I am a 76-year-old retired pediatrician and medical school professor. Other than some art classes as a kid, I’ve had no formal art training.
For many years, while attending medical conferences or committee meetings, I “doodled” on napkins, scrap paper, and Styrofoam cups. I would enter a light trance state, intermittently focused on the speaker and my drawing. I’m sure some people thought it was strange for me to be drawing during a lecture or meeting, but I once read that you remember more if you doodle. I know I do.
I’ve labeled many of the doodles with the lecture topic or the name of the committee. As far as I can tell, most of the time there is absolutely no connection between the topic and my drawing. Maybe some people will want to try to find a connection, but they shouldn’t waste much time trying to figure out what I was thinking…..The whole advantage of the trance state for me is that I’m not thinking very much.
I drew everything free-hand. Often the work started out as a square or rectangular outline….Then hard-edge shapes and designs seemed to appear from nowhere to fill the defined space. One layer fell upon another, with irregular interlocking geometries growing uncontrolled from the paper and the previously drawn shapes. On some days, the developing forms had a 3D perspective, commonly cubes or solid polygons… rarely, spheres and eggs.
Throughout the process, surfaces became covered with shading and multiple, elaborate, repetitive patterns. I call the process a subconscious construction…layer after layer and piece after piece being added …. none of which was planned at the beginning. At the conclusion of the process, I was often surprised at what I saw on the paper and wondered how it got there.
Constructing the Constructions: In 2017, I began volunteering at the Arizona Science Center where they have a maker space called CREATE. It washere that I first saw a laser cutter and immediately thought that this twenty-first century technology would enable me to create objects using the shapes and designs from my Subconscious Constructions. My pieces are designed on a laptop computer using Corel Draw Graphics Suite. It takes several hours to get the plans right, but once the plan is sent to the laser cutter, things happen fast. The laser beam moves back and forth, smoothly, and steadily over the material in an exciting, almost hypnotic, process that is enhanced by the noise of loud exhaust fans and the sweet smell of the burning wood.
Later Work: In 2018, I reconnected with an old college fraternity brother. He is a physician and an accomplished artist, so I asked him to look at my work. He said he thought my Subconscious Constructions pieces were interesting, but he encouraged me to “put more of myself” into my work. So, I began by designing and laser cutting self-portraits and portraits of family members. These pieces are constructed from 3 thin sheets of plywood: The front layer is cutout text, the middle layer is a stencil of the subject’s face, and the back layer is painted black. Most of the time, I leave the rest of the piece unpainted to show the grain of the wood. Unlike painting, where one substance is applied to another, much of my work involves removing material to create an image. The wood grain in the remaining material emphasizes that the image is emanating from nature and natural materials. Wood grain is very important in all my recent work.
My parents owned a dry cleaning business and I grew up often helping out in their store. Again, to try to “get more of myself” into my work, I created images of several items of clothing. Although wood is solid, my goal is to make it look like it flows and folds like fabric material. The wood grain brings out that incongruity.
In 2019, I moved on to tackling topical themes with my laser cut art. These include pieces about global climate change, immigration, gun violence, the opioid crisis, and homelessness. The most developed of these themes is the homeless series with several images of a homeless man. These pieces are simply a collection of shapes of laser cut plywood, glued together in layers to create an image. No paint is applied. The image is enhanced by the deep shadows from the layering and from the contrast created by the vertically and horizontally arranged wood grain. My goal with these “topical” pieces is to make people think, if just for a few seconds, about those issues that exist in our country about which we should be talking and coming together as a society to solve.