I’ve always worked in series–exploring a particular concept or theme. Returning to it again and again.
“The Irish Chair” series has become one of my favorites. I came to Ireland to paint landscapes. My family and I were on our own in a tiny farmhouse, miles from the nearest Donegal town, Church Hill–home to 200 souls, three churches, and four pubs. Then the famous—or infamous—Irish rain began, and the landscape plan went on hold. A chair in the far corner of the kitchen seemed to offer a kind of sensuous comfort, so I made drawings of it. Ran out in the rain to find wildflowers and thistles to place on it. After the rain, I moved it out against the stone walls and into the meadow, where I searched again for wildflowers. And I’ve been painting it ever since.
The inspiration for “The Bridges” was found during a long ago bleak winter in Florence. The Ponte Vecchio stood alone—the only bridge in the city that had been spared the destruction of World War II. And—it was love at first sight. Years later, when I was asked to teach a summer program there, Luise and I found a studio with a tiny balcony overlooking the bridge. The light and color changing, almost by the hour, from day to day.
“The America” series are my only paintings in which the subject became the goal—rather than the point of departure. They are the most realistic paintings I’ve ever done. And—the only ones that are completely imaginary. Invented. For years, I’d been wanting to say something about the experience of the Civil War. But simply couldn’t figure out how to say it. I wanted an image that would be strong, and yet that would speak of time and loss and vulnerability. It wouldn’t be about generals on horseback, waving swords. Visiting our daughter Melissa in London, I took a side trip to Stonehenge with my wife Luise, where the power of the post and lintel lives as nowhere else. And there is something about the idea of entrances and exits—and the light beyond—that resonates with all of our lives. Back in the studio, I stretched the biggest canvas that would fit through the door. And drew three charcoal lines—two vertical, one horizontal across the top. Pretty much, I suppose, as the builders of Stonehenge may have done.
“The Views from the Studio” began back when Luise and I first decided to leave the MacDougal Street loft and move uptown to combine our working and living under one roof. One of the great attractions of the new Upper West Side studio was the clear north light above and the panorama of low-rise New York townhouses below. I’d pour my morning coffee, look out over what seemed like a few acres of architectural still life. And one day I started to paint it. Thinking of it, really, as that perfect arrangement of colors on a flat surface. Somehow, along the way, it became one of those obsessive pursuits. The problem was—I never seemed able to finish a painting in time for the changing seasons. Winter would become spring, then summer—I’d start a new one.
Every now and then I come across rooms of friends that almost demand to be painted—and thus the “Interiors” series continues to evolve. Each with it’s own personality and narrative—even its own anatomy. Some may be as grand as Lady Berkeley’s Music Room in Assisi or Henry McIlhenny’s Red Room at Glenveagh Castle. Or perhaps just as warm and welcoming as the Hotchner’s Westport house family room. And occasionally it happens just looking across my daughter’s room on a Sunday morning.
As for the “Figure” series, I’ve drawn and painted the figure all my life. And I suppose it’s something that will always be at the center of what I do. In many ways, I think it harks back to the long ago endless happy student hours of life and portrait drawing, laced with the cast drawing and anatomy classes that meant so much to me. And, of course, women–their moods and rituals and environments seem to have moved to become the center of it all.
I’d say the simplest flower is as close to a miracle as we get in our day-to-day lives. “The Landscape” series forms a heartfelt response to that. In so many ways, Nature seems to reach out to say something of the mystery and miracle of it all. It may be the sprawl of wildflowers across a meadow, or an unexpected jumble of dune blooms where sea and sky meet— that catches the eye and the imagination. Some part of us wants to reply, “I was here. I saw this. I felt this!”