For years I was known as the guy who painted dancers. That was fine. It was a good shorthand for what I was about. For me, though, dance was never the subject. It was a platform to speak from, a context, parameters to control an exploration. My subject has always been the connection between people.
Years ago, I painted these epic narrative stories. I had fights between people, crowds watching miracles, or a couple in conversation while action spins around them. Eventually, I took away all set dressing and found that the story was the relationship of the couple. The way they moved, their proximity, their gesture told the story for me. I made the epic personal.
Eventually, my couples began to dance naturally. Their interactions moved in time with one another. My mark-making found the rhythm the couple was creating. My stories became as much about the motion as the relationship. My natural way of making marks intertwined with the inherent dynamics of a couple. That is when my subject matter truly made sense to me. That is when my paintings became truly mine, the kind of work that only I could make.
Along the way I looked to other contexts for my stories to inhabit. I felt that pull to strip the work down again. That building up and knocking down only to build it up again is a critical part in making art. That process leads you to a new synthesis, a new truth that is richer than your first attempt. With my subject matter, I found a new context to tell my stories through in wrestling. I wanted to take away the aspect of performance from my dancers. See, to me the dancers are best when they are only there for the partner. That is why most of my couples dress more in outfits they would wear on a date than wear to a dance competition. I wanted to convey that they dance with and for each other not us, the viewer.
With my Wrestling Series, I stripped back the costumes and clothes to something basic, raw. Now my couples grappled, tumbled, and played in their underwear to signal that this is a private moment. We see these events but they are not for us. The couple flings pillows through the air, laughs, and plays to tell their story of closeness.
This series is one I have come back to many times over the past decade. I started toying with the idea in 2003. Paintings and drawings featuring the wrestlers found their way into two of my solo shows since then. By showing them right alongside the dancers, I aimed to create a greater conversation about how couples relate. Private and public sides of the same story could be viewed in the same exhibition.
The Water Series predates the wrestlers as an idea. The idea of having my stories of figures in the water go back to 1995. It just didn’t come together then. In college I convinced my young wife to pose in the cold mountain stream while I painted her from shore. These paintings were part of a larger narrative structure. I hadn’t simplified my storytelling yet. They became a mess of ideas. As the years went on and my canvases became these tableaus where my couples could do anything, the Water Series began to change in my head. I took away the streams and the larger stories and decided to make it about two people tethered to one another. Tethered not by a rope or line, but by intent, their connection or response to each other.
In the Water Series now, my couples flirt, chase, catch and embrace with only the other person to respond to. Gravity no longer pulls them down. The floor and cast shadows are gone. They have only the other to be bound to visually and emotionally on the canvas.
It keeps coming down to building it up and stripping it down. That process keeps giving me new takes on my subject. I keep finding new stories to tell. So, I don’t think of myself as the guy that paints dancers. Even dancers will tell you it’s not about moves, its about heart, it’s about the connection. As my exploration of relationships continues, I don’t feel that my various series are separate things. I feel that they all are trying to move the conversation from the surface to what is behind the subject. Behind all our interactions, our games, our moves we are just looking for that connection.