I try to look at paintings every day. This means looking at books or online. Paintings which I come back to time and again are as follows:
When I visited the Uffizi Gallery in Florence it was wonderful to see in person the Botticellis, Pieros, and Michelangelos, but I spent the most time in front of The Portinari Triptych of Hugo van der Goes. The individual humanity of the figures in this Nativity scene was overwhelming.
Bruegel. No one has ever quite said more about the human condition in the way he placed man in the landscape. He takes man as he is, at his saintly best or murderous worst, and places his comedies and tragedies in the midst of a sublime landscape that transcends human cares. His landscapes make us understand the preciousness of human existence by showing us how insignificant we are.
The swirling apocalyptic visions of John Martin, who was doing “2012” 150 years ago.
The permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where I spent many hours in my youth. I was frightened and fascinated by the Surrealists Yves Tanguy, Paul Delvaux, Giorgio Di Chirico and Salvador Dali and by works by Peter Blume and George Tooker.
American landscape painters have a unique heritage, and a unique attitude toward the landscape. To name but a few: Thomas Cole, Martin Johnson Heade, Frederick Church, Albert Bierstadt, Winslow Homer, Charles Sheeler and the Precisionist School of the 1930s-1940s, Fairfield Porter and Neil Welliver. I realize this is a wide range of tastes and attitudes, from the Manifest Destiny moralizing of Cole to the theatricality of Bierstadt and Church, to the cool modernism of Sheeler or Welliver. The American landscape has been called "unpaintably stupendous." It certainly is, and that's why American painters continue to embrace landscape painting.
Another fine painter who brings mystery and an unsettling sense of not knowing weather we're in a dream or reality is April Gornik.
R. Crumb's comix had an effect on me early on, and I admire his ultra-expressive line, unflinching self examination and his hard stance against the commodification of culture. Check out the movie "Crumb." He has recently released his magnum opus, The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb
Kafka, Borges, Stanislaw Lem, Vonnegut, Mark Helprin, Garcia Marquez, Hemingway, Jim Harrison, Chekhov, Emerson, Thoreau.
In my youth I spent many hours in the American Museum of Natural History. I would wander the halls of the mammals of North America, Asia, and Africa, and stand before the wonderful giant dioramas and make up stories in my head of what it would be like to be there, on a hillside in India or a river in Africa. The painted walls wrap around and above, and blend into the floor of the display, where painted casts of actual flora join with animal models (presumably stuffed) to create an uncanny realism. These dioramas, painted mainly by James Perry Wilson, had a huge influence on my sense of pictorial space.
Alexis Rockman paints scenes of eco-disaster by fusing scientific naturalist painting with the nightmare visions of Hieronymus Bosch. He spent more time in the Museum of Natural History than I did. He certainly spent time reading The World We Live In by The Editorial Staff of LIFE and Lincoln Barnett, with its fantastic illustrations of life on earth from the Pre-Cambrian onward
In Russia I discovered a number of fine landscape painters little-known outside of Russia, the most amazing of whom is Kuindzhi. A master of using color to express the emotional qualities of light in the landscape. Also loved Shishkin.