This is an older painting of mine from back in 1994. I was in the transition from trying to simply replicate the work of others to developing my own visual voice. I wasn’t sure where it would go from there and didn’t even have an idea of how to proceed. I just painted and painted, letting each piece be the guide for the next. Sometimes it brought forth breakthroughs and sometimes not. But this time and this work still brings back that excitement of the unknown that was so present in that time.
This little piece is a favorite of mine from that time and is painted in a more traditional watercolor style that I was dabbling in at the time. It is titled Railbirds and depicts a scuffle between the inhabitants at the rail of a horsetrack. Perhaps there was a dispute over a mislaid wager or which jockey looked sharpest in their colors. Who knows?
I spent an inordinate time as a kid at the race track, reading the Racing Form and drinking way too much Coke. One summer, my father and I were at the track on average 3-4 times a week. It was a time when a 13-year old kid could lay wagers at the betting windows without any questions and I would often act as a runner for bets, including my own. I learned a lot of lessons there.
First, that I was lousy judge of horses and a pretty mediocre gambler. But more importantly, it was a laboratory and showcase for human behavior and it stirred in me the beginnings of a realization that I didn’t want to spend my life in that way. I saw lives that were heavily addicted to gambling and alcohol and it seemed like such a waste of time in what even then seemed like a too brief lifespan. There were very unhappy, angry and greedy people there, always on display and they made an impression on me.
Maybe these lesson and these people formed the darkness that I use as a base for my work. I often think it is the contrast between the underlying darkness and the overriding light of my work that sometimes makes it effective, makes it feel hopeful without being pollyanna-ish.
I don’t know for sure. But I do look at this piece quite often in the studio, studying its rhythm and flow while thinking of those times, good and bad.