Finding My Religion

The Conversion of St.Paul on the Road to Damascus
2019
Oil on canvas
48 by 36 inches

I recently finished two new works, one a drawing which I made recently on the feast day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15th), the other an oil painting of Paul’s epiphany on that road to Damascus so long ago. I’m becoming increasingly aware of spirit entering my life  ( I do not know what else to call it) and my work. It has been subtle, random spontaneous prayer, something I neglected since boyhood; sneaking into churches furtively and unnoticed ;  but most especially instances of incredible awareness, of a sense “rightness” at the most curious of moments. I don’t know what it is but I do know it is welcome and increasingly welcome in the studio as well. 

  I’ve always been drawn to sacred art, I collect it, I seek it out whenever I travel, David and I are drawn like moths to a flame whenever we encounter some beautiful chapel, church or cathedral. Yet I have resisted calling myself religious, and God forbid anyone calls me “spiritual”- milquetoast yoga clad , CBD ingesting, kale juicing  LA dilettantes come to mind.  But now my symbolist art is becoming increasingly sacred, and sacred in a decidedly Christian way. Not I hope in that pedantic , lock-step fundamentalist sort of way but in the best way, a very personal way, the way one hears and feels the spirit. No one else can depict those ineffable moments of presence but oneself and they cannot easily be explained or depicted, but art making and poetry are frequently very evocative and satisfying.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
August 15th 2019
Colored pencil on toned paper
24 by 18 inches

My interpretation of Paul on that road is at best quirky, perhaps too much so, too personally esoteric…but I must paint as I see it. Christ is front in center, in some strange pompous vehicle, wearing some odd pointed crown of thorns; poor Paul, mid-strangle of some hapless Believer, looking up in wonder and shame ; and as always , in the background and foreground , are we, the unenlightened, unable to witness the sacred in our everyday.

I say “we”, I mean “me”.

 

Detail: The Conversion of St.Paul on the Road to Damascus

I’ve ornamented this bearded fellow with Greenmen, primal gods, folk treasures and a Fool. Although seeking something beyond the realm of the ordinary, I wanted to acknowledge the sacred qualities of being of the world.

The Fool is all seekers, of which I count myself. Seeker Fools, Holy Fools, wether ready for it or not; latent or actively seeking or somewhere in between. I predict many Fools in new works to come.

Of religious art I was taken with what I felt a very British approach to the sacred on my recent holiday visit to the Tate Britain. There in the dizzying galleries devoted to all that is best in British art,I was struck by the sheer numbers of works depicting Christ, the Magdalene, Virgins here and there, and just an over all presence of spirit (Blake of course comes readily to mind).  But these works, unlike their counterparts issued  from the Church of Rome were highly personal, some oddly so, as cryptic and as wonderful as some newly discovered Gospel.

As an example I suggest Stanley Spencer’s monumental The Resurrection, Cookham. In this detail shot, Spencer himself, nude as our Lord made him, languidly awaits his Savior.

Detail: Stanley Spencer’s “The Resurrection, Cookham”, 1924-7

For a sense of  the scale of  this fantastic painting, this image, with Jacob Epstein’s strangely beautiful Virgin from The Visitation, 1926 in the foreground.

 

Perhaps being a Protestant nation, British artists were more inclined to “own” the Christian narrative in their work as they feel able  to interpret the gospels for themselves. I don’t know for certain of course but it was strikingly apparent that these works , of which there were many, expressed an inner life, richly experienced. 

This seems a long standing tradition, although theoretically familiar with John Everett Millais’ Christ in the House of His Parents ( The Carpenter’s Shop), I hadn’t realized until close inspection how unorthodox a painting it  really is. Christ, so young, so fair, so in need of his mother, the tenderness she exhibits as she tends to a superficial wound, the precursor to the Wound. Blood drips upon his bare, grubby little feet, again a foretelling. The painting is astonishingly rich in symbolisms, details I hadn’t been aware of from reproductions. In truth I’ve never liked this painting much, that is until actually witnessing it ; too Protestant, I had foolishly thought, not properly “sacred”.

I no longer think that.

Detail: Millais’s “The Carpenter’s Shop” 1849-50

But for highly personal visions of the divine one returns to Blake.

William Blake
“The Body of Christ Born to the Tomb”
c.1799-1800

Increasingly I feel Blake to be the strangest, most influential and most  prescient artist. Although I don’t think that it was the case, I always sense that the work just rushed out of him, painting one might say  in the Tongue of Pentecost. I don’t think that was true, that he was in fact quite a deliberate artist, but it is a tender image of the man. 

Of Blake’s perennial influence, one cannot neglect Cecil Collins, and although from what I read he loathed to be compared to Blake, the influence of spirit is hard to overlook. Collins has become in his own right quite an influence to me. I feel a kinship to the work and to the man, I especially like this quote where he speaks of the Fool. It reverberates with a sense of rightness :

The saint, the artist, and the poet are all one in the Fool, in him they live, in him the poetic imagination of life lives.

Cecil Collins
“The Sleeping Fool”
1943
Tate Britain

Back to my own stabs at personal spirituality, I came upon this photo of early work,  from the early 80’s , back in those halcyon summer days of my youth,  spent on Deer Isle Maine painting very strange, frankly ugly paintings onto the most forlorn  cast off furniture I could find, which in turn was peddled to upstanding Boston Brahmans summering in Blue Hill ( a very respectable gallery gave me several solo shows, nearly all sold out- I was astonished). I haven’t a clue as to where this peculiar table ended up, I imagine once the buyer came to their senses they tossed it to the curb. Happily I have this crappy snapshot which provided compositional inspiration to my Assumption drawing above.

Assumption Sidetable
1984 (?)
The Conversion of St.Paul on the Road to Damascus
2019
Oil on canvas
48 by 36 inches

 

The Convoluted Way

 

Detail of The Anchorite’s Cross

In my ongoing examination of sacred work, an extension of my own feet-in the-ground-butt-in-the-pew spiritual experimentations , during the past Holy Week I spent my studio time with the Way of the Cross. I have resisted attending  Catholic Mass for decades, I’ve attended Episcopal services off and on for years, and while I have felt welcome, I personally felt ill at ease, a nagging longing that something was missing-no matter how High the service. So I did experiment, I attended Good Friday services at a pretty little church in Eagle Rock, and it was sweet to see the devout earnestly visiting each Station, uttering by rote their own passionate pleas. But the service itself, a public forum , where congregants, in the manner of our Protesting brothers and sisters were proclaiming their own gospels. It was too much for me to bear, and shamefacedly, halfway through, I slithered out of my pew and back to my studio. I haven’t given up yet, but in many ways my studio is my temple. The following drawing is my own fervent desire to Walk the Way of the Cross; on my own path.

The Way of the Cross
2019
Sanguine and white charcoal highlights on toned paper
18 by 24 inches

In this synoptic composition, from left to right, I have depicted our Lord as the Ecce Homo, the terrible mocking rabble, Pontius Pilate, the Holy Fool Lazarus, the Fishermen’s boat, the Blessed Mother as the Dolorosa, the Baptist, the Crucified Lamb and Veronica with her Veil.

Relating to this theme is a recently recieved image of The Anchorite’s Cross , part of my Embodied: St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears installation.

The Anchorite’s Cross
2019
Mixed media: acrylic painted canvas, recycled fiber, beads, bells, embroidery floss, poly-fil, vintage furniture and metal work, vintage fabric.
Cross 60 by 32 by 10 inches approximately; total installation variable upon site.

The Stations of the Cross are rarely out of sight, for decades this Victorian Station, Station V, with Simon willingly or begrudgingly helping the staggering Lord, has hung over every drawing desk since meeting David 26 years ago. This is how it looks today.

Wilshire Blvd. studio
2019

In addition to Christian themes, I have tackled classical themes such as my well explored affair with Herakles, like Christ, I find him irresistible.

The Labors of Herakles
2019
Sanguine with white charcoal highlights, on toned paper
Diptych, total 24 by 36 inches

Orpheus another tragic hero that inspires me.

Orpheus’ Descent
2018
Sanguine and colored pencil on toned paper
18 by 24 inches

And of descending into the Underworld, Christ’s own Harrowing of Hell.

The Harrowing of Hell
2018
Sanguine, white chalk highlights on toned paper
24 by 18 inches

I’m actually supposed to be drawing instead of posting so I must complete this post but the view from my new studio is distracting me delightfully.

My new studio with a view (10th floor), Wilshire Bld., LA

Back to the drawing board.

 

 

The Magdalene

 

“The Magdalene”
2017
mixed media: painted recycled fabric, embroidery floss, artificial foliage, polyfill
approx. 26x19x6″

I am happy to say that I have finished my latest figure for an upcoming group show here in the Los Angeles with a theme of “Bad Girls &Outcasts”. I’ve made about five pieces for the gallerist to consider and this soft sculpture figure is my latest.

As I continue on this practice of “painting-sculptures” I find myself more and more drawn to the possibilities of figures in the round. The making of these figures being immensely gratifying.

 

This particular figure was directly inspired by a relief print I had made before crafting The Magdalene. Perhaps its gimmicky but that print will accompany the figure when she is presented to collectors.

 As with much of my work one thing leads to another, this small print leading to another more complicated and I believe, more successful print, of the same subject.

The Magdalene, 2017, three plate relief print on paper, series of five

It will also be presented at the gallery.

The Magdalene has been a figure of fascination since my boyhood, searching out her familiar red hair and raw tears in countless museum visits throughout my life.

Her renunciation of worldliness in order to be closer to the God who left her behind stabs my heart every time. I’m of course playing loose with history and church tradition, but that is the  emotional effect, one of abject abandonment, that moves me so deeply . In many ways, she reminds me of Dido and her awful lament.

 Of course, at least according to Church tradition, she is ultimately reunited with her Savior , often depicted ascending heavenwards garbed only in her anchorite-wild hair. This visual tradition of presenting The Magdalene as a Wild Woman is also extraordinarily interesting to me.  She is in effect the corporeal equivalent of the divine other-wordly Blessed Virgin.

That old trope of Virgin and (Redeemed) Whore.

This resonates for me in that it allows exploration of the Old Gods and the New and how we , as a society , have tried to synthesize these elements in a cohesive and manageable way. I love both the BVM and The Magdalene, but personally, I feel closer to the latter.

Following are a few (unattributed) images of MM that I treasure.

(this is I believe, her reliquary , at least that what my what I noted)

Below is info concerning the show, if in LA, please visit.

Presentation at the Temple

spent part of yesterday and today sketching out a new painting. As I work I find myself wanting to be more and more deliberate in my (graven) image making. Trying to be more fully aware of the composition , the drawing out my ideas provides an excellent roadmap. That and it is a hell of a lot of fun. 

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The Presentation at the Temple

2016

graphite and colored pencil on paper

I am returning to a theme I explored in 2014, another painting also called The Presentation at the Temple but one in which I pursued the composition less deliberately . The painting hangs in my studio and I have never been happy with it, yet I am not the sort of painter to rework a painting. Generally I allow the painting to be less than satisfying and make an another attempt; drawing upon what I felt was working and abandoning the rest. Such is the case with this new painting.

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The Presentation at the Temple 

2014

oil on canvas

30 by 40″

When I look at this painting on my screen I like it,yet some things drive me nuts, I feel the female figure Coatlicue is undeveloped for example; but mostly, the painting feels to large. I feel my play upon the biblical presentation scene should be more intimate , more jewel like, more of an illumination. So this version will for starters feature a more composed  earth mother Coatlicue , presenting her son, the war god Huitzilopochtli (also of virgin birth) will bepainted on a 12 by 16″ panel. I think it will work out well, plus frankly, there isn’t any more room in the studio for large paintings, I’m maxed out. 

 The theme draws upon multiple references, traditional images of the Presentation, such as this wall mural from an Orthodox church (The Brotherhood of the Holy Cross,  which I believe is  in upstate NY):

presentation:from brotherhood of holycross 

But also popular culture such as the usually cute, yet in this image,completely  crazed wrestler Conner McGregor:

connor mcgregor

Part of my studio discipline has been devoting a portion of the day, usually before lunch, to making  at least one decent rendering a day. I’ve made this challenge part of my Instagram feed ( leonardgrecoart). What I’m rediscovering is just how much I love drawing, particularly graphite on toned paper with chalk highlights. I am finding myself improving each day. This image, of Christ Enthroned, I felt to be successful.

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Well for now that is all, be well.

LG 

Descent from the Cross,II

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Descent from the Cross, II

2015

acrylic on canvas

30 by 40″

” 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.

This is the school, designed by the INCREDIBLE  Frank Furness http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Furness

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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.

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Thanks for taking the time to look at my work.

Be well,

LG

Skipped Mass;Painted Instead

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I love Maundy Thursday, the washing of the feet, the adoration and entombment of the Eucharist-the Slavic church I used to attend had the most incredible 19th c. “hill” crafted of  spit, glue and devotion. The all night vigil that follows is always deeply moving to me.

I had intended to participate this year after nearly a 25 year absence . After all there is this new welcoming pope and I had found this adorable church very close to our house ( Cathedral Chapel of Saint Vibiana).

But then I began to paint and it went well, so I stayed put, feeling this was my place.

I hope He understands.

This is the progress thus far on Descent from the Cross II, acrylic on canvas, started this week.

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Wishing all a moment of peace and reflection on this Good Friday.

Pax vobiscum,

Lg

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