Egyptomania

Has there ever been an artist not smitten with the wonders of Egypt? Like so many, an early inspiration has been Egypt and from what I have ascertained, the Greco-Roman world was equally enchanted . Currently the Getty is offering eager visitors the opportunity to examine, through art and material culture, the aesthetic conversation between Egypt and the West in their comprehensive exhibition Beyond the Nile, Egypt and the Classical World. 

Link:http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/egypt/index.html

It is perhaps best to start with the eternally youthful and vibrant Alexander (the man perhaps most responsible for the anxious vanity of gay men ever since), for after this great conquerer with the bee stung lips, began the Ptolomaic Kingdom (link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ptolemaic_Kingdom) which a great deal of this collection  is devoted .

Alexander the Great

But the Greeks weren’t the only ones to grace this enticing land, the Romans were soon to follow suit, and with that, pretty Roman boys prancing about in Egyptian drag.

I feel as if I know this hipster boy (above).


Frivolity aside, the conquering of a people (and spectacular resource of riches ) is a serious matter. And what is more important than one’s very soul. Conditional religious tolerance was a hallmark of the Roman Empire, pay tribute to Caesar and pray to whatever god you wish ( those stubborn Christians caused quite a stir in this matter). But what I found so astonishing with the Roman occupation of Egypt was not only a tolerance for the faith traditions of the Nile but a whole hearted embrace. Perhaps not unlike our own spiritually weary privileged society, the eastern exoticism of Egypt was too alluring to resist. For soon Romans were embracing quite a few Egyptian deities, synthesizing them into their “spiritual practice” ( I was amused to see quite a few fashionable looking Egyptomania religious paraphernalia – hard not to be reminded of our infatuation with the “namaste” East). This embrace wether through sincere faithfulness or fashion is nonetheless in stark contrast to the conquest of Christian nations who felt called upon by the Almighty to not only conquer the body but to convert the soul. 

Of the gods most popular with the Greco-Roman world , Isis and Serapis seemed to have reigned supreme. The Greeks most enchanted with the lithesome Isis.

 

devotee to Isis
Roman

The Romans seems taken with Serapis and imagine him rather  predictably as a comely virile  god.

A particularly handsome Serapis

 

But given we are speaking of Romans, the austerity of Isis and Serapis might need a licentious interlude with the great ( and ithyphallic) god Bes. A rather randy little bugger the Romans seemed to embrace with gusto.

 

Classical mythology began acquiring narrative elements of Egyptian mythos as in this beautiful fresco with that most iconic beast, the crocodile underfoot.

Rather typically, the spirits of the Nile were seen as quite hot.

Once again, speaking of Romans, we can’t imagine every moment devoted to worship, for the spirit of pleasure must be served and the Romans were devoted attendees . In fact I acquired a new word with this exhibition , “Nilotic”, which apparently means pertaining to the Nile or the fantasy of this fabled place. I confess these Nilotic decorative schemes gave me the greatest delight.

These odd little pygmies, as un-PC as can be imagined remind me of our society with its unrepentant amusement with dwarves in popular culture.

Even the coins of the realm featured the crocodile.

This image was perhaps one of my favorites and I imagine it will soon feature in my own Nilotic fantasy.

Like chinoiserie of the 18th and 19th century, the impression of a culture was far more important than any sort of authenticity. Roman decorators weren’t any more scrupulous than the courts of Europe , inventing psuedo-hieroglyphs as handily as the ornamental faux chinois script found at Brighton Pavilion.

I will close this rather lengthy post with a detail from the first image, a gorgeous Roman masic, it captures the spirit and romance of the Nile.

Actually I am going to close with my favorite piece in the exhibition, a pair of serpentine gods. Extraordinary in their strange beauty. And with that, good night, wishing sweet Nilotic dreams.

Lenten Indulgences

“He has Risen.”

 

(source: http://damascenegallery.com/shop/image-subject/icons-christ/the-resurrection-of-christ/)

Those were the words I heard every Easter, fervently claiming them myself. Now, I am less certain of what I believe. It feels more complicated, more fraught ;one day the Old Gods have all the answers, the next Jesus Christ. I take the truth from where I can.

That said I feel more attuned to what has been called by the Irish as the “thin places”, the space between the world of man and the world of the spirit. This lenten season, instead of forgoing any particular vice, hindrance or pleasure, I simply drew. With a pencil in hand, promising to whoever listens to my private thoughts, that no matter what, each studio day I will produce at the least, a decent enough drawing. No promises of masterworks, just a commitment of time and energy before I began my studio day.

I once studied under a Russian Orthodox monk and iconographer Vladislav Andrejev, he, through the translation of his sweet wife Olga, told me that art making must be considered a prayer to the Divine.

That I believe in.

The following is a result of my Lenten Indulgences ( a little nod to dear old Luther) :

2018 Feb 6
Jezebel and Ahab
2018 Feb 7
untitled
2018 Feb 8
untitled, neomedieval study
2018 Feb 9
Ecce Homo
2018 Feb 12
Betty Brown
2018 Feb 13
Mummer
2018 Feb 16
Perseus
2018 Feb 16
Young Anchorite
2018 Feb 19
Faun
2018 Feb 20
Arlequino
2018 Feb 21
Studies
2018 Feb 22
Centaur
2018 Feb 23
Folly
2018 Feb 26
Polyphemus
2018 Feb 27
Birdboy, marginalia study
2018 Feb 28
Womba (Ivanhoe series)
2018 Mar 1
The Fair Rowena (Ivanhoe series)
2018 Mar 2
Bauble study
2018 March 5
Frontispiece design
2018 March 6
Proserpina & Cerberus
2018 Mar 7
Hades
2018 Mar 8
Underworld mummer
2018 Mar 9
Eurydice
2018 Mar 12
Night terror, dream memory
2018 Mar 13
Orpheus
2018 Mar 14
Mummer
2018 Mar 15
The Jewess Rebecca (Ivanhoe series)
2018 Mar 16
Leprechaun
2018 Mar 19
Winter
2018 Mar 20
Spring Awakening/Cernunnos
2018 Mar 21
Rape of Europa
2018 Mar 22
Pilgrim’s Journey
2018 Mar 23
Lavinia
2018 Mar 26
Abraham and Isaac
2018 Mar 27
Jonah and the Leviathan
2018 Mar 28
Job

 

2018 Mar 29
The Tree of Judas
2018 Mar 30
La Dolorosa

And that is it.

Happy Easter and happy All Fool’s Day!

 

 

Queer?

Simeon Solmon, b.1840, d.1905
“The Bride, the Bridegroom and Sad Love”
Victoria & Albert Museum

“As Rome becomes more modern…he himself becomes increasingly more antique”, so Colm Tóibín describes Henry James in The Master. I share that sentiment, my Rome being the world at large, most specifically the online universe . A marvel of a place, where,without inching a bit from my armchair,I may explore worlds heretofore  unknown to me.

Such is the case with that  mighty culture unto itself, the realm of Queer Art. How does one actually define Queer Art? Such a broad and diverse realm, at least that is what I would imagine, for aren’t we the clever ones?

I hesitate to gripe, knowing full well the marvelous work being made by contemporary LGBTQ artists, in the here and the now. And yet, when I scroll my Instagram, I find myself bombarded by images so salacious I almost feel embarrassed . I’m not prudish, but the overload of comely boys with perky butts and winsome smiles romping about with bathhouse abandon (if an allusion to Jesus Christ or the Blessed Virgin can be added to the mix, all the better),has, and I have a hard time  saying this, become tedious, boring and depressing . I follow a great many “queer” art collective sites, initially engaging with the host, hoping I suppose for some reciprocal interest in my work, but quickly concluding that my work is far from what is generally regarded as queer art. Nonetheless I employ the #queerart hashtag , knowing full well my work will not meet expectation.

 

With that, I find myself settling in with an anthology of early “queer”  literature, Sexual Heretics: Male Homosexuality in English Literature from 1850 to 1900, selected and with an introduction by Brian Reade, to say I feel right at home in this fin de siècle paradise is an understatement. The literary  works explored in this anthology,first published in the United Kingdom in  1970, I find sincerely radical, far more expressive than the frequently vacuous  reflections of an unreflective society…and yes, I refer to contemporary gay culture. One knows all too well the repression experienced in the 19th century (and earlier of course) and yet, given these suffocating restrictions, great works of art were made. By employing subtle (and not so subtle ) codes, desire, yearning and repressed intention was expressed, at least to a knowing audience . I certainly do not want to return to a  furtive society, but yet, I do frequently feel impoverished by the orgiastic (?) abundance of an unfettered culture. We have now attained a level of freedom unimagined and the best we can come up with is salaciousness and blasphemy ? I think our collective experience is richer than that.

I don’t know what the answer is, this is merely the ramblings of a crotchety old gay guy but just as Henry James felt ( at least according to Tóibín) “He was old enough at fifty-six to deplore things with full conviction…”. Solidly fifty-six, I feel confident to not only deplore a great many things but to also be unflinchingly delighted. One such delight is the very queer of art of the fin de Siécle, most specifically the Symbolists, the Decadent Movement and at times the Pre-Raphealites and the Arts and Craft movement.

Simeon Solomon
“The Sleepers and the One Who Watched”

Simeon Solomon, both homosexual and Jewish, knew all too well the ugly heel of repression , yet his work expressed a poetic tenderness that often leaves me speechless. He frequently found himself in tussles with the law, seemingly unable to avoid public toilets, yet his work,  possesses a languor that often feels chaste.  I love this impish image of him, I feel I would have delighted in knowing him.

Simeon Solomon in Orientalist costume
b.1840, d. 1905

An early love  is the same sex art couple Charles Ricketts (b. 1866, d. 1931) and Charles Shannon (b. 1863, d. 1937). Both painters, Shannon an accomplished portraitist ( a bit dry for my taste). But it is Rickets, who struggled with easel painting but found full expression in illustration, book, set and costume design, that I most relate to. Although never “out” in the modern sense, their open domesticity left little room for doubt, a couple (and their art) well worth exploring.

Shannon (on left), Ricketts (right) in an adorable neo-medievalist portrait by, I believe, Edmund Dulac.

Ricketts line work easily rivaled Aubrey Beardsley.

 

 

Charles Ricketts
“Loves Pact with Jove” 

 

Ricketts book design captured perfectly the perfumed excess of Wilde’s pleasure dome.

Book design and illustration by Charles Ricketts

I mentioned Ricketts struggled with easel paintings, from the biographies I have read he was frequently frustrated, I imagine more so if he compared himself to the academic gloss of his partner’s conventional studio work. That said, I admire a great many of his paintings. Queer and odd indeed .

Charles Ricketts
“The Great Worm”
1889

I mentioned above the great Beardsley, and although not clear as to homosexual or not, he certainly was magnificently queer . This odd fellow who described even his teeth being a little phallic (not to mention that coif) , this odd bird, made my grim childhood so delightful, so rich,so  full of curious perverse wonder. My greatest desire is for there to be an afterlife in which I can thank him (and Wilde) for the innumerable gifts he has given me. Passing beyond tragically young, there has never been another Aubrey.

As a boy I haunted used bookstores with my mother, whilst she perused the Harlequin Romance pile, I explored the art and literature shelves. At nine I almost fainted when this image popped out of the pages of a Beardsley monograph- suffice to say I never showed the book to my mother.

Illustration for “Lysistrata”

I was recently asked to be in a group show of queer artist, I was asked to describe how I defined my art and my “queerness”; this is how I answered:


“In our identity obsessed society , where non binary fluidity is omnipresent, gender non-specific pronouns the lingua franca of our age and everyone of a certain age seems free to identify as queer, I feel a bit of an anachronism. A middle aged white man of dull and conventional gayness My work however , following the dictates of Flaubert :“BE REGULAR AND ORDERLY IN YOUR LIFE LIKE A BOURGEOIS, SO THAT YOU CAN BE VIOLENT AND ORIGINAL IN YOUR WORK” might express my queerest self . While probably not wholly original or particularly violent, it is heartfelt.  It is in my reclaiming and re-contextualizing cultural archetypes ( almost exclusively Western ), which heretofore felt exclusionary ,  that I feel most inspired and free . For it is in finding the sacred in all beings , queer ones as well , that I can relinquish the shackles of shame and self loathing so present in my generation. Thankfully the youth of our day seem less burdened .”

This figure of Pierrot is what will be shown…I think with his pink satin peen he will be salacious enough to be considered queer.

I’ll close with another commedia figure, this by the great Beardsley .

Good night.

tailpiece

Lavinia, her chance to shine?

Lavinia
drawing by Leonard Greco

Rather curious email I just received , from a film producer , inquiring as to if I held the copyright to this image. As it is still in its notebook, I suppose I do. What I find so curious is how this producer (and director , who has made films even this hermit at least recognizes), found this image. I have little memory of sharing it, aside from this studio journal-are people really reading this thing ???

Odd how exposed I feel.

Anyway, they wish to use it as part of the set decoration for a film loosely based upon Lavinia and Titus Andronicus, I agreed. As long as credit is given, I am delighted.

I love Lavinia, I’ve turned to her before as in this acrylic painting from 2015.

Leonard Greco
“Lavinia”
2015

I think I need to re-read that magnificent, complex and horrifying play, this rainy LA day the perfect time to do so.

Alien Nation

We spent part of the day yesterday at a local privately own art museum, the Marciano Art Foundation. Housed in a handsome former Masonic Temple . This mid century structure , while lacking the patrician dignity of east coast temples ( such as the mind blowing Philadelphia pile ), nonetheless was very impressive in its day and currently, in its reincarnation, still is .

Happily the Marciano Foundation is conscientious in tending to the dignity of the facade .

The interior , much gutted , houses a permanent immersive work as shown in the video above in what was a spectacular auditorium and rotating collections of well known and lesser known contemporary artists in the striking gallery floors above . A noble mission . All free of charge. Quite admirable , all in the spirit of Carnegie .

Yet with this abundance, I was overcome with a sense of isolation, one that I frequently feel whenever in the presence of what is deemed important art . Be it the Museum of Contemporary Art , Hauser&Wirth or the well regarded Hammer – all must-sees when visiting Los Angeles , I feel a sense of desolation . What I experience on a deep visceral level is an abiding sense of alienation.

I see enthusiastic crowds gathering about , snapping images ( not all selfies thankfully) and having earnest and sincere conversation about work that leaves me so listless that I cannot muster the strength to open the camera on my phone .

What on earth am I missing ?

So much of what is seen as exciting and needing to be discussed at great length has me skeedaddling out of the handsome , well appointed galleries at a rapid pace . So much of the work, of cantilevered plates of glass, of copious amounts of asphaltum, of precise geometric composition, works demanding the focus of a mathematical equations , these works leave me wondering , if such works were my introduction to art , would I have ever picked up a pencil ?

Luckily , as a boy , my first art crush , was found in the teeniest reproduction of Greek vase paintings – from there I grabbed a pencil .

From much of the work I see at respectable temples to art , I fail to grasp the spirit of the maker , of the object . I read the theory , witness the sincere discussion concerning the work , I ponder , question , reflect , yet comprehension is as elusive as proving the existence of an almighty .

It isn’t at all fair to pick on the Marciano Art Foundation, and that isn’t my intention . In fact , I am sure at some point I will return for some exhibition of interest .

But the greater issue for me is of existential disconnect. I have many contemporary artists whose work I know and love ( a few I have even met ) but they all offer a piece of their heart . Perhaps that sacrifice is what I desire , and wish to offer myself . The presence of heart wasn’t apparent to me yesterday.

 

In the end , I did enjoy my visit to the Marciano , the staff was so pleasant, plentiful and eager to chat, the interiors handsome and spare and the Masonic history thoughtfully preserved . In fact the Masonic costumes were of particular interest .

The exterior of the former temple still retains its beautiful mosaic murals by the fantastic Millard Sheets and the striking monumental architectural sculptures narrate Masonic lore as plainly as a medieval stained window .

In closing, my intention isn’t to bemoan the contemporary world, that would be futile and ineffective, my intention is to recognize my disconnect, the why of it , and to find a place in it . An attachment to a romantic past is fruitless , but thoughtful conversation across time , that is what I seek . My alienation frequently stems from not grasping my present society,this alien nation .

November, by Ranier Sarnet…a must see!

I had the good fortune to be invited to a film this afternoon by a thoughtful friend. Given my monastic tendencies and my obsessive desire for studio time , I was close to declining.  But the film, November directed by Ranier Sarnet was only playing this one day, this one time (in LA!). If I had listened to that hesitant voice I would have missed a very great work of art.

I’m astonished.

I’m inspired.

I’m desiring in my art (and in my life) to be truer, braver, funnier, darker, richer.

Such is this fairytale masterpiece.

image from Homeless Bob productions . Link to their site below this image.

 

http://www.homelessbob.ee/movies/rehepapp/

Living in LA I should be more of a film buff, everyone seems an expert. But truth be told my interest lies in the traditional arts. But this baroque gritty ravishing film , filmed exquisitely in inky black and blizzard white, is hilarious at moments, horrifying the next; it captures the essence of why fairytales are so essential. A primal confection, one moment a fantasy of alabaster lovers exchanging love tokens in a gilded gondola, the next, scatalogical buffoonery.

Not since Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête have I swooned with such delight. 

This preview only hints at the snow bleached beauty of this film,veined with the  greed, rapacity, and wretchedness of base man and yet tenderly evoking the poetry of illusive desire and  tragedy of ephemeral youth.

This link provides the dates this marvel  will be shown.

http://november.oscilloscope.net

Far too few, far too infrequent .

After having seen this nourishing film, I feel impoverished after populist fare such as the Shape of Water (which I enjoyed). Whereas that aquatic romance delighted , this film  lingers in the way a Bruegel painting haunts your memory . In fact, Bruegel with his potty-mouthed humanism is what came to mind consistently during this gorgeous film.

Cocteau had the handsome Jean Marais as his Bête; Sarnet has the beguiling Estonian actor Jörgen Liik as the comely Hans. I’m rather smitten by this flaxen crowned Apollo. I imagine I will be drawing him.

Jörgen Liik as Hans

I think I’ve gushed enough about this film. If you don’t believe me , read this review:

Lastly, thank you Lezley for inviting me. What a gift.