Coming Full Circle as an Artist
The prophetic last words out of the assistant president's mouth at the art school I attended were: "Learn a good trade." And so, as fate would have it, I have made a living and raised a family by paying the bills as a wood-floor refinisher. This has been a good thing, and there has been much delight in seeing the reactions of customers to a beautiful wood floor. What most of my customers are surprised to find out is that I am a fine artist as well. I was asked to write about my work, and so I will tell you about my life because, as you will see, they cannot be separated.
I remember certain moments of my childhood in Burlington, Vermont, as glimpses of clarity that will never be lost. One of these was in the second grade. I found myself trying to draw a tree outside the window of the parochial school I was attending. It was my first realization that I was different from the other children: I was unsatisfied with reality as it was being presented; I was an artist.
In high school the art room was my home, my sanctuary, and those of us in it went so far as to refer to our instructor as "Ma." There I was introduced to some of the artists whose works play into my frame of reference to this day. It was there that I came to love Paul Cézanne's work and where I saw the power of his direct observation. I also saw the work of a contemporary artist by the name of Wolf Kahn, and I was amazed by his use of color.
I decided to attend the Portland School of Art (now the Maine College of Art) to study painting in 1979. Bill Collins was my first instructor of painting there. He made the class paint from direct observation with a palette knife. His idea was to teach his students to form a parallel world of "completeness" on the canvas corresponding to the stimulus of the objects in a box in front of them. This was based on his concept of what Cézanne was trying to accomplish in his paintings 75 years earlier. He had gone so far as to travel to Aix en Provence, France to paint from the same landscapes as the master.
There is no doubt about the quality of the instruction I received while at Portland. My junior-year instructor, Ed Douglas, was a graduate student of Richard Diebenkorn, and my senior-year instructor, Johnnie Ross, was a student of Joseph Albers at Yale. High-powered and intimidating painters. They have allowed me avenues of expression that I may not have come upon on my own. Yet it is the first simple rules of putting it together from direct observation that have held me in my work.
After graduation in 1983, I travelled with my wife, Sarah Page, around the country for several years. We decided it was time to come home to Vermont, and Brattleboro was where we landed. Through the years I worked hard to keep myself in the art spirit while running a business and raising two daughters with Sarah. Things were about to change.
In the spring of 2003, I exhibited some photographs -- from a trip we made to Italy -- at the annual Art in the Barn fundraiser for the Windham County Humane Society. I decided to show just one painting along with the photographs. On the evening of the show, Wolf Kahn and his wife, Emily Mason, also a renowned painter, came through to see the work created by many participating artists. Wolf saw my painting and announced that it was "a good painting." That alone was enough to lift my sails, but then he went on to ask if I had been to the Vermont Studio Center. When I replied that I hadn't, he asked me if I would like to. Wolf Kahn was offering me a fellowship for a month-long residency at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson . . . my feet would not touch the ground for two days!
I have been on three residencies in Johnson to date, and this experience has allowed me an unparalleled opportunity to grow as an artist. The time spent there has shown me what other artists from all walks of life are involved in with their work. (Fifty artists and writers attend every month along with four visiting artists and two visiting writers.) I would encourage anyone who needs some time to develop their ideas about art or writing to submit an application. They're online at www.vermontstudiocenter.org.
I cannot speak to the high concepts of art. I only know that my art has begun to come full circle.
Copyright 2006, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont