< frequently asked questions >


or  Everything You've Always Wanted To Know About My Artwork But Were Afraid To Ask

Over the years I have been asked many questions about my work, below is my attempt to answer some of them.

autobiography | dreams | surrealism | symbols | process | materials | subjects | 
stuckism | stories | style | inspiration | time travel | influences | other


Q     Are the pictures autobiographical? How much of your own personal experiences are represented in your work? How much of yourself is in the paintings? Are you exploring your past? If not, where do your ideas come from? 

A     Although I do not depict real-life scenarios, I do use portraits of people I  know and sometimes my own mirror reflection as references. Also, when I invent a figure from my imagination, she tends to look a bit like me.

The locations in my pictures are made up from bits of real places I have been, using props like my own furniture and stuff around the house. The scenes I paint are fictional but assembled from things that are real. And pieces of New York City tend to crop up quite a bit. The streets I walk on every day and the view out my window have always been part of the world that gets translated into paint.

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Q     Your work and images seem very dreamlike or influenced by dreams. Do your pictures come from dreams? Does your painting ever affect your dreams? Do you dream of what you are going to paint [not the same as painting what you dream]?

A     I do not have a dream and then paint that dream, and so far have never prophetically seen a future painting in a dream. However, when I am working on a picture, it will sometimes wind up in one of my dreams, just like anything from my day might wind up in a dream.

Q     Most of your pictures have a dreamlike quality... Is this because you are actually inspired by real dreams?

A     My work is more the result of day-dreams than the kind I have while sleeping.

Q     Does the psychology of dreams play a part in your work, the theories of Carl Jung, for example? If so, are these your dreams or reflections of the dreams of others? Where in your mind do the images come from? 

A     Jung wrote about how the things that appear in dreams are disguised so we can't recognize them, an idea that has great appeal for me, and about what he called the collective unconscious, a common inner experience shared by all humans, which he felt had a creative capacity.

When I make pictures it feels like I'm sticking my hand into my skull and dipping into my own personal well of forgotten thoughts and memories. The fact that my work appeals to other people suggests that perhaps I'm also accessing a collected pool of inherited, accumulated, and forgotten material.

Q     Do you feel as if there is a fine line between the dream world and the real world?

A     Although I freely admit to being a day-dreamer, I'm pretty sure I have a firm grip on the difference between the two. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. I make no secret out of which I prefer. Loudon Wainwright III said it best in a song, "in dreams I can fly; in dreams I don't die."

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Q     Is your work surrealist because that's what you like, or because you feel most articulate visually using surrealist, dream-like imagery? What school of artistic thought do you identify most with and why? Does your art reflect a particular style?

A     The Surrealists were a group of artists in the early part of the 20th century, started in 1920s Paris by poets, writers, and philosophers, later including film-makers, sculptors, and painters. They were fascinated by Freud and his investigation into the symbolic nature of dreams.

Freud studied dreams in order to untangle their messages and learn about his patients. The Surrealists studied dreams and depicted them in order to set free their imaginations, and to provoke the art-viewing public into self-discovery of hidden, personal mysteries, which would liberate them from moral restraints. Surrealism was first and foremost a social revolutionary movement through art.

I very much admire the work of Remedios Varo, Frida Kahlo, and Leonora Carrington, three female painters who lived in Mexico and were connected with the Surrealists. I am certainly influenced by the work of this group and have developed some of my own working methods partly because of them.

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Q     Is the imagery in your paintings as symbolic as it appears? Do you mean the images to represent something and how do you decide what items to use? To what extent is symbolism a factor in your work? Is there a deliberate use of symbolism in your pictures, and if so, what the heck does it all mean?

A     I'm not using any specific system or set of symbols. Sometimes I borrow imagery that is symbolic in its original context, but in my painting is used as itself and nothing more (as far as I am aware).

I choose the things in my pictures by collecting images from my own photographs and sketches, and arranging them together until they look right. Like B.B. King said, "I bend the string until it sounds good."

This method is a bit like a word-association game, or something the Surrealists might have used to trigger thought directly from the subconscious, without being controlled by active reason. The results are unexpected and very interesting to me. Since I'm shuffling actual elements from my life and imagination, it feels like I'm pulling something out of my head that was buried and hiding. There may be things in my pictures that turn out to be stand-ins for something else; but sometimes, ahem, a cigar is just a cigar.

Q     Your paintings appear to be full of symbols and seem to tell stories, what is this story and is it a common thread running though all your work?

A     The common thread is it's all stuff I see and experience filtered through my head. Often I work on pictures in groups, so my state of mind at that particular time may give them a connected look and they become a series. Also there are certain types of images I like that I will use in more than one picture. Seeing my work all together may give the impression of a thread, but it is not done consciously.

Q     How do people respond to the symbolism in your images? Do they add their own meaning or feel the need for you to explain them?

A     I think most people must supply their own interpretations because only a few ask directly, and that is the way I like art to be experienced. I have difficultly describing in words the scenes in my pictures anyway; if I could, I wouldn't have any need to paint it.

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Q     Where & how do you get your ideas, what's your method for getting from mind to canvas? Do you see a picture flash in your head and decide to paint it, or do you have an idea first and then develop visuals to represent it? What sort of reference do you use and how do you determine the composition?

A     The ideas for my paintings arrive with some assembly required. First I have to identify the component parts. It's like I'm playing with a dolls house, arranging characters in a setting and making up stories about them. Only it's my house and my street, and the characters are real people, or mostly real.

Moving cut-outs around sparks ideas for me so I make collages with photographs and sketches, sometimes rearranging elements on my computer. I often start painting with white on a dark canvas & the images emerge from darkness the same way they do in a dream. I also always listen to music, particularly soundtracks from spaghetti westerns.

Q     It seems you think about compositions, and that you look at art, or use the past as a tradition out of which to grow. Is that true?

A     Definitely. I look at art from all periods to learn the best way to build a picture. Cinematography in movies is also a place to see good ways to guide the eye from one thing to another.

Q     How has your working process evolved from printmaking to painting to tattooing?

A     Different mediums force me to work in different ways. Painting is a solitary activity; tattooing is an experience with another person. Charcoal is dry, paint is wet, each need to be handled in its own way. Paper and canvas don't move or bleed, although sometimes it feels like they do.

Q     What emotions cause you to make your paintings? Can you describe your creative process in terms of your feelings?

A     When I make pictures I forget my emotions entirely and get lost in the picture-making process. If I feel anything at all, it's that I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. Time stops. It's sort of like I'm standing to one side, and watching myself put this thing together from across the room. Basically I disappear for awhile, and when I come back, there's a picture on my easel.

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Q     What medium do you work in and why? What kind of materials are you using? What is it that leads some ideas to become paintings vs. some other other media?

A     Each medium presents it's own technical challenges and teaches me different things, each informs the other.

My paintings are oil on canvas. I love the buttery texture of oil paint, the fact that it doesn't dry right away, and its capability to be either opaque or transparent. I'm not really sure why exactly some images become paintings while others are drawings or prints or whatever; at a certain point each thing I make dictates its own next step and I follow along with it.

Q     Can you describe your art indicating your use of color, shapes, textures, and size? What does it look like?

A     The colors I tend to use are muted and earthy, with occasional saturated, bright ones. My favorites are found in Byzantine icons and stained glass windows, like deep-sea gray-blues and dark earth reds.

The largest picture I've ever made is 4 by 7 feet, the smallest 4 x 6 inches. A lot of my paintings are around the 2–3 feet mark on the longest side.

I love to paint with layered colors and transparent glazes, and how it looks scraped away to reveal the part underneath. My black & white work in drawings and prints tends to show the texture of the materials more up front. Texture is also a big part of my painting work but in a less obvious way (and show less in reproductions like here on this website) because of the color.

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Q     What themes or subjects do you explore or are you fascinated by, and why? When you paint do you use images "from life," or entirely from your imagination, or is it a combination of both? What subjects do you enjoy painting?

A     I don't consciously pursue any particular theme, and since the imagery's real origins are somewhat mysterious, it may not be possible for me to decipher that kind of meaning until many years after a picture is made, if at all.

My subjects are New York City and the people and places I know in it, including the fantasy life I carry around in my head. Lots of people in New York City have elaborate fantasy lives and some wear them on the outside. I mix up real things in my head before putting them on canvas, so the truth is stretched, sometimes quite a bit. New York City itself throws interesting oddballs in my path every day.


Q     Where does your art fit into (or relate to) your awareness of other contemporary work? Can you place yourself with some area of art history or "movements"?

A     "Stuckism" came about when a critical mass of artists were finding they weren't fitting in with the majority of what was being shown in contemporary galleries and museums.

Art world fashion of recent decades has been predominantly for a conceptual type of work where the crafting & making of something is less important than the idea, resulting in installations of breakfast cereal or the actual contents of someone's bedroom on a gallery floor, explained by a sheet of text. This is not my cup of tea.

Artists don't choose to place themselves in a particular movement, I certainly don't; critics and others make those distinctions in order to pool together individuals so they can more easily talk about them. I don't especially like any label or to be compartmentalized in that way. Luckily Stuckism as a group is pretty disparate stylistically, so it's a large compartment. In addition to "Stuckist" my work has been also called "Magical Realism" and "Baroque Pop." Only time will tell which will stick.

Q     What artistic style or school would you say you belonged to and why? Was that a conscious choice or did your style just develop that way? Why did you choose that style?

A     Stuckists don't all work in the same style or use the same themes or subject matter. We all choose to be painters, but not as if rock & roll, television, cars, cinema, jazz, and the whole 20th century never happened. I've heard I have a painting style, but I don't do it on purpose, it just comes out that way, like how my voice comes out of my throat. It's difficult for me to tell where exactly I fit into any school or style; I just do what I do and it comes out the way that it does.

Q     It has been stated that Stuckists paint their life, mind and soul with no excuses or pretensions. How is this true for you personally?

A     My work is up front about itself, it's not pretending to be anything else. Each picture is a complete statement on it's own. It's not a pair of underpants pinned to a gallery wall claiming to be about something else, something that needs 3 sheets of closely spaced type to explain.

To read more of my relationship with Stuckism, see the interviews in the Press section.

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Q     Do you have a specific narrative in mind? Your paintings seem like scenes from stories, but it's impossible to know what exactly is going on. Where do the narratives come from? Do you make them up? Are they complete stories or pieces? When I look at your paintings I always feel they are snapshots from some strange story.

A     I love story-telling with pictures and I assemble my compositions until it feels like something is happening between the people, things, and place. It's like a movie-still of a single scene, a slice of narrative rather than the whole story, but left open to some interpretation.

If real-life stories are subjective, depending on who's telling them, art is all the better for being completed by the imagination of the audience. I don't like pictures where every last thing is spelled out; I prefer a bit of mystery.

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Q     You definitely have a style to your work, I can look at your paintings and tell they are by you, and I've seen paintings by other artists that make me think of your work. Did your work always have the same style? Do your earlier paintings have a different look? Did you gradually define your style? How long did it take?

A     I don't consciously paint in any particular style, it just comes out that way. I'm sure my technique and the way I handle my materials have developed and improved over the years through practice, but if my work has a particular "look" it is not deliberate. It's more like how my voice sounds the way it does because of the way body is shaped or something, it's an integral part of the rest of me.

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Q     From where do you get your inspiration?

A     I am inspired by the experience of all my senses and the understanding that I am not dead. Absurdities and things that makes me laugh are also triggers.

Q     What motivates you to create? Why do you need to paint? I would love to know what it is inside of you that screams to be expressed. What compels you to paint?

A     My first painting teacher, Joseph Wolins, described it as "that thing that rips the covers off in the morning." It's something like an uncontrollable urge that repeats itself and never goes away, like having to sneeze.

When I'm making pictures I feel more myself than at any other time. Simultaneously, I'm completely someplace else, far away. I like this feeling and try to repeat it as often as possible.

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time travel

Q     Your pictures convey a suspension in time, showing a unique blend of an era that was and an era to come. How does time play a role in your work? Is it a conscious or unconscious effort? Are the images drawn from flights of fancy, hidden fears or wishes?

A     While I lived in London for nine years, for example, I was fascinated by the fact that three generations of my family were immigrants who did not live in their countries of origin. I placed my current self next to younger versions of family members, some of whom had died years before. I wanted to know what it would have been like to hang out with my own grandparents when they were my age at that time, so I invented a place where we could be together. Now that I'm back in NYC, I still combine different eras together in the same painting. 

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Q     Do any artists influence your work? Who are your influences? Your work has a strong illustrative feel to it. Do you have a favorite illustrator or painter that has been an influence on you and your style?

A     There are many whose work I admire and study: Max Beckmann, Stephen Campbell, Adrian Wisniewski, Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Remedios Varo, Albrecht Dürer, Jan Van Eyck, Otto Dix, Stanley Spencer, Charles Addams, Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, to name a few off the top of my head.

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Q     What would be the ideal place in which to exhibit your work? Where do you see your art displayed?

A     Unlike a movie or a book, experienced over time and then out of sight, my paintings are meant to be looked at repeatedly, in different moods, at different times of day, alone and with people, slowly or quickly, but always multiple times. The best place to see one of my pictures is on your wall at home. The next best is anywhere you might spend time on a regular basis in public, especially where you have to wait and need something interesting to occupy or distract you.

Q     What have you learned about yourself and your work over the years? If you could go back and tell your younger self something to help her with her art back then, what would it be?

A     I would tell her to do everything exactly the same, except start paying off her student loans right away, and save 10% of all income. And floss every day. That way she could have a lot more time for painting and not so many money worries. And less dental bills. Of course, my younger self, being who she was, would not have listened.

Q     What are your ambitions?

A     To become fluent in a dozen languages, travel the world, influence heads of state to make world peace, to floss regularly. To one day play the ukulele in public without embarrassing myself.

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If you have a question, send it via the contact page.