Why I Paint What I Paint

Sometimes it’s easier to just write about what I’m painting about than actually write some bullshit artist statement. Here’s what boxing, bullfighting, rodeo clowns, sideshows and carnivals mean to me. Hold on to your pants, this could get wordy.

So yeah, people ask about my subject matter – rodeo clowns, sideshows, carnivals. It all started a few years ago as I was coming out of a painting slump of sorts. I had been painting a series of boxing paintings. Starved for any reason to paint, I somehow linked them to play off film noir’s use of boxing photographs. In the movies, they became a device beefing characters up with masculinity. With this baggage in tow, I also enjoyed painting two opposing forms and having definite subjects and backgrounds.

souvenir from Barcelona, 2001

The Early Stuff

These boxing paintings led to a series of matadors. I used a fairly specific and restricted specialized palette, relying on some colors I don’t normally use. (Indian red!) The paintings themselves weren’t big departures from the boxing series, they still featured two opposing forces, but emphasized the energy and movement of a bullfight. They also plugged into the historical use of bullfighting in art. The graceful matador, pirouetting around the charging mass of fury and danger in the form of the bull.

I went to a bullfight in Barcelona once. It was mucho aburrido. All the overly romanticized themes of man vs nature, etc were replaced with a lifeless reproduction. The matadors went through the motions, the bulls even played along. The bulls start to bleed out at the hands of the picadores and banderilleros, who pierce the bull’s neck and back with lances. The bull, tired, hurt, and covered in blood, charges along and runs through the matador’s cape a few times. The element of danger was drastically reduced, and it just became a sad spectacle.

The crowd, sparse and restless (bullfighting was never big in Catalonia, it’s been banned for ages and the old ring stadium is now a shopping center) hemmed and hawed, and saved their loudest outburst to boo a matador from the ring for not being able to end the bull’s misery. The bull had his jugular humanely split by another participant in the ring. The whistling never relented.

Send in the (Rodeo) Clowns

Rodeo Clown

Soon the bullfighting imagery was running its course. But I was locked into the aesthetics and imagery of opposing forces. I also realized I enjoyed painting bulls. I am a Taurus after all, and if bulls were good enough for Picasso, they are good enough for me. The search for imagery resulted in finding rodeo clowns. These fearless guys dressed up as clowns provide distractions for bull riders at rodeos. They literally are the guys who rush in where angels fear to tread. The imagery also made me giggle to see these guys often decked out in star spangled, obnoxious red, white and blue clown outfits. The American flag wrapped around fearless idiots who probably symbolize America’s better aspects (a foolhardy bravery with good intentions) better than any white trash shithead wearing an American flag shirt drinking Budweiser and bitching about ‘those people’ while launching fireworks at their friends on the Fourth of July.

So with all the imagery set – still dealing with opposing forces, bulls, and now the weight of the red, white and blue, I felt primed to run through a series of new works that reflected today’s society. I was happy to show off the current out of control nature of America right now with my little rodeo clowns jumping right into the fray without a thought in their heads.

Politics is awful, overt political art is even worse. Does anybody actually give a single fuck about what Jim Carey paints? What do you feel when you see this fucktard’s work? I’ve written about art and politics before, and things haven’t changed. Politics is a brutal business – no matter where you are on the spectrum there will always be somebody to your left calling you a racist, and somebody on your right calling you a socialist.

The Sideshows Become the Show


So with a lot of political slogans and imagery in my work, I then expanded past the rodeo clowns and into sideshows. My work just reflects the current environment. Yelling, screaming, an entire nation devoid of an attention span. Liars, cheats, blowhards, bullies, wimps, idiots and know-it-alls surround everyone of us. I’ve thrown in Morton Downey Jr, kept the bulls and rodeo clowns, added activists, TV audiences, street preachers and any other flamboyant and screaming loud denizen in this country.

Sideshows have always appealed to the basest of desires, and its an apt allegory for today as well. It’s a time of upheaval, for better or worse, and everything is up for grabs. I don’t look at my paintings as political, I just lok at them as a mirror of what’s going on today.


With my upcoming shows, I realize not all of my vision is what people want to see on their living room walls every day of their life. So I dialed back some of the sideshows and American imagery to continue the sideshow motif and expand it into carnivals. I’m excited about these (smaller) paintings. My use of paint is exciting to me, and I get to dial into imagery and just let the joy of painting show through without any deeper themes to rifle through.

The additional carnivals and sideshows I’m currently working on will round out a portion of my upcoming show. Since it will be at an art fair in a tent, it rounds out the motif perfectly.

Even after my upcoming show, I still have more work to do to wrap this all up. I’m planning on having a solo show of this work in November. The finale of this entire project is going to throw everything thrown into a blender to see what sticks. That will result in a few large paintings that will be the culmination of this chain of thought. The possibilities of all of this are rather exciting.

Some random thoughts and memories from carnivals and stuff:

  • At a Game of Chance, my grandmother ‘won’ me an Elvis poster when I was a kid at a carnival in upstate New York. I’m fairly certain she paid the guy so I could have my pick of prizes. I loved that 8″x11″ poster so much. It featured Fat Elvis in his white jumpsuit with a light blue background and a 1/8″ white border around the whole thing. It hung in my room until one move (to dreaded Massachusetts?) when it just disappeared.
  • When I was eight or so, I watched a street performer outside Boston’s Faneuil Hall. He was painted 100% silver, clothes, sunglasses and all, and ‘froze’ into position between dance routines . Anyway, I walked up to him while he was in a frozen position, with a crowd of onlookers circled around us. I moved my hand up and down in front of his eyes to test if he could see and he snapped and yelled, “Get out of here you stupid (n-word)!” I never understood that reaction, but then again, it was Boston…
  • When I was a kid, I always was intrigued by traveling carnivals. Why would they come here? Is it really safe to have all these huge wires running everywhere? But honestly, I really always wondered about the head of the carnival bribing the town to allow them to set up shop for a limited time. How did they never get a visit from a health inspector?
  • One of the best first dates I’ve ever been on started with both of us eating french toast at brunch (Brunch! The irony! I hate brunch!). we talked until we were kicked out of the restaurant, then ended up later back at my place. It was there I showed her the rodeo clowns I was working on and she exhaled deeply, laughed, and said, “When you were painting clowns, I was like ‘nuh-uh!’, but these are not was I was expecting at all!” It was a really wonderful and reassuring start to a fun and healthy relationship.