I was looking at some newer photos of the painters of Dafen and it’s always fascinated me how even though our knowledge of these painting-sweatshops was obscure (it’s only until recently that these painting villages have become a sort of popular attraction to the western public), the paintings produced there were, unbeknownst to us, part of our everyday life.  These massively produced paintings are just that, paint on canvas. But I was wondering, how different is this exercise of commerce dictating art, of a life devoted to endlessly copying another’s painting, to that of a “real” painter who produces works with artistic merit, like lets say (for the sake of argument) Neo Rauch or Botero, both of whom have ended up copying themselves. 

I guess this is seemingly an unfair argument. Sounds ridiculous to compare Rauch, who is in every contemporary painting book out there, to an unknown Chinese painter, one of thousands, who paints hundreds if not thousands of areas of paintings in a day that will be later sold to WalMart. It should be accepted that an artist, one who we consider to be a “true” artist that is, has the right to decide to devote his or her whole life to exploring the way in which he or she interprets painting; even if that means painting the same painting (not literally, but figuratively) time and again. It is after all, a valid possibility in an artist’s creative process.

I am also aware that many times, it’s desirable for an artist to have a recognizable manner of, in this case, solving a painting. But, and lets be completely honest, many times this desire goes hand in hand with sales. If a type of painting becomes commercially successful, then it is wise for the painter and for the gallery to produce more of the type of painting that is in demand. It’s a simple equation that almost inevitably affects creative processes.

So what’s the difference between copying others work for commercial purposes, and copying ones own work for commercial purposes? In both cases, the original images that spawned the need to copy, had at some point, artistic worth. After that, one painting gets literally copied while the other gets elegantly copied.

If a painter reading this suddenly feels offended, think of this… people will travel thousands of miles to Xi’an to view the terracotta warriors. They consider this one of the greatest objects in history to be unearthed… and yet being aware of thousands of people painting the same painting every day is nothing but a sweatshop in our eyes. One that today we westerners are willing to visit as if it were Disneyworld, but a sweatshop nonetheless.

I very often wonder, perhaps too much, about honesty in painting. I always try and understand where this frank but bizarre impulse resides and how it affects a work of art in an indelible way. And finally, I wonder where is it that this sincere act stops being genuine. 

Because in my eyes, I think there’s not that much of a difference between Rauch, or a Chinese Dafen painter that makes a couple of thousand dollars a year, or me for that matter. In the end we are all painters, affected by the same things. The Dafen painter tries to paint like Repin, Rauch tries to paint like a successful Rauch, and I try to make it no so obvious that I look at Phil Hale.

My point in all of this, and I’m not sure I’m trying to make a point but instead question a bunch of things that stem from this act of curiosity, is to ask myself what is it that makes an image more powerful than the others, what is it that makes it a catalyzer, an image that observers throughout history deem as indisputably authentic. Where does that original originality subsist, what intentions made it materialize and why does it appear to fade so quickly, making it hard, almost impossible for a painter to use it frequently. How is the same painter who was at one point aware of the force of honesty quickly willing to succumb to his or her own iteration.

To me it would be fascinating if I could talk to Rauch, but since we’re being honest, I would be far more inclined to talk to a Chinese painter that has painted the same paintings thousands of times for 20 years. I would love to know what he thinks about the "honorable" act of painting. I wonder if he is in awe when he walks into a museum and sees the Mona Lisa through bullet proof glass. I wonder how he feels about the value of creating something unique. 


In the end, when you think about it, if Dafen was managed by an artist, it would be seen as an act of massive appropriation fit for any contemporary biennial. We used to be shocked by Dafen, thousands of starving artists working at gunpoint,  but now they have dafen.coms and tens of other webpages with paypal transactions, and I’m sure it won’t be long until we see a “real” artist use their services to show something at Basel or Venice.


On Permanence

When you reflect upon the manner in which a traditional painting is developed, you realize that every decision the painter makes is based upon one thing – permanence.  We chose linen because we have more than 500 years of history letting us know the way in which this particular material has behaved. We chose mediums that with time will not alter the original colors, we chose paints that will not fade with exposure to light, we chose boards that are acid free and will not yellow.  We work in a particular order so paint doesn’t peel or crack. We make conscious choices to inject our paintings with decisions that are based on stability, hoping that the paintings will be durable, but also and perhaps more importantly, faithful to the original state in which the were produced.

Ever stop and wonder why we do this? Is the answer because we want future generations to look at our paintings as if they were unaltered by the passage of time?

Let the next generation make their own pictures” Rockwell famously stated. 

Rockwell’s statement is selfish at its core. Could you imagine if Rembrandt or Velazquez had been as carefree as Rockwell? We wouldn’t have today their paintings as objects of reference. But when you think about it a bit more, would it matter? Would it matter if we wouldn’t even know what we were missing? Wouldn’t it be like thinking about the hanging gardens of Babylon? We never saw them, but we can imagine they were beautiful because history, stories or myths told us they were beautiful. Would attempting to paint without ever seeing a Rembrandt make us lesser painters? Would it impede us from making solid, moving works of art?

I am obviously not lessening the impact a work of art can have in future generations. Las Meninas has been the object of countless interpretations through different mediums including sculpture, video, installation and of course painting. Appropriation in art is a fascinating endeavor and if the context of an original image was lost, the act of re-contextualization would be simply impossible.

A much simpler answer would have to do with the market of art. If somebody pays X amount of money for a painting, it is understandable that they wouldn’t want their investment to depreciate.  But I don’t want to get into this aspect, because it shouldn’t be an issue in the creative process.

What if we just accept that paintings, like ourselves, die. We as makers may even have a say in how long it takes them – they can die quicker or slower than we do. What if we were absolutely conscious of the fact the every single material that makes up a painting degrades through time – sadly we do not paint with McDonald’s burgers on top of Styrofoam.  We use materials that transform, that are brittle, that are sensitive; in many ways we use materials that are alive. So if we paint with “living materials” why do we want fixed, unalterable images?

I refuse to accept the argument of longevity. It is horribly pretentious. It’s akin to wanting your last name to never disappear; to thinking that the impact that a work of art may have will be relevant long after we are dead. I refuse to believe that we may think so highly of ourselves, especially when traditional painting is one of the most humbling acts I know of.

So what if instead of defying time, we embrace the fact that paintings are fragile and fleeting. What if we, working from our traditional roots, accept the delicateness of instability? What if we let the next generations decide what is relevant, what is important, and take out of the equation the idea of presuming we foresee the future significance of what we do?

How would painting be taught if we had no references? Would you paint on linen stretched on bars just because someone told you to do so?  I am aware these are impossible questions to answer, but they make me think about the why. Why do we work in the manner in which we do? Are we listening to ourselves or are we overly aware of what has been done before?

If we knew nothing, perhaps our senses would be sharper, our relations with the nature of our materials would be more intimate, and our intentions would be simpler. Perhaps.



I felt the need to re-establish my relationship with color... once again... not sure how many times I've questioned my use of it. What I end up doing, and I guess this is, in a way, a natural solution (hopefully not overly predictable) is that I paint monochromatic images. I love form... I've always thought that the one thing that interests me above all in painting is form. The ability to convey solidity, even if it's solidity as part of a dense atmosphere, just fascinates me. And form, fortunately for me, is something that does not depend on color.

So these are a couple of paintings that are just an attempt to understand blues in relation to earthy grays. The first is a portarit of  Freud... I know... painting Freud sounds like a bad idea, almost campy, but I had to do it... a mini homage if you will. Plus I was looking at Giacometti so inevitably he got into my head too...

And the second is a portrait of my mom... I like this one. I actually feel she's in there. Kind of fragile, somewhat broken, but manages to keep it all together... a wonderful woman.



I've been feeling somewhat dissatisfied with my paintings as of late... I feel that I've become a bit too aware of how I approach my work, and it has become a static matter of me sitting down and painting what is effective. And by effective I mean something that I've noticed works in my previous paintings. I feel that if I don't do something about it, my work is going to be redundant and worst of all, predictable. And if there's one thing that I do NOT enjoy in painting is repetitiveness. I understand that the solidity of one's vision comes from uniformity, but too much work, solely solving the same problems over and over again goes from consistency to tedium.

Now, some may argue that repetition and constancy are essential to developing one's work, and it is only thru thorough exploration that one may understand the parameters in which one's work unfolds, but I feel (and I'm strictly speaking for myself), that while iteration may further understanding, it may also hinder risk-taking.

One thing I find myself repeating to my students, and ironically it is the one thing that a student of mine recently suggested to me, is that to develop one's work one should be honest. Now, when I say it to my student's I can understand why I say it and why whatever I saw in their work prompted to state such an ambiguous suggestion. But when someone recommended such a cryptic endeavor, because lets face it, it is horribly cryptic, I was caught off guard.

In a sense, I feel comfortable when I have to design a painting. Organizing all the formal elements that make up a picture is, I believe, not that problematic. But when someone thought that my work was not being sincere... well that kind of kicked me in the nuts... What the hell does it mean that an image lacks honesty??? Quite frankly, that's a really hard question to answer. I think I understand what it means when an image feels foreign... like it's borrowing from others experiences. And I guess, that is what's key - experiences. We can only paint what we know. We may be stimulated by other images, we may savior the fact that these other images may arouse or challenge us, but we have to accept the fact that we can only do what we know.

I think excitement sometimes takes a hold of us. Excitement that makes us believe that alien experiences are our own. But I think the answer, my answer, is to go back to basics, to reflect upon the simplest things, and more importantly, to solve them in a simple manner. Because in art, at least in my eyes, as complex as a painting may be, it's essence should be simple.

Honesty is horribly humbling.

(Glenn Ligon image btw...)



Here's an update on a few of the paintings I had previously shown. Props to my students who helped me in turning a nice but comfortably safe grey painting into a more exciting grey-pink one. It's funny how I try and teach them to be fearless and sometimes I'm apprehensive with my own work . Thank god I have them around to prevent my brain from becoming stagnant.


Grey Hare

This was initially going to be an underpainting... and for some reason it just begged to be kept as a grey painting. I was a bit unsure of what was going to happen with the color, so I'm glad I kind of acknowledged that the image was working as a grisaille. It's not a Black and White painting, but a Grey painting... I'm not sure if that makes sense, but it kind of does in my head. 

Not done yet, but very happy with the results so far... (sorry about the glare... but it's a WIP)

Her Bunnies and Hares

(Bunnies are obvious reference to Cecily Brown... love her.)


Figuring things out

I've said it before... At the very core, I'm an illustrator. For some reason I feel illustrators, who even though sometimes work within very strict parameters, are capable of portraying the way they look at the world in a more direct, sensitive and poignant manner. In my head (lets not forget that I'm in no way stating absolute truths) illustrations are about the immediacy of how images are digested. I can tell in a split second if I'm attracted to an image or not.

Whenever I'm working on something that has to do with gallery clients, it's clear that the painting has a very specific commercial objective. I have to work within the visual "rules" that I've created for myself that have, in turn, generated a market. When people are interested in my work, they expect it to look a certain way, to feel a certain way, to be consistent with other works that they felt were exemplary of what I can do. And to be honest, I'm fine working within those expectations, but sometimes, I feel I have to indulge on something I revel in.


And there's nothing that satisfies me more than putting the illustrator's hat on, and delve into acts solely dictated by whims. See, when I paint, I'm engaged in this serious act  where I question everything I do, where reason tries to dominate my decisions and I'm taken to a place where I usually learn a ton of things about myself, but where the painting process feels sluggishly laborious.

When I think about illustrating, I just paint and react to what I paint. It's quick paced, intense, and most importantly, fun. I looooovvveeee when painting is fun. It can be such a drag at times, that when you actually enjoy what you're doing, painting seems like the best thing on earth.

So, to make a long and somewhat existential story short, I've decided to let the world of illustration slowly creep in and infect my paintings.

These two are in different stages. The one with the chair, which is titled Rapunzel is done, although I have to put a matte varnish so it doesn't glare ( I HATE glare), and the one with my dad as a Frazetta tiger is finding its way...  Hope you guys like 'em.