I still keep a few announcements in a cigar box in our office. They remind me of the last time that I had fully committed to having a gallery show. The paintings were almost abstract although with a depth that suggested fantastical landscapes. What bothered me at the opening reception was how many people wanted me to explain what the pieces meant. If I had to speak at length then why hadn’t I just written my thoughts out instead? That occasion had a lot to do with my pursuit of fiction. Words, I decided, were more effective than images. My work has always straddled the line between the two. In high school, I won an essay contest (“What America Means To Me”, sponsored by the Cameron Park, California Rotary Club). At American River Community College, an English professor urged me to major in his subject instead of art (after reading my paper on Lolita where I had compared America to the supposedly naïve teenager from the story by citing the roadside culture from the book). In my senior exhibit at U.C. Davis, more people were drawn to my artist’s statement than my paintings (including the faculty member whose studio classes I had taken the most; he said, “Man, you can really write!”). If I still had any doubts about which direction to follow, I received another sign a few months after the date listed on the postcard in our office.
It was Spring of the year 2000 when I hung the same series in a corridor at the beautiful new alumni center at the university. There were picture rails that required the use of wires attached to hooks higher up to avoid hammering nail holes into the walls. Of course, I suspended my heavy pieces with strands of fishing line instead of something stronger. They broke. Within a week, four or five of my paintings had fallen to the floor. The frames were smashed. Whether it was a message from the universe or an act of self-sabotage, I lugged my ruined carpentry home in disgrace. Almost twenty-one years later, though, I see that episode as a clue. When I look at the tattered announcement on which a good example of my style at the time is reproduced, what’s striking is the title (and also those of the body of work as a whole).
Despite the vague depictions of otherworldly scenes, I had chosen lines from The Odyssey to identify each. I might have already considered my work illustration, not fine art. More recently, I came across the original, hand-written rough draft of a sheet of details for the show:
The book and line numbers were enumerated, also. A few more options spilled onto another page. I especially enjoy the misspelling of Hue in “Every Hugh Would Hang There Ripening” as if it referred to a bunch guys with that name instead of colors.
Others are equally cumbersome — “This Present Dark and One Day’s Ebb” (now, “Day’s Ebb”) and “As The Sunwarmed Earth Is Longed For” (now, “The Sunwarmed Earth”) — yet also literary (the notes below are an already edited version). Displayed on placards, the random quotations read like captions across a printed page. At some point, however, they became even more abbreviated, which is how they appear in the gallery here. Lengthy phrases were pared to one-, two- or three-word combinations. Now, I feel like the compositions can speak for themselves without Homer’s intrusive input. Why, though, would I shorten them? Novel-length creations, where every sketch is assigned an entire chapter of its own, have occupied me ever since. Maybe I needed the words and the images, both, to be my own.