bemusing musings of a bewildered brush-wielder


the spilled stout

framed“Spilled Stout”

Back in December, I received an email from a man named Bob in St. Louis.  Through an internet search he had come across my paintings, and he was particularly taken by one of my violin paintings.   All of the lawyers at his law firm were looking for a surprise gift for the head of the law firm who is an Irish fiddler himself, and Bob was selecting the gift.  The thing was that all of the paintings were sold, and I had nothing similar to offer him.  And so, he immediately suggested a commission of a violin painting, along the lines of a favorite from the online gallery- a red violin on a blue chair.  I broke out my brushes and began to paint, delighting in the beautiful rhythms and flow of light, working long days to get it done and off in the mail.  By the end of December, the painting was mailed to St. Louis, and I’m told that his boss was thrilled.  It was a wonderful, enjoyable commission.

2013-06-25 18.10.41

After a few weeks, I realized that there was a story in that painting.  And, though the painting felt like it was complete, it seemed to me like there was a whole other story to be told.  I stewed over it for a while, then I decided to go for it- a pendant painting, to match the other.  Kind of like a before and after.  I spent the past four months working on the second half of this painting, which I called “Spilled Stout.”  Today, I finished the painting, and framed it in my garage, and I am packing it up to send it to my show in California.  There is a story told with these paintings, and though I could write down that story, but then I’d be bastardizing the visual medium of the paintings.  I’d like for you to see them side by side, the St.Louis painting on the left and the new one on the right, and for you to see your own story.  Could I make a suggestion?  Pour yourself a stout (or wine if you are sofistercated like that), and click this link for Dezi Donnelly the fiddler.  While the music plays, look at the paintings, sip your stout, and wish to God that you were Irish.

spilled guinness beside bob's fiddle copy“Perfect Pour” and “Spilled Guinness”, oil on linen, 18″ x 24″

me and evan

me and evan




So, I worked quite a bit more on this painting. I had a bunch of things that needed to be heightened, other things subdued. The risk I run, by going back in to a semi-finished painting, is that I may be exchanging spontaneity for precision.

I’ve actually learned a lot as a painter, in the past two months. I’ve been putting in some really long hours at the easel, working on various pieces, fighting for that particular glow of light, that particular saturation of color. And as I’ve sought these artistic solutions, I’ve had to reinvent some of my technique. As I’ve furthered my understanding of pairings of washes against piles of thick paint, I’ve realized something- my painting finish is inadvertently emulating that of David Leffel’s, even Sorolla’s. (Not saying I’m as good as.) And why has my painterly effect emulated theirs? Because they were trying to capture light, and a particular painterly attack is what it took to get that effect. Thick paint against thin, and the ends justify the means. Some people tell me that they want to paint more brushy, and they will ask me how to become more painterly (not that I am necessarily a brushy painter, but away from a computer screen, there is some thick paint, or boogers as my son identified). I never know how to respond to that “becoming brushy” question, as if brushiness were in of itself a pursuit. If you want to paint brushy, then see brushy.

My little guy, Evan, is a tough little bruiser of a three year old, and the fire in his belly keeps me laughing all day long. He seems slightly ashamed of his self perceived aggressive nature. But I know that, if properly directed, his aggression be a gift, a rapid river rushing, carving out hillsides and forming the landscape. It’s police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, standing down Tammany Hall corruption in New York City. It’s Edward Elgar producing the Enigma Variations. It’s Jane Jacobs taking on Robert Moses, and saving Greenwich Village from demolishment.

Evan came to paint with me in my studio, the other day. He saw how far along this painting had come, and he stared in wide eyed wonder. He pointed up to the painting, and said “Dad, that’s my work boots, and your work boots. That’s us. You really love me.”

Being an artist is difficult, yet enjoyable. Being a father is incredibly difficult, yet overwhelmingly and inconceivably wonderful. Could an artist, could a father, wish for anything more?

“Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”-Solomon, Psalm 127, verses 3,4, and 5

Video | NBC New York!/on-air/as-seen-on/83rd-Annual-Washington-Square-Outdoor-Art-Exhibit/209438741

So, the interview at NBC studios was incredible!  I think the funniest thing is that I spend my career trying to piece together what Jackson Pollock deconstructed, and yet in my every bit of publicity, Jackson manages to eke his way in .  Pollock was often heard to say “I just gotta get Picasso off my back.” I’m often heard saying “I’m more interested in the people who built the Pantheon, than the ones who tore it down.”

The Washington Square Outdoor Show went very well, with a few nice sales to a few new buyers. I’m now wrapping up a semester of classes at the McEvoy Studio, framing a couple dozen works, packing a crate full of paintings and shipping them to an exhibition in California, locking in a portrait demo outside of San Francisco, forging ahead with the”Nine Portraits of Islip”, formulating a proposal for a large painting in a major hospital, finalizing a large commission for a church on the west coast… forgive me for the bloglessness!  Things are wonderful, but lark of mercy, things are busy.  Good busy, though, with lots and lots of painting!

You know, in relocating my studio to Islip, my hope was to be able to approach my art career in the same fashion that the Vietcong waged guerrilla warfare. Paint, paint, paint while in the thick of the suburban jungles of mid Long Island, then launch sporadic attacks on urban fronts with finely tuned paintings.  So far, all is going according to plan, because I am able to put in a good nine hours of painting at the studio, and still bike home in time for soccer practice with Liam and Evan.



After the longest break in my blog’s history, I now write to say that there have been a slough of wonderful events, one after the other.

But first- happy anniversary, wife. Nine years, tomorrow. Three continents, one desert, two oceans, one mountain, a salt plain, and now three boys. What an adventure.


What’s more, tomorrow on WNBC2 News, this Wednesday the 29th, between seven and eight p.m., I will be interviewed live, in a five minute special.  The prime time news program is called New York Nightly with anchorman Chuck Scarborough, on NBC’s 24/7 news station, Cozi.  The special is about the Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibition, and how it helped launch my career.  During the interview, they will be featuring some images of my paintings.  This is a great chance for me to feature my work, and a great chance to talk about how the outdoor venue that began with Jackson Pollock went on to forge the careers of great realist painters such as David Leffel.

I had a great show this past weekend, at the Washington Square Outdoor Exhibition.  Notwithstanding the wind and rain on the first day, there were a few great sales, and many great connections with people from all over the world who walk the streets of New York City.  I will be exhibiting next weekend as well, so feel free to come out and meet me in my booth on the sidewalk, above Washington Square.  I’m on the west side of University Avenue, between 9th and 10th.

lanny of lily’s, the third face of islip


The third face of Islip, two hour progress shot. Lanny is the bartender at Lily Flanagan’s, in Islip. He’s from Ireland, and he’s a great guy.

My brothers and I have a practice with Lily Flanagan’s. We walk by their window on Main Street, and if Lanny is behind the bar, we enter for a well poured Guinness, a burger, and good conversation. If not, we keep walking. You may call it elitism, but us imbibers of stout with refined pallets must be discerning.

impasto, and washes

This is the fourth day of working on this canvas, and I’m really pleased with this painting.  In an effort to capture that glowing light that was falling on Jimmy’s face, I loaded on more paint to the side of the forehead, the beard, the nose to cheekbone.  Three years ago, I stood in the Pitti Palace in Florence, and was in awe of a painting which glowed from fifty feet away.  A painting of an old man, the light was glowing off of the canvas.  There was such life, something I can’t put in to words.  As I drew closer, there was thick, goopy paint clinging to the canvas.  These thick impastos were globbed on, but I noticed that the thick paint was beside thin washes.  Impastos, in the context of thin, turpentine washes.  It was a sudden revelation, that these impastos only worked because they were sparingly employed.  Were the whole canvas thick, impastoed paint, then thick, impastoed paint would have no significance.  As time went by, my understanding of pairings crystallized.  In order to have light, you have to have dark, in order to have impastos, you have to have thin washes.  This applies to the other arts as well.  In order to have the soaring harpsichord climax of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5., it has to be compositionally surrounded by the comparatively quiet flute and brushy strings.  In Hugo’s Les Miserables, in order for Jean Valjean to be grace in Christ, Javert must be the Mosaic law.  In Bill Watterson’s work, in order for Calvin to be chaos, Suzy must be order.  Impasto, and washes.

Between you and I, there is substantial art historical evidence that Rembrandt was a spackler, as well as a painter.

painting of old manJimmy, oil on linen, 10″ x 14″

jimmy, impasto, full

jimmy, detail   jimmy, impasto, beard

the first face of islip




I know, I know, I know how cheesy this is going to sound. But, my wife is incredibly beautiful. I love painting her. I look at her, and I think she has the most striking, perfect features. Her gaze has such intensity. The first face of Islip, in the Chase Manhattan series. No, this blog will not feature the series in a chronological order. Nothing in my life flows that consistent and orderly.

the second face of islip





A few months ago, I walked into the Chase bank on Main Street in Islip. I submitted a written proposal to the head of the bank, which basically said that I’d like to paint and then exhibit nine portraits of typical people from Islip. In order to obtain clearance, my proposal went from there to some figure higher up in Chase Manhattan corporation, and was then accepted. Chase Manhattan has approved of the exhibition, and pending the success of the Islip exhibition, it might perhaps travel to other banks throughout the New York area.

My wife Margaret was the first portrait. Here is the second portrait, a portrait of an old friend, Jimmy. He is the janitor at the Islip high school, and a janitor at the Islip Presbyterian Church which I used to attend. For a year, the church was kind enough to lend me their chapel as an art studio, and Jimmy was there everyday, laughing and telling stories. I’m going to be perfectly honest for a moment- I’m thrilled with this painting. Just four hours work, and it has such presence. I’ll never know what makes some portraits instantly click- it’s gotta be Jimmy’s awesome hair and beard.





“DAAAAAAAD!!!! Evan peed on the floor!” was the cry that ran through the house. Moments before, I had just emerged from the shower, hair still wet, and now my little son Quinn was on my knee, and I was wiping food off from his face. Typically a sweet, compliant eight month old, today Quinn was being quite resistant to the prunes and oatmeal that I was attempting to shovel into his mouth. “Well, Evan, is it true? Did you pee on the floor, did you, a three year old, pee on the floor?” I yelled across the house. Evan came running up, face flushed red, and he blurted out “Yes, I did pee on the floor, but that’s because you were in the bathroom, taking a shower, and you hate it when we knock on the door when you’re in the shower.” I stared at him. He had a point. “Daaaaaaad, dad, dad, dad, is it true that fossils come from dinosaurs?” Liam screamed, as though he were shot. “Dad, I’m sorry I did the pee on the floor, I never do that, it was an accident” Evan stammered. As I directed the spoon towards Quinn’s mouth, his dimpled hand shot up in the air and sent the spoon and prune/oatmeal sludge heavenward. Down it came, descending in brownish showers on tray, hair, and floor. Quinn smiled the cherubesque smile that belongs only to infants, an untainted smile which humans later trade in for words. “DAAAAAAAD, why do fossils only stick in rocks?” Liam yelled. “Daaad, I’m sorry for the pee pee, can I get dressed now?” Evan pleaded, looking like a forlorn Charles Dickens character. Quinn started to cry. Evan started to cry.

Margaret was gone for the night, off doing income taxes. I was home alone with the kids. And I still had two hours before they went to bed. I stared at the wall, and thought to myself “Okay. Billions and billions of people have done this before, growing these life forms, guiding these misshapen balls of entropy along the obstacle course of infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. But if billions of people have successfully raised children, then why is it still so overwhelming? How many millions of books about parenting have been published? Shouldn’t child rearing have been fine tuned by now? Shouldn’t child rearing benefit from the ages in the same way that technology has streamlined the raising of longhorns in the Southwest?” More screaming emerged from the other side of the house, somebody was scolding me for not having enough Transformer underwear in their dresser drawers. And as I shoveled more food into Quinn’s mouth, I said out loud “Raising children is hard. Shut up, carry on, and laugh.”

Once in their pajamas, I chased the boys around the house. Tonight, I would be a ferocious dinosaur with rabies, chasing after little velociraptors. Liam laughed so hard, that tears rolled down his face. Evan laughed so hard, he had to go run to the bathroom to avert another urinary disaster. Quinlan half crawled, and cackled and giggled with delight. I placed Liam and Evan in their beds, prayed with them, and headed to Quinn’s crib. I braced myself for the customary hour or so of fussing and half crying, in order to send Quinn off to sleep. As I held him in my arms, I parted the curtain, and the last glint of daylight revealed a dark storm front in the sky, like a giant bruise above the tree line. I sat on the bed with Quinn, and the rain began to slowly fall on the holly leaves beside the bedroom window. Deep rumbling, and the first thunderstorm of spring was approaching. Quinn placed his head against my chest, and looked out the window with me. The rain fell heavier, and the cool breeze began to sway the curtains. Quinn cooed softly. Short little breaths gave way to longer breaths, gave way to sighs, gave way to the gentle drone of sleep. In just moments, Quinn was asleep on my chest, and the house was silent except for the distant rumbling of the fleeing storm. I never knew a deeper joy.

I woke early in the morning, and headed to the studio. My students came for still life class, and I pulled my son’s boots out of my bag. I began to teach still life painting, addressing the flow of light over form, about the play of dark against light, of weathered pine against the glowing varnish of maple, of man made materials against natural forms, of rough textures against smooth surfaces, of the decaying effect of time against the luster of the new. And as I spoke to my students about their paintings, I began to paint on my own new, fresh canvas. Dad’s boots, and Evan’s boots.

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”- that is all
ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

carpe diem


My Wife, painting in progress, oil on linen, 12″ x 18″

Carpe Diem
By Robert Frost

Age saw two quiet children
Go loving by at twilight,
He knew not whether homeward,
Or outward from the village,
Or (chimes were ringing) churchward,
He waited (they were strangers)
Till they were out of hearing
To bid them both be happy.
“Be happy, happy, happy,
And seize the day of pleasure.”
The age-long theme is Age’s.
‘Twas Age imposed on poems
Their gather-roses burden
To warn against the danger
That overtaken lovers
From being overflooded
With happiness should have it
And yet not know they have it.
But bid life seize the present?
It lives less in the present
Than in the future always,
And less in both together
Than in the past. The present
Is too much for the senses,
Too crowding, too confusing—
Too present to imagine.