A fascination with nature
In my living room stands a “beaver chew” with a north-facing view, giving it a shot straight up Prospect Avenue — a long-ago trail for Sauk Indians. On a good day I like to think it can see all the way to Port Washington. The chew has great presence and a distinct personality. The beaver chew is exactly that … a hunk of wood (ash in this case) chewed round by a beaver. This one has a name (“Bonk”).
The artist who used a chisel and sculpting tools to further enhance the surface has a name too — David Niec, a Riverwest chap who divides his time between a cabin in Crivitz and his RW digs.
Examples of your elegant paintings, sometimes seen at Dean Jensen Gallery, were conceived at night in the desert of New Mexico. I want to hear about your experience at an artist’s colony there.
I guess you could call it a residency. I met a couple who live in Albuquerque where they run a gallery known as “The Land/An Art Site,” but they also keep a property in Mountainair under the same name. A former ranch subdivided into 40 acre plots, I’m usually the only artist there. In 2008 I went with the plan of capturing an entire moon cycle worth of paintings.
So these are similar to documentary paintings, with a least one representation of the moon for each night of the cycle?
Yes. In the desert there usually are a lot of clear nights. Over time they were then refined and transformed in my studio, and exhibited in Albuquerque as well as in Milwaukee and Dean Jensen’s Gallery. I hope to do similar projects every year or two.
Prior to that experience, you studied with David Nash in Wales. Isn’t he the devotee of earthworks? (Hey you have the same initials!)
Generally he explores the material of wood, and in May he had a 40-year retrospective (or a “life statement” as he calls it), complete with several new pieces at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. In the 90s I did a residency with him, and we became friends. I re-visited him as a peer in 2000. We both have an interest in trees. A statement in one of his catalogs said, “If I was a painter, I’d paint the moon directly.”
Several years ago Nash bought an old chapel in the decadent slate mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales, where I spent the majority of my time painting in the rain. The town is near the sea so it was often windy and raining, the opposite of the desert.
It’s a regard for and fascination with nature. For example, the beaver chews I found up north fascinated me, and then I began figuring how to show off the fascinating thing. It’s a straightforward idea with some humor involved. The found or observed thing is the impetus, but it always has to go beyond mimicry. I collected several hundred chews, but only a few were assembled into what I felt were compelling statements.
Actually, I was thinking about the Ojibwa’s use of natural materials prior to working on the beaver chews.
You are the excellent opposite of those who paint pretty pictures for pretty walls, which to my eye, are beyond boring. You’ve read Flannery O’Connor? Her sparse sentences remind me of your approach to making art.
I’ve read The Violent Bear it Away and Everything that Rises Must Converge. There always seems to be this tension between generations, races, forces of good and evil. It often climaxes in some event that sticks in my head and puts the conflicts in a different light.