The Thinking Reed : From the Hermitage to the Underworld, the Quest for Gnosis

I’m putting together two proposals for a solo show, this is one of the proposals:

greco_resurrection-of-the-fatherwatercolor( cover: The Resurrection of the Father , 2013)

The Thinking Reed: From the Hermitage to the Underworld, the Quest for Gnosis.

“Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapor, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe knows none of this.
Thus all our dignity consists in thought. It is on thought that we must depend for our recovery, not on space and time , which we could never fill. Let us then strive to think well; that is the basic principal of morality.”

Pascal, Pensées

 

 

 
This dignity is our greatest gift and our harshest burden, this awareness of how absurd our very existence is. Bird, beast or fish are oblivious to their insignificance ; we alone must confront this existential dilemma . We are left to comprehend this miracle we have been given, a gift given with the cruel understanding that it endures for only the blink of a god’s eye. We must then live this life fully , and as Pascal demands, ponder deeply and “strive to think well”
It is this Thinking Reed which I wish to examine with this body of work. Begun in 2013, it consists of drawings, relief prints, watercolor and oil paintings, drawn from a number of sources: the Popol vuh of the Quiche Maya to Flaubert’s Temptation of St.Anthony. These narratives are re-examined through a queer prism , reclaiming the canon as a gay man living in the 21st century.  Of varying sizes they depict a quest for “think(ing) well”, a search for gnosis -self knowledge.
The collection will include approximately 10 -12 pieces, work I envision hung salon style; in the ideal world, against a rich background (I will need to ponder the logistics of that desire). As per gallery preference, ultimately I leave that up to the jurors and the gallery, however the Center Room might prove an intimate setting well suited to the intricacy of the work. Much of the work is completed and ready to be hung; in the instance of enclosed drawings, they may be translated into a painting, a tradition which is part of my studio practice.

The works are as follows:
1- Cover: Resurrection of the Father
2013
watercolor on paper
18 by 24 inches

2- Gnosis…& the Old Gods Were Pleased
2014
oil on canvas
24 by 48 inches

3- Genesis
2014
oil on canvas
30 by 40 inches

4- Seizing Sanctimonium
2016
oil on canvas
40 by 56 inches

5- The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert
2013
oil on canvas
36 by 48 inches

6- The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert
2015
acrylic on paper
11 by 14 inches

7- The Apotheosis of Sophia
2014
oil on masonite panel
18 by 24 inches

8- Jonah
2016
oil in panel
8 by 10 inches

9- Herakles and Telephus
2015
watercolor and graphite on paper
9 by 12 inches

10- The Temptation of St. Anthony (of the Desert) at the Baths of St. Mark
2016
sanguine pencil on toned paper
18 by 24”

11- The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert (or , The Betrayal of the Pig)
2016
graphite and colored pencil on paper
18 by 24 inches

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3 greco_genesis

4 greco seizing sanctimonium

5 greco_temptation-of-st-anthony-of-the-desert (1)

6 greco temptaion-of-st-anthony-of-teh-desert7 greco_sophiathe-apotheosis-ofoil-copy8 greco jonah-20169 greco herakles10 greco the temptation of st anthony_bath of st mark11 greco the temptation of st anthony and pig

My second proposal is more conceptual and I would rather keep it under wraps until it comes to fruition. This one however consists of work I have posted before.

Wish me well.

LG

Yet Another St. Anthony

My passion for the anchorite St. Anthony never seems to abate. Another composition for perhaps another painting. I have many to choose from…

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Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert

2016

pencil on paper

18 by 24″

Details follow:

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Anthony and his guardian Wodewose-Greenman

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Herakles and Ophelia

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The Rape of Tenochtitlan

 

Rape, the very word causes you to pause. I ruminated upon even using the word “rape” for this drawing, but no other word fully expressed the Conquest of New Spain by the Old. The use of the word rape is relatively common in Western art, one refers to the Rape of the Sabine Women and of course all of those frothy depictions of The Rape of Europa , a pink cheeked maiden astride gorgeous twinkly eyed white bulls. I wanted to play upon that theme and the word rape is an integral element of the concept. In this case Europa is doing the raping. 

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The Rape of Tenochtitlan 

2016

colored pencil on toned paper

18 by 24″

I’m gathering my thoughts, both visual and verbal, concerning  a project focusing upon Mesoamerica in general, Tenochtitlan specifically. But the historical elements are superficial in many ways as  I am primarily interested in identity  and perception , how one empire can so thoroughly misunderstand  one another , New Spain vs. Old Spain.  How we continue to misunderstand one another, be it racial tension, gender conflict, cops vs. Black Lives Matter, queers/straights, Muslims, you name it, if it ain’t “us” we become all paranoid and defensive (check out the GOP convention in Cleveland at the moment to confirm my assertion).

I’ve been fascinated for some time  by the intersection of cultures and what is gained and lost in the process. Although  I am not the first and I certainly will not be the last, I hope to add something personal to that conversation.  Drawing back in time, when even the most basic images of what is now Mexico City were ominously romanticized and barbarized,  they were oozing with biased  fodder for our imagination, fueling our fascination with the  pornography of violence:  the perverse fascination with human sacrifice and  the seemingly  never-ending ghastly spectacle of the Aztecs. To the conquerers this New Spain was in fact a New Jerusalem, ripe for conversion, once they came to heel that is.  To drive home the message of this new and terrifying place, the images were depicted through the prism of Classical antiquity , as the  temple image below suggests.

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Jan Karel Donatus Van Beecq (1638-1722) – Illustrations de Histoire de la conquête du Mexique ou de la Nouvelle Espagne

I am now eager to explore this cross cultural disconnect in an upcoming series of work in which I play upon the theme of courtly entertainment, toys and baubles meant to amuse an aristocratic audience, all presented to the Holy Roman Emperor from the New World by none other than the reviled/beloved Malinche. And as my brain is driven fundamentally visually, sketching out vague concepts is the most pragmatic approach.

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As is usual with my approach, whatever floats across my field of vision will often find itself incorporated into my work. The other day while visiting LACMA I encountered a beauty, a small ceramic depiction of the Maize Goddess. She was Mayan in origin, and although diminutive she possessed all of the grace of a Tanagra figurine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanagra_figurine

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I was happy to place this lovely lady into my composition.

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Another inspirational happenstance,  though less elegant, was when my publicist Kristine posted an image of this drawing in its unfinished state and accidentally added a filter of rainbows and stars. In what would have been in any other circumstance appalling  to me , was in this instance, just what I needed. Of course fair Europa would feign affection, declaring undying affection to get at that gold lurking behind Tenochtitlan’s fiery skirt.

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As I drew my mind wandered back to my visit to Mexico City, how as soon as we entered the city, I felt I belonged there. I was wistful reminiscing about the ancient art that seems to reach out from the very soil,defying the Church, defying the State, defying Time.  This detail is drawn from loose memory of a visit to the National Anthropological Museum.

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I’m going to continue to draw upon these fascinating resources, albeit in my own ways. I feel no more compulsion to depict the divinities of Mexico as they were by indigenous peoples than I would feel obligated to depict Christ in a Byzantine manner. The following are a few beauties found at the Museo Templo Major, literally pulled from sacrificial ground. That just fascinates me.

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I’m going to close with my handsome husband taken at the Casa Azul for no other reason than it was a really marvelous day and a really marvelous memory. 

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The Temptation of St. Anthony (of the Desert) at the St. Mark’s Baths

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After the Orlando massacre a few weeks back I have been giving thought to my past, particularly my youth and what a miracle it is that I am here today. Lets say the theme of  Memento Mori is my day to day soundtrack of late. 

My youth was a turbulent period, my parents were furious at my being gay and  they regularly changed the locks after tossing my  meager belongings out onto the lawn.  Their  flashes of temper left  me homeless for periods of time, sometimes a few days, sometimes weeks. Often I would just float around , I had a large car, a Chevy Impala, it was an ugly beast but it was commodious; frequently it sufficed as the roof over my head.

This was the early years of the 80’s and with the little cash I scratched together  I would head north; NYC beckoned me away from that shit-hole in NJ.  And like many suburban gay boys I  fantasized about that city, I picked up copies of the now defunct Soho News, the Village Voice, Interview magazine, fantasizing about this paradise only a train ride away. I imagined living in this fantasy  loft, with beautiful pine floors and expansive windows, “artistic” furniture and of course Boston ferns. Boston ferns were not negotiable .

But of course that was not my reality, I was poor and  not that cute in a city of incredibly beautiful people and my only real companion was an on again- off again drunk drag queen named Leo, her drag name Leonora- perfect Lenny and Leonora.  What a pair we must have made.  

Leo was only six years older I have just discovered but gosh, I thought he was so mature, so experienced. He had BEEN to Broadway, had been  to the Met(both the opera house and the museum), the ballet, he knew everything . He was an introduction to a level of sophistication I hadn’t imagined. On our first encounter he bought me the cast recordings to “Dreamgirls” and “Evita”,both spectacular hits. I hadn’t a stereo or even a home at that point but they were totems of a life I so desired.

But Leo as sophisticated as he was, as genteel as he was, was also very familiar with the sordid (yet exhilarating) aspects of the city. We went to the nightclubs if they were free, the lights flash now in my memories , one blur after another. But what Leo enjoyed most was going to the baths. And really they were perfect, they were cheap, all you had to do was buy a towel and you were in…for hours, until dawn. Leo would buy his towel, often if he was flush, buy mine as well, kiss me goodbye, tell me where and when to meet up, and off he went. I can remember still how he draped his towel, he tucked it up well over his chest, inching it as if he had breasts, pushing them together to imitate  a cleavage he didn’t possess . I often wondered what the hell he was doing, here in this hyper masculine world , here he was sashaying like some peculiar version of Marilyn Monroe. Yet he was popular.

I was not, I was an invisible boy, goofy, plain and confused . Also I was exhausted. What I often found myself doing was falling asleep. I wasn’t deliberately chaste, I just wasn’t chased. So as I was too broke to buy drinks and afraid of the drugs around me, I found myself falling asleep in the oddest of places, the orgy rooms of the bath houses. I think my unpopularity saved my life. Leo would be dead in less than a decade, and so would pretty much anyone else I knew in this strange  wonderful new world. But I survived, and that , I have been thinking about of late. How when I was a young kid,as young as many of those kids in Florida,  how I desired  to attract the attention of the  many beautiful gods  that surrounded me, only a few feet away yet I remained invisible. I was lucky.

That is what I wanted to capture in this drawing, that confusion, that dizzying excitement, the pagan energy, that now is only a shadowy memory. Elusive as a lost soul.

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The Temptation of St.Anthony (of the Desert)in the St.Marks Baths

2016

sanguine pencil on paper

18 by 24″

It is of course a dense image one full of meaning but what is most significant at least to me is the image of the saint, who resembles a younger me, the clown like figure in the lower right; the skeletal figure in the mask is my dear friend Leo soon to be almost as ruined as this figure I depict. 

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I haven’t much from that period, the LP’s Leo gave me our long gone, the cliched pink flamingo statuettes he bought ( even though I essentially lived in a car) long broken, but I still have the post card from The New Saint Marks Baths, it captured the glamour and excitement of that place then and now years later, it still does .

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An odd bit of ephemera to a period long past.  I can’t think about it anymore…

Have a good Independence Day