So I have thought a lot about this word since a friend asked me to for a discussion group happening later tonight in Raleigh (7pm at Tap Yard on Automative Way). It’s gonna be a whole vibe is what the kids say I think. If you don’t know about Discourse & Dialogue then guess what? Now you do!

Because words are serious, or at least serious Art demands them, I took time prior to having to talk and discuss my ideas on this topic to write my thoughts down, which I’m posting below. Yeah, it’s really an essay. I felt really challenged by the exercise and also really loved the opportunity to put a bunch of links to good content in one place. I hope you guys are here because you are into this stuff. Have at, hope you enjoy, I’ll buy a beer or coffee for anyone that wants to talk about it more. Cheers!

Formalism? Really???

Conventionally (academically) the word “formalism” has very specific meaning: 

“Formalism describes the critical position that the most important aspect of a work of art is its form – the way it is made and its purely visual aspects – rather than its narrative content or its relationship to the visible world.

Formalism as an ethos is to be credited with much of the development of abstract painting- Widewalls has a very good summary of this development and correlates the epistemological grounding of it within the Arts (IE between the visual arts, music and literature). 

As a description of an approach to object-making in the visual arts, “formalism” elicits images of work and words related to the ideas of many artists we classify as Modernist. The Tate (source of the quote above) clarifies that this tendency points towards a culmination rather than a beginning. Most likely, schooled, American artists will think of the second generation of abstract painters (Frankenthaler, Olitski, Poons) who advanced ideas imported from Europe by their predecessors (who valued process and intuition), eschewed gesture and surface and focused on color and shape (form), as well as later artists who followed through on a general reductionist mission for its own sake (Stella, Downing, Kelly et. al.). 

The notion that art could be – was, at its highest level of intended function, only to be- understood “on its own terms” is a distinctly Modernist idea that is very humanist and therefore Euro-centric, by proxy being associated with most of the evils that propelled the dominance and embedded supremacy of Western civilization from the last century (pick one- militarism, Capitalism, racism) and often with good reason. Because of the association of this cause célèbre with the often acerbic and always arrogant Clement Greenberg, formalism as an ethos is out of fashion, to the point that “clembashing” is still an activity that causes practitioners of the modality headaches even today. The contemporary painter Andrea Marie Breiling has commented that she finds herself asking (in the context of wanting viewers to see and experience with purpose) “How could I make work that sucked people in and lifted them to a higher state? A spiritual place itself and not a place of painting for painting.” Tldr- the specter of Modernist formalism is real.

I’ll note here that the larger, meta-cultural question of “what is art” of which formalism is a progeny, also lead to so many investigations which diverged creative activity from not only abstraction (eg Warhol) but from painting itself (eg Duchamp). While formalism begat reductionist tendencies and was certainly in vogue for a non-trivial amount of time, its dominance was not total. In particular those of us who are instructors must be clear with our charges that figurative painters like Jack Levine and Romare Bearden were active and making important art during this era. The conclusion that formalism as a response to the question “what is Art” was either inevitable or the most logical response is just a silly position to take, then, or now.

I found Adam Simon’s recent review on Two Coats of Paint (a legit source of love for painting) of Tom McGlynn’s work enlightening in the context of these considerations. Adam notes that, for the contemporary artist considering reductive forms “these basic shapes are historically weighted signifiers, no longer free of association. One cannot now make a geometric abstract painting without it also being a depiction of a geometric abstract painting.” Shorter- no form used today can be considered bereft of “content.”

It’s also worth noting that most artists who practiced “painting for painting’s sake” (or at least were celebrated by the art critical community for doing so) did so out of a commitment to a broader, cultural mission to create new ways of seeing, suited to a new world that needed to abandon outdated institutions and mores (avant garde anyone?). I would argue the cultural context of this activity is definitely part of its content, even if it was not to be considered primary. 

The forms used in this work were quite often personal, too- one need only look as far as Wikipedia to read about the influence that surrealism (a movement centered on unlocking and releasing the subconscious) had on Abstract Expressionism vis’a’vis Robert Motherwell.

One of the distinctions I am quite interested in, as a way to understand artists who leverage formalism as either a generative strategy or an ends, is exemplified by the North Carolina-born painter William T. Williams. WTW is known for his process-based approach to painting that engages motifs drawn from personal memory and cultural narrative to create non-referential, abstract compositions. He is known to have said that “my art is about my experience which, by nature, makes it about other people’s experience . . . I’m trying to evoke human response. My demographic is the human arena. I hope my work is about celebration, about an affirmation of life in the face of adversity, to reaffirm that we’re human, that we’re alive, that we can celebrate existence.” 

I think this illustrates a very humanist and therefore Modernist tendency within William’s oeuvre. The Concrete Art movement, as described by the historian Werner Hartmann in this excellent Wikipedia article, summarized their ethos thusly- “Art should endeavour to give form to life itself.” BTW, I’d also be remiss if I mentioned Williams and didn’t nod to an amazing talk he gave with Sam Gilliam (RIP) and Melvin Edwards in 2010.

For this writer, I find the phenomenological musings of Robert Irwin of greatest influence on my approach to making work which seeks to engage the imagined viewer in a sense experience distinct of narrative and subject. This is possible or at least conceivable for Irwin, and myself, because of bracketingHe also elevates questioning in his practice (for this creative, questioning- probing a form or strategy until it reveals a direction or intention- is also central).

If a (revised? reformed?) formalist strategy can exist in 2023, I think it’s clear it isn’t in the way that we are taught to use the word in academia**. If there is an example of what practice which centers the “language” of color and shape looks like I would offer it is Stanley Whitney’s color-rific practice, with his strategy of “following the painting.” James Sienna’s ongoing modus as a developing theme also comes to mind.

**It’s worth considering what Saul Ostrow wrote about Jeremy Gilbert Rolfe’s Paintings from 2009 to 2022 at David Richard

Jason Stopa hints as well that there is a possibility for a sub-set of the activity of painting to exist in a way that allows space for contemplation which is sort of parallel to “traditional” formalism- he calls it “self-reference.” He also sees the act of making the work as a reference to the world of ideas because the context of the activity is our very non-utopian society (I think this is very much like the way Williams approached painting). In an Instagram post (of all places) he dropped this gem (in reference to his exhibition Joy Labyrinth for which Raphael Rubenstein penned the catalog essay): “I see self-reflexiveness in painting as a means toward criticality. The utopian architecture I’m referencing in these paintings is about the impossibility to create ideal conditions, but our pursuit of idealism persists nonetheless.” 

I really love the group discussion Jason put together just before the start of the pandemic with Katherine Bradford, Sharon Butler, Thomas Micchelli, and Craig Stockwell, who has this wonderful quote: “When things get real and very difficult, I need to turn to something that is sustaining. I think painting in all its forms is remarkably engaging as a thoughtful activity, as a thoughtful and physical activity. Personally, to go to the studio and have the experience of making, spending hours in this thought process, and responding to difficulties, seems so small in certain way, but it’s incredibly sustaining in a difficult time.” I don’t think Craig Stockwell would ever say he paints solely for “paintings’ sake” and I can’t think of anything else to call the impulse he describes other than a belief- faith?- that painting is valid as an activity that centers itself, full stop.

All of these words lead me to this series of thoughts, that are nothing more- or less- than the reason I am comfortable referring to the object-based part of my own practice as “formalist:” primarily, that the activity centers form, line and color; the contemplation and reflection by artist and audience is an intentional activity that elevates and preferences the senses; the act of said contemplation and reflection is a social construct and a subject of philosophical inquiry and therefore can be both distinct of and content of the work itself; and this act of contemplation, bracketed outside of our utilitarian social institutions, is imbued with the very spirit of the human condition and relates by default to identity, to politics, and to the striving of all people for connection and transcendence.


One of the (many) ways my community is awesome is Jean Gray, and one of the ways Jean Gray is awesome is a discussion group she’s recently started, Discourse and Dialogues. And “yes” this article is a form of endorsement, next event is 5/24 for Raleigh folks (and you can put a reminder on your calendar that they meet every 4th Wednesday). FYI, I’ll be leading the discussion this time around as we dig into what formalism can possibly mean in 2023. If you miss it, I will definitely cover the topic in a future update.

As part of participating in this group, I found out about another awesome, new organization in Raleigh that you all should be following, Small School, a new, art-based alternative educational platform. Primarily focused on lectures/discussions to start, the plan is to offer… more, down the road. Check out their site, sign up for their list, and show up for an artist talk. The one I attended with Killeen Hanson and Leslie Vigeant was amaze balls- big surprise that it drew me in with a title like How Do We Pay Attention to What We’re Paying Attention To?

Through the Discourse and Dialogues discussion group, and participation by the Small School staff, I learned about Akiko Busch, the next visiting artist, who is also an author of several books, including How to Disappear. I’m getting there… the book touches on this study by Paul K Piff and others that explores “awe” as an “emotional response to perceptually vast stimuli that defy one’s accustomed frame of reference in some domain” (generally, in specifically, experience as part of viewing art) and pro-social behavior. I’m just now beginning to dig in on this work (for the ;tldr crowd def click on the hyperlink to the recording of Paul’s talk) but the high-level take-away as the kids say these days is that the study is actual, hard science, focused on “awe felt during experiences with religion and spirituality, nature, art, and music” which often centers upon two themes “the feeling of being diminished in the presence of something greater than the self, and the motivation to be good to others.



This is a fun word to try to write about on my Art blog because we use this word all. the. time. in the business world. I’m not sure if it has a lot of meaning inside the Art world. My inclination is to say “I’m pivoting away from drawing” and hope that lands.

Regular readers know that at the beginning of the year I picked up Oblique Strategies, thinking (after learning about the project which is part of the musician Brian Eon’s visual art practice) it would fun to “draw my may” through all 100+ cards. I definitely benefitted from the activity of drawing every day. I also found I was inevitably forcing my drawing preferences (isometric cubes) into an exercise that was really meant to be a catalyst for writer’s block. I did benefit from being required to think about “why” as I began to draw I’m sure, and as an abstractionist I of course loved the unplanned element of getting an unknown prompt and responding to it. And every once in a while there were gems like below, which I really did take as a sign that there wasn’t a good conceptual reason to resist my natural drawing instincts.

And, I got some good drawings out the process, all the evidence once should need that there’s not need to make things harder than they need to be.

As time rolled on, around 70 drawings in, I began to think that maybe the exercise of forcing my practice into this kind of construct wouldn’t be as productive as, say, taking the good compositions and working on them some more as, you know, paintings. I had tried some smaller scale paintings recently (below) and that smaller scale seemed liked the first place to start.

So I picked 3 of the compositions (I had already pulled a few aside as TBC material) and am in the process of translating both compositions (via projector of course) and application strategies into some smaller scale paintings. I’ll continue to look for the right polygons to enclose them as I have with recent paintings (ergo the tape around the sketches visible in 2 of the images below).


I’ve thought about the observation below several times since first seeing it on the Instagrams, as I have a good bit of loathing for academics who get hung-up on needing to be recognized as post-modern. Interestingly, I first saw the post right after giving the final lecture for my color class recently. In it, I covered artists who make color their primary subject. I started by telling them the story of Western Art that we were all taught (the story, and that it is one- which Mr Saltz points to in his comment below his repost of a Tweet). Art moves “forward.” As I’ve noted, I don’t hold to the notion that Art has anywhere to go. AND, I am sensitive to the reality that I feel, about the moment that is 2023, probably very similar to many creatives and intellectuals we would label Modernist, that I am living in a moment that necessitates change and that our past socio-economic systems and norms will not serve in the world as it is developing. One can move toward a goal without having to call the direction of movement “forward” or note it as “linear,” or attribute casualty or necessity for the movement. BTW, Jerry’s last book Art is Life is nice collection of essays from several decades.

I mentioned in my last post that I had accomplished- moved “toward”- my goal of curating an exhibit. ExtraSpectral is now open to the public, at the Truist Gallery which is on the 1st floor of the Durham Art Council building (but operated by Durham Art Guild) at 120 Morris St in downtown Durham- until June 6. Public hours are Monday – Saturday, 9:00AM-9:00PM, and Sundays, 1:00PM-6:00PM. BTW, a couple of the artists gave a talk during a soft opening which you can view on YouTube. I learned quite a bit from the process, as hoped.

I am also moving toward a large, finished painting that has been in progress for a minute, if one considers it’s effectively the 3rd iteration of an idea.


So I will be the first to grant that in this day and age creatives sometimes refer to curating in the context of their Instagram feed. I don’t know if my feed comes off as “curated” and I am very intentional about it. I post every 4 days (3 posts) with every third one featuring other creatives.

Curating also obviously refers to organizing an exhibition. When I first began studying art in an academic setting, this activity was reserved for art historians and professionals involved in the critical discourse. I feel like that has shifted over the last decade, possibly sooner (which I wouldn’t know because of the long break I took in practicing) towards artists themselves organizing and curating exhibits.

I got back into this game to create culture- to not only make but teach about, talk about and write about creative activity that makes this life more. No there’s not a word missing in that sentence. This reason and the general context I outlined above is why I made a commitment to trying my hand at curating in 2023, and I was fortunate to have a proposal accepted by the Durham Art Guild for a show this spring, which is titled Extra Spectral.

Extra-spectral colors cannot be evoked with a single wavelength of light, rather, they can only be seen and created by a combination of them, so you won’t see them in the fantastical prismic illusion we call a rainbow. The exhibit highlights artists Jane Cheek, Jerstin Crosby, Zach Storm, Tonya Solley Thornton and Leif Zikade. All five ask color to play a primary role in drawing audiences into their work, colors in most cases that are “extra” in the recent, common parlance. This is where their commonality ends.

There is a pre-opening and artist talk on 4/6 that you can register to attend and otherwise I hope to see many of you on Third Friday in Durham (gallery will keep normal hours including recognizing Monday the high holy day of museums by being closed).

BTW, I was also successful as part of this goal in getting another show programmed at several venues, this one including my work. Open Source will open this summer at LUMP project space and Sertoma Art Center.


Trying to pay attention is part of my practiceto the work, to the art world, to the overlap of late capitalism with it all. Plenty of times, the universe serves me up something and occasionally my practice includes words, too, so, here we are.

Recently I was reading an article one of my professional contacts posted on LinkedIn from Harvard Business Review about the value of changing how you are looking at things as a catalyst for thinking differently (I know, right- of course I’m clicking on that topic). In it Adam Brandenburger notes, of thinking differently, that it can be driven by learning to see differently, which hooked me immediately because of my personal journey and that word contradiction I’m always on about.

The thrust of the story is about people like Robert Taylor, who invented Softsoap after he saw how goopy bar soap became after a few uses, the main point being that “we can think of the effort not just to think differently, but also to see differently, as a way of countering our built-in tendency to habituate, to sink in to the familiar way of seeing and experiencing. One way in which great artists, entrepreneurs, and creators of all kinds come up with the insights that enable them to change the world is that, very literally, they do not see the way most of us do. Their methods teach us that by seeing differently, we can end up seeing what no one else has yet seen. This is how the future is built.”

(Ideas and discussion of what building and specifically building the/a future which were already developing in my mind aside, stay tuned…) I. Love. This, and not because I’m an entrepreneur or buy into America’s cult of personality around them. The article really got me thinking about habituation as it pertains to the visual arts (it certainly is well-trodden territory in the sciences), at least for creatives that spend time thinking about how their work is physically perceived by the audience (I would argue that my maximalist “remixes” are anti-habituation). It appears the Architectual (A)cademy has given this topic some attention but the Art critical community? Guess the thing I got served is the motivation to move from passive observation to active engagement…

Drawing inspiration

So I’ve been drawing a bit more lately. I know I’m not the only artist to center. drawing in their practice, and I think there will be a couple of bodies of work that will spin off of this addition to my practice including more drawings that are finished works, something I haven’t done since 2019, example in last image.

Interestingly, I’m also seeing some of the lessons I learned from my most recent painting series (example in first image) in my drawing approach. I usually incorporate a “pattern” of 3 different, alternating tones that never touch themselves. In these series of small paintings, I abandoned the limitation of 3 tones entirely, which really flattened out the work and creates a nice dynamic with the implication of rendered space created by default when one draws a “solid” shape.

Another theme that has appeared in my paintings over the the last few years that’s found its way into the drawings is variation in surface reflectance, so the appearance of tones change as you move around a work (last row are examples of using flat, carbon black and shiny, graphite grey to get this effect).

One other material that I have rediscovered recently is pastels. The left image below is a drawing I did that is the reason I began drawing my way through Oblique Strategies when I was feeling stuck. I hope the reader will agree that the color in this piece was worth exploring as a painting study (last row) that I’m pleased to report has ended, and there’s now a 5′ x 5′ piece of canvas stapled to the wall of my studio, ready for me to embark on a larger piece. I’m happy with the framework I’ve built for this one- lots of room to make in-the-moment decisions- and the composition will happen the way much good abstraction does, by stepping up to a blank canvas and being present in the moment. I will do the drawing using the overhead projector but only so that I can make slight tweaks to the size of the cubes, by changing the distance between the projector and the wall) if I desire.

So about contradiction…

The universe served me up some enlightenment this week. Well, maybe that’s a bit much. I did get the opportunity to re-realize the importance of remembering that two contradictory things can simultaneously be true.

Prominent NC art gallery Hodges Taylor has apparently worked really hard to get 3 commissions contracted and completed for the opening of Duke Energy’s newest building in uptown Charlotte.

The work looks ah-mazing. As an artist whose practice is not full time I am admittedly envious of creatives that have the capacity (because of their hard work, and in this case, their gallerists’) to take on work of this scale. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Luftwerk‘s installation, I’ve been following their practice through the ‘Grams for a bit now.


See that word? It’s important- specifically, it’s there instead of “but.” 

The work, according to the post above, was commissioned to celebrate the city of Charlotte and Duke Energy’s “clean energy mission.” I’ve spent two decades of my life working- professionally-on the clean power revolution. I’ve spent a lot of time in close contact with the impacts of much of what Duke Energy does and you know what?

Fuck Duke Energy. Seriously.

Clean energy mission? Duke has never built a single kilowatt of renewable generation in or for North Carolina that they weren’t mandated to by our state legislature. The amount of work that goes into getting legislation that will force them to use or buy renewable generation is herculean- and if you live in NC, they are using YOUR RATE PAYMENTS to fight against any change to their business model. I was on the staff of the North Carolina Energy Office in the early ‘oughts when a coalition of stakeholders worked to pass our state’s first Renewable Portfolio Standard under Senate Bill 3. Later in my career after coming over to the dark side (IE working in the private sector) I was fortunate enough to be involved in the stakeholder process behind Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 80, which really created our state’s carbon obligations. Most of the good stuff in this bill became part of a 2021 piece of legislation, HB 951 (which further expands on some of the great programs in 2017’s HB589– both of these bills took immense lobbying to fend off efforts by Duke to crush them). Being in that process and seeing the amount of money and effort Duke was spending to sabotage it all was nauseating. And btw- that 2021 legislation is a real piece of work… Duke basically got the ability to set rates for 5 year periods with no changes allowed and no oversight. What could go wrong?


I don’t know the owners of Hodges Taylor personally. I do know they’ve got a real track record of picking art, which means they’re good at it, and I wish them continued success at it. Going to Hodges Taylor during Art crawls when I was in art school at UNC Charlotte (when it was downtown) was a real treat- it was the “big time” gallery, the place we art students would gawk at our elders and (hopefully, eventually) peers who had “made it.” And I’d be willing to bet the gallery got their artists paid for these commissions. This is all great and makes my heart happy. IE, this blog is not a drag- I have no ax to grind (other than perhaps with Duke Energy).

Why is “and” (instead of “but”)- thinking important? My hypothesis, which is also at the core of dialectical behavior therapy, is that striving to use it makes truth and honesty possible. When I talk about contradiction- about two seemingly contradictory concepts being simultaneously true- I mean this type of conflict. “The world is far better with this art work in it” and “the source of the check that paid for it is an entity I find utterly distasteful” are most definitely both true and I doubt I have much work to do to convince the reader that they appear to have or be in conflict. We get ourselves into trouble, often, by framing two concepts in ways that makes them seem so diametrically opposed as to clearly be a choice and not an observation of facts (my therapist would say perhaps the biggest part of the challenge is making fact-based statements but now I’m really digressing)

And… one of these two concepts existing doesn’t mean the other can’t, which is another trap we too often let ourselves fall into. So, yeah, I try to look for contradiction and use it as a way to think myself towards truth and honesty. 

BTW, if you want to find out more about just how rotten utilities are and what you can do about it, you should check out the Feb 10 episode of Volts podcast by David Roberts who is one of my mostest favorite climate journalists.


Those of you who read this blog are probably either artists yourselves or know many at least, and so you’ve heard one of us, certainly, talk about “having a practice.” If you don’t know what this means I’ll forewarn you that doing a search on the internets for a definition will take you all kinds of places, and I won’t attempt to be the definitive answer to the “what is a practice” question. I have a practice. It was re-born from a question I asked myself during a turbulent time– effectively what am I leaving this world- to which I answered “if abstract painting matters enough to me that I want it to exist in the future, I have to invest in it by making it, talking about it, looking at it, buying it, teaching about it, and challenging it as a medium and a historical movement.”

For me a practice is about a sum of activities, IE, it’s more than the actions and discipline around making work. For example, showing up; in this case, being at openings for your people. And “your people” are the ones who support you in return, whatever that means. There is a David Hickey quote about forming a club and taking over the Art world that I can’t find on the Internet this morning (and whichever of you I loaned my copy of Air Guitar, please return it.

Teaching is another part of my practice. Since I have full-time employment outside of the Art world, I have the privilege to teach for the love of it as the kids say, I think… This semester I’m teaching Foundations of Color through OLLI at Duke. Honestly I would do this full time if I could- I love teaching color.

Part of having a practice, to me at least, is also continually challenging yourself. In addition to reinvigorating my practice through daily drawing recently, I also took the opportunity this last week to learn about a new printmaking technique- using the foil material in TetraPak cartons as a plate. There are a few images of the results below, my brain is spinning with the possibilities. If you have the opportunity and are local to the Triangle I definitely recommend taking one of Susan Martin’s workshops.


Back to trying to find a word to reflect on as part of an update. Thinking about this one- focus- because the intellectual exercise of drawing my way through Oblique Strategies has already shifted from my last update. After a scattered start I am finding it easier to use the prompts to think my way through my practice of drawing the cubes. I’ve also given the practice some “rules”: 1 drawing per day; pick drawing materials before the prompt; 15 minute time limit; photograph each drawing with the prompt and the music I was listening to while drawing; and journal briefly about the thought process immediately after.

Also, my work got to be in focus for the local scene this last week. I’m so excited by the work I have up at Attic 506, I hope those of you in NC are able to check it out (they are open on second Friday art walks, by appointment and most Saturdays 1-4pm, announced via their IG feed). Time lapse of one of these wall drawings below!

And, action!

So no, I’m not planning to start action painting (although*…). I am excited that a new year is underway. Yes I understand the passage of time and human history aren’t impacted by the construct of a calendar that we pastiche on top of our lived experience, and marking the passage of time, as well as reflecting (see my favs from ’22 post if you haven’t) and looking forward can be meaningful. And there you have it- my ongoing interest in the idea that two ideas which seem to contradict can both be true continues.

I do have a couple of new things in the works. In part based on the last, small body of (small) work that I completed (which I found also influenced by the hard edge work I was making 2 decades ago), as well as having a go with shaped canvases or at least containers (most of which have actually been discarded), I’ve found myself moving towards even more graphic painting elements. In particular, there is a small green and pink and purple study I’ve wanted to revisit. The main shift in direction is and will be rooted in my recent reflection on a specific condition of painting- that an implied light source is important (critical?) to understand the illusion in (a) painting, even in the case of an unnatural, fictitious space or place. I like the contradiction/duality of making work also appear to be a source of light, much the same way the stacking of cubes that rely on and deny gravity can be arresting. In addition, there is a pleasing and engaging duality created by having more than one appearance or set of visual characteristics for a painting, given different lighting. Plus, the need to change the lighting to view a work (turning on a black light, or in the case of photo-phosphorescent work, turning off the light) requires participation by an audience which, I think, emphasizes the experiential element of seeing art. Additionally, there is the duality that black-light art is not typically “high art” and gives a gentle entry point for more audiences (I’m totally good with “that’s cool” from the non-art crowd).

I’ve also started a new, (what I will strive to make a) daily practice of drawing, based on Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies. The end goal of this part of my practice will be some source material for another body of work that will incorporate black light and fluorescent paint. *Right out of the gate though, it looks like trying to open up by responding to word prompts and also to be more “automatic” in my approach to mark-making is going to lead to some quite divergent forms…

Triangle favs from 2022

I am not even sure how to write a sentence that expresses how lucky I feel to live in the Triangle. The community that I have been able to experience here is certainly thing 1- and thing 2 is that the art this community (hopefully some of you all!) has shown this year is fantastic! This list of shows will certainly not be a “best of” and clearly is going to be biased towards non-representational work with a few (I hope) surprising exceptions. Ten seemed like a good number for one of these year-end count-down-type lists.

So first and foremost, Clarence Heywards’s UNSEEN at CAM was hands down the best painting show in the Triangle in 2022 and I will gladly catch you outside if you disagree. Not only was the cavernous, main gallery at CAM the ideal siting for these ginormous works, they have a deft combination of sleek yet unshowy craftsmanship and timely social commentary (BIPOC people shown with green screens for skin so that we can all think about the things we project onto blackness that amount to not actually seeing black people, are you kidding me- brilliant!!!). Yes it isn’t abstraction but awesome is awesome.

The rest of these are in no particular order.

My favorite show at Anchorlight was Mike Geary’s Hidden Entrance. The body of work Mike has made probably straddles a line- are they really abstract, or abstractions (there’s a lot that’s biomorphic going on for sure)? There’s an element of automatism in the work which comes through strong- an obsessive development of forms. While a lot of choices are clearly conscious if you read Mike’s statement for the show, there is (they are?) space which Mike creates for impulse and spontaneity, which I vibe with.

Lump exhibited a fantastic if small group of paintings by Zach Storm, along with many of his drawings, called Say What You See. Similar to Mike, I picked up a strong surrealist influence in Zach’s work, commenting to a friend that they felt like Wolfgang Tilmans had a dream of Yves Tanguy and woke up and decided to be a painter. There’s a world building element too that is utterly fascinating and absorbing to me. Yeah for good painting!

One artist I know for sure utilizes automatic drawing is Jason Lord, who, along with Linda Cato, put together Landmarks at DAG’s Golden Belt space. There was an element of belief in something almost magical that I can’t put my finger on- Cato’s journey being more outward and Lord’s inward. Call it a belief in something… greater which makes it no surprise they’ve both abandoned language and embraced abstraction. File under “pairs nicely.”

Readers will know that I have a relationship with Charlotte Russell Contemporary (being included in Experiments in Form was a personal ’22 highlight for me). Bias aside, Charlotte curated In Proximity back in May, which was an amazing two person show of 2 of the best colorists in the Triangle, Kelly Shepherd Murray and Peter Marin.

Speaking of Peter- Diamante Arts and Cultural Center upgraded their space this year and their game with the selection of Peter as head curator. His first show in their new space was a hit- Rosalía Torres Weiner’s Mi Gente , Un Refleio. I had the pleasure of talking with Rosalía at the opening and her paintings and pallet reflect the energy of her personality.

There is probably no more appropriate venue in Raleigh for a show of Pop Art than 311 gallery, given it is the space in town where commerce and culture collide and the fact that Pop is and should be exactly what it appears to be on the surface. OMG WOW is also perhaps the best show title of any other I saw this year. Perhaps the best part was, with 80 (!) artists, you had to hunt for your favorites- kind of like, well, popular culture!

I think I can speak for all painters in the Triangle when I say we appreciate the shows that Ashlyn Browning curates (she ain’t a bad painter herself) and Color/Form at Block gallery was a certainly a gift. Jerstin Crosby‘s loopy geometry never disappoints and Martha Clippinger regularly unravels (I’m hilarious right?) many of our silly ideas about what is painterly- together, even more fun.

A-Piece A-Part at Artspace is one of the only shows on this list that readers can still get out to see (up till 2-12-23). I do enjoy seeing something I’ve never seen before (I am an American artist after all) and this show delivers. Regina Jestrow’s and Allan Rosenbaum’s delight with materiality makes this a really tactile show.

And last but definitely not least (and up through January 8), Nasher Museum’s Roy Lichtenstein: History in the Making, 1948 – 1960 is the most instructive experience I had in an exhibit this year (fitting for a museum). The story we get is one of a young Roy attempting to find his voice by synthesizing Modernism and the idea of an avant-garde. There’s so much to process and think on- our definitions of Modernism and what it was like to ivnvetigage that epoch as lived experience; to digest European ideas about the relationship of archetype and myth to form and use that energy to transmute the stories Americans tell themselves about who we are; and certainly not least of all, that he did have a period where he made abstraction prior to his Pop brushstrokes.


Since one of the themes in my practice is contradiction, I thought I’d chose a word that can be a noun and a verb. I do pace a lot. I mostly pace during my day job- in the studio, not so much. I think the energy that instigates pacing is a part of the source of my work. The parts of my practice that are contemplative are not done while pacing, however pacing is often useful for contemplating all the things and my practice definitely encompasses a lot of time in thought (as an alternative- this activity is not opposed to action).

Pacing the noun- as in the pacing of my practice- comes to mind because while the core of my practice is making work I find that the many parts of my practice also have to stay “on pace.” This blog- which is a daily practice; networking and expanding opportunities for myself; Instagram (started a new feed btw); and making sure I am teaching when I can (and I am teaching color theory again starting in January). And all of this without “falling off pace” (yes I used to run a lot) with making work.

So what is the ideal pacing (for me)? There isn’t a destination like a condition or state for my practice to occupy… or a timeline to get there (I mean, I already have a practice ffs). And it’s different from momentum. The answer is, I think, in the definition of pacing: the act or result of setting the rate of movement or progress, as of a story, movie, lesson, etc.

So what is the result I’m seeing? When I ask myself that question, I smile: I have work up in public; I am teaching; I am learning what’s involved in proposing and curating exhibits; I’m meeting new people whose work I want to celebrate*; and I’m pushing myself in my studio.

*if you want a good list of NC artists to celebrate start with the book on the top left of the gallery below.


Been trying out giving my update blogs a theme and this is the word that comes to mind today. I hope you’re all reading this (whoever you are) on Friday because day you are reconnecting with family, or friends if the former are not able to part of your day today for whatever reason. I am thankful for all 258 of you, for supporting my journey and making my practice real by seeing it.

One of the things I’m also grateful for is good art writing and critical discourse. I’m a big fan of Two Coats of Paint as readers will know, and this “blogazine” exists due to the immense creative energy of Sharon Butler. You should totally give Sharon’s newest release a listen- a conversation with the insightful Raphael Rubinstein. Their conversation has inspired me to re-read his important essay about a sensibility in the first part of this century which he called at the time Provisional Painting. One of the primary notions he addresses is “the impossibility of painting” and (I think) it relates to the notion I advance with the title of this blog- that Art is dead and we (painters at least) are creating in a time where this is no mission, goal, or destination.

So I wrote recently that I ran into a wall and rather than beat my head on it I let it go. First couple of images below are included because I am reflecting lately on line and edge- focusing on the things that happen as the trapezoids interact. Also some progress shots. I (sort of) war in my mind between the idea that starting a painting from a raw canvas with no sketch can reveal things I wouldn’t discover if I had a set plan, and the idea that this is some grand, heroic gesture which is pretty fraught with historical weight that I don’t wish. Which, is one of the reasons that I talk about the theme of contradiction in my practice (two ideas which can simultaneously be true). “Yes” this practice can lead to unknown and fruitful places AND unpacking the problematic portions of the predominant narratives of Modernism and abstraction generally can be important to how I position myself in society as a creative.

Also, been thinking a *lot* lately of the relationship between developing a system that generates compositions to what Sol Lewit said:

All in your head

We’ve all heard this phrase. Its meaning, generally/culturally, is that some challenge one is experiencing has taken on significance that requires an exaggeration of that challenge’s existential implications. People might also use the phrase “beating yourself up.” I don’t think Artists are immune to this. In fact, I’ll posit in this particular update on my practice that I find a lot of the Art in my Art (my practice) is in my head, or at least takes place in my thoughts. Meaning, there’s an element of making Art (with a capital “A”) that requires one to be in their head, “beating up” an idea or three.

A few things happened since my last update that motivated me to produce this short blog, using words rather than images (“yes,” as you’ve probably guessed, I’m a bit stuck “in my head” and the physical aspects of my practice have slowed down for the moment). So that’s thing number one of course- 1) “beating yourself up” as a creative when work isn’t just pouring out of your finger tips. You’ve probably guessed the “answer” to this- that the intellectual, academic, word-based part of making art is actually what distinguishes a practice from a hobby so don’t… yeah, you get it.

“Sterling, what happened?” In addition to making a small body of work recently that I acknowledged was a departure and then following it up with a smaller piece that further explored line/edge (point- I was “in my head” already about a possible new direction for my painting), in the last week I had a piece that was underway (end of the linked blog) fall to pieces on me. The epiphany moment for this piece, which was literally invaluable but at the time felt like failure, was when I realized that what the painting was teaching me was recognizing that this thing went somewhere I didn’t want it to go and stepping away (not following it, in this case). So, I pulled it off the wall, turned it over and re-stapled it to the wall where it will serve a better purpose, which is exploring some things that have happened in some smaller studies, but at scale. In fact, immediately after it came off the wall, 3 other potential substrates went up on various surfaces in my studio, with the intent to spend less time constrained by a goal and more time released to explore new things without a goal (and that’s thing #2- committing to resolving the tension between head and hand by spending time in what psychologists would call a state of “play”).