My American Dream: City of Angels
USS Roosevelt ‘Gimbal UFO’: Still from the Declassified Jan. 2015 Video, 2023 Oil on linen 75 × 75 in. (190.5 × 190.5 cm)
USS Roosevelt ‘Gimbal UFO’: Still from the Declassified Jan. 2015 Video, 2023
Oil on linen 75 × 75 in. (190.5 × 190.5 cm)

This is from one of the most famous now images of UFO’s—called UAPs (Unidentified Ariel Phenomena, to overcome the baggage of the UFO stigmatization), originally printed on the front page of the New York Times in their 2017 historic article from Dec. 16, 2017 “Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O Program” that was the first major news item to reveal their acknowledgement and involvement with the phenomena.  The image is from a still I selected-for it’s compositional torque as the aircraft began to spin– from the Official U.S. Navy video of a 2015 UFO encounter, taken aboard a Navy fighter jet from the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, off the eastern seaboard, near the Florida coast.  On the video, you can hear the voice of the Navy pilot talk with his cohort, in another plane, viewing the same phenomena, saying there is a” whole fleet of them” that they “are all going against the wind, the wind is 120 notes to the West” and expressing their aghast at how they are moving, “rotating,” and more.

Pilots from the same carrier strike group operating off the United States East Coast also were able to film the GOFAST video also in the Times reporting (a third video, FLIR, of a “Tic Tac” shaped flying object was also part of the triad of images, from 2004 of the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group off the Coast of Southern California.  These were advanced infrared imagery, showing the cockpit display data (the information I rendered on the sides of the image are accurate—except for my signature—I also love Jasper Johns stenciled text in his works!), initially brought to the press from the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Christopher Mellon.  As part of the article, one of the writers of the story, Leslie Klein interviews Luis Elizondo, the resigned director of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, who has also become part of the team of post US government officials who are hoping for full disclosure—he had resigned in 2017 from the Pentagon as he felt the program wasn’t being taken seriously.  Since that time, in 2019, a Pentagon spokeswoman Susan Gough publicly confirmed that the videos were made by naval aviators and are “part of a larger issue of an increased number of training range incursions by unidentified aerial phenomena in recent years”.  In 2022 the Pentagon officially released the videos, and since then, and more so in recent times, there have been Congressional hearings, with senators from both sides of the aisle demanding transparency and intelligence briefings to get to the bottom of the issue and our governments involvement to bring to the public the disclosure of what has been rumored to be happening since the Cold War, and perhaps, for much longer than this.

The agnostic approach is to say not that little grey men are piloting flying saucers from other planets, but that truly these are unidentified objects—that could be anything from anywhere, we just don’t know what they are, but they do seem to be performing with technology unknown to us.  But the exciting thing of our moment in time is that we know that the Earth isn’t flat, nor is it the center of the universe, and that it is now acknowledged FACT that UFO’s—or UAP’s are REAL.  More evidence is being released at an increased rate since this time, and officials have been revealing—and to Congress (the most recent hearing was in 2023 with the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Accountability with David Fravor, the USS NIMmitz FLIR pilot giving testimony under earth, along with fighter pilot Ryan Graves and former intelligence officer, retired Maj. David Grusch—who in his jaw-dropping testimony that in his research, conducted under Congressional edicts, we have ships—and bodies—of UFO pilots, and that in his opinion “the technology that we faced was far superior than anything that we had”).

I am a child of the Pictures Generation, just turned 58, and was in college and grad school in the 80’s and early 90’s when artists began appropriating imagery, building on the Duchampian maneuvers of Warhol and the rest to bring “ready-mades” of popular imagery, including newspaper photos, into fine art painting, putting imagery in greater context that recoded the images and bringing them into critical context of their oeuvre.  Gerhard Richter is a giant for this, and I love and respect his work, the from the early appropriation imagery from the Germans Capital Realism works, building on Warhol (and Rosenquist’s F-111 series), his series of the Baader-Meinhof group, and even his cloud paintings.  But I feel the job of my generation and now, “post Richter” is, if he was about painting the surface of the image, to penetrate the image for warmth and painterly otherworldliness. I learned, especially from painting from “historical photographs” like the James Dean Crash Site (a 2004 painting that is a promised gift to LACMA) that there is a certain “energy” to these images, ones that sometimes have been seen and pondered by millions.  “Spirit” photography is cool—back in the 1850s, with the advent of photography was the beginnings of the Spiritualist movement, and trying to capture ghosts, ectoplasm, and more in photography (much of it faked) was an intriguing trend of the times.

When I am painting from photos, I listen to music and audiobooks that help to channel my energy in the right direction as I’m “channeling” from the photos everything I can conjure from the visual information before me.   The photos act as talismans, Proustian madeleines for me to ruminate from, and I find myself thinking about dreams, memories, and everything that I can gleam from both my unconscious and unconscious mind while painting.  A son of a psychoanalyst, even my post Freudian father would say we don’t know everything about dreams and unconscious, and I love the paintings of Cézanne, where he uses the forms of the landscapes before his to project his unconscious, like a map into his inner world, of his own dreams and visions. I have a surrealist take on the Impressionists, Post Impressionists, and Modernists—once it became okay, partly due to Cézanne and the rise of photography, to be able to make paintings that didn’t resemble photos or subjective reality, the inner mind could project itself into the picture plane along with the conscious reality of phenomena and expression they were striving to achieve.  Leonardo said that artists sometimes always paint themselves—I think he meant that a poor artist would paint more the resemblance of themselves than whom they are trying to portray—but I also think the inner mind of resemblance of the artist sometimes spills into a picture when painting.  With Cézanne, I see “Cézanne holes” in the middle of his paintings, where his face might have been situated, that look like a reverse mask, where you can make out eyes, teeth, beard, and more.  In Van Gogh, you can see his face and beard in the forms of his cypress trees, in Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon you can see his hidden self-portrait—maybe even to himself—in the negative space to the right of the third female figure in the painting, in El Greco, whom he studied, faces and forms and eyes appear in the negative space, the folds and broken forms of his expressive paintings.   I think when we try to cognize intricate visual information that our “left brain” can’t make sense of, we start to see—as human being animals as perhaps a defense mechanism to identify faces—eyes, faces, forms.  When Pollock was making his drip paintings, he would create faces, eyes, psycho-sexual imagery in his “automatic drawing” that he would reveal in his later work that he would layer over and over so you can’t see in the earlier works (that keeps your mind’s eye fluctuating when your own inner mind tries to make sense of the squiggles and forms).  In college, one of my favorite paintings at MOMA was the Tribulations of Saint Anthony by James Ensor (1887) which was so much fun to gaze into and see all the forms and figures he saw emerging—but I don’t want to illustrate them as he has done, but let them “be” in their own world.

When looking at the “noise” of photos, especially those as complex in this infrared, “reversed” photo taken from a video from a plane, I was cognizing all types of forms and eyes, etc., especially given the sci-fi nature of the source material.  While painting, I listened to Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart symphonies and operas, trying to get to the “big picture” of the Kantian sublime, as, especially in this image, the UAP and the atmosphere around it (and the global atmosphere and revelation about UAPs was phenomenal about the phenomena) created for our culture the epiphany, finally, of the government admitting to their existence—and by (perhaps non-agnostic approach) that we are most likely “not alone”.  I’m like the character Jodie Foster plays in the film Contact, who says (paraphrasing) that the universe is so vast, there must be other beings in the world:

“I was given something wonderful, a vision of the universe, that tells us undeniably how tiny and insignificant and how rare and precious we all are. A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater than ourselves, that we are to—that none of us are alone… If everyone, if even for one moment, could feel that awe and humility and that hope… That continues to be my wish…”

This is the idea of the sublime, feeling a much smaller part of a larger thing, and if we can objectify ourselves in a good way, that we understand if we are just one of many, that the interconnectedness of people and things demands that we take care of ourselves, our flora and fauna to save our planet, hopefully the UAP’s won’t do this for us.   I don’t know if art can do this—and Kant said a human can’t create the same awe in their work as the mighty ocean–but we can try!

I love Turner’s paintings of the sublime, and in particular with this painting, I was thinking in the end of his great “The Fighting Temeraire”, the famous picture at the National Gallery of the veteran warship being taken in by the tugboat to be scrapped, the larger symbiology of the age of sail giving way to the age of steam, and the mightiness of Britain’s past perhaps coming to an eclipse.  Turner would use technology and science to inform and give gravitas both to the compositions and subject matter of his works and feel he would be excited about our new science and abilities to see into space—and whatever the new technology of a UAP could represent.  The color and composition of this masterwork seemed perfect to use as a key to this painting.

On a deeply personal note, it was uncanny to me that in the last day of painting this picture, I had vivid thoughts and images in my mind of my cousin Andrew, who had mental health issues—he was schizophrenic and living in a (very good!) home near Denver, where my cousin and godmother Debra would visit him all the time, and he was a dear friend of the family.  It turned out he had passed away tragically from health issues that day that I was painting, and somehow feel that I must have been having my experience do to this.  I’m not religious, but I am spiritual, and tried lastly to help him reach a great beyond by going back into the picture, thinking about him, and helping to guide him heavenward to a peaceful rest into eternity.