I believe my mentor, Jan Cox, turned me on to THE PAINTER’S SECRET GEOMETRYby Charles Bouleau in the 1970s when I showed him underlying geometries that I had found and drawn into my own work or if It is something I found after reading about the Golden Ratio. I don’t think it matters; what matters is what we can see under the surface.
While at the SMFA I did use underlying geometry as the entry into an artwork. What I have found is that working in that direction is not necessary and the analyses post facto show the same hidden beauties. I no longer start with such artifice. I pick up a piece of large will charcoal, make a rough sketch, and start painting.
A previous body of work really put me out there on the street.
New Yorkers are not known for their reticence; therefore, I found myself interacting often with people while painting. I believe that I live in the most fascinating city in America—I can’t imagine living anywhere else. New York makes me high: this New York where I find there to be a wealth of intelligent people, intelligent conversation, and utter wackos, all of whom offer interaction and entertainment in their own unique way. I have made quite a few oil paintings of that lovely, dirty, gritty New York City full of buttinskis.
If you think about it, being lonely and isolated is a choice—or perhaps a matter of temperament. It’s not in my nature to be solitary and reclusive. The insanity of isolation makes painting an odd career choice for a guy like me. Then again, if being an artist is a career choice, you are fucking doing it wrong . . .
I saw the play RED on Broadway. Incredibly it was real and important theater. This is how Rothko often worked.
Too Much Traffic on 44th Street During Theater Hour
And where may I take you? Self-portrait 1985
It’s 7:45 PM and 44th Street looks like a damn parking lot. There’s no money in sitting still, and sitting still empty is burning cash with the gas. I’m about three hours out of the garage—down two joints of Hawaiian and half a quart of tequila into my long, long night. Patience is a girl’s name, and if I could get a blond shiksa blowjob from Patience while I’m idling here, I might just idle away the time. Patience of the mental sort, however, and early evening drugs and booze don’t mix.
Fuck it! I’m driving my regular cab, my favorite of all time: a Massachusetts State Police chaser that someone neglected to turn street-legal. Five-speed overdrive transmission, racing frame and shocks, a top-end [KB1][JH2] north of 130 mph, and acceleration that could blow you back in your seat like a dragster on nitrous. Time to send the world to my very own Hell.
I jam my left hand on the horn and spin the wheel to the right. I stomp on the accelerator and the car leaps onto the south sidewalk of 44th Street, gathering speed like the Apollo mission trying to leave Earth behind. People are terrified, diving into the air left and right to get out of the way of this obvious fucking MADMAN. I get to the end of the block, still on the sidewalk, and blast onto 8th, against the light, turning uptown in a beautiful four-wheel drift.
A siren blares behind me – sounds like it’s in the damn car, and when I look in the mirror, there’s another cab behind me. This one someone neglected to actually turn into a cab. Three very big detectives burst out of the car and approach me—really quickly and quite carelessly considering they’re in the middle of a traffic stop with a lunatic. One cop rips open my passenger door and starts searching the front seat; another does the same for the back seat. The third stomps up to where I’m sitting.
I politely roll down my window. “Yes, Officer?” I say in my best beta-dog voice. “WHAT WERE YOU FUCKING THINKING?” he screams at me. “Well, in retrospect,” I say, “it no longer seems like such a good idea.”
“Get the fuck out of the car,” says my personal detective. Which I do with that special care that drunks take to project normality. He starts to pat me down and seconds later finds the dime bag from the bodega at 14th and 3rd.
“What the fuck is this?”
“Pot, sir,” I say, as he proceeds to shove it deep back into my pocket.
“Get the fuck out of here,” he says. I stutter that I’ll just go home. “Fuck it,” he says, “go back to work, you need the money.” And they get in their unmarked and cruise into the night.
The tenth card in the 22 Major Trumps of the Tarot deck is The Wheel of Fortune. All the Major Arcana are crucial when using Tarot cards as a source for synchronistic understanding to gain insight into one’s current place in the Journey of Enlightenment.
However, The Wheel of Fortune is an apt symbol for the randomly divine unfolding of many of life’s events; it means Change, bringing with it positive or negative interpretations, depending on the other cards dealt in the same spread. I have often thought of this card, and the others, as guides to understanding my own life’s tumultuous course since I first became interested in Tarot back in the 70’s.
After nursing my wife on her 10-year progression to death from cancer in 2008, being diagnosed with lymphoma in 2010, and, most recently, experiencing my brother’s death at 57, all the while caring for my mother, steadily dying at 96, I couldn’t help but ponder how I came to be where I am. The Major Arcana kept appearing in my sketchbooks, and once again I became a student of these mystical cards.
In late 2012, I learned that my disease had transformed into a deadly form; I needed chemotherapy. While undergoing such treatment, children are often told to imagine their body engaging in an internal battle against the cancer with white blood cells armed with swords and explosives to obliterate tumors. In December of 2012 I found myself engaging in the same violent visualizations – literally seeing my white blood cells transformed into demons attacking my own tumor with sharp teeth and claws.
I spoke to a friend who advised me against this method, explaining that the tumor was a part of me and if someone was coming at me dead set on my destruction, in self-defense I would do my best to kill the other first. If fighting fire with fire was not the answer to remission, I wasn’t sure what was. My friend suggested I ask the tumor what it had to tell me, so I could understand it, and it could leave. I did.
Shortly thereafter I drew a self-portrait. In my drawing I was pictured from the collarbone up with my tumor prominent in my neck. From the tumor I drew lines radiating outwards and spiraling around my neck. I continued to draw that tumor and its rays throughout the course of the next week. It evolved through subsequent from a ganglia-like shape to a mandala-esque manifestation with eight protruding spokes and swirling shapes within. I recognized the shape as a Sephira (Hebrew for Emanation), a nexus in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Some Hermetic Schools of thought believe the Tarot and Sephiroth embody a unified path to Enlightenment.
Tarot is key to understanding Ein Sof (the Infinite) as it materializes through metaphysical paths to form our material universe. For my tumor to repeatedly manifest itself to me as Sephiroth was a revelation, a sign to paint these two interlocking series and to thereby re-engage in the self-discovery and enlightenment that had drawn me to them in the 1970’s.