I was a happy kid. One of my earliest memories was listening to Al Hirt’s Java on my toy-like portable record player. I couldn’t get enough of it, and I would dance as I listened to it over and over again. Then shit happened: school compulsion and family discord. Both of which I hated. They cut into my joy and my sense of freedom. Painting soon replaced dancing and a different kind of music replaced upbeat jazz.
I discovered pop music with classical components like the bands Chicago, Electric Light Orchestra, the Beatles, and Elton John. But they missed something. After art school my paintings began to take on more depth, time, and themes. I was going crazy listening to pop radio stations. They kept repeating the same hot songs. Out of frustration I turned to the classical music station, not so much because I loved it, but at least it was complex and varied.
“The Collector”, oil on canvas, 60 x 50 inches, private collection
“Life is made up of compromises,” said his teacher. “You will learn that the world doesn’t work that way,” said his other teacher. “Yes, I know I said ‘always be aggressive when you are ahead,’ but make this an exception and be safe,” said his desperate coach. Only once did he discount his inner voice and follow advice that didn’t compute; it ended in a colossal failure. The problem wasn’t so much that their advice was bad, but it didn’t resonate with him.
oil on linen, 60 x 70 inches, private collection.
As a pre-teen, I often felt an unbearable delight in things: There was a local sub shop run by a Sicilian man named Tony. Tony used imported Italian ingredients to make his submarine sandwiches, and the combination of rich flavors created an explosion in my mouth and spirit. It was the same with da Vinci drawings. Da Vinci drawings swept me through currents of light and air giving me a delicious feeling for his beautiful people. I felt like I was born Italian in a past life, but was cursed to be brought up in the artificially bright culture of mid-20th century America, with its Doris Day look-alikes, CIA-sponsored Rothko paintings, Wishbone dressing, and psychologically immature, posturing, drunken men. Though my normal character loves wondrous things, I also felt sadness and shyness. Shyness about the things that rocked my world, and sadness for seeing so much superficiality in my town.
This is a portrait of a friend, architect Joseph Castro, with dark brown leather as the backdrop.
Any complex subject is visually chaotic; with incongruent shapes and lots of details. When you look at something like a person’s face or a panoramic landscape there are a million things to look at – out of all that stuff which do you draw/paint? One of the fun and great challenges for an artist is to organize this chaos in a meaningful way through the use of visual rhythms.