My work is about beauty, enchantment, and mystery, and is guided by the belief that art should transcend the mundane. I use surrealist-inspired methods to create evocative populated landscapes that explore relationships by fusing iconic imagery—imagery that recalls Chagall in its playfulness and medieval manuscript illumination in its use of pictorial space—with the visual density and moodiness of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights or Giger’s dystopian paintings. These landscapes, though taking cues from macabre styles of art, are serene, echoing the intention of classical Chinese painters to invite the viewer to look into rather than at the work of art and thereby be transported to an awareness that is best described using the Japanese aesthetic concept of yuugen, or profound grace. My imagery—which often serves as a foil upon which to engage formal issues such as composition, texture, and colour—comes from all aspects of my lived experience and includes stylized representations of figures in landscapes, accompanied by elemental forms, humanoid and anthropomorphic beings and plants, buildings and ruins, and enigmatic phenomena. In addition to finding inspiration from historical artists, I integrate aspects of popular culture—among them film, music, and cartoons—into the work.
In contrast to artists whose work starts with concepts or verbal statements, my practice has always been strongly based in drawing, and values visual expression above all else. I start with materials and intention rather than words, and see drawing as a way to practice looking and seeing, even when the drawing isn’t necessarily representational. If any overall concept has bearing on my practice, it is the intent to create evocative nonverbal imagery that draws the viewer into an experience that is beyond the mundane recognition of worldly objects and activities.
Recently, my process for making finished pieces has been to take a number of sketches, collage them together digitally to create new compositions and then work up and refine these collages in my medium of choice. Sometimes the work calls for new compositional elements. In contrast to the past, rather than searching through my sketchbooks for these new elements, I create them directly in the medium I’m using. Overall, my current process is an extension and enlargement of my old process which was a linear progression where I would work from sketch to finished piece, usually interpreting only a single sketch, sometimes simplifying it before doing so. I now work with much more complex base artwork, sometimes as many as six or more source drawings for a single piece. I also find that the process moves in both directions in the sense that not only are my pieces visually richer than in the past, this increased richness and density has started to appear in my most recent drawings.
While drawing is a key part of my practice, I don’t define myself by the medium or methods I work with. Labels such as painter, sculptor, or digital artist have become increasingly inapplicable to my work. I see myself as an artist, period. My media choices for a given body of work are less dependent upon the materials I’m working with than on the pieces I want to create. I find myself less interested in the concerns of specific media, and more concerned with continuing to make art regardless of the materials at hand.
The convergence of these factors has led me to an intense digital studio practice over the past year which resulted in the body of work I call Encounters. Because I’ve always had a certain level of frustration with and ambivalence towards using the computer to make art, my decision to work digitally was not without its worries. Whereas in the past these feelings were prompted by technical limitations of the tools, in the early stages of working on Encounters it was because of challenges that arose from the work itself. Overcoming this frustration—by embracing the creation of challenging work—has led to what I believe is some of my strongest work in any medium. When I gave myself the specific goal of completing forty pieces in six months I was concerned—because of previous experiences working digitally—that I’d get sick of this medium. But as I came closer to reaching my goal, rather than not wanting to touch the computer again I found myself looking forward to making more work and exploring the medium even further. The key for me has been to concentrate on making good work because the art is exciting, rather than because of any inherent novelty in the technology and tools. While I do make extensive use of technology to create the work, the work is above all art, not the technology that enables specific artistic practices.
Related to the idea of not tying my work to a fixed materiality is my approach to titling this recent body of work. Because I want to leave interpretation to the viewer, I’ve abandoned my previous practice of titling individual works. Viewers are expected to approach the pieces in Encounters from their own experience rather than mine, and thereby create their own interpretation of each piece.