By James Cox

I will write here a reflection of my semester working in different ways and influenced by difference people, mainly artists and experiences. In this writing, I will cover some of the methods I have used to make art, things I have read, some of my own thoughts, and discussions with my artists mentor Douglas Kornfeld. As for a thesis to this paper, I have thought of only one I can deem appropriate. To preface this thesis I should say that I began this semester with the intent to explore the various mediums within my work and find their various meanings to the whole of my art making, as well as to extend my knowledge of historical artists and points in art theory and practice. I began using a conceptual art making method which limited my creative nature in a way I had actually meant to avoid, and only when I was confronted in a critic with my artist mentor did I begin to look at the real questions I had to face in my art work. In this paper I only seek to layout in writing the story of this transformation viewable in my work.

I began my semester with a sincere desire to make works out of the separate elements of my undergraduate paintings: geometric faces, eyes, newspaper, arrows, scribbled lines, grout or concrete. At the same time I was inspired by the visual and written work of Sol LeWitt. I always felt I wanted to be more a conceptual artist. LeWitt’s “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” seemed to me at the time to present a way of working on my intended projects and pursue a more conceptual means of working. First there was the removal of color as LeWitt states, “It is the objective of the artist who is concerned with conceptual art to make his work mentally interesting to the spectator, and therefore usually he would want it to be emotionally dry. (Fabozzi 181)” I considered some of my own ideas, along with comments received critics at the last residency, about using newspaper headlines. What is their significance? What is important and what is not? Should you be able to read the words? Should they become pattern? What happens when you use them in different ways? Along with these inquiries, I considered the covering up of graffiti on concrete surfaces. Combining those thoughts with LeWitt’s ideas, I thought of a work dealing with the importance of word selection and censorship.

Obtuse (black, grey, & white) by James Cox

Only the centerpiece of the triptych Obtuse has a straightforward connection to graffiti. While graffiti has more than a vague visual relationship to my work, I never reached a point where I considered myself a graffiti artist, or even a graffiti inspired artist. Graffiti is more a part of the art history background in front of which to act out my own play. I looked into some if that background by reading Stephen Power’s The Art of Getting Over. In this book Powers lays out a brief history of writers of graffiti, primarily from the east coast. I could not relate to any of them. Power’s puts it succinctly, “graffiti is about doing it, and being it, and getting it … true graffiti lives in the moment. (Powers 6)” I could not find a direct way of “getting it” and moved forward with my newspaper studies on a both related and opposing work. In my piece Counter Contextual I focused on a selection of headlines mostly without specified topics.

Counter Contextual by James Cox

These experimental, conceptual works aided in my understanding of my use of newspaper. They have led me to think that newspaper, while being an element I am fond of from time to time, is not a current staple of my art. I also sought exploration inspired by Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawings, particularly as seen on the cover detail.

Cover: Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawings, and 08-03,05,08-2009 by James Cox

In 08-03,05,08-2009, I continued the idea of newspaper but made it practically invisible, then used graphite for the scribbled line, also flexing the idea of drawing a female face instead of a male. The resulting face is quite ambiguous. Perhaps it is a result of subconsciously trying to draw myself while trying to draw a woman. Maybe it is an indication that the way the face is drawn is of more importance visually than the gender of the face. Whatever meanings or reasoning that are the true root of this effect, I have come to consider the faces I put in my work to be an extension of myself and they are therefore likely to always to be seen as male. However, this does not prohibit their occasional ambiguous nature from being viewed as one gender or the other.

Though I gathered valuable insight into my artwork from these experimental pieces I began to feel choked, repressed, lacking a satisfaction on what I made. I pushed into another work of many faces to explore the sense of self-identity in each of my characters. Though I was excited for the new idea and wished to see it made on a grand scale I sensed that, while it may or may not have ever reached the viewer’s interpretation, my original idea was not being realized within the work. In essence my work began to develop a hollowness to it.

Along the time I was working on the projects previously shown, I also began reading Art As Experience by John Dewey. Even while his writing comes from a very different time, one that even predated the notable work of Sol LeWitt, I consider his writing beyond just insightful. His explanation of the live creature and its relationship to an environment with which it forms experience and accumulates meaning continues to fascinate me. Not soon after getting into his book’s topic, I found something both wonderfully explanatory and, since I was becoming more focused towards conceptualism, very terrifying.

“The rhythm of loss of integration with environment and recovery of union not only persists in man but becomes conscious with him; its conditions are material out of which he forms purposes. Emotion is the conscious sign of a break, actual or impending. The discord is the occasion that induces reflection. Desire for restoration of the union converts mere emotion into interest in objects as conditions of realization of harmony. With the realization, material of reflection is incorporated into objects as their meaning. Since the artist cares in a peculiar way for the phase of experience in which union is achieved, he does not shun moments of resistance and tension. He rather cultivates them, not for their own sake but because of their potentialities, bringing to living consciousness an experience that is unified and total, In contrast with the person whose purpose is esthetic, the scientific man is interested in problems, in situations wherein tension between the matter of observation and of thought is marked. Of course he cares for their resolution. But he does not rest in it; he passes on to another problem using an attained solution only as a stepping-stone from which to set on foot further inquiries. (Dewey 15)”

What I considered both satisfying and terrorizing was his descriptions of the artistic versus the scientific views to the rhythm he discusses, and that I related more the to scientific than the artistic. The ideas I was making art from were becoming more and more limited, or perhaps less and less meaningful. I seemed stuck and I could hardly realize it. I was very fortunate to meet with Douglas after completing the work of several faces in a kind of grid, Often Thought. This work took me even further towards working as Sol LeWitt. What I discussed with Douglas was how I wanted to represent the idea that these faces are made from the thoughts I have as they are made, as well as from their environment in the work of art, i.e. the scribbles were thoughts and therefore a background as well as subject the faces expressed. Douglas was aware this was not seen in the finished work. He was not thrilled and suggested that I try making a series of small, rapid works to push out a lot of ideas without making the work to be finished thoughts. He explained that I needed to allow myself to react without thinking.

Often Thought by James Cox

I had planned to make another work, on a larger scale, which would have been nearly identical to “Often Thought.” After talking with Douglas, I realized putting efforts into that would be extremely counterproductive to the development in understanding my artwork. Douglas agreed, indicating that there was little difference between the larger project and Often Thought, and saying, “You’ve already made it.” I revisited some of my older drawings from high school and early college (see White Pony Full Ink Spread). They are from a time before I felt works of art had to have meaning or be planned out. Douglas’s comment on them was simply to ask the question, “What made you think that’s not art?” Discussing these also led me back to what I had been reading from LeWitt and Dewey. LeWitt said in his writing that, “If the artist wishes to explore his idea thoroughly, then arbitrary or chance decisions would be kept to a minimum, while caprice, taste and other whimsies would be eliminated.” Douglas saw the result of following such a guide and told me what he was once told, “give into your whims.”

White Pony Full Ink Spread by James Cox, circa 2002

When I went back to John Dewey’s writing, it had deeper impact on how I saw art making. When discussing the act of expression Dewey states that,

“The primitive and raw material of experience needs to be reworked in order to secure artistic expression… With respect to the physical materials that enter into the formation of a work of art, everyone knows that they must undergo change… It is not so generally recognized that a similar transformation takes place on the side of the ‘inner’ materials, images, observations, memories and emotions…Nor are there in fact two operations, one performed upon the outer material and the other upon the inner and mental stuff. The work is artistic in the degree the two functions of transformation are effected by a single operation. (Dewey 74, 75)”

Dewey’s consideration to the transformation of experience and physical material into a work of art became an important view as I began a series of smaller, rapid works.

Various Works by James Cox

These quick, multimedia works practiced the mixing up of my past icons and qualities of experience both physical and emotional in material. Douglas and I discussed various images, words/writing, as well as arrangement of different elements and affects. He explained some of my smaller works were more successful, as apposed to the larger ones, for the sense that the former gave a kind of visual statement while the latter attempted a complex narrative. Considering this idea I found I am not interested in making a work of art tell a story but rather defining a moment in time, a brief experience or expression.

In some of these new, somewhat expressionistic, works I also found something familiar. I recall having heard my work compared to Jean-Michel Basquiat more than a few times through my first residency last June. In this new work I began resembling, more so than my past work, the style in which Basquiat worked. So I read about his work, reviewing many images and even seeing the 1996 biographical film directed by Julian Schnabel. What I gathered from my research is a view of Basquiat through an art historical perspective, which shows him as a graffiti artist who’s work spoke against the emotionally void, more conceptually driven artists popularized in the mid 1900s. Basquiat’s paintings were also seen as a kind of reinvention and response to the older modernists, while rejecting a somewhat convoluted idea in post-modernism attempting to respond to early modernism the way the first modernists work related to the more classical arts. In my understanding, Sol LeWitt was moving along those same lines. Reaching toward a minimal, conceptual art was a search for a modernism to modernism, in which art would move beyond representation of life as we experience it. Much in a way the first expressionist’s art reached beyond a need to represent life with realism. Thinking of this, I was not surprised to find Basquiat considered a neo-expressionist. His art offered a new, raw brand of art making, which then became objectified by the art world. Much the same way musical performers were, and are, objectified by pop-culture. Basquiat’s influences were not uncommon, other than the aspects of his personal life and the book of Grey’s Anatomy. His more common, or well-known, influences were Leonardo Da Vinci, Picasso, Matisse, and the Hip-Hop music of his generation.

What then am I pulling from my knowledge and understanding of Basquiat? I’ve begun to share in his fearless use of imagery and direct color as temporal placeholders for my own views and experiences. His work with graffiti is not the same, as viewers might want to believe mine. We differ in experience and background magnificently. What might be the similarity to connect our relationships to graffiti art? It may simply be that it has existed as part of our environments growing up. The way it was part of mine, however, was more as part of an art historical knowledge or background. I was not lucky enough to see much graffiti in my small suburban town. Most of what I saw was only glimpses on the sides of railway cars. Yet I, like Jean Michel Basquiat, took the art which I knew growing up and made art which both was inspired by and responded to it. Since my work resembles his, I have given into making work directly or consciously influenced by his.

My transition over this semester from a highly conceptual approach to art making to now a more neo-expressionist approach, leads me to a kind of theory. The theory is that as an artist, I somehow act through my artistic development, a kind of mimicry of art history as I become aware of it. What I was doing at the beginning of the semester, was letting that enactment of history, specifically my knowledge of Sol LeWitt, take over my art making. I was using the methodology of someone else to make my art and when it was about to take me too far off track, my artist mentor Douglas Kornfeld brought me back to my beginning as an artist. This is what led me to move forward into making art more alike to Jean-Michel Basquiat. The important difference in making art that seems like Basquiat’s is that I am not allowing his methodology to make my art. I am instead able to employ processes he used, but with my own subject matter, my own meanings, and for my own reasons.

Behind the Pretty Lights by James Cox


Dewey, John. Art As Experience. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York: Capricorn Books, 1958. Print.

Emmerling, Leonhard. Jean-Michel Basquiat. Taschen Books, 2003. Print.

Fabozzi, Paul F. “Sol LeWitt: Paragraphs on Conceptual Art (1967).” Artists, Critics, Context Readings in and Around American Art since 1945. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2001. 180-184. Print

LeWitt, Sol. Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawings. Damiani: 2006. Print

Mayer, Marc. Mayer, Marc. “Basquiat in History.” Basquiat. Singapore: Merrel Publishers Limited, 2005. 41-57. Print

Mayer, Marc. Sirmans, Franklin. “In The Cipher: Basquiat and Hip=Hop Culture” Basquiat. Singapore: Merrel Publishers Limited, 2005. 91-105. Print

Powers, Stephen. The Art of Getting Over. China: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. Print.

To be clear, the intent of this paper is to explore, with as little filtering as possible, my preceding papers (Contemplating an Experience & Conceptual Confinement) along with my studio work, research, and musings on the interplay of all those things. I will attempt to avoid making this a biographical piece of my semester so far; however making that my goal would be counterproductive for the understanding, if not already a challenge, of you as the reader. If you have not had chance to review the two papers prior to this, along with the notes I received in each case, you may wish to now as to follow my written thoughts. In the case of those who are uninterested in what may seem excessive reading, I will sum up some key points.

In my first paper I reviewed my experiences of the June residency and the ultimate conclusion I must make new explorative work to understand my chosen imagery or symbolism and process of working. Judith reviewed my paper and mentioned in one note how many artists like completing the meaning of a work through their engagement in making it. My reply to this was to site John Dewey’s Art As Experience, which I had begun to read while writing my first paper. I struggle with the conflicting views of artists working intuitively with only a general understanding of the goal of each piece they begin, or artist planning a work and then executing that plan. I certainly don’t make a specific plan, but I build an idea of what the work will be and then what each piece would be and how it all goes together and in what order. This idea of what the work will be is a goal and guide with loose limits on change or variation.

My second paper was not implicitly related to my first, but in it I compared Sol LeWitt’s Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, Robert Smithson’s Cultural Confinement, and my own issues of art making. In my reading, or rather multiple re-readings for the second paper, I was hoping to find more guidance on my dilemma of how to work on art and the result of different methods of making art. I still find it against my nature to make art without a clear idea of what I am aiming to create. This is partly to do with how rapidly my ideas progress and build on one another. Imagine you see a photo of someone’s face, then your mind sketches a mental picture of that photo, then it sketches another of the initial sketch, and it changes with each new mental sketch. It’s not unlike the lose of resolution as you make a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy… The idea of a work comes and changes or gets completely lost. This can happen faster than I get up to get a pen and paper. In writing my second paper, however, I was forcing my conflicting view or feelings on art making and its sources, to work into a cohesive paper without a distinct point to argue or conclude. I am ready to admit that my second paper doesn’t hold a candle to my first. I pushed it, and for that reason it suffered.

I addressed the issue of Smithson’s desire for an art, which is made in a kind of harmony with nature. He did not want art to be separate from the world we experience each day: to be esoteric or only representing ideas. I tried playing this against, or at least alongside, Sol LeWitt’s explanation of making art out of ideas to the point the artist doesn’t even physically need to make the final work. I’d like to briefly hold Sol LeWitt’s comment up to the most easily identifiable work of Smithson, his Spiral Jetty made in 1970. LeWitt believed there was danger in “making the physicality of the materials so important that it becomes the idea of the work.” Can this be true of Smithson’s work? Is not Smithson’s idea of art “that takes into account the direct effect of the elements” expressed in the use of the natural materials, expected to do exactly as he says? In this way, Smithson and LeWitt seem in agreement with each other’s views on art. Robert Rosenblum’s Notes on Sol LeWitt has lead me to another perspective which brings LeWitt’s and Smithson’s views under one umbrella. Rosenblum speaks of artists in the second half of the twentieth century as desiring to “strip art of everything but elemental truths.” Sol LeWitt does this with the visual elements of art, as many artists have done throughout history, and Smithson seeks a more natural route, using the earth. As I begin to grasp the artist’s arguments, their words lose me. Smithson seems to speak against “occult notions of concept” and “isolated occurrence,” or representation. Though considering his Spiral Jetty, it is a work isolated from social environments, representing his views of art. Those views must be communicated through writing, and in Smithson’s own words, “writing does not bring one closer to the physical world.” This conflict drives me back to LeWitt who argues that “No matter what form it may finally have it must begin with an idea.” Placing this adjacent to his comment “The idea, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product,” and further to his statement that “The work of art can only be perceived after it is completed,” draws me to a conclusion only describable as intentionally blank.

My digesting of Smithson’s article produces only a mild curiosity as to the relationship of my art to natural elements. At this point, I see concrete in different settings, with different kinds of aging, and in each case I experience something breathtaking as if walking into a gallery or museum and seeing a stunning work of art. The thing about this view is, I see it in the world and in particular settings, which enhance that experience. I am not interested in mimicking my view of beauty as someone who seeing a beautiful forest or beach or sky paints that vision. If I were to try and recreate, in order to communicate, the exceptional qualities I perceive in concrete environments, I would not be expressing anything, or making any intelligent comment. The work I would produce in that situation would only be an object pointing to my experience and saying, “Look at how gorgeous this is!”

I had been more attracted to LeWitt’s ideas without much consideration, as I was inspired by his wall drawings in June after forgetting that I had read his article earlier that month. This led me to use LeWitt’s paragraphs to guide some experimental artworks. I was thrilled that an artist had inspired me to return to the beginning of my character forms and had written what could be loosely understood to be an instruction manual for conceptual art. I wanted to expand on my understanding of LeWitt’s writing, which is why I paralleled his article to Smithson’s. I am still fascinated with LeWitt’s art, but cannot anchor myself to his explanation of art making as merely a “perfunctory affair.”


I am a slow reader because of a processing deficit. To briefly explain, information reaches my mind slower than my mind is able to process it. The result is that my mind quickly processes information it receives and will not wait for the next piece, leading to loss of focus. This deficit may be the reason I needed to reread articles by Sol LeWitt and Robert Smithson several times. [I wouldn’t apologize or try to explain your reading speed,…these texts are complicated and are dealing with hard ideas, so they would require a re-reading no matter who is reading …] However, the benefit went to my artistic dilemmas both old and new. While LeWitt’s “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” and Smithson’s “Cultural Confinement” possess or imply conflicting points of view, they are not unlike two sides of the same cube. Smithson argues over category and “representation,” LeWitt attempts to clarify a source of art making. Each of them influenced my thoughts on the same issues. [It is unclear to me what these issue are, this could be a bit more clear]  These viewpoints are of great value to me on both artistic and personal levels, and provide additional guidance to my art making [This is a nice way to put it].

In the past I have struggled with my own notions of conceptual art versus expressionism. I somehow developed a belief that all art was somehow one or the other. It was comforting to read Smithson state that, “Artists are expected to fit into fraudulent categories.” Yet I felt the rug yanked from under my feet as he discussed art becoming “a portable object or surface disengaged from the outside world.” [Yes, one must remember, these artists were fighting different battles] He discusses “Occult notions of ‘concept’” and “unnecessary modes of representation both ‘abstract’ and ‘realistic’” as “in retreat from the physical world.” Throughout his article Smithson is arguing an opinion of the dialectical, seeking an involvement between the opposing forces of nature and man made art. The argument can be made that this relates to my work simulates natures affect on man made surfaces, or by the connection people often make between my paintings and graffiti art; an art form which possesses a serious relationship to both social and natural forces. The fact of the matter is that there is no connection of serious consequence between my previous artworks and what Smithson is discussing [Though what about your simulated concrete?]. While Smithson’s ideals may provide support for honest graffiti artists, my work is not the same. However, an underlying view Smithson presents in his article is of all other art as something finished and outmoded. On the one hand I can relate to this having seen it in my own work. Paintings I have made in the past represent conclusions to ideas, artificial resolutions to a perceived problem. While people may look at the work I made and find openings to new insight, the work is not made or presented that way. It would not matter whether my work was intended to be conceptual or expressive; it was enslaved by attempts to resolve my own ideas. Then on the other hand, expelling all recognition of representation seems contradictory to the very nature of art [Be careful in defining “the nature of art”, this is dangerous, as I would argue this can not be an either / or, anything it would be better to put a disclaimer on this,…talk about your personal experience with representation].

As perhaps all artists must, Smithson still had to make an art object in order to test, illustrate, or accomplish his views. How is this not a representation of concept? [Be clearer when and how he railed against any objects….] His argument suggests that art “should find itself in the physical world, and not end up locked in an idea in someone’s head.” [This is contradictory to your previous sentence on Simithson’s ideas] He further stated that, “Art’s development should be dialectical and not metaphysical.” In either case a system of thought would be used to understand the role of art in human experience. Smithson was “for an art that takes into account the direct effect of the elements as they exist from day to day…both sunny and stormy.” I think his passions overpowered his reasoning. [This needs to be clearer why you think this]  Art dealing with opposed forces is dialectical but might only be valued for its representation, intended or not, of the metaphysical ideas of good and evil. As Sol LeWitt put it, “Once out of his hand the artist has no control over the way a viewer will perceive the work. Different people will understand the same things in different ways.”

Smithson highlighted one point that I cannot disagree with. He said, “Nature is never finished.” My thoughts are the same due to my processing deficit, growing out of one another [Be clearer, I am not sure what is growing out of another]. I have attempted to confine my views of categories of art. This has been expressed visually with my geometric characters built out of scribbles on a page. There has been a conflict within me of a need to express thoughts, and to define thoughts, to be conceptual or expressive. Adjoined to this is the added dilemma of emotions usually being what is meant by the word expression. So which side of this division do I belong to? I have wanted to belong to the conceptual side, yet I have continually expressed personal feelings of thoughts through my paintings.

I recently confronted the issue of my previous means of communicating ideas and found them to be largely ineffectual. I began mentally deconstructing the visual aspects of my work to learn what I can them [?]. In conjunction I have used LeWitt’s explanation of making conceptual art as a guide to explore my own process of working with meaning and materials. Upon examination of my results, and reading LeWitt’s writing with a more critical eye, I have new perspective on the processes I’ve used and plan to practice. The most important is the understanding that I am not a conceptual artist as described by LeWitt. Though I do agree with LeWitt’s statement that, “The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product,” I recognize “the idea” as most often an ephemeral thing, without it needing to be captured or shared. Another distinction is when he discusses materials and physicality. The materiality of my work is not prescribed by the idea I use to make a work, as LeWitt would suggest. He argues that, “Color, surface, texture, and shape only emphasize the physical aspects of the work…[and that] Anything that calls attention to and interests the viewer in this physicality is a deterrent to our understanding of the idea and is used as an expressive device.” He sees danger in “making the physicality of the materials so important that it becomes the idea of the work.” [Yes, LeWitt’s ideas here are certainly dated but remember we take them for granted now………] While he says how this may be used “in a paradoxical way” he fails to acknowledge what might be expressed by the material nature of the work. Even though LeWitt initially inspired me to devote myself to a practice of conceptual art, my constant rereading of his words have remade my understanding of them. Despite my disappointment in the lack of recognition of the materiality and the ideas it may express, I find great insight in his statement that, “No matter what form it may finally have it must begin with an idea.” I respect him a lot for the humility he showed in his closing. “These paragraphs are not intended as categorical imperatives but the ideas stated are as close as possible to my thinking at this time.”

Sol LeWitt’s writing may not provide the answers for what conceptual art definitively is, but allows for individual grasping of the idea. I don’t believe LeWitt put it best when he said, “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.” Tony Apesos explained that, “the thing you think your work is about is like the fuel that propels the engine that makes the art.” Again, there may be a better way to understand using in idea for making art. I think the idea or concept is the floor on which one builds or stands the work up. The art does not need to explain the floor. It doesn’t express the floor, or give an example of the floor. The art need not reference the floor; it is built from it, and without the floor the art would not make sense or have been made. [Can you get to phillie? I would recommend seeing this:…Also check out Jonathan Monk who is an artist whos work is often about the conceptual artist of the 60’s………also Amy Stillman a painter, Anne Craven a painter, Albert Oehlen a painter, they are all dealing with abstraction…….also try to get to NYC to see Abstraction and the Ready Made Gesture at the]


I found it interesting when you said, “Most people like to be able to complete the meaning of a work through their engagement with the work; hence don’t make it literal.  All these comments suggest that to a great extent your work at the residency seemed over-determined as it precluded this level of engagement. Your job as an artist is to try to encourage people to spend time with your work; longer than just a quick glance where the meaning is completely consumed in one look.” I recalled something I read in Art As Experience by John Dewey. He talks in the first chapter about two different views an individual may poses. One is much like your statement describes. However, his language is a bit difficult to summarize so I hope you don’t mind reading a brief section.

The rhythm of loss of integration with environment and recovery of union not only persists in man but becomes conscious with him; its conditions are material out of which he forms purposes. Emotion is the conscious sign of a break, actual or impending. The discord is the occasion that induces reflection. Desire for restoration of the union converts mere emotion into interest in objects as conditions of realization of harmony. With the realization, material of reflection is incorporated into objects as their meaning. Since the artist cares in a peculiar way for the phase of experience in which union is achieved, he does not shun moments of resistance and tension. He rather cultivates them, not for their own sake but because of their potentialities, bringing to living consciousness an experience that is unified and total, In contrast with the person whose purpose is esthetic, the scientific man is interested in problems, in situations wherein tension between the matter of observation and of thought is marked. Of course he cares for their resolution. But he does not rest in it; he passes on to another problem using an attained solution only as a stepping-stone from which to set on foot further inquiries.

(Yes, Dewey is a great person to read. A question for you – how can you update his writing to refer to the present moment in specific ways; and in your work? He was a major influence on A. Kaprow and early happenings and performance art.)

I take more the scientific approach to my art. I think such a trait has led to my work seeming “over-determined.” I tend to plan and execute my work. In doing so I began relegating spontaneity to a design element and creativity to a troubleshooting tool. This process of working likely generated the manufactured feel of my painting. What I aim to find now is a union of my artistic and scientific natures. (You will learn to trust yourself more.  Many artists work in a very different way: they try not to know how the work will turn out before they begin. And when they do know how it will turn out, they stop and do something else. Perhaps you should try a few pieces like this to see if it liberates you more…)

Some of the projects I’ve been working on are here I also do have a plan for a large work made of primarily faces. If my plan is carried through as it is now the piece will have over 200 faces. This is fitting with a suggestion by Cory and one of the ideas I listed on my studio work form (Have you seen Adrian Piper’s works on newspaper from the mid ‘70’s?

At any rate, seems like you are off to a good start. Just work a lot…


This blog will be my means of sharing stuff in conjunction with my website at

With the first project I’ve tried not being selective about articles as I have in my past, using articles to transfer and be more pattern/unreadable-ish. I also decided to attempt a little parody like commentary on graffiti removal. Combined with reaching for more of a conceptual result by keeping it primarily black and white, as suggested in the article by Sol LeWitt from or Critical Theory readings.





In Order To Supress

In Order To Supress

In the second I tried diminishing the texture of an old canvas and collaged article body text (no images or headlines) from a single newspaper. I laid down a couple washed to reduce the ability to read the text and reduce the noise. Again inspired by Sol LeWitt, but this time his wall drawings, I resurrected the method I used to originally draw my characters. I this one I also attempted to draw a female face in my usual method. While it may not be clearly feminine, this is actually what should be done if I were to combat the issue of gender role conflicts. This face is quite androgynous which is something I’m actually very fond of. But I learned a few things from the second project.

I had denied it for a long time, but I see now how the faces are representing me, which is why they have been coming out as men. Before that though, the scribbles, are like thought or meditation. The rigid face is an attempt to solidify identity based on chaotic self-reflection.

scribble over newspaper

scribble over newspaper



Many people I knew in California offered little or no critical insight when discussing my art. I received praise, condemnation, and shrugs with uninterest. For all intent and purpose, I never had an honest critique until June of this year. My residency experience was revelatory of several characteristics or messages in the work I showed. Views were shared with me that I had never heard or could not possibly have imagined. There were still the shrugs, though I expected them and did not mind. The bulk of responses were not praise or condemnation, but steady perspectives and mostly unfiltered opinions. From these new points of view I began to develop an altered awareness allowing me to recognize a weak understanding, on my part, of what my paintings represented to viewers. This insight did not proclaim itself all at once, but was an accumulation of conversations, lectures, and presentations leading to a general conclusion. My work must be deconstructed and a critical evaluation made of its distinct features.

One of several events leading to the thought process stated above was a question from my first critique. Sunanda Sanyal asked me, “Why do you do this? To say what?” I was unable to give him a direct answer. I think now, if I had answered it would have been shallow or fraudulent. I instead began telling the story, or meaning, of each painting, but Tony Apesos almost cut straight through the crap. He explained that, “the thing you think your work is about is like the fuel that propels the engine that makes the art… [but] the destination of the art and the intention of the art may never converge.” In much of the work I brought I tried sharing some conclusive idea of a social or psychological topic. These never reached viewers with the same meaning I made them with. Without my expectation it would not matter that the seriousness of the messages were undermined by their presentation. The objectives in many of my paintings made them failures. It seemed a sea of doubtful questions would soon drown me.

My second critique was different but equally forward when discussing my work. Why are all the faces done in an evenly painted black line? Why are they outlined with white? Why do they seem to be only men? I began explaining my observation of men as more readily adapting to rigid, linear characteristics rather than women. Laurel Sparks mentioned how I did not seem like someone who wanted to perpetuate gender roles, and said by limiting myself to just men I was actually supporting unrealistic gender identities. She suggested I break with assumptions in my work, and that changing line widths or colors might have a positive impact on the imagery. Janet Flagen’s contrary opinion was that my characters seemed they should be simplified further to become more anonymous. I had left the eyes blank for such a reason, not intending them to express emptiness but a sort of “anyness.”  Tony asked, “What if you had more than one way of painting a head?” He also suggested Saul Steinberg was a good example to look at. Within their separate conversations, comments such as Laurel’s, Janet’s and Tony’s seem both in agreement and at odds. However, all the comments regarding my characters seemed to dance around an unsettling question at the back of my mind. Why did I paint geometric faces? What was the purpose? I then thought back to how I began drawing them.

At first I could see endlessly random things on plain white paper. I became overwhelmed with it and would scribble senselessly over the page. Not immediately did I use strictly geometric features but I began drawing characters out of the intersections and gaps of an organic mess of lines. Working this way reminded me of when I saw Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings as a kid. I would look at a Pollock and make up any image or story I wanted from it. When I got older art history courses told the story of how modern art had grown out of a rejection of classical painting techniques that originated in the Renaissance. After that I became disinterested in learning more about art history and only took what I needed to until the present. In Stuart Steck’s critical theory it was revealed how many writers of art history had woven a mythical narrative masking several facts pertinent to understanding art of the past. Topics discussed in Stuart’s class presented a great number of artists as uneven composites from past art, their contemporaries, personal experiences, their culture, and a myriad of individual traits. To compartmentalize any of these attributes was to disenfranchise elements that informed the making of art.

I became aware of more than just relationships between the qualities in my work. I was introduced to the relationship between the art and the space it was presented in. The Design of Exhibitions seminar with John Kramer illustrated how messages in art are changed by their surroundings. More specifically that works of art do not always benefit from an intransigent system of presentation. I soon after realized the same view could be applied to making art. Looking at my own work with this understanding showed my work to be confined to a disadvantageous formula. Continuing this thought, two comments became more important. Sunanda had said I should, “let go of the seriousness of the message.” Similarly, Brenda Vanderbeek suggested I list the things comfortable with my work and avoid them, never letting myself be too at ease with my art.

I could now see I had relaxed into a process of manufacturing artificial meaning with newspaper headlines, articles, and stenciled text. I was attempting to imply relevance or seriousness by using words as a medium. Tony was sensible about it, saying that, “because the words you’re using are embedded in a material work that changes them. How serious are we to take this statement?” I originally wanted the words to inform viewers about the meaning of my paintings. If people were not seeing what I had intended, what were they seeing? Some used the term illustrated or illustrative to describe my work. Others said they thought my works seemed like advertisements. In later discussions I found these were often interchangeable expressions of work with too much information. Sunanda was more specific when he said, “you move beyond playfulness… there are too many icons, too many written text.” Looking at my paintings now many words in them seem like empty slogans. George Peterson said, “The only problem I have is some of the text seems too obvious. I really like it where you really can’t make out the text.” Others who found the text more interesting when it was illegible supported this. Laurel explained how the use of words in my works gave them an “authoritative tone,” and I should instead try to layer a lot of written text to build up the dense texture I paint over.

The surface of my paintings has attracted much attention over the past few years. My aim was to create a concrete look-a-like covered with street art. People’s interest was more focused on the thick texture, coloring, and how heavy the work looked despite being on canvas or wood. Though, after seeing the works by Alison Williams and Robert Curfman, two things became impertinently clear. First is that my interest in concrete goes far beyond graffiti. My fascination also includes the weathering and accumulation of a surface’s history. Second, I had been inconsiderately faking both the surface and art style I admired. With knowledge of the way presentation changed the viewing of my work, I saw how my paintings were, intentionally or not, making a parody of street art. I had grown too content in my own illusions. To follow Brenda’s advice I should make myself a little uncomfortable.

In my first discussion with Cory Arcangel about my work, he said, “I kinda wanna see you just go crazy.” I was a little uncomfortable with that idea, not considering myself the best example of sanity. He elaborated by asking me, “What if you painted just faces? Or just words? Or just used the stencil of your name?” Until that point I could not think of how to evaluate the characteristics of my art. I started the residency with the expectation that experimentation would slowly diminish in my graduate work. I was relieved to find experimentation is practically a requirement in the program. In his visiting artist talk, Cory’s analogy of Tiger Woods, how Woods rebuilt his golf swing, as an ideal artist further clarified how I would “go crazy.” I would dismantle the imagery in my paintings to distinguish their features and understand their importance to my art.

As I took an inventory of my methods I began to consider three questions Jason Landry was once asked by Deb Todd Wheeler. “Why be an artist? Why use photography? What do you want to convey?” These are not unlike the questions Sunanda had asked in my first critique, but with important distinctions. The first, I think few could answer clearly and honestly without launching into a manifesto longer than the average attention span. My answer to the second is relatively simple. I desire a tactile relationship to the object I make. For no discernable reason, the construction of mostly two-dimensional images fulfills this inclination. To answer the third I examined my previous art’s failures and rare successes, but found nothing to answer the question regarding my future.

Where my past paintings failed I had been doomed from the start because I tried to convey conclusive thoughts despite the fact that thoughts never cease to move forward without finite conclusion. What will I make without definitive thoughts to convey? Should I make work conveying nothing? Most people would argue that everything human beings make communicates something whether intended or not. I am one of those people. I cannot abandon making things with reason, but I must afford myself the freedom to make art without expecting it to mean something to viewers exactly as I intend. What then will guide my decisions? Laurel said, “The things I make are things I want to exist in the world that don’t exist.” The making of a thing for the purpose of its existence relates directly to my want for physical connection to the objects of my creation. What is conveyed then seems irrelevant to the production of art. How will I divorce myself from all other meaning? I will need to start with a restraining order on the meanings conveyed in my past work. Dismantling the facets from my previous art and critically evaluating their significance will hopefully lead to art constructed with understanding of what is expressed to viewers.