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.
My mixed media installation work Embodied: St.Anthony &the Desert of Tears, was recently documented and a video made. The link below is the result. The incredible music by Thom Ayres of Arcanta provides perfect accompaniment .
Concerning the work, my thoughts and intentions :
Embodied:St.Anthony & the Desert Tears, my latest mixed media installation is inspired most significantly by Gustave Flaubert’s “The Temptation of St. Anthony” (1874). The richness of detail and illusion that Flaubert evokes almost suffocates the reader in its voluptuous beauty. Flaubert himself was inspired in great part by Brueghel’s own phantasmagoric depiction of the tormented hermit. I wish in some way to allude to that dizzying yet exhilarating experience.
As a young boy Flaubert witnessed a marionette performance of “The Mystery of St. Anthony”. From that point on, “St. Anthony accompanied Flaubert for twenty-five or thirty years”, as the philosopher Michel Foucault has written. Flaubert returned to the anchorite time and again until completing the work in 1872. This is not an easy read, dense, at times over-ripe, seemingly more chant than prose; Foucault describes the work as an “overcrowded bestiary” with “creatures of unnatural issue”.
It is this “overcrowded bestiary” I wish to evoke with Embodied, wishing to populate the tableaux with a parade of bewildering, complex “creatures of unnatural issue”. These hybrid embodied beings represent not simply base impulses but our own deep struggle to live a fully expressed life. For when I tackle such fraught topics as sin, temptation and redemption, I am looking beyond the typical biblically inspired admonition (such as Lust or the other Seven Deadlies). I am more interested in the quotidian, seemingly insignificant distractions that prevent us from embodying our truest selves. In essence, what interferes with your being authentic? What is your demon? Who, what shadows your path?
I’m particularly interested in exploring how the tools of modernity – social media, the self-commodifaction through “branding” oneself, the pursuit of relevancy— all hinder full true self-expression, perhaps even censoring it or rendering it mute. Foucault describes Anthony’s temptations as “…false gods resembling the true God….” I argue that false gods lurk in the inky alleyways of a frenetic and rapacious contemporary society.
The mystic Thomas Merton in discussing the Desert Fathers insists, “they did not reject society with proud contempt, as if they were superior to other men”, but instead were seeking the fullest expression of their purpose. Throughout our lives we are given signs which point us (or call us) in the direction of our authentic purpose, so as Merton reminds us: “…whatever you see your soul to desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe”.
I will do that “thing”, clumsily, distractingly, awkwardly, but like Anthony, sincerely and with purpose.
A link to Thom’s work, he is so talented and generous.
Last Saturday I was at MOAH/Cedar in conversation with my friend Kristine Schomaker, artist and founder of Shoebox PR for the closing of my solo show Fairyland. Fortunately this artist talk was recorded by my friend and fellow artist Edwin Vasquez. If you were unable to attend this memento offers a glimpse of the conversation that had taken place. To all who did attend (and snap photos-thank you Samuelle Richardson-yet another fine artist friend), much gratitude for the support and the illuminating questions.
Much to ponder as I move forward in the studio.
David and the pups attended, little Rose a welcome lap dog. I think it is funny how blue everything is , blue walls (Benjamin Moore, Phillipsburg Blue0, industrial blue chairs, and my purple sweater reading as blue. It is as if I am trying to sink into the background, which is perhaps true. I much prefer the work to speak, nonetheless a wonderful conversation with my dear Kristine.
After the talk, we headed to the heart of the Antelope Valley to witness for ourselves the much celebrated Super Bloom. The California poppy a perfect foil to the azure heavens …and still more blue art, a handsome installation in the desert.
Temptations in Fairyland , Jason Jenn’s site specific performance piece, which delighted not one but two separate audiences last Saturday at MOAH/Cedar in Lancaster CA, immediately called to my my mind the Jongleur de Dieu, the prankster tradition of tumbling and juggling in order to best serve the Lord. Harking back to the early Church with Symeon the Holy Fool and his manic, mad pranks in which he cleverly brought the Gospel to a feckless and indifferent world, this enthusiastic tradition continues still. In relatively contemporary times, the late theologian priest Henri Nouwen has been described by his biographer Professor Michael W.Higgins as such. In referencing the trapeze artists The Flying Rodleighs and their impact upon the priest, Nouwen acknowledges his own place as a Holy Fool:
…the Flying Rodleighs allowed him to see his life as that of a Jongleur de Dieu, a Tumbler or Juggler for God. Although a medieval conceit-linked with courtly love tradition and the troubadours- the jongleur had a special, subversive and beatific function to perform.”
Genius Born of Anguish:The Life Legacy of Henri Nouwen, Michael Higgins
“Special, subversive and beatific” was indeed the “function” of Jason’s astonishing performance last weekend. Set in the middle of my Fairyland, I hadn’t known what to expect, I can say I hadn’t expected such a completely immersive experience-you simply have no choice but to jump onto Jason’s wild speeding train of boundless energy . I am a full throttle artist, I frankly do not know how to make art without giving my all; Jason is a brother, a comrade in this. His performance so complete, so fully committed to embodying Flaubert’s Temptation of St. Anthony, my own Fairyland and his own very personal understanding of performance art and its place in understanding how best to be a human. We as enlightened, gifted beings kissed by an unknown, unknowable god, God, spirit, power, have struggled with this from the very beginning, Jason, performing as the anchorite Anthony and as the ambiguously evil, delightful, seductive desert companion Hilarion tackles this conundrum with wit, wonder and moving pathos. I giggled between gasping, it was a dizzying, manic performance that delighted me at the moment and now a week later leaves me wondering how best to move forward.
Deep, deep respect to you my friend , Jason, your tribute meant so much to me.
With that said, some mementos from that performance (images for the most part from Jason’s Facebook page).
The incredible body paint by his collaborator, the talented visual artist Vojislav Rad. I was so amazed by this clever pastiche of my own work , that for a moment , I tried to remember when I had actually painted it!
It was quite a day, one of great honor for me. Thrilled to see Flaubert so wonderfully realized, delighted to see my own work so thoroughly understood and lastly, to better understand Jason’s work. I am not as familiar with the traditions of performance art. It has always seemed so ponderous, at times full of itself, Jason, through his quite serious merrymaking allowed me to see the joy and life in this art. Similar to my own work, Jason employs a light touch to weighty topics. In this, we are both Jongleur de Dieu.
On a more somber note, Jason’s performance was the last outing for my little chihuahua Speck, who at sixteen, died this past Wednesday. May he be tumbling for God as I speak. Rest in peace sweet boy.
Much gratitude to MOAH/Cedar for providing a home to both Fairyland and to Temptations in Fairyland, and to Robert Benitez for suggesting the concept initially. What great support from this wonderful cultural gem in the desert!
A reminder that I am hosting a life drawing session tomorrow at Cedar Hall adjacent to Fairyland. Props, funny hats and a naked fellow, what more do you want?
I’m in the final days of my current studio , here now nearly two years . And while it has been roomy with plenty of light and space for me to sprawl out and create Fairyland, it is also been an uncomfortable fit . Blazing hot or frigid cold, open to the elements at one end , dust pours in, oil painting an impossibility. Also just a very ugly part of town that fetishizes its own ugliness . Time to move on . My new digs will be in David’s office suite, a few rooms , adequately lit, tenth floor with pretty views , climate controlled , air tight and a built in tea-time companion- plus the pups are welcome .
All well and good but I am nervous and anxious at the unknown ahead . Fairyland is finished and I find myself floundering , not sure where to go next . I have a long list of anticipated projects, optimistically scribbled down during the frenzy of manic making but now in the sobriety of task completed, inspiration is flaccid .
I know this will pass , all things in their time and yet my heart and soul aches . I’ve committed to drawing-table time, seeking no muse just a date with my pencil . My task at hand is to draw , simple as that . No expectation, no need to share or impress – studio vanity is a very real thing in my immediate universe , the endless posturing of busyness, productivity and excellence. None of that , just pencil to paper .
And packing . Ostensibly I am to be out by April Fools Day , with my Fairyland commitments and now this move , my time feels precious.
But as I have said I feel a heaviness of heart. I pack, I discard , recycle and donate , ruthless in shedding unwanted, unused objects, furnishings and materials only for them to languish for years in rented storage .
Today will be spent with the pups , cardboard packing boxes and hopefully more drawing .
I snapped the following images of the place as a memento of how it appeared before the dismantling.
Farewell my temporary workshop.
One of the most challenging tasks was ridding myself of the huge bags of scraps , the detritus of Fairyland. Initially I fancied I would make something of them but when faced with the reality of their being I saw only bleakness. I tend towards melancholy and this depression at a the sight of ragged scraps, floor dust and dog hair might be a result of that . But without much reflection, I tossed them into the dumpster .
Then I felt guilt over adding to the landfill . Such is my internal world .
This will pass , I believe that , until that time , I just being .
Ekphrasis, the artistic practice of a poet or artist inspired by one piece of art that another, generally a poem, is created in its honor. This is an ancient tradition, Homer in both his Illiad and The Odyssey frequently gushes about lovely delicately wrought brooches and elaborate too-pretty-for-war battle shields. The Poetry Foundation describes ekphrasis as :
“an ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art.” More generally, an ekphrastic poem is a poem inspired or stimulated by a work of art.”
Generally understood as a literary practice I myself however have almost exclusively been inspired to produce tributes to poetry and literature through the visual arts. I frankly cannot think of a single piece of work NOT inspired by literature . My installation piece Embodied:St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears is directly inspired by Flaubert’s magnificent hallucinatory noodle-buster The Temptation of Saint Anthony (which in turn was inspired by a marionette performance of the same theme). My work is either illustration (which I would disagree with ) or ekphrastic tribute. As ekphrasis is a beautiful somewhat haughty and daunting word, I will go with the latter.
All that said I have been honored recently to have TWO works of art made in tribute to my own art! That is an extraordinary experience. The first is a work of poetry by the artist Edwin Vasquez who had a personal inspiration from my Temptations of St. Anthony of the Desert (below). This poet and artist sent me both the poem and a very poignant note explaining the meaningfulness of my work to his own personal experience. Like so many artists I work in isolation and frankly never give consideration to potential viewers or their reaction to the work. To have such a touching tribute be sent my way, well that is incredibly validating and much appreciated. The following is Edwin’s poem and a link.
The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert
by Edwin Vasquez
Restless river zig-zagging like a poisonous desert snake
mirroring a non-existent, pale blueish color
from the grey hue of the restless sky.
On the right, in the forefront, St. Anthony stands in a catatonic state
behind a hollow tree trunk that resembles an empty cave where demons play,
his hand with painted nails holds the trunk — perhaps for dear life.
His forehead partially reflects the shadow from the twisted, carved cross,
accenting his sad and somber, melancholic face;
he resembles an animal in distress,
the saffron tunic replaced with a
tight costume – toxic green – accentuating his features,
yet he is not man nor woman,
he is animal, haunted by his own desires and demons.
The joke is on them:
the Bishop and King, the centaur and satyr, the jokers and demons;
they, in disgust, look away from him, who they want to scare —
If that wasn’t exciting enough, another artist Jason Jenn has crafted a performance piece around my installation Embodied:St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears. I haven’t seen the work yet and have consciously distanced myself from any input , eager instead to see what this talented friend comes up with. The image associated with the performance of Temptations in Fairyland delights the heck out of me.
A link to the performance is on this Facebook events page:
I don’t know what to expect, and like everyone else I will have to wait and see on March 16th, but I am unabashedly excited.
This solo show experience has been a great source of personal gratification. I am on a sort of forced break from the studio, first I am in the process of moving the studio to another location, but more importantly (and more pleasurably) meeting friends at MOAH/Cedar to walk them through the galleries. I haven’t socialized this much in years, a bit daunting for an introverted hermit but what a delight. Today I met two really darling friends, both very talented artists, Malka Nedivi and Simone Gad, this photo being a treasured memento (my pups travel pretty much everywhere I go at this point).