I have been hard at work on my contributions for the group show “Bad Girls & Outcasts” at Cactus Gallery . Earlier last year my friend, the talented Ulla Anobile had conceived of the theme and had invited me (and the marvelous Mavis Leahy) to participate. Initially it was to be the three of us, but given the interest in the theme ( perhaps in large part due to our current political climate ) , Bad Girls are all the rage and many fine artists are now participating. It should be a very exciting show, Cactus Gallery always gathers together diverse artists and I have no doubt this will be an exceptional group of makers.
For my part I’ve focused on a few of my favorite archetypes: the brazen femme fatale; the sinner/saint; the vengeful goddess and of course, witches. I worked in a variety of techniques: fiber art, painting, drawing, and relief printing. The following images are the results of my love affair with all girls bad, wonderful and misunderstood.
Happily, as I finished up yesterday, I did one final drawing of The Magdalene, as a study for personal reasons, not for the show. After posting my studio progress on Instagram I was pleasantly surprised to find that a collector for the drawing. I’m not yet ready to part with the drawing but I’m telling you, Bad Girls are all the rage!
So I am participating in an upcoming group show which is an homage to DADA and the centennial celebration of its founding. The work thus far submitted looks marvelous , capturing the anarchist aesthetic of the movement.
Each artists self selects a work or artist who they wish to honor by crafting a new work in homage. It looks and sounds like great fun.
My selection is of course theatrical and perhaps a tad neo-medieval (does that even make sense?). My inspiration was Pablo Picasso’s cumbersome cardboard costume designs for the Ballets Russes’ production of “Parade”. His fabulous costumes were so ungainly the dancers were unable to dance, let alone move with any grace. Hence the DADA aspect, art/non-art; a ballet without movement…how is that a ballet?
Yet it was.
So I hoped to fashion my own cardboard contraption, equally cumbersome. A walking Mystery Play, marionette arms gesturing and inviting audiences to a performance of Jean-Paul Sartre’s incredible “No Exit” (if there was ever a more loathsome description of Second Empire interiors, I would be hard pressed to identify it). Sartre’s play is chilling and rip-roaring at the same time and I hoped to imbue my marionette-mask-costume with those attributes.
Its rather large, at least 50 inches in every direction, more when the arms start gesticulating. I haven’t yet been able to both wear it and have measurements taken- I will at the opening. The opening which is November 17th will be at a fantastic gallery space here in LA; thus far every event I have seen there has delighted me. I’m really eager and pleased to participate in this.
The following is Picasso’s incredible work, I’ve always loved his theatre work, encouraging me as a boy to play and experiment with the most pedestrian material: cardboard, tin cans, house paint, duct tape- especially duct tape! If nothing else, my homage is heartfelt.
It would be lovely if local folks could attend the opening and toast the greatness of DADA!
This whole awful nonsense with Trump, his foul mouth and his belittling bullying tactics has brought up a lot of issues for me. I’ve said it before, but Trump, with his bravado, his swagger and impotent rage reminds me of my own bullying father and I just can’t bear to look at his piggy little face (my porcine friends please forgive the comparison ). When the stunning “p*ssy” comments were made public I thought of all of the women in my life who have endured such boorish , bullying and belittling treatment. My own sister, unbeknownst to me at the time, endured repeated childhood sexual assault by our neighbor, out-and -out rape and perhaps more damaging, hideous psychological torment by this fiend who escaped unpunished back to India. He was a respected member of the community, a doctor I think and we were the oft-ridiculed white trash family of the neighborhood. My sister, a young girl, delightful, bright and eager to please, was easy pickings. To this day she suffers mental illness, I do not know if the abuse she endured is the sole cause of her afflictions, but I seethe with rage when I see Trump’s smug, pursed lipped entitlement, he so reminds me of the tyrannical behavior certain men of privilege can so easily exploit. I grieve for my sisters, blood or not.
So as the awful details of Trump’s comments came out , and my women friends on FB opened up in such brave and powerful ways , I was reminded of one woman in particular who had suffered the oppression of men silently and yet harbored wickedly delightful schemes of revenge, the great Pirate Jenny! David and I were traveling north to Sacramento and I packed a bunch of cd’s to pass the time. Amongst the treasures were recording by Lotte Lenya and Marianne Faithful of Seerbäuber Jenny (Pirate Jenny) from Brecht’s Three Penny Opera (link:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_Jenny.)
Both artists captured the despair of oppression but also the spark of divine revolt, sometimes those fantasies are all that can sustain you during times of pain. I know from experience, a child of violence and abuse, how nursing revenge can thrill you into creative action. My father was one mean motherf*cker, but boy I created some truly fabulous faggy art as a young kid, duct tape, spit, glue and hubris are powerful weapons.
And in that spirit I decided to start crafting a body of work that would capture that moment, when after living her life in subservience, Jenny (Diver), barmaid, whore(?), ill-treated servant, has her revenge on all who have oppressed her. As the groveling tormentors are presented to her , Jenny, now queen of the Pirates, has the power and it is thrilling:
“In the midday sun a hundred men will step ashore
All tramping where shadows crawled.
They’ll lay their hands on men, hiding shit-scared behind doors
Lead them in chains here before this silent woman,
And they’ll say, “well, which ones shall we kill ?”
They’ll say, “which ones shall we kill ?”
Come the dot of twelve, it will be still in the harbour,
When they ask me, “well, who is going to die ?”
And you’ll hear me whispering, oh, so sweetly, “all of them!”
And as the soft heads fall, i’ll say, “hop-là!”
Hop-là indeed and from that inspiration I’ve decided to take what had been a studio folly, rag-doll making , into a large installation of all one hundred heads of Jenny’s “shit-scared” bullies!
So I have three down and ninety seven more to go; suffice to say I needed more poly-fill. Needles sharpened, embroidery floss and paint brush in hand, I am on to a sissy-boy-doll-making marathon! Given Jenny was a barmaid, each of the heads are made of used and NASTY dishrags, seems appropriate.
And although the work is essentially a feminist response to patriarchy and its abuses it can easily be understood to be a battle cry to oppression in all of its ugly manifestations: gender, sexual identity, race. For me another vital cause is the continued, and dare I say it, enslavement of animals for food,clothing, experimentation, even our base pleasure . What would it look like if animals had the upper hand (paw, hoof, wing) as our fair Jenny. I imagine a battle cry of ‘Hop-là” across every factory farm, every slaughterhouse and science lab.
Heads would be a-rolling!
In closing I thought I would include a few videos of both Lenya’s and Faithful’s recordings, both found at the bottom of this post; both are excellent, Lenya’s is probably truer to the original intentions of Brecht, but Faithful drives me mad with her gravel voiced contempt, yet she is so vulnerable as well.
I’m also enclosing a link to the lyrics Faithful is employing with such power, it is a slightly different translation from Brecht’s original, but it truly has visceral appeal.
My three complete “Trophies” will in the near future be employed as neo-baroque passementerie ( a pretentious way of saying decorative tassels) for my Orpheus’ Lament , a faux tapestry that will included in the Zoomanity show at ArtShare in downtown LA, opening festivities, November 19th. So if in town, take a peek!
acrylic on un-stretched stitched canvas
59 by 93 inches
Have a great weekend and down with the patriarchy!
I’m putting together two proposals for a solo show, this is one of the proposals:
( cover: The Resurrection of the Father , 2013)
The Thinking Reed: From the Hermitage to the Underworld, the Quest for Gnosis.
“Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapor, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe knows none of this.
Thus all our dignity consists in thought. It is on thought that we must depend for our recovery, not on space and time , which we could never fill. Let us then strive to think well; that is the basic principal of morality.”
This dignity is our greatest gift and our harshest burden, this awareness of how absurd our very existence is. Bird, beast or fish are oblivious to their insignificance ; we alone must confront this existential dilemma . We are left to comprehend this miracle we have been given, a gift given with the cruel understanding that it endures for only the blink of a god’s eye. We must then live this life fully , and as Pascal demands, ponder deeply and “strive to think well”
It is this Thinking Reed which I wish to examine with this body of work. Begun in 2013, it consists of drawings, relief prints, watercolor and oil paintings, drawn from a number of sources: the Popol vuh of the Quiche Maya to Flaubert’s Temptation of St.Anthony. These narratives are re-examined through a queer prism , reclaiming the canon as a gay man living in the 21st century. Of varying sizes they depict a quest for “think(ing) well”, a search for gnosis -self knowledge.
The collection will include approximately 10 -12 pieces, work I envision hung salon style; in the ideal world, against a rich background (I will need to ponder the logistics of that desire). As per gallery preference, ultimately I leave that up to the jurors and the gallery, however the Center Room might prove an intimate setting well suited to the intricacy of the work. Much of the work is completed and ready to be hung; in the instance of enclosed drawings, they may be translated into a painting, a tradition which is part of my studio practice.
The works are as follows:
1- Cover: Resurrection of the Father
watercolor on paper
18 by 24 inches
2- Gnosis…& the Old Gods Were Pleased
oil on canvas
24 by 48 inches
oil on canvas
30 by 40 inches
4- Seizing Sanctimonium
oil on canvas
40 by 56 inches
5- The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert
oil on canvas
36 by 48 inches
6- The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert
acrylic on paper
11 by 14 inches
7- The Apotheosis of Sophia
oil on masonite panel
18 by 24 inches
oil in panel
8 by 10 inches
9- Herakles and Telephus
watercolor and graphite on paper
9 by 12 inches
10- The Temptation of St. Anthony (of the Desert) at the Baths of St. Mark
sanguine pencil on toned paper
18 by 24”
11- The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert (or , The Betrayal of the Pig)
graphite and colored pencil on paper
18 by 24 inches
My second proposal is more conceptual and I would rather keep it under wraps until it comes to fruition. This one however consists of work I have posted before.
This morning I put the finishing touches on my Orpheus “tapestry”, a large, unbound canvas that I started during my summer stint at PAFA. It is my largest studio painting yet, when I was a decorative painter my work could easily exceed thirty feet or so ( and many stories off the ground) but my studio work thus far has been restricted by the parameters of my work space. PAFA offered me four empty walls, seemingly endless possibilities .
acrylic on unbound canvas
59 by 93″
Due to the size of the painting (and my own ineptness) I cannot seem to adequately capture the entire image without some sheen and loss of detail, so I will post detail shots:
(my homage to Redon and Fred Stonehouse)
Merman, I like this fellow, he is rather sexy.
This fellow, actually his eye, was the only element of this painting that was considered redeemable by the faculty critique at PAFA. Apparently I am still nursing wounds. Since leaving the program I have had quite a bit of existential angst , have I any right (or abilty) to declare myself an artist. My consolation has been to just work as honestly as I can, and see what happens.
I listen to far too many podcasts while I work; for those who have enjoyed the podcast Welcome to NightVale , they might recognize the winged character watching over Orpheus.
I like this fellow-frankly I like them all; hence the somewhat dizzying composition. They become family, I can no sooner eliminate them then I would flesh and blood friends.
My only formal training is that from a Russian iconographer , that is abundantly clear by this character, who has become sort of a personal avatar.
These two are inspired by Greenmen , the universal bond of man and the natural world . That bond is the basic inspiration for the painting, a favorite theme, one that has been explored many times over, Orpheus’ playing upon the lyre and so moving the natural world, that all manner of flora and fauna gather at his feet. Trees uproot themselves and mountains roll towards him, all weeping at the bitter sweetness of his song. This Roman mosaic captures that moment beautifully .
This large painting was first a simple watercolor of faun, but it provided unexpected inspiration when I found myself in Philadelphia without my usual “crutches”, namely my large resource library. A library that is often a boon and sometimes a curse.
While in Philadelphia I would often visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art, passing by the monumental 17th c. tapestries designed by Rubens. The scale and the color palette provided much inspiration. I particularly admired how the waves were translated in the weaving.
All in all I am satisfied with this painting, I’m rarely (ever?) completely satisfied but when I feel I have gone as far as I can with a painting then I consider it finished…for the time being. I will go back to oils, but I was happy that I persevered with acrylics for this painting. With the weather here in LA now not so wretchedly hot I was better able to manipulate the medium. When I left Philadelphia I could barely look at this painting (or the others I had started), but now I feel I absorbed what I could from the experience and feel I expressed myself as authentically as possible . The final image is of the painting before I shipped it to LA.
August 12th 2015
For those in the States I close with an amazingly appropriate Thanksgiving image. I feel as if I could have painted it. It is courtesy of the great artist Judith Schaechter and her ever-amusing Facebook feed. It is particularly appropriate to end with her in mind because she offered me such support and insight while at PAFA. A great inspiration and an incredible artist.
This is a new painting I finished up a few moments ago, given this is the last week of school I find myself only able to focus upon small works on paper. Painting quickly with water based paints between writing assignments. This painting is in part inspired by what I call “cut-away” rooms that are depicted in early Renaissance paintings,such as this one. I find them fascinating and will continue exploring the doll-house format.
” The central image of Christianity ‘a tortured male nude, a feminized man who has passively …accepted humiliation,punishment and death’ [was] contemptuously rejected” by the National Socialist party , so says J.A. Mangan in Shaping the Superman: Fascist Body as Political Icon-Aryan Fascism.
The Nazi Übermensch decidedly rejected the model set by Christ.
I’m no Übermensch, in fact I often find myself at odds with a society prone to assertive excess. I’m withdrawn by nature, I loathe violence (haven’t eaten meat in 25 years), avoid conflict and prefer to defer than to assert. This of course has its drawbacks particularly when needing to promote your work or offer a contrary opinion; my need to please is often a curse. But given that, the gentler approach , the compassionate approach set by Christ(and others) is still the right approach. My intention with this painting was to depict this tremendous gift of grace that was offered, as it is very day, in so many ways. Offered yet rejected, by hubris, pride, power, one’s own inability to see the good and the just before one’s eyes.
It is a daily struggle for me. Emotionally I am at a low point in my life, a mid-life questioning of an existence perhaps squandered. Having only recently turned to personal expression through art making I wonder if I will ever “catch-up”, am I able, worthy, have I voice and the means to express it. I don’t know. I’m officially registered at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for a six week critique course. That is to be the first step in what will most likely be an odyssey of self discovery. I’m hoping to find my voice and assert it…with grace.
My intention with this painting was to incorporate traditional and non-traditional elements. There is of course the Blessed Virgin to the left, but there is also a Wodewose/Wildman to the left, to represent the old order, the Old Gods, who comprehended truth and were able to fathom the tremendous loss. And then there is the Beloved John; is he a jail yard thug or a Silver Lake homo? I don’t know, but he bears his witness by his thorny torso etchings ( a visual nod to the artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins, a master at Pictish ornament).
I started the painting on Good Friday, and thanks to the miracle of acrylic paint I finished up in a relatively timely fashion. Next week a return to oil,but this, to show how the painting progressed.