I first investigated manifestations of the unconscious painted as abstract "landscapes"—works that I designated as Iconscapes. These abstract paintings that were exhibited in the 90’s, and have become a component embedded in my current figurative art (and I have gone back to creating some Iconscapes more recently, also included in this show). From my Knoedler Press Release, 2011.
My work emerged in the early 1990s with figurative narrative images rendered in highly crafted drawings and paintings of different styles to suit the content of larger allegories. Upon my move from Los Angeles to New York in 1995, I strove to find the emotive essence that fueled my earlier post-modern work by taking my cues from modernity, creating automatic drawings and instinctive gestural painting in the hope of harnessing the unconscious imagery emerging from micromanaged moments and from the negative space of paintings from the old masters to the New York School. As a son of psychoanalyst and a semiotics major from Brown University, I believe in the power of iconic, essentialized forms to signify complex ideas and feelings in the cognitive mind of the viewer, and that, like the discourse that informed the works of the modernists inspired by Picasso and the Surrealists, I strive to depict the inner consciousness within the plastic space of the picture plane. Being schooled within post-modernity, I also acknowledge the importance of works being able to relate to the world outside the canvas, and I play with the idea of suggestive source material, symbolic uses of color, the power of signs to bring about complex ideas of culture, and creating work that is conscious of how it performs within the context of art history and our time.
The first Iconscapes begin when I eschewed the nuance of appropriated style, for which I had first gained recognition, in favor of raw, intense, and textured abstractions. These gave rise to the vocabulary of the "circle" paintings whose tightly-wound bands of color create an oscillating effect that varies in mood and space from one to the next. I was also creating "expressionist" works inspired by source imagery, where I refer back into figurative paintings with gestures that hope to transcend the underlying subject matter to reveal emotive moments of synaesthetic form and color. This work lead to paintings that aspire to grasp symbolic forms of the unconscious in illusions of three dimensional space while I reacted to the politics and the mood of the end of the 20th century.
My stake in cartoons is that I believe that part of their power exists in our dreams, where we probably see iconic images of ghost-like smiley faces that we project onto (that’s grandpa!, etc). Our minds have simplified forms as memory devices that metonymically stir up language and experiential associations. I wanted, with my "iconscapes," to render these into life–with plastic space and volume, like a Gorky painted with the "reality" representation of the Renaissance–like a painted, three-dimensional dream. I would think of memories and dreams while I painted, hoping my hands would conjure them up, hoping, like when a kid tries to erase an etch-a-sketch board to see what made it work, to erase consciously realized representation to find the ghost that haunts it from behind.
We see faces in everything, I believe, as a survival skill as human being animals. Good compositions look like faces because of this, and Scott McCloud, in his great book Understanding Comics discusses how when we have very simplified forms, like a "happy face," we can "suture into" these forms, transcending into and becoming them.
In wanting to make my work vacillate, and have a life of its own, I had a great epiphany one evening walking to my studio after teaching this notion at the School of Visual Arts in my comics class. What if you made a painting that had a shape or form that was like a simplified face that you could relate to, that you could "suture into," but then also repeat that form in a vacillating manner with color and texture, widths and shapes—would it start to "move," and could you, given the design and palate of it, also imbue the work with synaesthetic feeling? When you map out a puppet form of a face before you begin to render sometimes in fine art and in comics, you create a vertical line where the nose and center of the mouth may be within an oval form, and a horizontal line where the eyes would be placed, forming a cross-like design, the perfect Golden Ratio. Realizing this a fundamental design element in a sketchbook for this painting, I realized that there was a holy spiritual notion in this, symbolically speaking—that there was a "cross within all of us." Not that I’m religious, but just spiritual enough to go with this notion, which had generated along with it a halo like affect, and hopefully optimistic palate that while the painting hopefully has a life of its own, and starts to undulate the more you look at it, suture into it, that it could fill the viewer with a bright sensation of spiritual uplift, a little sublime transcendence. This is a key painting for me, as it serves as the basis of much of my work sense this I painted it and now, as I hope my figurative works still break into abstraction in micro-managed moments, with pockets of atom-like undulations unconsciously created, like atoms, to make the painting come alive.