Artist’s Statement: The Nature of Being


“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth will find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” – Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder


“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” – Vincent van Gogh


I believe that nature is our best teacher. As we examine the ways we are intrinsically made of and part of Nature, we discover what ecology and natural order can teach us about being more human. Using the shapes, rhythms, patterns, and colors of nature, these abstract oil paintings explore questions of existence, belief, personal philosophy, time, and the layered narrative of consciousness we maintain throughout a lifespan. Particularly focused on plant growth and development, this series investigates who we are when we are most ourselves, how we live in significant moments of experience, and what it is to be present and alive as a human animal in a world often at odds with nature. In addition to fostering a sense of personal self-awareness through a visceral, instinctive response to natural imagery, this series aims to promote a reciprocal love and intimate understanding of nature, wherever we may find it, and to cultivate a drive to protect and nurture the natural world, as it protects and nurtures us.


What if I do this all the time?



In the last few hours before I officially open my shop for business, I wanted to take a deep breath and remember a moment almost a year ago in a village in India. I’ve written a bit on my personal blog about what a life-changing experience my trip was, but this sweltering afternoon in Alipura was really the moment it happened.


It was so hot outside that our group leader suggested we postpone our scheduled walk so everyone could hydrate and cool off in their air conditioned rooms until the temperature came below 100°. I couldn’t stand to be indoors, so I walked very slowly, liter of water, sketchbook, and camera in my bag, up the main road of the village, just seeing and being. I stood beside a cream-colored cow, letting my gaze wander across the alley to the two-level house in the photo above. It was painted an unusual green-tinged blue, unlike the indigo-based paints used to repel insects, and I saw Hindi writing that had faded, probably from the last wedding celebration. The slightest breeze stirred a tree branch overhead, moving its shadow away from a startling patch of emerald green that simultaneously made no sense and perfect sense, color-wise.


I took my time pondering how this building came to be colored in the way it was. Was this patch of green typically in shadow and fading unevenly from the adjacent area? Was it a newly-painted repair? Would it fade too, or would the rest of the house turn the palest cool white while this spot remained richly green?


I wanted to keep the light and colors of that green next to that blue, as it suddenly had become the most precious and important passage of color in my life. I stood with my camera ready, waiting for another gentle breeze and the few seconds I would have to make sure I’d captured the color the way I saw it.


I sighed and thought the typical office-worker’s lament to myself, “Oh, I wish I could do this all the time…”


In that instant, simultaneously the breeze nudged the tree, the sun came out brilliantly from behind a lazy cloud, the green seemed to radiate from within, I released my shutter, and something like a jolt of electricity went through my entire body, a booming voice saying, “You can. And you must.”


I’ve read about religious and spiritual callings that take a similar form, where a disembodied thought feels for all the world like the earth splitting open and reverberating with the voice of God giving explicitly clear instructions to guide one’s life. It was like the instant of falling in love or jumping off a cliff, equally terrifying and exhilarating, trembling and my whole body breaking out in chills. Everything in my mind switched instantaneously to a certainty of purpose I’ve never felt before in my life. The wind was knocked out of me, and as all the sound and colors came rushing back at once, I felt like I was going to faint, or possibly explode. I wondered for a second if I was having a heat stroke or if a bull had decided to exact revenge at precisely that moment for my history of cheeseburger-eating and had just gored my chest. But everything was coming back more clearly and vividly even than I’d known it before, including the understanding that this was something real, coming from something much bigger than myself.


A line was drawn in my life from that moment forward, where I knew, really in the depths of my heart knew, what I was put on earth to do. I am an artist, I have been all my life, and I have literally been commanded by the universe to be an artist all the time now.


As my life started completely transforming after India, a lot of things came together just so to give me the opportunity to spend the past few months rediscovering who I am as a person and an artist, and to change my days to doing that – being an artist – all the time. I am so profoundly grateful for the encouragement, problem-solving, and inspiration of the people in my life who have helped me get to what now feels like the precipice of actually doing what I’ve been meaning to do my whole life. It is no exaggeration to say I feel like there was a moment of divine intervention or personal epiphany or whatever you’d like to call it that saved my life in the instant my camera recorded this silly little multi-colored house.


I’ve faced more than a few setbacks and frustrations along the way (I’m going a little nuts about how many things I want to change already in my shop and on my site) but I want to remind myself that this isn’t something I chose. It chose me before I could speak or walk properly, when I dragged my fingers through sand at the beach and realized I could take what I experienced inside my mind and soul and share it with other people. I’ve remembered how a back-lit leaf or sunlight shimmering through new blades of grass reveal all the mysteries and wonders of the universe in an effortless instant. Art has been the greatest gift of my life, and turning back to it after neglecting it for so long feels utterly and completely like coming home.


I am incredibly excited for the challenges ahead, for giving this business my truly best effort, and for doing whatever it takes in my life to be able to keep making art and being an artist, all the time.


The green commanded me. I can, and I must.



Reflecting ethics and egalitarianism in art


This spring I will be relaunching my website and introducing an online shop for direct sales. Despite the enormous complexities and risks of starting a business, it’s an exciting time and a wonderful opportunity to put all my efforts into something I truly believe in and can wholeheartedly stand behind.

One of the most intriguing challenges in setting up a business is determining the way it can reflect my values and ethics. I’ve been thinking a lot about what selling art means to me, and I’ve been particularly concerned with egalitarianism, specifically can affordability and accessibility make art more egalitarian?



However necessary I believe art to be in life, it is fundamentally a luxury item. Selling art is a capitalist exchange, a trade of money for a physical commodity. To paraphrase Dave Hickey from his brilliant book Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy, art and money never really touch, which is to say, the money exchanged has nothing to do with the actual value of a work of art. The price of art is usually determined by what the market will bear. Looking at the big-time Art World, buying art is often treated primarily as a financial transaction, where a painting or sculpture is purchased for its calculated return on investment and it doesn’t particularly matter what it looks like. Every friend who has worked in a blue chip gallery has stories about hedge fund guys who buy art sight unseen based on an artist’s brand value and have it delivered directly to climate-controlled storage vaults. I would rather never sell another painting again than have something I produced with my heart and soul be part of such a cold, emotionally sterile transaction.

Last spring I attended the VIP preview of a fine art fair in the city. Many of the guests in attendance had limitless money to spend on art, but seemed dismayed by a lack of new or interesting things to buy. Gallerists and dealers were working their hardest to sell them on the work they were presenting, but all the conversations I heard seemed to center around the artist’s rising prominence, recent critical acclaim, and resale value. I was stricken by a complete lack of discussion of aesthetics, beauty, or why someone would want to own and live with a piece – it was more like acquiring a designer handbag that could be hung on the wall to broadcast how much disposable income a person had and, presumably, how sophisticated a purchase could be made with it, based on what the best consultants advised. I walked around the fair feeling like what I was seeing had nothing to do with art and everything to do with money. I enjoyed seeing a few nice Chagalls and some decorative pieces I hadn’t seen in person before, but the vast majority of this fair (and most of the others I’ve attended) was a hollow, artless experience, showcasing expensive pieces with little to no emotion. I wanted nothing to do with that elitist iteration of “art,” but I was also never more certain that I needed to be working as an artist myself.



I decided I would like to make my art accessible and affordable for normal people, not just upper-1%ers. I want my art to be purchased by people who actually like it and want to live with it in their homes, not turn around and resell it at auction in a few years for a profit. I plan to make a range of products available including prints and decorative items at various price points so that someone like me or my family could own my work. I want to make pieces where a portion of the proceeds is donated to support environmental conservation efforts and charities I believe in. The financial pressure will switch to needing to sell several more pieces in a month, but I’m okay taking that on if it means that my art is affordable to more people that way.

As for accessibility, I have never believed in the esoteric coding and gimmicky obscurity that seems to predominate contemporary art. That’s not to say that art shouldn’t be challenging, but it feels deeply cynical to create pieces that can’t be understood without a pretentious manifesto, or where the ignorance of the viewer is thrown back in his face as part of the “concept” of the piece. My experience in grad school revealed a lot of dilettante philosophy wrapped up in artist’s statements, where the physical creation was secondary or tertiary to the text, always making me wonder why the art was made at all instead of writing a more intellectually rigorous text. I don’t believe art has to be “dumbed down” to make it more generally accessible either, as there are centuries of extraordinary art that can be loved and appreciated by the general public. I know it is fashionable to sneer at anything popular or mainstream, but the average viewer is actually quite sophisticated in the capacity to make and communicate observations and express emotions evoked by art. And sometimes great art is popular for a reason – everyone can see why it’s good.

Nature is a central tenant of my art, in large part because it is universally and primally understood. I think the more my art reflects the shapes, rhythms, patterns, and proportions of nature through the lens of imagination, the more accessible it becomes. When people describe visceral reactions they have to my paintings, I know I’ve done something right, and that’s what I want to keep doing.

The core values of my personal and business ethics are quality (using archival materials and techniques), environmentalism (by running a paperless office or using recycled / eco-friendly materials as much as possible), ecology (promoting awareness and connection to nature), honesty, integrity, kindness, civic-mindedness, spiritual mindfulness, and egalitarianism through accessibility and affordability. I am so excited to put these values into practice in my art and the way I run my business, and I hope to show that this system of ethics is sustainable and brings people pure, extraordinary joy.


The physicality of art

Visiting my parents over the holidays, I’ve become keenly aware of how physical and vulnerable my art is, and it’s made me think about what role physical presence plays in one’s creative energy.

The first condition is storage, and my parents’ attic is currently starting to swell with all the oil paintings I did in grad school. Many canvases are nowhere near finished, or to put it in more pragmatic terms, a sellable state, so I can’t honestly consider them “product” or “inventory,” so much as… these things taking up a lot of space. Knowing that they are there, lurking above my childhood bedroom and gaining several grams of dust a year, fills me with a sense of queasiness and dread. They make me reluctant to buy new canvases or start new work, and they serve as a heavy physical to-do list. Before I move forward in painting, I feel like I have to somehow deal with those.

The second condition is fragility, which is ironically one of the themes of my paintings. Among the fallout from Hurricane Irene was a moving box in the basement full of sketchbooks, all my negatives, and almost all the black and white photographs I’ve ever printed. The flood water ruined all but a handful of prints made on RC paper (and I can’t forget the professors who harped on about how much more archival and long-lasting the fiber-based photographic papers were). Leaving aside how this particularly delicate box got into the basement in the first place, I was kind of wrecked to think of all the hours – no, days – I spent shooting, processing film, pulling prints, burning and dodging, organizing… it’s all gone.

Losing all my black and white photography felt a bit like a metaphor for the shift from print to digital photography. I no longer have access to a darkroom, so it’s not like I was going to make more prints from those lovely negatives any time soon, but it stings to have them gone forever. I’ve heard similar stories of people losing hard drives full of digital images, or dropping a camera and erasing a memory card after a day’s shooting at a wedding, so I realize this loss of images is not confined to the more archaic photo processing techniques.

As I stood in the cold basement pulling apart moldy, disintegrated prints and tossing them in garbage bags, it kind of hit me that everything physical will eventually end up this way. No matter how carefully prepared, what quality of materials are used, how arduously and well-intentioned their preservation and conservation, everything we make and touch and use will fall to pieces and return to the earth. And somehow, that idea became much more beautiful and important than any of the student-quality photographs I was bitterly discarding.

Another thought crept into my mind, which has been something of a refrain since the time I learned to draw, “I can always make more art.”

What’s remarkable about artists, musicians, writers, and creators of all types is the ability to constantly produce more, new, better art. Our hands and minds pull from the elements, recycling the masterpieces of years gone by, and dredge up novel inventions, shiny and alluring new materials, new ways to answer the questions posed by a constantly new and old world.

The physicality of art contains both its eternal hope and its perpetual undoing. In the sometimes sisyphean task of being human, we watch things fall apart, then we pick them back up and try again. It doesn’t matter what’s come before, or what’s coming next: all we have is what’s in our hands right now.

Some Thoughts On Drawing

Drawing, by its very nature, is an act of faith. A drawing is a unique creature that must continually ask of its creator the indulgence to persevere and persist in believing that its fulfillment is worthwhile. The finished drawing is rarely the finished product; rather, it serves as the documentation of a journey taken in the mind and sensibility of the artist, a crude adventurer’s map charted in the moments of discovery.

At their most accessible, drawings give the viewer access to the course of exploration between the chasm of the blank page and the landscape of lines or scumbled charcoal smudges that comprise an image. Other drawings are more akin to Coleridge’s vision of Kubla Kahn: fleeting, spectacular glimpses into a fantastic surreality that only exists instantaneously in the imagination. Both types have equal potential to become utterly captivating and decadently entrancing.

Academically-trained artists begin with drawing as the first – and primary – discipline because it allows for the most direct connection between materials and self. Drawing is the physical manifestation of the Cartesian self, declaring with each contour and gradient of tone, “I am, I am.”

More than words, drawing represents man’s fundamental split between being of the world and inhabiting a sentient mind. From the earliest marks scratched in sand or painted on cave walls, man has used drawing to mark the separation of inner subjectivity and physical experience, an interface that allows us passage between the two. The calligraphic emergence of writing cannot be coincidental to man’s ability, through drawing, to reflect upon and express what it is, and eventually what it means, to be alive.

Michelangelo Buonarotti. Study for the Libyan Sibyl, 1511CE, chalk on paper, 290x210mm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

In its economy of language, drawing retains an immediacy and, if deployed effectively, urgency of communication. Through drawing it is possible to see the essence of an idea, the core components that convey meaning. At times this meaning may not even be fully understood by the artist, who acts by a creative compulsion, yet demonstrates through drawing’s liminal qualities what the Romantic writers called the interior of the heart. One cannot view Michelangelo’s careful, sprezzatura cross-hatching without understanding his singular, industrious focus, nor the meditative, repetitive iterations of figures drawn obsessively in later life without recognizing they are an ephemeral treatise on mortality. In Michelangelo’s marks, a fervor most similar to spiritual devotion becomes apparent, with drawing serving as a visible prayer or incantation. It is also clear that Michelangelo’s faith was not misplaced in drawing.

Michelangelo Buonarotti. Christ Crucified between the Virgin and Nicodemus, c. 1552-54, black chalk, brown wash and white lead on paper, 433x290cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

It can be an enormous challenge to face the vast expanse and sucking void of the unmarked page, and by extension, the sprawling complexities of existence. Art students like to use the shorthand of horror vacui, but it is a more nuanced and demanding task to place one’s trust in drawing. One satisfactory transaction in drawing does not in any way guarantee future success in using its delicate, tenuous devices to hammer down meaning. An artist must continually face the uncertainty of drawing as a sufficient language, spurned forward only by tenacious faith that the marks will coalesce into some visual signifier or ambient carrier of sensation.

In this way, though they are humble and easily discarded, drawings may represent some of the bravest, most ardent acts of man, embodiments of the purest kind of faith.