Oil Paintings



Paintings in Tar and Oil



LOOMINGS is named after the first chapter of Moby-Dick, and several titles reference quotations from the novel. On one level I hope the series evokes what Herman Melville saw prophetically in the 1850’s: American industrial history as a never-ending pursuit of wealth and the domination of ‘savage’ nature, even at our own expense.

However, the works are not intended to be narrative or to illustrate events in Melville’s novel. The paintings, like the book, are for me largely about the confrontation of our own ignorance, our melancholy quest for knowledge, reality, and enlightenment in an unknowable universe.

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.

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. America’s global industrial dominance 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 (“The inscrutable is chiefly that I hate,” says Ahab).

Although my painting has always had roots in the landscape (or sea-scape), 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.

2017 Exhibitions

Paintings from the “Loomings” series are currently being exhibited in three separate locations: 

PLUNGE (group show, three paintings), New Bedford Museum of Art, May 26 – Oct. 8, 2017

Signs & Wonders (selections), lobby of the John Joseph Moakley Federal Building, Boston, July 4 – Oct. 15, 2017

LOOMINGS (solo show), Taylor Gallery, Kimball Union Academy, Sept. 8 – Oct. 14, 2017

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The work was awarded the St. Botolph Club’s “Outstanding Painting” award for 2017 and the venerable Boston art organization’s Nellie Taft Grant for visual arts; several paintings will be exhibited at an awards ceremony dinner in November 2017.
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 Review in Valley News:
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Review in Art New England:
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true places 2

True Places II, 20″ x 20-22,” oil and tar on wood

Night like monstrous black curtains suspended over a pathetic puppet show

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

The Pequod (ship detail) copyAny Human Thing (Detail)

Fata Morgana

Fata Morgana (Horizon Sails), 36″x36,” oil and tar on canvas

Flukes copy

Flukes, oil and tar on canvas, 24″x36″

T'Gallant Sails small

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

True Places (It is not down on any map. True places never are)

True Places (“It is not down on any map, true places never are.”), tar on canvas, 48″x48″

Corpus Santos (“Oh, thou foundling fire, thou hermit immemorial, thou too hast thy incommunicable riddle, thy unparticipated grief.”), 12×12 inches, oil, tar, gold leaf flakes.

Last Light

Last Light, 30″x20,” tar on canvas

Sleek (%22That enchanted calm which they say lurks at the heart of every commotion%22)

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!)

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


Westward, 16″x24,” oil, tar, gold leaf

triptych of 8x8s.pg

Triptych (Cetology),total length 8×24 inches

Break, Break, 12″x12,” oil and tar on canvas

Horizon Sails 2

Horizon Sails #3, 24″ x 24,” oil and tar on canvas

purposing to spring clean over the craft

Purposing to Spring Clean Over the Craft (Painting at the Spouter Inn), 16″x20,” oil and tar on canvas

All the Most Maddens and TormentsAll that Most Maddens and Torments, 16″x20,” oil and tar on canvas

volpe-jacobs-ladderJacob’s Ladder, 20″x16,” tar and asphaltum on canvas


To the Sea in Ships, 36″ x 48,” Tar and oil paint 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.

Try-Works (“The burning ship drove on, as if remorselessly commissioned to some vengeful deed.”), 30″ x 40,” oil and tar on linen


                                   Abysm, 60″ x 48,” oil and tar on canvas


Dive (“Oh, Ahab! what shall be grand in thee, it must needs be plucked from the skies and dived for in the deep, and featured in the unbodied air!”), 48″ x 60,” oil and tar on canvas

The Muffled Rolling of a Milky Sea 36x36

The Muffled Rolling of a Milky Sea, 36″ x 36,” oil and tar on canvas

Cape Horner (Of Griefs Beneath the Moon), 12″ x 24,” oil and tar on canvas

Charts and Diagrams (“nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power”), 20″ x 20,” tar and gold leaf on canvas

Westward II, 12″x20,” tar, oil paint, gold leaf, antique frame

To the Ends of the Earth (“Gnawed Within and scorched without”), 48″ x 48,” tar, oil paint, gold leaf


moby copy

White Whale, 10″ x 10,” oil and tar on canvas panel


Tail, 12″ x 12,” bitumin on canvas


Download the catalogue of a 2016 exhibition of LOOMINGS.