Embodied Realized

My textile /mixed media installation piece Embodied: St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears is a major component of my solo show Fairyland  which is now on exhibition at MOAH/Cedar. This body of work  occupies an entire gallery and is on display until March 31st, 2019.

Those familiar with my work recognize that I have devoted considerable studio energy to the theme of the hermit Anthony and his desert trials. This particular work, by far my largest, was  first  realized in an inchoate state last year as part of residency at Shoebox Projects in Los Angeles. It has more fully developed into its present incarnation. Further development is most likely inevitable.

My concept for this show which is partly based upon Flaubert’s masterpiece of the same theme, and the myriad visual depictions of this beleaguered Desert Father not to mention my own trials and distracting temptations of life in the modern age is best expressed in the following  artist statement:

Embodied:St.Anthony & the Desert Tears, my latest mixed media installation  is inspired most significantly by Gustave Flauberts “The Temptation of St. Anthony” (1874). The richness of detail and illusion that Flaubert evokes almost suffocates the reader in its voluptuous beauty. Flaubert himself was inspired in great part by Brueghels own phantasmagoric depiction of the tormented hermit. I wish in some way to allude to that dizzying yet exhilarating experience.

As a young boy Flaubert witnessed a marionette performance of “The Mystery of St. Anthony”.  From that point on, “St. Anthony accompanied Flaubert for twenty-five or thirty years”, as the philosopher Michel Foucault has written. Flaubert returned to the anchorite time and again until completing the work in 1872.   This is not an easy read, dense, at times over-ripe, seemingly more chant than prose; Foucault describes the work as an “overcrowded bestiary” with “creatures of unnatural issue.”

It is this “overcrowded bestiary” I wish to evoke with Embodied,wishing to populate the tableaux with a parade of bewildering, complex “creatures of unnatural issue”. These hybrid embodied beings represent not simply base impulses but our own deep struggle to live a fully expressed life.   For when I tackle such fraught topics as sin, temptation and redemption, I am looking beyond the typical biblically inspired admonition (such as Lust or the other Seven Deadlies). I am more interested in the quotidian, seemingly insignificant distractions that prevent us from embodying our truest selves. In essence, what interferes with your being authentic?  What is your demon? Who, what shadows your path?

Im particularly interested in exploring how the tools of modernity – social media, the self-commodifaction through “branding” oneself, the pursuit of relevancy— all hinder full true self-expression, perhaps even censoring it or rendering it mute. Foucault describes Anthonys temptations as “…false gods resembling the true God….” I argue that false gods lurk in the inky alleyways of a frenetic and rapacious contemporary society.

The mystic Thomas Merton in discussing the Desert Fathers insists, “they did not reject society with proud contempt, as if they were superior to other men”, but instead were seeking the fullest expression of their purpose. Throughout our lives we are given signs which point us (or call us) in the direction of our authentic purpose, so as Merton reminds us: “…whatever you see your soul to desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe”.

I will do that “thing”, clumsily, distractingly, awkwardly, but like Anthony, sincerely and with purpose.

 

Numerous earlier incarnations on the theme, such as this 2018 oil painting of the troubled saint, play upon this intention and  communicate directly with the installation  Embodied:St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears. 

The following images taken at the March 23rd 2019 MOAH/Cedar opening  hopefully substantiate that claim. 

(Note, all gallery courtesy of Shoebox PR.)

Leonard Greco
“The Temptations of St. Anthony of the Desert”
2018
oil on panel
18 by 36 inches

The installation centers upon the Anchorite’s Chair, from which numerous demons torture the saint from within and without.

Anchorite’s Chair
Anchorite’s Chair, reverse
Detail, Anchorite’s Chair

Numerous demons pester the troubled hermit.

Lilith
Pluton, Prince of Fire, Governor of the Region in Flames.
The Curia
Flora
The Foliated Trinitarian
The Houseboy
The Wodewose

The crucifix of the desert saint itself  isn’t immune from daemonic molestation.

The Anchorite’s Cross
Detail, Anchorite’s Cross
The Living Cross

Dear friend Dwora.
The artist with his little dog Speck.

To see Embodied embodied was deeply gratifying, if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to see Fairyland it does run through March 31st with an artist talk on the 30th.

https://www.facebook.com/events/725419224526201/

I am also hosting a life drawing session March 24th, 4:45 through 7 pm, the gallery will be open prior to the life drawing should you be inclined to take a peek.

 

Pluton

My latest stuffed painting , just a small element of my installation piece Embodied: St.Anthony & the Desert of Tears, a reimagining of Flaubert’s masterpiece The Temptation of Saint Anthony.

Pluton, Prince of Fire and Governor of the Region in Flames

2018

31 inches high by 31 inches wide by 24 inches deep

Mixed media : recycled fabric, acrylic paint , embroidery floss, poly-fil, vintage footstool

 

Pluton and his infernal pals will be introduced February 23rd 2019 at the opening of my Fairyland solo show at MOAH/Cedar, Lancaster, California.

Would love to see you there . The show runs until March 31st 2019.

 

Adam

Adam is finished, and just in time for Krampusnacht!

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Adam (the Minotaur)

2016

Painted canvas and rag cloth, embroidery floss, poly-fill stuffing 

Approximately 24 by 15 inches

Adam is to be shown in an upcoming Stitch Fetish show here in L.A., and as the name implies , the show focuses on salacious needlework. Right up my alley !

Happy Krampusnacht!

Blue Krampus!, 2014, relief print on paper , 9 by 12"
Blue Krampus!, 2014, relief print on paper , 9 by 12″

Hadesville…in living color

I finished this painting a few weeks ago but waited to post until I had it professionally photographed. My friend, the photographer Steve Daly just sent over this image  (and that of Seizing Sanctimonium) and I couldn’t be more delighted. So thanks Steve!

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Hadesville

2016

oil on canvas

56 x 34.5 x 1 inches

I mentioned the intent of this painting in the previous post but in a nutshell this foolish image sums up my feelings, if these are the folks in heaven, give me hell any day!

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This is the new image of Seizing Sanctimonium , again, I’m very pleased.

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Seizing Sanctimonium

2016

oil on canvas

56 x 40 inches

So these two are my retort against the smug and the sanctimonious who feel they alone hold the keys to the divine. From what I have born witness to the still seem to be struggling. I think I will stay on my path.

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 Some detail images follow:

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Of heaven and hell and somewhere in between

 

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I recently finished a painting Hadesville which I think might be my best painting thus far. I am not being immodest but the act of painting it was a joy and I believe the painting conveys that fact. The fact that friends, fellow artists, that I admire and respect were positive about the painting was very encouraging. I will make a separate post of the painting in the near future, but for now I have thoughts I need to process.

Recently a friend described my work as devilish, which made me chuckle a bit.  One can be forgiven thinking that by many of my paintings and much of my work in general. But I see my horned figures as primal beings, not solely associated with darkness and vice. I instead see them as a joyous  (if fiery) contrast to the sanctimonious displays of the self-appointed righteousness that has surrounded me for much of my life. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about devils and angels and I’m guessing it is affecting my work.

There seems to be, in this election season , quite a few devils posing as angels. Bill Maher’s recent conversation with Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager,  left me questioning who is on the side of darkness and who on the side of light : the potty mouthed liberal or the smug blonde who can’t besmirch her reputation with salty language yet can easily tolerate policies that will decimate civil rights to non-blonde, non-straight, non-Christian Americans.

I couldn’t help to be reminded of the glittering and duplicitous Antichrist, posing as virtuous yet possessing a craven soul as the pretty  Ms.Conway flitted and flirted her way through her conversation with Maher. I was left infuriated by how convincing and how appealing she may seem to a great many folks. From my perspective, risking hyperbole, the Antichrist is amongst us.

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Much of my work lately has been confronting the oppressive restrictions of the religious right, thus far Fundamentalist Christians but frankly anyway who adheres too closely and too literally to the Abrahamic traditions. In this morning paper, there was an article ( link below) concerning a literalist Christian couple feeling “outnumbered, isolated and unpopular” as our nation moves forward to towards progressive and secular ideals ; my response was boohoo and “welcome to the club”. These feelings of despair that they are now experiencing for the first time, feelings which have personally led me to innumerable dark days and suicidal moments in my youth and which in fact have led many queer kin (many so very young) to take their own life, leaves me with little sympathy for these so called Christians.

Let them have their heaven, I’ll take hell.

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This sense of the conflict between the so called diabolical and the celestial has even entered my dreams. I awoke today, in the wee hours of the morning, to record this dream:

I encountered  Lucifer and he ran a sordid, understocked bodega in the vast basement of a 19th c. building. The place was dank, damp and ill lit. There was very little merchandise and what he did offer was meant to appeal to the youngsters of the neighborhood , sugary soft drinks and prepackaged junk food. If the boys, for they were all boys, were lucky, they escaped with a bag of Doritos, but more often than not Lucifer pinched their cheek leaving behind a sharp triangular scar, a  Devil’s Mark. Some were so unlucky in their quest for a quick snack that they lost their eternal soul.

I did not interest Lucifer, for I was not some dimwitted boy but in fact an angel. more specifically an Avenging Angel. I didn’t immediately see Lucifer when I descended to his lair; the sordid shop was desolate, the  half empty shelves reflecting the dim light of the grimy basement window shafts, all was gray and ambiguous . I found a crackling flickering light emanating from a washroom and there , through the cracked open door,  stood Lucifer hunched over a scrub sink.  He was a stooped middle aged man, thin and balding as ashen as his bodega but from his ankles, thin as reeds , flames could be seen coursing through the sinew. I was witnessing the sulphur of depravity. His fiery emptiness coursing through his lower limbs. A few young boys descended  seeking their salty sweet empty calories, I tried to shoo them away, one heeded my warning but the other, stubbornly intent upon his tawdry treat, barely escaped Lucifer’s pinching embrace. As the terrified boy rushed up the flight of stairs the bloody “v” of the Devil’s Mark was plainly visible.  I approached Lucifer, and as if on cue we simultaneously spoke the same lines : “You are (I am) Lucifer, damned for eternity”. I turned to my unidentified companion , pleased and eager to display my pride in predicting what Lucifer would say.  Even Avenging Angels suffer from pride.

From that point on it became clear that these were pre-scripted lines and that we were in fact actors in some Mystery Play. We each had our role and we were playing them admirably.  With this new understanding Lucifer and the Avenging Angel ascended to street level, to a well lit shop, a typical 1930’s sort of place, all plate glass and checkered linoleum floors, perfect for a barber shop. I grabbed Lucifer by the shoulder, embracing him and declaring “this is what Good feels like , do you like it?” , as he recoiled from my “goodness” , an archetypal flag waving-Scripture quoting-gun loving  couple saunters into this empty shop.  Devilishly , just to tweak them , I faux-bugger him from behind ,   this time declaring “this is what Evil is, do you like it?”

He did and we fell onto a pile of Turkish rugs  giggling as they skedaddled out of Sodom and Gomorrah as fast as they could.”

I’m working now on a Hellmouth costume, all made of cardboard . A walking marionette/Mystery Play pageant wagon. I think, if I may be immodest, that it is going to be super. I will post the finished work upon completion but for now this image of the work in progress with my decidedly angelic dog Speck.

14440768_10210181421401592_1519083514061968665_nSpeaking of Hell and Hellmouths my mixed media assemblage Daisy’s Reliquary  (made for the unexpected death of my beloved pug Daisy several years back) will be part of a Dia de Los Muertos exhibition at Ave. 50 Studio here in LA, I’m very pleased and honored to have been asked to participate . Info concerning the October 8th opening follows, sadly I have two openings in northern California the same weekend and will not be able to attend. The link is : http://avenue50studio.org/upcoming-events-3#honoring-our-ancestors

1 Daisy’s Reliquary

Until next time .“Shanti! Shanti! you must not let anger possess you like that.””

Temptation of St.Anthony of the Desert (a fellow and his pig)

 

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Just moments ago I finished up a drawing of the abbot of the desert St. Anthony. This well intentioned saint who sought to avoid worldliness and the corruption that follows only found himself in the thick of it. Anthony is my muse (as he was to Bosch, to symbolists such as Flaubert and to many  Surrealists), I turn to him time and again and have lost count as to how many works I have devoted to this early father of the Church . But one attribute of the anchorite that I particularly love is the company he keeps, pigs. The pig is found in many depictions of the hermit but this  is the first time I have worked one of my favorite beasties into the composition.  I’m sure there will be many more.

In this depiction I tried to incorporate,in a whimsical way, classical elements to depict worldliness ; not that I feel humanism is corrupt but classical sculpture can certainly raise one’s pulse.

 

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The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert (and his pig) 

2016 graphite and pastel on paper

18 by 24″ 

My love of pigs is personal, being a vegan I have a particular attachment to this highly intelligent and sensitive creature . David sponsored a pig for me this year as a Christmas present, her name is Sweet Tea and she is well tended to by the loving folks at Ironwood Pig Sanctuary. Although I wish she lived with us we can easily visit her in Tuscon AZ, we plan on visiting her at least every boxing day. This image is from the day we first met, as you can see she is quite adorable and friendly. It is delightful how pigs rush to you when you enter their compound, ever greedy for treats and attention.

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Sweet Tea

Like I mentioned Anthony is often depicted with a pig, this little gem of painting by Lelio Orsi (1511-87) is one of my favorites at the Getty, I search it out whenever I visit.

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On my last visit I noticed this wee little pig pawing at the anchorite’s robe as fervently as my pug Viola.

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As I mentioned I will be sure to return to Anthony time and again, my very sweet and very talented friend, the artist and musician Henry Kitchen offered to pose, sending along this funny photo. He is actually a perfect Anthony, right down to the hoodie.

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I’m sure to take him up on the offer very soon.

Until then, back to painting, good night.