This will be a quick autobiography. Anyone interested in a more thorough reading of my life, can reference my posted biography on artnet.com and/or one of the many interviews that I have given over the past few years. For instance, Brooklyn Rail with Phong Bui, June 2008 (Read Interview); Whitehot Magazine with Tom Butter, August 2009 (Read Interview); “Painted Places and Patronage,” a talk delivered on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Rothko Chapel, February 2011 (Read Interview); and Oral History Interview for Smithsonian Archives of American Art, with Michael Brennan, October 2008 (Read Interview).
There are numerous examples of speech emanating from this horse’s mouth, so this ‘autobiography’ will speak only to the parts that still resonate emotionally for me.
I was born in downtown Los Angeles on August 8, 1941. My parents had both painted which encouraged me to paint and draw. After I had completed college at the University of Southern California, I went to Spain and traveled through France, Italy and Holland – seeing the sort of painting that would form my life’s activities. When I arrived in Venice, I found my draft notice and returned to the U.S. for six months to be in the army. In 1965, I finally made it to New York and began to paint.
There are too many names to recount, too many people who have shared this time. I hope that those of you who are still alive will understand that the omission is the result of fatigue and not some form of forgetting.
I have been a painter at a great time and in a great place. I am lucky to be able to make work and have it be seen just as quickly. My first multi-paneled portable mural was shown at Park Place Gallery in 1966 with sculptor, Mark di Suvero. At that time, I continued to show regularly at galleries (i.e. Dwan Gallery, Los Angeles/New York, Bykert Gallery, New York, Riko Mizuno Gallery, Los Angeles, Texas Gallery, Houston) and museums for the next ten to twelve years. My work was bought by collections and museums, but it was not until 1970 that I was able to begin my work as a fresco muralist. Artist and dear friend, Don Judd generously asked me to make a fresco in his place at 101 Spring Street -- just around the corner from my studio. Since that time, I have tried to make wall paintings wherever possible. Some of the work still exists and some has either been destroyed or is in danger of being ruined. For example: “MoMA fresco,” 1973 – destroyed, “Penzoil fresco,” 1975 – Houston, Texas was moved to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, three related rooms for the exhibition “Rothko, Novros, Marden” have relocated (one room is at the Ft. Worth Museum of Fine Arts and the other two are at the Menil Collection, Houston, Texas), “Old Federal Court House fresco,” 1983-1984—Miami, Florida, and lastly, a solar triptych for the Path Station in Newark, New Jersey in 1983.
During this period I painted many wall projects that are not mentioned in the list, but would like to refer to some pieces (all in danger of disappearing) that I have made over the past twenty years. In 1999, I began making paintings on the windows of the Grande Garage in Winslow, Arizona for my late friend John Gross. Since his passing, I am fearful that the fugitive paintings on glass will soon follow. At about the same time I began making preparatory studies for a boat house that I designed and painted in Middleburgh, New York. This was to be the first structure that incorporated a mural cycle and that followed my own design. However, unfortunately, my design was altered and other social problems made this a very difficult commission to complete but since the project had taken so much of my time and energy, I was able to see it through and the boat house was completed in 2003. I have no way of knowing what has happened to the building or my painted walls since my ‘patron’ and I had a falling out and has refused me access to the site to this day.
The most recent set of wall paintings I made were for the studio of my dear friend, Robert Graham in Venice, California. The studio was designed and built by his son, Stephen during a five year period from 2003 to 2008. Two of the murals were based on paintings that he had wanted but couldn’t have. One of them was a re-making of my destroyed MoMA fresco, another was a version of the imagery I had used for the boat house. The others were invented at Bob’s command, for specific sites in the studio. Now Graham has passed, the studio has been put up for sale and I have no idea what will become of my work. Such is the life of a muralist.
Meanwhile, I am painting some large oil paintings in my studio that are evocations of a painted place I would like to make. I haven’t found the location yet but that will be my next job and if my luck holds, I’ll start to build something in the next couple of years.