In the autumn of 2017, I was interviewed by the Chinese art publication, COLLECTIONS Magazine for their October issue after having been selected as an award recipient in the 12th International Art Renewal Center (ARC) Salon Exhibition.
I am very pleased to have been featured in this beautiful publication and grateful to Yinglun Ji, Chief Editor, for selecting me, and to Hongbin Zhang, Editor of Overseas Features.
Due to our language barrier, some content may have been lost in translation. I am including the interview questions as they were posed to me and the answers I gave in English.
COLLECTIONS Magazine Article – October 2017 Issue
Q: In order to give readers a better understanding of your artistic creations, first, please introduce your growing experience, your family and your learning experience and the events that have a great impact on your painting.
A: I grew up in Southern California and knew from my earliest years as a child that I wanted to draw and paint. I never chose to be an artist. Art chose me…
Growing up, I was a painfully shy child and life was not always easy at home. The arts were my safe haven.
I spent countless hours drawing and painting, and when I could get to museums, I relished the opportunity to study the paintings.
Instead of continuing on with the course of study that typical schools might dictate, I decided to find artists I admired and try to study with them when possible and find ateliers that were teaching skills in line with the type of art that excited me. I have been fortunate to have some outstanding teachers.
Q: Have you ever had a systematic study at the Art Institute of Florence, Italy, and what do you think that the most helpful to your painting during this period? What are the similarities and differences between the learning of classical painting and the traditional painting?
A: My experience at the Florence Academy of Art was very important in my development as an artist because I was able to immerse myself in some of the greatest works and traditions of art history. I studied there for a summer. There’s a strong emphasis on the fundamentals of drawing and painting practiced by the masters who lived and painted there. By learning how the masters perfected their craft, you can learn techniques that may be applied to any kind of painting. In Florence, the whole city is your teacher.
Q: Do you think it is necessary to learn classical painting skills as a modern artist?
A: Isaac Newton said, “if I I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the the shoulders of giants”. He was talking about scientific learning but I feel it is the same with painting. You learn from those who came before you. Even if an artist doesn’t study classical painters directly, their techniques and approach to draftsmanship and color are as relevant today as they were hundreds of years ago. With a solid foundation, one may build on that knowledge and make choices that can take the art in any direction. They are skills that can help any artist.
Q: From your resume, you learned following some contemporary famous artists, what do you learn from them? From your personal point of view, how do you think the artistic ideas of these old artists are different from those of young artists like you?
A: To try to condense what I have learned from my instructors into a single answer is impossible.
I had the good fortune to study closely with Aaron Shikler for many years, and learned from several other notable painters (and kind people). In addition to their invaluable lessons on technique (drawing, value, shapes, edges, color, composition, etc.), I learned important ways of thinking about painting. They are known for being great portrait painters but part of what made them great was that they thought of themselves not as “portrait painters” but simply as painters. The common theme among the great artists with whom I studied is that you don’t worry about what makes a great portrait so much as what makes a great painting. They also impressed that a key part of what makes a painting work well, is knowing what NOT to paint – the importance of editing – something I struggle with. I think these are teachings that are timeless, regardless of age or style of the artist. We may have different things to say – but the vehicles for conveying what we want to say are similar. I think it depends deeply on the individual and not on the age of an artist.
Each time you learn something – you are given a new way to see – it supports and adds to the vision that is all your own. Each learning experience, each teacher you learn from, they all at once make you examine the validity of your previous education and beliefs and offer new ones. Ultimately it is up to the individual artist to select what resonates with them – what brings out in themselves the painter they wish to be.
It is important, I think, to remember that each time you study with a teacher, you are being exposed to wonderful information as well as their own opinions and biases. I think it is important to step into each experience with an excitement to learn, but also with a thoughtful approach to examining the information that you’ve been given. The very best teachers encourage you to critically think about what has been presented to you – not to say “this is the only way.”
Q: What do you think the standard of a good portrait? What is the biggest puzzle when creating a portrait?
A: A good portrait does more than capture the person’s likeness. It also reveals a part of the subject that is unique to that individual. When you see a great portrait, you feel as if you know, just from seeing the image, something essential about the personality of that individual. And that’s also the greatest challenge. You have to see what it is about that person that makes them who they are and then capture it with color and light.
Q. Your painting was in the semi-finals in 2015 BP portrait Award, we know this award is very famous internationally, would you please talk about the experience of the competition? What do you think that the direct cause of your work being called the semi-final?
A: I was honored to be selected as a semi-finalist and was especially delighted as it was the first time I had entered a painting in this prestigious international competition. Despite some challenges and worries of international shipping, it was a wonderful and interesting experience. I could guess that the painting was selected as a semi-finalist because the painting, Blowing Smoke, succeeded in making a connection with the viewer. Viewers of the painting have told me that they feel as though they are in the room with this man at the moment he is lighting his pipe, bathed in the light and are almost able to smell the smoke. It pleases me very much to have succeeded on some level with creating that connection. Though I cannot know exactly why the selection was made as all judges are so different. I was not ultimately selected as a finalist but it was an honor to make it as far as I did.
Q: You have participated in many American and European portrait competitions, and have won many awards, from your experience to participate in the International portrait award winning the Secret of what?
A: It’s a great honor to win awards because it means you are being recognized by peers, many of whom are great artists. But you can’t paint to try to please judges. You have to be true to yourself and your vision. The best paintings accomplish that and when judges recognize it, it’s very gratifying.
I don’t think that there is a secret. I think that if you are passionate about your work, others will also feel that when they view your work. I am so grateful to have the privilege of being an artist. That is the very best award of all.
Also, artists must take care not to take rejections personally. As someone who has judged an exhibit, I can tell you it is an extremely difficult process. There are many factors that determine the outcome. It is often such a close race between which painting receives the award, or which is selected for exhibit, and which does not that the same judge, on any other day, might make a different decision.
Q: One important part of your work is: what is the reason for the human skeleton project that makes you so obsessed with painting? What kind of fun do you get from drawing such a theme?
A: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by skeletons. I find them charming and truly beautiful. As a child I never found them frightening but rather was delighted by them- they were so friendly – always smiling. I would draw them repeatedly. Living in Los Angeles and surrounded by Mexican culture, I was thrilled by the holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) – I found it to be such a beautiful remembrance of those loved ones lost and I adored the imagery of the festive skeletons.
I think then the natural progression is to get to figurative painting and drawing… If you are obsessed with the foundation I think that wanting to add to that foundation, those bones, is natural.
Years ago when I was feeling “in a slump” with painting and really didn’t know what to do – I was thinking back to when drawing and painting was pure joy – as a child – and I wanted to “restart” myself. I wanted to once again feel that joy. I listed things that I could remember bringing me that joy and skeletons were at the top of the list. I set out on a little project I entitled The Skeleton Project where I endeavored to create a skeleton work once a week for a year, in addition to my other work. They were not to be hyperrealistic – they were not to be anything but playful vehicles to bring me joy – and that they did. They were to put me back in touch with that little child I was – they were not to be submitted to exhibits. The works were not necessarily the work of art – the joy I derived from painting them – that joy was the work of art. Because I allowed myself absolute freedom to be silly, within these childlike parameters, I once again became more excited about painting other subjects. I will always continue to paint skulls and skeletons – I think they are beautiful and so much fun.
Q: The United States is recognized as the center of Contemporary art, and we are very interested to know what is the state of classical realist painting in contemporary American art ecology? And is the realistic painting being marginalized?
A: There will always be different trends in what is popular in terms of sales. I don’t worry about that. For me, there is something universal in representational art – It never really goes out of style. There are amazing organizations in the U.S. that are doing much to promote realist art – such as Art Renewal Center and there are more ateliers focusing on traditional instruction and painting now.
Q: What is the proportion of contemporary American artists engaged in realistic painting and in contemporary art creation?
A: I don’t know the percentages, but it is clear that realistic painting is on an upswing. It’s heartening and exciting to see.
Q: How do you think of the use of traditional painting techniques to present contemporary social life?
A: One of the great things about art is that you never really have to choose. There are experimental art forms that seek to capture the frantic energy and fractured nature of modern life and some people will respond to that. But as long as there are humans on this planet, I believe many will respond favorably to the kind of representational art that captures people and their situations, their beauty, their emotions and their conflicts. Traditional techniques can always be put in the service of expressing contemporary life as it evolves and the way that we evolve with it.
Q: In your portrait creation, do you rely on a model to sketch or rely on photos? What do you think of the problem that many artists use photos to create?
A: My preference is to use a model because there is no substitute from drawing or painting from life. But as a practical matter, many of my portraits must be done from photos.
They key is to spend time with the subject and take many high quality photos. It’s not enough to be a good technical painter, you have to see what you want to paint and capture it twice – first with the camera and then on your canvas.
The problem with using photos is using a single photo & copying each detail is that your painting ends up with a flat and lifeless feel. You already have the photo – so why just repaint it exactly? The role of the painter to breathe life info the work. It is so important to have multiple photos that capture different facets of a sitter’s personality. The artist must then try to infuse those facets into the single image they produce. Just as one facet of a personality does not define the entire person, one snapshot without any other support will not be enough to fill your painting with life.
It may sound crazy – but when I am painting a portrait there is a moment in the studio where that portrait comes to life – when this seems to be a living entity . I will then greet the painting upon entering the studio and bid it a farewell in the evening. That’s when I know I have a good image – when I feel compelled to acknowledge the work as if it is a person.
What a privilege it is to paint another soul – to spend so much time examining that person in detail – you can’t help but feel a kindness – a true warmth for this person.
Q: Do you think that modern science and technology is extremely developed and the art forms are diversified today, how can traditional painting adapt to the development of contemporary environment to avoid the possibility of being eliminated?
A: In the 1880’s people thought that cameras would make painting obsolete. It hasn’t because a good painting can express something different. As artists we can put technology to our advantage. It changes how we work but it doesn’t change how people respond to great paintings.
Q: How do you plan your future?
A: My main goal for the future is to be a better painter. (That and to amass a wonderful art collection. I love collecting works from other artists – to live surrounded by beauty and inspiration).
There are so many ways I wish to grow as an artist and I am excited to see what I can accomplish – what artistic challenges I can overcome. Of course there are exhibits in which I would like to be included and museums in which I would like to show, and I will work toward those goals. But the most important thing for me is to never stop creating and, through creating, to never stop learning. To hopefully leave something of value for future generations as those who have come before have done for me. It seems too arrogant to hope that my work will survive let alone be looked at, but that is the dream – to touch the future with something of value, long after I am gone.
And, you have made my immediate future a bit brighter. It is a great honor to be included in Collections Magazine. I thank you very much.