I was recently asked to participate in a collective exhibition , the theme being The Afterlife. Ordinarily I avoid these mass group shows as they tend to be more inclined to spectacle and keeping the masses entertained (as the public never seems sated, craving new sensation after new sensation, we makers are asked to accommodate). But the curators are well regarded , one I know and respect, the art critic Shana Nys Dambrot, and it is after all a subject of keen personal interest.
El Velorio, as these annual celebrations of Dia de los Muertos are known center around a mass call for art, all loosely tied by a single element, participants receive ,via post, an object to base the work, this year it was a stock wooden cross.
The image above is my contribution.
Resurrection of the Maize God (and the Miraculous Birth of the Hero Twins) was inspired by the Popol vuh narrative in which the Maize God is slain/sacrificed and from this loss, new life, in this case the immaculate birth of the Hero Twins. An old familiar story, found across peoples, from John Barleycorn to Jesus Christ.
I had several years ago made the polymer clay heads for puppets, the puppets didn’t quite work out, but my rat-packing paid off as new life was found is this work. Unfortunately , from social media comments, the Hero Twin budding corncobs read as feet to the crucified Maize God.
I don’t read it that way, but it seems the public, in a mad dash to the next sensation, rarely actually observes.
That said, the work is available, along with many other very well crafted offerings October 12th at the Plaza de la Raza here in LA. I am told it is quite an event, very festive, costumed revelers. La Plaza de la Raza is a very fine art hub, actively community based and a vital center of artmaking; 40% of sales will benefit this wonderful resource.
I recently finished two new works, one a drawing which I made recently on the feast day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15th), the other an oil painting of Paul’s epiphany on that road to Damascus so long ago. I’m becoming increasingly aware of spirit entering my life ( I do not know what else to call it) and my work. It has been subtle, random spontaneous prayer, something I neglected since boyhood; sneaking into churches furtively and unnoticed ; but most especially instances of incredible awareness, of a sense “rightness” at the most curious of moments. I don’t know what it is but I do know it is welcome and increasingly welcome in the studio as well.
I’ve always been drawn to sacred art, I collect it, I seek it out whenever I travel, David and I are drawn like moths to a flame whenever we encounter some beautiful chapel, church or cathedral. Yet I have resisted calling myself religious, and God forbid anyone calls me “spiritual”- milquetoast yoga clad , CBD ingesting, kale juicing LA dilettantes come to mind. But now my symbolist art is becoming increasingly sacred, and sacred in a decidedly Christian way. Not I hope in that pedantic , lock-step fundamentalist sort of way but in the best way, a very personal way, the way one hears and feels the spirit. No one else can depict those ineffable moments of presence but oneself and they cannot easily be explained or depicted, but art making and poetry are frequently very evocative and satisfying.
My interpretation of Paul on that road is at best quirky, perhaps too much so, too personally esoteric…but I must paint as I see it. Christ is front in center, in some strange pompous vehicle, wearing some odd pointed crown of thorns; poor Paul, mid-strangle of some hapless Believer, looking up in wonder and shame ; and as always , in the background and foreground , are we, the unenlightened, unable to witness the sacred in our everyday.
I say “we”, I mean “me”.
I’ve ornamented this bearded fellow with Greenmen, primal gods, folk treasures and a Fool. Although seeking something beyond the realm of the ordinary, I wanted to acknowledge the sacred qualities of being of the world.
The Fool is all seekers, of which I count myself. Seeker Fools, Holy Fools, wether ready for it or not; latent or actively seeking or somewhere in between. I predict many Fools in new works to come.
Of religious art I was taken with what I felt a very British approach to the sacred on my recent holiday visit to the Tate Britain. There in the dizzying galleries devoted to all that is best in British art,I was struck by the sheer numbers of works depicting Christ, the Magdalene, Virgins here and there, and just an over all presence of spirit (Blake of course comes readily to mind). But these works, unlike their counterparts issued from the Church of Rome were highly personal, some oddly so, as cryptic and as wonderful as some newly discovered Gospel.
As an example I suggest Stanley Spencer’s monumental The Resurrection, Cookham. In this detail shot, Spencer himself, nude as our Lord made him, languidly awaits his Savior.
For a sense of the scale of this fantastic painting, this image, with Jacob Epstein’s strangely beautiful Virgin from The Visitation, 1926 in the foreground.
Perhaps being a Protestant nation, British artists were more inclined to “own” the Christian narrative in their work as they feel able to interpret the gospels for themselves. I don’t know for certain of course but it was strikingly apparent that these works , of which there were many, expressed an inner life, richly experienced.
This seems a long standing tradition, although theoretically familiar with John Everett Millais’ Christ in the House of His Parents ( The Carpenter’s Shop), I hadn’t realized until close inspection how unorthodox a painting it really is. Christ, so young, so fair, so in need of his mother, the tenderness she exhibits as she tends to a superficial wound, the precursor to the Wound. Blood drips upon his bare, grubby little feet, again a foretelling. The painting is astonishingly rich in symbolisms, details I hadn’t been aware of from reproductions. In truth I’ve never liked this painting much, that is until actually witnessing it ; too Protestant, I had foolishly thought, not properly “sacred”.
I no longer think that.
But for highly personal visions of the divine one returns to Blake.
Increasingly I feel Blake to be the strangest, most influential and most prescient artist. Although I don’t think that it was the case, I always sense that the work just rushed out of him, painting one might say in the Tongue of Pentecost. I don’t think that was true, that he was in fact quite a deliberate artist, but it is a tender image of the man.
Of Blake’s perennial influence, one cannot neglect Cecil Collins, and although from what I read he loathed to be compared to Blake, the influence of spirit is hard to overlook. Collins has become in his own right quite an influence to me. I feel a kinship to the work and to the man, I especially like this quote where he speaks of the Fool. It reverberates with a sense of rightness :
The saint, the artist, and the poet are all one in the Fool, in him they live, in him the poetic imagination of life lives.
Back to my own stabs at personal spirituality, I came upon this photo of early work, from the early 80’s , back in those halcyon summer days of my youth, spent on Deer Isle Maine painting very strange, frankly ugly paintings onto the most forlorn cast off furniture I could find, which in turn was peddled to upstanding Boston Brahmans summering in Blue Hill ( a very respectable gallery gave me several solo shows, nearly all sold out- I was astonished). I haven’t a clue as to where this peculiar table ended up, I imagine once the buyer came to their senses they tossed it to the curb. Happily I have this crappy snapshot which provided compositional inspiration to my Assumption drawing above.
Moments ago I finished this four sheet drawing The Desert Quartet: The Temptations of St. Anthony . I have been working on it off and on over the last few weeks . Putting it aside now and again , most recently for a trip to London but I am now back and I was determined to finish it so as to explore new work inspired by my trip to that most marvelous city .
The following images are details of what I admit is a very dense image, which may be difficult to read from an iPhone photograph . I will need to have this drawing professionally documented.
This drawing is a continuation of my Anthony infatuation , it began as the briefest of doodles . Not a particularly good one but one that has provided inspiration for some reason . I’m about to translate this doodle once again into my stitched paper dolls . I think it will be effective as a wall hung work, projecting out here and there, constructed mostly of cardboard, paint and embroidery flow . I hope to convey movement and articulation, very animated I hope .
I will post progress shots as it progresses . But until then, good wishes from Babylon.
“I should never have made my success in life if I had been shy of taking pains, or if I had not bestowed upon the least thing I have ever undertaken exactly the same attention and care that I have bestowed upon the greatest.”
I recently finished listening to an audio recording of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop. Dickens is a favored studio companion, his intricate, well woven tales can keep me engaged for days on end. He was a master storyteller and when Curiosity Shop came to its conclusion, I marveled at the care and dedication to detail he lavished upon even the most seemingly insignificant innkeeper, scoundrel or parlormaid. It is a great treat to become so well acquainted with all of his characters, the experience is so rich and gratifying.
Such attention to seemingly insignificant details is my delight at the easel as well. I am aware that a broader brush or a simpler stroke might just as effectively convey a desired message, but it wouldn’t be fully my own, or frankly of any interest to me. I take great pleasure in works that are convoluted, those possessing complicated compositions with seemingly infinite opportunity to discover detail upon detail. I recall the northern Gothic painters, where the doorknob of some distant castle sparkles as brightly and as prettily as some fair maiden’s jeweled bodice; where every tree is embroidered with countless , meticulously rendered leaves. Many find such works frankly too rich in detail, too time consuming to comprehend, not at all suited to our contemporary world’s blunt (brutal?) aesthetic and ever-increasingly limited attention span.
I however stay the course, trying as best as I can to stay personally true, and as Dickens stated, taking the pains necessary to develop the work fully to my satisfaction. The following images are of works in progress, one a rather large oil painting, hopefully nearing completion, the second a work on paper. Both seem to be expanding in scope as each studio comes to a close. But I am increasingly confident that they will let me know when they are finished…fingers crossed, soon.
In my new studio I find myself increasingly drawn to pencil work. I hurt my hand with the rather manic sewing for Fairyland, so that is on hold until it heals. I am painting however, pain free , and when committed to the task, quite happy at it . But the pencil is what is calling me presently and most immediately and most pain free. These two drawings are my latest .
The Wanderer’s Tale
Sanguine and colored pencil, white charcoal on toned paper
18 by 24 inches
Sanguine and colored pencil, white charcoal on toned paper
18 by 24 inches
It is I think the immediacy of drawing , that and the ability to really noodle down with detailed fine line work that so appeals to me. Line is everything to me, and I think it is this instinctive preference that separates me from painters in general – for even with a brush in hand I feel as if I am drawing .
Tomorrow I head back to the easel, I have been working on preparatory drawings the last few days and now feel ready to put brush to canvas. But for now , calling it a night .
In my ongoing examination of sacred work, an extension of my own feet-in the-ground-butt-in-the-pew spiritual experimentations , during the past Holy Week I spent my studio time with the Way of the Cross. I have resisted attending Catholic Mass for decades, I’ve attended Episcopal services off and on for years, and while I have felt welcome, I personally felt ill at ease, a nagging longing that something was missing-no matter how High the service. So I did experiment, I attended Good Friday services at a pretty little church in Eagle Rock, and it was sweet to see the devout earnestly visiting each Station, uttering by rote their own passionate pleas. But the service itself, a public forum , where congregants, in the manner of our Protesting brothers and sisters were proclaiming their own gospels. It was too much for me to bear, and shamefacedly, halfway through, I slithered out of my pew and back to my studio. I haven’t given up yet, but in many ways my studio is my temple. The following drawing is my own fervent desire to Walk the Way of the Cross; on my own path.
In this synoptic composition, from left to right, I have depicted our Lord as the Ecce Homo, the terrible mocking rabble, Pontius Pilate, the Holy Fool Lazarus, the Fishermen’s boat, the Blessed Mother as the Dolorosa, the Baptist, the Crucified Lamb and Veronica with her Veil.
Relating to this theme is a recently recieved image of The Anchorite’s Cross , part of my Embodied: St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears installation.
The Stations of the Cross are rarely out of sight, for decades this Victorian Station, Station V, with Simon willingly or begrudgingly helping the staggering Lord, has hung over every drawing desk since meeting David 26 years ago. This is how it looks today.
In addition to Christian themes, I have tackled classical themes such as my well explored affair with Herakles, like Christ, I find him irresistible.
Orpheus another tragic hero that inspires me.
And of descending into the Underworld, Christ’s own Harrowing of Hell.
I’m actually supposed to be drawing instead of posting so I must complete this post but the view from my new studio is distracting me delightfully.