Frequently Asked Questions

I sometimes receive questions by e-mail, from a variety of sources, but most often from high-school or college students interested in doing a school presentation about my work.  Answering these questions over the years has produced a surplus of written material that might be of interest to you, and might be useful for answering future inquiries.  However, if you're specifically looking for information regarding the materials and methods that I use in my work, please refer to the "Working Methods" section of my site. 

For your convenience, you can jump ahead to any question using the links in the index below:

"Do you have a theme that makes your work unique?  If so, what is it?"

"Who is your favorite artist/artists? "

"What is your favorite form of art?"

"Is there anything you'd like to say about yourself that people don't know?"

"What is your most memorable piece of work?"

"If you weren't an artist, what do you think you'd be?"

"Did you have someone who inspired you? In what way?"

"Where do you find your inspiration?"

"What is your philosophy on life?"

"How do you feel about art auctions for charity?"

 

Q: "Do you have a theme that makes your work unique?  If so, what is it?"

Although I paint reasonably well, there are many artists who can paint realistic pictures as well as I can, and often much better. What makes my work most distinctive and memorable is not its technical execution, but rather my personal sensibility toward the nature of the things that I paint. This is a thread that runs through most of my work - it may not always be immediately noticeable in every picture that I make, but it's something that I'm always thinking about as I work. It's a theme that concerns the true nature of the life experience and the world that we live in. This is kind of complex, but I'll try to explain it simply. Real life is universally a mixture of good and bad experiences for everyone. For that reason, I try to achieve a balance between positive and negative qualities in my paintings, and I search for subjects that actively display such a balance. I try to never allow my pictures to be too sweet, nor too grim, but instead well balanced between both of these extremes - because, to me, that's how real life feels. Many artists gravitate toward sweet subjects, and then paint them even sweeter, but the results typically feel kind of insipid and unreal to me. That's not what I'm after. I don't try to strain out the negative aspects of nature. I want my pictures not only to look life-like in an outward way, but to feel emotionally life-like, too. It's a delicate balance to be achieved.

My work is primarily concerned with aspects of nature that could be best described as "sublime," rather than pretty. Many artists are concerned with pretty things, but that doesn't interest me so much. Many of my subjects are beautiful, but in a deeper way that carries them into the realm of the sublime - which is to say, that they go far beyond mere superficial beauty. Sublime subjects tend to be emotionally complex - they have positive and negative qualities interwoven in a strange balance. They can be beautiful and terrible all at once. That's why they're especially interesting to me. A painting that I did some years ago, called "Torrent," is a good example of this.

There's a book called the "Power of Myth," which is the transcript of an interview with a professor of mythology, Joseph Campbell. Campbell died a few years ago, but his books about art and mythology are still very popular. He described the sublime in this way:

"There's another emotion associated with art, which is not of the beautiful but of the sublime. What we call monsters can be experienced as sublime. They represent powers too vast for the normal forms of life to contain them. An immense expanse of space is sublime... Another mode of the sublime is of prodigious energy, force and power."

(The Power of Myth, chapter 8: "Masks of Eternity")

Sublime subjects can operate as symbols representing the whole experience of life - the happy and sad things being all tangled up together. The bottom line is that, in order to be happy in this life, we need to be prepared to embrace the entire experience and say "yes" to it - good, bad, and everything. That's an affirmative approach to life. But it can't be accomplished by ignoring the negative aspects and pretending that they don't exist. We all have to acknowledge that it's a tough world that we live in - but it's also beautiful. So life can be both beautiful and terrible at the same time, which somehow makes it richer and more compelling than it would otherwise be.

You can learn a lot more about these ideas in my Artist's Statement.

 

Q: "Who is your favorite artist/artists? "

I could compile a gigantic list here. But in terms of historical artists, Frederic Edwin Church is a favorite whom I study closely. He was a 19th Century landscape painter of the Hudson River School. I've travelled to museums all across the country to observe his paintings first-hand. 

I've also always had a special interest in the works of Vermeer, Velazquez, Waterhouse, and all of the Wyeth family artists.

 

Q: "What is your favorite form of art?"

The form of art that I personally practice, most accurately called "representational painting," is my favorite. The term "representational" simply means that the paintings represent things that can be recognized - literally, it means to re-present something. All of my work is performed through careful observation of actual things. I never paint from a purely imaginative standpoint. If I have an original concept of something, I go out and look for actual things or places in the world that most closely match the idea, or I physically create them, and then I observe them as I paint in order to fully realize my idea. That's because I want to be able to study the way in which light and color behave in the real world, and how they effect the appearance of real-world objects. A good example of this kind of effort would be a recent project, a figural painting called "Nightfall," in which I designed and created the clothing and props for a model to wear, and then arranged the model in a real setting that matched my original idea

 

Q: "Is there anything you'd like to say about yourself that people probably don't already know?"

Many people don't know that I had to work other jobs for many years before my art career became financially self-sustaining. I worked as a night security guard on Maui for eight years. By working at night, I was free to paint during the day, and I also taught art lessons at a few different schools: The Art School at Kapalua (now closed), Maui Community College (now called the University of Hawaii, Maui campus), and later at the Hui No'eau art center in Upcountry Maui.

I also learned to appreciate night-time subjects by working at night - I was driving all over Maui after dark, and saw a lot of interesting things that I probably would otherwise have never seen. I've done a lot of night-time paintings as a result of those experiences, and they've always been very popular - pastels like "Moonset" and "Night View from Route 340" are good examples.  I found those subjects fascinating - but, at first, I doubted that the night paintings would sell, because they were so dark and unlike the more expected Hawaiian paintings involving bright sunlight. But, to my surprise, they were instantly popular.

This taught me to trust my own intuition regarding subjects. If I really love something, there's a pretty good chance that others will love it, too. Whenever I've painted things just because I thought that someone else would like it, even though I wasn't personally very interested, the paintings have tended not to sell. I think that's because people can sense when I'm not fully involved in the work. So I always paint what I love, no matter what other people say about it during the process. I have an artist friend, Allison Smith, who sometimes paints spiders and bugs and stuff like that, and the paintings always sell, despite the fact that lots of people hate spiders and bugs. The buyers are making the same connection that she makes with those subjects, and can sense her passion for them. If there's no sincere passion behind the work, then there's really no point in doing it. Art is ultimately a way of expressing forms of love or fascination. If there's no love, there's no art. It could be love for anything as simple as a combination of colors, or the form of a tea-cup, or the way that a beam of light happens to stretch across a field at sunset - although simple, those are all things worthy of love, and therefore worthy of painting.

 

Q: "What is your most memorable piece of work?"

"Cathedral of Time" and "Sequoia" are probably the most impressive examples of my work.  These are both ambitious paintings that involve human figures in very large landscape settings, and these probably represent my best work at this time because of the technical execution of the work and the overall power of the subject. The lava painting "Living Color" is also a personal favorite of mine. A tree drawing, "The Banshee," is a classic that I still hold in private collection because I'm too attached to it to sell it - although I could probably sell it quickly because it seems to be a universal favorite of the public, as well. Of course, I understand that other people may have totally different opinions about which of my pieces are the most memorable.

 

Q: "If you weren't an artist, what do you think you'd be?"

Most people are surprised by this, but I would almost certainly be involved in law enforcement in some way. My early work as a security guard was closely related to this interest. 

When I was much younger, I wanted to dig up dinosaur bones as a paleontologist; as I got older, though, I discovered that I had no aptitude for math and other forms of study necessary for the pursuit of a scientific field, so that fell by the wayside. I still love those dinosaurs, though!

 

Q: "Did you have someone who inspired you? In what way?"

With the exception of a very distant relative, there was no artistic ability in my adopted family, so my interests in art were self-motivated as I grew up - I was just doing what was natural to me, and had no particular role model as far as art was concerned. Later in life, of course, as I began to pursue an art education and career, I met a variety of other artists who were all inspirational or instructive in unique ways - each of these people introduced me to some key piece of knowledge that I hadn't understood beforehand, but which was essential to the forward progress of my work at that time.  These people and their important influences are simply too numerous to list here, but I would not have a viable career without them.

 

Q: "Where do you find your inspiration?"

Landscape is my primary inspiration in regard to painting, but the effects of light on any simple object can have the potential to catch my eye. Light is so fascinating to me that I often find interesting subjects to paint in places as ordinary as department-store windows, or in ordinary homes at night (for an example, have a look at the pastel "Mountain Home"). But landscape seems to be my most enduring interest - I suspect that I'll be painting landscape pictures for the rest of my life. Mountainous environments and foggy weather are especially intriguing for me, and seem to have some special ability to inspire me.

On a larger level, I'm intrigued by the question of where inspiration comes from. Inspiration is mostly mysterious and very difficult to quantify. We know that colorful sunsets inspire us through their beauty, but it's difficult to explain what beauty really is, or why we even perceive things as "beautiful" rather than simply being indifferent to them. This is just one of those elements of life that defies simple explanation.

 

Q: "What is your philosophy on life?"

Well, this is a big question with many possible facets, but I can offer a couple of simple ideas that seem important to me, and they relate to the practice of art.

First, if you have an especially passionate interest in  any particular field of endeavor, I think that you should pursue that motivation courageously, regardless of what other people may think. It's always important to think realistically, of course, and to examine whether one's dreams are remotely feasible or just pure fantasy. But I still maintain that there's something important about following the thing that you love, because that's what gives vitality to one's life and, by extension, to all of society.

Not everyone has such strong natural motivations or passionate interest, however. Some may even say that they deeply love doing nothing, literally - they might prefer to sit around on the beach all day. I can't speak to that, because I can't relate to it - it seems to me that the most satisfying goals in life are productive ones. But for those who don't have an inborn, natural passion toward any particular field of work, it's still worthwhile to just choose something and simply throw yourself into it 100%. Any work that is performed with integrity has the potential to become a fine craft of its own, and therefore a source of personal pride and a benefit to the larger community.

So you might say that the second point in my philosophy has much to do with pursuing "integrity of craft" - even in regard to forms of work that are typically dismissed as trivial or unimportant. Even flipping burgers at a fast-food restaurant can be done with a level of personal investment that can cause burger-flipping to become something greater than itself, through the reflection of a strong work ethic. All work performed with pride and quality can be inspirational.

Many people seem to think that my work is very important, and they compliment me for doing it. From a purely materialistic perspective, though, my work is not very important at all - if I stopped painting pictures today, hardly anything in the world would change for the better or worse tomorrow, at least in regard to the material quality of people's lives. For that reason, I think that what people are really responding to in my work is the integrity with which it's done. People value that immensely. In the absence of integrity, the world would be very different tomorrow, and very much for the worse.

The craft of painting is very, very difficult, and requires a lot of discipline to master it - so it's easy to perceive integrity in it when it's performed well. In my opinion, painting is important only insofar as it embodies virtues like discipline, harmony, balance, etc. We find these qualities to be beautiful and inspirational, and that's why people love art - painting can communicate a sensation of these virtues, but through a visual language. So, from that perspective - a perspective based on inner values - art can be said to be very important. But any form of work can be important on the same level, if it's done in such a way as to honor and communicate integrity and good values.

 

Q: How do you feel about art auctions for charity?

There are many charity auctions these days, most often selling donated artwork. Unfortunately, from the standpoint of the artists who agree to donate, I think that the auctions do more harm than good.  Now, I realize that it's supposed to be for the purpose of charity, so the fact that it doesn't pay off for an artist in a financial way is irrelevant. But, truthfully, artists are often genuine charity cases in themselves, and are rarely in a position to just give stuff away. Most of the time, someone should hold an auction for our benefit, not the other way around. Seriously.

Some artists have a lot of relatively inexpensive reproductions to offer, or they produce a lot of rapidly executed originals, and so have a surplus of material to donate. That's fine, and more power to them. But artists like myself can't do that - I don't make reproductions anymore, so I have none of those to offer, and I might spend weeks or months on an original, so it's simply too valuable to donate for no return.

Worse yet, artwork in an auction almost always sells for much less than it would in a gallery setting. That's why galleries hate art auctions. Someone strolls into a gallery and says, "No, I'm not buying anything - I just bought a Gentry for a third of the price at that auction last weekend...!" This really happens sometimes. Galleries hate that. Many people go to art auctions not so much because they're eager to give to some charity, but because they're looking for deals on artwork that would otherwise be worth much more under normal circumstances. 

For the artist who contributes, it can be a bit of a fantasy, based on some notion that people of financial means are going to have a chance to fight over your work, raising the bidding price up and up and up...! Unfortunately, it doesn't really work that way at most of these venues. In reality, the buyer typically gets a sweet deal - while you, the artist, already overworked and underpaid, get to work harder and make even less, while simultaneously annoying your galleries and making yourself a target of requests for donations to every future auction on the planet. It quickly becomes a problem.

I wish that I could say that this works better than it does, but it really doesn't.  I don't know how art came to be the product of choice for charity auctions. The same purpose of public charity could be achieved by holding an auction offering any other product or service that people might be inclined to bid for.  It could just as easily be antiques.  Or vintage automobiles.  Or even custom-cabinetry service.  In the case of the three alternatives that I've just recited off the top of my head, I'm absolutely certain that the quality of those alternative products could easily exceed the quality of the art that's usually found at charity auctions, and might very likely compel people to bid much more in exchange for them.

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