Sunset on the Sea, 2014-2015 Oil on linen 60 × 40 inches
Sunset on the Sea, 2014-2015
Oil on linen 60 × 40 inches

Sunset on the Sea is a continuation of a body of work from images taken from the beach in Santa Monica during a time during my (and my husband Andrew’s!) 48th birthday in May 2013. This was a special moment, as the My American Dream installation was still on display for its last weeks in the Stuart Comer curated section of the Whitney Biennial, and I had also been commissioned to create one of my largest paintings for the Michael Smith-designed lobby of the Casa Del Mar Hotel, a historic resort in Santa Monica. As part of the commission, the owners of the hotel had given me carte blanche for the idea of the painting, and wanting to do something that was specific to the area, they had put up Andrew and I at the hotel to get a sense of its environment. We were overwhelmed by the majesty and beauty of both the hotel and its incredible surroundings, and I took thousands of pictures of the area, primarily the beach, pier, and ocean at sunset, as it was truly inspirational and awe-inspiring. The painting for the hotel—installed with pride of place in the center of their lobby—shows the sunset and the pier, but this image could be a sea anywhere in the world, and hopefully not only captures the captivating light, but also my feelings towards confronting this sublime view of nature.

I have studied and taught Immanuel Kant’s notions of the sublime, and although he perhaps mentions that it is difficult for an artist to encapsulate the overwhelming feeling a being a small part of a much bigger world—in an ineffable rush of the sublime that can happen when viewing events and scenes in nature—I have always felt that this was a goal of any great artist. If one can perceive a work, and have it emulate the experience of objectifying oneself as being a small part of a much greater existence, then hopefully one can also relate to the interdependence of oneself and mind to the community, culture, and world, and perhaps even, once realizing this, also go about making the world a better place.

It took me several months to create this painting, beginning from the uber stage of laying out blocks of color, to the long, micro-managed stage of working with tiny brushes over minutia of details. Building on the synaesthetic processes of Rothko and others, I played music during all this time that related to how I felt about the image—from his favorite Mozart tragic opera, to jam music of the Grateful Dead, to jazz greats such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, all of which had transcendent, lyrical, co-dependent properties of form and emotion transfused through modulations of musical composition. I also listened to music that brought about positive feelings towards the image and California—the Beach Boys, the Eagles, the Doors, Fleetwood Mac, and ultimately much contemporary music that embraces soundscapes and atmosphere, as I hope the image resonates now as much as it relates to art history, and the past, and can also be a jubilant emotional experience. At this important juncture of my mid-life and career, it allowed me to meditate upon the big thoughts of art and life, mortality and work, my and our place in nature in this time of strife, global-warming, and new millennia. Ultimately, I was struck with the ideas (for me, inspired by Tibetan Buddhism) of the literal and symbolic notions of interdependency—between the sun and the tide, of waves and water, and the sea and sky and earth—that also translated into the micromanaged interdependency of brushstrokes, and color creating the whole image. How it is not like the photo is what is "me" about it—and being a son of a psychoanalyst and loving Cézanne, I want to use aspects of nature to create a map for my unconscious to spill forth images and forms from my sublimated imagination, hopefully giving further life and energy, emotion, and ineffable feeling towards the majesty of this eternal scene of nature.