Style Jumping: the Beatles White Album

I recently bought the newly released digitally remastered Beatles box set, and I was reminded of the character Kay in the movie Men in Black. When Kay, played by Tommy Lee Jones, acquires advanced alien recording technology, his only reaction is: “…guess I’ll have to buy the White Album again.” The White Album was always my favorite Beatle album, and it really holds up in the new remix. I was listening to it while I was painting a few days ago, and it occurred to me that the White Album provides a good analogy for one of the most common questions I get about my artwork: why do I employ various painting techniques and styles, even within a series? In the Divine Beauty series for instance, I began with an almost naive approach, and gradually moved toward stylized realism. At times I reference illustration, Medieval art, the late Renaissance, and with the most recent work (to be added online soon) pop/baroque.

So why do I do this? The short answer is, because that’s what I do. Underlying each of my painting series is a conceptual framework that I adhere to pretty tightly. That’s the constant. From there, I explore different approaches, often referencing historical painting styles, because my work is always at least partly about the act of painting itself. In the White Album the Beatles bounce between light pop, blazing heavy metal, ragtime, dance-hall music, show tunes, wistful ballads, classical chamber music, and scorching blues. Inspired by Yoko Ono, John even contributes a little John Cage-like sound art with Revolution #9 (which I actually like). Some music critics complained about this diversity, but I think the album is so good precisely because it jumps from style to style. It’s also ranked by most sources as one of the best albums of the twentieth century.

Using diverse painting styles in my art is like the Beatles using various music styles in the White Album. Except I have a unifying theme. So unifying in fact, that exhibiting single pieces from a series often feels inappropriate, like they’re fragments of an unapparent greater whole. In myResearch and Development series, I took this idea to the limit with a body of work that intentionally appeared to be done by a variety of artists from different periods.

There’s another factor at play here too. To illustrate, imagine you discover the best food ever; let’s call it Creplaque. Now imagine that for a couple years Creplaque is all you eat. No matter how good it originally tasted, you’ll eventually grow to hate Creplaque. That’s how I would feel confined to a single painting style. The closest I ever came was in the Paintings of Pictures of People with Paintings series, and that wasn’t easy. Having said that, I really don’t think there’s as wide a range in my work as people sometimes think. It’s mostly figurative, nearly always with a flattened picture plane in which negative space functions as an abstract counterpoint to the figures. I usually employ a limited palette, rarely more than four colors, white, and black.