So, what am I painting, anyway?

One of my very best friends and I had a conversation about my paintings. They were asking really great questions and reminding me how to talk about my work in a way that invites others in.

I don’t recall a time when my teachers didn’t take us to the local museums and show us art, including lots of 20th-century work. (Yes, this was public school.) I’m 47 now, so I’ve spent a lot of years going to museums and galleries and open studios, most of them before I got serious about learning to paint in 2010. I live alone and my studio is at home, so I don’t talk about my work as much as I might. But it’s really good for me.

If you’ll forgive me, gentle reader, I’m going to complete this post as a dialogue, much like the original conversation, in hopes of avoiding the dryness of a manifesto or other proclamation about art. Here are some recent images I’ve posted of work in progress to help make the words more concrete.

current works in progress

current works in progress

Do you see things in this image? Or is it so abstract and arty that it doesn’t have a subject? My knowledge of art is limited to what I like. Same as my knowledge of wine.

I guess it’s arty. I personally avoid the term abstract*, because that suggests it's a distillation of something else. I prefer non-representational, since it's not representing anything other than itself.

Just a feeling in color? Or how do you describe it? I’m trying to find words for it.

An image has many possible facets: color, texture, proportion, scale, depth, harmony, etc. Representing the world is a possible member of the list, but isn't necessary. In most of my work, I am not representing the world. Does that make sense?

Ah. Are you representing something else?

I've been thinking and seeing this way for so many years, I forget it's not typical. Instead of a painting of an apple (etc), it's a painting of itself. It’s a little heady.

It is heady. And a little like a club I’m not a member of. I mean, instead of, “That’s a good picture of an apple”, it’s “This is a picture of what you see in your heart”?

Maybe. “This is an image of what I see in my heart and mind and taste”. And I welcome others to bring their own hearts, mind, and taste to looking at the work.

OK. I get that. So, it’s just pretty. Or not. It just is.

Pretty or troubling or poised or unhinged, etc. I think it's describable, just not as a representation. and I hope people will ascribe their own descriptions.

(laughing) I’m just a person who doesn’t know much about art but had a lot of feelings.

So you’re human!

*this is a partial lie. Currently, this website has a gallery of work called Abstract. It’s a concession to the colloquial use of the term.

Art Battle SF

I’ve been selected to paint at the next Art Battle San Francisco. A group of artists (several of them friends of mine, as it turns out) get 20 minutes to turn a blank canvas into a painting, then the audience votes on what painting (or artist) they like best. Top scorers compete again at the end of the night, with the overall winner going on to higher levels of competition. All paintings are up for auction at the end of the night. In a nightclub.

What have I agreed to?!?


I’m closer to 50 than 40 and I haven’t had a drink in nearly six years, so nightclubs are no longer my jam. I paint quickly, but not THAT quickly. And competition? Seeking approval? Having my work judged? Shit.

I’ve heard “if you’re not growing you’re dying.” So I’ll look on this as a growth opportunity. My debut may be the Gong Show, or it might be A-OK. I’ll have friends among the fellow artists, and hopefully among the audience, so it should be a lot of fun in any case!

Witness it all shake down a week from tonight at The Great Northern in San Francisco (ages 21 and up).

Edit after the event: it was so many kinds of fun (and a little stressful)! It’s breathtaking watching artists create in front of you. Some had a more or less complete painting within five minutes (amazing!) that they refined for the remaining 15, which others worked very methodically, with the painting only resolving in the final moments (thrilling!). Here’s what I created, which is in some ways entirely unlike any other painting I’ve made. Photo credit goes to the collector as I forgot in my excitement to take any snapshots. (All pieces created are available via silent auction at the end of the night.)

Snap by collector.jpg

sf open studios 2018 is nearly here

SF Open Studios, the oldest and largest open studios program in the country, is an annual, month-long art event in October and November that showcases over 800 emerging and established San Francisco artists.

I will be participating in three weekends this year and would love to see you at one or more of them! Each has ample parking and is convenient to transit.


Weekend 1: October 13 & 14 2018, 11am to 6pm
Room & Board
685 7th Street (between Brannan & Townsend)

Update: October 11: I am traveling for a family emergency and am not sure when I will be back.

Artworks at this location will not be seen other weekends. This is my second year to show at Room & Board, a distinct honor.

Weekend 3: October 27 & 28 2018 
11am to 6pm Saturday, 12:30pm to 6pm Sunday
St. Gregory of Nyssa Church
510 De Haro Street (at Mariposa)

I will be the sole artist at this location and thus will be showing the widest range and volume of my work. Note that Sunday will not start until after services, around 12:30pm. This is my fifth year in this location, and I am very grateful.

Weekend 5: November 10 & 11 2018, 11am to 6pm
Code & Canvas
151 Potrero Avenue (between Alameda & 15th)

I will be one of over a dozen artists in this newish art venue. Paul Madonna, famous for his "All Over Coffee" comics and books, will also be showing at Code & Canvas. This is the first year Code & Canvas has included visiting artists, and I am delighted to be invited.

That's a lot of SF Open Studios information! Luckily, it is all on the ArtSpan website:

A painting with a story

OK so all of my paintings have stories, some of them very short, most of them a couple of paragraphs. The painting on my easel right now (which might be finished) has a longer story. It's a commission, and I think it's called Pye. 

Pye (?), acrylic on canvas, 40 in / 102 cm square, 2018

Pye (?), acrylic on canvas, 40 in / 102 cm square, 2018

I am a member of SFMOMA, the primary modern and contemporary museum here in San Francisco, and that allows me to drop in for a little while when I am in the area and not feel obliged to see everything because I just paid for a $35 ticket. I dropped in on a Tuesday morning a couple of weeks ago, and lucky for me, visitors were few and far between. As I rode the elevator to the top floor (as is my habit, after which I wander down, unable to resist gravity's attraction), another solo visitor struck up a conversation. I own exactly one article of clothing with writing on the outside, and it's a Harry Potter-themed t-shirt I happened to be wearing that day. It spurred the conversation.

This other fellow (who I much later realized must be around thirty, but he's completely bald, which makes it harder to tell) eagerly continued our conversation, even after it stopped a couple of times as he and I took in different artworks. Eventually I learned he's an artisan, trained at a major US design school, and his solo business is doing really well here in SF thanks to the boom in wealthy tech companies desiring bespoke offices.

He asked how my art business is going, and I truthfully told him sales have been a little slow this year. He asked what I charge for a commission, and replied with a number corresponding to the current price of many of my pieces. I'll clarify at this point that he's never seen my work, because he says, "I want to commission a painting." Yeah -- just based on maybe ten minutes of conversation about this and that (and my HP shirt -- thanks JK!). He asks me to use the theme "pye". I ask whether he means P-I or P-I-E and he says yes/either/both/neither as I see fit.

A number of my paintings' stories are very much both/and in character, so I immediately decided to make a painting about both pie and pi (𝛑). I really enjoyed math growing up, and even competed fairly seriously in middle school (placed 7th in the state of Texas, cough, cough). Several of the legion uses for the mathematical ratio/constant pi came to mind and I instantly could envision how they could provide formal material. I am not a baker. At all. So that was going to take a little thinking.

By the time I got home, this nursery rhyme was in my head, and I knew it would make it to the canvas.

Sing a song of sixpence, 
A pocket full of rye, 
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie. 

Pies, conveniently, are generally circular, which resonates with 𝛑, the ratio between the diameter of a circle and it's circumference (or twice the radius and the circumference). Archimedes and his lot did amazing things with a compass and a straightedge thousands of years ago, and after a circle, the easiest geometrical figure to construct is a hexagon. Six sides, which goes evenly into four and twenty blackbirds -- I was on my way! The birds follow a grid of equilateral triangles, derived from the hexagon. So do the notional pie crust slits (rendered in gold). The circumference of a circle with radius 1 is 2𝛑, so for that circle, half the circumference equals 𝛑, shown as the dark and ruddy arcs around the pie.

Many of my recent paintings have used iterations of a word in many languages. It turns out pi is the same in all languages. However, brilliant Chinese mathematicians had a rather precise value for pi centuries before Greece and the rest of the West. They called it 密率 (milü: "close ratio"), so that term appears in the painting. So does the phrase "four and twenty" (for the quantity of roasted fowl in the nursery rhyme), which has a happy resonance with twenty-four hours in a day: analog clock faces are also circular, so hands of a clock display 3:14 in the painting.

6d is the shorthand for writing "six pennies" in the bonkers old-style monetary system of England that included pounds, shillings, pence, farthings, guineas, etc. Six pennies is also called sixpence, of which we sing a song in the nursery rhyme.

One thing Archimedes and his pals could never do (because it is apparently impossible) is construct a square with identical area to a given circle. They called this "squaring the circle." This shows up in the painting as the golden square, which also makes a (tortured) pun on the formula for the area of a circle: pi times the square of the radius. Commonly stated "pi R squared", it sounds like "pie are squared". But they're round!

The grid and curves are the Cartesian coordinate representation of a family of curves typically drawn in polar coordinates. Known as sinusoidal spirals, you need pi to draw them, and the vertical gridlines are notated with their pi values.

All these elements add up to a possibly supremely geeky painting, but one I never would have undertaken were it not for a chance conversation at the museum. And JK Rowling.

Busy Spring

I'm really grateful for ArtSpan, a San Francisco art advocacy, education, and professional development nonprofit ( Tim and again, my membership in ArtSpan has connected me with other artists, with collectors, and with great folks who became new friends.

This spring, I am showing two dozen pieces in two different shows in San Francisco, and both curators found me through ArtSpan. My prior blog post mentioned one show (through May 22), curated by Matt McKinley of McKinley Art Solutions.

This week, Courtney Norris of Curated State is showing my work in a pop-up solo show in Corona Heights.

Matthew's postcard.jpg

The Flint Street show is also open Saturday, 3/17 and Sunday, 3/18 from 2 to 4pm.

On March 24, one of my pieces will benefit ArtSpan in a juried auction at Soma Arts. Get more info and tickets via this link: 

Finding an audience

My mom was the parish organist and choir director for over 30 years when I was growing up. As soon as we kids could read, we joined the Junior Choir. I've been a musician ever since, usually in a group where I kind of let others worry about finding people to listen.

It's different with finding an audience for my paintings.

The paintings are intensely personal, as I am fully responsible for them, good or bad. I've been lucky so far and never encountered someone who let me know their displeasure with the work.

Each time someone takes the time to ask me about a piece, or tell me what they see in it -- each time they go out of their way to come see the work in person -- connects us. At a reception this week, one woman was turning her head 90 degrees to each side, finding a different story in each view of a certain painting.

When someone decides to take a piece home, it bowls me over. Though I may never actually enter, I feel like an honored guest invited into their personal realm. It forges a bond that isn't simply transactional. It says to me, "This object of beauty you've made resonates with my vision of beauty, and I want to fold that resonance into my world." It feels spiritual.


I never think to document that moment, but I am lucky that someone else did this week. Here's Natalie placing the red dot on the label for "Jerry (Square)". (A red dot is a notation in galleries that an artwork has been sold.) Natalie first saw my work at last fall's SF Open Studios. She signed the guestbook so I could stay in touch. She and her husband went out of their way to come to a reception for a new exhibit this week. Which gives me great joy.

At the end of the exhibit, Jerry will join Natalie in her home. And I couldn't be more touched.

More very good news!

My piece, "Boeuf sur le Toit," was selected by noted gallery owner Jack Fischer for the Juror's Prize in the BLUETS exhibition at GearBox Gallery in Oakland, California. I am both humbled and proud that this piece was selected from among the work of 39 invited artists. This is an enormous honor. In addition to bragging rights, it means that I will be featured as a Guest Artist in a future GearBox Gallery exhibit (sometime in 2018).

Boeuf sur le Toit

Boeuf sur le Toit

Progressive Happy Hour Art Walk this week!

Reminder! "Summer of Love - Flower Power Happy Hour" Art Walk on July 20

Two of my largest paintings, each six feet square (1.83 meters square), are currently on display at two venues in the Union Square area of San Francisco through approximately Labor Day. They are my third and fourth exhibitions in ArtSpan's Art-in-Neighborhoods program.

At the hotel Adagio: Gerald

At the hotel Adagio: Gerald

At the Mosser Hotel: Vicinity

At the Mosser Hotel: Vicinity

An especially social way to see them in person is to join the "Summer of Love - Flower Power Happy Hour" Art Walk on July 20, when five venues will have a rolling happy hour from 4:30 until 9:00 pm. I'll be at the Hotel Mosser from 4:30 until about 5:45, then at the Hotel Adagio from 6:00 to 8:00. I can tell you from personal experience that the Mosser Hotel and its restaurant, The Keystone, put on a great spread, and I expect the other venues will, as well. The event is free and does not require reservations. I hope to see you there!

All details:


So much news

It's been a few months since I updated the blog and Latest Work gallery, and rather a lot is going on! Here are the headlines, and you can scroll down for further information on each:

1. My work won a substantial cash prize.

2. My two largest paintings, currently on display, are part of the "Summer of Love - Flower Power Happy Hour" Art Walk on July 20.

3. MUNI? Maybe.

4. Looking ahead: Open Studios

5. Where to see the work Right Now!

1. Cash Prize

I was successful in an art competition I entered and received my first-ever ridiculously oversized June 22! (One tick off the bucket list.)

LA VICTORIA Brand foods is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year with special dinners along the Pacific Coast (San Diego, LA, San Francisco, and Portland). Each event features a stellar four-course meal, live music, and art from local artists. I applied to be one of the San Francisco finalists and was notified two or three weeks ago that I had been shortlisted. Finalists were asked to create a new piece featuring the LA VICTORIA brand, within the theme of “Modern West Coast Lifestyle.”

Since California's history as an agricultural powerhouse meets its modern cosmopolitan identity in San Francisco foodie culture, I chose to use the setting of the San Francisco Ferry Building marketplace to depict my spin on Modern West Coast Lifestyle. It was a fun piece to create (though more detailed than I quite anticipated).

2. "Summer of Love - Flower Power Happy Hour" Art Walk on July 20

Two of my largest paintings, each six feet square (1.83 meters square), are currently on display at two venues in the Union Square area of San Francisco through approximately Labor Day. They are my third and fourth exhibitions in ArtSpan's Art-in-Neighborhoods program.

At the hotel Adagio: Gerald  

At the hotel Adagio: Gerald

At the Mosser Hotel: Vicinity

At the Mosser Hotel: Vicinity

An especially social way to see them in person is to join the "Summer of Love - Flower Power Happy Hour" Art Walk on July 20, when five venues will have a rolling happy hour from 4:30 until 9:00 pm. I'll be at the Hotel Mosser from 4:30 until about 5:45, then at the Hotel Adagio from 6:00 to 8:00. I can tell you from personal experience that the Mosser Hotel and its restaurant, The Keystone, put on a great spread, and I expect the other venues will, as well. The event is free and does not require reservations. I hope to see you there!

The Mosser Hotel - 54 4th Street, SF, CA 94103

Featuring ArtSpan Artists: Hemali Acharya, Robert Howard, Sophia Lee & Matthew Priest

CounterPulse - 80 Turk Street, SF, CA 94102

Hotel Adagio - 550 Geary Street, SF, CA 94102

Featuring ArtSpan Artists: Denise Dmochowski, Robert Howard, Sophia Lee, Natalia Lvova & Matthew Priest

The Marker Hotel - 501 Geary Street, SF, CA 94102

PianoFight - 144 Taylor Street, SF, CA 94102

All five venues are within walking distance (0.7 miles total area). The full art walk can be completed in 15 minutes, but you'll want to stick around for more at each happy hour event. Click here for a map:

3. MUNI? Maybe.

I've thrown my hat in the ring to make artworks for the interior of San Francisco city buses in 2018. The program seeks to pair art and poetry through a 25-year old national program called Poetry in Motion®. The application required a visual interpretation of the Diane di Prima poem shown below. As someone who has sung thousands of poems and set a couple dozen to music, I'm intrigued by the possibilities of this new avenue of expression.

4. Looking ahead: Open Studios

SF Open Studios continues to grow and will encompass five weekends this year. I will be exhibiting Weekend 3, October 28 & 29, at 500 De Haro Street (cross street: Mariposa). Save the date!

5. Where to see the work Right Now!

The central place for information about the work is right here at, including galleries of representative work, information on how to acquire the work (including links to my online shops), and means to contact me.

The most up-to-date information appears on my Facebook page, where I share snapshots of work in progress and news items like everything contained in this email in an ongoing manner as things arise:

Younger and more digital friends have told me to use Instagram as well, and I have made that a goal for July. I'll send information about that effort in a later blog post and on Facebook.

Meditations on fatherhood

I'm not a father, and I'm pretty unlikely to become a father at this point (I turn 45 in a few weeks). But I have a father and I am a godfather to a toddler boy. A number of my friends are fathers. The Christian winter holidays (Christmas, Holy Innocents, Epiphany, and the story of the flight into Egypt) and an icon I saw in a church serving as a concert venue, along with all these other elements, have me thinking about fatherhood.

Joseph, an oil sketch on canvas, 16x20 in / 40x50 cm

The image above is the first iteration of this meditation, and it reflects my lifetime of hearing Christian stories. Called Joseph, after the father of Jesus, it attempts to capture the certain affection Joseph felt for his son at the same time as he considers the implausible stories he's been told, that his son is literally the son of God and will be a leader of all the faithful. On top of all that (as if it were not enough), he worries about the threat to his own life and the life of his family (wife and son) shown him in a dream. Fatherhood is complex, but at its core, emotional.

Joseph 2, an oil sketch on canvas, 16x20 in / 40x50 cm

The second meditation in this series is above, called Joseph 2 for now. Again, the core of the experience is joyful and affectionate, but the father remains concerned about safety and protecting his family. His young charge requires education and rearing. Fatherhood is joy and responsibility.

Joseph 3, an oil sketch on canvas, 16x20 in / 40x50 cm

This father continues the themes of the other two pieces, but captures a moment of heartache. While the child might simply be asleep, he might also be quite ill. This older child has greater independence from his father than the infant or toddler, but the boundless possibility of the tiny child narrows as aptitudes and interests become apparent; the child is becoming himself, regardless of the father's wishes and dreams for him. Fatherhood is grief.

Joseph 4, an oil sketch on canvas, 16x20 in / 40x50 cm

The fourth piece in this series (and the last at this moment) takes the grief to its ultimate extreme. The figures are based on Walter Hancock's WWII memorial sculpture in Philadelphia's 30th Street Station: Angel of the Resurrection. This piece again reflects my lifetime of hearing Christian stories. When Jesus is murdered by the state, the varying accounts tell us his mother was present, but by Jewish custom, Joseph would have been expected to take charge of his son's lifeless body.

Other meditations during the creation of this image include fathers supporting their children (literally, financially, etc) after mistakes and misfortunes. Fatherhood is a lifelong undertaking.

I don't pretend to fully understand fatherhood nor to have captured it utterly faithfully. I feel like I am taking a big risk sketching out my thoughts alongside these images, but I am also learning to embrace vulnerability as part of my creative vocation. I would very much appreciate any thoughts you might have, gentle reader, in the comments.

New year, no promises

It's a new year, and while some might be inclined to make resolutions and plans, not me. I'm more interested in hopes, aspirations, and taking steps forward, wherever forward might turn out to lead. I'm also a bit superstitious, and tend to find personal plans to be a bit like birthday wishes: you keep them to yourself or they won't come true.

But on the theme of hope: I finally entered this year of painting with a small series (six as of this writing, may grow larger yet) of painted variants, literally on HOPE. Much of what is going on (especially in this country) is highly troubling, so it is hope that keeps me working.

A quick note on technique: Using an oil-based marker, I inscribe the letters on the canvas, then stain it with transparent acrylic paint, because I find little more daunting than a white canvas. The color of the acrylic paint may be reflected in the final painting, or it may be completely obliterated and forgotten as the piece evolves.

So I haven't been much of a blogger...

It's been seven months since my last blog post, so I would not be disappointed to learn I don't have many followers. They have been very productive months for my work, however. I feel like I am homing in on my voice as a painter. I made a concentrated series of a dozen "abstract" pieces (all 30"/76cm to 36"/91cm square), dwelling with the idea of pure art: paintings that have no reference beyond themselves, and so they depict nothing but paintings. These were critical to my ongoing development in painting, and the final piece in that series (depicted below) unlocked a manner of working that feels very personal and very proper to me. (continued below image)

Kindred (oil on canvas 36"/91cm square) 2016

I continue to use all the techniques from that series (color harmonies, mixing from primaries, a kind of controlled smear, and almost exclusive use of painting knives) in my most recent work. Generally figurative in composition, these latest pieces feel more honest than depictions. For example, the very recent image below is not a painting of flowers, but a painting first: one that happens to be inspired by flowers. Come to the show and sale November 12 and 13 to see and talk more about it (show info on home page).