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Among the work in the show I have up in L.A. right now are two paintings, which I think of as portraits, of rotten apples. They were apples I had used in an earlier painting, fresh and full of life, but over time they had turned these weird shades of waxy browns and acidic greens, covered with rather surreal and surprising spots and patterns. They weren't in the plans for my show, but I couldn't resist painting them, and I know from experience that such beautiful rotten apples are hard to come by; most just turn brown and shrivel up. These paintings will probably be forever in my personal collection, as paintings of rotten fruit are the sorts of thing that other artists respond to, but are a tough thing to actually sell; I'm not sure how many people want an image of decay or a metaphor for mortality on their walls.
There is a stack of art books in your studio with reproductions of paintings. Can you show me a couple of pages you turned to in the recent past and say why you went there?
Often I will take a break from my work and look through some books on painting, to tune up my eyes and in the hopes of some sort of absorption. As someone who paints not only representationally but entirely from direct observation, there is an ongoing and intense dialogue with art history and the tradition of picture making. A year or so ago, if I was stuck in a painting with some specific problem, I would try to find an example where an artist had solved a similar challenge. Lately this has evolved into a more intuitive and open process of searching for what I might call visual "rhymesâ � for what I am working on: images that seem to echo or embody something I am trying to accomplish in the current painting. Among some of the most recent things I have turned to are "The Flagellation,â � by Piero della Francesco, for its amazing all-around crispness and the high, clear tone that the color sets for the painting. Also "The Milkmaid,â � by Vermeer, for the yellow of her blouse and the weight and gravity of it all. One more is a Rajasthani watercolor of Rama and Sita that has a surprising palette of pinks and yellows and greens and is generally otherworldly.
You just shipped an exhibition's worth of paintings off to Los Angeles for a show at George Billis Gallery. What's next for you?
I had a show in New York at this same time last year, so with that and this show that is up now, it was a short time between exhibitions for me. Usually there is a weird open space and a sort of emptiness when all the energy preparing for a show is done and over with. I find it best to enjoy this void, if possible, but also to keep working in order to reclaim my studio and painting from the outside pressures that have been hovering over it. I hope to keep the momentum going in the studio but without the focus and pressure that a set exhibition ends up stamping on the work. In general, I have the idea floating around in my head of working on more complex arrangements and more complex spaces, building some hint of a narrative element into the paintings. At the same time, I try not to be too imposing on my work and its evolution but to let the changes come out of what the process seems to demand, so I can't predict anything, really.