A lot of inspiration, or whatever is behind the art, comes from things like dreams or inspiration that I see all around me every day.
I have different jobs that I do. My jobs are things that I do, but art is what I am. It goes to the core of me. It's not something that I'm doing because someone expects it of me. It's something that I truly do for myself.
There was a time when I was first showing my paintings in Grand Marais, and people kind of forget this, but my work was very dark. It was a lot of black and white. If there was color, it was usually blood red. There was a big change that happened when my daughter was born. I stopped painting because I was home taking care of her. When I picked up the brush again, it just came out in bright color. So I think you bring what's called for, or what you've got in you. What comes out of you has to be in you in the first place, so as we go through life, we change… evolve in a way, as we learn more and get more experiences. And then all those things can be incorporated into what we then express.
When it comes to subjects, yeah, there are certain things that I do over and over again. It's really difficult not to be inspired by the scenic beauty that surrounds us. In particular, the old growth white pines that we see as we're going up the Gunflint Trail or different places… Those are such incredible earthlings. I think of trees as individuals. I did a stand of white pines, and there were about five trees in the painting. I called it "Five Brothers." Well, I happen to be one of five brothers. And then there was a companion piece to it that was two trees. Though I didn't title it that way, I kind of thought of it like my parents, so my whole family was depicted as trees. The trees have a stability to them. When I look out at the water, it's always changing. I've always lived near water, and fish.
I was born in Detroit, and you're never far from the Great Lakes in MIchigan. I grew up in Liberia, right on the ocean, and then I ended up here. My daughter is from Palau, which is completely surrounded by water, so there's that kind of stuff.
When I was probably about eight years old, I had a dream. We lived outside of Detroit on a farm. I had a dream that I walked out into the driveway and there was a muddy puddle in the gravel driveway. I saw something moving in the water, so I went and got a net, and I netted a beautiful, long finned, white goldfish out of this muddy puddle, and put it in a jar in my window. That image from that dream has stuck with me my whole life.
Goldfish are such a common thing. They're like a dime store trinket, but each one of them is an individual life, and there are so many interesting things about goldfish. So I eventually had a goldfish pond in my yard. I used to sit out there with a cup of coffee, and all the goldfish would run and hide under rocks and things. The longer I sat there with my journal or my coffee, they would gradually start to feel more comfortable, and eventually would be eating out of my hand.
I thought that's the way creativity is. When you're running through life, going from this to that, and all the things you have to do, the day kind of gets away from you and there's not enough time to do everything. That's not the time that the creative thoughts and expression come. It's when you sit still and allow them to come out that they do. So you can call it creativity. I think that's spirituality, too.
Van Gogh is someone that I've always kind of looked to for the heaviness of brush strokes and the intensity of color. I like a painting to look like a painting. It can be a painting of a landscape, but I like to see the brushstrokes, see the process, and see all that in there. Because, every painting that pretends to be something, a landscape or any representational scene or object, is an illusion. Our mind sees a three dimensional world on a two dimensional plane. It's not a scene of the Gunflint Pines, it's paint on a surface. To me, good painting is not necessarily about getting every line just right and getting the shape right, and getting everything perfect, like reporting the news in a photograph. When you tap into something inside you and say "beyond this incredible scene that I'm looking at, that I want to share with you, I want to bring something of me into this." And I'm doing it with paint, so here's some paint. Sometimes people look at my work and they say "what's that?", and I say "It's paint."
I often compare painting to dreaming or breathing. It's not 100% effortless, but it's just something that I have always done, and will always do. As long as I'm here in this body, I'll paint. And if I lose the physical ability to paint, I'll paint in my mind. I'll still create those images.