Please provide me with an introduction about you and your work.
What artists have inspired you?
Like a lot of folks in the field I have been drawing since I was a small kid. My parents took me to the National Gallery, and later the Hirshhorn Museum at least once a year as I was growing up. I really got lost there in a good way. The American works are some that I remember from a really young age. I didn't have words for it at the time, but I think I was struck by the idea that these 18th and 19th century stories were past realities, documents, and dreams of the same ground I was walking on. Two pieces that really hit me were Watson and the Shark and George Bellows’ Both Members of This Club. It was the narrative in both pieces. Copley's Watson and the Shark has all of the danger and adventure a young kid could ask for. It's like an entire movie distilled into one canvas, monumental and unbelievably strange. Both Members of This Club knocked me back with its brutality. The paint becomes flesh and blood. There was no movie or book that had yet captured that force for me.
While I was still young, my grandmother sent us art books about the classics of the western cannon and I devoured that stuff. Later, I made it through a couple of shelves of art books at the local library. Again, I was attracted by wordless stories; attracted by images that you could get lost in… I still am.
I have drawn constantly since a young age, but my first paintings as a teen were influenced by the post impressionists. The atmosphere of and student body at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where I got my BFA in Painting, drew me to innumerable influences that weren't on canvas in art, music, and film. There, Carl Connelly, Mark Karnes, and Hayes Friedman taught me a lot about working directly from nature. I was also able to study in Cortona, Italy twice, both as an undergraduate and a graduate student. This is the town where Luca Signorelli lived and painted, so storytelling was everywhere in the painting. Grad school reinforced this even more. I studied at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia. For me Georgia oozes with the raw complicated history of America. I studied with great story tellers like Art Rosenbaum and Jim Herbert. This time set me on a course to really dive into both my surroundings and core and to let that drive the work. Since moving to Baltimore after Grad school my work as curator, teacher (at Anne Arundal Community College) and exhibition technician (for the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture) have significantly added to my perspective as an artist. At the Lewis works by artists like Renee Stout and Romare Bearden have really knocked me out.
How has your work changed over the last several years?
Over the last several years research has become an important part of my practice. Dealing with a sense of place in a work really encourages me to start scraping into the history of that place, and history is messy thing. There is so much forgetting, twisting, and manipulation in history. I'm interested in all of that, both what one might have seen in the past and the many ways/ motives for which our culture re-imagines the past.
Elaborate on your connection to the Rotating History Project?
My partner, Heather Rounds, and I started the Rotating History Project, a roaming curatorial project in which we bring artists together to explore historical themes that are often site specific. We have curated shows in Baltimore, Maryland; Brooklyn, New York; and most recently Berryville, Virginia. We are the co-founders, directors and curators of the project. Our most recent partnership with the Clermont Foundation and The Virginia Department of Historic Resources, "The Clermont Forum II", debuted in Spring 2014 in Clarke County, Virginia. Heather and I grew the project out of the Child Ballads Show, our first exhibit together. We asked artists to interpret ballads that can be traced back for centuries. Our next show extended into explorations of a river buried under Baltimore City. We moved on to the historic garment Industry in Baltimore; and most recently, in the case of Clermont, we did an artistic interpretation of an 18th century estate. Each exhibit has included artwork or performance by 13 - 20 plus participants. Participants have contributed painting, performance, installation, prose, music, discussion etc. We have a goal of drawing attention to the threads running through our history, culture and environment through various artistic mediums. Our mission is to educate, promote the arts and engage the community, without compromising the integrity of our subject matter. For us, history does not begin and end on a page. It moves all around us; alive wherever we may turn our head next. It’s a tool for informing our present and future. Although our mediums are the arts, we see our target audience as the larger community, beyond the scope of art patrons and practitioners.
Also, can you elaborate on the work in the nearly monotone image from the
Truffaut film? Your ghostly figures in other works in the gallery are also
Monotone. Can you give me more specifics on those images,
besides what is written on your web page?
In Case You Need Me Take My Number was featured in 2011 in Marco Polo online Magazine as part of “A Happy Ending” curated by Darin Beasley. The exhibit and my painting used Francois Truffaut's La Femme d'à côté (The Woman Next Door) as a starting point. In the film Fanny Ardant plays Mathilde, the woman next door. Gerard Depardieu and his family live next door. An out of control love triangle ensues. I used a couple of stills from the film and brought them together towards a means of exploring the anticipation and longing in the film. It is a color film, but I used black and white as a limitation, a way to not get overly descriptive. There is a little ochre simmering underneath. The project was fun, a good way of stretching out of my normal themes. Film is not my normal jumping off point in recent years, but I felt good about the painting.
The highway images in the gallery are from a series that was exhibited at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley through January 2014 called “These Two Highways." The paintings making up this series are meditations on highway 70 and 340, specifically the section of these two highways running west from Baltimore, through West Virginia, into northwest Virginia. The paintings feature personal interpretations I have made of the landscape based on traveling along these highways, juxtaposed with reinterpretations of figure drawings by 19th century Harper's illustrator, writer, and journalist, David Hunter Strother, better known by his pen name Porte Crayon. Extracted out of their original and sometimes problematic contexts more than 150 years later, many of the figures represented in these works are within an hour's drive of where they were originally drawn. The monochromatic nature of the figures in the paintings was a push against traditionally unifying the 19th century figures with the 21st century landscape. I wanted the figures to feel cutout of another world. This was inspired by the jarring juxtapositions taking place in my mind’s eye, and I wanted the work to reflect that through the lack of color. You call them ghostly and I am not opposed to that description, as there is tremendous amount of tumult in the history of the landscape I depict in this series. These are the kind of scenes I have imagined commuting on these highways over the years.
They Promenaded the “The Devils Dream” Down 340 includes part of a Strother illustration depicting himself leading a drunken procession from a Virginia bar to the tune of the aforementioned song. I place them on 340 near Harper's Ferry. Maybe he’s still leading the charge nightly.
Betty Sweat by 340 depicts an African American laborer documented by Strother on the Virginia waterfront in the 1850's. Highway 340 passes through an area once sustained on the back of slavery and the enslaved came from our nations ports. Some escaped along the underground railroad. I leave it up to the viewer the reason in which a woman like Betty Sweat is standing along this highway.
Can you elaborate on the non-series piece that has the three tiers that is currently in the gallery?
"Bury This River" grew out of the The Rotating History Project exhibit "Same River Twice." During our first two RHP exhibits Heather and I experimented with being collaborators, artistic contributors, and curators. We have focused on curation, exhibit design, and exhibit organization, as the shows have grown in scope and logistics. This exhibit looked at the Jones Falls River, which has been buried and enclosed in an underground tunnel as it passes under the core of the city. A road "the fallsway" was built over top of the river and highway 83 was later built above that. The river was once at the heart of the city. It helped dictate the location of the city and is a continuous thread in its history. It even powered mills which created sails for the cities great Clipper ships. The bottom of my painting shows the river and the city in the 1820's long before it was tunneled up. By the mid 1800s, raw sewage filled the Jones Falls. By 1911 the City and State agreed to create a tunnel burying the river to hide its sewage from the city. “I’ve come to bury the Jones Falls, not praise it, “ Henry Barton Jacobs—Master of Ceremony at the 1915 dedication of the Fallsway said prior to setting off dynamite diverting the lower Jones Falls into its current tunnel. Up top in the paintings is the city, circa 2011 from the vantage point of the Fallsway directly above the river. It’s a layer cake of time periods, but I'm hesitant to go further into the meaning. Hopefully the viewer will take it from there.
Please comment on the "Lost Horseshoes" series and how it would fit in with the upcoming projects in Williamsburg
These seven paintings in the series Lost Horseshoes, use a romanticized piece of colonial folklore and history known as “The Knights of The Golden Horseshoe" as a point of departure. In this story the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, and around fourteen of his wealthy friends (whom he later is said to have given golden horseshoe stick pins) made a 5 day journey across the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1716. These “early explorers” are said to have drunk many toasts to their king as they claimed new land for him on their journey. Less celebrated are the large number of enslaved individuals that would have supported every step of this gentlemen's expedition or the fact that the land they were "exploring" and simultaneously claiming for the king and gentry was already occupied by American Indians.
Over the years I have lugged my camera into state parks in the Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia mountains. For a long time my eyes have searched this green space for early interlopers from abroad coming into contact with a new world. Unfortunately, my mind sees something different than my eyes, and my eyes see something different than the camera. The work in my series “Lost Horseshoes” is in part an attempt to fill this gap. Williamsburg is a cultural center for study of colonial America. This series uses the lore of colonial America and the park system as a point of departure. Though I am not a historian, history has often driven my works. I believe that Williamsburg offers a perfect setting for this work, as it ties to both the lore and problems of American history. Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood the leader of the the Knights of the Golden Horsehoe was the first to live in the governor's mansion in Williamsburg.