(from left) Marc Lipton, Allen Battino, Avi Lerner, Dai Lerner, Bob Suzuki, Ping Li Tacconelli,
FLIP Featured Artist
I grew up in rural southern Connecticut and became fascinated with color at age 4. I started drawing with gusto at age 6. We lived about a half a mile from a community art center that offered classes to adults all week. There were teachers there that were respected NY artists. My parents enjoyed my drawings and encouraged me to take a Saturday class at age 9. That turned into 3 classes a week- drawing, painting, sculpting- and I would arrive home from school, hop on my bike and head off to a 3-6pm class. I started life drawing at age 11 and a few of the nude models expressed concern about having a kid in the room! But remember this was the 70's during the height of hippiedom, and most thought it was cool, especially when they saw that I could draw. One teacher, Alex Shundi, had a profound influence on my development. He is deeply talented. Such a great teacher. A great wit. We are close to this very day, and his work is amazingly rich. I studied with him up until I was 18, at one point taking up to 6 classes a week, sometimes an afternoon and evening class. This was very generous of my parents, God bless 'em, who were both working their butts off as public school teachers with 3 other kids to raise.
At CalArts I took a class in motion graphics. This included early computer animation and I decided that it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. The teacher was Dale Herigstad, and he showed me how to embrace technology. I had no fear of computers. To me they were just a marvelous tool to create previously unseen characters and worlds. The dimensionality of the medium mesmerized me and the possibilities seemed endless. So I began my career as a CG art director, which meant I was storyboard artist, production designer, illustrator, animation director, art director and editor. Noose, please? And back then my team were computer scientists, not animators, which meant I was teaching them basic animation as well. Somehow I was able to bring it all together, and I worked like that in a digital world for 10 years, doing commercials, music videos, theme park rides, TV and film work. Now I work almost exclusively on movie projects, wearing a lot less hats!
Since the early nineties, it's been almost exclusively on the computer, starting with sketches on paper and scanning them in. Sometimes I'll work in pastel for fun and to keep my chops up, and scan that. I started working in Photoshop when it was at version 2.5 and was hooked on what could be accomplished so quickly. Now I have a Wacom Cintiq tablet and barely even put pencil to paper- the tablet is quick and so close to what I can achieve on paper, there's little reason to deal with an analog step.
I like to start out loose and work my way into the detail, but I'm not the kind of guy who is satisfied with rough concept art. I do it, and I do it well, but the craftsmanship of tightening up a rendering is a meditative process for me, and is highly rewarding. It's funny, half my work is loose concept stuff and the other is super detailed stuff like color character art, prop designs and matte paintings.
When I find the idea worth pursuing (or I'm given a specific assignment), I usually start by torturing myself, trying to come up with ways of getting out of doing the damn thing. After I calm down, I spend some time visualizing the finished piece in my mind. I explore the detail, seeing everything from many angles other than the final composition. After the brain work, I do roughs and get the basic shapes down. Block in color. Next, a search for reference material that usually becomes oversaturation, and then the grand build. A lot of painting, some manipulation of photographic elements, layering, filtering and such. I like to work for long stretches, but logic usually wins out and I walk away from it every couple of hours to get a fresh viewpoint. I build detail in certain areas right off the bat to give it depth and to get excited about finishing it. I don't tend to do a lot of variations, and often the first version is the one that wins out.
As for influences, all aspects of the classic Disney films as a child. I would trace and study proportions of my favorite characters. Then with formal training, Alex Shundi taught me to concretely visualize a composition and to see beyond the literal and into the abstract. Also to absorb and allow all influences. Dale Herigstad taught me a graphic sensibility directly relating to elements in motion. And here's a diverse list of faves: Rembrandt, Ken Hultgren, Bernie Wrightson, Frazetta, Michael Frith, Robert Williams and Michelangelo.
I was commissioned to design and create the hand sculpture in 2000 for a Tai Chi field, located on the grounds of a spiritual retreat ranch in the high desert. It sits at the edge of a 100 ft. diameter circle, facing out toward the valley. The people in the photo with me are my team of engineers and artisans. The hands have a steel armature, a concrete core, a dense stainless steel matrix defining proportional detail and fiber cement (a mixture of portland cement, stainless steel wool and liquid acrylic) for the 2 inch thick outer skin. It works like terra cotta but sets up quickly and is very tricky! It took two and a half years to complete, mostly working weekends. I did most of the sculpting, with the crew wiring up the matrix, mixing material and applying it carefully to the matrix. The hands are actually cantilevered 18 degrees forward, so the armature extends 12 feet into the concrete base. Each hand weighs close to 10,000 lbs. The gesture is a master's blessing to those performing Tai Chi.
If I could do whatever I wanted artistically, I would direct and score a beautiful film that would delight all ages and hopefully get them whistling on the way to their cars. Then I'd expand from there into more fun projects to keep us all employed. Also spend more time writing and recording music (my secret passion). I have many friends who know me more as a musician and composer than a visual artist.
I once had a showing of my art and animation at Otis Parsons as an AIGA showcase of emerging artists in evolving media, back in 1989. Other than that, my work has graced the halls of WDFA from time to time and that's about it. I don't have work for sale currently, but if you know of any potential buyers...