Playing In Traffic, Artist Statement

I don’t remember what it was about the view out my car window or why I decided to paint “Call Box”, but the result felt authentic.  At the time I was occupied with other projects in the studio, but this painting stayed with me, and I kept it on my studio wall. It harkened back to earlier bodies of work of mine and it continued to intrigue me.

A few years ago, the city began digging up and replacing waterlines in the streets around my studio, creating odd and intriguing workarounds, from time to time I painted them while still occupied with other studio projects. So, when the Covid Pandemic shutdown happened, these street subjects were already tugging for my attention.

As the pandemic wore on, I spent lots of time walking outside, and lots of time looking inward where my thoughts swirled about world events, mortality, unpredictability and general anxiety. The unprecedented events of the past couple of years left me wondering what might emerge as the next frightening and invisible danger.

It was hard to make sense of what exactly to do in the face of all this uncertainty, so continuing to show up at the studio and paint felt like a simple and doable act of faith. And it felt natural for me to turn my view to objects in the streets. 

For a long time, I have been photographing fire hydrants. I’ve always loved them and tend to anthropomorphize them, not in the same way as folks who paint faces on them, but more as stalwart soldiers and sentries who keep a lid on all that wonderful stuff underground, ready to come to ones’ aid when needed. 

On my walks I found myself noticing masses of plumbing appendages for fire hydrants, and crowds of orange traffic cones, yellow caution tape, poles and barriers. Once you start noticing them, they are everywhere.  They are set up to safely direct the traveler, but to me they’re more interesting and human when their purpose is less clear, when they’ve been left behind, stored for later, or poorly placed – more anthropomorphizing.  Some looked to me like troops massing for military maneuvers, or exhausted workers taking a break. 

I found all these objects not only amusing and visually interesting, but also poignantly suggestive of this particular moment in time. Painting these objects was a means of quietly searching. I enjoyed the process of spending time with them and imagining thatI might come to “know” them.

Like primitive man perhaps, I was looking for “signs” and signals of meaning in everything I saw. I think a theme of the images I’ve been painting is fear of being a grown up. Who is going to protect us now, predict danger, steer us around catastrophe? It can feel like we’re all “Waiting For Instructions”, and the task is to be quietly optimistic and open enough to understand the new directions. The work is about being alert, being able to change direction, map a path, and also about the capriciousness of the whole enterprise.

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