This commissioned piece for Team Diva Real Estate practically painted itself.
Late last year, I heard from my fabulous collector Lisa Picard. She was looking to acquire a painting for a modern getaway spot she’d designed and built in northern California, and had her eye on this one . . .
Alas, this particular midcentury goddess had already found herself a home. So Lisa decided to commission work specifically for her new place. She was drawn to the restfulness and solitude of the lady in her spare-yet-sort-of-busy modernist expanse. Lisa built her country retreat to be a relaxing gathering place for herself and her community of outdoorsy friends. She was looking for art that would embody restfulness, and also the dualistic nature of her work and life: developing dynamic, urban work places in big cities, but feeling equally at home pedaling her bike through rugged mountain terrain.
The commissioned work was destined for the guest room, which is in a separate structure from the main house and connected by a patio. It has a garage door that can open the entire room to the outside. The house epitomizes the California ideal of indoor-outdoor living—which is of course right up my alley! We ultimately decided on two facing paintings: One would capture the reviving solitude of this creative urban dweller’s country place; and the other the communal nature of both work and play. (Of course, at the time we had no idea that solitude would soon become a recurring theme for everyone, and communal bonhomie a fond memory.)
I spent the spring and summer of 2020 developing the imagery for the two concepts. The mid-century ladies whom I normally pilfer from magazines to use in my paintings are models posing as housewives. In my work they often stand in for the viewer; in this case the viewer was a CEO of a large company and her contemporary, active, nature-loving pals. The main character in the solitude/interior piece had to draw them in and feel like a kindred spirit, despite her fifties-housewife trappings.
I spent a lot of time on the geometry and perspective of the interior. As in the painting that inspired it, the space was to be largely defined by a tile floor. For this kind of project, I use a chalk line to draw the receding parallel lines of the floor and walls, anchored by pushpins at the vanishing points. I could geek out for hours about the particulars of perspective (and I have), but I’ll spare the reader that part of the journey. This interior took elements of two houses from a book of Julius Schulman’s photographs.
I swiped this gal from a Culligan ad. The magazine that she’s pretending to read features, not surprisingly, another Culligan ad. Like many of my star players, she’d appeared in a previous painting.
Choosing the fabric is critical; it sets the tone of the painting, and is the one thing (besides the shape) that can’t be changed. The choice is part instinctual, part circumstantial (a model had just scored the brown fabric and gifted it to me). In this case I was focused mostly on the main character’s outfit. I had already decided that the left one would be her top and the right one her pants, and planned to leave some matching curtains in the distance. The one on the right is kind of wacky, and I nearly swiped it for a dress for myself, but the sympathetic vibration between the stripes and the different shades of orange in the two together won out.
The second painting was to be set at night, from the outside looking in, and with multiple characters, perhaps at a party (remember those?) or its aftermath (yes, even more fondly).
This house is also a composite. I usually draw it first, then draw potential characters on separate pieces of paper, so I can pin them up and move them around. Scale is a matter of trial and error: I move a figure up and down on the drawing, to find a believable spot for someone that size. Sometimes they never feel quite right in the space and I have to toss them. Many of these people were cut from the scene.
The shape required me to build three irregular panels, one with five sides.
The phone lady is another recurring character from my past work. Her friend in the chair was someone I’d been wanting to use for years: she had me at the knee socks, but her setting is intriguing, too—a sort of flattened theatrical space. Perhaps the corrugated translucent fiberglass will make its way into some future painting.
I chose more oranges and browns for the fabric, to unite the palette of the two facing works. The brown tiki print would be someone’s groovy swimsuit, and also double as some sixties “primitive” art on the wall.
Both final paintings, and their stunning home, can be viewed on my commissions page.
I have been working from 1950’s and 1960’s magazine ads for almost thirty years. My temporal relationship to the material is strange when you think about it: The first time I started cutting up and mining for material an “old” magazine that I’d found in a thrift store, the images were thirty or forty years old. Now they’re sixty or seventy years old, which seems more like an antique. Antique that they might be (and I’m getting close to that myself by that standard), I’m not precious about them. They are my still-living source material. I tear out things I find interesting or telling or oddly relevant, or maybe I just like the colors. I file the torn-out images in rough categories. I have a drawer overflowing with manila file folders of ragged magazine photos with labels like People, Children, Kitchens, Decor, Patios, Lawns, Pools, Appliances, Food, Cake, Disembodied Hands. That’s basically my system, and when I’m working out a composition and I need, say, a husband for someone, I look through the People file until I find a few candidates for the right guy, in the right pose, with the right clothes.
Some people just come in handy, time and again.
The little boys above were posing with their “My Fair Lady” outfits with a row of little girls in equally silly garb when I came across them in a magazine, McCalls maybe. When I used them in a painting, I placed them out in the wild to better showcase their feral quality. I used a fabric with an overall pattern of olde timey maps of a vaguely colonialist flavor, which seemed like a perfect match for the little suits of little capitalists in training.
I felt a particular bond with the little boy on the left. Steve said he looked like Drake Deknatel’s images of himself as a little boy, which he’d painted right before he died. Indeed, the painting’s eventual owner, with no knowledge of that conversation or of even of Drake himself, told me that that boy was her favorite one, and then spontaneously dubbed him “Frederick”, which, chillingly, happens to have been Drake’s real name.
But I digress. A few years later, I snuck the same boy into a newspaper that a smoking dad is holding in this piece, Cowboy Diplomacy. He’s at the top left.
And here he is again, looking over the fence at an execution in an homage to Manet’s homage to Goya.
I finally gave him a solo show about two years ago, overtly acknowledging the homage to my late mentor. He’s changed a bit since I started painting him, and he seems happiest in his mayhem now. I think Drake would have liked this one.