I just finished up with an all day, rather grueling artist workshop , the topic at hand being business practices.
Much I was familiar with, at least superficially, but when role playing was introduced, ( again, ugh) new revelations were revealed .
I’m insufferably shy , I feel ill from exposing myself and of course , who do they call upon first . I was mortified , but I suppose fighting one’s demons is half the task . It’s almost impossible for me to discuss my own work , always trying to deflect scrutiny of the work and by extension , myself .
I still feel mortified . But I tried to persevere through the discomfort.
Part of the workshop was, once divided into small groups, we were to view and describe one another’s work to our group mates . Me being me made positive , probably lame , certainly vague comments ; truthful but never wanting to hurt feelings . In hindsight I see that as unhelpful.
The observations made concerning my own work were revelations- at least to me .
My work was described as :
Strangely biblically tinged
More familiarily , it was described as :
On one hand I’m concerned that my work can be perceived as disturbing but on the other I AM trying to create emotionally evocative work . In the end , I left feeling fascinated by perception , the very concept of perception, how I perceive my work not always translating , or if it does , in a darker stranger way than I had planned . This is something , that in so many ways, cannot be controlled without deliberately designing an image to evoke a specific response .
But that’s perhaps best left to marketing .
It is all so personal ,the work I make ; it might seem idiosyncratic, perplexing , off putting to some ( many?) . I have only just begun to acknowledge that fact in my bubble of splendid isolation.
I’m not going to make any significant changes after these revelations, in fact I feel committed , dare I say confident in the direction I’ve set for myself. Whereas previous critique left me in a puddle , I found this experience a helpful , and strangely ,an affirmation .
One of the facilitators tried to coax me into being more natural while role playing . The truth being I WAS being the natural me, the terrified , the insecure me , the one who makes stuff that may seem inscrutable ( even disturbing ) at times . My job now is to continue exploring my beingness, staying focused upon my truth and when possible try to explain it more efffectively .
At this stage of my life, off center of a century, I am grappling with ways in which to express my “being-ness”. Unable to avoid the “who am I” question any longer, I find myself, as a visual artists reaching beyond my usual studio practice of oil painting into diverse disciplines including figures in the round. The figures are essentially dolls, and are fashioned by fully embracing the pre-conceived sissy element of this art.
It is in this extension of my practice that I am exploring, at this late stage, my identity as a queer and terrified man; the specter of the pansy boy I was, being given new voice in my latest ongoing project “Fairyland”. It is in this new series of projects , where paint, needle and thread give expression and validation to a long suppressed self loathing.
The very name “Fairyland”, a word once delivered with bloody blows, transcends beyond with a message of empathy, compassion. pride, and I hope, humor. Reclaiming the fairy has been empowering. The art I attempt to create is intended to express the spirit of furtive repression breaking free.
I finished my latest figure last evening, what I had heretofore been calling simply a rag-doll, I am now calling a stuffed painting.
He is called The Wodewose.
Greenmen (andGreenwomen), The Green Knight, Wildmen and the archaic form, the Wodewose, fascinate me. They are at once pure of heart and spirit yet unbridled, carnal, the embodiment of our bestial selves. No wonder they appear so frequently in medieval marginalia; amidst sacred texts, randy hairy beastie-folk cavort and beguile.
I’ve turned to the theme multiple times. After reading Simon Armitage’s excellent translation of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” I was hooked on the theme, a wondrously fascinating archetype; ripe for seemingly endless re-interpretation.
This latest work is in the round and I was able to more fully develop his fleshy-ness ( and hairy-ness thanks to some found faux fur).
I was inspired to employ the Wodewose-Wildman archetype because of the recent celebration of Beltane on May 1st. Rebirth, renewal, the “pagan” appreciation of unbridled spring. My figure has two ways of presenting himself in order to more fully keep in the step with the seasons.
The first being flacid Winter Dormant:
And thesecond, lively Spring Renewal:
“The Wodewose” will be part of my contribution to “Satan’s Ball”, a group show at Art Share LA that promises to be an:
“unapologetic embrace of the dangers, demons, burdens and temptations that beckon to the more sinful angels of our nature”.
I’m going to close with a few random images of Wildfolk that never fail to delight me. As I leave for Pittsburgh tomorrow and rain is supposed to be in order, I’m looking forward to a wild rush of greenery (and perhaps a few fauns).
I’ve spent the weekend manning a wall at a local art walk . A first for me . I generally do not attend art fairs , usually attending museum and gallery exhibitions.
The decision is a pragmatic one , with so many openings , it is really just a matter of time management. So I’m unfamiliar with art fair culture , its norms and practices .
As the art walk winds down I’ve come to the conclusion that many art fair attendees come for the booze , folks enjoy drinking beer whilst perusing the open studios . Perhaps the only thing they enjoy more than warm brew is snapping at images of artwork and hastily retreating to the next experience.
This isn’t an unfamiliar sight , particularly at museums; I’m afraid to say I’ve done it myself . But when it is your own work , you ache to inquire their motives for snapping away , seemingly in a random superficial way . It seems a peculiar form of ownership , ownership of experiencing a work without commitment.
I understand that , like I said I snap away with great abandon . Often accruing too many images with little to no engagement , frequently it’s an impoverished experience.
That said , my “Adam” has been quite the hit . An ideal selfie prop for giggling young women and buff young fellows . It’s odd for me to see my work as a naughty joke , but “Adam” was created in a playful spirit , for him to be recieved that way , seems appropriate. Plus , he doesn’t seem to mind .
I just needed to draw today. I have several projects going on , some concepts I need to move forward with for upcoming shows but that all said , just wanted to draw , for drawings sake .
So I did, not the most disciplined of actions perhaps …
I ignored a big looming unfinished painting which is at that stage of “will I ever finish ??”; ignored other works half begun ; ignored projects germinating .
And this drawing , my interpretation of that moment on the road to Damascus is the result. Not the greatest of accomplishments perhaps but I feel more at ease.
It was wonderful to have new thoughts and to just let the pencil move where it wanted to . Mentally , drawing is so clarifying. Particularly welcome as my studio is a happy jumble at the moment. Actually it’s always a jumble , which is how I like it.
Tomorrow I will begin anew on “Goblin Market “. But for the moment calling it a night , pleased I listened to that inner voice .
We live now in what was described recently in a New York Times article as “ the age of rage”. Outrage is in the air , folks are prickly (often justifiably so ) and tensions are palpably high; I have experienced this myself, having inadvertently caused discontent and expressing my own discontent. There was the recent brouhaha at the Whitney over the death portrait of Emmett Till painted by a white artist , pitchforks were raised and there were calls for the destruction of the work (so much attention was paid to this single painting that I almost failed to notice the rest of the collection -much of which I found addressing social issues effectively as well as being visually dazzling).
For more information follow this link: https://hyperallergic.com/368290/censorship-not-the-painting-must-go-on-dana-schutzs-image-of-emmett-till/ In a more pedestrian instance, an entire day on social media was recently focused upon a banal advertising commercial featuring an overhyped celebrity play-acting social activist all whilst peddling a soft drink . A valid point concerning the appropriation of social activism (in particular that of the Black Lives Movement) was made , the advertisement was swiftly pulled and social media moved on . But personally I hadn’t felt the level of outrage that was so vocally expressed in my FB feed. This may very well be the privilege of the white male but discovering that capitalism is coarse and ugly and will employ any marketable hashtag it thinks will sell one more bottle of toxic bubbly brown just doesn’t seem that surprising. Yet I know heretofore apolitical artists, myself included , who relentlessly employ hashtags that indicate a political engagement not previously expressed ; is this so called click bait or sincere outrage ? I have to frequently ask this question to myself . Within a few days the angry collective cloud had seemed to blow over and we were collectivity ( and appropriately) crushed by images of Syrians, men, women and children painfully gassed by their wantonly cruel dictator. But the issue will reemerge and I sincerely question appropriation, what exactly entails appropriation and in many situations what justifies the righteousness of ” identity politics”. I am determined to avoid the heated rhetoric of the far right but I have become increasingly aware of the painful divisiveness amongst people of goodwill even here in my own camp . For although I am not poor, nor am I traditionally disenfranchised, I do lack an advanced degree and I too have felt the sting of being shut down by the Judith Butler/Foucault-quoting-critical theorist-academic elites.
This past weekend I attended an artists talk at a local gallery . The well curated exhibition was self identified as queer (a term – and a hashtag – I have frequently employed in describing myself and my work). Even before I attended the discussion there was a minor social media outrage , accusation of racism freely bantered about concerning a perceived lack of diversity in the collection . These accusations seemed unfounded and hollow to me as the intent of the show, as clearly stated in the curators’ statement, was focused upon the Western male homoerotic gaze . And although much of the work was indeed depictions of pretty dewy-eyed white boys (as has so often been the case in mainstream gay culture ), there were in fact alternative images of desire and longing .
All that said , the point of the show was focused upon the male-to-male gaze , that fairly or not , has been undeniably inspired by the West , one need only look to the Greeks . The co- curator of this show , a thoughtful and well informed fellow , rightly pointed out that the homosexual art historian Johann Winckelmann was in fact writing love letters to Hellenistic works of art .
Gay men have historically been doing this ever since ; it is a driving force with my own work and the intention of the collection in question. Diversity in representation is of course important but the orthodox backlash of what is acceptable inspiration and the (over?) heated division generated is often stifling and ultimately may lead to self censorship. All that said , the self identified queerness of the show left me feeling alienated and questioned my own “appropriation ” of the word ( and hashtag ) ” queer”. From the panel discussion of queer artists , academics and activists , I was clearly not queer enough . There were open jokes skewering conventional mainstream gay men as IKEA shopping , happily and monogamously married homos settling into a presumably sexless existence with well tended gardens and adopted children ( or in my case adopted pups ) all whilst the “real” queers reveled unshackled ( or perhaps shackled ) in sex clubs, dungeons and public parks, “documenting” shenanigans heretofore kept out of public view .
This of course is an overstatement, but the body of work deemed queer (at least in this well curated collection) was in fact focused upon salacious images of dick . So much so , that this artist who is NOT afraid of the penis , felt uncomfortable, rather queasy and ultimately a bit bored . I also felt , once again , alone . Identify politics , in this case queer identified politics , can possess an orthodoxy of identity that I frequently cannot meet and once again I felt as if I were looking into a room ( in this case of attractive young men ) where I simply did not belong and was not welcome . This sense of isolation is familiar , personally and to many of us , no matter how we identity . Identity politics with its wonderful intentions of giving voice to the unvoiced can easily slip into the righteous orthodoxy of the oppressor. Well intentioned or not, so much anger and outrage can in fact be hurtful and alienating . While marching at the LA Women’s March I witnessed protestors of color taunting white suburban women with hostile placards mocking their (perceived) new found activism , questioning explicitly wether they would be found at the next BLM march. They have a valid point and it is perhaps a fair question to ask, but if I were those “nice white ladies”, I doubt very much I would attend.
Squelching well intentioned good will is unhelpful at best . In fact I rarely attend most activists events, even those addressing issues important to the LGBTQ community, POC, women’s issues or any other cause I have allegiance with, for the very reason that somehow , someway, my motivations and intentions are just not up to snuff or “pure” enough . In place of good humored camaraderie, I often encounter a competitive edge that is bordering upon open hostility , a frantic jostling as to who is more informed, more passionate and possessing the most fervent militant zeal . I find it all so daunting and alienating, frankly I’m ill suited to conflict and ill equipped to defend my own good intentions . Instead I retreat . I will however continue to diligently plod along, making my art that isn’t queer enough , righteous enough or identifiable enough . However I can say that the negative repercussions of what is acceptable inspiration and what is cultural appropriation has entered my creative process and my studio practice . Whilst recently brainstorming a concept, I was initially considering exploring ,once again , the archetype of the great and fearsomely attractive Mesoamerican war god Huitzlipochtli to embody the excesses of patriarchy.
But rather quickly I shifted course , not wishing to endure the accusatory arrows of appropriation, I looked to safer territory , the Western canon , specifically the ancient Greeks and Romans, and chose instead that granddaddy of patriarchy , Uranus .
And while Dead White Men have their very vocal critics, I for one can live with this focus , in fact I revel in it as western art, culture and tradition is in fact familiar and eternally thrilling . But it’s also somewhat limiting , instead of feeling free to draw upon any inspiration unfiltered, I feel now a need to question my every motivation. But until I feel better able to defend my intentions I will remain focused upon the Classical traditions of the West.
Recently I had a discussion with a friend, an art historian who’s opinion I hold in high regard. We were speaking of what constitutes inspiration and what is appropriation. I brought up Picasso, Cubism, the well documented influence of African masks upon his work and the subsequent masterpiece Les Demoiselles de Avignon. My friend quickly dismissed Picasso as caring not at all about African art. I felt more than a bit perplexed by this response as I’m not sure what is the appropriate level of appreciation an artist must have for art made outside of his or her own culture in order to find inspiration. Must we really be of a culture in order to draw upon it for appreciation , inspiration and joy ?
What I can say is , whether or not dear Pablo possessed the “appropriate” level of appreciation for African art or not , I am certainly happier living in a world with Cubism than without . And whether or not it was his intention, he introduces this queer little suburban boy from New Jersey -and much of the western world – to African art in a broad and general way . Was Picasso a scholar of African art , probably not , a tool of the Oppressor, certainly not , a great artist? Absolutely. Art ,made manifest by unfiltered inspiration in a seemingly less hostile age.
https://www.moma.org/collection/works/79766 The restrictions of outrage are increasingly more heated, more limiting and more intimidating. I am a quiet person, a shy person , averse to conflict and I will retreat into my hermitage and continue to make what is most likely insignificant art but I will do so without the specter of potential anger and criticism so easily provoked in this Age of Rage by simply avoiding certain inspiration deemed by the powers that be as not my own to draw upon.
Thankfully the Getty has an extraordinary collection of medieval illuminations, if you want me , you can find me there.
I have been hard at work on my contributions for the group show “Bad Girls & Outcasts” at Cactus Gallery . Earlier last year my friend, the talented Ulla Anobile had conceived of the theme and had invited me (and the marvelous Mavis Leahy) to participate. Initially it was to be the three of us, but given the interest in the theme ( perhaps in large part due to our current political climate ) , Bad Girls are all the rage and many fine artists are now participating. It should be a very exciting show, Cactus Gallery always gathers together diverse artists and I have no doubt this will be an exceptional group of makers.
For my part I’ve focused on a few of my favorite archetypes: the brazen femme fatale; the sinner/saint; the vengeful goddess and of course, witches. I worked in a variety of techniques: fiber art, painting, drawing, and relief printing. The following images are the results of my love affair with all girls bad, wonderful and misunderstood.
Happily, as I finished up yesterday, I did one final drawing of The Magdalene, as a study for personal reasons, not for the show. After posting my studio progress on Instagram I was pleasantly surprised to find that a collector for the drawing. I’m not yet ready to part with the drawing but I’m telling you, Bad Girls are all the rage!