Installation- Susanne Hilberry Gallery, Detroit, MI

Installation- Susanne Hilberry Gallery, Detroit, MI

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. My teaching continues to be informed by those early experiences at OSU. 

In 1967, at the University of South Dakota, I first met the artist Richard Artschwager. It was meeting him that convinced me to move to New York. 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 fluorescent lights.  I used his images as a means to destroy the “edge of the painting”: an attempt to integrate painting with the wall 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’ location as he/she moved in relation to the painting. In an effort to make my dot/gem distributions more dynamic I used photographic images of star patterns from astronomy books. As I began to read about those images I discovered that concepts of outer space aliened with my beliefs about “painterly space.” The idea of “curvature” and the “Big Bang” gave me 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 were my image of the universe, bulging toward the viewer: the “Big Bang.”  

(I appreciated the irony of placing the viewer at the outside edge of space.) 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. These were1/2 round wood column paintings 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. This replaced “telegraphic meaning” with “transactional meaning.” And also presented an alternative to the idea of painting as “window” or as a “container” for meaning. 



Born and raised in Flint, Michigan, a G.M. town, it was working class, industrial and bleak.  There were no art classes. (Recently it has achieved notoriety because of Michael Moore and his filmRoger and Me.)

It wasn’t until I attended Flint Junior College that I experienced my first drawing class. That class helped me decide 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 attended the Cranbrook Academy of Art where it was possible to both: be in school but live and work like an artist. Later I went to OSU to study with Hoyt L. Sherman. 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. 

John Torreano Stars on Broadway,  Broadway Windows, New York, NY

John Torreano Stars on Broadway, Broadway Windows, New York, NY

John Torreano Stars on Broadway

John Torreano Stars on Broadway

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 both 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 painting.  There were, spherical paintings, bulge paintings, column paintings, a cross, and outer-space nebulosity dot/gem paintings.


Ghost Gems-  Parrish Museum, Southampton New York

Ghost Gems- Parrish Museum, Southampton New York

I have been working and exhibiting in New York for the past 40 years. During that time I have had a paralleling role as a teacher.  In the capacity of “visiting artist” or “artist in residence”, I have visited 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.  I am currently Director of the MFA in Studio Art Program.  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 new 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.