Sunday, November 3, 2019


I wrote this text to accompany my current show (Oct 26th - Dec 6th) at Gallery 825 in Los Angeles. The show features a number of new paintings based on my old family photos. 

Anamnesis, or the remembering of things from a supposed previous existence, is a visual reconstitution of memories one may or may not have had.  The title’s definition suggests that certain memories can be made and derived from the lives and memories of others. Using old family photographs as subjects, I investigate the idea of anamnesis by reworking the images into paintings.There is a two-fold interpretation of working this way, the personal interpretation, that touches on memories and events directly related to individual and familial experiences and the interpretation of the collective memory experienced by those unrelated to any of these subjects that are nonetheless experienced as having been borne out of these very same experiences. These can be further interpreted and elaborated.

Anamnesis - Ash, charcoal and oil on burned panel, 32x32 inches
First, I draw on my own family history, interpreting and reinterpreting the past through these images.  It is a task that is deeply personal but one that will ultimately result in incomplete results.  Close family members appear in the photographs, but along with them appear strangers and strange places.  In casual conversation with family members, I’m able to find out certain details, but not all of them. Some people and places will be forever shrouded in mystery or will have to fit into a form of reconstituted memory.  By constant contact with the images I am playing not only the role of the private eye, but also the role of the interpreter and story-teller, drawing lines, relationships and conclusions from disparate sources of visual information. Vast amounts of time and space exists between the visual coordinates of each photograph, some taken in the 1960s others a dacade or two later, all in various and often unknown locations. It is not necessarily important to know precisely all the details of a particular image.  Memory itself is highly selective.  What matters is the way the image or event is re-interpreted.  

Second, I draw on my personal and family experience with immigration and integration into a new and alien culture, to draw out possible collective experiences and how they could be interpreted by those unfamiliar with this highly personal subject matter.  We all have families and many have experiences with immigration, either directly or indirectly. This highly personal subject matter can therefore become a universalizing agent for a much larger collective memory. These black and white images lack color in a similar way that the immigrant experience lacks immediate contact with their distant past.  Memories of one's birth culture become increasingly less vivid, they become snapshots rather than full expressions.  In some ways an immigrant may experience memory as a loss resulting in a sense of incompleteness.  The function of memory is significant.  Often the way that people of different cultures attempt to evade loss of collective or personal memory is to hold on to tradition and vestiges of their particular cultures and continue with then in their adoptive culture. Such practices can be ritualized, institutionalized, and personalized, they can be very private or very public. Some people abandon their former cultures entirely. Whatever the outward manifestation of such practices may be, what nonetheless remains, is a sense that a part of one’s experience of the past and of one's culture is irretrievably lost.  But loss and nostalgia aren’t always experienced as negative emotions.  Positive memories constitute nostalgic feelings as much as negative ones, though I understand that in my interpretation of Anamnesis, in the context of the show, tends toward the darker aspects of loss and incompleteness. However, even loss can be positive or have positive outcomes if one's experience of loss, the death of one's child for example, is transmuted into a generative outlook on life. 

A possible third interpretation of the exhibition exists, one that is more contingent on the source material and can be summed up as follows. A new interpretative method of memory exists, one that is being actively developed as a result of the digitization of collective space and memory.  Visual sources until very recently tended toward the tangible - printed photographs, books, VHS tapes, and so on.  Whether within the institutional world of work or the intimate world of the family, tangible repositories of memory were kept.  Many families kept photo albums and slides.  Today the pervasiveness of digital media and the movement toward cloud technology made bulky items like photo albums and slide projectors obsolete, even relatively modern technology like CDs and DVDs are less and less common as people move away from holding onto objects to keep only the ephemera, made up of lines of code.  This presents an interesting subject for investigation and intervention into this space. In the case of photographs, as in the case of many real objects, one is dealing with a different type of memory.  Photographs are documentary objects and tend to provide historical accounts of events. They are themselves an object subject to historical interpretation. The photographs were developed in a particular place, on particular paper and so on.  The paper will degrade with time and the photograph tends to show signs of use, such as creasing, abrasion, writing, etc as well as signs of accident or manipulation.  At a time when photography wasn’t as prevalent or as available to individuals, especially amateurs, one had to rely on chance, proper framing and basic knowledge of photography to actually take photographs.  That’s why lots of older family photos are often out of focus, framed in strange ways, and have color or lighting issues. This ‘amateurishness’ is also what makes them interesting and particularly human. Corrective software may increase the quality of photographic presentation but also erases the possibility of chance and lucky error. 

Compared with modern digital photography the issues of memory are completely different. Because code and digital information does not degrade, the photographs also do not degrade.  Memory becomes harder to distinguish in this world.  There is no yellowing paper or musty smells.  The main indicator of age of a digital photograph is its time stamp, provided the instrument on which the photo was taken was correct. Another, more subtle way, to think about age and memory of digital photography is the age and look of the subjects in the photographs.  Since there is no difference in the quality of the photograph taken twenty years ago to today, another way I can tell time, is by how old I and my family or friends look in them.  Of course there is the general increase in quality of digital images, which means that a photo taken with a digital camera twenty years ago will have a very low resolution compared to today's cameras, but what matters is the overall condition of the image.  That image taken twenty years ago is the same, whether I view it on its original platform or a new one. The digital photograph still has an enemy in time however, though not in the same way that a real printed photograph does.  And the digital photograph has a clear advantage, it can be copied endlessly, provided one keeps the original. What is lost however is something that cannot be placed into real terms. What is lost is a sense of continuity.  If images are the same from one day to the next, how does this square with our personal experience in which we continue to age but our technological selves do not? How is personal memory affected when versions of it are publicly disseminated across various platforms?  Are personal memories personal  anymore? And what can be done or should be done about personal data and information, including photographs, that will continue to exist in perpetuity in the digital realm? 

And lastly, the paintings are painted directly from photographs.  Often the paintings are ‘edits’ of the actual photos, zoomed in, or sections of the originals.  Sometimes people or objects are ‘cut out’ of the originals as well. The paintings are mostly black and white.  This is my attempt to illustrate the incompleteness or loss mentioned above.  The paintings are meticulous but often imprecise renderings of the original source material.  This is a strategy on my part. I usually work with brushes that are larger than what’s needed for the task so that I prevent myself from ‘painting’ the subject too precisely.  I have no need to render a perfect replica of the photograph since my point is to illustrate the change between the original material and the finished product. The painting process usually dictates which way the painting will go. Since I only use white paint in my process, I have to rely on picking out certain sections of the photo to paint first.  With continuous addition of paint to the work it becomes more apparent where to add more and where to leave the painting alone. I begin by using torches to burn the wood panels and then add ash to the surface.  I then use water-mixable white oil paint to paint directly into the ashen substrate. Proceeding with layers upon layers of increasingly viscous oil paint, the image seems to ‘emerge’ from the background as I pick out spots where the image will be brighter and leaving areas that will remain dark.  The combination of ash and oil results in a mixture that is first very dark and is able to be manipulated even after drying.  The end result is a painting that is entirely matte and still shows the surface of the wooden substrate ‘through’ the image.  The quality of the paintings usually tends toward the darker side or darker feelings and emotions, even when the subject matter isn’t necessarily dark. The paintings seem to exude a sense of nostalgia and the past.  

Thank you for reading!

Saturday, March 4, 2017


'Bringers of the New Dawn'  Oil, ashes and charcoal on burned panel
The above image is of a bombed out building somewhere in Syria.  The title is ‘Bringers of the New Dawn’ which is a play on a new age book by a similar name called ‘Bringers of the Dawn.’  My fascination with new age material, politics and religion are mixed together in this image.  On the right is a list of all the dates that were prophesized for the end of the world.  The list is broken up into dates that are specific down to the day they were to occur and dates that are more ambiguous, usually just a year, meaning that the prophecy was to become true sometime in that year.  What is interesting is that there are centuries where prophecies of the end of the world were more common, for example in the 17th century, when the year 1666 was approaching.  The obvious reason for this is that in Christian mythology the number of the beast from Revelation is 666. The closer to our time the dates get, the more specific they get.  For one reason or another, modern science and the enlightenment seems to have had influence on the way that the end of the world was calculated.  With the more rational side of humanity coming to the fore, Christianity found it necessary to become more specific even in its prophecies. Not only this, the prophecies increased, to something like double in the 20th century, especially toward the end of the century and close to the year 2012.  On his own, Harold Camping was responsible for at least 4-6 prophecies of the end.  

What the image brings together is a type of anxiety about the future.  Where in the past this anxiety was produced and assuaged by religion and the priesthood, with the age of reason and enlightenment, anxiety about what is uncertain became entwined with the new belief system in progress.  Progress itself created the conditions under which uncertainty increased and so did anxiety about what would happen next.  This proved to be a fertile ground for the imaginings of the future by people that wanted to control it.  These ‘Bringers of the New Dawn’ are tied to the neo-conservative and neo-liberal movements, each wanting to control the destiny of a whole society in their own specific way, usually through economics and ideology.  More specifically, at the end of the 20th century, the neo-conservatives drafted and put together a think tank The Project for a New American Century (PNAC).  This think tank produced a publication in which it outlined the way in which the US was to become the major player in global politics and economics through perpetual warfare.  Though already decades in the process, the PNAC sought to destabilize the Middle-East and draw an alliance with Israel, based on an ancient prophecy of the second coming of Christ.  According to the prophecy, the second coming would occur only if a number of key events happened, one of which was the establishment of the homeland of the Israelites, another of which was the destruction of the Isrealites themselves.  With many of the bullet point on the prophecy list checked off, the PNAC wanted to speed up the process by fomenting wars and pitting neighbors against each other in the Middle-East.  Eternal paradise would be achieved only through a process of war and suffering.   This is of course eerily similar to the prophecies of the Thousand Year Reich that the Nazis wanted to create in the wake of a hostile war for world domination. Fantasies of life without suffering, in which only the best and the brightest are allowed to live and breed, are always wrapped in a mythology of heroic deeds, trials and tribulations. They are meant to be life lessons, but in reality they take on sinister dimensions of violence fueled by fundamentalist misunderstanding of the texts.  Fundamentalists almost always believe that what they are doing is right and just, no matter what the means and at what cost to others surrounding them.  They believe that they are the true inheritors of knowledge and power and thus the ‘Bringers of the New Dawn.’

Thursday, February 16, 2017


'Nostalgie V' (detail). Oil, ashes and charcoal on burned panel.

Ok, it may seem a bit ironic that I am in a lot of ways somebody that is concerned with everything that underlies a surface to the detriment of the surface itself and then go about making work that for all intents and purposes is almost nothing but surface itself. These are mere appearances I claim.  And yes, to be completely truthful here, I love the surface when there is something to look at.  What am I talking about here?  

Let’s suppose you take a drive through LA or New York City. What do you see?  Probably lots of buildings, people, concrete, streets, windows, neighborhoods and so on.  There is a lot of industry and industrial areas, places that are on the upswing and on the downswing, gentrification and lots of grit.  Yes, it’s the grit that is most often ignored and later romanticized once it’s swept away, that’s the march of culture through the streets and that was the march of civilization through the ‘wilderness’ of the uncharted territories.  The grit is here and now, but how seldom that gets shown is almost staggering. Though there are obvious purveyors of grit, one may not know or realize this when casually thinking about the concept of what constitutes a New York or LA art scene.  There may in fact be the opposite happening, the slicked surface treatments of a once flashy popism, the ‘controversial’ application of household goods and foodstuffs to canvases, or the somewhat tried and true but tired soft sculpture fiber arts turned painting that betrays its homages to Oldenburg.  I saw a kind of ‘grit’ on display during a Trecartin show at Regen Projects that was anything but a cleaned up attempt at authenticity coming from experience that read more like a high fiving session after a viral video campaign aimed at helping the ‘underprivileged.’ This sounds cynical, and it should, because the new cynicism is exactly this, a gentrified version of the real thing for the safe consumption of the moneyed classes. 

But this is not all there is and surface does have a redeeming quality.  Even a slick surface is rife with meaning when handled properly and not for its all too obvious function as a ‘comment’ on pop culture.  I am more closely aligned with the distressed surfaces of a Leonardo Drew installation than the supposed roughness of Sterling Ruby (though I do enjoy some of his work).  

The roughness of my paintings is seductive in some way, at least I’ve heard as much.  It’s hard to be one’s own critic sometimes and very easy on other occasions.  In these pieces I wanted to have the surface speak for itself while giving it air to breathe.  The paintings sit on top as much as they are a part of the surface itself.  The images are taken from local fires, sometimes of ruins and landscapes.  The clouds themselves have a surface that is bulbous and almost opulent in appearance but this gets betrayed by the fact that the surface is itself an illusion, you can’t actually touch it.  The smoke or ash clouds are represented on the surface of the painting by actual ashes rubbed into the surface after burning, a redoubling of the subject as such.  But ashes are much more than this too.  They are remainders and a type of memory of the objects they once were. Something about ashes is very powerful t the mind because within are housed memories and emotions tied to events of fire and the type of reverie that spring from it.  It’s this remainder that one has to question.  What was it that gave it its form, what had to be burned down to make this possible?  Of course the answers could be anything since most materials will burn down to this substance in a high enough blaze.  Alchemically, the ashes also hold all of the necessary information, an imprint, of its previous incarnation resulting in its ‘salt’ or seed. And just like the fire that burns down anything into ashes, it’s a force that can heat food and keep us warm.  The ashes become the ‘seed’ for the next generation of plant life and so on.  Perhaps Gaston Bachelard summarized fire in the best possible way by saying that fire ‘shines in heaven and burns in hell.’

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Why do I paint?

 'Nostalgie IV', Oil, ashes and charcoal on burned panel.

I do not subscribe to this idea that one medium is inferior to another, that because of personal preference or belief in the superiority of a medium one can privilege one over the other.  Typically this kind of privileging has to do with one’s belief in commodification or authenticity or even identity (gender roles or otherwise). Within each medium is a notion of the pure and authentic vs the commodified and naturalized, the radical vs the reactionary, the medium of action vs the reactive medium (if you like Nietzche for example).   I also don’t subscribe to the notion of radical art as coming only from the ‘less privileged’ or the ‘marginalized’ mediums.  This, in a complete 360 degree turn manages only to privilege those forms of art vs the others, not in any sort of radical shift, but rather in a totally normalized way.  Privileging certain forms of art turns those forms into the ‘Other.’  Given the amount of time, space, media attention that these ‘other’ mediums receive in the institutional system and outside of it, this argument is completely out of its own element.  What am I talking about specifically?  Since the late 1960s the ‘marginal’ mediums have historically been performance, video, installation, conceptual, and ephemeral art.  Institutions typically refer to the university, the museum, the gallery.  Interestingly however, because of the institutionalization of theory via its embedding within the university in the 1970s, these marginal mediums became the preferred mediums of the institutions themselves.  This did not happen overnight, but to be certain, video art is today no less inferior than painting, and sculpture is not less superior than performance.  The institutionalization of all these media made certain that the edge that each once had have been thoroughly blunted and the radical was turned into the merely consequential.  What seems like an innocuous enough notion of levelling of the playing field appears in actuality as a push for the privileging of a different form of art. But why?  If identity politics is to be believed the reason for this privileging of the ‘other’ media is not because of what they are but because of what they represent.  Painting and sculpture represent the old world, the conservative, hierarchical, patriarchal system of oppression while performance and video represent progress and inclusivity.  The strangest operation is at work here however.  While ephemeral arts seem to operate in the realm of equality and universality while contending that painting and sculpture might in some way be elitist because of their ties to money, such as corporate funds, private collections, and so on (and this is in fact true, but this is not why they are elitist), they themselves focus on particularity in the forms of identity as opposed to the universalist ideals of their earlier incarnations, becoming elitist in their own right.  

Personally I believe that identity theory is anything but a usable theory for going forward.  Identity politics with its focus on the body, gender, orientation, race, only deflects the issues without solving any of them.  It is a dead end in the institutionalized knowledge and commercial structure of the art world.  While I understand the urgency and vehemence of the proponents and I am absolutely behind the struggle for equality for all races and genders, I believe that this is a fight that cannot be fought and won in the realm of art, at least not until major ruptures and cracks appear in the institutional system.  We must remember that systems are created to absorb and nullify dissent.  What are we accomplishing by creating an institution out of identity politics?  Only an arena in which individuals must prostrate themselves within a guilt ridden spectacle of a type of struggle session that leaves everyone equally guilty and equally culpable.  

So this is why I paint.  It is not a political or social belief, but rather a belief in the medium itself as a vehicle for a deeper truth, and this goes for all other mediums.  Each medium has within it the potential for a deeper meaning and a type of truth that is masked by the false consciousness that we give it when we make it into an institution.   The new paintings are a result of years of trial and error, thinking and experience and lots of reading.  By going through many mediums I’ve arrived a point in which I was able to get rid of a lot of excessive ‘stuff’ like color and the need to say everything all at once in every piece.  The work is narrowed and shows bit by bit the whole picture.  While these paintings are mostly of smoke clouds from local wildfires, painted from photographs I took myself, they refer to much more than that, memory, nostalgia, the terrible and the beautiful sides of nature and so on.  The truth is somewhere in there, but very difficult to dig out.