Born and raised in Flint, Michigan, a G.M. town, it was working class, industrial and bleak. There were no art classes. (In the recent past it has achieved notoriety because of Michael Moore and his film Roger and Me.)
It wasn’t until I attended Flint Junior College that I experienced my first drawing class. It happened to be taught by the ceramic artist Richard DeVore. That class introduced me to a world of art I didn't know existed. Until then I didn't realize you could "be an artist." It was then I decided to be an artist. The Abstract Expressionists, Dadaists and Surrealists all excited me. With them I had intellectual and historical support to validate my adolescent impulses and feelings of rebellion. This was a healthy way to act them out. Art had become my means, “my way.”
After Flint I was accepted as a student to the Cranbrook Academy of Art. At that time they offered a BFA degree as well as an MFA degree. I was attracted to this Art Academy because it was possible to both be in school and to live and work like an artist. After a one year stint of teaching at Clarke College in Dubuque Iowa I went to Ohio State University to study with Hoyt L. Sherman and Robert King. Mr Sherman was a Gestaltist. He utilized perceptual language as a means for formalist critique. This was the perfect fit for me. I didn’t consciously realize it at the time but I was an eclectic. Intuitively I had rejected other art schools because of their tendency to represent particular stylistic ideologies. With Mr. Sherman I could explore all my eclectic impulses from the Abstract Expressionists to Picasso portraiture, to Kenneth Noland, etc. To this day my approach to teaching continues to be informed by those early experiences at OSU.
In 1967, while teaching at the University of South Dakota, I first met the artist Richard Artschwager. Meeting him convinced me to move to New York. I wanted to be closer to people that think like him. My first one-person exhibition coincided with that move to NY in 1968. At that time the Whitney Museum School gallery was on Cherry Street. My show consisted of a series of “plaid” paintings with images of Dan Flavin like fluorescent light shapes. I used the illusion of his images as a means to destroy the “edge of the painting”: an attempt to integrate painting with the wall it was hanging on and thus the architecture.
I have been using dots in my paintings since 1968. In the beginning I used them to create spatial depth but what eventually intrigued me most was how they would “appear” or “disappear” according to the location of the viewer. Where you were, in relation to the painting, determined what you saw. This “movement oriented perception” reinforced for me the belief that the viewer determined aesthetic experience, not the artist. Since then I have tried to incorporate “viewer location” as “content” in my work. In ’69 I was included in the Whitney Annual Exhibition of Art with a painting entitled T.V. Bulge.
The discovery of faceted gems helped punctuate the viewers’ awareness of location more dramatically then the dots. In an effort to make my dot/gem distributions more dynamic I began to research photographic images of star patterns from astronomy books. As I began to read about those images I discovered that emerging concepts of outer space aliened with my beliefs about “painterly space.” For example the idea of “curvature” and the “Big Bang” offered scientific support to explore the paradox of simultaneous flatness and three-dimensionality in painting.
In the early 70’s I framed a series of canvases with “giant” 1/4 round molding, so they would project out from the wall. These paintings bulged out toward the viewer. I loved the irony of putting the viewer outside the universe at the edge the “Big Bang.”
In 1974 I was chosen by Chuck Close to exhibit these works at Artists Space. In that same year I included three “Column Paintings” in an exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery, Three Artists: Elizabeth Murray, Marilyn Lenkowsky and John Torreano. The "column paintings" consisted of 1/2 round wood columns mounted on the wall. They too pressed out from the wall however, in this case, they also served as anthropomorphic mirror equivalents to the viewer. These shapes presented, for me, an alternative to the idea of painting as a “window” or a “container.” Instead the painting looked back. It wasn't a telegraphic passage of information but rather an emphasis on the transaction between a viewer and the object.
In 1975 I had an exhibition at the Susan Caldwell Gallery, NY, entitled Universe Paintings. It consisted of an installation of spherical paintings, 6” to 15” in diameter, installed in the shape of a galaxy. Each sphere was an “expanding universe” and part of a galactic shape. With this installation I had successfully created work, which disavowed Greenberg’s essentialism. (Not a conscious goal at the time, it was realized intuitively.) In 1987, I exhibited a similar installation entitled: One Hundred Diamonds at the East Village Jamie Wolf Gallery. In this case diamond shapes were used instead of spherical shapes.
Five Painters in New York, at the Whitney Museum of Art, 1984, gave me the opportunity to exhibit all my varied approaches to art making. There were, spherical paintings, bulge paintings, column paintings, a cross, and outer-space nebulosity dot/gem paintings.
I have continued to work and exhibit here in New York since 1968 the year I arrived from South Dakota. During that time I have had a paralleling role as a teacher. In the capacity of “visiting artist” or “artist in residence” I have had the opportunity to visit nearly every major art school and art department in the US and Canada. Since 1992 I have been teaching at NYU and have achieved the rank of Professor having served as Program Director of the MFA in Studio Art Program and Area head of Painting and Drawing. Along the way my achievements have been recognized with a number of grants: the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the Creative Arts for Public Service Program and the Nancy Graves Foundation Grant for Visual Artists.
For the past 20 years I have worked primarily on wood panels. My subjects continue to come from newer discoveries of and about outer space. And I continue to be fascinated with perception and how it informs our relationship to art. In May of 2007 my book; Drawing by Seeing was released. It is my contribution to teaching, a perceptual based series of exercises for the beginner or the advanced artist.