From Manhattan to Markleeville

(Or, How did I Get Here???)

Painting in Central Park, NYC- 1988

A photo-journalist from Japan took this photo and mailed it to me back in the art school days. This was my first time painting in the snow. I still have the painting…somewhere.

A resume is an important piece of information detailing an artist’s education, awards, and career. But, dang, aren’t they dull?  I want to show, in pictures and paintings, a brief history of the foot prints that have brought me to where I am now, painting what I now paint. I often jokingly use the term “slinging paint” when I refer to my painting experiences. Well, there’s a lot that goes into each painting. A distillation of everything I have learned is in the brushstrokes of my paintings- the wisdom and guidance of my mentor, Maynard Dixon Stewart, my endless classes at the Art Students League of New York and The National Academy of Design, my many experiences and studies in Spain, and my continued reverent study of Nature. It has been and continues to be one interesting journey. Here is my part of my education in pictures.



If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track,

which has been there all the while waiting for you,

and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.

-Joseph Campbell

My room at the Westside YMCA, 1988

It’s hard to think of bliss when you’re living in a 12x12 room with bad heating, nightly cockroach conventions, and tenants of varied mental states. But, the dulcet tones of the Julliard School students practicing above me and the fine view of Central Park were nice compensations. Sardine sandwiches, left-over props from still life set ups (too good to waste,) Kafka, and Dostoyevsky- all art student essentials.

Rainy Day- Marks Cathedral
16” x 12"
Oil on Panel

One of my cityscapes from my student days in New York. I look at this painting and can’t help but hear the Jim Croce song, “New York’s Not My Home.”

Cast Painting
24” x 20”
Oil on Linen
Michael Aviano Atelier- Saturday Classes

While in New York, I attended morning and evening classes at the Art Students League, afternoon classes at the National Academy of Design, and Saturday classes at the Atelier of Michael Aviano. This cast painting took many months to complete. Mr. Aviano let me paint somewhat loosely (this is considered “loose” for a cast painting.) I remember one Saturday- staring at my easel, head hung low, and Mr. Aviano coming over and saying, “You look tired. Put down your brushes. Go over to Ray’s and have a nice slice of pizza. You must first satisfy the animal in you so later your spirit can soar.” This quote still has a profound affect on my painting process.

Figure Study
23” x 18"
Pastel on Paper
Art Student’s League Evening Class- Instructor Jack Faragasso

One of the few pastel paintings I did as a student. Mr. Faragasso taught the Reilly Method of painting which involved strict attention to precise hue, value, and chroma.

Copy after Rembrandt
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
24” x 18”
Oil on Linen

Most major museums have programs set up where artists can create copies directly from original paintings. This tradition goes back hundreds of years. After all, you can try to get into a Rembrandt workshop. But, his being...well..quite dead makes for a long wait. This is an excellent way to learn from the masters. This was the first of several copies I undertook to help understand this thing of slinging paint. To study one painting over several months is truly a unique form of education. Much of what I learned from these copies influences my work today. And, it’s a nice way to own a Rembrandt!

Copy after Anthony Van Dyck
Metropolitan Museum of Art
42” x 32”
Oil on Linen

Van Dyck’s self-portrait at 19. It was hard to be 22 years old and staring so long at genius -an artistic self-flagellation reminding me how great the masters were. Also, studying Van Dyck helped me develop a technique I use in some of my outdoor paintings I call “alla prima underpainting.”

Copy after Rubens
Museo del Prado- Madrid, Spain
41" x 32"
Oil on Linen

I get a kick out of Ruben’s sense of humor. Look at Joseph in the upper right. His expression says, “that’d better be an immaculate conception!”

I learned so much about texture from this painting. The impasto is in the flesh and the ultramarine (lapis lazuli back then) shows the grain of the wood. The shadows in my Sierra mountains hint at the clothing of Ruben’s Virgin Mary.

Along with all this classical study, I would paint landscapes in Central Park on weekends. I have never formally studied landscape with any living artist (for better or for worse!) As a student, landscape painting was always a retreat- a time to let the formal training fall into the subconscious just as one speaks without actually thinking of the constructs of language.

After New York, I wound up moving to Madrid with the noble intent of continuing my classical studies. Well, that path lead to a mixture of experiences I can only summarize by being an amalgam of Hemingway, Kerouac, Dr. Thompson, and the cast of “La Boheme.”

Me in a bull ring in the pueblo of  Valdemorillo, Spain
(Why, I can’t quite say…)

I learned so much during my time in Spain. Some of it had to do with pigment and canvas, but much more had to do with life. The fiestas, Corridas, friendships and sangria created a mosaic of memories which has shaped my life. There was a time, early in my professional career, when I regretted this two year sojourn. With time, I realized that- if after art school I had gone right into the gallery scene and tried to make a go of it, at best I would have made Southwest Art Magazine’s “21 Under 31.” But, I’d have missed some fine life experiences and would never have developed the quality of light and color that I now paint.

Madrid Market
25.5” x 21.25”
Oil on Linen
Plein Air painting (over several days) of a small market off of Puerta del Sol.

This is one of my favorite cityscapes from Spain. I was slowly starting to see the color of life, not the color of the studio.

Corrida de Toros,  Las Ventas, Tendido Siete (my favorite section,) Madrid
Jane, Jamie, and me.

Jane and Jamie were two of my flat mates at La Boheme- Kentuckians traveling Europe. We shared our modest north Madrid flat with a gal from England and a gal from Ireland. Later we had a guy from Peru join our cast. The Sangria parties were legendary. What does this have to do with my paintings? Nothing in particular, but everything in general.

El Toro Enamorado de la Luna
(The Bull in Love with the Moon)
50 x 60
Oil on Linen

This painting was based on a smaller painting which I completed in the bar. Jorge and Ballentine were the bartender and owner respectively. I did not start using photographic reference until 1998, and this painting was based on the original plein bar painting with various historical references added (the brands are all famous bull ranches, the portrait of Belmonte in the upper right, the Goya etchings below the bar- all things I added to make the scene real.) If you go to this bar (off of Plaza Mayor away from the cave bars,) a photo of this painting is now below the bull- a fine honor. The memories of painting in this bar are indelible in my mind- endless offers of wine and tapas. Such hospitality. They even stored my easel behind the bar!

24” x 18”
Oil on Linen

Here is a self-portrait painted after my return from Spain. A lot of my classical training and Spanish experiences are mixed in this egocentric piece (and a bit of Clint Eastwood idolatry!)

Kearsarge Pinnacles
11” x 12”
Oil on Linen
Plein Air painting in Kings Canyon National Park, CA

I painted this on my birthday in 2000. The paintings from this grueling backpack trip to Kearsarge Lakes, combined with a fine Bloody Mary at the Whiskey Creek Lodge in Bishop, mark the seminal turning point in my career. I carried all my equipment up over that evil Kearsarge Pass. On my 34th birthday, I finished three paintings and caught fifty brook trout with my fly rod (yes, catch and release.) After the packtrip, while enjoying a fine libation in Bishop, I decided to devote my career to creating works based on my outdoor experiences. I would leave the comfort of my north lit studio for the true light of Nature. Well, almost nine years later, think I’m on the right path.


A Tale of Two Pack Trips

Up at Thousand Island Lake in the Sierra.

It has been a summer of pack mules and horses. Of high altitude painting, frost covered dawns, sunlight on granite, nylon tents and down sleeping bags, campfires and laughter, box wine and hearty camp fare, bears, camaraderie, and even a few more bears.

I went on two pack trips over a five week period- one to the Spanish Peaks Wilderness of Montana and the other to Garnet Lake in the eastern Sierra of California- a gauntlet of travel and studies which will turn into studio paintings over the winter. These pack trips are essential to my painting. As in most arts, creation is a distillation of experience. As I find myself completely at home in the Sierra (it is mid-September as I write this and snow is predicted tomorrow,) the beauty and gothic qualities of the high country constantly fuel my need to express some inherent truth of these places in pigment and canvas.

So, paint boxes are packed on mules, hours spent on horseback, and a summer passes- leaving in its wake an alluvial fan of experiences, memories, and sketches. Now it is time to get in the studio and hone these rough rocks into something true. The travel has left me tired. Admittedly, it is hard to get the trail dust out of my blood and settle into the steady, uneventful cadence of studio work. There is no risk of my easel kicking me, no wind to turn my canvas into a sail, and my pot belly stove determines my weather. But, it is time to get to work. In quoting Ernest Hemingway, I substitute the word “writing” with “painting.”

          In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you paint with. But I would rather have it bent and dull and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know I had something to truly paint, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well-oiled in the closet, but unused. Now, it is necessary to get to the grindstone again.”

And to the grindstone I go. I hope you enjoy the photos from my travels.



Russell Case, Tracy and Matt Smith, our cook Pat, Kate Starling, me, Joe Wayne, Greg Scheibel, Kristina, and our guide, Lee Hart up in the Spanish Peaks Wilderness of Montana.

Trying to squeeze 2000 feet of rock into 16 inches high above Thompson Lake in Montana.

Lee Hart, our guide in Montana, striking the classic cowboy pose. A teller of many tales- of grizzlies, crazy Italians, and deep snow drifts, all woven into the landscape of the Spanish Peaks Wilderness.


Working down switchbacks in some damn steep country!

Armand Cabrera, Dr. Jim Hongola, David Linn, Charles Waldman, Ned Mueller, Spanky the Wonder Dog, and me at Garnet Lake in the high Sierra.
(And a pesky bear courtesy of Photoshop!)

Painting the afternoon light at Garnet Lake.

Our pack guide and Sierra cook Lianne and her trusty dog Spanky. Spanky rousted the bears out of camp on a nightly basis and kept the pack animals in line.

Ned Mueller and I enjoying a cold libation chilled in the depths of Garnet Lake.
You gotta love those Sierra pack outfits- “you want it, we pack it” seems to be their motto.

Charles Waldman telling tall tales after the morning painting. What a fine group of artists and traveling companions. A lot of good stories- Ned telling about how it feels to be kicked by a Brahma bull in Mexico City was a fun one.

The Undiscovered Sierra Riviera.

OK, it is not all work! I took the midday off to enjoy some late summer sun, high country majesty, and trashy gossip magazines Lianne brought on the trip.
Quality time doing nothing…

Thoughts on Dixon Country

Well, my paintings for Maynard Dixon Country 2006 are done and drying. The hard part is over. It took four research and painting trips to the “Lonely Sierra” region of Bishop and Lone Pine to figure out what I wanted to say in paint. Now I can look forward to the fun of the event- good camaraderie, good scenery, and good paintings.

The highlight of last year's event, however, was the presence of Daniel Dixon who spoke of his father and mother, Maynard Dixon and Dorothea Lange. His quiet humor and insight added a new depth to the understanding of both artists. Also, he's quite the singer and ukulele player! This is another aspect to this event which separates it from all others. There is a strong emphasis on simply having fun and taking in the art found in experience. There are transient masterpieces created around a fire with song and wine. The below photographs only touch the surface of the fun and camaraderie which is the essence of Maynard Dixon Country. It's one hell-of-a event!


(Left to Right) Artist Chris Morel, Robin Arnold, Dixie and Dan Dixon.
Dan's wife Dixie plays a mean guitar as well and sings wonderfully.

The singing and laughing went on both Friday and Saturday into the wee hours of the morning. They are memories for a lifetime. Dan recalled songs his father enjoyed and sang them with raspy gusto:

Meet me tonight in Dreamland,
Under the silvery moon;
Meet me tonight in Dreamland,
Where love's true roses bloom.
Come with the love light shining
In your sweet eyes of blue;
Meet me in Dreamland,
Sweet dreamy Dreamland,
And make my dreams come true.

Dan plinking away at his Ukulele with Robin Arnold.

Daniel told us of a song Maynard was fond of singing to his children. Maynard would sing to them while popping his false teeth in and out. Daniel said it was his Dad’s own immortal composition. When I read the lyrics I can hear Daniel’s ukulele and his laughter serving as a coda to the final line.

Gum Drops

Papa had gum drops
And baby had none;
Papa had gum drops
And gave baby one.
At three in the morning
When babe sleeps no more,
Papa takes baby
And paces the floor
No more gum drops for baby,
For you, just a few!

To experience Daniels recollections of the past while enjoying the crackling fire, songs, and laughter of the present helped to create and understanding of Maynard Dixon that could never be expressed through books or even in paint.

Thank you, Daniel for a wonderful evening. I hope to see you around the campfire this August.


July 2006

Daniel wrote this in my copy of his book of recollections on his mother and father-


Maynard Dixon, the Man and the Artist


Ediza Lake Pack Trip 2005

Kate Starling, Jesse Powell, Kathleen Dunphy, Chuck Waldman, Mike Obermeyer, Armand Cabrera, Jeff Fennel, Me, and Russell Case.

This was, simply put, one damn fun trip! I organized this pack/painting excursion to further explore the Sierra while enjoying the camaraderie of painting with fellow artists. Having participated in many plein air events, the aspect which I find most beneficial is learning and sharing experiences with other artists. We spend so much time painting in seclusion that painting together on location is uplifting and inspiring. Unfortunately, sometimes these events can be a bit stressful (can you say “Quick Draw?!”) Also, Plein Air shows are so ubiquitous these days that I fully expect to see “South Barstow Plein Air” being advertised in the coming months. Several of my clients have remarked how confusing all of these shows and organizations are becoming.

So, I planned this trip with the thought of doing nothing more than getting out there and slinging paint. We hiked our tails off and painted like fiends. From this trip we will create studio paintings for future shows and our galleries. Sometimes, the simple aspect of using plein air painting as a tool, a means to gather information by making studies which will be used to create greater works in the studio, gets lost in the business end of making a living creating paintings. As artists, we barely scratched the surface of painting possibilities and I plan on returning next year. Below are some photos from the trip.



Ediza Lake.

Painting Banner Peak near the Iceberg Lake outlet.

Apache Joe

10” x 12”

A portrait of “Apache Joe” painted on a gray morning. 

This was the first time painting a horse. 

Prix de West here I come! Wait, did I write that out loud???

Kate Starling perched on a rock with Mt. Ritter looming above.

Chuck Waldman providing a cool soundtrack to the trip.

Moments like these are the living art which envelopes the creation of art.


Tired and Ornery

8" x 5"

Mike Obermeyer sketched this mini-portrait of me while we waited, and waited, for the pack mules to bring our stuff off the mountain.

I guess I should have just been glad all those supplies were not on my back!

The motley crew around the campfire.

A lot of bad jokes were told around this fire!


Moments of Universal Truth

Bison, from La Madeleine near Dordogne. C. 15,000-10,000 B.C. Reindeer Antler.

Part of my life here in Markleeville involves driving off the mountain periodically to get the basic provisions needed to survive- slabs of salt pork, powder for the musket, weasel pelts, and gallons of rot gut bathtub gin. Perhaps I exaggerate. I usually make a couple of trips a week to the Carson Valley to ship paintings, get groceries, ink cartridges, blank CDs, sushi, and yes, the occasional weasel pelt. As I drive through the valley, I take in the bucolic tranquility which lies nestled below the northern Sierra range. Cattle graze throughout most of the valley and on any given trip I will see some of them licking their flanks. This movement is so natural to the animal and intrinsic to the very nature of being a cow. It reminds me of the above sculpture I first saw in art history class in college. I have always admired this piece of art for its pure expression and truth. In my article in the May issue of Plein Air Magazine, (shameless plug!) I ramble on how artists are “trying to capture those glints of universal truths sometimes revealed during instances of time and express them in a manner unique to us as individuals.” And man, this sculpture from the Paleolithic era nails that concept! I guarantee the next time you see an a cow in this pose, you will think of this work.

 The subtlety of expression in this piece of carved deer antler is what makes it inherently beautiful. It is also what is missing in so much or our popular culture.




The Art of a Party

My subject for this first entry is the Art of a Party. Properly timed and well planned, a truly artful party has the potential for greatness. I’m not talking about a high school kegger, but an event that allows for the possibility of immediate fun and lasting memories. Parties, like fire, can be started easily and only marginally controlled. Steinbeck describes this masterfully in Cannery Row:

“The nature of parties has been imperfectly studied. It is, however, generally understood that a party has a pathology, that it is a kind of individual and it is likely to be a very perverse individual. And it is also generally understood that a party hardly ever goes the way it is intended…”

My neighbor, Jeff Brees, and I planned Freezing Man to be in the dead of winter- an homage to the season, a time to drink wine and celebrate everything and nothing in particular- and a chance to burn something. Jeff is a sculptor who has created topiaries for Fisherman’s Wharf, the San Diego Zoo, etc.http://www.gardenworkstopiary.com. He created our defiant answer to months of ice and snow with an arc welder and a vision. We then fleshed him out with intertwining pine branches and a late winter storm added the finishing touches. Word spread through town quickly and as one old timer put it, “This will be the biggest thing to happen in Markleeville since they shot Jacob Marklee!”

My wee nephews came to visit along with friends and family. Sleeping bags lined the floors. The party took life, burned brightly, and slowly fell to ashes in the morning hours as wine soaked minds discussed politics and tried to sing songs in front of the embers and bowed metal skeleton of Freezing Man.

Perhaps it will be an annual event. A light snow is already delicately covering the memories of the party- the imprints of lawn chairs, the shuffling trails of adults, wine stains in the snow like melted roses, sled drags, paw marks of dogs, and the tiny dancing boot prints of my nephews. But the ringing echoes of conversation and laughter will filter through the pine needles for many winters.

As an artist, I never leave the world of art because there is art in everything. But, from time to time, it’s good to take a break from the business of art.