I’ve been challenging myself with a commitment to my sketchbook, random images, most from source material that has delighted me. In no particular order, a few follow…
a silly musing, I think this is what I do best, in the natural sense
My latest painting, a large one (40 by 56″) , large at least for my studio, is at last finished!
It has not been an easy birth, unbelievably having been started February of 2014.
Between other paintings, my time in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and my own uncertainty , the painting often languished . And when I thought it near complete, and to my satisfaction, my last critique group, left me once again in the grip of uncertainty. After nearly four weeks of being unable to paint (hence a stream of drawings) I at last regained my faith in this painting, finished it up, and now consider it one of my best.
oil on canvas
40 by 56″
The painting is undeniably complicated, visually and in its narrative; I think that is why my critique might have had some issue with it. But my interest in paintings often includes complicated compositions; I might be hubristic but my intention with this painting was to emulate in my modest way the elaborate tableaux paintings of Poussin. I studied them carefully, which is pleasurable work as he is one of my idols. I captured what I love about his paintings: the ability to stare at this painting and discover ever unfolding details. Bosch of course, another idol, also gives us that generous gift. But I think for many viewers, particularly those with the 6-second attention span, this painting will not please. I perhaps, to satisfy contemporary tastes should have left the painting in its initial planning stages; something several folks, had hoped for. I might have saved myself headaches and angst, but I would have been very unhappy. This painting ,in its finished state,makes me happy.
(Initial stage of the painting, I do like it, I like the ghostly images; but I am not that sort of painter. I love a lapidary finish.)
The story behind this painting is complex and personal. It began after discovering the Gnostics, with the concept of the Demiurge, a false god posing as a true god. Misleading the faithful down a path of sanctimonious righteousness . My demiurge, the bronze figure in the center is a sarcastic depiction of Christ the Church. If I were to change anything it would be this element . It is more cynical than I now feel , with our new pope, the blessed Francis, my relationship with the Church has become warmer, more loving . I know longer harbor the estranged hurt and anger I felt when I began this painting. But instead of erasing him, I felt it good to keep a record of my discontent.
The Demiurge, center flanked by details of the earth goddess Coatlicue, one of the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and the Axis Mundi.
Going counterclockwise , from upper left around, I will attempt to offer clues to the figures:
My initial conceit for this painting was to utilize “bad” gods, unfortunate figures, maligned archetypes, to do battle with the smug and sanctimonious , be it the Church herself, the pompous evangelist down the street, ISIS, or that homophobic second grade teacher who shamed you for playing with the girls. That said, the upper left figures are depiction of the denizens of Xiblaba, the underworld of the Popol vuh. Next, descending in a very theatrically baroque manner is the savior Quetzalcoatl . Below, stands the accursed Judas ( noose still dangling) and the blessed Magdalene, clad only in her long hair, as per the archetype. Next to her, stands the familiar companion of the Other, the Scapegoat.
The Scapegoat .
In the next quarter, the Mesoamerican rain god Tlaloc sheds tears for humankind, he is attended by a companion vaguely reminiscent of the figures found in Teotihuacan, possessing triangular heads. Further back, the Mother of the Gods, the Aztec earth mother, She of the Serpent Skirt,Coatlicue, she hurries her son, the Great War god Huitzililopochtli into toppling their nemesis, the Demiurge, embodied by the Church that silenced them.
Next to them is a gaggle of squawking birds, sure of themselves, confident in their noise, essentially those who I politically and religiously disagree. Next to them, well I guess that is me.
In the third quarter, I placed a Boschian figure of no particular meaning, just an odd blue figure with a piscine phallic nose. Next , again, just vague figures, a Fire-god aflame with passion; a herm to signify the supremacy of the fertile earth; another Quetzalcoatl, or perhaps a passive Ares, I don’t know. Basically he was hot and looked Poussin-ist. Central to this quarter are the Hero Twins from the Popol vuh, archetypes so dear to my heart. Although they are brothers, I have in a personal way , embraced them as emblems of same sex affection. They are fiercely loyal to one another, acting as one; Hunahpu (on the left) going so far as to sacrifice himself, hence the blood and unearthly pallor. His brother Xbalanque helps to resurrect his fallen brother. I have returned to the Twins time and again, in paintings, puppets and prints. I predict they will be with me until I pass into the Underworld myself. A quick click in the side panel,on the tab “Hero Twins” will lead you to other examples.
Floating above on a very smart cloud is my favorite figure of this painting, the dashing floral-tatted Herakles. Herakles is every sissy boy’s hero, and I just could not resist including him. He surely would fight the fight of the just.
Herakles, plus a preliminary rendering.
Rounding out the painting in the last quarter I have various moon gods, non specific, just pre Christian. Next to them stands an Earth Father figure. A softer kinder answer to the excesses of patriarchy. He is horned in his affiliation with old truths, old gods, old ways. He also reflects my evolving reintroduction to the Church, with the pope reminding me of Christ’s magnificent message. This figure is a tribute to that compassionate god. He may also be an incarnation of the great Maize-god, sacrificed father of the Hero Twins and of humankind , Hun-Hunahpu. It is through his death, we are born. Sound familiar ?
Moon-gods, for you can never have too many!
The Christo-hun-Hunahpu figure.
If I had any residual uncertainty concerning this painting, it was silenced by this painting being accepted into an upcoming show ( along with my jumping jack figures from a recent post). I’m thrilled the well regarded juror Peter Mays included this painting.
The positive aspect of being unable to emotionally (post-critique) to paint for a few weeks was drawing. I’ve been drawing like mad, I’m sure I am boring social media with my progress, but I feel I am gaining confidence and ready to begin a series of small panel. I think of them as Illuminations, intimate, needing to be contemplated. I am discovering, at heart,that I am a religious painter. Unorthodox , unclear and ambiguous in my own faith, but I am compelled to make “icons”, depictions of universal archetypes. One of the new paintings will be of Jonah, this preliminary sketch, shows my intention.
That’s it for now, I will post this little painting, only 8 by 10″ when I am finished. Until them, be well.
I 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.
The Presentation at the Temple
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.
The Presentation at the Temple
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):
But also popular culture such as the usually cute, yet in this image,completely crazed wrestler Conner 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.
Well for now that is all, be well.
Descent from the Cross, II
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
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.
Thanks for taking the time to look at my work.
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.
Wishing all a moment of peace and reflection on this Good Friday.
Given that it is Holy Week and Good Friday is fast approaching, I have been at work on a Deposition of Christ. My friend and fellow LA artist J have been in a bit of a duel, each tackling this well known subject. I’m eager to see what he comes up with, this is my offering, a watercolor on paper,clicking upon the image enlarges it for detailed viewing.
Descent from the Cross, I
watercolor on paper
11 by 14 “
My intention was to capture the unimaginable grief of those who had born witness. J and I had stumbled upon an early Renaissance gold-ground image in which the attending angels were painted black. That really stuck with me, how unimaginable the loss, that even angels who have seen it all could not control their grief.
I started another Descent yesterday morning, this is the scribbling in…
I am back in class ( English Comp 1-c) and as usual overwhelmed, hence my cobwebbed studio.
If I do not post before, Happy Passover and/or Joyous Easter!
Last evening I finished a new painting, Genesis. As is so often the case my inspiration was the Popol Vuh, the sacrifice and resurrection of the Maize God , the Hero Twins, and the narrative of the Creation of Man.
An added inspiration was AIDS, I am of that generation where many of my friends and loved ones from my youth are now long since dead. Not too long ago Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart was on television. My visceral reaction was of a resurrected fear, long suppressed, reborn at the sight of so many Spotted Men. Those past days of Act Up meetings in NYC and Philadelphia; those handsome men speckled with death and anxiety; demonstrations on the street, at St. Patricks…; anxiety and selfish terror, would I be next?; and yet the excitement of activism, these were all faded memories in my now relatively carefree life. Until that film.
I was confronted once again with that incessant gnawing deep within, a true existential crisis. So in a simple way, my Hero Twin Hunahpu, who is traditionally depicted spotted, as he too encountered Death, represents all those struck down. Somehow I missed the scythe, I bear witness like Xbalanque, Hunahpu’s brother in arms.
oil on canvas
30 by 40 inches
My Spotted Hunahpu
The inspiration for this painting is also from a previous painting, Primavera a relatively small water color. My friend, the incredible artist, Judithe Hernandez suggested I rework Primavera either in grissaile or as a larger composition. When in doubt I always choose larger. The original version:
watercolor on paper
In this painting there is a nicely perverse little subterranean flowering plant, symbolic of life in hostile situations; today my lovely little Stapelia-Carrion flower offered up a gorgeous maggot filled blossom. A Boschian treat if ever there was one.
This morning’s Carrion blossom, more on the way.
Tomorrow I return “home’, Philadlephia, to visit family of the flesh and those of brick, and paint and marble. Philadelphia is so architecturally rich: Furness, Richardson, Queen Anne, 18th c; plus the museums, I will be in heaven. I think I will print out this “prayer card” of the Maize God , Hun Hanahpu to keep me safe.
Be well, Lg