Updated: Sep 18, 2019
Standing at the bottom of Powell Street in San Francisco has a forceful way of making you feel alive. The electricity of the trolly cars combined with the criss crossing of wide eyed tourists and quick walking natives rests heavily along the streets there. Just one sip and I was tipsy with the thoughts of getting home and painting the space that I was standing in.
Upon my return from this trip in 2009, ready to relive my Powell Street stupor in paint, I realized that the only canvasses in my studio were used, and mostly for quick classroom studies and the occasional attempt at painting flowers in vases. Without a thought I grabbed the worst of the bunch and started to "wallpaper" over the painting by glueing strips of newspaper over the surface. It was a perfect, fresh beginning.
Since then, I’ve adapted and refined the process of covering my canvas with newspaper to ensure maximum longevity of the work as well as actively select my newspapers to match the place of the subject creating a space where the stories of the people of a particular place are woven into the artwork itself. But, for this first go, I simply grabbed the old newspaper that was sitting next to my desk in my studio, with only the thought of covering the texture of the painting below it.
Artists have an immense need to create things. Big things, small things, useful things, pretty things, statement things, colorful things, somber things, a n y t h i n g. When they aren’t creating, they are not living in their truth and it feels bad. So they create all the time. I create all the time. Prior to this fateful evening I created in a fashion equivalent to a firehose that had escaped and was whirling and twirling spraying in every direction.
I knew that I had this thing inside of me that I had to share so I just kept spraying out work, in hopes that I would figure out how to share my vision the way that I wanted.
It was in the first few brush strokes on top of the newspaper that I felt like I was no long whirling and twirling, but that suddenly I was in control. It felt right for the first time, really right. The proverbial lightbulb was humming and flashing neon all up in my studio that night.
I worked through the first piece over the course of a year. And then I moved onto a second and then all my work began with the newspaper below. The newspaper under-layer is hardly noticeable in my early works.
I’ve gone back a few times since 2009 to see what working without the newspaper would be like, and I find that it no longer is the result of the painting that I prefer with the newspaper, but the process of painting over the newspaper itself that is so exciting. I love creating order from chaos and making spontaneous decisions to cover or leave transparent the layer below. My paintings feel alive as I work through them and provide myself and viewers little gifts and surprises long after the painting is complete. A silhouette in a window, a secret message from the text that you don’t notice right away and it comes at just the right time.
ABOVE: Cherry Street and closeups of the work showing the Chinese newspaper through the paint. Special thanks to fellow artist, John Pompeo, for gifting the paper to me.
In the end, it seems that my work is more about what I don’t paint, then what I do, giving the viewer a chance to interact with the work in a way that is completely intimate to them…always shifting, always changing, always offering up something new to see, or perhaps seeing the same things but in a new and relevant way each time.
Often people ask if I will ever stop painting on the newspaper. I’d hate to think that I am doing the same thing years from now. I’m sure at some point I’ll run out of things to say with this process. So yes, perhaps the day will come when I retire the newspaper, but today is not that day as I have so much more to say with it.