The stories we tell ourselves are very powerful. Equal parts memory, dream, and current event, cigarette smoke, rain beading on the window, dry grass, joy, and terror—mine resolve on canvas in oil—through rigorous Old-Master techniques. My subjects follow two tracks. One is darkly colored and moves downward through urban terrain that Philip Roth called “a timeless Depression set in a placeless Lower East Side.’’ The other moves outward into landscape, not to any particular place, but more into a remembered atmosphere that remains broken and unfinished, in keeping with a broken world.
I was eleven when I drew my brown shoe. Hatching the stitching around an eyelet, I suddenly saw the vast, whole, and implicate order on the table in the form of the shoe and understood that what we mean by appearances is only a fraction of what can be seen. This meant that every mark must tell, and any number together must compose a whole so that wherever the eye might fall, a door into the image would open. I build up the surface of the canvas transparently—in dozens of layers in some places, in others letting the ground show through. It is a kind of geological process—an excavation of the image from the canvas, where, like a fossil record, it is waiting to be found. But where before I was all about the image—an image—now my eyes are fixed on that which is sensed rather than seen, or that which is seen only in the dark.
For a few more words on painting and memory, please see my essay, "Immaterial Witness," in the Summer/Autumn 2010 issue of the Harvard Divinity Bulletin.