Cloistertime

I’ve been spending much of this year sequestered in my studio , focusing upon work at hand and engaging with the actual world far less . My desire to work has compromised my ability to attend openings, pay studio visits , basic human time . I have ambivalent regret about that , but the time spent at the cloister of my making is so fleeting , my life so short that I feel compelled.

Although I spend less and less actual time with friends , many talented and exciting artists, company I treasure, I do stay engaged, at least superficially. Social media keeps me in the proverbial loop , for that I am grateful .

Work in progress : The Herakles Tapestry

And through social media I am offered moments of reflection . I recently saw a post from an artist I admire very much , this post was hash tagged with “#f@ckoverthinking” ( without my censor ; it increasingly seems the “f” word is the go-to descriptor for almost anything : “f-ing brilliant “, “f-ing amazing “, etc. ).

This admonition to not overthink one’s process and by extension work , inspired thinking about my own process and the work itself . The taste for seemingly spontaneous, emotive work , where the process is an existential eruption feeds a narrative very much in fashion . Hollywood for decades has promoted the mythology of a feverish genius , blind with passion , communicating madly with their unrelenting muse ( the new film concerning Picasso has a cover image that depicts this archetype very well – handsome , paint-bespecked , exhausted ).

I confess my studio time has never been a cardio workout . In fact , contrary to my friends admonition to “f” overthinking, I think a great deal. I think, I write , I connect the dots . And while my work isn’t aesthetically feverish , it is dense with layers , perhaps too many for some, I do not know. But it is the work I find interesting , the work I want to look at and the work I want to bring into the world .

I’ve never been interested in work that doesn’t call me back for another visit . Work that makes too direct a point . The works I most admire puzzle me , tease me with elusive symbols , require my attention  and my engagement. Directness is not my nature , not in life , or conversation, or even in my writing ; I am furtive , and in my studio work I would rather slip in a sly informed allegory than confront an issue directly . A flourish of meaning easily overlooked.

But I do think my approach is at odds with contemporary expectations of what art (or being) is or should be ( my calling my work “art” is an indulgence I allow myself when speaking of it , generally I refer to it as “stuff I make ” ). Street art has in a great way set this expectation : deft, ecstatic , exuberant, and most importantly, accessible. Marx would have been pleased.

My own work tends to be more obscure, more measured , the process at times almost plodding , but a joyous plodding , because the dedication to minute brushstrokes, to innumerable pencil markings or whip stitches is not unlike a prayer .

I had a wise teacher , a Russian iconographer , who insisted that every brush stroke when painting (an icon) is a prayer of gratitude. This deliberate , exacting mindfulness, the antipodes to “overthinking” , is what I seek in my cloister .

Which is where I will spend my day . Have a great one .

(I am inspired by medieval illumination, , the measured , concise focus upon marginalia . This ornamental border , my take on Marginalia, is on a much larger scale , but when finished will, I hope, convey the same spirit . I’m looking to go larger and also to employ fiber art.)

An Ode to Imperfect Mothers

“Medea”,
performed by Sarah Berndhardt as imagined by Mucha.

As parent days approach, that same old feeling of ambivalence and regret returns. Having just finished D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, realizing once again that the relationship between boys and their Mater is frequently fraught. For while I have no contact with Pater, I have an ambiguous relationship with my mother. While searching for a Mother’s Day card, this annual ritual, resulted once again in frustration. The many shiny offerings extolled maternal devotion and unflagging support- are there really so many stellar Mamas? All the effusive sentiments seemed fulsome to me, at least pertaining to my own situation. I settled on a blank card.

Navigating a complex, frequently emotionally challenging relationship with one’s parents is familiar ground to many. I needn’t delve into sordid details, simply in my situation, a volatile father prone to violent unpredictable outbursts and a woman susceptible to mental depression and emotional retreat. It was complicated.

Yet throughout the chaos, I developed as a fey little boy, indulging in theatrical productions, dolls and hyperbole. 

This annoyed my usually permissive (vacant) mother a great deal, her own internalized homophobia alarmed by my swishy ways.  Boys in the suburbs of working class New Jersey had clearly defined gender roles, and I inadvertently broke them all. She had three complaints against me , which she would lash out to me in her impotent fury:

First, I had as many worries as Carter’s had Little Liver Pills:

That I had a vulgar inclination to Gild the Lily; I do, I appreciate her noticing.

Sunflowers here, but you get my point.

And lastly, I was as dramatic as Sarah Berndhardt. 

Now, as a boy, I didn’t have a clue as to who this Sarah Bernhardt was, but I did note it seemed a bad thing…and that she was a girl, and that wasn’t meant as a compliment. I also knew my father usually clobbered me after my mother mocked me as “Sarah”- her nickname for me. For if my mother was an unconscious homophobe, my father was a raging one, one who delighted in gay bashing. He bragged about putting the “faggots” he encountered ( why was he encountering gay men so frequently I dare not imagine) , how he put these fags in their place, I imagine with muscle. So it is an irony that Sarah Bernhardt has become a bit of a patron saint for me, Divine Sarah indeed.

So a little tribute here to unresolved relationships, to mad mothers and to those who played them.

French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) and her son Maurice, c. 1880, Paris

One of Sarah’s roles was indeed a mother, but how such a powerhouse balanced maternal duties I wonder at. Again, I imagine it was fraught. 

Sarah as sculptress, more than admirable as a studio artist, both sculpture and painting. And of course, posing.

As a boy, I was very good at this eye roll, perhaps the nickname was warranted.

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Thanks to my thoughtful friend Dwora.

Post Script: today, the day after Mother’s Day, May 14th 2018, would have been my Nana’s 100th birthday (Nana was my mother’s mother). This is a little tribute to this most imperfect mother.

Sun City AZ, mid 1980’s

This is Arizona, in the mid-80’s and this is my Nana, Katherine Whittenborn-Murphy-Lake-Draper-Lynn (there is one more, she married five times but I can’t remember his name) : today May 14th she would have been 100 years old. At this moment in time she was at the height of her power and full delight in life. She golfed everyday with her fifth husband Syd, Angel, her poodle (their hair matched) was her frequent caddy. She ran for mayor on the GOP ticket (did not win) and was acclaimed for her work in silver craft (in which she rightly shone).
My grandmother was an antiques dealer specializing in 18th and 19th century Anglo-American decorative arts and a gifted self taught artist with a broad spectrum of interests: studio painting, sculptural stained glass, fine jewelry design and lapidary arts, French cuisine, sculpture, choral work, and later golf, she was a tremendous influence.
Her impact was enormous yet in reality, in boyhood , I saw her perhaps a dozen or so times. She was truth be told a terrible grandmother in the traditional sense. Indifferent to children, preferring dogs and cats ( she raised Alsatians and Persians) and gave priority to her own desires. Born outcast to a fading semi-patrician family, she was raised as an orphan in the family home, a rambling, now disgraced Victorian called Castle Corner. Handsome home, miserable memories : christmas gifts were repackaged castoffs from her step siblings . Nana was determined to rise above that and in many ways she did.
But as a grandmother she was ill suited, save to one drama prone little gay grandson who she doted upon. Nana wasn’t a cookie-baking sort, but once whipped up escargot just in order to demonstrate how best to use her pretty abalone silver tongs. She painted her bedroom in gold leaf , raised raucous peacocks ( that drove my Puritan mother mad), wore fur in the summer, and thought five diamonds better than one (she designed a showy cocktail ring with castoff engagement gems).
With her fifth and final husband she moved West to be closer to her beloved Native Americans, there she felt happiest. But we saw her even less.
All that said, I adored her from afar, and I suppose I still do.
Happy Birthday Nana.

 

 

 

The Artist & their Studio

Many of us share a fascination with the artist and the place in which the magic is made. I know as a boy, fascinated with all things 19th c. , the studio of the artist was most beguiling . The divine Sarah perhaps embodying all that I held dear.

Sarah Bernhardt in her studio.

Miss Bernhardt was an astonishingly gifted “amateur” , far surpassing my own talents. But other artists, “real” artists, also possessed gorgeous palaces devoted to art. John Singer Sargent’s magnificently appointed studio nearly outshines dear Madame X.

John Singer Sargent’s studio, the lovely Strapless One in the distance.

In  my opinion there never was a more glamorous studio than that of the immensely visionary Gustave Moreau ( we here in LA have an outstanding Salome at the Hammer). Moreau was a god and certainly deserved a stairway to heaven.

Detail of Moreau’s incredible studio.
Gustve Moreau’s most gorgeous studio.

Moreau’s lovely digs apparently provided shelter to some comely lads.

Studio of Gustave Moreau, apparently model for his Hesiod.

The Pre-Raphealite John William Waterhouse had a rather wonderful place to apply his admirable talents.

The Pre-Raphaelite John William Waterhouse looking dapper at his easel.

But many of us, particularly those of us working in expensive cities such as Los Angeles, have less Palace to Art and more Hovel. My own , while modest, brings me great delight. My dear friend Kristine Schomaker, foundress of Shoebox PR ( link: https://shoeboxpr.com ) , called recently , the following images a fond memento of her visit. 

With my dear friend Kristine Schomaker.

Although less grand than dear Sarah, I do, in my thrift store way attempt to capture her glamour.

Sébastien-Charles Giraud, “Souvenir d’atelier”

Although Papa Picasso had rather imperial digs,

The grand Pablo in his sumptuous studio.

most of us, as dear Mary Ellen Best ( 1809-1891) have far more modest making places. Yet in the end, the space is infertile ground without its maker.

The painting room of the artist Mary Ellen Best; by the artist.

Wishing all fertile ground.

New work: The Temptations of St. Anthony of the Desert

My relentless fascination with the blessed anchorite continues:

Leonard Greco
“The Temptations of St. Anthony of the Desert”
2018
oil on panel
18 by 36 inches

My enthusiasm for this hermit continues to delight me, so much so, stumbling upon a friend’s FB feed , I found the perfect hermitage.

Dream hermitage.
Leonard Greco
“The Temptations of St. Anthony of the Desert”
2018
oil on panel
18 by 36 inches
detail, Herakles in tears from “The Temptations of St.Anthony of the Desert

 

Playing with Paperdolls (& other works on paper)

I am preparing my annual entries to a works on paper show here in LA and in so doing focusing my studio time with that more ephemeral medium. In particular, paper dolls, which have long held an interest, harkening back to my fussy sissy boyhood. Fond , forbidden moments snipping away ; this drove my father to fury and violence ,so now, in revisiting this artform, I do so with emotion and gratitude.

My studio complex is an industrial space, and in the recycling bin can be found beautiful clean , rather low grade sheets of cardboard; all for the taking. And taking I have been doing. Large scale paper dolls, and larger planned, have occupied my work table. One of the problems I and others have encountered in working with paper-dolls , is a sense of durability. Inherently ephemeral, how does one strengthen such fragile material. This low grade cardboard (yet free!) has an unsightly edge that I find distracting and unfinished. My solution, perhaps unsurprisingly, is to employ yet another sissy art ( and equally infuriating to Pater) , stitchwork. By a simple stitch of embroidery floss , I strengthen and add an exciting line of color. I confess a certain pride in this, and stitching cardboard is immensely gratifying, not unlike popping those addictive sheets of packing bubbles. I recommend trying it to relieve stress.

My latest trio of paper-dolls are completed but more are planned, this grouping, the largest figure about 36 inches tall, is called The Siren & the Machiavels.

Leonard Greco
“The Siren & the Machiavels”
2018
Acrylic paint, cardboard, embroidery floss, feathers.

detail shots:

The Siren
The Machiavels

filtered, how does one resist?

In addition to my paper-doll making , I continue my daily drawing practice. In the same spirit of the nursery, like paper-dolls, another staple of childhood, the ornamental and instructive alphabet:

A is for Aladdin
B is for Baal
C is for Commedia (& Chinoserie)
D is for Death
E is for Egyptomania ( see last post)
F is for Faun ( & Flora)
G is for Greenman (& Ganymede & Griffin)

I will continue through with this alphabet and post upon its completion. For today, as it Sunday, household, not studio duties beckon.

Wishes for a good and creative week.

studio play

 

 

 

 

Egyptomania

Has there ever been an artist not smitten with the wonders of Egypt? Like so many, an early inspiration has been Egypt and from what I have ascertained, the Greco-Roman world was equally enchanted . Currently the Getty is offering eager visitors the opportunity to examine, through art and material culture, the aesthetic conversation between Egypt and the West in their comprehensive exhibition Beyond the Nile, Egypt and the Classical World. 

Link:http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/egypt/index.html

It is perhaps best to start with the eternally youthful and vibrant Alexander (the man perhaps most responsible for the anxious vanity of gay men ever since), for after this great conquerer with the bee stung lips, began the Ptolomaic Kingdom (link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ptolemaic_Kingdom) which a great deal of this collection  is devoted .

Alexander the Great

But the Greeks weren’t the only ones to grace this enticing land, the Romans were soon to follow suit, and with that, pretty Roman boys prancing about in Egyptian drag.

I feel as if I know this hipster boy (above).


Frivolity aside, the conquering of a people (and spectacular resource of riches ) is a serious matter. And what is more important than one’s very soul. Conditional religious tolerance was a hallmark of the Roman Empire, pay tribute to Caesar and pray to whatever god you wish ( those stubborn Christians caused quite a stir in this matter). But what I found so astonishing with the Roman occupation of Egypt was not only a tolerance for the faith traditions of the Nile but a whole hearted embrace. Perhaps not unlike our own spiritually weary privileged society, the eastern exoticism of Egypt was too alluring to resist. For soon Romans were embracing quite a few Egyptian deities, synthesizing them into their “spiritual practice” ( I was amused to see quite a few fashionable looking Egyptomania religious paraphernalia – hard not to be reminded of our infatuation with the “namaste” East). This embrace wether through sincere faithfulness or fashion is nonetheless in stark contrast to the conquest of Christian nations who felt called upon by the Almighty to not only conquer the body but to convert the soul. 

Of the gods most popular with the Greco-Roman world , Isis and Serapis seemed to have reigned supreme. The Greeks most enchanted with the lithesome Isis.

 

devotee to Isis
Roman

The Romans seems taken with Serapis and imagine him rather  predictably as a comely virile  god.

A particularly handsome Serapis

 

But given we are speaking of Romans, the austerity of Isis and Serapis might need a licentious interlude with the great ( and ithyphallic) god Bes. A rather randy little bugger the Romans seemed to embrace with gusto.

 

Classical mythology began acquiring narrative elements of Egyptian mythos as in this beautiful fresco with that most iconic beast, the crocodile underfoot.

Rather typically, the spirits of the Nile were seen as quite hot.

Once again, speaking of Romans, we can’t imagine every moment devoted to worship, for the spirit of pleasure must be served and the Romans were devoted attendees . In fact I acquired a new word with this exhibition , “Nilotic”, which apparently means pertaining to the Nile or the fantasy of this fabled place. I confess these Nilotic decorative schemes gave me the greatest delight.

These odd little pygmies, as un-PC as can be imagined remind me of our society with its unrepentant amusement with dwarves in popular culture.

Even the coins of the realm featured the crocodile.

This image was perhaps one of my favorites and I imagine it will soon feature in my own Nilotic fantasy.

Like chinoiserie of the 18th and 19th century, the impression of a culture was far more important than any sort of authenticity. Roman decorators weren’t any more scrupulous than the courts of Europe , inventing psuedo-hieroglyphs as handily as the ornamental faux chinois script found at Brighton Pavilion.

I will close this rather lengthy post with a detail from the first image, a gorgeous Roman masic, it captures the spirit and romance of the Nile.

Actually I am going to close with my favorite piece in the exhibition, a pair of serpentine gods. Extraordinary in their strange beauty. And with that, good night, wishing sweet Nilotic dreams.

Lenten Indulgences

“He has Risen.”

 

(source: http://damascenegallery.com/shop/image-subject/icons-christ/the-resurrection-of-christ/)

Those were the words I heard every Easter, fervently claiming them myself. Now, I am less certain of what I believe. It feels more complicated, more fraught ;one day the Old Gods have all the answers, the next Jesus Christ. I take the truth from where I can.

That said I feel more attuned to what has been called by the Irish as the “thin places”, the space between the world of man and the world of the spirit. This lenten season, instead of forgoing any particular vice, hindrance or pleasure, I simply drew. With a pencil in hand, promising to whoever listens to my private thoughts, that no matter what, each studio day I will produce at the least, a decent enough drawing. No promises of masterworks, just a commitment of time and energy before I began my studio day.

I once studied under a Russian Orthodox monk and iconographer Vladislav Andrejev, he, through the translation of his sweet wife Olga, told me that art making must be considered a prayer to the Divine.

That I believe in.

The following is a result of my Lenten Indulgences ( a little nod to dear old Luther) :

2018 Feb 6
Jezebel and Ahab
2018 Feb 7
untitled
2018 Feb 8
untitled, neomedieval study
2018 Feb 9
Ecce Homo
2018 Feb 12
Betty Brown
2018 Feb 13
Mummer
2018 Feb 16
Perseus
2018 Feb 16
Young Anchorite
2018 Feb 19
Faun
2018 Feb 20
Arlequino
2018 Feb 21
Studies
2018 Feb 22
Centaur
2018 Feb 23
Folly
2018 Feb 26
Polyphemus
2018 Feb 27
Birdboy, marginalia study
2018 Feb 28
Womba (Ivanhoe series)
2018 Mar 1
The Fair Rowena (Ivanhoe series)
2018 Mar 2
Bauble study
2018 March 5
Frontispiece design
2018 March 6
Proserpina & Cerberus
2018 Mar 7
Hades
2018 Mar 8
Underworld mummer
2018 Mar 9
Eurydice
2018 Mar 12
Night terror, dream memory
2018 Mar 13
Orpheus
2018 Mar 14
Mummer
2018 Mar 15
The Jewess Rebecca (Ivanhoe series)
2018 Mar 16
Leprechaun
2018 Mar 19
Winter
2018 Mar 20
Spring Awakening/Cernunnos
2018 Mar 21
Rape of Europa
2018 Mar 22
Pilgrim’s Journey
2018 Mar 23
Lavinia
2018 Mar 26
Abraham and Isaac
2018 Mar 27
Jonah and the Leviathan
2018 Mar 28
Job

 

2018 Mar 29
The Tree of Judas
2018 Mar 30
La Dolorosa

And that is it.

Happy Easter and happy All Fool’s Day!