I grew up in an immigrant home in Rochester, NY. My grandparents owned the home we all lived in. My grandfather bought it in 1929 and we all lived under the same roof for many years. The neighborhood was working-class immigrant—Italians, Poles, Ukrainians and Jews. Most worked in the garment industry, which had several well-known clothing stores and factories in the city.
I knew I had a creative impulse from a very early age. Down the street from my home was a commercial printer. The man who ran that business was Mr. Loyson. He gave me scraps of paper, which I would fill with sketches and cartoons. That was how I occupied my free time as a child.
My initial steps beyond high school were to enroll in the local community college. I quickly developed a love for painting. My first college teachers were full of love and support for me, and I am still indebted to them. They encouraged me to transfer to a BFA program in painting, which I was able to do at SUNY New Paltz.
The faculty at New Paltz were predominantly New York School Abstract Expressionist painters. There were a few who appreciated figuration, but most thought representational painting had to be “Expressionist” to be Modern. SUNY New Paltz was enlightening just for the fact that it truly clarified that I wanted to be a figurative artist.
That decision led me to seek out an MFA program which was well-suited for my aesthetic, and I found that Brooklyn College was the right fit. I was fortunate to be accepted into the MFA program at Brooklyn, which was very competitive at that time, with limited numbers of accepted students. My principal mentors at Brooklyn were Lois Dodd, Lennart Anderson and Philip Pearlstein. Each one of these teachers were seminal artists and wonderful teachers. Lois Dodd became my closest teacher and dear friend. She remains that way for me today.
In 1990 my wife and I moved to Highland Park, New Jersey, after she was accepted into the Rutgers master’s in library science program. Highland Park turned out to be a town that reminded me most of my Brooklyn neighborhood, so we stayed there after my wife completed her studies and found employment as a librarian.
After moving to New Jersey, Lois Dodd introduced me to Mel Leipzig and within a very short period we became very close friends.
What initially compelled you to pursue art?
Like so many visual artists I know, making pictures was a natural component of who I am. I was drawing on anything I can make a mark on from an early age. It is one of my oldest memories from my youth.
Pursuing art in college happened as a matter of default. I did not care about any other discipline or academic pursuit as much as visual art. After high school, I enrolled in a local community college known for their arts programs. Initially, I believed commercial art or illustration was the best and most practical choice. However, that changed after a class trip to New York museums. That was a big event, since at that time I lived in Upstate Western New York far away from Manhattan. The trip lasted five days and it was during that museum encounter that I was spellbound by painting. I never looked back after that.
Who or what in your life influences your practice the most?
I have so many influences, and I will try to list them all because they are all vitally important. I was always heavily influenced by my teachers in college. Their lifestyle and inspirations were models for me in numerous ways. A key influence and inspiration for me for many years was my graduate school professor Lois Dodd. We became dear friends and painting partners after I finished the program. In addition, my close friendships with my dearest painter friends also helped me form my own path. Through the encouragement of friendship, I survived the many ups and downs of being a painter. My own family, my wife and children have influenced me through their steadfast encouragement and loyalty and love.
What do you feel is the key concept that connects your works?
I want to paraphrase a quote I read by Edward Hopper (a painter who I have always admired): “a painter studies technique for years and then has to figure out what to say.”
In the ‘80s when I was an MFA student, concepts and ideas were the driver for so many painters in the art scene. I was not hardwired that way. I could not preconceive of an idea that I needed to visually explore in my painting. For me, it is all intuitive and listening closely to those internal impulses that push and tug me to painting something.
I always fall into three subjects: landscape, portraits and still life. I laughed when I read [that] David Hockney once said, “What else is there?” He’s right. What else is there? I know painters who focus on one of those three, but for me I have found that I am attracted to all three.
I am a perceptual painter who loves to really look at people, places and things. I love to visually express what I am seeing in paint and I love color. I’m also a believer in what is “unseen” in the visible. In other words, I am interested in the Spirit of what I perceive. I am empathic to the Spirit of what I am visually encountering. While I am a formalist insofar as I try to consciously compose and work with color and drawing elements, I am acutely aware of the spiritual experience of it all. I find that I fall into the subject and lose myself in it.
That experience of emptying out and falling into what I am doing is the addictive quality of what I do and it is consistent within every subject I pursue.
Tell us about a moment that ultimately made you look at your art and/or practice differently.
I do not ascribe to any one moment or epiphany where suddenly things were different for me. Instead, there are many, many incremental steps in the evolution of my work. Some increments may be connected to color and my choices of colors on my palette. There are some painters who narrow their palettes over time; instead, my palette has increased. At other stages, I discovered how to paint more directly. At other stages, I’ve tried to paint more spontaneously without overthinking a composition.
I think at this point, my painting follows a path of development from all over painting the composition quickly to incremental stages of clarity, where I see more and more until it’s finished.
What does your art give you that nothing else can?
My dear friend and great artist Mel Leipzig always says, “Do you know how lucky we are that we paint?” He has shared that idea with me and others for many years. I can’t say I always agreed with him, since my own path in my evolution has been filled with a lot of failures.
However, at this stage in my life, I attest that my friend Mel is quite right indeed. Painting offers endless challenges and ups and downs, but a true painter never stops growing. Painting gives discipline, focus, purpose, and it ignites dreams and can illicit hope. A life in painting, with all of its variables, is ultimately an exciting way to live.