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Behind the Brush: Greek Life Series


Q: What was the first painting of Greece you made?

The first painting I did was of red poppies in a field coming down a mountain in Mykonos.  It was a year that everyone remembers as the ‘year of the poppies.’ Back in those days, we took pictures with our cameras. The red was so intense it seemed to burn the photographic paper. It was just unreal how red all the mountains and hills were. It was the first painting I sold, and it was also the first painting I did where I drew and took pictures and wasn't copying something. That painting was my first professional painting; I was lucky; someone bought it.


Q: Why did you choose this piece, and what inspired you?

The color was otherworldly; everybody on the island was talking about it. In many respects, the main reason I became an artist was because of the friends I made on the island who were artists. They were all madly working on projects. Some people were doing mosaics; some were doing woodwork with acrylic. So, my approach was to slap as much acrylic paint on canvas as possible, trying to get the brightness and otherworldliness of the poppies. I would have painted this around 1991.


Q: How did you choose the colors and layout for the paintings?

That depends on what I'm painting. If it's a landscape or seascape, I trust my eye. If something catches my eye, I draw and take photos of it. I am always prepared to do so. Then, I wrote notes about the scene that intrigued me. Sometimes, it's as weird as a smell; sometimes, it's the temperature or the strength of the wind, or just visually, it resonates with me in a way that I needed to respond to it with a painting.

With portraits, nothing has to catch my eye because it would be a commission. I need to trust my eye AND my ability to understand who the person that I’m making a portrait of is.


Q: Did you discover any challenges?

When I first started, every painting was a challenge. I reinvented the wheel whenever I painted because I had never taken lessons and attended art school. I was learning how to mix colors, and the problems of light and shadow were the first challenges that I found. I responded to them differently and finally found a formula that worked for me. Every scene and painting is different, but my experience has accumulated over the years, so now I feel much more comfortable rendering things like that.


Q: Do you have a favorite painting from this series?

I've thought long and hard about this. It's like having a favorite child; you don't really. One will speak to me more than another at times. There's a sunset over Mykonos with some boats in the harbor from a distance that talked to me to the point that I used it on the cover of a CD I had recorded.

A quote from The Rolling Stones sums up how I feel about my paintings: "Make every song you sing your favorite tune." So when I'm doing a painting, it becomes my favorite painting. Sometimes, that favor lasts, and sometimes, I say, "Uh, that was a mistake." But while I'm painting, it becomes the thing that speaks to me the most.


Q: Can you share any stories from when you were making these paintings?

I was thinking about my first sale. I had finished the painting and took photographs of it, and of course, I had to wait a week before I got the photos back. I went to a bar called Seven Sins, the oldest bar in Mykonos at the time, where I used to perform. I met a friend there, my best friend on the island, who was an artist. We were talking about the problems of painting and being an artist. I whip out my photograph of this painting, hoping he would respond positively because this is the first time I am showing anybody anything. He looked at it and thought it was really good, which meant a lot to me. But as I did it, a woman was walking behind us; we were at the bar, and she poked her head between us and said, "Well, that's nice. Is that for sale?" And I went, "Why, yes, it is!" She said she was an interior decorator from Toronto. She also liked that painting and asked if I had more. And I said, well yeah, but I didn't have anymore. She said she would like to buy that one, and my friend immediately gave her a price that I thought was probably too high, but she agreed. So we met and made the exchange. She turned out to be a friend of this whole group of people that I started hanging out with. She introduced me to a young couple who had just gotten married. They live in San Francisco and now own more of my paintings than anybody else. I am also the godfather of their twins.

One little ‘whip out’ of a picture in a bar blossomed into a career because word got out once I started painting for this couple. I'm an art major's worst nightmare. You know I didn't go to school. My first paintings had some clumsiness, yet they were selling immediately. 


Read Behind the Brush: My Flower Paintings Collection

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