Small is Big: Questions + Answers

Podcast of interview with artists on WIFU By YAËL KSANDER

Article about the show on Indiana Public Media website.

The following questions were asked of the painters in the Small is Big show, at Grunwald Gallery of Art, Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts, Indiana University, Bloomington:   Ken Kewley, Eve MansdorfTim Kennedy, EM Saniga and Catherine Kehoe.
The artists’ replies are below. Artists are listed by last name, in alphabetical order.

1. Please give me a description of your working methods. I am interested in anything. Do you prepare your own support? How? What colors do you work with, what kind of paint, brushes, knives? What is your palette? Do you use any special mediums or solvents? Do you apply the paint in any special ways? How long do you work at a time? Please describe a painting session.

2. What is your relationship to the motif? Do you work directly from your subject? Do you ever work away from the motif? Do you ever use a secondary source such as a photograph or a drawing? When you paint people, how well you know your models – are they strangers or friends? Which would you prefer to paint?

3. If you work directly from the motif, please describe how you set up in relation to it. If you work from a photographic source, how do you use it? Please elaborate.

4. What are your thoughts on scale in painting? Do you paint exclusively on a small scale? If you do, how do you think of the paintings? If not, do you ever think of small paintings as studies – or do small works exist simply for themselves?

5. What artists have importance for you and why?

6. Why do you paint the things you paint? How important is the idea of narrative in your work – if at all? How do you respond to the inherent qualities of the subject that you are painting? 

1. Palette: Lower right: Titanium White (Winsor & Newton), upper right: palette cups for medium (1 part stand oil, 4 or 5 parts solvent) and solvent (odorless thinner, Gamsol or Turpenoid), lower left, ascending vertically: Indian Yellow (Winsor & Newton), Cadmium Yellow Pale or Lemon (Winsor & Newton, Old Holland or Williamsburg), Cadmium Yellow (Winsor & Newton, Old Holland or Williamsburg), Cadmium Yellow Deep (Winsor & Newton), Cadmium Orange (Winsor & Newton) 
Cadmium Scarlet (Winsor & Newton), Cadmium Red Deep (Winsor & Newton, Old Holland or Williamsburg), Perylene Crimson (Williamsburg), Dioxazine Violet (Winsor & Newton) or Ultramarine Violet (Gamblin) or Translucent Violet (Schminke), Ultramarine Blue (Winsor & Newton, Old Holland or Williamsburg), Cerulean Blue (only Utrecht), Cobalt Teal (Gamblin or Williamsburg), Viridian, Cadmium Green Pale (Winsor & Newton), turning the corner, left to right: Sap Green (Winsor & Newton), Courbet Green (Williamsburg). New additions, (only when needed): Quinacridone Red, Quinacridone Violet, Pthalo Blue, Pthalo Turquoise. I have no black on my palette (so far).

Brushes: Utrecht or Blick brand Kolinsky sable brights, sizes 10-16. These allow for crisp, narrow lines as well as broad shapes of color.

I usually buy prepared supports. I use several different types, always panels.
• Cradled birch panels that I size with shellac
• Birch panels with oil-primed linen adhered to them
• Cradled panels primed with acrylic gesso.

A painting session varies in length, depending on the day and what else needs to be done.
• Sit down in front of the easel.
• Look at what has been done. Compare it to the motif (still-life setup, interior or self in mirror)
• Sometimes I look for a long time.
• I make a list, usually a mental list, of which area I want to work on.
• Sometimes I vow not to touch a certain area that is working.
• Sometimes I do the opposite of what I intend to do.
• If I am at the beginning of a painting, nothing I put down feels right in terms of color or drawing. I will usually end the first few sessions of a painting with a scraped surface. This leaves a vague ghost of an image that I can go back into to define with a kind of diagrammatic drawing in the next session.
• Usually, after 6 or 8 sessions, I have made several attempts to get a certain area to feel strong in terms of the color and value relationships. I begin to put things down boldly, simply, with a somewhat loaded brush, committing to a version of what things look like. At this point I feel ready to move on to the next area to find those relationships.
• Some days, nothing I put down is right, other days it feels I can do no wrong. I’m not sure if I am painting any better on those days when it all seems to work. I think it has to do with mood and brain chemistry that vary from day to day. If I feel satisfied, I go with it. I am not so easily satisfied, so I tend to trust it when it happens. Usually this feeling holds up the next day.
• Some days a nap and a snack revive me enough to return to the painting after stopping from fatigue.
• The painting session ends when the light is gone, or when I have to go off to an appointment.

2. I have used photographic sources at times over the years (especially with the ancestor series), but in the past three or four years have worked only from life, including self-portraits, still lifes and interiors. I do drawings and thumbnail studies before I begin a painting, but I never paint from drawings or imagination. When I want to change the painting, I change the setup.

I like to paint people, but find the presence of anyone in my studio to be a distraction. For that reason most of my portraits are self-portraits. I am most interested in painting people I know, and have done so in the past, but usually relied eventually on photographic sources.

3. I set up my easel so the motif and the canvas are as close to side-by-side as possible. The selection (decision about what goes into the rectangle) is done with a viewfinder in the same proportion as the support. From that selection I make a series of thumbnail drawings, each time altering the selection slightly, until I have explored all of the compositional options that interest me. The viewfinder does not make the selection process much easier, because the hand that holds the viewfinder is always moving, the head, and the eyes looking through the viewfinder are always moving. At best the viewfinder helps me with the “idea” of making a selection, a way to begin looking and seeing what is there.

4. I always paint small, always have. When I began painting in art school, I made a few paintings that were 20” x 24” – the largest paintings I have ever made. They grew steadily smaller over the years. Many of the recent self-portraits fit in the palm of my hand. The recent interior paintings have made a huge leap in size: they are 12” x 12”.

5. Different painters have been important to me over the years. I am always discovering new painters who inspire me. In the past few years, all of the artists in this show have been my go-to painters for ideas about shape and color (Ken Kewley); complexity and the relation of things in space (Tim Kennedy and Eve Mansdorf); and the beauty of close-value paintings (E. M. Saniga).

During my last year in graduate school (1992) someone introduced me to the work of Euan Uglow. I saw a show of his paintings at Salander-O’Reilly shortly after that; his work was a revelation. The sense of clarity and structure were instructive, as was the restrained paint application and the use of tiny shifts of color in separate, hard-edged shapes that he used to describe rounded forms.

Cezanne’s portraits also have sense of clarity and structure that appeals to me. These portraits feel as hard-fought and hard-won as Uglow’s, in a very different way.

I love the paintings of Susan Lichtman with their invented space, color and light that feel completely believable and personal.

The paintings of Ruth Miller have an authenticity and poetry that inspires me. The paint application is tough and both independent of the subject and at the same time precisely descriptive.

Lois Dodd is another painter whose work feels true to her interests. Her down-to-earth interest in ordinary places and things in her daily life make me realize that anything and everything is a worthy subject for painting.

6. I paint self-portraits because I am always there. When I am painting them, however, the self is forgotten in the process of seeing and translating to paint.

Part of the appeal of still life, for me, is that it is within my grasp and control. I paint objects that fit in my hand, and I move them around until I find some relationships of shape, weight, color, intensity or value that spark a painting idea.

The process of arriving at something I want to paint, some arrangement, is intuitive. Usually it takes a few days to come up with something, and often I have to stop and say that is the best I can do right now, and begin painting, without necessarily being convinced of having found something worth painting. I wonder if the arrangements are more telling the less I labor over them and the less I second-guess myself. Telling of what? The paintings speak back to us. The characteristic ways we see and describe the way things look, and the way we put things together, comprise an entirely personal language. This is not necessarily something I want to be in complete control of, as much as I like control!

As for the ideas for the paintings, they are primarily visual: contrast of color, shape, touch (shiny/dull, soft/hard). I am interested in how each object is changed or affected by the adjacent objects. I want to make a believable space, though there might not be any reason for those objects to sit together. I am interested in the movement of the eye around the painting, but it is an intuitive interest, not an analytical or intellectual one. Do some of the objects mean something to me? Yes. Am I telling a story? No. Metaphor? Maybe. Sometimes.

In the past year deeper space has been calling to me, as well as complexity. My cellar, with its clutter and dust and soft light from high windows, has been a place I have enjoyed painting recently.


1. I work on a variety of supports. For large paintings I will frequently use the traditional supports of stretched linen or canvas sized with rabbit skin glue and primed with an oil ground of titanium white. I prepare these myself. For smaller paintings I frequently use double pre-primed Belgian linen. A favorite support of mine for paintings 16 x 20 and smaller is a muslin panel I prepare using birch plywood and muslin. I learned this from Lucy Barber who had learned it from Lennart Anderson. I glue the muslin to the plywood using rabbit skin glue to permeate the fabric and pull the extra fabric around the back of the panel. Then I prime the panels with a thinned titanium oil primer. It is a nice surface to paint on – the surface is very fine and a little absorbent. I think all of the things I have included in the show have been painted on these panels.

I use a variety of brushes. I tend to use larger and coarser brushes at the beginning of a painting and softer, finer brushes in the mid stages and toward the end of a painting. I find myself using round brushes more frequently now than I did when I started painting, particularly in the mid and late stages of a painting. In the late stages of a painting I like Kolinsky sables but I will also use very cheap, almost throwaway, nylon brushes to achieve the same ends. Sometimes I will use a palette knife when I work – again it is more likely to happen at the beginning stages of a painting. I like a shape that I have seen referred to as an Eclose knife, which is long and skinny. I like a very stiff, tempered knife – which for some reason are increasingly difficult to get.

My palette is pretty simple: Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Red Light and Alizarin Crimson – the Cadmium Red and the Alizarin mix to produce a true red. I use a Pthalo Green and to some extent a Pthalo Blue which rounds out the Ultramarine and can push the blue toward green. I use a Dioxozine Purple – mostly because a strong vibrant purple is hard to mix. For the past few years I have also frequently used Sap Green and Pthalo Turquoise. I have come to rely on a number of earth colors and tend to mix up in intensity from these colors now: Yellow Ochre or Mars Yellow, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Venetian Red, Mars Orange, Terre Verte (a weak but beautiful color), Chrome Oxide Green, Raw Umber (a beautiful color that changes with its surroundings and varies enormously in color from manufacturer to manufacturer), Burnt Umber and Mars Black (Ivory Black is a beautiful Color, but it seems to cause problems for me on account of its oil content). I use both a Cremnitz White and a Titanium or Titanium-Zinc White. I use a variety of manufacturers: Winsor Newton, Gamblin, Williamsburg and Old Holland.

There is a medium that I like but I don’t use it in enormous amounts. The medium consists of two parts of thickened linseed oil (Stand oil or Sun oil), two parts Damar and one part Venice Turpentine. Occasionally I will also use a wax medium in addition to this. If I am painting outside I like to use real turpentine.

2. I work pretty much exclusively from the motif. Lately I swing back and forth between feeling that this is a limitation and a virtue. For all intents and purposes I don’t use photographs although on one or two occasions when working on part of a painting that depended on an impractical subject – like painting a young child – I have used photographs to orient myself. I have on occasion used drawn or painted studies as a springboard for another work. On several occasions I have taken photographs to be used as a source and ended up not using them. I haven’t found photographs that useful and I have difficulty translating them into a painting – I think I need the three dimensional subject to really understand what I am looking at. The fact that there could always be a better photographic source gives me too much anxiety – maybe that is why I shy away from using them. Photographs that are actually part of a set up can be a fun thing to paint. I do admire several artists who have used a photographic source – Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter, Degas – but I have never been able to do it myself. Perhaps someday I will.

The down side of working exclusively from life is that it can limit your motif and it places a constraint on when you can work. The positive side is that only the eye and mind exist as a filter to the world – it is a direct experience in that color and light are being immediately recorded by the artist. There is a certain purity in this. A heightened sensitivity accrues over time as the artist works. The motif keeps the artist honest and makes it possible to fend off preconception – not that the experience isn’t shaped by attitudes and ideas concerning form that artist harbors ahead of time.

3. When I am working on a small canvas or board I like to get as close to my subject as I can. If I am painting a landscape I usually work with a French Easel. I will set up at an angle to the subject so that I can turn a short distance to my right or left to see what I am painting. I try to make the distance that I turn my head as short as possible.

When I start my day of painting I will premix a number of colors cut with Cremitz White – usually Yellow Ochre, Mars Orange, Raw Umber, Pthalo Turquoise, Dioxozine Violet and TerreVerte. I might also mix a few colors that I see in the motif.

A typical painting session lasts three hours – the light will change after that. If it is the first day of a painting I will measure a bit and mark these units with lines and dots which can look very abstract – like the early stages of a Mondrian. I like to get the entire surface of the painting covered as quickly as I can. In working back into the surface of the painting on subsequent days I will cover the painting with a thinned coat of medium before I begin the day’s work – which allows me to open up the painting again.

4. I paint large paintings as well as small paintings. I sometimes will use a small painting to act as a study for a larger painting – on a couple of occasions I have actually gridded these paintings up. More frequently the small paintings exist for their own sake. I guess the things that attract me are the intimacy of small painting, how important a mark or the touch can be to the success of the painting and how direct and relatively quick they can be. They are the poem or the short story as compared to the novel.

5. First of all, the artists in this show – which is why I asked them to be in it. Catherine’s cool eye and sharp sense of form and composition and her absolutely precise and beautiful color sense. I admire the inventive color of Ken’s paintings, as well as the quick and spontaneous feel that they have. I think the new Braque inspired abstractions are just marvelous. I am attracted to Ernie’s paintings for their brooding, mysterious quality that I associate with Romantic figures such as Albert Pinkham Ryder. I learn from watching Eve paint every day and feel very close to her paintings.

If I went into small paintings of historical figures that I admire it could become a very long list. I will focus on two: Corot and Morandi. Corot communicates qualities that seem to shine through in the paintings – sincerity, honesty, great feeling, poetry and the ability to simultaneously communicate both tradition and freshness. Moments in his paintings seem so visually true that your jaw drops. Other passages may actually register as a little clumsy – but they are endearing and also communicate truth. Morandi shares similar qualities for similar reasons. There is a great unifying light in Morandi. The objects in the still life paintings, even when we don’t know what they are, project a sense of dignity and tragedy.

6. I tend not to emphasize narrative very much as an aspect my paintings. The simple answer to why I paint the things I paint is that I want to. I would say that I primarily make my decisions to paint things for visual reasons, but I would also say that there can be an emotional core to why I am attracted by particular things. There are several scenes in the Francois Truffaut film “Day for Night” where the movie director character in the film is asked to choose props for the film – a gun or a lamp – and he carefully considers the character of the object and how it will effect the film. I’m not sure what it is about American bungalow architecture or odd organic forms such as the tops of acorns or crab claws that attract me, but they set off a vibration that wiggles in me like a tuning fork.

1. Everywhere I go I carry (in a plastic sandwich bag) a small pad, about 3 x 5 inches, a ballpoint pen and 2 cardboard templates – a square and a rectangle. At my daughter’s viola or karate lessons or anytime I find myself in a waiting room or in a dentist chair, I make several pages of 2 x 2 inch squares or 4 x 2 inch rectangles which I fill with abstract compositions made up of straight, curved or circular lines. 

Working in the studio from the model I trace around a cardboard template to make a 4 x 2 inch rectangle. This shows me the limits of the work more clearly, within which I draw the model. These are around 5 - 10 minutes. Sometimes I use a 1 x 1/2 inch template and do one-minute drawings. These I enlarge on a scanner to better see what I did.

These days I use acrylic paint. They cover well and dry quick. Ten basic colors; black, white, yellow, orange, red, alizarin, green, blue, and purple. I use Golden Heavy Body Acrylic Paint: Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Red Medium, Quinacridone Crimson, Phthalo Green (blue shade), Phthalo Blue (green shade), Dioxazine Purple, and Mars Black. These colors seem to come closest to my sense of those named colors.

The paintings come out of my collage work, which had come out of my way of painting with planes of color. My painting has from the start been more about constructing then rendering as if building with playing cards with no attempt to hide what the forms are made up of. Like talking with your hands, the hands are painted right along with the objects being described. I use one round, synthetic brush (a number 12 and a slightly bigger brush for larger works). I like them better after they get a little firmer and less sleek. Talking with your hands but with gloves on.

I paint on paper and wood panels. I do not prepare the paper except to begin painting.
With time I get the surface I prefer. One painting is painted over another. I use prepared (gessoed) painting panels. No special mediums. Just water. I apply the paint undiluted, quickly, as flat as possible, in most cases without thought of texture but accepting texture as the paint builds up. I often work up against a straight edge – a strip of chip-board, to block out shapes of color and to make the edge quickly. It also hides the adjacent color until the new color has been put in. This keeps me from judging and adjusting the color away from my first instincts. Instead trusting those instincts.

I paint my collage paper for my collages. After a session with the model I use the paint remaining on the palette to color strips of thin paper to use for collage. These are placed in bins of like colors.

I build 3D models directly from the model or invent landscapes using corrugated cardboard folded into planes and fasten them together using masking tape and then paint them. This seems to be a good thing in itself, benefitting the painting and the collage work. It is painting and collaging in 3D. The parts can be moved around, adjusted and lit in an infinite number of ways. I draw, paint and collage from these.

My ideal working time is 3 to 4 hours. Two or 3 of these sessions in a day. Sometimes these sessions are spent doing business (as in writing these words). Working sessions vary. I will draw, paint, collage, or work three dimensionally in cardboard. Often combining two, three, or four things.

2. The relationship between myself and the motif is a close one. The motif may or may not be in front of me, but the subject is in my mind, therefore I feel I always work directly. The subject is more on the page than it is standing in front of me.

There are times when I do not have a model when I wish I had one and times when I do have a model that I wish I was alone. I need both times. I may draw from a landscape and later paint a landscape in the studio. I do not then look at the drawings I did it the landscape when I am painting this landscape in the studio but the shapes, patterns, and forms are ingrained and reappear. Recently I have been making houses and trees out of cardboard, masking tape and acrylic paint. I will then arrange and rearrange and draw directly from these. This is my motif. It is invented and at the same time I am working directly from life. My own reality.

I like my models inexperienced; professional models often have learnt to disappear within an artistic pose. I usually work with models who are dressing or undressing. This action itself tend to result in less conscious poses. The clothes alter and abstract the model in ways that would be difficult to direct.

3. Models are never put on a stand. They need to occupy the same space, the same level. Poses are discovered, more than directed. The work is composed more than the model is. When I painted the small desserts I placed them in front of me as if I was going to sit down and eat. I did the paintings sitting at a small table in front of the dessert.

Since I have been doing the 2 x 2 inch abstract compositions I have also been walking through my favorite neighborhood, Easton, PA West Ward, with the same pad of paper and a stool, drawing. I may sit in one spot, draw, turn, draw, turn till I have gone 360 degrees.

4. Big or small they are all studies. I just work. I work too much to work large often. Where would I put them? The size of the Dressing Room Paintings (10 x 5 inches) came out of what I can paint in about thirty minutes. I paint over the paintings, figure upon figure, some get saved from repainting, and eventually framed or let out of the studio.

The dessert paintings were just big enough to hold one serving, around actual size.

For a while I did some actual size figures. They can fill a studio quickly.

A large landscape where there is room to wander is good, but there can be just as much space in a small work.

5. I look at many things, from cave drawings to the current work. I also look at the creation of nature and people working together, what gets assembled, how the sink gets filled up during a day, how a backyard gets filled up over time. These excite me as much as paintings. I try to bring my work as close to life as possible – but is composed to stand alone. I lean towards the raw, the untaught and the childlike as opposed to “correct” anatomy, perspective, and rendering. Give me an honest stick figure over a Bernini sculpture. I like the stylization of the figure in Greek vase paintings and in the art of the Egyptians, Persians and many other civilizations. Great things were done in the Renaissance but I tend to look less at this period for some of the reasons stated above. I look more at artists like Corot and others who lead up to Cezanne and to those who came out of his work: Braque, Picasso and Matisse. Braque did wonderful things into the 1960s – into my lifetime. His work satisfies and surprises: it reveals itself as slowly as nature itself.

6. Subject or narrative is less important to me than the surprise that comes from that something I have not been able to a give name to because it is never quite what it was last time. I find this in everything – in people, places, things – and within myself. I do not paint narratives or portraits, but that does not prevent the work from becoming either.


1. I usually make my own supports. For small paintings I keep a stash of panels that have been covered in muslin that has been oil primed (in accordance with the Lennart Anderson gospel). I consider a hard surface with a little tooth ideal for small work. This is not what I would do for large paintings, in which case I always use oil-primed linen. I have a fairly standard palette that is pretty stable but can vary according to some “latest painting color idea” I have. The palette depends on color intensity and use of complements. For instance cadmiums need other cadmiums to allow their relative painting strengths to cut each other sufficiently, but if you use an all earth palette or a limited palette you can get unexpected color out of the limitations.

My usual palette is: Williamsburg: Titanium White, Alizarin Crimson, Mars Yellow Deep, Mars Orange, Burnt Umber, Raw Umber, Ivory Black, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Chromium Oxide, Sap Green (for landscape), Terre Verte (sometimes), Thalo Green (sometimes). Winsor Newton: Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Lemon (for landscape), Cadmium Scarlet, Cadmium Red Medium, Cadmium Orange

Williamsburg “cheating” colors: Montserrat Orange, King’s Blue, Dianthus Pink, Naples Yellow, etc.

I currently use damar varnish, turps and stand linseed oil. I used to think I couldn’t live without Venetian turpentine but then it got astronomically expensive and I found it surprisingly easy to do without it. I use knives and brushes mostly. On small paintings outside I work in 3-4 hour blocks of time for the sake of a bubble of light. I find I do tend to think in 3 or 4-hour increments in general. Maybe it’s Pavlovian; that’s how long the light lasts, that’s how long the model will pose, etc. Although I work on large paintings for a really long period of time (several months to a year or more) I almost never work on a small painting for more than a few sessions. My best small paintings often involve a start up day, a day or two of muddling and then finding some resolution. Too long on a small painting often just deadens it for me. It is important to me to not try to do much on the first day unless I plan to finish it right then and there. I try to leave a kind of hazy image composed of large masses of color with everything blurry that I can then chew into and clarify for a day or two. Many paintings go through some stage where everything seems to be going to hell and is salvaged towards the end. Often a painting‘s outcome will depend on whether I can work through that tense stage and salvage something in it. This is why I hate doing demos for students — all I can really demonstrate is getting to the salvage stage — the all important process of getting through it is undemonstratable and unexplainable and I could never do it with anyone watching.

2. Particularly with small paintings, I usually work to a large degree from something, usually observation of a motif. With larger paintings I will sometimes use secondary sources, such as photos or video stills for information. If I could do everything from observation, I would. To me, painting from observation is the true immediate pleasure of painting and everything else is just a means of getting an image. I wish I could work from photos but I hate the process. The photo images don’t come alive for me. I have had better luck with video stills. Lately I have been trying that more because I have increasingly found it difficult to work from models and get what I want. Around here, they are all too young! In the past, for any given body of work, I have usually developed a small group of models that I liked both painting and being around and that somehow became fuel for my imagination.

I prefer to work from strangers or at least people I hire who I get to know because they work for me. Painting someone is a strange way of getting to know someone. It is actually a kind of intimacy in its own right and I find my best models enjoy that collaborative aspect of posing. I do not often work from people I know because they are usually just not available for long periods of time – they are off painting their own paintings.

3. When working in the landscape or on a still life I just set up and get to work. I often figure out what I am painting by painting it. Many ahead of time plans get thrown out in the first ten minutes of painting. I will try out various scenarios right on a painting–making things bigger, smaller, etc. I bring extra panels out with me in the landscape so that I can ”add on”. Often I start to find some quality that I like or that feels right, a color relationship, the way something sits in relation to something else and this clue will lead me on. The most exciting thing is when the painting begins to form an accrued set of relationships that correspond to the motif but are really internal to the painting.

4. The small paintings are never studies; sometimes in the course of painting a large painting I will make small paintings of similar things to get a different idea. I do not find that when I’ve painted something small it can just blow up to something large. It’s its own thing. I always hate in student crits when a student will put up a bunch of ambitious paintings on the front wall and some quick studies they did on the side wall and everyone will go on and on about why their big paintings can’t be like their small paintings. I find this absurd – the intentions are so different. But in my small paintings I do tend to go for a less ambitious painting and sometimes this is precisely what is good about them. They breathe easier than my large paintings.

5. Well of course all the usual suspects have importance for me – Uglow, Freud, Balthus, Lennart. And art history – Degas, Velasquez, Chardin. I actually wish right now that more artists had importance for me. The kind of painting I am interested in is getting harder and harder to find. I am most interested in a kind of painting that has reality as its source, where the hand, mark and sensibility (not biography) of the artist is evident. I am interested in looking at a painting to be surprised by how that artist took this highly unlikely color, brushstroke or smudge and managed to make an exquisite ear out of it. I am also interested in how artists “engineer” their paintings; for instance, the way Uglow lets all his measurements show, or the way Balthus underlies all his form with that Pieroish geometry. This will stop me dead in my tracks every time.

6. I think it is important to me to feel some kind of autobiographical connection to what I am painting and also to be able to completely forget about it. The subject is important in that we must choose something, but also I paint to get outside myself, to be a fly on a wall, to be the perceiver rather than the perceived.

1. I prepare my own supports: glue and whiting gesso for wood and paper, glue and lead for linen. Colors are the standard earth colors with greens and blues, English Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, and a few Cadmiums. Nothing out of the ordinary. My white is Cremnitz. When I use a medium it is 1 part stand, 4 parts cold pressed and 5 parts mineral spirits. I use whiting at times in the paint and (rarely) wax. I paint with brushes, not knives. My sessions vary. I am usually working on a dozen paintings at a time and I go from one to the other. Sometimes I paint all day, other days just an hour or so.

2. My figures are done from the model and the still lifes are in front of me, although not usually in the arrangement they are in the painting. I have painted landscapes at times from my drawings and from odd photos; none are strict copies.

Most objects in my still life paintings are old things such as cups, bowls, glasses, etc. that I have used many times. They seem to have had a life when I got them years ago; I find the transcription of something that has life to be easier than something that doesn’t have life. Don’t get me wrong, it is never easy. I like the wear and the dust on things. That seems to signal life and thus is interesting to me. Of course, an apple is a new apple, a tomato is a new tomato, etc., but I don’t like an industrial tomato or apple as a subject. I like one from the plant or tree that I can see.

3. If I paint a landscape, I set up with the sun not on the panel or palette – that means I can sometimes set up with the motif behind me. I paint kind of synthetically in the sense that what ends up in the picture may not have ever been there in that order. Recently I stood in the footprints of Corot where he painted in Italy and found he moved a mountain a long way – so much for naturalism!

I might look at a photo of something but that’s it; there is no squaring off or anything like that.
I finish most paintings away from the motif – I suppose you could call that painting from memory. 

4. Sometimes I make thumbnails as designs; I guess you could call these studies. I paint an occasional big painting but usually stick to something much smaller. Small paintings, large paintings; they all can have art if one is lucky, or can be bad at any size too. 

5. There are so many I can’t list them. But off the top of my head at the current time I like Pontormo and Piero as picture makers. As transcribers of the true quality of something I like Vermeer, Corot, Chardin and sometimes Vuillard and Morandi. For beauty I guess it is Matisse and Bonnard – the latter not without his own angst. Picasso and Braque are the inventors I admire. I also like Beuys for his objects and drawings and I like most of the English from the portrait painters such as Thomas Lawrence to Samuel Palmer and Constable and then to Stanley Spencer and then finally to Bacon, Freud and Kossoff. The last painter’s recent work on the cherry tree in his yard was honest, as clear as an algebraic equation, and just plain admirable, at least in my opinion.

Then there are the draftspeople, a lot of them, but I’ve said enough!

6. I have no deliberate narrative in mind.

Was it Cezanne that said, “Painters transcribe the spectacle”? For me it is a personal spectacle, maybe even autobiographical. And for me I guess the inherent qualities of the subject rather than something such as, say, popular culture, are what are important to me.

Those qualities are not easily defined and I suppose that is why we paint them rather than write about them, or sing about them, or make videos about them.
But I am not sure about any of this. I’m just painting – and hoping for art to enter the picture.