My paintings begin with ideas of water and land yet they always refer to my fascination with the spatial tension of icons and how icons both emanate and absorb light. I watercolor, draw on paper or draw directly on etching plates outdoors and use these studies to help make oil paintings on linen in my studio. With my oil paintings, I use square formats rather than the conventional rectangular, horizontal format for landscapes to avoid total illusions of recession. This results in a somewhat flattened sense of space that reminds me of the shallow background fields of icons which have intrigued me for years. Fog, mist, ice, condensation, waves, ripples, eddies and the constant interchange of water over land are things I often think about while painting. I am a runner and time running along the Brooklyn waterfront genuinely helps my studio work in which I try to recall experiences of the water and reflection of light in different types of weather conditions and seasons.
I am interested in how the passage or obstruction of light can help convey space in a painting. I mix my oil colors with vehicles such as walnut oil, turpentine and linseed oil. These all have different drying rates and densities and affect how thick or thin my paint is while helping me experiment with ideas of light and—indirectly- space because varying degrees of opacity occur when I combine all these media within one painting. I begin my paintings with a base of thinly diluted oil color in oranges, ochres or blues. Once dry, I work with rags soaked in a turpentine medium to sketch out a composition, very similar to the grisaille technique. I first learned about grisaille almost 20 years ago during my first very impressionable time abroad and the process became a natural part of the way I paint. Grisaille is the process of under-painting in monochrome or near monochromatic colors in thin oil paint as a sketch upon which thicker oil paint is later applied. My own compositions change over many studio visits of working with multiple layers of paint. Yet, my initial layers of vibrant oil color help to impart light by seeping through the varied greys that I use. Linen was the first material that icons were originally painted upon and I find it difficult to paint on anything else. It is a fabric that at the same time seems ancient yet very alive and allows undertones of light to pass through whatever I paint on top of it.
As a child, I found solace under the guise of Catholicism after the violent, sudden death of my only sibling. Images which served to both help and haunt me provoked a life-long fascination with icons. I became interested in how visual intermediaries act as a depository for request, as conduit for thought and memory, or help elevate bodily awareness. When I left to study icons on a Fulbright Grant to Italy 19 years ago, the only two books that I packed to take abroad were not about icons but about landscape painting: Corot in Italy written by Peter Galassi and Monet by Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge. I did not realize then that although I was exploring ideas of iconic space in my own paintings, I rely upon light (the passage or obstruction of light) to convey an essence, memory or expression of the icon. It took a while for me to realize that I cannot have a full understanding of iconic space without the painterly qualities of light. I started routinely painting outdoors during my years in Italy. It didn't make sense to be inside a studio when all around me I was surrounded by the same amazing Italian light that had inspired the icons that I was researching. I clearly remember tiny epiphanies that occurred while working outdoors when cloud covers would change the light and I would discover things I had not previously realized were right in front of me. I often gravitate to painting outdoors because of the juxtaposing feelings it creates in me: an exhilarating sense of vastness as well as an absurd futility believing that I could capture anything as enormous or grand as what I am viewing.
I work in a variety of square dimensions from measurements my height to sometimes as small as 6” x 6”. My size variations are a direct result of my interest in narrative predella scenes painted in narrow, horizontal rows at the bottom of larger than human-sized altarpieces. Predella were meant to be viewed closely in an intimate way usually while kneeling, (as opposed to the large central icon above which was meant to be viewed from afar.) The miniature, expressive predella help describe the life of the large icon figure above them, who was usually depicted differently, quite statically and according to iconographic conventions. I often think about the relationships of the sizes of icons in altarpieces and naturally vary the sizes of my own paintings. I began as a figurative painter and even in my more abstracted work there are definite narratives: St. Francis talking to the birds, Galileo going blind, the Etruscan cave paintings of Tarquinia, how the body thrives and fails, the protective mechanisms of both the body and the landscape, and the Babylonian creation myth of Marduk and Tiammat are stories that constantly cycle in and out of my work. I often explore these ideas through paper-work and printmaking, but to me they serve as studies of the light, space or purpose of icons and are clearly related to my painting. In a way, painting landscapes became a personal icon for my ever changing relationship to loss. Avoiding definitive foregrounds and backgrounds while experimenting with degrees of opacity, I hope the landscapes that I squeeze into square formats begin to approach ideas of the suspended and strangely flattened space of icons.