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I saw newspaper clippings of head shots of famous people lying on a table under one of your glass palettes. How does this collection play into your studio practice?
At one point a few years ago, the walls in my studio were almost completely covered by newspaper and magazine clippings, random graphic detritus, flea-market art, and anything else that caught my attention and seemed to fit into the context of what was evolving up on the walls. Some of this graphic stuff would get translated into my paintings, as images or patterns on the wall space behind the still-life objects. I did a diptych of Newt Gingrich overlaid with some Precious Moments angels during his first trip through the media cycle. When my paintings simplified and became more about the color-fields, I felt like all the stuff on the walls was distracting, so it is now all piled up in portfolios and stored in the corner. I have recently pinned up a few things: some safety envelopes, some gift-wrapping bows, and a picture of Ariel Sharon with a grenade cigarette lighter. But I plan to keep it contained. I often think of my paintings as figurative, or even as portraits of a sort, so the newspaper-portrait clippings are a bit of an inspiration. I guess, in a larger sense, my interest in all of this cultural printed stuff springs from a curiosity and fascination with images and visual language and how they are used in our culture.
Why Ariel Sharon and the lighter?
A few years ago, I was inspired to use hand grenades in my still-life paintings. This came about not only as a response to the way terrorism seemed to be dominating this country's every thought — the George W. Bush administration brought out the political overtones in my work — but also as what I perceived as the post-9/11 reality that we all needed to accept: The potential for violence exists in the most banal and everyday places. I was able to get three different hand-grenade styles, courtesy of Mickey's Surplus, and have done a number of paintings of them: with a cup of tea, a bunch of fruit, a strawberry milkshake, even a child's toy. The photo of Sharon, casually smoking, with what looks a real grenade on the table in front of him, seemed to echo the things I was thinking about at the time, and I keep it up there because I'm still drawn to disjointed or oddly juxtaposed ideas.
What about the dried fruit? Former still-life subjects?
Part of the answer to this gets back to having the luxury of a large studio. I have a good friend in New York, also a still-life painter, who has a comparably small, in-his-apartment studio. Due to space limitations, he periodically fills boxes with stuff and puts it out on the curb (where it is picked through by people like me). I can let it all accumulate, even the fruit, which either dries out or becomes some sort of science experiment. I'm sure most of it was at some point used in a painting, and then, instead of rotting, which most of it does, it dried out. Some of it has been around for over a decade, so at this point it seems to be enjoying some sort of fruitlike immortality. I find them to be beautiful and intriguing in their mummylike state of being.