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The Art of Observation

As we pass from the enormously turbulent year of 2021 into 2022, I cannot help but reflect on time over the decades and examine the experiences that have led me to the current body of work. The environment in which we spend our youth shapes views, outlooks, and perceptions. With this in mind, it brought me to a painting I made in the late 1960s titled War U Get. At the inexperienced age of 16, the work was one of my first attempts at a larger picture focused on concept or narrative.

I remember clearly when the painting came to me. At the time, I was living in Philadelphia and finishing my senior year of high school at the Philadelphia College of Art. I was walking home on a cold winter day with low and waning light when I stopped abruptly. The gritty brick environment had just been christened with a superb new splash of graffiti. I had been studying the free-associative hand of the local graffiti artists, but this had it all. This scrawl, WAR U GET, encapsulated the late 60’s antiwar environment that had held my interest, given I came precariously close to being drafted and sent to Vietnam.

I determined that this artistic conceptual epiphany should be encapsulated and visually documented. I then took a sketchbook and camera out for several late afternoon sessions. My first job was to define the broad proportions of the work. I did small sketches on a grid that I then transferred proportionally to the larger canvas. As I remember, I determined the scale of the painting, stretched the canvas, and then primed the surface with a colored ground. It was a tentative beginning but the same basis that I have employed to date. I then pursued the final painting through repeated trips to the location and days in the studio.

While the process of making a painting has become more refined as I have aged, that moment of clarity, that moment of creating a narrative statement, be it of love, peace, or war, has remained now 50 years later remarkably the same. Critical is the simple observation that we as social beings spin impossibly around and around, seeking the same desire for power, wealth, love, and war over the millennia. This earthly cycle brings with it the chaos we see today.


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