I paint landscapes mostly, pictures of mountains and valleys, rocks and trees and big drippy skies. I use a lot of color – I’m inspired by African textiles and Hockney landscapes and Huichol yarn paintings and Colorform toy sets.
All of which is a big surprise to me – I never meant to be a colorful landscape painter. I was a writer and illustrator who only started painting seriously after moving to Ojai a few years ago. My first subjects were crowds, scenes of protest marches that grew out the illustrations for my book “Good Trouble: Lessons from the Civil Rights Playbook.” In those pictures of bodies forming big abstract patterns, I was trying to capture the feeling of being in a group gathered around a higher purpose. I was also, it only occurred to me after many months and many paintings, using art to fill a more personal need (isn’t that always the case?). It was the height of the pandemic and like so many of us, I felt isolated and lonely and terrified at the state of the world. I craved crowds. I was like a cartoon man crawling across a desert, drawing pictures of pitchers of cold water.
At a certain point I switched from people to places. I can tell you precisely when that happened – it was a bright early summer morning and I was sitting in my studio, looking out the barn doors at an enormous outcropping of pricky pear cactus. In a flash, heads and bodies appeared in the shapes, a whole gathering right outside my door.
The cacti painting I made that morning was only so-so, but I was off to the races, chasing scenes and panoramas and shapes and colors from walks and hikes and travels around Ojai and the surrounding wilderness. The work has gone from flat and graphic to layered and scratchy and abstractly patterned. I try to let the pictures tell me what they want and get out of the way. There’s an energy and spirit in this place, as tangible and powerful as the feeling you get amid crowds of people raising their voices together. It’s a simultaneous feeling of awe and humility, of togetherness and singularity, of personal insignificance and limitless possibility.
The landscape contains it all, and more. I’m here to tell you, in words and pictures: the vortex is real.