Most of my paintings are a direct response to something I’ve seen. I must be aware of what I’m looking for, as my choices are fairly consistent: the common and the everyday in a context that renders them interesting or oddly beautiful. I’m not interested in painting a purely natural landscape, and I avoid the picturesque. I don’t include people in my paintings but appreciate evidence of human activity, including my own. Tire tracks in a fresh dusting of snow are a record of a recent UPS delivery or my trip into town earlier that morning. The series of icy ruts at the end of my driveway were formed by numerous comings and goings accompanied by changes in the weather and an underlying lack of maintenance.
I think of myself as a plein air painter but without the dedication to set up in the middle of a public road or outdoors in harsh weather. If need be, I work looking out the window or from photographs I’ve taken of the location, often collaging different photos to get the composition I want. After I put down the underpainting and begin work, I become increasingly aware of the brushstrokes and other marks I use to develop the painting. Initial lines and layers of paint are considered and responded to, either with the addition of more paint or by scraping it down with the palette knife. Sometimes I just leave them alone. Wet paint dragged across an existing layer of wet paint can yield interesting results. Sometimes I let the paint drip, and sometimes I scratch through it with the knife or the opposite end of the brush to define an edge. Cotton swabs and paper towels come in handy as well. The physical material of the paint and what happens as I move it around are endlessly fascinating to me and become the real focus of the painting as I work.
Wires, garden hoses, and things on poles have always appealed to me as subject matter. They are simple and useful incursions into the natural landscape and contrast the looser shapes of trees and other vegetation. Similarly, tire tracks have become a recurring element in my paintings. Whether they are in snow, mud, or scorched onto the pavement, they all add interesting lines and rhythms to the composition. While the formal aspects are what first attract me to a potential motif, I also think about the forces involved in creating them. Some result from usual day-to-day activities, while others are the product of someone’s conscious decision to leave behind a mark. “Burnouts” are tracks of rubber deliberately left on the road when a stopped vehicle suddenly accelerates. They can be left on the road in front of a friend’s house as a greeting or purely to see how long and dark the driver can manage to make them. I’m struck by the graceful lines formed as they weave across the pavement or interact with the yellow median line. After I’ve finished the painting, I think about its stillness and quiet compared to the loud, smoky event that inspired it.
Image at top: Jeff Epstein, Tire Tracks in New Snow, oil on panel, 15 x 20 in., 2014 (photo: Caldbeck Gallery).