In imagining my upcoming solo show Fairyland, the Bright Young Things of the twenties frequently occupy my mind and inspire my hand. Their love of spectacle, the thrill of the theatrical and the giddy truth found in what is so often dismissed as a camp sensibility, delights , encourages and informs my own work . The ethereal beauty Stephen Tenant was an enchanting (if silly) flower to this bouquet , but it was the magician Cecil Beaton who arranged it all.
Beaton had an astonishing career, the breadth of his accomplishments too immense for such a casual post, but a new film, Love, Cecil is to be released exploring this master’s work and life. I’m looking forward to its release.
My inspiration files frequently burst with Beaton’s images, here are a few. I have neglected to make attributions beyond Beaton, I apologize for that. If recognition is due, please message me and corrections will be made.
From impersonating celebrities to capturing their image, this is a beauty.
Edith Sitwell was a recurring muse, and a personally a great favorite. I have countless images of this celebrated woman. I love them all.
Not much is needed to be said…
From celebrity culture to the war effort, all the same Beaton glamor.
Closing with one of my favorite images of Dame Edith Sitwell, reminds me of Cerberus of course. This image taken the year I was born, 1962. I admire Sitwell’s approach to vanity, aging , beauty; she seemed to understand fully her curious allure.
Recently the New York Times ran an article discussing the role of fabricators at play in the contemporary art world.
The article prompted my own, admittedly inchoate musings.
link to article:
The NYT article points out the current emphasis of concept over construction: “In the digitally enhanced multimedia era, the mark of the artist’s hand is far less important than the concept…”. The article elucidates further, I suggest a reading in full.
This isn’t new, although the article hearkens to an imagined purity during the Renaissance, I recall distinctly my boyhood heart sinking upon discovering just how many assistants the great Raphael employed to create that army of Madonnas. I’m not naive about it all but it does leave me feeling isolated and out of sync with a tradition I do not fully recognize, or currently understand and share sympathy with.
In the film First Reformed, the title character, Reverend Toller (performed admirably by Ethan Hawke), is a man of burning spirit, actively engaged with both angels and devils, Toller is condescendingly mocked by the megachurch Abundant Life, which patronizingly sponsors his flagging 18th century parish. In the haughtiness of Abundant Life’s head pastor, a preacher more inclined to the Prosperity Gospel than to that of Christ, Toller is mocked for reading of all things, Thomas Merton. Toller is ridiculed for what is perceived as a rejection of the “real world”- which according to Abundant Life is the blessings of wealth and power.
Toller, upon bearing this scorn is adrift, seemingly unfamiliar with the community of faith and his role in it. This is a heartbreaking moment. One sees his struggle,does he abandon self for ease and acceptance?
Such in a way, a modest comparison, is my struggle with the issue of fabricators, be it the workshops worthy of Haephestus or the quotidian reliance upon photoshop and image manipulation.
I have a series of “rules” of what is and is not permitted in my art making . These rules are based upon an insistence that most, if not all of the elements in my work be personally hand crafted. This can border upon mania and must at times be challenged; rules are of course meant to be broken. But for the most part, this self imposed dictate has made collage making, assemblage and installation pieces a bit more challenging-or at least time consuming. I see, know and respect artists who easily and adeptly employ all sorts of found objects and digital techniques, to great effect. I frequently admire that. But for my practice I feel compelled, take joy in fact, in making almost every element. I employ some found objects: feathers and beads and recycled fabric. But for the most part, if a floral pattern is called for, frequently a piece of fabric or artificial flowers would suffice in expressing what I seek to express. Yet I insist, perhaps masochistically, and truth be told, delight in, fabricating each little element. I love the craft of making and would be saddened not to have the wonder of making in my life. Each element seemingly opening the path of art and craft that much wider.
In many ways I pity many of these artists for having reduced their role to designer (although I admire a great many designers, they are generally not artists in the making way), this pity is colored by wonder, don’t they miss the brush, the pencil, the forge? How does a lap top satisfy ? Yes, it is time efficient, but is that the only goal? Handing off a whim of design to a mighty workshop, isn’t that fraught with risk? Is the concept sound, well developed, or as a Prince of Art, is your mere whim worthy of time, labor , expense and occupation within the common sphere-yes, I am referring to Mr. Koons.
Away from the lofty realm of Koons and other celestial beings, there is what I impishly describe as the Lazy Person Artist, the person with perhaps limited time, talent or vision yet wishes to be known as an artist. The type is familiar, most likely having seen the work : some pedestrian pre-made object, or refuse, upon which is slapped some lumpy paint, some string perhaps and then scrawled upon some on-trend slogan: “resist”, “privilege” etc. and then calling it a day…and art. I’m being sarcastic of course but there is a frustration I feel in this rather impoverished exchange .
It is all rather maddening.
Recently an artist “forgave ” me for my indifference to digitally produced art, this artist now , rather alarmingly decided to include in their studio practice such “analog” technique as, shudder, painting! Admitting, perhaps begrudgingly, that whilst digital manipulation allowed images to be made swiftly and efficiently, the allure of brush to canvas was calling. I hope this trend, the artist in their studio, at an easel , alone with thought and inspiration, not a laptop or fabricator in sight, returns. It may be only a pretty myth but it can at least be found in my own studio .
I was delighted yesterday when a Facebook friend noticed the similarity to the above image, a work in progress which I had posted to social media and to that of the Egyptian-Roman mummy portraits of Fayum (late 1st c. B.C. to approximately 3rd c. A.D.).
I have a keen fondness for Fayum paintings, one of the last links to the celebrated paintings of the Classical world. We have the frescoes of course, but painting, which was so well praised and documented in the Classical period, is for the most part available to us except in the mosaic reproductions found gracing the villas of Pompeii. The Fayum panel portraits are therefore even more precious a cherished reminder of a splendid tradition lost to time.
I’ve been conscious of the aesthetic similarities but hadn’t engaged with the likeness actively as a concept. But as my faces are attached to a stuffed fiber torso and my predecessors upon linen wrappings, there is an undeniable link. Prior to moving to Los Angeles, I hadn’t been that familiar withthe Fayum paintings, but the Getty Villa, once again, with its admirable Classical collection afforded an intimacy with these portraits of lost souls. The Getty Villa is a slice of heaven.
There is such freshness and vitality to these encaustic and tempera portraits that one feels you have met these folks before (here in LA, perhaps The Grove).
Frequently they are portraits imagined in the full bloom of youth.
There is in that, a similarity to my own work; an ode to comeliness and youth.
I haven’t yet seen a Fayum portrait that wasn’t expressive, each visage staring directly into your soul , in some cases swaddled in their shroud.
A few of my own “Fayum” ( Gayum ?) portraits. Pardon the silly pun, but who could resist?
I am going to close with this fanciful image of a discovery of a Fayum mummy. Although the Wikipedia source seems to disparage the accuracy of the depiction, its fancifulness is just what delights me. This imagined scene, with its loose-limbed cadaver and baroque sarcophagus is in keeping with my own vision.
My ongoing body of work Fairyland I am beginning to see has its roots and inspiration in the nursery. I find myself harkening back to my childhood. We hadn’t a nursery, or day care, in fact, due to my mother’s mental illnesses my childhood was spent in self care and self nurturance. I raised myself best as I could. One of the delights of my solitary childhood was stumbling upon the Victorian and Edwardian library of my maternal grandmother’s own (isolated) childhood nursery. One such delight was Walter Crane’s enchanting Absurd ABC. I spent many quiet hours poring over Crane’s vivid and complex drawings, imagining better worlds. I owe a huge debt to Crane.
With that alphabetic primer in mind, I turned the focus of my daily drawing practice to the ABC’s; each day producing a primer that would have suited that little boy (and the fellow I am now). Later in life I discovered other primers and have experienced inspiration in ornamental alphabets such as this medieval ( neo-medieval?) illuminated primer.
With that information in mind, my Alphabetic Primer of Fairyland:
This isn’t my first alphabet, back in 2012 I went to task working on my Primer of New Spain ( see side bar for link ). However I lost steam and interest, as interesting as Mesoamerican art and culture is, it isn’t MY story. From now on I am focusing on what is true to me, Fairyland is home.
The following is “D is for Dog” from the above mentioned Primer of New Spain.
With that, I close this post. For the record all of the images are 8 by 10″, on toned grey paper, sanguine (mostly) pencil and white charcoal highlights. I continue my daily drawing practice, starting most studio days with at least one decent drawing. I imagine revisiting the ABC’s once again.
Caves are a recurring image in my dizzying dream world. As a result I incorporate them into my work, initially as an impulse, but now working with a Jungian dream analyst, with more deliberation. My friend Betty Brown, who frequently posts thoughtful affirmations and memorable quotes shared this Campbellian gem this very morning (thank you Betty):
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”
Official dull, boring, seemingly obligatory, keep-the-evil-gods-at-bay announcement:
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