Shortly after moving to New Mexico in 1991 I took a trip to Canyonlands in southern Utah. Hiking across the flatrock I was struck by the pattern and colors from the minerals in sandstone and limestone. I took photos which I hoped would reflect my immersion and fascination. They didn’t. They remain mementos of the two-day hike, but they don’t show me what I felt. As I leaned closer to the rock surface I actually thought about Rothko and how one is immersed in the fields of his color. And I thought if I could get closer, if I could get my eye right next to the rock, I would see one color isolated, it would not be part of something larger than itself, and then I would know that color. While others scrambled to mesa tops to get the large view, I was squeezing into crannies, losing the sky, feeling the stone against my body. It was a way to see the thing before me without context and so (with apologies to Lawrence Weschler) to forget its name. Then the thing reveals itself.
I cannot say why, but this idea of an immersive focus, of moving in closer and closer as a way to distinguish signal from noise, began to preoccupy me and the preoccupation entered my work as a sort of editing process. I began to ask “is that essential, is that learned, is that a gimmick?” as I painted. My intervention with the materiality of paint became more conscious and reduced. When I describe my work generally, as when asked the dreaded question, “Oh, you’re an artist! What kind of work do you do?,” I prefer to talk about it as reductive rather than monochrome. Not that this probably makes the slightest bit of difference to the person who asked the question. The distinction is a bit precious, I admit. But I also think it’s a clearer reflection of my intent.
Through my work, the immersive focus became integrated into my daily life, and it still is. I have discovered on my daily walks that I can adjust my seeing, kind of like focusing a camera, or like looking at a screen as opposed to looking through a screen. In this way I learn to see the green of that leaf, not leaves.
So, to get to the point, years after that hike in Canyonlands, and continuing to think about the colors of that landscape, I decided to begin again, start painting from scratch as it were, because I had no knowing of color. The color I chose was red. I wanted to know red. So over two years I painted 14 small red paintings. This was when I began to paint monochromes. It began as an experiment, something I never intended would continue, and yet here I am almost 20 years later completely satisfied with one-color painting.