A Critique, unsolicited but tickles the heck out of me…

Pluton ready for the holidays, 2020

 

The following is from my Facebook account, a response to a Christmas posting I made featuring my adorable Pluton, Prince of Fire, Governor of the Region in Flames. The review, arriving some time post Yuletide was in response to the below, uncensored version. Initially taken aback by its frankness, now just delighted by it. Compelled to save it, share it:

“This makes the Grinch look like Little Miss Muffit . When I look at your work I ponder would Pope Francis laugh or pass out . Hug you or summon the Swiss Guard . Invite you to do a showing or send out a global ban . Praise your creativity or retire to the Vatican Archives and ask some researchers to reasearch  unusual spritual conditions . Since your partner is an analyst I know your mind has been examined in every way possible known to mankind . I have to say your art shocks me every time . In a way that is often uncomfortable  and I always would love to modify it … This guy makes the scariest clown seem normal . I try not to project onto your art but can’t help questioning the inspiration behind it ? It is not whimsical . It borders on deranged serial killer but I know your instincts are contained by your religious upbringing , devotion , literary development , and obsessive compulsive  discipline that this art takes . Still  100 years from now :experts might be analyzing your work and hypothesizing  about core values , obsessions,  all kinds of stuff . There is a whimsey . Bosch and the other classicists inspire you I guess and this is modern . I could say carnival funhouse because you are such a lovely man . But the intuitive , spiritual , wholesome part of me always gets this uncomfortable feeling  about the source that drives you . The demons . You espouse humor yet some how  I feel other demons are channeling through you , using you . I would love to see the Pope’s and College of Cardinals response to your body of work in person and have the strength to accept the truth that I see .  In the least everything you do evokes the unexpected . Please do not be offended by my honest response . Your work is so brutally honest that I can’t help give you a response . No imitation here . Definitely  all from you : your own genre which yet needs to be named . You are not a student of anyone : no artist proceeds you : you qualify as an ” Outsider” I believe . Completely original , self taught . Even if you are school trained : there is no previous precident for your art . I cannot tell if your art is a Cautionary tale , a Psycic eruption , Deviant , Maudlin Whimsey , a Dreamscape ? My perception of hellish must be my projection . That doesn’t seem to be your overt intent . Could be considered modern Surrealism?  Or maybe you wanted to design children’s toys for Mattel and they wouldn’t hire you and here we are . I guess the purpose of art is to evoke?”

The image that elicited the above response.

Anyway, I was delighted.

Pluton ready for the holidays, 2020

 

A look back; a glance forward to a new chapter

        As mentioned in a previous post 2020 was by most standards a rather dreadful year. The dreadfulness obvious enough I needn’t belabor the point. Yet I worked through it, not only psychologically but in the studio. It seems, going through my photos that I painted about six paintings, stitched together a half dozen textile folk, made quite a few of my jumbo paper-dolls and my rather consistent studio practice of daily drawings filled quite a few folios- I fear quantity reigned more frequently than quality at times.

But studio wise, a rather decent year.

 

Selection of works from 2020.

      I’m sensing, hoping , 2021 might be better yet. I’m feeling a new chapter in my life. We’ve begun the incremental steps to relocating to Chicago, given David’s  psychoanalytic practice this requires delicacy and sensitivity , not my  general rash readiness to move, obstacles be damned, full steam ahead  forward. But given the constraints,  I sense one chapter closing and another beginning. We will be in an in-between limbo state for the next two years, my studio, his practice here  in LA, we’ll be renting a small apartment in Los Angeles close to the office/studio and once our Little Hermitage has sold purchasing an apartment close to Lake Michigan. We spent the new year downtown this (last) year and feel we’ve a better sense of what feels like home.

      But studio wise, I am feeling a new chapter as well. My work in Los Angeles has been frequently  bold (its been called tacky) in color, admittedly outrageous at times, overtly sexual initially (its been called pornographic), and frequently a bit smirking (but never intentionally ironic). I’m now feeling an inclination towards less of  that.  Not sure how this will develop but in clearing out my studio, a pre-spring cleaning, I found myself  eagerly tossing  out many of my frankly depressing thrift store schmattas  I had been using in favor of richer velvets and brocades.

   Perhaps an embrace of more “serious” intention is in store for me , a growing sense of confidence, an entitlement to a  personal voice, to not fearfully hide behind a smirking mask because , God forbid, I actually take myself and my work seriously.  Which I do, but in spite of self doubt so fundamental to my being,  I feel I am developing  confidence  that my voice might, can be, taken seriously and that recognition begins with me.  This heretofore has been contrary to my entrenched insecurities. 

   All that said,  a degree of humor will always be present in my work and in my personality; that is my nature as well

Detail , “The Temptations of St.Anthony of the Desert”, 2018, oil on panel

In the meantime I am very pleased with this interview with the Verum Ultimum gallery in Portland Oregon. I am honored to have one of my favorite paintings included in Generous Kingdom V,  a diverse and exciting collection of work. A great deal of gratitude to founder, owner and curator Jennifer Gillia Cutshall. Please visit the gallery’s website for a complete virtual experience.

The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert
2018
Oil on panel
18 by 36 inches

The interview follows:

https://www.verumultimumartgallery.com/single-post/inside-a-generous-kingdom-v-deepening-the-mystery-with-artist-leonard-greco

 

Detail , “The Temptations of St.Anthony of the Desert”, 2018, oil on panel

2020 Annus horribilus…or was it?

2020, good riddance
2020
gouache on canvas
12 by 6 inches

    Complaining about 2020 is fast becoming a cliche as the annual reflection upon the year past is upon us all. I’ve complained myself, mostly about inconveniences that have interrupted my frankly spoiled life, dining out during COVID, when it was available , was an anxiety producing event-food tastes less a treat when your hands smell of 70% alcohol sanitizer (I did however recently  have one enchanting (and frigid ) meal in Chicago, in a twinkling tent fortified with  plenty of hooch to fend off nature’s bluster). 

      But truly, little to complain about, I am fortunate in so many ways in that the vicissitudes of this virus have had little impact. That is until recently when  my prince came down with COVID  ( I somehow continue to test negative and symptom free); he has at last recovered, rather quickly and without any long-term effects. For this we consider ourselves supremely lucky and have reconnected our commitment to the here and the now; a forced embrace of the realty that our lives are not our own, simply lent, a gift of Being, undeserved and ruthlessly impermanent .

     For an artist who spends a great deal of time exploring the theme of memento mori that should be obvious…but it isn’t. For now we are keenly aware of this tenuous situation we call our life, and while the scare is close to hand, I am deeply appreciative. I will slip into complacency all too soon, but for now, holding those I love close.

2020, daily drawing
23rd Dec 2020

 

   In so many ways 2020 was quite a wonderful year, my CV (https://boondocksbabylon.com/cv/)is rather bulging with the exhibitions I’ve participated in- even rejecting a few ; close to a dozen high quality curated exhibitions , a record for me…seems it takes a plague to have my work considered.

I am self contained as an artist, my love of hermits such as St.Anthony of the Desert is not by chance. To be untroubled by social pressure, gallery openings, feigned social conviviality, competitive posturing and the fine art of humble bragging, to be relieved of all this  is an immense liberation for my soul . I feel myself breathing with ease and can only hope that when we do return to whatever we call normal, that I am able to remain true to this core of my identity. That I will possess the fortitude to resist the siren’s call of doubt, competitive insecurity and the fear-of-missing-out.

 

We are moving forward with our long term plan to move to Chicago, having spent our summer there, we are now more than ever eager to leave LA for green summers, wet springs, blustery winters and russet autumns. That and a serious art museum or two. Our game plan is to be resettled in a few years, we are about to  place our little hermitage on the market, a poignant first step in what we hope will be a halcyon final chapter.

Our sweethearted pugdog Viola delights us no end, we have one another, reasonably good health (for the moment), time (for the moment) to pursue our talents and the  means to explore our interests.

So in the end, 2020 wasn’t so horribilus after all.

2020, good riddance
2020
gouache on canvas
12 by 6 inches

Samhain 2020, Punkie Night and the unquiet departed

Samhain is fast approaching as is All Saints Day, both observances that I find personally meaningful . For they provide a moment to pause and recognize that liminal in-between state of the Quick and of the Dead. Whether you are seeking the portal to Fairyland, or beseeching the intercession of the saints, it is a backward glance, one familiar and comforting as winter hunkers down. Given my general melancholic state , it is my favorite time of year. In order to best honor Samhain I annually create a drawing to celebrate this Punkienight, the haunt of woodspirits, fairyfolk and frightening rutabagas demanding one “Give me a candle, give me a light If you don’t, you’ll get a fright”.

What’s not to love?

Taken in my neighborhood , where napolitos replace rutabagas!

So today’s daily drawing honors this special time of year, where the dead, the fairy, the saint, are all in our midst. Enjoy their company. In my neighborhood, one with a vibrant Mexican American community, the Dia de los Muertos altars are being set up, bright with orange marigolds, culinary treats, candles, confectionary skulls and the wafting aroma of ancient copal, and clearly , most importantly, the gathering of loved ones, particularly poignant in this moment of isolation. Tomorrow I will burn copal (hopefully my smoke alarm will behave itself), I will read the mass of the Saints, I will reflect upon those passed and treasure those in my midst. honoring both the spirits of life and the souls of the parted.

Happy Halloween, good Samhain, a festive Dia de los Muertos and may the legion of Saints guide you to light and peace.

Punkie Night, daily drawing 30th October 2020, color pencil , gouache highlights on toned paper, 12 by 9 inches

Magnificent Insignificance or what the hell am I doing?

Detail : Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death , 2020

As I spend my time alone in my studio , methodically painting my dainty little paintings , aspiring to some elusive medieval-perfect lapidary finish ; filling day after day with early music, pug snores and cloistered reflections upon obscure seemingly irrelevant themes , I begin to question this existence – after all , is anyone REALLY interested in a third century Hermit and struggles with darkness ? does anyone give a fig about Fairyland, old gods , new gods and the same questions asked century after century, yet always left unanswered; is this “relevant”, to use an increasingly irritating word.

I begin to question all this and how ill-suited, frankly irrelevant I may be , my interests may be and most painfully , my art my be . I follow my heart, as trite as that sounds, led by my interests, waiting to see how the path unfolds; I’m fortunate that my day to day life allows such indulgence, I’m not unaware of that fact . But I think personal exploration to be an essential duty, an imperative in fact , the defining quality of being gifted with a soul .  But my highly personal expression frankly is just that , personal and I think leaves many, if I am lucky, perplexed but more likely just indifferent. I am not sure I blame them ( whoever “them” is ) , for in this frantic attention span challenged universe , where the consumer model is its core influence , just how exactly is my work to be hash-tagged, how best categorized? It isn’t technically proficient enough to be lumped with the MFA realists; it’s too content heavy, too narrative driven to please the non-representational crowd, is it illustration? is it anime ? it isn’t obviously political enough to gratify the identity obsessed awoken claque , it isn’t technically reckless enough to be shelved with the brush-dripped- art brut scrawls so in favor, so well suited, to this rough-and -tumble over shouting world we find ourselves.

I hadn’t thought of which category to select when I first picked up the brush .

I just knew I had to pick up the brush .

Self Portrait of the Artist as a PaperDoll

 As in all things , there is a fashion to the times , a collective defining mood, ours currently seems to be more angry than aesthetic, more retribution oriented than reflective , more inclined to group think than the nuances of individualism , defined by an us-versus-them obsession that frankly rejects the universal humanism I am so inclined towards. A society so collaboration obsessed that from my perspective seems to reject the quiet of A Room of One’s Own and in the end , I believe it to be a society that is just plain old anti-oddball.


I’m also becoming convinced that those who do more readily fit a preferred contemporary narrative and who are able to squawk the loudest about oppression , injustice and their righteousness gets the worm , be it the commission , the residency ,that elusive prize of recognition and relevance. That wiggly golden worm can be anything from an army of devoted social media followers, gallery representation and the ease that seems to embody and most validating, solo shows.

I guess for me , the painful question is , am I good enough , aren’t I good enough ?  Such an adolescent cry, yet in the school yard of contemporary society, seemingly fitting . I see friends audaciously brag about their accomplishments, shamelessly boast of solo shows, commissions and residencies; haughtily letting it be known that their gallery tends to all such mundane business as promotion, representation money gathering etc – mind you, all the while, never ceasing to talk endlessly about themselves and by extension their art.

 Or , perhaps more likely I’m just simply jealous. Just another old white guy (for there is no category of personhood seemingly more open to derision and contempt than the White Guy, preferably the Old White Guy ) dabbling with paint and dabbling not very well . But I’m not willing to accept that fact just yet. I’m going to keep dabbling . For in a dream I was told by that Unknowable Being found in all my dreamscapes that my insignificance is magnificent.

I cling to that contradiction. 

Detail: “Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death” 2020 Oil on panel


Daily Drawing : 30th September 2020

I am going to try to be more consistent in posting on this site, even if only one of my daily drawings . I’m trying to avoid Facebook for a number of reasons , most particularly because it frequently leaves me feeling depleted and depressed.

 

So this is the first of what I hope to be an alternative studio routine :

The Secret Ingredient

Backstory to the drawing is that my membership card to the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic in far off Cornwall arrived the other day . I’d love to visit , dearly wish to see that land of Arthur and that rugged coast , but with travel restrictions firmly in place for the foreseeable future , and frankly budget concerns, that isn’t likely anytime soon. So for now , this dedication drawing .

 

Max Ernst and company

 

Saguaro in a Desert Landscape
2020
Acrylic on panel
14 by 11 inches

This period of extended isolation, while challenging for many has proven a boon personally . For some reason I am included in quite a few exhibitions this year of 2020, virtual and actual  . Earlier this week I received notice that two of my religious/Christian themed works were accepted by Trinity Episcopal Cathedral’s annual Trinity Art Show in Sacramento California , I will be trekking up to Sacramento for  physical drop off early in October-fingers crossed further restrictions and or devastating fire are avoided.

In the virtual realm I’ve been as blessed, several exhibitions in LA and beyond , of especial note Transition at Launch LA just closed. Jurored by Holly Jerger an artist (an person)  I admire , she selected a distinct collection of work, far removed from the usual predictable drab LA fare. Given her association with the Craft Museum it was perhaps unsurprising that many works selected were distinctive in their hands-on techniques.

I was also honored that my Herakles Tapestry was included in the vibrant collection of works at the expansive Brea Gallery in Brea California. This year’s Made in California (MICA) seemed socio-politically timely with much emphasis on POC/gender/queer art themes. To be honest I felt my work and my presence a bit anachronistic. Nonetheless pleased to have been included, I believe that show closes today.

But of most particular delight was having the following painting included in an upcoming  virtual exhibition hosted by the University of Arizona, Museum of Art, Picturing 2020: A Community Reflects. The University of Arizona’s Museum of Art has an impressive permanent collection, one I
had not initially  expected. In response to the isolation of Covid upon artists in particular the museum selected new art to be in conversation with art from their permanent collection. In a moment of being “heard”, the museum’s selection for my work Saguaro in a Desert Landscape was none other than Max Ernst’s Arizona Nightingale. Ernst is quite an inspiration , to be compared in any way is an honor, for the comparison to be from an art museum I admire and had frequently visited, quite an honor indeed. 

I floated as lightly as Ernst’s nightingale the rest of the day!

Max Ernst
Arizona Nightingale
1946
University of Arizona, Museum of Art, permanent collection

Please pardon the paltry image of Ernst’s painting, it is what I have been able to find, a link to the painting and its provenance (which is impressive) follows:

https://uarizona.pastperfectonline.com/webobject/7D540225-B162-467E-A1D3-122721033944

 

 

In place of traditional museum label written by a curator, the museum is using my own words to describe my painting ; as usual bumbling, but sincere:

“An existential darkness is revealed in spite of the joyous coloring and surface patterning, which stylistically references my affection for medieval miniaturist illumination, by so doing I inadvertently expose my inner self…the hazard and boon of spontaneous expression.”

The exhibition will run September 26th through March 28th, via this link:

VIRTUAL: Picturing 2020: A Community Reflects

 

We are snowbirds to Tucson , spending our winter holidays in the beautiful high desert, visiting our growing adopted pig family at Ironwood Pig Sanctuary and of course visiting the University Art Museum (their permanent collection of 15th and 16th c. paintings incredible , most particularly Maestro Bartolomé’s series of panel paintings). This year with Covid closings not sure what our Tucson winter will be like, thankfully the saguaro , and perhaps the mythical nightingale , will be there to welcome us back.

Saguaro in a Desert Landscape
2020
Acrylic on panel
14 by 11 inches

 

New painting: Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death

Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death
2020
Oil on panel
18 by 24 inches

I never really know how my work will be perceived, I try not to think about it. My work is earnest , often with a degree of what I hope passes for wit , but is never intended to be ironic . I work diligently and sincerely on all my work. Perhaps I am humorless, too dour , but I put my heart into the work.

So with this in mind I was taken aback by an emoji “comment” (is an emoji really a comment?)  made recently  on my Instagram page after having posted this recently completed self portrait. I really dislike facial expression emojis , I earnestly try to avoid them, trusting my command of language will properly convey my intentions .

Of all emojis the one I dislike the most is this one : 😂.

I find it infuriating. It seems to embody the moronification of society in general and Los Angeles particularly.  To garner public approval most everything needs to be a joke – a sarcastic , mocking joke laced heavily with irony is most desired . And so this painting was received. I must put this in perspective, it was a single post , by an artist who from his IG site we learn that his specialty is “big dicks and wet c#nts”- so we are speaking of a quite the gentleman. But of course the gentleman in question possesses youth , is handsome , fit and talented in a Tom of Finland. He has well over ten thousand followers and to attest to his smug arrogance , follows no one in return . Oh , and he paints shirtless to better display his artfully paint be-speckled pecs.

I mention all this because my initial response to his puerile emoji comment was to be affronted. I even blocked him in my disgruntledness for a few minutes . But then I realized just how perfect this comment was for a painting, a self portrait, intending to skewer/reject worldliness . If I paint myself as a Holy Fool ,albeit in the self conscious irony I generally reject , I need to expect some hecklers . So from wounded-ness I now possess a degree of pride in having elicited a reaction from just the sort of shallow nincompoop Anthony sought to avoid.

 

This painting started out, as so much does, unintentionally. My daily studio routine generally starts with automatic drawing . I try to not focus on any particular reference material , or getting details “right”, just the free flow of ideas inspired from who knows where . Such was the case of this sketch made I am guessing close to seven years ago while living in San Diego – a difficult period in our/my life .

I hadn’t intended for it to be a painting let alone an allegorical self portrait, yet there was something about the dashed off drawing that beckoned further exploration. So a few months back I decided to revisit , revise the by now , quite familiar theme of St.Anthony of the Desert, his temptations and my appropriating his reality .

 

The painting went well nearly from the start , each element revealing itself to me , and in this period of plague isolation, quarantine an anchorite would find familiar and social unrest akin to third century upheaval , it felt a timely theme.

Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death
2020
Oil on panel
18 by 24 inches

What follows are the details .

 

Seated upon a memento mori throne , I was inspired by a stuffed and stitched example I made awhile back for another Anthony inspired tableau- the circle continues .

The textile model.
A detail of the maker , painting Death as Death models offstage – I have a fondness for paintings within paintings. I also have a fondness for gilded satyr angels .

 

Detail of accompanying figures that I haven’t particularly explored the meaning of : Hirsute Giant, Druidboy and Millefleur Boy ( a favorite).

 

Yesterday’s automatic drawing shares the theme of the painting , a memento mori reflection prompted I know by personal concern . David spent much of this week in the hospital, heart concerns , a procedure was needed , we were of course concerned. It appears all went well, fingers crossed , candles lit , novenas uttered , he will be on his way to good health. He is resting now , Viola a lackluster nursemaid , but he’s home .

There isn’t an emoji to express my gratitude.

 

Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death
2020
Oil on panel
18 by 24 inches