I don’t like elementary school much because in books letters jump around or reverse themselves, and my friends read faster and get better grades and that’s okay, but I don’t want to flunk so I go to teachers and say, “Can I do extra credit projects?”
“I’ll turn in some drawings and find some objects and put them together and make it artistic.”
Fortunately, they usually say okay and like my work enough to give me C-plusses or B-minuses for their classes, and that’s how it begins along with help from my mom who’s an artist.
At Encina High School in Sacramento I’m lucky they have a great art department. Gary Pruner’s one of my teachers. He paints very colorful and realistic pop art paintings. A lot of the students also take drama but I don’t want to and think they don’t take me seriously. I don’t have time for drama because I’m skiing more than a hundred days a year, often with my dad, and when not on the slopes I’m painting and making things from ceramics and other materials because I want to make my living as an artist. When I’m fifteen, in 1966, I enter a giant plaster Coke bottle in the State Fair and win a prize. At seventeen I first show my paintings in a group exhibition in a little San Francisco gallery no longer there. I’m encouraged by all this activity and think I’m building a foundation.
From high school I go to the San Francisco Art Institute and get a bachelor’s degree and then move to San Jose State and earn my master’s when I’m only twenty-three. Maybe I should’ve waited until I’m more mature because when I go to New York they tell me I’m too young. I don’t worry too much since I return to California in the mid-seventies and keep working and entering group exhibitions around the Bay Area and a few years later start getting in group shows in Los Angeles, and soon I start teaching at some art schools. But I don’t want to compete forty to fifty hours a week against guys who teach and nothing else. I’m determined to earn my way making art. Some people don’t like it. They frown upon the financial aspects of art. I tell them if you want to paint full-time, you’ve got to sell. It’s in the eighties and a good time because painting in the United States is taking off after more than a decade of people saying painting’s dead.
I’m selling quite a few works but not earning much, and still teaching at around age forty when the William Turner Gallery in L.A. gives me my first solo exhibition. I ask Bill Turner what he’ll charge for the paintings, and he says three or four thousand. I’m amazed. And since sales are good I can usually raise my prices every year. I buy a house in Venice, which is a pretty cool place twenty-five years ago, and build a large studio.
I need space because my paintings are large, about four-feet square or larger. They’re like walls. I paint faces and figures and put papers and pictures on top of them and then paint some more to make collages. For my exhibition Here Comes the Sun, this July at Caldwell Snyder in San Francisco, I paint two bikini-clad women by a swimming pool in a pop style influenced by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein but presented my way. I portray a young lady diving into blue sea churning white in her wake. I paint a lovely woman clad in a one-piece bathing suit during the Eisenhower years. I present a gorgeous lady smiling red-lipped after surfacing in an azure pool. In another work I add a large target next to a buxom woman. I paint the graceful back of a swimming-capped lady who can only be beautiful. I offer an iconic sixties pop lady, red-lipped and yellow-haired, next to a big round sign signaling OK. There’s a lot more and not only women but I don’t want to give everything away. Come and have a look.
How much do my paintings cost? They go for twenty to forty thousand each. It’s hard to say how long each painting takes to make because I’m usually working on several at a time. It’s like making a movie. I have finish dates six or seven months out, and I need twelve to fifteen paintings for most of my exhibitions. I’ve got this show in San Francisco, and another in New York this summer, and I also show in Europe as well as the Turner Gallery in L.A. Sometimes collectors commission me for pieces, too. I’m proud of what I’ve done but tell people not to compliment me too much. I just consider myself a solid AAA guy.
After selling all my California real estate, my wife and I moved to Austin, Texas for a few years and for the last few have been living in East Hampton, Long Island. I’ve added a large studio to my home, and I surf a lot when I’m not painting, and also enjoy going into New York to look at art. I know guys who sell their paintings for about a million each. Julian Schnabel, for example. He’s a very creative guy, also makes movies, and lives in a pink seven-story Italian villa in Greenwich Village. I probably would’ve moved to New York if I could’ve gotten the studio I wanted in Tribeca, but that was five million. I think we’ll be moving back to California, anyway, probably around Petaluma, about an hour north of San Francisco. I miss my friends.