The Spurgeon Paintings are an ongoing series I began after moving to California in 2002 to begin teaching at California State University Fullerton. I had rented a studio in the Spurgeon building in downtown Santa Ana, and was continuing a series of large-scale figurative paintings that I had been working on previous to the move. I had been very absorbed in the study of color theory while earning my MFA at the University of Delaware, and was really pushing color in my figurative paintings, working from life as well as from photos.
My new studio had four large windows looking out over downtown Santa Ana, and I enjoyed the California light immensely, and its dynamics were very different from both Delaware and Arizona, where I had also lived. Throughout the day, the play of light across the buildings kept pulling my eyes away from my work, out the window to the shifting masses of color until I finally just turned my easel towards the windows and started a series of what were initially meant to be simple color studies.
The studies became a series of over 60 paintings and drawings of the same view, composed and negotiated according to formal considerations, the shapes of color, the play of light, time of day and time of year.
I hadn’t really meant to start painting landscapes or cityscapes. But I became very engaged in the process of seeing and painting as clearly as I could not so much what I was seeing, but how I was seeing it.
Painting from life presents opportunities and challenges that are much different than those of other approaches. Working from life, across time, is very different than the false clarity and exaggerated specifics of a single ‘photographic’ moment. It’s an attempt to more closely engage the constant, shifting nature of experience, the passage of time, and unpredictability of memory.
I tend to work with repeated themes and multiple images, making it easier to track variation, invention, and the arc of time within the painting process.
The recurring buildings in the Spurgeon paintings act like armatures upon which I can build images exploring the passage of time through the day and throughout the year, and the subtle, dynamics of light and color .
Paint is a particularly good medium to explore these ideas. How far must you take an image in order for it to gain coherence? How far can you push it and have the coherence hold, or expand? I’m always looking for that place in an image that can trigger a moment of recognition, of the experiential, of something seen and lived, made richer if not clearer, by having been run through the conflicted filters of experience, memory, and the imprecise language of painting.