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that was then...
My Story
...this is now

Because the process or procedures behind my art are so unusual, I thought there might be interest for some visitors in how I got ‘started’ in art, how my art evolved, and what art has come to mean to me now. This area of my site will treat these things, in a loose ‘time line’ format, at times linking to other areas for details on the techniques or more information about the topics.
Time Line
Childhood up to Junior High School - There was little in my early years which would predict a later passion with art. I did have an unusual interest in systems, codes and puzzles - not crossword puzzles but I was just fascinated with the idea that you could designate a symbol to mean something else. This idea first comes up in mathematics in what we call algebra, and it’s strange for me to look back now and see how my interest back then about ‘symbols standing for something else’ was the precursor to my interest in abstract art today.
At one point I invented a board game. I had been playing Monopoly with my parents and it got me thinking. I worked out the end goal of the game and then worked backward from there. Unfortunately I donít remember anything about the game now, but the story tells how being creative was a part of my passion at this time about these abstract things.
High School - By this time I was playing around with pencil and paper, drawing lines. Not in so much an ‘artistic’ way, however. For example, noticing in a right triangle, how the two legs had a funny thing going on: if I shortened one leg and not the other the two angles would change and the length of what I later learned was the hypotenuse would change. And I realized then that there must be a way that this change could be determined mathematically. Now, the important point about this is that this interest I had in what was really the beginnings of trigonometry was primarily in its visual aspect. If I had been a true mathematician, I would have gone on to be fascinated with the mathematics that we called ‘trig’ for short back in high school, but once away from the visual aspect, I would lose interest. I was becoming more and more aware that my vocation or main interest was going to be around the process of seeing - this is what interested me most: visual stuff.
With this propensity, combined with lousy study habits, it was quite natural for me to gravitate to art as my main interest because with art I could draw and continue to trip out on ‘visual stuff’ like just described.
San José City College - Life at SJCC was more or less a continuation of High School. At first I was just meandering around trying to figure out what I was going to do. One of the reasons I stayed with education in the first place was because of the Vietnam War - if I quit I would lose my student deferment. I did have to take some general education courses (which I more or less slept through), but quickly it was the art classes that I knew I thrived on, and it was only the art classes that I wanted to take for most of my time at SJCC.
San Francisco Art Institute1970 to 1976: San Francisco Art Institute - I left SJCC after taking all the art courses twice and was told to "get out of here". They suggested I go to the San Francisco Art Institute, which I entered in 1970.
My time at the Art Institute was a time of surprising change and growth. I went into the school with many of my adolescent, untested ideas about art intact. The strategy there was not what you might think they do at an art school. They didnít teach you how to paint or draw. The San Francisco Art Institute is what they call a studio school - you learn by doing. They had several core lecture courses that were required, with everything else studio work. The courses were ‘Modern Art History, 1850 Ė Present (2 semesters)’, ‘Psychology as Applied to Art’, and ‘Philosophy as Applied to Art’. With these classes they created an atmosphere where when you went into your studio you had the tools to consider what you were doing and navigate the shoals of making art in the modern world. But no one told you what to do. If you had questions there were people around to talk with and then there was the library. I learned as much from the students as from the instructors.
Two events, looking back, proved to be major turning points while I was at SFAI: During my first year at SFAI I had just coasted in the direction I had embarked on from high school in my painting. The art I was doing at this time was in the way of adolescent psychedelic poster art, in my own personal abstract style. I seemed to be stuck in this mode, and wanted to break out and get into the more pure abstract expressionism I had been learning about during this first year. Well, during that first summer no one was around the campus, there being only a couple of summer courses. I do not know how the idea came to me, but I thought of something to do that I hoped would break me out of my old patterns. What I did was get some acrylic paint and some basic drawing paper and paint the paper a color. Then I would paint another piece of paper another color. Then a third piece of paper another color. Just to re-experience at the most primal level the simple act of laying color down on paper. Everyday all day long I just did the Zen painting thing until, by the next fall, I found I had succeeded in breaking my old patterns and was doing what was my then current understanding of abstract expressionism. While this art was nothing like my current art and its system, the big turning point was that I freed myself from my old patterns and could now really start to grow in the direction I wanted.
A particular teacher at SFAI proved to be the other major influence on me at this time that, looking back, proved to be a great shaper of myself as an artist. His name was Sam Tchakalian - the most influential teacher in my life (and many other people’s lives - some of his art work can be seen here and here).
One anecdote showing Sam’s influence on me: Part of the teaching technique at SFAI was what was called a ‘periodic critique.’ All the students in a class would put up their work and the instructor would go through them and basically eviscerate them. I had what I thought was the greatest painting ever. It was large (over 5 feet high), and I had been working on it for weeks, constantly every day. One of my friends was late for this assignment and didnít have a painting ready for the critique so he, quick like a bunny, whipped up a little paint sketch of a duck on a piece of sketch paper. We went into the studio and put our pieces up against the wall next to each other. When Sam got to our pieces he laughed because he knew what had just gone down. The sketch was quick and fresh and my painting was heavy and labored and that was the first thing Sam saw. He said, pointing to my labor of love, “That fucking duck just kicked that piece of shit right out the window!” This experience very effectively drove home for me the point that I had to radically loosen up! These are just two of many such experiences at the Art Institute.
I graduated from S.F. Art Institute in 1974 with a BFA in Painting, and promptly re-enrolled for the master’s program, graduating in 1976 with my MFA in Painting at 27 years young.
1977 - 1984: Disillusionment and my “Spiritual Desert” Period - It only took about 3 years for me to realize fully what most all art majors learn upon graduation, which is that I didn’t know at all how to support myself as an artist in the real world. This was an important turning point in my artistic life. I came to the bitter conclusion that I had wasted my time with art, and that it was high time for me to get on with ‘real life’, which required at the very least getting a job that could pay the rent. My interest in art started a rapid descent, taking a back seat to the task at hand: finding a right livelihood.
But doing what? I saw an ad one day (while working as a taxicab driver) about taking drafting lessons, realized how that could tie into my basic interest in the visual and all the drawing experience I had had in my past, and decided right there to go to San Francisco City College and take some drafting courses. At the time I started these classes, art was dead for me. I did not so much as touch a brush, go to galleries or museums, or even think about art. As far as Art was concerned, I had entered my ‘spiritual desert.’
I finished the drafting classes in 1980 and took my student portfolio on the street and got a job as an entry level manual drafter at $6/hr for a drafting service, embarking on life as a worker in the work-a-day world.
But all was not right. While not being clear about it at the time, I was becoming more and more ‘dysfunctional’. The dysfunction expressed itself primarily in my inability to keep a job for any length of time. In 5 years I worked for perhaps 20 different engineering companies, often through a temp agency.
1985: Coming Out of the Desert - With the support of my wife, who had realized that I needed to get back to my art to get past this ‘dysfunction’, I decided to make a serious recommitment to my art. The change this recommitment made in my life was remarkable - to the very day I made the recommitment, my work life took a change for the better.
And now I understood something new about my art - I understood why I had to make art: to stay functional and sane. Something that the art schools do not teach. The next several years came as a series of experiences that reinforced that initial lesson: “Pay attention to the Art first - everything else will fall into place.”
Looking back on this period of crisis I went through, I sense it is something all artists have to face in one form or another sometime in their lifetimes. Of course there are exceptions, but few. One might think of it as the artistic equivalent of chicken pox - if encountered early in your artistic life it’s troubling but survivable. But if encountered later in life, as a mature artist, it can be fatal.
It’s a kind of portal one has to pass through. They told us in graduate school only 5% of us would still be painting 5 years after graduation. That was a scary thought, and in fact proved accurate. But I came out the other side a mature and self-aware artist. I couldnít be here unless I had gone through that passage of fire.
Developing Confidence and Realizing the Urgency of My Own Art   I doubt if I could have embarked on the path I find myself today if it had not been for experiences I gained from a particular past employer, which I will relate now. These experiences played a pivotal role in my realization of the importance of my own explorations in art, and served to awaken within myself the confidence and self-command I needed to make it happen.
In 1987 I took a job working for a small group (5 people counting myself) of structural engineers based in the bay area. The founder of the company was a native of Iran who had immigrated to the United States 20 years earlier. The owner was a fanatical follower of EST, a motivational therapy to help people perform at a higher level. He demanded a 10 hour day out of everybody, at straight time, and would often bring in work that had to be done the next day. Another trick he would pull was to bring in work on a Thursday or Friday to be done by Monday Ė work all weekend Ė all at straight time. I was regularly working a 10 to 12 hour day, averaging a 52 hour work week over 18 months. This experience in itself taught me one useful thing that would help me in my art that I had so enthusiastically recently re-embraced: I learned from him that if I didnít take control of my priorities, someone else would. So with the little time I had left in my days, I was very methodical about going out to my studio and painting every chance I had. Every night I would go out and do something, even if I was only out there for a half an hour.
One day the owner got the bright idea that if he sent me to an EST seminar it would really light a fire under me and I would work even harder for him. The irony was that he had to pay for the seminar and for my time and I didnít get any work done that day. The speaker at the seminar was very good. He really got through to me the message that if there is something I want to do in life there are no excuses, and only one person to look to. It was a turning point in my life and I realized what I had to do. I went back to the office and told the owner “That was the greatest thing you’ve ever done. Now I know what I’m going to do. And I’m not working weekends anymore.” Surprisingly he took it well and didn’t fire me on the spot. I continued working for him another 6 months when I found another job.
You may find it surprising if I tell you, furthermore, that despite my former employer’s shortcomings, there was in the man, very strongly, the notion of personal honor. To do what you say you’ll do. His sense of personal honor was an inspiration to me, and has stayed with me to this day. That and the opening that the EST lessons provided me gave me a greater sense of purpose with my art, and I knew I had to get something done with the time I had. My recently re-kindled interest in developing my own unique approach to art was now evolving into a full fledged ‘passion’ for me.
1988 - 1995 Gestation of my current system    One thing else that set the stage for me coming into my own unique system of art needs to be mentioned. Around the same time I was working under my tough employer, I had moved from San Francisco, where artists abound, to Vallejo, where I felt very ‘cut-off’ from all artistic influences. This was good. The combination of working under the demands of my fanatical employer, my own insistence to paint at all costs, and now living in ‘exile’, with no artists for miles around in Vallejo, resulted in conditions ideal for developing my own system, arising from the seeds planted years ago when I first went into drafting as a means of livelihood.
For 8 years I developed my system alone in my garage. The conditions were: very restricted time, and no one around who had any interest in what I was doing, no one to tell me “you can’t do that”. The system I developed during this time is described in its own section on this site, called Theory. Click on this link to investigate it in its entirety, but briefly described it can said to be a system which incorporates basic elements of painting, such as Grid, Negative Image, Image, and Color, in a ‘systematized’ way, involving individual steps, although there is quite a lot of leeway in how it is all brought together. One immediate benefit of my system is that it relieves me of having to wrestle with certain things artists have always struggled with in their compositions, letting these things, in a way, be ‘dictated’ by the method, thus allowing my creativity to concentrate on the emotional and physical execution of the painting, the actual ‘putting brush to canvas’ - where the action is.
1994 - ‘Deployment’ of My New System    Working out my system took me a long time, and during this time, most all the art I did was not what I’d call ‘art I’d want to show anyone’. But by 1994, I had my system ‘down’ to the point where my art was now something I felt could stand as something that truly represented my own unique approach and which therefore could be ‘shown to the world.’ The work shown on my web site starts with this date (see Early Work in the Galleries).
After a year of this I started to ventured out into the surrounding areas and found that there were indeed artists in the Vallejo/Benicia area (I hadn’t been so isolated by distance as I had imagined). I became interested in the Vallejo Artist Guild. I started showing my art around the area. The response I got from the local art community was often a kind of stunned silence, especially after they saw how I was painting my works.
Borders    One element I introduced into my works that had not been there at the start was the use of Borders. I wanted to find a way to emphasis the role of geometry in my work, so I came up with the idea of having borders which (perhaps like a ‘barcode’) serve to highlight the geometry and colors of each art work (see Use of Borders in the Galleries).
1998 - Collaboration Idea First Comes to Me     It was during this period that the idea of collaboration using my system first occurred to me. This proved to be a very significant event in my art life, as it led to many exciting discoveries and is still something I am pursuing to this day. go to Collaborative Art topicBecause of the significance of this idea, it has its own section on my site - click here to investigate it fully. But for now I can tell you that the idea was born from the fact that my system had individual steps, and it occurred to me that it would be intriguing to see what could come of having the separate steps handled by different individuals. And not individuals collaborating in the usual way, but being kept isolated from each other, more or less, so each could put their own creative fire into what they were contributing without being hampered by what has gone before or what may come after.
As explained in its own section, I eventually got a few people to try out my idea. The first two attempts at this were quite amazing to me, a painting called Pink Lady with Karen Brorby and one called Cupid with Radi Vrannish. My reaction was ecstatic. I was astounded that they looked like paintings at all much less pretty good paintings!
2001 - Collaborative Work on Newspaper; Guerrilla Art     My drafting work (specifically, taking a class in a new computer program called GIS, Geographic Information System) cut into my ability to pursue this collaborative art topic as I would have wanted shortly after, as explained in its own section, we had a whole art class experiment with the idea. Someone I had known from the Artist Guild and who had worked with me on the collaborative paintings, Trevor Burrowes, approached me one day and asked if I was interested in working with him, merging our two systems in one. Trevor had developed his own system centered around recyclable materials like newspaper, and had been involved with public art like murals and banners.
So we started our own collaborative project, painting on large newspaper ‘canvases’. Our first artwork was a piece called Jamaica House. This was quickly followed by Pisanello and Della Francesca, all of which we used to show how art can be used to aid in the fight against urban blight.
This 'fight the blight' collaborative effort between Trevor and I has become very important to me, and it's not yet known where it will lead. We would like to get other people (not just artists) enthused with what can be done by a little effort with art in improving areas of blight in and around their neighborhoods, for example, but it remains to be seen what can develop from these first beginnings. Its own section on this site, still under early development, is entitled Taking Art to the People.
Working with Trevor marks another turning point in my art career. So far I had worked with beginning painters and students, with only a few exceptions. My vision was to work with mature accomplished Trevor Burrowespainters on the same skill level as myself. Painters who could take my system, internalize it, and go in a new direction with it.
Trevor was one of the first instances of that and, so far, is the only one who has taken my system in new directions. It has been as much a learning experience for me as for him. I had the opportunity to see my system through others’ eyes. It was quite enlightening. Some notions I had that I had taken for granted I could now see in a different perspective. And I found that collaborating with others who are as invested in the outcome as I was is not the carefree ‘walk in the park’ I had envisioned. Although I was quite capable of compromising on the final outcome of the piece, I did have some problems with what might be called a ‘meandering style of work’. So this was something new I had to take into account.
Also there is the issue of assimilating Trevor’s system, which still proves to be a challenge. Trevor is concerned with a lot of issues having to do with a social context and the role art plays in society. Trevor has said he is not a pure painter as I am. His vision includes painting but also how art interacts with the culture at large. Whereas I am what he calls a pure painter - I’m not so much concerned with the social/political context of my work. Although with Trevor’s influence that may change.
2001 - Invitation to show at 2003 Florence Biannual    Getting an invite to show my work at the Biannual International Exposition of Contemporary Art in Florence, Italy is something I can't leave off this Time Line, as you can well understand. It takes place from Dec 6th through the 14th and I will write about it on this site once I have returned. The selection committee of the biannual nominated me. I didn't make an application. They saw this web site and sent me an e-mail inviting me. I'm thrilled to have been considered by the Florence Biannual selection committee for this show.
2002 - Started using newspaper in my own (non-collaborative) art     A major influence from Trevor Burrowes (see Newspaper Art in Galleries). Also started using acrylic instead of oils and a shortened 4-step version of my system. Consequently I’m able to finish a piece in as little as 1 week instead of 6 to 8 weeks on the oil paintings.


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