Thursday, January 31, 2008

It walks!

She's one spider leg short but has made it off the table and onto the floor where her prototype once walked in my dream.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Feathers, maps, physics & skulls

...from the same sketchbook in between paintings: the maps get torn up, the pages from the old physics book get ripped into strips, a feather is found. The pen & colored pencils come out to notate and embellish.

..and then from some notes on lyra choreography to a small skull portrait & a list of painting ideas:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


A page from a sketchbook...I usually have at least two lying around, developing in an off rhythm sequence. Sometimes there will be a flurry of drawings done from life very quickly, and then there will be something more studied and designy like this. The smudges on the right are from the page that comes after, a drawing of the wire catspider :

I've been reading Julie Doucet's 365 Days, a visual & written journal of one year in the artist's life. I find it soothing and truthful to read about the daily details of another artist. Even without a lot of emotional revelations you begin to sink into her life little by little to a kind of visceral understanding.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

What is Happiness?

My son and I had a long conversation on the subject of nailing down the perception/experience of happiness. We discussed neutrality and focus along the way. He insisted that they are not happiness although possibly mistaken to be. My thinking: what's the difference if you feel it is?
My take is probably due to the high water mark of relativity in my brain. After several (OK more than several) decades of material state on this planet, relative becomes really important.
We also discussed the idea that people often look back at their childhoods as a time of happiness, whether it was or not. I found this picture of myself by the water. I will put money down, that at that moment, covered with droplets from the lake and my hands deep in the sand, that I was happy.
May it come again, anytime.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Dean, King & Walker

So these three have been what I've poured into the brain recently: James Dean via Rebel, Stephen King's new book Duma Key, and Kara Walker at the Whitney. Of the three Dean is the most delightful, and if one were to take cues on lightness of touch that is where to go. King has no lightness but he articulates with a deft, sharp knife, and his creative engine is large enough to invite all to the bonfire. The spillage is generous and there are doggy bags for everyone.
Walker is elegant, exact and repellent. The tapestry has been shredded to leave only certain images that do certain things, no matter how beautifully they are cut. The balance is askew, and though I'm sure this is purposeful, I find I'd rather look at Goya or Golub.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Creator & Creatures

photo: Jan Meissner

Someone called the catspiders guardian angels. Another someone found them way creepy. Its like trying to articulate how you feel about the chair you sit in to have your morning coffee.
But, of course there is more aesthetic weight to it than that. More humor and more surprise bang-in-the-heart emotion. Not to mention, in this case, the tip-toe of spider legs & soundless fur pad on the stones in the water. That's important, if you know what I mean. I hope you know what I mean because this train is going off rail.
The way the light comes through the curly cue plants and runs long-wise, morning-wise is the gangplank down to where it all is happening...the boat and the looky-see peering into it. Is she in there? I think so. OK, yes, I know she's there.
I love these guys with furry faces and scary bodies. Who else would be running down the shore to greet me?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Iluminating the Invisible

Another one of Virgil's drawings: the magnetic field of a current filled wire.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Virgil's Comic

This is a drawing my son did when he was very young. I love the stacked dudes with their laser bolts like slices of solid dark energy. It was before he started to worry about making things look "right". The resulting compositional innocence is quite savvy.
...and then you learn a lot and then you unlearn a lot and eventually you just make things.
...and keep making them

Here is one of his recent drawings that is a color pencil copy of a Velasquez:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Fragile Army

Now I'm thinking about has a very different hand/eye/time sequence than painting. There is a kind of languorous technical aspect to making things in 3 dimensions. The mistakes seem to happen slower, at least with the materials I'm working with.
The Fragile Army was made from the bones of different animals and then cast in various metals.
Working on the wire catspider is like drawing in slow motion in the air, except that you have to tie many of the lines to each other to maintain their shape. This gives you a coiled effect on many of the wires.....the way certain vines grow around other plants or fences.
I've moved away from flat illusion and color. They'll be back.

Monday, January 21, 2008

New/Old Creature

Over on my drawing table a wire extravaganza painstakingly evolves. In an attempt to hold the camera still for a no flash picture it came to life in a blur of silvery lines.
The other image that I like is it watching TV even before its fully legged:

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Richard's Show

The other rainy, cold, night I went to an opening of my friend, Richard Nonas, over at Lemmons Contemporary, 11 Harrison Street. Richard's sculptures were on the floor and across the walls. The wall pieces are very small and, dare I say, cuddly. They are minimal in their parentage, but humanist in their metal and wood hearts. Another painter that I was talking to said that he was covetous of them. I completely understood. I wanted to take one home, where I could hang it on the wall and have daily conversations with it. And yet they are just hunks of metal or wood that have been bumped together or somewhat carved out. They are easy to look at but deeply thoughtful.
In the very front of the gallery was a large metal floor piece, as though a slice of dark lake had been delivered there. Here it is being craned to the gallery:

all photos by Jan Meissner

I'm an illusionist, narrative painter interested in epiphanies. I tend to put in everything and the kitchen sink (or studio chandelier as in The City of Green Fire). But I love to see the vision in others, especially when it is honed so close to the naked source as Richard's.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hanging with the boys

Sunlight Yang
This is a much older painting done from memories of the Philippines. The tomb is a medieval reference. It seems to fall into the war painting category, although the fighters are cocks and the general demeanor is laid back. A friend, who is a native New Yorker, told me that it reminded him of any afternoon in a city park.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Dark & light, life & death, solid & reflected, green and red...
I look at this painting and see all the tropes of myself right down to the criss-cross of bandages echoed by the X in the grass:

Monday, January 14, 2008

In the Jungle

Here, another war painting about Viet Nam and, in this case, Caravaggio. Its called: Weight of Light. I remember doing research on the machine gun--getting a photo of the exact one they used in Nam, and then rotating it in a drawing to get the perspective right. I don't usually get that obsessive about details, but here it seeemed important. In the Caravaggio (Conversion on the Way to Damascus) its a sword and the helmut is Roman:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Black Sea Lullaby

Now I've gone off on a tangent into my war paintings after posting The Jade Buddha.
Most of them have references to the Viet Nam war, although they often negotiate the dream lands also. This one has embedded itself in my mind in such a way that I perceive it as a dream memory rather than a constructed image. The barriers have become permeable, probably long ago, but I never thought about it till now.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Jade Buddha/Friday morning

On emerging from the dream world this morning I found that the trek between there and here was a bit more of a no man's land than usual. The dreams had been particularly tense (as in Hollywood thriller with death and sneaking between enemy camps in deep water) and psychedelically dire (as in having someone turn from a bad guy into a cat whom I had to dispatch with a needle into the eye). After surviving the transition between that and the real morning of NYC I celebrated with coffee. I then searched my old painting files for an image to reflect some of the night time events. I found The Jade Buddha, which was inspired by an actual jade Buddha that I saw in China and an old newspaper photo from some forgotten war. And then there are the lilly pads which is my way of being post modern.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Looking Back from the 80's

...a self portrait from 1987 with the Post in my hands. I set up two mirrors to paint it so I wouldn't have to turn my head away from the canvas. If she sat down next to me on the train today, would I recognize her?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

self & the gaze

photo by

I have done a lot of self portraits, but am still surprised at my own face. I love to look at others. Often in the subway I imagine painting the people around me, even to the point of considering how to mix certain colors. My brain picks out the highlights and structure, the skin tone and the quality of years. Then there is always the tangent of looking to see what they are reading. New Yorkers are always madly reading, clutching their newspapers, their poetry and their spreadsheets. Sometimes novels are double stacked in their hands.
...but still my own face is a mystery, and when I see it I wonder what she would be reading sitting next to me on the train.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Evening in NYC

Its like spring. It happens almost every year--but usually in February--this sudden insertion of warmth in the middle of cold. Its a soft stone set in the metal of winter.
Tonight I went to the upper west side to meet two friends for dinner. We talked about my friend's new book, which hasn't been published yet. In it are allusions to one of my paintings (City of Green Fire) mixed in with visions and dreams of a garbage dump. It sounds odd, but is beautifully strange and appropriate.
He always says that art is a disproportionate act. I have found him to be accurate.

Morning in NYC

This morning I heard the sound of heavy engines outside the loft. I went to the window to see fire engines lining the street outside, the lights flashing, but no sound. A few minutes later they were all gone, as though a thought or a bit of wind up from the harbor ghosted them elsewhere. NYC is always mutating that way, the flow of energy throwing up vignettes of people and lights, machinery dancing alongside. Sometimes these are real disasters, but more often they are small knots of humans and illuminations that melt away in the next curve of time.
Meanwhile the western opera is finished. Here it is. Lost & Found:

Saturday, January 5, 2008


Sometimes I make sculpture. Often sewn things (costumes, stuffed animals), but then again sometimes from found objects like this twisted piece of hemlock filled with gold encaustic, then drilled and hung. I think of it as a giant spoon of gold, floating just as its hemlock parent did in a huge curve above the creek in the Catskills. I used all my old circus rigging tools to hang it.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Love Me Red

The tides of dreams are capricious, and sometimes its just a steady run of the usual odd sea life. But the currents change and deep creatures come out to play in my brain surf. This painting was done as a reward to myself for Vanishing, which took almost a year to finish. It was done from life and slap dashed its painterly way to a complete image in two weeks. Oh, delightful dessert of a picture, antidote to those mares in the sea bedeviling the wetwork.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


I painted this sign for my best friend, Indigo. She placed it as you see here. Later this house burned down, but she saved the sign. I have a similar message on the door to my loft that dates from decades ago. Inside the colors become richer and the decor more layered-perhaps more benign and less neglect.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

January's Hill

This is how the beginning of January always ascent, pushing all one's worldly or otherwise belongings uphill. This is from my graphic novel Bread & Wine, written by Samuel R Delany. Someday I'll have to ask Dennis (the man pictured here) how he managed day after day to live a homeless life, facing the morning with a cart and a cap. I wake up in a warm bed with the hangover of dreams wondering about the journey from here to there. Good thing I paint because there is always here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year's Day

Last night I went out to a New Year's Eve party. On the way to the train a young man approached me. He was lost, looking for Mulberry Street, but heading south on Broadway. It turned out he didn't know north from south, nor east from west. He was from Nepal, going to school in Iowa. I walked him part way there pointing out where he should go and descended into the subway. The party was fun, its hosts sporting kilts and dispensing hugs, drinks and wild dances. A disco ball threw lozenges of light across the walls and artworks, and a glass door opened out to a garden with a heated tent to protect the plants.
Above is a painting I did from a dream. I was just coming out of intense fevers and nightmares from pneumonia, and when the fever broke I had this beautiful, cool dream about a snow bear and a fantastic, crystal city. As a symbol for passing from one state to another I think it works for good thoughts for a new year.
And just to add some extra weather here is a picture sent from a friend of lightning and rainbow together: