Sunday, August 27, 2017


When I paint a narrative portrait for someone I always think of myself as the weaver and my client as the provider of the yarn.  With my recent project my client provided some truly beautiful and rich threads to work with! The painting is a gift to his wife to celebrate their marriage and their family. Right from the beginning I was moved by his love and admiration for her. He took so much time thinking about the project and carefully choosing photos and memories from their many years together, that he thought she would enjoy, for me to incorporate into the painting. It was truly a labor of complete adoration by him and thus very inspiring for me to create it.

"Tapestry", oil on linen, 34" x 50"

The concept of the painting was to represent their life together and their travels, as well as personal talents, interests and occupations of the parents and their three children.

He thought that his wife would like a deep space that would feel like a window into another world. I looked to several Dutch street scenes as inspiration for the composition and architectural elements (Both of them like Dutch paintings.)- One by Willem Koekkoek and one by Joods Dommersen. 


On either side of the street are two little interiors.  On the left, a couple sits at a table in an intimate scene of domestic happiness as they plan their next trip together. There is a map on the table and an antique globe lifted from Vermeer’s painting- “The Astronomer”.  The pose comes from a painting by Pieter de Hooch titled “Couple with Parrot”

In the foreground of the interior is a suitcase with a guide to Paris and a beret - a tribute to his wife’s love of French culture and language. The Pinocchio hanging from the chair is a reference to the client’s profession.   

On the upper level of the house a young man stands with a telescope. This is the eldest son who is at SpaceX in California, working on sending a rocket to Mars. Note - the moon looks a bit like Mars - and there is a rocket stream in the sky.

Also on the left side monkeys cavort on the roof tops - these are from some of the many photos of animals taken on their family trips.

Connecting the composition from left to right is their daughter as a little girl dribbling a soccer ball through the street and a young version of their two boys, about to launch a model rocket. The family does not have pets but I couldn't resist adding a little hound in the door at the right as a symbol of fidelity.

In the interior on the right side there is baking going on. The two younger children are serious bakers and it was difficult picking which gorgeous cake to include in the painting. Also in this interior are a trumpet their daughter plays, a typewriter and an apple with a bite out of it. The younger son is a screenwriter and also works for Apple. On the back wall is a map of Indonesia -a frequent destination for the husband and wife before they had children. In the upstairs window is a Probiscus Monkey - one of the family’s favorite creatures from their many trips. It is sort of a family joke because probiscus in Malaysian means old Dutch uncle.

Now for the landscapes. There were so many to choose from and making the transition from one to the next to create a deep space was one of the many enjoyable challenges in this project. At the end of the street are a number of warriors from the tomb of a Vietnamese emperor in Hue, which make way for a bridge in Nara, Japan. The couple, in their early years together, are about to cross the bridge to visit The Golden Temple in Amritsar India. Behind the temple the landscape changes rapidly to Morocco and five camels just visible on the horizon, before your eye makes a leap to the vanishing point for the entire painting - which lies somewhere beyond Machu Pichu.

I feel honored to have been asked to collaborate on this project, to have gotten to know this amazing family vicariously through their personal photos and stories, and to bear witness to the deep love and pride a man has for his wife and children.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Come for Drinks!

Come for Drinks! oil on linen, 30" x 40"

I was so excited when my art dealer Jaynie Spector, owner of Dog & Horse Fine Art in Charleston South Carolina asked me to do a family portrait of her with her husband Joe, their son Sean and all their dogs past and present. First of all I adore Jaynie as all her artists do. She is a lovely person with all that southern charm mixed in seamlessly with a great business mind and a love for great art (and dogs). Jaynie and I first met many years ago when I was a young artist in NYC and she was a young art dealer working at a gallery in Soho. We met through a mutual friend, Dorian Rogers Winslow, also a great lover of art (and dogs) and owner of Womanswork

To make a long story short, I moved overseas, lived in several countries, exhibited my paintings in galleries in New York and abroad, finally settling in DC. Jaynie moved up in the art world, ran several galleries before settling in beautiful Charleston -and we lost touch. One day another mutual friend walked into the gallery, told Jaynie I was living in DC, gave her my number and the rest is recent history.  

If you ever go to Charleston you must go visit Dog & Horse at 102 Church Street. It is an intimate space filled with work by some of the best dog and horse painters in the world. This is not an exaggeration. A few whose work I especially love are Lese Corrigan, Robert Clarke, Beth Carlson, Ian Mason, and David Terry, but they are all incredible. See for yourself!  And going to Dog & Horse Fine Art is not your typical stuck up gallery experience. On any day you will be greeted warmly by a person, an English Cocker, or maybe a rabbit or...

So a little bit about Jaynie's portrait. I guess the big things I wanted to portray was the charm and hospitality she exudes as well as the very appealing "controlled chaos" that sort of whirls around her and those who love her.  The Spector family loves to entertain and cook and Joe publishes the most beautiful food magazine about the food culture of the south, called The Local Palate You can see a copy on the chair in the left foreground.  

The interior is a composite of several rooms in their home in Charleston and yes the ceilings are that high. The art on the walls and the books on the tables all have significance to their family or professional lives. And if you look closely- that is a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. :) And the dogs-oh yes the dogs.  On the right with Sean is Tommy, the current greeter in the gallery. In the center is Jaynie's dog love of her life, Lucy. On the left is Joe's beautiful and devoted boxer Natasha, from an earlier time, who he adored. And the dog racing across the foreground, knocking over chairs, spilling the chardonnay and carrying the red high heel? That is  "Crazy Zed" about whom many tales/tails are told in the Spector Family history book. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Lullaby for Lions

Lullaby for Lions, oil on linen, 48" x 60"
I have been working on this painting for several months, but it has been in my mind for a long time. The first kernel of an idea happened on July 1, 2015 when I heard on the radio that Cecil the Lion had been shot after being lured from the sanctuary by an illegal party of big game hunters.  I was in my car and I remember thinking thank god I wasn’t at that stage of my life when I was ferrying small children around in my minivan. One of them would certainly have heard the report, as children have finely tuned ears for things like that. And I would have had to come up with some explanation of why a man would want to shoot and kill a beautiful, magnificent, unsuspecting living creature. And I would not have had an explanation that would not destroy a child’s vision of humanity for the rest of their lives- at least not at that moment. I think I would have said something like "well as a good human being it is our responsibility to guard and protect beauty, creatures at risk, and things more vulnerable than ourselves". And then I envisioned a child’s answer, a salve to soften the horrid, nightmarish image of poor Cecil dead on the ground with a poor excuse for a human standing over him, grinning victoriously. 

...So the vision was a little boy who had invited the lions into a safe place, a sanctuary where he could read them stories and sing them lullabies and let them sleep peacefully…not a worry in their lion hearts.

When I started doing sketches and research for the actual painting, I was drawn again to Rousseau. Studying his paintings over the past few years I have been attracted to them in a different way than ever before. I am in awe of his inventiveness and unencumbered capacity to create form and narrative without any responsibility to realism or naturalism. I have fallen in love with his tigers and lions and fantastic botanical forms. I borrowed his palette and landscape elements from The Sleeping Gypsy for the setting for Lullaby for Lions.
Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897
Other lions that I looked at are the beautiful sculptures outside the New York Public Library, named Patience and Fortitude.

And a tiny statue that was given to me as a gift. It sat like a muse on my painting table while I worked...and then there were my own cats who wander in and out of the studio and conveniently curl up at just the right moment.
Otis and tiny lion sculpture
I also fell in love with the paintings of lions by the French painter 
Aime Nicholas Morot (1850-1913) whose work I didn’t know until I started looking at lions. He could really paint lions.  

Morot Lion
And many thanks to the young boy next door who modeled for the little boy in the painting. At the time his hair had grown beautifully long and unruly like a lion's mane. When I told him he was to be reading to lions, he took that pose like he had read to lions everyday of his life. Perhaps he has. I know for sure he will never, ever shoot one.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Mending the Tigers

I just finished painting "Mending the Tigers". I have been working on it since March 9 when I last posted about it in progress. It has been almost three months. People often ask me how long it takes me to do a painting but I never keep track. So now I know. I guess keeping a blog is good in that respect. 
"Mending the Tigers", oil on linen, 4' x 5'

As I mentioned in my earlier post the idea came from a short story by Aimee Bender called Tiger Mending. It is a mesmerizing story so you should read it. It is in her collection called "The Color Master". Here is a link to her website
I interpreted her story to have an environmental message. In my mind the tigers were coming out of the mountains to get help from humans. Their stripes falling off as symbolic of the fragility of this great beast in the modern world. The young woman mending the tigers represents the mindfulness, inventiveness and skill it is going to take for us as the responsible party to "mend" the environment. While she is the creative and the talent who has the ability to do the mending, her sister, leading the tigers in, is the facilitator-the person with the brain and resourcefulness to make things happen. 
(Note that this is my interpretation. There are others out there that focus on the relationship between the sisters). 

While I was preparing to do this painting  I looked at lots of paintings through art history that were about tigers both to see how they were handled by artists in terms of drawing and painting but also to see their place in art.  I went to the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia to see Henri Rousseau's "Scout Attacked by a Tiger".  It is a brutal scene but Rousseau's vision is magical. They seem like mini figurines in long grass. The tiger's anatomy is a little odd but it makes for an enchanting painting. I hope the tiger came out on top of the situation, but Rousseau keeps us guessing. 

Eugene Delacroix was another great painter of tigers. I especially love his "Tiger Resting" which I also included in "Mending the Tigers", hanging above the Rousseau, and his beautiful watercolor and pencil study, simply called "Tiger". It is in the National Gallery.  I included it as a plate in the book in the right foreground- as if the young woman was studying it to see how to stitch the stripes back on. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Mending the Tigers in Progress

It has been awhile since I've posted anything on my blog. Sometimes when I am working I am too involved it the process to spend time on social media or even my computer. I guess I will always be "old school". Even though I spend the necessary time each day on my computer for my business, sending images, emailing clients, communicating with my galleries, and trying to update my facebook studio page and instagram (yikes!)  I never really feel like I am truly "working" unless I am up in my studio standing in front of my painting wall. I had been working on another book and some portrait work so it took me awhile to get this painting up and running. To dust off the cobwebs in my brain I first did a full size drawing in charcoal and chalk on brown paper. The drawing and the painting are 4' x 5'. It is great to work in charcoal so I can push it around until I get the composition where I want it. So that is the first image you see here.  The second is the perspective drawing on the actual canvas. The third is the underpainting in grisaille with just the start of the first glaze. (pink area on the right) The fourth image shows more of the first glaze. That is where I am right now.  So stay tuned for more images of the progress. By the way the subject of the painting is inspired by a mesmerizing story called "Tiger Mending" by the writer Aimee Bender. I can't wait to paint the tigers!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"The Collector", oil on panel, 26" x 32"

This is a portrait I just completed for the New York collector Neale Albert and his lovely wife Margaret. He asked to be painted in his library with some of his favorite pieces. He has an astounding collection of paintings, porcelain, English brass, miniature Shakespeare books, and a beautiful replica of the new Globe Theater made by Tim Gosling. He is also known for commissioning unusual  (and challenging) projects from artists, cabinet makers, and book binders. His collection will eventually go to Yale University and there will be an exhibition at Yale next spring of his miniature Shakespeare collection called  "The poet of them all": William Shakespeare and miniature designer bindings from the collection of Neale and Margaret Albert.  They have decided to show this portrait as part of the exhibition. 
A few interesting things about the painting: There are paintings by George Deem, Robert Kulicke and Nell Blaine among others. Neale and Margaret own another small apartment two floors above their  apartment on Park Avenue, which opens on to a roof garden, that overlooks the city. They call this apartment and garden "The Morgan Cottage" and refer to it as their summer home. So to include it in the painting we brought it down to the 6th floor and opened the library to it (in the painting). Neale and Margaret are also represented in the garden, enjoying a peaceful glass of wine above the chaos of the city.  Also included in the painting are many objects they cherish from their personal life histories. I have known Neale for a long time and I did another painting for him years ago of his favorite London pub. It was an honor to do this portrait for them and it gave me a deep appreciation for their lives and the kind of focus, passion and perseverance it takes to form a collection over a lifetime. And I admire their generosity in giving the collection to Yale where it will be appreciated by many-forever.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"The Sunday Paper" and homage to "La Grande Jatte"

I finished this painting, "The Sunday Paper", just in time to frame it and put it on a truck to Dog and Horse Fine Art, in Charleston, South Carolina. My show there opens on Friday night and I am very excited about it.  Come to the opening if you are going to be in Charleston! There will be jazz music and cupcakes! Along with wine, of course. Charleston is known for its Friday night art openings.

"The Sunday Paper", oil on linen, 36" x 48"

 As you can see the interior of the painting is a typical Sunday morning in some houses-guy on the sofa, dozing off while reading the Sunday paper. His faithful dogs would love to go to the park, but their owner won't wake up and take them. So the park is coming to them.

Georges Seurat's incredible painting, "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte", has had a huge role in my development as a painter over a period of 30 (at least) years. I fell in love with it when I was in graduate school, -for its formality, compositional brilliance, such as the use of the golden section and diagonals, use of the silhouette, shape repetition, shape symbolism, and about a million other reasons. Seurat was a genius and so much more than the "pointillism" technique he used for awhile, which tends to be his big claim to fame in art history books. He died at age 32 and I always wonder what he would have produced if he had lived longer. He was a skilled draftsman as well as an auspicious colorist, so he was capable of anything.

Whenever I feel confused about painting (frequently) I return to La Grande Jatte along with going back to look at Vermeer's "Woman in Blue Reading a Letter". Those two paintings clear my head, reinforce what painting is about, and restore my faith.  I had seen lots of studies and reproductions of La Grande Jatte but I had never seen the big finished painting until last year when I finally got to Chicago. The painting took my breath away and I felt dizzy standing in front of something I had studied and admired for so long. I spent the entire day there.

It was time to pay homage. So I decided to make the park in "The Sunday Paper", La Grande Jatte.

I had to expand Seurat's landscape a little bit so that it was visible out the door and the side window, and I borrowed a few figures from some of his other paintings and studies. As you can see, a few elements of the painting have already seeped into the room. The monkey on a leash being held by the woman with the black parasol has sneaked into the picture along with her hat, as have some of the vertical elements and diagonals. I do realize that there are a lot of people who are not reading a hard copy of the newspaper anymore, so there is a tablet (maybe a kindle?) on the coffee table on top of the red book. So that is me tipping my top hat to new technology, while also tipping it to one of the greatest paintings of the 19th century. Thank you Georges.