Playing with Dolls

I am currently focusing upon an upcoming  December residency with Shoebox Projects here in LA. The last month has been spent fashioning figures such as the comely fellows above. The figures, what I call Stuffed Paintings are essentially dolls, dolls play acting an existential tableaux that I have called Embodied. In the spirit of Neo-medievalism I am tempted to call the dolls  Mummers. The latest Mummer is the red figure in the foreground.

“Proserpina, Archdiablesse, Princess of Evil Spirits”
2017
Mixed media: thrift store fabric, recycled clothing, acrylic painted canvas, embroiderty floss, poly-fill.
48 by 21 by 10

Proserpina, Archdiablesse, Princess of Evil Spirits is typical of the Mummers I have in mind for my revamped Mystery Play centered upon the trials and tribulations of the early Desert Fathers, most particularly, St. Anthony (and his legion of troublesome demons). Proserpina is also a bit of a gender play as are most of the characters. Gender role and “appropriate” performance  being explored and expanded upon.

Early conceptual sketch for “Embodied”, 2016

 

With Embodied I am also eager to explore the concept of withdrawal from worldliness, so beloved by the early Desert Fathers yet so elusive, so prone to “failure”; I find myself, in this age of constant performance (social media, self-branding, creating content suitable to absurdly small  attention spans) alluring and terrifying. I have struggled for the last few weeks to at the very least disconnect the Facebook app from my phone, but even that minuscule rejection of worldliness leaves me anxious and insecure. How did this happen, and what shall I do about it? Can balance be found?

For now I am focusing upon my desert tableaux, my Mummers and perhaps costumes, perhaps even performance of some sort. The following are a few of the Mummers thus far.

“Pierott”
2017
Mixed media: recycled fabric, acrylic painted canvas, embroidery floss, poly-fill.
51 by 23 by 8 inches

Pierott is perhaps the most emblematic of the Mummers. As a  queer boy I was fascinated with the commedia del’arte , particular Pierott, his melancholy and chronic heartbreak was both familiar and comforting. I knew the gist of the comedys and I attempted to recreate them in the little shoestring theater I set up in our suburban basement. All went well with my spit-and-glue scenery and costumes, the problem being actors (and an audience). Given that I was the eldest of six siblings I thought recruiting my siblings would be a cinch. I was wrong, they, my brothers in particular, balked at the faggoty-ness of it all (my father agreed with this ) and after several very lame attempts, the show did NOT go on.

My brothers to this day still mockingly gripe about my directorial bossiness; and I still feel hurt.

Stuffed Mummers, mute and obedient, would have been a better solution. 

“The Wodewose Quercus”
2017
Mixed media: recycled fabric, acrylic painted canvas, twigs, embroidery floss, fiber-fill.
54 by 31 by 8 inches

Al of the figures begin life as a sketch, sometimes just a random thumbnail drawing.

Sketch for “Quercus”

I find further inspiration from multiple sources,such as this manuscript illumination.

The making of Embodied is in itself a reaction against set gender roles. The stitching, the quiet needlework , historically determined to be women’s work is for me deeply enjoyable. Yet when I go to the craft and sewing emporium I feel conspicuously male amidst a shop full of Glendale housewives. I catch myself (pitifully) trying to butch it up as I clutch my fistfuls of gaily colored embroidery floss and sparkly trims. Usually I chuckle at my own absurdity and proceed to the cashier. But the sewing, what may have been women’s work , is now mine as well.

I still have much to do, so much more stitching and painting and thinking and writing , yet I am determined to enjoy this time. To forgo  elusive perfection and instead allow the process to unfold, hopefully revealing new directions , new intentions or solidifying ambiguity.

This fellow is based upon a strange tale told by one of the Desert Fathers. Locked in his desert cell, the unrelenting sun pulverizing his devotion, he suddenly, lustilly desired a cucumber. One can sympathize but the symbolism is amusing. That figure is next on the sewing table.

Concept sketch for “Cucumber Boy”.

I also plan on a crucifix, this being the beginning of the Corpus.

Corpus with sketch

Thanksgiving approaches and we are preparing for our own desert holiday in Joshua Tree , we’ve never been there, so I look forward to being inspired.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hellmouth

 

Not sure of the source or subject, but pretty fantastic.

Given that today is Halloween and the group show I curated Hellmouth at Ave. 50 Studio closes this week, I thought it appropriate (and timely) to memorialize the wonderful work and artists I selected. As many know Hellmouth is a theme I love, Mystery Plays, the Harrowing of Hell, sacrifice, redemption and rebirth  are ideas I return to time and again. My intention with this show was invite artists I admire into the dialogue; the conversation that ensued proved to be fascinating. 

I designed the font for the show’s vinyl lettering.

 

The statement for the show pretty much says it all:

Hellmouth
Curated by Leonard Greco

Many a morning I awaken with a fiery knot in the pit of my stomach. It frequently feels we are living in dire times and I know many share my dread .
That being the case I’ve invited a few friends to jump right into the Hellmouth and showcase works that explore the depths of existential angst.
The results are poignant , beautifully charged and frequently quite amusing . Much gratitude to the artists:
Jodi Bonassi
Jeanie Frias
Jeff Iorillo
Tom Lasley
Randi Matushevitz
Dakota Noot
Dania Strong

Upon receiving the submissions I’ve been struck with how the artists of Hellmouth are poets of the shadows , frequently committed to exploring the dark existential crevices of being .
More sensible artists may resist this oracle’s call but like Orpheus these seekers cannot resist that final backwards glance . I trust you will be as moved as I have been.
Leonard Greco

 

 

Perhaps narcissistically, I found it  gratifying  how familiar all of the work felt to me on an innate level. That perhaps is why I am attracted to this very diverse group of artists in the first place.

Jodi Bonassi
“Syrup”
2017
30 by 24 “
oil on canvas
Jodi Bonassi
“Sprawl”
2017
30 by 24 “
oil on canvas

Jodi Bonassi fills her canvas with meticulous detail, keenly observed images and most particularly, startlingly empathetic relatable figures. I’m crazy for her paintings… and for her.

Jeannie Frias
“Little D on His Pedestal”
2017
Mixed media
14 by 5 “

My friend Jeannie Frias is  a very fine artist in more traditional mediums, she surprised me with her diabolical mixed media piece. The little guy just delighted me.

Jeff Iorillo
“Beq”
blowtorched gesso, enamel and crushed marble on zinc
12 by 36 “
Jeff Iorillo
“Fragment”
acid-free bookbinding cardboard, terra cotta clay, crushed marble, Sumi ink, bamboo ashes, beeswax
24 by 38″

I’ve known Jeff Iorollo’s work for some time, following it from afar. His work worlds removed from my own superficially spoke directly to my soul; his “Beq” a memorial dedicated to those lost to AIDS particularly poignant.

Tom Lasley
“Regrets”
2016
mixed media assemblage
23 by 9.5 by 7.5 “

I feel with Tom Lesley’s work that I almost had a hand in the making. His references frequently so much my own. His dunce-capped fellow seems lifted right from my own “Hadesville” – it isn’t of course, just a delightful serendipity of art making.

Randi Matushevitz
“Judges”
2016
charcoal, pastel, spray paint
image size 29 by 22″
Randi Matushevitz
“Plaintiff”
2016
charcoal, pastel, spray paint on paper
34 by 26 “

 

Randi Matushevitz powerful scrawls of emotional chalk upon receptive paper causes me to envy her direct expression. They are a marvel.

Dakota Noot
“Bacon Wants a Taste”
2017
Acrylic on canvas
30 by 30 inches

My young friend Dakota Noot made “Bacon Wants a Taste” specifically for the show, I’m touched by that on a personal level but exhilarated on a aesthetic level. He is an artist to watch, his nimble witty work excites me.

Dania Strong
“Vomitoria”
2016
colored pencil, oil pastel on paper
12 by 18″
Dania Strong
“Dark Carnaval”
2016
colored pencil, oil pencil on paper
12 by 12″

Dania Strong is perhaps the artist I relate to the most personally. Also quite young she is the artist I wanted to be in my youth. We share a visual vocabulary which I am keen to see develop. She also had a sale, congrats to that!

and my own…

Leonard Greco
“Hadesville”
2016
oil on canvas
35 by 56 “

The show was very well received and one I am proud of it. I’m looking to curate further shows, thinking of various themes. One being male artists practicing  “women’s work”: embroidery, fiber, applied arts, paper etc. Thinking of calling it ” Under Omphala’s Watch”, referencing Herakles’ “emaculating” period of spinning wool under  Queen Omphala’s command.  The other possibility is “Beyond Frankenstein”, an idea suggested by a friend, where our demons and self loathing monsters have been embraced. Will keep you posted.

Hellmouth, curated by Leonard Greco, Ave 50 Studio, Los angeles, CA, 2017

This is the last week of the show which closes on Friday, November 3rd 2017 at Ave. 50 Studio, 131 N. Ave 50, Los Angeles, CA, 90042

323-258-1435

 

 

The Manifesto of Willful Irrelevance

“My Insignificance is Magnificent”
2016
Gouache on paper
22 by 15 inches
I was recently asked by an artist friend if I had a manifesto.

Of course I do!

I love a good manifesto, and although my own may be modest , it is a great way of clarifying my intentions. It is also a work in progress, one I have been playfully adding to, editing and revisiting over the years.

Here it is thus far:

The Manifesto of Willful Irrelevance

or
How to Avoid Fame,Renown and Laurels

(please remember that this is farcical)

 

 

First off, avoid at all cost, the following Transgressions:

Drips.

Color out of the tube.

Graffiti, “Street”references.

Words , Lettering and Stenciling ( outside of graphic arts).

Abstraction for abstractions sake- or if you really haven’t any ideas.

Color fields ( unless your heart is truly in it.)

Abstract Expressionist derivatives- the macho bastards are dead.

Pattern for patterns sake- unless designing textiles.

Deliberate naïveté.

Ravens, Crows, Blackbirds ( sadly Portlandia and popular culture has destroyed birds for now).

Winsomeness.

Low brow references if you aren’t low brow.

Collage- unless you are Max Ernst.

“Banksyism”.

Spray paint .

Piles of laundry,trash, hair, condoms( used or otherwise), sex toys or other such unpleasantness… It’s been done and it is still mind numbing .

Sound …just sound.

Light …just light.

“Book Art”.

Desecrating books instead of actually reading them.

Murals with a “message”. That’s frequently ineffective propaganda with a high level of self satisfaction but very little actual change. Enter public service instead.

Photo realistic images of dull-as-dirt subjects. Technically stunning but the camera has been invented.

Photography.

Collaboration. Too many cooks…

Manifestos.

 

Being raised Catholic I suppose I am more inclined to restrictions than  opportunities. That said, the following Affirmations:

Do:

Gild every lily.

Gleefully abhor negative space.

There is more to life than conventional perspective .

Space and Light are open for interpretation.

More is indeed not only more,but frequently more interesting ; Less is often a respectable veneer for a lack.

Smash false idols whenever possible ; create more fabulous ones.

Create one’s own  Myths; reclaim and reinterpret the Old.

Be valiant, trite as that sounds.

Be as purple in your prose as you desire.

Embrace the complex and the ambiguous.

Queer it up whenever possible.

Trust yourself, avoid comparisons and ignore the chatter.

Avoid worldliness and its inherent distraction.

All that matters is an authentic voice. In the end : Make your own shit.

 

I have been gathering internally an abiding sense of feeling disconnected from the culture at large and attempting how best to address that loss and discontent. My  “manifesto” is a stab at defining that sense of isolation somewhat.

Increasingly I feel out of step with the times I live in . There is the righteous rage of  identity politics (and of the Right) which frequently leaves me feeling isolated instead of included .   I find the unsettling stridency throughout social discourse but especially within the arts.

There is also this seemingly willful ugly aesthetic prevalent in contemporary  art, culture and design. I can no longer tolerate the NYT Style section. It is as if by employing  jarring discordant colors, transgressive images and random incomprehensible elements that the impotent outrage of a society will be somehow relieved.
LA seems to be birthplace of this  jarring aesthetic, or at least a splendid incubator.  The nihilism is understandable, relatable even, but at times the cynicism is withering. Again, I have no answer.

Upon declaring myself a studio artist, I joined a local arts organization. Optimistic and eager for community I jumped in fully committed. And it has provided community, in abundance; I have so many truly wonderful friends because of my membership . But it has also provided more than a little angst. Having received the umpteenth rejection for solo/group shows has become both routine and debilitating . Although instructed to not take rejection personally , it is nonetheless degrading. Having never received an acceptance from this group, I’m beginning to believe this organization is just not that into me. If we were dating, I would have dumped him.

So that is what I plan to do.

Like Anthony of the Desert I’m retreating into solitude. For at least the next year I plan to focus upon work , submitting work infrequently and selectively ,attending openings for pleasure not obligation. My priority being self care, personal development  and the work; work that may very well be out of step, fuddy-duddy , even irrelevant, but my own.

That and entering analysis (Jungian).

This year end realization has brought me tremendous relief. I may have less of a physical and social media presence, but I will be very present nonetheless.

I’m working now focusing on a series of figures, eccentric beings, perhaps even monstrous. The following NYT article concerning Frankenstein’s unfortunate creation gave me much to think about. How monsters, demons, the undesired repel society at large yet endear themselves to the outcast-the queer ones especially.

So I’ve gathered my thoughts, my materials, prepared my elements and now I am ready to stitch together my ever expanding monstrous universe.

Elements for next project.
Concept drawing for next project “He Wears His Heart Upon His Sleeve”.
With that, have a very happy Halloween!

Adorable Krampus figure from my dear friend Dwora.

Pop Surreal Playhouse: an Honor, a Tribute and a Note of Gratitude

 

It is always wonderful to be curated into a show, better yet if the curators are held in high esteem personally, the icing then is a favorable review (yet again by a someone you admire).

Such was my good luck.

I had the good fortune to be selected for Pop Surreal Playhouse , a group show curated by the deservedly lauded Greg Escalante and Wendy Sherman (sadly Mr. Escalante’s last show, having died only weeks prior to the opening). The Art Share LA opening of Pop Surreal Playhouse was bittersweet , whilst personally gratifying on a professional level given Escalante’s vision and influence locally, nationally and internationally (Pop-surrealism’s reach is global, just read his New York Times obituary); but it was bleak moment to be reminded that I would not be able to thank him personally.

I did however have the chance to chat with Wendy Sherman, a great supporter of the arts (including my own) ; we must treasure and frequently acknowledge these friendships given how fleeting our time is. Hoping Wendy knows how much I value her support and interest.

“Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego” at Pop surreal Playhouse, curated by Greg Escalante and Wendy Sherman (seems to be a typo in gallery banner).

So with all that I start this frantic week with a wonderful review by Betty Brown for Art and Cake. Brown is a art historian with an uncanny ability to connect the dots from seemingly obscure points in humanity’s cultural journey. That she so aptly “got” my work, my references and my intentions (when more than I few critics do not) was immensely gratifying. Thank you Betty and thank you Art and Cake for providing a forum dedicated to art in Los Angeles.

This is the review, great images of the exhibition within:

Pop Surreal Playhouse at Artshare LA

Opening night was festive in spite of it being a memorial to Escalante. I did not know the man but from recollections of the fellow, he seemed a man of high spirits. I hope he appreciated the turn out and the works offered by the artists as tributes to his legacy.

Pop Surreal Playhouse runs through October 22nd, if you haven’t seen it , it is well worth a trip to the Arts District.

At the opening, I was particularly delighted to see so many of my friends in the show and in attendance. This snapshot of my young friend, the talented artist Dakota Noot makes me smile. Dakota is perhaps my most glittery friend and I value the joy he and his work brings to the world.

 

Pop Surreal Playhouse runs through October 22nd, if you haven’t seen it , it is well worth a trip to the Arts District.

The author and the artist Dakota Noot at Pop Surreal Playhouse (my “Hellmouth Mask” over my shoulder.)

So much so that I’ve included his work in the next show I’ve “hosted” (curated sounds so pompous ). The show is called Hellmouth which will open this Saturday, October 14th, 7-10 pm at Ave 50 Studio here in LA. I’m very excited by the show, wonderful art including Noot’s fantastic Bacon Wants a Taste.

Dakota Noot
“Bacon Wants a Taste”
2017
Acrylic on canvas
30 by 30 inches

I will be posting about the show, its intentions and the fabulous art after its opening, but for now the gallery is ready and I will leave you with this image of Hellmouth.

Hellmouth, curated by Leonard Greco, Ave 50 Studio, Los angeles, CA, 2017

Ornament is NOT a Crime

 

Adolf Loos first decried the use of ornament in 1908 in that loveliest (and ornamented) of cities, Vienna. His groundbreaking essay Ornament and Crime (I’ve also seen it entitled “Ornament is Crime”) is astonishing in its prophetic belief that ornament “dates” objects, creating a desire for new and seemingly more fashionable objects, dress , even homes. I actually adore Loos, he was a genius, his buildings are starkly luxurious, his aesthetic judgement without question. 

Yet I’ve always taken issue with the wholesale rejection of ornament in the 20th century (sadly that seems the only Loosian dictate to have secured root).  Be it fine art or the applied arts, there is a general suspicion  if not loathing  of the decorative.

So with that understanding, nearly three decades ago, I had the hare brained notion to start my “career”  as an ornamentalist . It was physically demanding work, frequently unappreciated and until I moved to LA, not well compensated. It wasn’t until the recent recession that I decided to hang up that cap and pursue a long suppressed desire to be a REAL artist.

In my current incarnation  as a studio painter I had thought I had moved away from that phase of my life; shunning baroque acanthus , intricate strap work and  pretty blackamoors for something seemingly more substantive .

Apparently not.

It is ironic that as an example of ornament’s criminality , Loos cited the “degeneracy” of Papuan full body tattooing, for the full body “tattooing” of my studio mannequin Massimo is what compelled me to dust off my folios of decorative designs.

I found myself rustily trying to remember how to create patterns and ornamental compositions, in the end it came back as easily as remembering to ride a bike. I find myself now interested in exploring ornament, how to synthesize it into work, attempting to transcend superficial attractiveness. I’m excited by the possibilities as ornament making is a skill I possess, it pours out of me. How do I use this ability in an interesting and compelling way? My studio work has always contained an element of the decorative so I’ll be curious to see how it progresses with committed intention.

“Massimo” and preparatory sketch (“Herakles”)

The following are images taken from my vast collection of preparatory drawings.

Design, residence, Beverly Hills
Entry Hall, Palm Beach Florida
Ceiling medallion design, Greystone Mansion, Beverly Hills
Design, wall panel, Greystone, Beverly Hills
“Bohemian Lounge”, Greystone , Beverly Hills ASID showcase

 

Ornamental panel design, chinoiserie.

Wall paneling, Boca Raton

Wall panel, Naples Florida

 

This was my first big break, a huge job, close to two years to complete. I was so naive, underbid myself, underestimating the scope of the project. This massive overmantel ornament a mere sliver of the actual project. 

Design proposal , Main Line, Philadelphia

Back to the here and now, I did finish the ornament for Massimo, and as Loos predicted it IS indeed degenerate!

“Massimo”,detail
2017
oil on mannequin

Loos, in  condemning “primitive” ornament, particularly full body application, could not have imagined a world in which a comely young man ( image discovered on internet search) would adorn himself so prettily and to great applause. 

I haven’t the information for attribution; will do so upon discovery.

In my enthusiasm I’ve started a new piece, The Apotheosis of Herakles. It will be one of my faux tapestries, which in of itself allows me to play with fiber, sewing, domestic “feminine” craft, which along with ornament , has been traditionally eschewed- yet I’m drawn to both. The following is the beginning of the work.

Work in progress, “The Apotheosis of Herakles”.

Now back to it.

 

Fairyland Continues

 My current body of work that I have placed under the encompassing umbrella of Fairyland is an ongoing project, transforming itself almost daily. Ultimately it will be a large and complicated installation project involving diverse disciplines: painting, fiber art, printmaking and possibly  some performance. A classic example of gesamtkunstwerk.  

Ultimately given full expression at my 2019 solo show at MOAH-Cedar in Lancaster CA.  I  also have a month long residency with Shoebox Projects in December where I will further examine this magical place I call the land of fairies.

 But in the meantime  I am submitting Fairyland for possible solo shows. The following is my latest submission, and let me tell you applying for residencies or submitting for solo shows is on par with the Harrowing of Hell. Shaken and now nervous, I know I’ve done my best. Rejections have become a part of my reality, but in my heart I know this could be a pretty nifty show.

The following is what I presented.

Wish me luck.

Fairyland

Grappling with ways in which to express “being-ness”, I find myself reaching beyond my usual studio practice of painting into diverse disciplines including fiber-art figures . The figures are fashioned by fully embracing the pre-conceived “sissy” element of this art. Thus exploring my identity as a queer and terrified man, the series validates a long suppressed self loathing.
“Fairyland” an ongoing project, bears a title once a slur, now declaring a message of empathy, pride, and hopefully, humor. Embracing the fairy has been empowering ; the art created expressing a spirit of furtive repression breaking free.

Detail from “Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego”.

 

The following is a “walk through” description of what I propose:

 

“One enters Fairyland through a swagged theatrical portal, embellished and festooned with luxurious passementerie, the ornaments fashioned from trashed rags, the “rich” cloth of stitched and patched recycled fabric, all evoking a glorious if tarnished sham splendor .

This initial dramatic entrance into the Wurdemann Room is not mere camp , it is a sincere appreciation for aesthetic visual redundancy, one that is deeply personal and I believe a trait familiar to the queer aesthetic, the need to elaborate, to further explain.

To offer alternative truths.

It is in the elaborations that I explore familiar cultural narratives through a queer prism, doing so in multiple mediums: stitched and painted fiber art , relief prints, book making, drawings, easel and wallpaintings .

Once entered, the visitor encounters a hushed dark room , it’s walls swaddled in lush fabric , faint chants heard muffled behind the plush. At the far end of the gallery an elaborate neo-baroque mirror hangs, confronting the pilgrim with a chilling memento mori. The mirror titled Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego is of mixed media and fiber arts and is flanked by near life sized fiber-art figures such as Daphne and Icarus which act as sentinels of life, death and transformation.

Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego
Daphne
Icarus

To ones right and left, floor to ceiling (faux) tapestries entitled Orpheus’ Lament and Eurydice’s Response (of painted and stitched un-stretched canvas), depict alternative tellings of the Orphic drama.

Preliminary sketch for “Eurydice’s Response”, faux tapestry.

As the Wurdemann gallery is set as a private salon/wunderkammer with approximately 12-15 pieces, various paintings such as the large scale oil paintings Goblin Market and Hadesville will be interspersed amongst the “tapestries”.

Goblin Market
Hadesville

In the center of the chamber, on an elaborately draped library table, one finds hand blocked , hand stitched books, opened for viewing. Further stitched and painted figurative ornaments also bedeck the table’s surface .

Sensory overload is the desired affect in this gesamtkunstwerk that I call Fairyland- this particular Fairy’s private retreat made public.”

“Fairyland”
Ave 50 Gallery, Los Angeles
July, 2017
Detail “Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego”.

 

 

The Objects We Carry

I recently had the good fortune to purchase a memento from my distant past , a drawing of a living room long since shuttered . My dear friend Marge Miccio is a talented artist working primarily in pastels . One of her great gifts is interior portraiture . Generally without human figures ( in my case my dear pup Gizmo can be seen perched on a cushion as was his want ) but her unpopulated rooms speak volumes . I’m delighted that Marge discovered this drawing made back in 1994 . She calls it “The Plaid Sofa”.

I call it wonderful.

To get a sense of her keen eye , here is a photo taken before I left the house, Trenton ,the city I had called home, in fact, my previous life . A new chapter was to unfold but Marge preserved a memory .
I purchased this little rowhouse when I was so very young , flush with new romance for my first love Douglas . We pooled are resources and bought the house for $5000.00!
It was a romantic shambles , but through the years it became home . We purchased other houses  , but when the love we had could no longer sustain us , this little gem became my own .

It wasn’t to last. I was to move forward , a move to Philadelphia where I would meet David and embark upon this adventure I now find myself .

But then , in 1994, months before I packed it all away , this was home. Happiness is having a lovely framed reflection of a life passed.

Now, with the drawing freshly hung in my newly painted apple green living room, my pug Viola occupies the same corner of a different sofa , as her predecessor Gizmo.

Some things do not change .

 Another thing that hadn’t changed is my love of gardening, these rather poor quality images , were taken late summer 1994.
And now another garden beckons …