My American Dream (Marlborough)
The Young Man and the Sea, 2015 Oil on linen 30 × 20 inches
The Young Man and the Sea, 2015
Oil on linen 30 × 20 inches

I’ve done a number of works involving maritime themes, and I have always been drawn to the theme of the ocean and the sea. This is from my own photo taken this summer at Santa Monica beach, where I was staying at the Casa Del Mar and taking images for a large commission—a painting of the sunset with the pier and the ferris wheel in the background that is now in the center of their front entrance lobby. I was in a celebratory mood, in the last days of my Whitney Biennial installation, and with the future ahead of me, also was thinking of my journey that lead up to this moment.

When I graduated from Brown I wasn’t sure about the direction I wanted to go in—I was a Semiotics and Studio Art Major, who wrote, directed, and acted in plays and was the "cartoon guy" on campus, doing the daily strip and the illustrations for most of the various publications. I was also coming out as a gay young man, with some thwarted relationships, and had begun the long hard process of coming out to my family and friends. I went on a whirlwind nine-month trip with my childhood friend Jenn Kay through Western Europe, Egypt, and Kenya—where my sister was stationed working in the Peace Corps—before heading back through Eastern Europe. When I was house sitting in Lamu, near the equator in Africa for one of my sisters’ Peace Corps friends, it was a lonely, unsettling time where I was trying to write, and to paint, and come up with ideas of cartoons but more involved my whole life. I was reading Ulysses, and in a very sublime and moving head space. Through a series of intense events, I ended up symbolically burned a play that I had written on the beach, and looking up saw a boat at sea and made a vow that I would move to New York City and become a fine artist.

Turner has been a huge inspiration in my later years as an artist, and comes from his own tradition and culture of cultivating sublime experiences when creating his wondrous landscapes, which often times depict the sun and sea, and man’s inhabitation of Earth, and able to transpose his perception of light and nature within allegories that also appeal to the mind as much as they might the mind’s eye. From Da Vinci and the Old Masters to Modernism, ideas of the artist to create something new sometimes necessitates looking towards nature more than to art history, culture, or one’s self. I have found from working from photos of nature and natural things that exist in the world, that I can hopefully resublimate some of the unconscious and subconscious aspects that the Modernists, from Cezanne forward were extracting from their views of seeing, back into natural forms but still, hopefully have my unconscious perpetuate through these forms. With digital photography, and high-end printers, I have found more detail that I can observe than perhaps when painters were working En plein air or with early photography. For this work, I had a large format Epson print with a high resolution, very detailed image, which I transposed onto canvas using the classic tradition of the grid, which necessarily makes abstract all the details of the image within each square, allowing my "right brain" to be able to look at individual passages of form, light, and color without my "left brain" trying to amalgamate this into a symbolic image.

Although the painting is small, it took me about a wonderful month to complete, meditating upon my life and career, playing music that I had listened to during this important time in my life, as I painted the micromanaged moments, to hopefully make a sublime photo about our place in nature and time, that had less to do with my own personal experience, but the age old Romantic ideal of forging a new world through dreams and aspirations. Like a Casper David Friedrich, I wanted to have the viewer be able to relate to and suture into the silhouetted figure looking out at the landscape full of hope and aspirations, and also one’s own place in the eternal ideals of humankind versus Nature.