An Unapologetically Long and Illustrated Artist's Statement: What Is My Painting All About?  What is My Process?


My painting is about many things, addressed in distinct series of paintings, like the new marsh landscape series that I wrote about last week.  But artists are often asked to write a short "Artist's Statement" that somehow explains the global intention of all of our works, in 500 words or less.   A tall order! 

When forced to submit such a statement, I often end up with something like this:  "I am an intuitive abstract painter. Though I work in part from close observation of nature, memory and invention are equal players, as are my materials and process.  I orchestrate and combine all of these things in the act of producing a painting. As for content, I am interested in the power of place -- specifically, places important to me like my hometown in south Alabama and more recently the low country marshes and beaches near Charleston, SC, where I spend a great deal of time exploring that storied landscape.  Over the years, I have developed my own  visual language, used to convey the experience of being in places that hold special power in my life." 

Because that is clear as mud for those who do not happen to spend their lives painting, I don't particularly like it.  It is much easier to explain what I am talking about in relation to specific paintings. So let me try that here.   I do apologize for exceeding 500 words, but this is my blog and my chance to do this at greater length, with some "show-and-tell" visuals to assist. 

Here is a recent painting that I did, part of a series of ocean scapes I call "Beside the Sea." The whole series can be seen on my web site.  


This painting is based on my memory of a late afternoon walk on the beach at Kiawah Island, SC. That day I was struck by the unusual, lavender color of the strip of sky sitting between the horizon and a thick cloud cover. I also noticed the intense turquoise color on the surface of the water -- again, unusual in those waters.

I never paint on site, so this painting was done back in my studio, referencing only my memory of what I had seen during my walk on the beach.  It is not meant to depict realistically what I remember seeing.  It is meant to make visible my experience of that walk on the beach.  While what I saw is important in this painting, it is no more important than how the wind felt that day, the noises the birds were making overhead, the thoughts that popped into my head as I walked, or what was happening on the surface of the painting as I worked in the studio.  

This painting went through a dozen or so painting sessions, transforming radically from session to session, with no plan or foresight as to how things were going to wind up - - just adherence to a process of responding to memory, intuition and the behavior of the paint as it went down, losing imagery and finding it again, over and over.  This is what I mean by intuitive, process-based painting.  

The painting was resolved at the end of a long session during which I applied a great deal of dark blue in the water area to see how that would affect things.  I then had a sudden urge to scrape into that fresh paint with a squeegee.  This move readily revealed wedges of the dryer turquoise paint beneath the dark blue, resulting in surprising effects of the paint that perfectly captured my memory of the turquoise glints of water I had seen during my walk. So the unexpected contribution of my materials played a starring role in this painting, through the kind of happy accident I love.

Although my content varies from series to series, the above-described process remains a constant bedrock.  In an earlier series called "Going Home," I explored the experience of returning to my hometown in Alabama.  I wanted to express the mixed tangle of emotions and memories these visits churn up -- to capture the ambience of that place, experienced in the present but infused with many  faded memories of times past.  But how to accomplish that visually, in a physical painting?  

On my walks around town, I found that the small abandoned houses I passed were mesmerizing.  I began to realize that they might be a visual motif I could take into my studio -- motifs that carry content, symbols that reference all the feelings I have about returning home, new components of my visual language.   

I took  photos of the houses that most affected me.  Back in my studio, I drew these, and then I painted them.  Here is one of my favorites.

Though I knew nothing of the history of the house that inspired this painting, its desolate look summoned memories of a tragic occurrence at the home of a  childhood friend -- the kind of tragedy that becomes known all over town and gets embedded in a young child's mind.  Most of my memories of home are not this sad, but some are.  I want to give voice to those. This little house showed me a way to do that.

Although the layout of the house's facade is true to the photo of it, there is little resemblance beyond that basic framework.  Again, I am not interested in depicting this house accurately.  I  want to make visible the memories and feelings it summons in me.

This painting was resolved at the end of a long session. Exhausted and a bit frustrated by a seeming lack of progress, I was about to call it a day, when Emmylou Harris's song "Red Dirt Girl" came up on my Spotify playlist. This is a song about a young woman in a small southern town, who had a sad life and a sad death.  As that song played, I had an impulse to add red paint onto the surface of the painting. These intuitive red strokes resolved the whole thing. 

That last response to the surface of the painting -- inspired by the music that happened to start playing in the studio at that moment --  is the kind of moment I wait for.  It is what I mean when I say that a painting is best when it emerges on its own, as I merely orchestrate all the necessary co-equal players (observation, intuition, impulse, imagination, materials and happy accident).  In the case of this painting, that moment of resolution felt so strong and so magical that I gave it the title "Conjured House."

"Conjured House" is available.  It is 30" x 36," oil on canvas, $2,000.  Email me if interested:  "Late Afternoon Sea" is 30" x 30," oil on canvas, $1,800.  It will be available in September 2023.  Email me if interested: