Leonard Greco | Allegories, Archetypes and Art History

In a nutshell…

ART AND CAKE

Andromedus Andromedus

My love of mythic narrative, particularly narratives that focus upon universal themes of creation, sacrifice, redemption and enlightenment (gnosis), inspires my work. Although indebted to the western canon and frequently finding inspiration within the richness of its traditions, I have fallen under the spell of the Popol Vuh, the creation myth of the Maya people. Utilizing this ancient body of work I am able to explore universal themes without the influence of recognizable western archetypes.

Through exploration I may examine a culture, that though foreign from my western perspective, provides endless fascination and possibility. This fascination with Meso-american art and culture however is not translated in a mock-Latino idiom. Given my western heritage I would consider that not only disrespectful but inauthentic. Inspired by the words of José Clemente Orozco I resist “looting indigenous remains…however picturesque and interesting they may be”. Instead of drawing upon the obvious source, I instead…

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The Siren’s Call…let them in

My work is rarely overtly politic, but with the reckless nationalism of a certain candidate and now the UK’s vote to exit the EU, driven by its own nationalistic impulses , I felt compelled to express my dismay with a new painting.

Hence The Siren’s Call.

The Siren's Call, 2016, oil on paper, 8 by 10"
The Siren’s Call, 2016, oil on paper, 8 by 10″

The Siren’s Call 

2016

oil on panel

8 by 10″

It is another tiny painting but as is my want, I have packed it with meaning. I had hoped to capture, with my comely Siren (initially I was channeling Betsy Ross but she is as tarted up as Marie Antoinette, I cannot resist ostrich plumes) the seductive qualities of our nation (and the UK).  The  elusive essence of what drives disparate and desperate people to our shores to rebuild, renew and reinvent themselves.

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I would NOT be here if Europe’s “trash”, my Calabrian grandfather’s folks and the Slovak’s on my grandmother’s side hadn’t been allowed entrance.  David and I are researching our geneology through Ancestry. I come upon these gorgeous names of my great and great-great grandparents, hailing from shitty villages in southern Italy. We even discovered my great grandmother’s photo, I only saw her once but I recognized her immediately. And you know what? She looks Mexican! We hear all of this terrible inflammatory language directed at our southern kin and yet their struggle:to get here, to settle in and to prosper, is really the same struggle my southern Italian endured ( many folks to this day still revere the “white” northerners, another issue altogether ) .  My grandfather’s people didn’t assimilate easily, language barriers were a challenge and the public disdain must have been humiliating.

Yet somehow they persevered and became part of the weave. I understand  the fear of loss, a loss of perceived power, prominence and position. But it is ultimately self destructive. I’m hoping the fearful and the vitriolic come to some understanding of empathy and don’t leave those who want entry drowning in the waves as my poor little bird.

This painting started out as a relief print. That is becoming my practice more and more. And now that I have finished this painting, I think I might make yet another version of the first series, which is illustrated below.

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 I still hold hope that we can Pope Francis and his plea for compassion:

“Often, however, such migration gives rise to suspicion and hostility, even in ecclesial communities, prior to any knowledge of the migrants’ lives or their stories of persecution and destitution.

In such cases, suspicion and prejudice conflict with the biblical commandment of welcoming with respect and solidarity the stranger in need.”

His message on Sept. 3rd 2015 on World Day of Migrants and Refugees. With that , have a good weekend.

 

 

Jonah, revisited

Jonah 2016

Jonah

 2016

oil on panel

8 by 10″

Sometimes you think a painting is finished (or you want it to be finished) but there is a nagging voice telling you otherwise. Such was the case when I first posted this little painting , declaring it finished. But as soon as it posted, I felt it wasn’t . My doubt was confirmed, just a few hours after posting it , by a phone call from my friend the artist Paul Torres. Paul, with his usual courtliness let me know how much he LOVED the new painting , then just as quickly told me how the hell to improve it. I love Paul for that, the ability to ever so cleverly help me attain what I seek without crushing my spirit.  Check out Paul’s fantastical world at this link:http://www.paul-torres.com .

This is how the painting looked before Paul’s phone call.

greco jonah 2016

I’m thankful for my friends, lets just say that, particularly Paul.

Daddy Issues

Tomorrow is Father’s Day , and if Mother’s Day causes me to feel ambivalent and mournful , Fathers Day enrages me.
My father was a petty and wantonly cruel man , frustrated with his situation he expressed his rage in violent outbursts directed at his terrified brood. My mother perversely would boast her husband didn’t beat women but boy he knew how to beat children.

His punishments were decidedly corporeal , unpredictable and communal , in so much if one of my six siblings aroused his displeasure , we were all summoned to drop our drawers , and await the blows from a studded belt purchased specifically for his “justice”. From teen to toddler we took it , silently , I believe silently out of pride . My mother , deep in her own madness , stood silent as well, a mute specter .

Surprisingly , my being the eldest, I somehow escaped the brunt of his wrath. My father like many macho Latin men could smell a faggot a mile away and he instinctively recoiled from my presence . He beat the shit out of me , particularly if I betrayed a fey gesture , but his concentrated brutality was upon my far younger and far sweeter siblings .

One such incident was deeply profound and it severed figuratively and literally my relationship with my father. My baby sister Kat, left to my care after my mother’s illness left her unable to attend to her needs , was participles adorable and particularly precocious . I adored her sparkle .

My father found it aggravating .

 She was just a toddler , acting out , impotently I tried to hush her , frustrated , my father rushed from the kitchen table and just slammed her full force into the wall . Her little head hitting the unforgiving surface with a heartbreaking  sound . Without thinking I rushed to the utility drawer and pulled a pitiful and most likely , dull , paring knife. I went after my father , and in romantic reflection I want to believe I stabbed him, but what I do know is , in a bit of Fruedian genius my father pulled out his far larger hunting knife , effectively ending the fight . My mother , the ever present yet silent ghost , witnessed my mortified retreat .

Hence today’s painting from 2015,”The Castration of Uranus”. According to classical tradition , the Earth Mother Gaia provides her son, the Titan Cronus with a “great stone sickle” with which he castrates his brutish , sibling devouring father. Alas my mother provided me with no sickle and I lacked the ability to smite my father.

Soon after I was on my own, I haven’t spoken to the hateful man in well over thirty years . I’ve heard, like old Nazis , he has mellowed , but I harbor memories of his unjust power . 

Often, like my depiction of Uranus,  my father held court , in his briefs , legs apart, for like many of his Italian American friends he was unabashedly proud of his endowment . That he chose to flaunt his “family jewels” ( as he called them ) in front of his children befuddles me to this day. But I was taken aback when revisiting this painting that I had expertly captured that haughty pose , granted now deflated .

So if I hadn’t the power to vanquish my father with a paring knife , I have the power with my brush . My father’s greatest gift to me is empathy , I cannot bear brutish cruelty towards those unable to defend  themselves.  My passion for the rights of animals stems from past lived experience . For that I’m grateful .

Happy Father’s Day ( seriously ).

Of Vermin and Fig Leaves

flea w fig

As I attempt to develop some sense of presence of myself as an artist, I find myself turning to social media. Be it Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or this studio journal, I am becoming increasingly aware of what is and what is not appropriate to post. As much of my work depicts nudity, posting full-frontals has the potential of censorship.

 My latest paper doll-jumping jack Self Portrait of the Artist as a Flea is unabashedly nude. The nudity was a big “fuck you”  to the bigots and the nasty folks who hate us , particularly important  after the Orlando massacre. Queers have been treated like vermin for so very long, by fashioning myself as a flea I embrace what they find so vile.

That sort of righteous anger is all well and good but will it work on my Instagram feed?

Hence the fig leaf.

Now for the sans fig leaf.

flea without

Self Portrait of the Artist as a Flea 

2016

pencil and watercolor on paper, brads and string

22″ high by 16″ wide

He is a funny character, when he jumps he twitches awkwardly, I like him a lot, just not sure which I prefer, the figged figgy or the unfigged (we call fleas “figgys” in our house).  

A problem with nudity is of course not new and I had my encounter with censorship a few years back when the city of Encinitas CA refused to hang my painting Gnosis and the Old Gods Were Pleased unless the female character was made more discreet – for some reason the male junk seemed a-ok. 

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Gnosis and the Old Gods Were Pleased

An artist I admire quite a bit , Milo Reice ( link to his site: http://miloreice.com/MiloReice/intro.html) who I discover happens to be a neighbor, has explored censorship and the fig leaf archetype in his own work. In his words  concerning the following image :

“A detail of a recent work of mine where I was lampooning censorship- underneath everything is thoroughly painted – the appliqués held on with magnets”

 A brilliant solution to a vexing problem by a magnificent artist. Check out his website above!

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Of course there are times when foliate discretion adds to the allure as in Canova’s  hunky Mars, who in this 1822 sculpture Venus and Mars. One rarely encounters such provocative undergarments outside of a go-go boy club.  

Venus and Mars. Antonio Canova. Italian. 1757-1822

Antonio Canova

Venus and Mars 

1822

But so it, perhaps an ostentatious fig leaf is in order. If so, I am in fine company. My boyhood hero introduced a ridiculously over sized fig leaf to the  ephebe valet  in his Enter Herodias ( from a Salome folio, first published in 1894) after  there was criticism to the boy’s boy-bits. Not sure which image is more profane ; not to mention the grotesque  fetus-like attendant with his enormous boner.

Without the fig:herodias

and with:

E.430-1972 Salome, Plate IX- Enter Herodias from a portfolio of 17 plates; by Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98); published by John Lane; English; 1907. Line block print.
E.430-1972
Salome, Plate IX- Enter Herodias from a portfolio of 17 plates;
by Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98);
published by John Lane;
English; 1907.
Line block print.

Both are delightfully perverse, horny candle sticks and dear Oscar as master of ceremonies. Source:http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1110742/enter-herodias-a-portfolio-of-print-beardsley-aubrey-vincent/

I want to close with a beautiful prayer to the queer and the unwanted. In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting the internet was awash with support and queer empowerment . This prayer by  Mark Aguhar, who apparently killed him/herself ( I believe the author was transgender) wrote this beautiful Litany to my Heavenly Brown Body. I need to research Aguhar more thoroughly but felt it a fitting close to this post.

Mark Aguhar, %22Litanies to My Heavenly Brown Body%22

Acceptance 

This little drawing , part of my daily drawing practice , a mere 6″, caused me a great deal of self doubt and personal loathing yesterday . For no matter how I tried , erasing , tweaking, scrutinizing every pencil stroke, I could just not get it right . The eyes were off , the ears imbalanced; I’d post it on Instagram only to delete moments later mortified that I had revealed my all too apparent inadequacies.
My last crit ( gosh I have skin as thin as Mr Trump it seems ) the facilitator questioned if I really understood the principles of anatomy or of perspective . And since then I have feverishly worked towards remedying that  deficiency . If I am honest, not to solely improve the work but to avoid the humiliation of exposing my flaws . That  criticism  exposed all I hate about my work and by extension myself.

I don’t have as firm a grasp on perspective or anatomy as I might wish . Being self taught had its benefits but it has its negatives as well. I see other artists render the form with incredible grace and apparent ease. Yet I struggle and  I will continue to do so. I plan on taking a course in perspective this autumn , for although I grasp the principles I haven’t the foundation that others possess. And I of course love drawing the body … Even if I suck at it .

But in the end , anatomy or perspective , qualities of light  and dark, they aren’t what makes or breaks my work . They can enhance my intentions when I place brush to canvas but it is the spirit of my work ( of all work that I admire ) that makes my work satisfying .

Yesterday’s narcissistic masochism quashed that spirit . I want to be in a place where I can present lame sad -assed drawings and not feel completely debased .

It’s part of the process I suppose , one pencil strike at a time .

Now to work.

Cernunnos

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I just finished a drawing of the horned god Cernunnos. My studio companion of late has been a Druid podcast out of the UK, fantastic stuff about finding the sacred in the every day. The horned god seems to pop up quite a bit, so I felt compelled to at least work out a sketch of him. I was also compelled to imagine what sort of hut he would live in which indulged my interest in neo-medieval follies . It was fun, drawing gives me great pleasure and freedom.

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Cernunnos and his Lair

2016

pencil and pastel on toned paper

18 by 24″

I’m reminded of another horned, branched, antlered figure I sketch out awhile ago, thinking it might make a handsome little (or large) painting. We will see, may the gods grant more hours.

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