L O O M I N G S
Paintings in Tar and Oil
True Places (“It is not down on any map, true places never are.”), tar on canvas, 48″x48″
LOOMINGS is a selection of paintings from an ongoing series called “True Places.” LOOMINGS is named after the first chapter of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, from which the series title “True Places” comes as well.
Influences for the series include Melville, Turner, Ryder, Pollock, Kline, and to a lesser extent Anselm Keifer. The paintings came about as I was rereading Moby-Dick, which I’ve come to see as a vast, American prose poem epic containing the history and future of America and the entire cosmos. LOOMINGS is named after the first chapter, and several titles reference imagery and quotations from the novel. The paintings, like Melville’s novel, are for me largely about the confrontation of our own ignorance, our melancholy quest for knowledge and reality in an unknowable universe.
These paintings incorporate the primordial material of tar as their medium. The tar comes in for its deep, metallic black color, its aqueous quality, its earthy sepia tones when thinned, and its resonance for our moment in history. Modern global industrialization began with the Quaker whaling ships; petroleum (oil) is the successor to whale oil, which literally fueled the industrial revolution, lit the night, and greased the machinery for the rise of what Melville, already in 1851, called “the all-grasping Western world.”
As Melville does in Moby-Dick, the paintings consider the “oceanic feeling” in terms of humanity’s problematic longing to transcend or at least make peace with nature even while encroaching upon it. They’re also about what Melville refers to as “the inscrutable,” that is, the problem of representing reality itself.
Although my painting has always had roots in the landscape, these works allow me to grapple explicitly with painting’s basic task of pushing the material to represent the immaterial. They bring a lot of things together for me, referencing what I’ve long felt is our culture’s haunted and complex relationship with nature and history by synthesizing contemporary visual and literary symbolism from resonant works of art and literature of the past.
After 150 additional years of oil-driven industrialization, humanity continues to exploit nature without adequately understanding our place within it or even our own history. We’re still tempting Ahab’s unknowable gods and flouting signs and portents of extinction.
Below is a selection of the paintings from the True Places/LOOMINGS series.
True Places II, 20″ x 20-22,” oil and tar on wood
Any Human Thing (“I promise nothing complete; because any human thing supposed to be complete, must for that very reason infallibly be faulty.”), 36″x48,” tar and oil on canvas
Fata Morgana (Horizon Sails), 36″x36,” oil and tar on canvas
Flukes, oil and tar on canvas, 24″x36″
T’Gallant Sails, 36″x48,” oil and tar on canvas
Toward Thee I Roll, 10″ x 10,” asphaltum and oil
Horizon Sails #2, 24″x 28,” tar and oil on canvas
Acushnet, 48″x36,” tar on canvas
Never Dream (“Look not too long in the face of fire, O Man. Never dream with thy hand at the helm),” 16″x12,” oil and tar on paper
Last Light, 30″x20,” tar on canvas
Sleek (“that enchanted calm which they say lurks at the heart of every commotion”), 24″x28,” oil and tar on canvas
Squall (“I heard old Ahab tell him he must always kill a squall, something as they burst a waterspout with a pistol- fire your ship right into it!”), 36″x48,” tar and oil on canvas
Triptych (Cetology),total length 8×24 inches
Break, Break, 12″x12,” oil and tar on canvas
The Monumental White Shroud (, 30″x20,” oil and tar on canvas
Horizon Sails #3, 24″ x 24,” oil and tar on canvas
Purposing to Spring Clean Over the Craft (Painting at the Spouter Inn), 16″x20,” oil and tar on canvas
Try-Works, Dawn to Stern, 30“x24,” tar on canvas
Windlass (“By heavens man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and fate is the handspike.”), 16″ x 24,” oil on wood
The Sea Will Have Its Way (Burning Whaler), 24″ x 30,” oil and tar on canvas
“Surely all this is not without meaning.” 48″ x 60,” oil and tar on canvas.
The Muffled Rolling of a Milky Sea, 36″ x 36,” oil and tar on canvas
White Whale, 10″ x 10,” oil and tar on canvas panel
Tail, 12″ x 12,” bitumin on canvas