October 17th, 2012

1. Your specialty is painting tight alleyways and the undiscovered areas of Europe. How do you decide upon a subject and what about the darkness appeals to you?

Wow, great question.  The show I’m doing in December at the Gallery MAR explores this theme.  I wish I could answer this–really answer it–meaning I know that I see things differently, and if I knew why, it would probably help me become a more balanced person.  I know that it is always the unseen face, the person who has turned away, the love that is gone and the last light, the sounds of footsteps echoing on stone at night in an alley in Venice, which haunts me and moves my soul.  I also love the mystery of night, the softness, the warmth, sometimes the loneliness of the night.  I love the sounds of the night in the city.
2. You have famously said that you don’t have any typical art education. Do you consider yourself an “outsider artist”? What/whom has given you your greatest art instruction?

I actually have no formal training.  None.  I am fairly certain I am not an outsider artist, though I try hard to insulate myself from the “real” world of artists today.  I don’t enter shows anymore.  I don’t read any current magazines.  What inspires me is that which is within me, what it is I have to say.  I believe painting is a language, and that we have to master our own voice in this foreign world.  My greatest instructors and sources of inspiration are painters, and most of them are long gone.  They live in homes and in museums, and I visit them as often as I can; I have stood before a [John Singer] Sargent painting in the Met off and on for the last 15 years.  It always speaks to me. [Winslow] Homer’s watercolors leave me longing for his skill in this impossible medium.  I have wept before a painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as I have before a tree with orange leaves during a fall sunset.

3. Do you work strictly from photos, or do you elaborate your scenes?

When I first started painting, I worked from life only.  Still life and figure work, and then plein air.  After about two years I started to make progress.  Within 3 years I was selling a lot of work.  My prices were very low; I would often paint two landscapes in one day.  I still paint from life regularly, but about 7 years ago I went to Rome after suffering a personal loss,  and even though I took my easel, I only produced a couple of paintings there.  I had photos on film and went back to look at them.  I used those photos, much as I do today.  I only paint scenes I have witnessed personally.  I have a very strong memory of color and places.  I use the photos as reference.  Meaning, I do not paint photos, but rather I paint ideas and thoughts.  I put things in, take things out, and rearrange scenes.
4. Any favorite subjects or pieces from the past?

Subjects are so many; Italy, France, Europe, Ireland, water, an old man walking home,  a beautiful woman’s heels clicking on old stones, smoke rising against the sky in evening.  I have painted and sold an uncountable number of paintings, yet I remember almost all of them.  I find that strange and I can not explain it.  Sometimes I see them so clearly– where I was standing, the feel of the sun, the cold.  I remember the brushstrokes. They feel like memories.  And I miss many of them.  Some of them were masterpieces that I don’t know how I did, or how to ever do again.  I own little of my own work.
5. Collectors often derive their own stories from each piece– do you set out with a story or idea about the person, when you paint figures?

What a great, insightful question.  I always have a story in my mind.  One show a couple years ago was a whole story, a life of the people in the villages of Cinque Terre.  I imagined Antony the fisherman coming in late.  The old woman with a cane alone after her family had moved to Milan.  The bartender I got to know.  They are all a story.  What interests me is that the collectors have often told me their own story of a painting and it may have nothing to do with my thoughts, but I never correct them, never tell them what I “meant,” for I have come to realize that the scene inside the painting is their story.  The greatest compliment paid to me is when someone says, “I remember being there, the sounds of the footsteps, the tower off in the distance,” even if it is only in their minds.

6. What areas do you dream about traveling to, in order to find new painting inspiration?

I often ask people at shows to recommend places.  That has worked for me.  But I also try to always keep my mind, my eye, and my ear open for a new journey.

7. What can we expect in this new show “Here and Abroad II” from George Bodine?

I have thought a lot about what I wanted to say in this show.  I realized from my last show centered in Ireland that many of the paintings were horizontal in nature.  I wondered about this, and began to wonder also how my mind works when I look at a scene.  I decided this show would be about vision, meaning how our eye works when we see–really see–a scene, and what moves me.

Thank you, George Bodine, for your insights into your work!