"It is the business of a painter not to contend with nature, but to make something out of nothing, in attempting which he must almost of necessity become poetical."      John Constable, 1824
Artist’s Statement
Looking Back
My work has always referred to the landscape. My early paintings were made of flat and patterned shapes that represented elements in the landscape-—trees, hedgerows, fields, skies, clouds, roads, and buildings. I searched for a motif in nature, some way of reducing its vast complications to a personal vocabulary. This urge had brought me toward a reductive simplification for the sake of clarity in color and composition, and this abstracting of nature’s elements allowed me to see the landscape in a way that was clear and exciting to me. My first look at a scene often pointed me toward patterns of textures and color differentiations, elements that could be translated into a rhythmic field of shapes that reflected those qualities I had seen in nature.
Looking out
Later, the inclusion of architectural forms provided another way to address nature in my work. I used windows, walls, or doors to frame some moments in nature-—a tree branch, a shadow falling on a sunlit patch of grass, some passing clouds, or a house glimpsed across the street. These architectural framing devices established a shallow interior space, with flattened surfaces in the foreground, to contrast with the more fluid natural elements. Architecture helped me to address spatial issues. The play of light and shadow became more important in these works. I enjoyed bringing together contradictions, letting nature intrude on the man-made by inserting objects on a windowsill, such as fruit, a potted plant, or small bottles. The mixture of flat, patterned shapes and the more fluid aspects of nature characterizes these paintings.
Looking closer
By activating the areas of pattern and shape, I gradually moved from a consciously flattened surface into an illusion of space. I extended my point of view from looking out at nature to being out in it. I began to acknowledge atmosphere, time of day, seasons, weather conditions, and other natural forces. These factors conditioned my responses to the landscape. Retaining my initial abstract structure as my visual point of departure, I allowed this more expanded view of nature to become my inspiration. I looked upon this as a “discovery” made through painting and its formal demands, but I believe that drawing in nature allowed me to get a grip on this idea. There seemed no choice but to put myself in the landscape with my paper and pencil (and sometimes pen and ink or pastels) and grapple with the hard work of hard looking, of getting it right, of seeing more clearly.
First, it was on the coast of Maine where I saw the light and where I spent several summers drawing in nature. Later, for many years, I drew in the landscape around our house and studio in Oaxaca, Mexico. During all this time, back in Iowa City, I was making paintings in the mode that combined architecture and nature. But at some point I felt as if I had stepped through the door and left the inside for the outside.
Looking at Iowa
My most recent paintings use the Iowa landscape as my source. Besides the obvious elements of fields and swales, I include roads, highway signs, posts, poles, ditches, streams, bridges, barns, and silos. As I grew more familiar with Iowa as my subject I began to feel that the sky as it related to the land had to be captured. The effect of the sky’s light and clouds upon the land’s forms lying below it became a primary subject. Because the sky is always changing, I look for instances when the shapes and linear movements of both sky and land connect in composition, spirit, and mood. I drive from Iowa City into the surrounding countryside seeking out these visual elements in nature and photographing the moment when these relationships inspire me. I have found myself so involved in the paintings that come out of this way of looking at Iowa that I have started taking these ideas to my Mexican studio and working on them there as well as here in Iowa City.
Looking ahead
As I work on each painting I attempt to go beyond my initial visual responses toward an interpretive rather than a literal transcription of the landscape. I want my paintings to become simultaneously perceptual and conceptual, objective and subjective, and to reflect my observations of nature combined with my human experience.