The Cave as Metaphor

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” 

-Joseph Campbell

That pretty much sums it up.

Now to that cave.

Leonard Greco
“Journey of the Rose”
oil on canvas
2014

GDPR

Official dull, boring, seemingly obligatory, keep-the-evil-gods-at-bay announcement:

 

As you probably already know, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect  25 May 2018. The new regulations are such that your personal data can only be used with your consent. Here at Boondocks Babylon, the safety and privacy of your information is paramount. If you enjoy receiving my updates and announcements, no further actions are necessary.

 

Should you wish to stop receiving notifications , please email me at neobaroque@mac.com (or I would think , just unfollow me). This is all far above my head, I am a painter, this stuff, all a bit daunting .

 I do however appreciate your continued interest, it flabbergasts me that anyone finds it interesting. So thank you.

Sincerely,

Leonard Greco

Memorial Day 2018

Los Angeles

Memories of Teotihuacan

We spent yesterday afternoon delighting in the mystical offerings of the Moon and the Sun pyramids , Feathered Serpents and the well traveled Avenue of Death , I speak of LACMA ‘s excellent exhibition , on display now ( through July 15th) City and Cosmos : The Arts of Teotihuacan.

The following are some mementos, but they hardly do the works displayed any justice .

LACMA is bursting with amazing offerings at the moment . Of personal interest is Ancient Bodies : Transformation, Personhood, and Power in Mesoamerica ( open through July 8th); an exploration of contemporary Iranian art that seemed from first cursory glance to be almost too spectacular In the Fields of Empty Days : The Intersection of Past and Present in Iranian Art ( through September 9th) and opening June 3rd The Chiaroscuro Woodcut in Renaissance Italy ( through September 16th).

Much to occupy my summer .

My David at the foot of the Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, 2013.

And now some snapshots from yesterday’s visit ,  treasures unseen , unknown to us prior .

This Host figurine was perhaps the most inspirational of what I saw yesterday . The figure , under a foot , initially held smaller figures . I am eager to incorporate this idea into my own work .

Also inspirational was this Bundle figure , a graven depiction of a sacrificial bundle offering with detachable masks . Masks are nearly as important to my own work as they are famously important to that of Teotihuacan.

 

A small delicate piece .

And a large offertory piece ( with squinting husband for scale ) . Mysteriously smashed at the end of the Teotihuacan Empire , many large scale figures destroyed seemingly purposely, still not clear why .

Magical figurines from the Pyramid of the Moon.

Of course plenty of incredible wall murals , the fresco luminous to this day .

A most comical avian figure .

And a wondrously detailed warrior.

 

I’ll end with this most expressive face.

Cloistertime

I’ve been spending much of this year sequestered in my studio , focusing upon work at hand and engaging with the actual world far less . My desire to work has compromised my ability to attend openings, pay studio visits , basic human time . I have ambivalent regret about that , but the time spent at the cloister of my making is so fleeting , my life so short that I feel compelled.

Although I spend less and less actual time with friends , many talented and exciting artists, company I treasure I do stay engaged, at least superficially. Social media keeps me in the proverbial loop , for that I am grateful .

Work in progress : The Herakles Tapestry

And through social media I am offered moments of reflection . I recently saw a post from an artist I admire very much and a dear friend , this post was hash tagged with “#f@ckoverthinking” ( without my censor ; it increasingly seems the “f” word is the go-to descriptor for almost anything : “f-ing brilliant “, “f-ing amazing “, etc. ).

This admonition to not overthink one’s process and by extension work , inspired thinking about my own process and the work itself . The taste for seemingly spontaneous, emotive work , where the process is an existential eruption feeds a narrative very much in fashion . Hollywood for decades has promoted the mythology of a feverish genius , blind with passion , communicating madly with their unrelenting muse ( the new film concerning Picasso has a cover image that depicts this archetype very well – handsome , paint , bespecked , exhausted ).

I confess my studio time has never been a cardio workout . In fact , contrary to my friends admonition to “f” overthinking, I think a great deal . I think, I write , I connect the dots . And while my work isn’t aesthetically feverish , it is dense with layers , perhaps too many , I don’t know for I am too close to the process . But it is the work I find interesting , the work I want to look at and the work I want to bring into the world .

I’ve never been interested in work that doesn’t call me back for another visit . That makes too direct a point . The works I most admire puzzle me , tease me with elusive symbols , require my attention . Directness is not my nature , not in life , or conversation, or even in my writing ; I am furtive , and in my studio work I would rather slip in a sly informed allegory than confront an issue directly . A flourish of meaning easily overlooked.

But I do think my approach is at odds with contemporary expectations of what art is or should be ( my calling my work “art” is an indulgence I allow myself when speaking of it , generally I refer to it as “stuff I make ” ). Street art has in a great way set this expectation : deft, ecstatic , exuberant, and most importantly, accessible. Marx would have been pleased.

My own work tends to be more obscure, more measured , the process at times almost plodding , but a joyous plodding , because the dedication to minute brushstrokes, to innumerable pencil markings or whip stitches is not unlike a prayer .

I had a wise teacher , a Russian iconographer , who insisted that every brush stroke when painting (an icon) is a prayer of gratitude. This deliberate , exacting mindfulness, the antipode to “overthinking” , is what I seek in my cloister .

Which is where I will spend my day . Have a great one .

(I am inspired by medieval illumination, , the measured , concise focus upon marginalia . This ornamental border , my take on Marginalia, is on a much larger scale , but when finished will, I hope, convey the same spirit . I’m looking to go larger and also to employ fiber art.)

An Ode to Imperfect Mothers

“Medea”,
performed by Sarah Berndhardt as imagined by Mucha.

As parent days approach, that same old feeling of ambivalence and regret returns. Having just finished D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, realizing once again that the relationship between boys and their Mater is frequently fraught. For while I have no contact with Pater, I have an ambiguous relationship with my mother. While searching for a Mother’s Day card, this annual ritual, resulted once again in frustration. The many shiny offerings extolled maternal devotion and unflagging support- are there really so many stellar Mamas? All the effusive sentiments seemed fulsome to me, at least pertaining to my own situation. I settled on a blank card.

Navigating a complex, frequently emotionally challenging relationship with one’s parents is familiar ground to many. I needn’t delve into sordid details, simply in my situation, a volatile father prone to violent unpredictable outbursts and a woman susceptible to mental depression and emotional retreat. It was complicated.

Yet throughout the chaos, I developed as a fey little boy, indulging in theatrical productions, dolls and hyperbole. 

This annoyed my usually permissive (vacant) mother a great deal, her own internalized homophobia alarmed by my swishy ways.  Boys in the suburbs of working class New Jersey had clearly defined gender roles, and I inadvertently broke them all. She had three complaints against me , which she would lash out to me in her impotent fury:

First, I had as many worries as Carter’s had Little Liver Pills:

That I had a vulgar inclination to Gild the Lily; I do, I appreciate her noticing.

Sunflowers here, but you get my point.

And lastly, I was as dramatic as Sarah Berndhardt. 

Now, as a boy, I didn’t have a clue as to who this Sarah Bernhardt was, but I did note it seemed a bad thing…and that she was a girl, and that wasn’t meant as a compliment. I also knew my father usually clobbered me after my mother mocked me as “Sarah”- her nickname for me. For if my mother was an unconscious homophobe, my father was a raging one, one who delighted in gay bashing. He bragged about putting the “faggots” he encountered ( why was he encountering gay men so frequently I dare not imagine) , how he put these fags in their place, I imagine with muscle. So it is an irony that Sarah Bernhardt has become a bit of a patron saint for me, Divine Sarah indeed.

So a little tribute here to unresolved relationships, to mad mothers and to those who played them.

French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) and her son Maurice, c. 1880, Paris

One of Sarah’s roles was indeed a mother, but how such a powerhouse balanced maternal duties I wonder at. Again, I imagine it was fraught. 

Sarah as sculptress, more than admirable as a studio artist, both sculpture and painting. And of course, posing.

As a boy, I was very good at this eye roll, perhaps the nickname was warranted.

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Thanks to my thoughtful friend Dwora.

Post Script: today, the day after Mother’s Day, May 14th 2018, would have been my Nana’s 100th birthday (Nana was my mother’s mother). This is a little tribute to this most imperfect mother.

Sun City AZ, mid 1980’s

This is Arizona, in the mid-80’s and this is my Nana, Katherine Whittenborn-Murphy-Lake-Draper-Lynn (there is one more, she married five times but I can’t remember his name) : today May 14th she would have been 100 years old. At this moment in time she was at the height of her power and full delight in life. She golfed everyday with her fifth husband Syd, Angel, her poodle (their hair matched) was her frequent caddy. She ran for mayor on the GOP ticket (did not win) and was acclaimed for her work in silver craft (in which she rightly shone).
My grandmother was an antiques dealer specializing in 18th and 19th century Anglo-American decorative arts and a gifted self taught artist with a broad spectrum of interests: studio painting, sculptural stained glass, fine jewelry design and lapidary arts, French cuisine, sculpture, choral work, and later golf, she was a tremendous influence.
Her impact was enormous yet in reality, in boyhood , I saw her perhaps a dozen or so times. She was truth be told a terrible grandmother in the traditional sense. Indifferent to children, preferring dogs and cats ( she raised Alsatians and Persians) and gave priority to her own desires. Born outcast to a fading semi-patrician family, she was raised as an orphan in the family home, a rambling, now disgraced Victorian called Castle Corner. Handsome home, miserable memories : christmas gifts were repackaged castoffs from her step siblings . Nana was determined to rise above that and in many ways she did.
But as a grandmother she was ill suited, save to one drama prone little gay grandson who she doted upon. Nana wasn’t a cookie-baking sort, but once whipped up escargot just in order to demonstrate how best to use her pretty abalone silver tongs. She painted her bedroom in gold leaf , raised raucous peacocks ( that drove my Puritan mother mad), wore fur in the summer, and thought five diamonds better than one (she designed a showy cocktail ring with castoff engagement gems).
With her fifth and final husband she moved West to be closer to her beloved Native Americans, there she felt happiest. But we saw her even less.
All that said, I adored her from afar, and I suppose I still do.
Happy Birthday Nana.

 

 

 

The Artist & their Studio

Many of us share a fascination with the artist and the place in which the magic is made. I know as a boy, fascinated with all things 19th c. , the studio of the artist was most beguiling . The divine Sarah perhaps embodying all that I held dear.

Sarah Bernhardt in her studio.

Miss Bernhardt was an astonishingly gifted “amateur” , far surpassing my own talents. But other artists, “real” artists, also possessed gorgeous palaces devoted to art. John Singer Sargent’s magnificently appointed studio nearly outshines dear Madame X.

John Singer Sargent’s studio, the lovely Strapless One in the distance.

In  my opinion there never was a more glamorous studio than that of the immensely visionary Gustave Moreau ( we here in LA have an outstanding Salome at the Hammer). Moreau was a god and certainly deserved a stairway to heaven.

Detail of Moreau’s incredible studio.
Gustve Moreau’s most gorgeous studio.

Moreau’s lovely digs apparently provided shelter to some comely lads.

Studio of Gustave Moreau, apparently model for his Hesiod.

The Pre-Raphealite John William Waterhouse had a rather wonderful place to apply his admirable talents.

The Pre-Raphaelite John William Waterhouse looking dapper at his easel.

But many of us, particularly those of us working in expensive cities such as Los Angeles, have less Palace to Art and more Hovel. My own , while modest, brings me great delight. My dear friend Kristine Schomaker, foundress of Shoebox PR ( link: https://shoeboxpr.com ) , called recently , the following images a fond memento of her visit. 

With my dear friend Kristine Schomaker.

Although less grand than dear Sarah, I do, in my thrift store way attempt to capture her glamour.

Sébastien-Charles Giraud, “Souvenir d’atelier”

Although Papa Picasso had rather imperial digs,

The grand Pablo in his sumptuous studio.

most of us, as dear Mary Ellen Best ( 1809-1891) have far more modest making places. Yet in the end, the space is infertile ground without its maker.

The painting room of the artist Mary Ellen Best; by the artist.

Wishing all fertile ground.