The Domestic Threats series of pastel-on-sandpaper paintings uses Mexican folk art—masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, and toys—in a lively blend of reality and fantasy. On trips to central Mexico I spend much of my time in the local mask shops, markets, and bazaars searching for the figures that will later populate my paintings. I enjoy the fact that I take objects with a unique Mexican past—most have been used in various religious festivals—and give them a second life, so to speak, in New York in the present. When I return home, I read prodigiously and find out as much about them as I can. I use these objects not only as surrogates for human actors, but as potent symbols: an amalgam of child hood memories, half-forgotten dreams, and images encountered in literature, pre-columbian art, and cinema (especially German silent films and movies by Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles). This work has been evolving for more than a decade. The imagery is autobiographical and very personal, but has universal associations.
All of the pastel paintings use my West Village apartment or a 72-year-old Sears house in Virginia as a backdrop. These are places where I live so the realities of my everyday surroundings are an essential part of the work. Director-style, I select and arrange a group of folk art figures in a room in my apartment. I light the scene using two or more tungsten studio lights to create dramatic, mysterious and unex plainable shadows. The setup is typically left in place for several weeks. During that time, I work out placement, lighting, design, and, most importantly, a narrative about the interaction that is occurring between the “actors.” (The narrative is often hinted at in the painting’s title).
When everything is ready, I shoot two color negatives with a 4"×5" view camera. Using a 24” x 20” photo graph for refer ence, I create a pastel painting of 58"×38" in size (normally a three to four month process). I also make smaller works (which also involve several months), but prefer the greater challenge of working in large format. Blending with my fingers, I painstakingly apply dozens of layers of soft pastel onto the acid-free sandpaper. My self-invented technique achieves rich textures and vibrant colors. I believe I am pushing pastel to its limits, using it in ways that no one else has done.