Appleton, Wisconsin might seem an inauspicious start for an artist, but for me it was fortuitous. My father’s job in the paper industry there provided an endless supply of paper: large sheets of paper, white paper, colored paper, construction paper. This paper was my canvas, which I transformed into unique creations while sprawling on the kitchen floor with crayons, paint, scissors and glue. My wise parents never supplied coloring books so I was free from the notion of “staying within the lines.”
Dyslexia made parochial school challenging. Art provided a sanctuary. My art teacher, Sister Susan, mentored and inspired me to passionately pursue art as an adult.
I studied at the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee. Recognizing the need to also acquire immediately “marketable skills,” I transferred to the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California and earned degrees in commercial advertising and portraiture in 1980. Creating photographic images for national and international clients from my studios in Chicago and Minneapolis largely consumed the following three decades, although I found time to paint whenever I could.
In 2008, my wife, Mary McHugh, and I moved to a remotely idyllic spot—Madeline Island, the only inhabitable location within the wild Apostle Islands in Lake Superior—where we established a boutique art gallery representing 40 local and regional artists.
Mary and I live on 20 acres of island wilderness, which turns arctic from December through March. We winter in Florida’s Gulf Coast because it’s tough to paint when your frozen.
Living on Madeline Island and spending extended time in Florida gives me ample time to reclaim my first love: painting. Now my work includes mixed-media, oil and cold wax abstract paintings. If I’m hoping to make an image “real,” I photograph it. But I find more satisfaction in allowing viewers to interpret what is “real” (to them) in my paintings by using their own imaginations.
Bell Street Gallery, Madeline Island, WI
Yellow Bird Gallery, Grand Marais, MN
Art—like life—becomes vibrant by creatively shaping what we have to work with, responding to spirituality, and incorporating all the subtle influences that bring the artist to the place where he finds himself in the moment.
If this sounds too ethereal, let me add that I believe the tension between the artist’s vision and the structural boundaries imposed by canvas and other materials are where the magic happens. The tangible materials impose boundaries and this is where I seek balance and carefully realized harmony. I want the eye of the viewer to finish the details of my paintings in their own mind.
Smooth, broad color fields from a distance, linear imagery, thick textured surfaces up close, oil, charcoal and mixed media on canvas or paper: these are the elements that allow me to create deeply layered paintings. When it works, my art piques curiosity, stimulates discussion or meditation, delights or disturbs.