing, connected in a number of critical ways to my rope climbing self-portraits.
My path as an artist has been guided by life experiences, my own personality and my sense of what is appropriate and interesting to me to express in my work at any given time. I have always felt the freedom and imperative to do that. I have worked sequentially in different styles. There has been continuous feedback within my own history as an artist, and I have always seen the different components of that history as parts of a larger, overlapping, more complex narrative. There has always been a hybrid component to my paintings. I understand that art styles represent worldviews, but I also believe that ideas, experiences and sensibilities are not bound to any one style. I have always acted from this assumption. My sensibility as an artist has been a constant in everything I have done. My goal as an artist has been to synthesize my art interests and my understanding of how I exist in the world, and to apply them to my efforts to create a generous and inclusive visual language.