In the first 18 years of my life I probably spent no more than three
or four weeks, on family vacations, near salt water, yet I always drew
pictures of boats, lighthouses and stormy seascapes and read every sea
story I could find in the school library.
When studying at Pratt Institute, I’d often skip my morning painting
classes to prowl the Fulton Fish Market and take photographs of fishing
boats with the Brooklyn Bridge looming behind them and of longshoremen
pushing handcarts loaded with crates of iced fish over the cobbled
streets. I got hooked by photography which, with all the social turmoil
of the late ‘60s, seemed to be a much more worthwhile pursuit than the
seeming irrelevance of the ‘60s New York art scene. After dropping out
of Pratt in 1968 (it didn’t have a photography program at the time) and
moved 400 miles inland to study photography and didn’t see the sea
again for another ten years.
The vicissitudes of life got in the way of college and shortly after
arriving in Rochester, NY I again dropped out of school, this time from
RIT, and had a checkered job history for the next ten years, the last
six of which were spent as a Teamster driving tractor-trailers. When I
decided it was time to return to college, in 1980, Rhode Island School
of Design was my first choice largely because of its proximity to salt
I was a free-lance photographer for 25 years after graduating from
RISD, initially shooting for a number of regional magazines including
“Yankee” and “New England Monthly”. I found that I could use my camera
to open a lot of doors. The excuse of shooting a photo-essay is a great
way to get into situations that I otherwise couldn’t, such as getting
aboard tugboats, lobster boats and commercial fishing vessels.
Photography, though a great documentary medium, doesn’t interest me as
an expressive medium.
In 1991 my wife and I met Leo Brooks, a painter, who was working on
Monhegan Island that summer. I loved his childlike drawing, bold colors
and complete disregard for objective reality. I hadn’t painted since
1968, but Leo’s work struck a chord and started me thinking about
painting again. The watercolor we bought from him, a “fisherman” very
different from my own, is one of our most treasured possessions. Being a
procrastinator, it was ten years later, 2000, thirty-two years after
quitting art school, that the need to paint finally took hold of me and I
enrolled in a continuing ed painting class at RISD.
Most of my current work springs from a lifelong love of the sea, the
New England coast and a fascination with commercial fishing. Having been
a photographer for nearly three decades, the greatest joy I have as a
painter is freedom from objective reality. I can bend, twist, stretch,
exaggerate and simplify the things I see. I can put things in and leave
things out. I can even completely make things up, which is what I do
most of the time. I paint how things make me feel instead of simply what
they look like.
As a young art student I took Art and myself way too seriously.
Having come back to painting relatively late in life I now understand
that few artists have anything earth-shaking to say. I take comfort and
inspiration from the words of painter an art educator Edgar Whitney:
“If, facing the paper, your thought is ‘I am an artist,’ you have no
clue as to what to do. If the concepts of your function are, ‘I am a
shape maker, an entertainer, an expressive symbol collector’ … then you
have an explicit road map.” Now, I’m most pleased when people look at my
work and smile. It’s nice to be able to put together a collection of
lines and shapes and colors that bring a little fun and brightness to a
world that’s too often frightening and dreary.