Artists and Other Strangers
The artists I choose to paint are touchstones for me. Important as their bodies of work are, it's their work ethic and persistence that, for me, holds even greater significance.
There were a handful of good painters I came in contact with in the 70's when I was in school at UMASS in Amherst and again, when I returned in the 80's for my MFA. I was fortunate to study with Leonel Gongora and John Grillo. Gongora, was an expressionist & strong figurative painter from Colombia -and an early influence on my painting. Grillo, in many ways, was why I returned to Amherst in the early 80's. As I've often remarked to my students over the years: If history gets it right, John will be recognized as one of America's truly significant post-war painters. A great colorist, pioneer abstract expressionist and friend, Grillo was not only a crucial influence on my painting, but on my teaching as well. Another painter of great significance for me, is Gregory Gillespie. Gillespie was also out in western Mass. during my time there. I didn't know Gregory as well as I knew Grillo or Gongora, but in someways, the connection I felt to his work was deeper. For me, he's on that short list of artists that have no equal. My painting: Mourning Picture for Gregory (After Edwin Romanzo Elmer) is based on the great work by Edwin Romanzo Elmer, Mourning Picture, 1890, in the Smith College Art Museum. This painting is one I visited much in the same way some people go on a pilgrimage to see the altars of Piero della Francesca. I love everything about the Elmer painting: the feeling of western Massachusetts, landscape and light...the mysterious but solid American folk-like presence of the figures, the pre-surrealist symbolism and correspondence...-even the cracking of the paint surface is extraordinary!
Although, I never had the occasion to talk to Gregory specifically about this painting, I've always felt that he knew the painting as well and just as likely, treasured it as I do.
More than twenty years ago, the poet, Robert Gibbons wrote that my paintings struck him as “acts of resurrection”. I didn't honestly recognize this at the time, but now in retrospect, I see it as a very reasonable explanation for why I choose to paint some of the people I do.