My textile /mixed media installation piece Embodied: St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears is a major component of my solo show Fairyland which is now on exhibition at MOAH/Cedar. This body of work occupies an entire gallery and is on display until March 31st, 2019.
Those familiar with my work recognize that I have devoted considerable studio energy to the theme of the hermit Anthony and his desert trials. This particular work, by far my largest, was first realized in an inchoate state last year as part of residency at Shoebox Projects in Los Angeles. It has more fully developed into its present incarnation. Further development is most likely inevitable.
My concept for this show which is partly based upon Flaubert’s masterpiece of the same theme, and the myriad visual depictions of this beleaguered Desert Father not to mention my own trials and distracting temptations of life in the modern age is best expressed in the following artist statement:
Embodied:St.Anthony & the Desert Tears, my latest mixed media installation is inspired most significantly by Gustave Flaubert’s “The Temptation of St. Anthony” (1874). The richness of detail and illusion that Flaubert evokes almost suffocates the reader in its voluptuous beauty. Flaubert himself was inspired in great part by Brueghel’s own phantasmagoric depiction of the tormented hermit. I wish in some way to allude to that dizzying yet exhilarating experience.
As a young boy Flaubert witnessed a marionette performance of “The Mystery of St. Anthony”. From that point on, “St. Anthony accompanied Flaubert for twenty-five or thirty years”, as the philosopher Michel Foucault has written. Flaubert returned to the anchorite time and again until completing the work in 1872. This is not an easy read, dense, at times over-ripe, seemingly more chant than prose; Foucault describes the work as an “overcrowded bestiary” with “creatures of unnatural issue.”
It is this “overcrowded bestiary” I wish to evoke with Embodied,wishing to populate the tableaux with a parade of bewildering, complex “creatures of unnatural issue”. These hybrid embodied beings represent not simply base impulses but our own deep struggle to live a fully expressed life. For when I tackle such fraught topics as sin, temptation and redemption, I am looking beyond the typical biblically inspired admonition (such as Lust or the other Seven Deadlies). I am more interested in the quotidian, seemingly insignificant distractions that prevent us from embodying our truest selves. In essence, what interferes with your being authentic? What is your demon? Who, what shadows your path?
I’m particularly interested in exploring how the tools of modernity – social media, the self-commodifaction through “branding” oneself, the pursuit of relevancy— all hinder full true self-expression, perhaps even censoring it or rendering it mute. Foucault describes Anthony’s temptations as “…false gods resembling the true God….” I argue that false gods lurk in the inky alleyways of a frenetic and rapacious contemporary society.
The mystic Thomas Merton in discussing the Desert Fathers insists, “they did not reject society with proud contempt, as if they were superior to other men”, but instead were seeking the fullest expression of their purpose. Throughout our lives we are given signs which point us (or call us) in the direction of our authentic purpose, so as Merton reminds us: “…whatever you see your soul to desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe”.
I will do that “thing”, clumsily, distractingly, awkwardly, but like Anthony, sincerely and with purpose.
Numerous earlier incarnations on the theme, such as this 2018 oil painting of the troubled saint, play upon this intention and communicate directly with the installation Embodied:St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears.
The following images taken at the March 23rd 2019 MOAH/Cedar opening hopefully substantiate that claim.
(Note, all gallery courtesy of Shoebox PR.)
The installation centers upon the Anchorite’s Chair, from which numerous demons torture the saint from within and without.
Numerous demons pester the troubled hermit.
The crucifix of the desert saint itself isn’t immune from daemonic molestation.
To see Embodied embodied was deeply gratifying, if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to see Fairyland it does run through March 31st with an artist talk on the 30th.
I am also hosting a life drawing session March 24th, 4:45 through 7 pm, the gallery will be open prior to the life drawing should you be inclined to take a peek.