Where did you study art?

Undergraduate with Bob Wade at Northwood Institute - it was an experimental program. Each of us had a studio in an old building on the corner of Gaston and Peak in Dallas. My studio was front left, I still feel a very present elation when I drive by, remembering my first work, assemblage sculpture mostly. At Northwood I met some well-know art figures and at student shows won some acclaim.

But my inner world opened in 2004 when I started to paint.

In silence, with his brush, the painter Dennis Blagg showed me the way.

But you travel that road alone.

Where is your work shown?

At times in the homes of those I paint, though I don’t think of the paintings as portraits. When I painted men I had shows at ArtSpace111 and at Dallas Contemporary, a non-collecting museum. With the women I’m gathering a body of work. We’ll see. 

Why did you only paint men in the beginning?

When I was 7 my father took a job as a professor, in Texas.

Texas felt foreign and dangerous. The boys frightened me. As I got older the girls frightened me even more with their blonde hair and tribal understanding of how to bond with each other, repel outsiders, attract males.

I grew up, 17, and moved to New York. When I travelled back to Texas, I saw the men with new eyes - their lore and their lives. I liked their simple reckoning. It seemed uncalculated except on the most obvious levels. That interested me, the audacity of being so at ease. I liked the luxury of looking at another human being and seeing him as he is. In 2004 I began to paint those men.

When did you start to paint women?

I used to live in the Caribbean, Barbados mostly, but my grandfather had a place in Grenada so for a couple of years I lived among those islands. Then I moved to Ireland where Chuck was born.

When I returned to the rugged terrain of Texas, life felt surreal, especially the lives of the women I’d known when I’d lived there before.

Many of them inhabited a distinct world, a self-defined harem. They served their men with their beauty and served their inner selves hardly at all.

They held a certain fascination for me, not because they could be known or truly recognized, but because they couldn’t.

But after painting men for several years, late in 2017 I felt a shift. I wanted to paint a woman. I’d met women I could trust, women I thought I could understand.

How do you find your subjects?

It was difficult in the beginning, with the women. The men I painted came like apparitions. I didn’t have to search. They appeared, in a restaurant or at the side of a road, so unexpected, so complete. The women did not.

I asked a woman named Connie if I could come over, maybe to paint her, maybe not. We sat in her garden. I watched her talk as the light went from bright and hard to slanting and deep. She started to reveal herself to me, her fearless right to exist.

And I did paint her.

What inspires you to paint someone?

I might see a woman and arrange to meet her, like Connie. It’s more an experiment than a plan. We talk, she tells me things, whatever is on her mind. She reveals herself with words. And then, sometimes for the first time, I see her.

But there’s another way, the way it used to happen with men, instant, insistent. I didn’t know if it could happen that way with women until early in 2018.

I went to a talk at the Modern Art Museum in Ft. Worth, the Tadao Ando building.

The lecture room looks out on a shallow, flat pool. Frank and I sat at the back because we came late. But someone else came even later.

She found a seat at the front of the already packed room, next to the entrance. I couldn’t see her face but I noticed the motion of her body as she turned to find her chair.

The moment the program ended she stood to leave. I couldn’t let her go. I tried to follow, but people stood all around their chairs, talking, taking up the space. I felt desperate.

I made it to the hallway, but a slow moving couple blocked the way. I minced along behind them until I could finally burst out into the lobby. There she stood, calmly looking at a movie poster. I wanted to speak but I had no conscious thoughts. Then I remembered the one recourse I have, the one route open to me and I told her. I paint. I want to paint you.

She let me take pictures in the dim lobby light. I repositioned her once but the fixtures high in the high ceiling cast more shadows than light. It didn’t matter. I wanted to remember her, Sandi.

Will you keep painting women?

I kept asking myself that, with every painting. But that night Sandi changed things.

When I finished and said goodbye, I thought she’d leave quickly, the way she left the lecture hall. But she just stood there. Finally she said a sentence or two, about her life. She used the word terminal.

Later I understood what Sandi gave me in those last moments – the knowledge that a woman’s presence can call out to me as completely as a man’s.

I painted Sandi’s face on the body of my daughter, my husband’s daughter.

Lessie is strong. The painting is a kind of centaur, a mythological female who will live on.

Since then, I trust the process, whether it’s an instant or a long unveiling. A woman can be seen. She can be seen, not as a symbol or a facsimile or a rogue combination of physical charms but as a full-blown being, present, suspended above the world by her own energy.