Pop Surreal Playhouse: an Honor, a Tribute and a Note of Gratitude

 

It is always wonderful to be curated into a show, better yet if the curators are held in high esteem personally, the icing then is a favorable review (yet again by a someone you admire).

Such was my good luck.

I had the good fortune to be selected for Pop Surreal Playhouse , a group show curated by the deservedly lauded Greg Escalante and Wendy Sherman (sadly Mr. Escalante’s last show, having died only weeks prior to the opening). The Art Share LA opening of Pop Surreal Playhouse was bittersweet , whilst personally gratifying on a professional level given Escalante’s vision and influence locally, nationally and internationally (Pop-surrealism’s reach is global, just read his New York Times obituary); but it was bleak moment to be reminded that I would not be able to thank him personally.

I did however have the chance to chat with Wendy Sherman, a great supporter of the arts (including my own) ; we must treasure and frequently acknowledge these friendships given how fleeting our time is. Hoping Wendy knows how much I value her support and interest.

“Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego” at Pop surreal Playhouse, curated by Greg Escalante and Wendy Sherman (seems to be a typo in gallery banner).

So with all that I start this frantic week with a wonderful review by Betty Brown for Art and Cake. Brown is a art historian with an uncanny ability to connect the dots from seemingly obscure points in humanity’s cultural journey. That she so aptly “got” my work, my references and my intentions (when more than I few critics do not) was immensely gratifying. Thank you Betty and thank you Art and Cake for providing a forum dedicated to art in Los Angeles.

This is the review, great images of the exhibition within:

Pop Surreal Playhouse at Artshare LA

Opening night was festive in spite of it being a memorial to Escalante. I did not know the man but from recollections of the fellow, he seemed a man of high spirits. I hope he appreciated the turn out and the works offered by the artists as tributes to his legacy.

Pop Surreal Playhouse runs through October 22nd, if you haven’t seen it , it is well worth a trip to the Arts District.

At the opening, I was particularly delighted to see so many of my friends in the show and in attendance. This snapshot of my young friend, the talented artist Dakota Noot makes me smile. Dakota is perhaps my most glittery friend and I value the joy he and his work brings to the world.

 

Pop Surreal Playhouse runs through October 22nd, if you haven’t seen it , it is well worth a trip to the Arts District.

The author and the artist Dakota Noot at Pop Surreal Playhouse (my “Hellmouth Mask” over my shoulder.)

So much so that I’ve included his work in the next show I’ve “hosted” (curated sounds so pompous ). The show is called Hellmouth which will open this Saturday, October 14th, 7-10 pm at Ave 50 Studio here in LA. I’m very excited by the show, wonderful art including Noot’s fantastic Bacon Wants a Taste.

Dakota Noot
“Bacon Wants a Taste”
2017
Acrylic on canvas
30 by 30 inches

I will be posting about the show, its intentions and the fabulous art after its opening, but for now the gallery is ready and I will leave you with this image of Hellmouth.

Hellmouth, curated by Leonard Greco, Ave 50 Studio, Los angeles, CA, 2017

Ornament is NOT a Crime

 

Adolf Loos first decried the use of ornament in 1908 in that loveliest (and ornamented) of cities, Vienna. His groundbreaking essay Ornament and Crime (I’ve also seen it entitled “Ornament is Crime”) is astonishing in its prophetic belief that ornament “dates” objects, creating a desire for new and seemingly more fashionable objects, dress , even homes. I actually adore Loos, he was a genius, his buildings are starkly luxurious, his aesthetic judgement without question. 

Yet I’ve always taken issue with the wholesale rejection of ornament in the 20th century (sadly that seems the only Loosian dictate to have secured root).  Be it fine art or the applied arts, there is a general suspicion  if not loathing  of the decorative.

So with that understanding, nearly three decades ago, I had the hare brained notion to start my “career”  as an ornamentalist . It was physically demanding work, frequently unappreciated and until I moved to LA, not well compensated. It wasn’t until the recent recession that I decided to hang up that cap and pursue a long suppressed desire to be a REAL artist.

In my current incarnation  as a studio painter I had thought I had moved away from that phase of my life; shunning baroque acanthus , intricate strap work and  pretty blackamoors for something seemingly more substantive .

Apparently not.

It is ironic that as an example of ornament’s criminality , Loos cited the “degeneracy” of Papuan full body tattooing, for the full body “tattooing” of my studio mannequin Massimo is what compelled me to dust off my folios of decorative designs.

I found myself rustily trying to remember how to create patterns and ornamental compositions, in the end it came back as easily as remembering to ride a bike. I find myself now interested in exploring ornament, how to synthesize it into work, attempting to transcend superficial attractiveness. I’m excited by the possibilities as ornament making is a skill I possess, it pours out of me. How do I use this ability in an interesting and compelling way? My studio work has always contained an element of the decorative so I’ll be curious to see how it progresses with committed intention.

“Massimo” and preparatory sketch (“Herakles”)

The following are images taken from my vast collection of preparatory drawings.

Design, residence, Beverly Hills
Entry Hall, Palm Beach Florida
Ceiling medallion design, Greystone Mansion, Beverly Hills
Design, wall panel, Greystone, Beverly Hills
“Bohemian Lounge”, Greystone , Beverly Hills ASID showcase

 

Ornamental panel design, chinoiserie.

Wall paneling, Boca Raton

Wall panel, Naples Florida

 

This was my first big break, a huge job, close to two years to complete. I was so naive, underbid myself, underestimating the scope of the project. This massive overmantel ornament a mere sliver of the actual project. 

Design proposal , Main Line, Philadelphia

Back to the here and now, I did finish the ornament for Massimo, and as Loos predicted it IS indeed degenerate!

“Massimo”,detail
2017
oil on mannequin

Loos, in  condemning “primitive” ornament, particularly full body application, could not have imagined a world in which a comely young man ( image discovered on internet search) would adorn himself so prettily and to great applause. 

I haven’t the information for attribution; will do so upon discovery.

In my enthusiasm I’ve started a new piece, The Apotheosis of Herakles. It will be one of my faux tapestries, which in of itself allows me to play with fiber, sewing, domestic “feminine” craft, which along with ornament , has been traditionally eschewed- yet I’m drawn to both. The following is the beginning of the work.

Work in progress, “The Apotheosis of Herakles”.

Now back to it.

 

Fairyland Continues

 My current body of work that I have placed under the encompassing umbrella of Fairyland is an ongoing project, transforming itself almost daily. Ultimately it will be a large and complicated installation project involving diverse disciplines: painting, fiber art, printmaking and possibly  some performance. A classic example of gesamtkunstwerk.  

Ultimately given full expression at my 2019 solo show at MOAH-Cedar in Lancaster CA.  I  also have a month long residency with Shoebox Projects in December where I will further examine this magical place I call the land of fairies.

 But in the meantime  I am submitting Fairyland for possible solo shows. The following is my latest submission, and let me tell you applying for residencies or submitting for solo shows is on par with the Harrowing of Hell. Shaken and now nervous, I know I’ve done my best. Rejections have become a part of my reality, but in my heart I know this could be a pretty nifty show.

The following is what I presented.

Wish me luck.

Fairyland

Grappling with ways in which to express “being-ness”, I find myself reaching beyond my usual studio practice of painting into diverse disciplines including fiber-art figures . The figures are fashioned by fully embracing the pre-conceived “sissy” element of this art. Thus exploring my identity as a queer and terrified man, the series validates a long suppressed self loathing.
“Fairyland” an ongoing project, bears a title once a slur, now declaring a message of empathy, pride, and hopefully, humor. Embracing the fairy has been empowering ; the art created expressing a spirit of furtive repression breaking free.

Detail from “Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego”.

 

The following is a “walk through” description of what I propose:

 

“One enters Fairyland through a swagged theatrical portal, embellished and festooned with luxurious passementerie, the ornaments fashioned from trashed rags, the “rich” cloth of stitched and patched recycled fabric, all evoking a glorious if tarnished sham splendor .

This initial dramatic entrance into the Wurdemann Room is not mere camp , it is a sincere appreciation for aesthetic visual redundancy, one that is deeply personal and I believe a trait familiar to the queer aesthetic, the need to elaborate, to further explain.

To offer alternative truths.

It is in the elaborations that I explore familiar cultural narratives through a queer prism, doing so in multiple mediums: stitched and painted fiber art , relief prints, book making, drawings, easel and wallpaintings .

Once entered, the visitor encounters a hushed dark room , it’s walls swaddled in lush fabric , faint chants heard muffled behind the plush. At the far end of the gallery an elaborate neo-baroque mirror hangs, confronting the pilgrim with a chilling memento mori. The mirror titled Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego is of mixed media and fiber arts and is flanked by near life sized fiber-art figures such as Daphne and Icarus which act as sentinels of life, death and transformation.

Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego
Daphne
Icarus

To ones right and left, floor to ceiling (faux) tapestries entitled Orpheus’ Lament and Eurydice’s Response (of painted and stitched un-stretched canvas), depict alternative tellings of the Orphic drama.

Preliminary sketch for “Eurydice’s Response”, faux tapestry.

As the Wurdemann gallery is set as a private salon/wunderkammer with approximately 12-15 pieces, various paintings such as the large scale oil paintings Goblin Market and Hadesville will be interspersed amongst the “tapestries”.

Goblin Market
Hadesville

In the center of the chamber, on an elaborately draped library table, one finds hand blocked , hand stitched books, opened for viewing. Further stitched and painted figurative ornaments also bedeck the table’s surface .

Sensory overload is the desired affect in this gesamtkunstwerk that I call Fairyland- this particular Fairy’s private retreat made public.”

“Fairyland”
Ave 50 Gallery, Los Angeles
July, 2017
Detail “Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego”.

 

 

The Objects We Carry

I recently had the good fortune to purchase a memento from my distant past , a drawing of a living room long since shuttered . My dear friend Marge Miccio is a talented artist working primarily in pastels . One of her great gifts is interior portraiture . Generally without human figures ( in my case my dear pup Gizmo can be seen perched on a cushion as was his want ) but her unpopulated rooms speak volumes . I’m delighted that Marge discovered this drawing made back in 1994 . She calls it “The Plaid Sofa”.

I call it wonderful.

To get a sense of her keen eye , here is a photo taken before I left the house, Trenton ,the city I had called home, in fact, my previous life . A new chapter was to unfold but Marge preserved a memory .
I purchased this little rowhouse when I was so very young , flush with new romance for my first love Douglas . We pooled are resources and bought the house for $5000.00!
It was a romantic shambles , but through the years it became home . We purchased other houses  , but when the love we had could no longer sustain us , this little gem became my own .

It wasn’t to last. I was to move forward , a move to Philadelphia where I would meet David and embark upon this adventure I now find myself .

But then , in 1994, months before I packed it all away , this was home. Happiness is having a lovely framed reflection of a life passed.

Now, with the drawing freshly hung in my newly painted apple green living room, my pug Viola occupies the same corner of a different sofa , as her predecessor Gizmo.

Some things do not change .

 Another thing that hadn’t changed is my love of gardening, these rather poor quality images , were taken late summer 1994.
And now another garden beckons …



Daphne, the Apotheosis of.

I’ve just finished my latest “stuffed painting”, the term I use to describe my painted-mixed-media sculptural figures. This latest figure, my largest thus far (56 inches tall) employs a heavy use of embroidery and crude needlework. Like Herakles under Omphala’s gaze I turn to “women’s work”, however unlike the disgruntled enslaved hero, I relish the task.

The new work explores gender not only in its materiality but in “gender-fucking” the main character; my Daphne is no slim maiden but a hirsute fellow ripe in manhood yet broken and unable to save himself from a horrid fate.

Detail of “Daphne”

My figure of Daphne was inspired (very loosely) by Bernini’s ravishing depiction of the attempted rape of the maiden Daphne by the libidinous Phoebus-Apollo. The way Bernini depicted her delicate fingers morphing terribly into branches has always struck me with horror (and admiration). For although the chaste Daphne pleads with her father,the  river god Peneus to save her from the looming rape, his solution always seemed as cruel as her debasement. Patriarchy in action, the solution to male excess being born heavily by the victim.

At least Bernini’s vision of the terrible scene was breathtakingly beautiful.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini
“Apollo and Daphne”
1622-1625

I do not fool myself into thinking my own version in any way resembles the Baroque masterpiece, but I do hope I captured some of the pathos.

Leonard Greco
“Daphne”
2017
Mixed media: acrylic painted recycled rag, thread, twigs, embroidery floss, poly-fill.
56 by 33 by 9 inches

My desire for the work was to capture the pathos of his/her situation , the brutal transformation of supple gorgeous flesh into brittle bark. What horror Daphne experienced as the soul became encased and ultimately erased. Transformation into an olive tree is hardly a reward for virtue.

I also wanted to explore how gender factored into the beauty of Bernini’s depiction of a violent crime. Why are there so many ravishingly beautiful depictions of violence against women, art I know and love : the raping of Sabine women, of Europa, of lusty satyrs having their way with unconscious Maenads, and of course Daphne. Why is this acceptable and yet the depiction of male rape is not glorified by art; clearly not desired by the male gaze at large,  aside from the homo-philic images of Ganymede.

And even with the images of Ganymede’s “abduction” , they frequently depict a slightly effeminate ephebe. Rembrandt goes so far to depict the rape by depicting Ganymede as a rather horrid infant pissing in fear. Its a nasty bit of work from an artist I have failed to appreciate. The painting seems to embody heteronormative bias against same sex affection.

The rape of Ganymede
*oil on canvas
*177 x 129 cm
*signed c.: Rembrandt. ft / 1635

But aside from the politics of the piece and my developing intentions, I wanted to create a work that pulled the heart (in a neo-Baroque sort of way).  When I look into my Daphne’s face, I am moved to pity. I hope that is the general effect to the viewer at large.

The images below are progression shots, Daphne being the first piece made in my new studio, started close to my birthday , July 24th.

Concept drawing for “Daphne”.
All of my work starts in pencil.
The “painting” part of my “Stuffed Paintings”.
The new space.

A study in contrasts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Love Apples and Gratitude 

The single most influential person in my life died today.
Tomorrow is my 55th birthday .
Thirty years ago , on my 25th birthday , this marvelous women came to my home overflowing with gifts as was her want . Fabulous, thoughtful, unconventional gifts . In this case , to celebrate my twenty fifth year , it was with tomatoes , masses of gloriously ripe orbs . All nestled in a 19th century Russian baking pan , golden copper a gleaming foil to their lustrous beauty . Nestled within the tomatoes was a knife . A strange knife , serrated and fancy looking . She explained to me that it was a tomato knife . I had never heard of such a thing but I was delighted .
I felt very rich that evening in the rather shabby ( yet charming ) rowhouse that I shared with her son Douglas in Trenton. Douglas was my great love and this woman was my hero . My love for both often felt entangled.
The tomatoes were of course devoured , the pan became part of the settlement Douglas and I decided upon when after nine years of loving one another , we no longer found ourselves able to continue . The pan was a family heirloom but I kept the knife . I use this knife nearly every day , it hasn’t changed just as my feelings for the giver haven’t faltered.
Everything she seemed to do , she did seemingly effortlessly with grace , taste and affection . It’s easy to have good taste , to put others at ease is such a rare gift .
And that is what she did , she listened , she laughed , she made what you said ( no matter how inane ) seem worthy of attention .
My background was Shitsville , my self esteem nonexistent and yet this patrician woman thought I had something worthwhile to say . She encouraged my art making by introducing me to a gallerist in Blue Hill Maine where the family summered . We would scour the junkyards in search of castaways to paint , refurbish and market . If she , with her discerning taste thought my work worthy , than perhaps it was .  
Her taste drew me in from the beginning . How she set a table , unpretentious yet elegant and inviting . How she decorated her many homes , she and her husband Bob collected homes like some folks collect stamps . Her art collection was impressive but she never boasted of its value as so many collectors do. For her it was the art ! Not the value of the art .
 She was an early patron of George Nakashima, Douglas’ boyhood home , a palatial pile was chockablock with raw edged wood. American craft , contemporary and traditional was her passion early on . And as she developed into middle age she acquired a masters in fine art , focusing upon the three dimensional , creating work that surprised and delighted me .
Many memories will be resurfacing in the next few days and weeks : how she introduced me to the beauty of the color orange ( her favorite color), of the poetry of rust , of Maine , of how to cook an incredible meal out of whatever was lingering in the cupboard , how to pile on jewelry and pull it off , how to ignore the clay under ones nails or the paint upon ones shirt and still be the most scintillating person at any party. How to engage with warmth and openness and stay true to yourself.
Her name was Sherell Jacobson .
Sleep well Shez.