While teaching and research occupy much of my time, I still think of myself primarily as an artist and find that artmaking allows me to express complex ideas more effectively than is possible in writing or speech. Working primarily through painting and drawing, I seek to produce works that are visually seductive, and which unfold in an expansive, associative manner to reveal layers of meaning and ambiguity. I want to engage all viewers, whether or not they recognize the historical allusions in my work. A naturalistic style is especially well-suited to these objectives, because it is readily legible as a demonstration of skill, but the inherent instabilities of representation also create layers of superimposed meaning. Naturalism is also well-suited to expressing the contradictory impulses of an immersive investment in one’s subject matter and a critique of its underlying social and cultural institutions.
My work merges art history with a rigorous focus on technical improvement, engaging genres such Renaissance devotional art and American landscape painting as vehicles to explore present social, cultural, and political concerns. Context as playing a critical role in the construction meaning, and individual artworks carry with them contextual clues such as their frames, titles, and installation. I use these signifiers synthetically and allusively, not necessarily to clarify the work’s meaning, but to expand and complicate it. For example, my titles are often combine references to novels, song lyrics, and theoretical texts with diverse writing styles such as news reportage, advertising, academic publications, or stream of conscious confessions. These titles add layers of complexity to the interpretation of a piece, rather than explaining it.
My figurative paintings begin as casual snap-shots and posed photographs at carnivals, coffee shops, county fairs, and Halloween festivals. In these familiar-yet-strange scenes, I create a dialogue with Christian religious art using titles and trompe l’oeil frames, to quote historic frames and allude to the subject matter of their works. Such dialogues suggest the ways in which the themes of these earlier works remain present in and are altered by contemporary American culture. Such disparate and unexpected connections expand the potential meaning of everyday events. I also explore framing by adding sculptural-ritual dimensions through found object assemblage, evoking domestic contexts in keeping with traditional devotional works, while challenging viewers to interact through a familiar language of function in handy knobs, doors, handles, and shutters. I have expanded the range of my allusions beyond the conventional Euro-centric canon, as for example in allusions to the works of nineteenth-century New Mexican tinsmiths and Latin-American folk religious practices. My incorporation of these artforms is an extension of my respectful study of the expressive power of their traditions.
My recent series of pastel landscape paintings, loosely titled Flyover Scapes, seeks to explore the tradition of American landscape painting by reorienting its generic conventions as a meditation on the socialized environment. The perception of a landscape does not exist apart from human interaction with a given place, and in this process of interaction, it becomes structured by and implicated in a society’s inequities, hierarchies, and systems of meaning. Picturesque landscape representations often seek to conceal human presence and idealize the material environment. In contrast, my series foregrounds roads, fences, electrical poles, architecture, and street signs as manifest traces of the legal, social, and cultural norms structuring the landscape. These paintings participate in and critique contemporary practices of landscape viewing through the technological mediation of cars, highways, and cell phone cameras.
All of my artwork draws heavily on my knowledge as an art historian, but it also informs my research and teaching. I am intimately familiar with the technical aspects of artistic production, and continue to experiment with media and techniques. I am able to relate to other artists as a practitioner, an immediacy of shared experience that cuts through the barriers often arising between researchers and their ostensible subjects. In turn, my art history background provides a depth of referentiality and theoretical grounding. Both aspects converge in teaching, enabling me to explain artistic meaning and technique more effectively than if I practiced only as an art historian or as an artist. These three components are interdependent and mutually inseparable elements of my intellectual life and scholarly work.
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