The Phantom, 2002 Oil on Linen 30 × 36 inches
The Phantom, 2002
Oil on Linen 30 × 36 inches

I used to have a nightmare of a giant skull man walking down stairs when I was a small child, and when I finally saw Phantom of the Opera as an adult, there is the famous color sequence where the Phantom, in his Red Death costume, comes down the stairs in the Masque of the Red Death costume for the Masquerade Ball scene, and I realized that this must have been something I had seen as a kid which entered into my subconscious. I’m a big believer when you are doing any kind of dream art to think about the dream why you are executing it as then sometimes it opens up "portholes" in your unconscious, and you start remembering other aspects of the dream which can be illuminating and also infuse your work with a synaesthetic other life. Also, when working with nightmare imagery, by making work about it you objectify it, you "own it." Being a son of a psychoanalyst, I believe it gives you a method in which to understand what it was that plagued you in the first place. I’m also a big fan of Goya, who in his figurative narrative work was able to create allegories that have stood the test of time, and also create atmospheres that you really can feel and are palatable, that get under your skin better than any horror movie as they use both form and content to reach an inner mythos that could be intrinsic in all of humanity, through the power of the plasticity of oil paint to make not only things, people, and scenes concretized and realized within the picture plane, but also thoughts and feelings (and of course in his prints and drawings his inky blacks and scratchy sketching also lends towards emotive melancholic tones). In fact, it was seeing his Black Paintings at the Prado when I was in high school that made me want to create fine art, and to even see a relationship between the "danse macabre" of his imagery and my own fascination with monsters and science fiction growing up.

In this earlier work of this show—this was really part of the Hamlet 1999 series—and in that context, I was thinking of the Phantom as representing George W. Bush as he was leading us into war, or in a more universal context, the Shakespearian Claudius, a dubious leader, and his followers all too happy to lead to a world of destruction. Picasso said a painter paints to unload themselves, and I did that here using the subject matter to think about my anxieties towards this scene as a youngster, and how real it still seemed to be in maturity, where darkness and death can lure around any corner, and in the negative space, and cracks and folds of conscious representation of my painterly brush. The sleep of reason produces monsters, and so it is when bringing up imagery when thinking about your thoughts, allowing your unconscious seep through your paint along with your conscious control. Here, he represents, in my evocation of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, a devil, or THE devil, leading the damned to a dower inferno.