As what had been a very delightful sanctuary becomes barren and littered with bubble wrap and pugs , I wanted to make one last post from my creative home of the last two years. Although eager to settle into larger digs, I will miss this place (particularly its excellent air-conditioning ).
This is proving to be a busy moment in my life. The movers arrive this Saturday and that evening I have an opening , Satan’s Ball, a perennial favorite -I have five pieces in that show. I may be pooped after the move but looking forward to being part of the festivities at Art Share LA. Then my solo show Fairyland July 8th. Frantic, daunting, exciting.
I was delighted to be notified that my drawing The Rape of Our Mother had been accepted into the Brand 45 Annual National Exhibition of Works on Paper. I was particularly excited because the juror was Leslie Jones, Curator of Prints and Drawings at LACMA- my submissions were unmistakably drawings in that old fashioned way and I having her validation was important to me.
I had failed to mention that my painting Hadesville won 3rd Best of Exhibition at CEDARFEST 32, at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History, Lancaster, CA.
I was beaming with a goofy grin.
The day after the award ceremony Facebook rather magically reminded me of what the painting looked like a year ago.
This “memory” popped up.
And a year later:
Packing has produced some novel still lives that I am eager to figure into compositions for new paintings, this being the most successful :
I’m at the end of my packing , I receive the keys to the new studio tomorrow morning. Much more to do but very eager to get back to work, be it stitching, drawing or painting, perhaps a relief print of two as well.
I finished this painting several weeks ago, but needed to step away from it a bit, literally and figuratively. It is a large painting and that is the direction I would like to take with my studio practice. This painting is in many ways the impetus for my moving studios. I’ve simply run out of room at my charming current studio.
But this has been a long journey, nearly two years, from bringing what had been a seemingly simple response to Christina Rossetti’s incredible poem of the same name, a simple pencil sketch, to this large canvas.
Before heading off for Philadelphia in the summer of 2015 I made this sketch, dashed it off really.
I was entering a summer program at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and I hadn’t really any concept of how to focus my time. Materials needed to be shipped and I felt overwhelmed logistically. Plus I suffer emotionally from being separated from David and the pups.
I’ve posted before about the PAFA critique program, at times bitterly, but in hindsight I realize how unprepared for the experience I actually was. I now feel, a few years later, that I could approach the experience with more confidence and intentionality (is that a word??).
Perhaps some other summer.
Without a real game plan I decided pretty much on board the plane that Goblin Market was to be my next project for the summer. Part of what I had hoped for with the critique program was to loosen up mentally and creatively, and my little sketch , which I had so enjoyed drawing, would launch me in the right direction. Or so I hoped.
The following are some sequential images of its making.
I pause here because this is where strife began between me and the program director , she insisting that this was a finished work, and I insisting it wasn’t. I envisioned a more polished painting and she wished to “free” me from what she perceived were constraints . Again, in hindsight, I feel I could now express my intentions with more clarity, but at the time I felt crushed and confused.
I persevered but warily.
This image is where I left it at PAFA, unable to finish , I rolled it up, threw it on the plane and allowed it to languish in my studio. I tried avoiding it frankly. Then, in 2017 I decided I needed to face the painting once again.
I’ve tweaked it a bit since this next image, but I now believe it to be finished…for now.
I have a solo show coming up in July, its a small show ( Goblin Market will most likely make its debut), a gallery within a showroom I enjoy showing in. I am excited. It is my first solo show and in many ways it is a clarifying experience.
I’m grappling with what I want to say as an artist and as a person . What is my contribution in this dialogue of life. The window we are given is open ever so briefly, and as I feel I have only just recently entered into myself, I desire to do so fully.
My show will be called “Fairyland”. It is a concept I wish to explore in depth; I will be putting together more extensive proposals for other solo shows, so this show in July is the model.
The following is a revised statement for “Fairyland”:
“At this stage of my life, off center of a century, I am grappling with ways in which to express my “being-ness”. Unable to avoid the “who am I “ question any longer, I find myself ,as a visual artists reaching beyond my usual studio practice of oil painting into diverse disciplines including figures in the round.The figures are essentially dolls, and are fashioned by fully embracing the pre-conceived sissy element of this art. It is in this extension of my practice that I am exploring, at this late stage, my identity as a queer and terrified man; the specter of the pansy boy I was, being given new voice in my latest ongoing project “Fairyland”. It is in this new series of projects , where paint, needle and thread give expression and validation to a long suppressed self loathing.
The very name “Fairyland”, a word once delivered with bloody blows transcends beyond with a message of empathy, compassion. pride, and I hope , humor. Reclaiming the fairy has been empowering. The art I attempt to create is intended to express the spirit of furtive repression breaking free.”
While listening to the dismal election news coming forth from my studio radio last week , I was busy at work on a drawing. The drawing was vague, more of an amusement than any specific concept. But as the electoral numbers came in, my panic rose, and the magnitude of what was at stake, all that I hold dear being seriously imperiled , the heretofore ambiguous drawing took a life of its own.
As the Bully rose in the number, my fears turned to those most vulnerable: women, POC , religious minorities, LGBTQ folk, but most specifically the environment. If we were to being living in this profit-first-profit-only environment then kiss aside any slim progress made during the last few years. Good bye Miami, hello hellacious droughts and rampant fires. Any sane regulation to protect our mute charges steam-rolled by corporate greed and the rapacious machine of unregulated capitalism. All of those poor enslaved creatures in factory farms across the nation will be subject to the same horrors found in the darkest most perverse Chinese market : animals skinned alive, brutally bludgeoned, callously scalded alive. A hell scene out of the imagination of Bosch, but the “sinners” are the innocent and the helpless.
My heart breaks at the potential exploitation of the earth and her children, all for some mad grasp at some lost imagined American “greatness”. So taking the advice of artists wiser than myself I channeled my nervousness and my anxiety into making this past week; this diptych one of the results. I’m going to need to be hyper vigilant the next four years (gods forbid eight), and I expect my work will reflect the strange times we now live. My colors for this drawing reflect my emotions, ugly, garish and harsh. By employing color wheel opposites I tried to embody the split between Right and Left, the green and red expressing the tensions between the natural order and Man’s voluptuous greed. I have never employed such ugly coloring before and I doubt I will again. It has been too unsettling even working with them.
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.
Rape, the very word causes you to pause. I ruminated upon even using the word “rape” for this drawing, but no other word fully expressed the Conquest of New Spain by the Old. The use of the word rape is relatively common in Western art, one refers to the Rape of the Sabine Women and of course all of those frothy depictions of The Rape of Europa , a pink cheeked maiden astride gorgeous twinkly eyed white bulls. I wanted to play upon that theme and the word rape is an integral element of the concept. In this case Europa is doing the raping.
The Rape of Tenochtitlan
colored pencil on toned paper
18 by 24″
I’m gathering my thoughts, both visual and verbal, concerning a project focusing upon Mesoamerica in general, Tenochtitlan specifically. But the historical elements are superficial in many ways as I am primarily interested in identity and perception , how one empire can so thoroughly misunderstand one another , New Spain vs. Old Spain. How we continue to misunderstand one another, be it racial tension, gender conflict, cops vs. Black Lives Matter, queers/straights, Muslims, you name it, if it ain’t “us” we become all paranoid and defensive (check out the GOP convention in Cleveland at the moment to confirm my assertion).
I’ve been fascinated for some time by the intersection of cultures and what is gained and lost in the process. Although I am not the first and I certainly will not be the last, I hope to add something personal to that conversation. Drawing back in time, when even the most basic images of what is now Mexico City were ominously romanticized and barbarized, they were oozing with biased fodder for our imagination, fueling our fascination with the pornography of violence: the perverse fascination with human sacrifice and the seemingly never-ending ghastly spectacle of the Aztecs. To the conquerers this New Spain was in fact a New Jerusalem, ripe for conversion, once they came to heel that is. To drive home the message of this new and terrifying place, the images were depicted through the prism of Classical antiquity , as the temple image below suggests.
Jan Karel Donatus Van Beecq (1638-1722) – Illustrations de Histoire de la conquête du Mexique ou de la Nouvelle Espagne
I am now eager to explore this cross cultural disconnect in an upcoming series of work in which I play upon the theme of courtly entertainment, toys and baubles meant to amuse an aristocratic audience, all presented to the Holy Roman Emperor from the New World by none other than the reviled/beloved Malinche. And as my brain is driven fundamentally visually, sketching out vague concepts is the most pragmatic approach.
As is usual with my approach, whatever floats across my field of vision will often find itself incorporated into my work. The other day while visiting LACMA I encountered a beauty, a small ceramic depiction of the Maize Goddess. She was Mayan in origin, and although diminutive she possessed all of the grace of a Tanagra figurine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanagra_figurine
I was happy to place this lovely lady into my composition.
Another inspirational happenstance, though less elegant, was when my publicist Kristine posted an image of this drawing in its unfinished state and accidentally added a filter of rainbows and stars. In what would have been in any other circumstance appalling to me , was in this instance, just what I needed. Of course fair Europa would feign affection, declaring undying affection to get at that gold lurking behind Tenochtitlan’s fiery skirt.
As I drew my mind wandered back to my visit to Mexico City, how as soon as we entered the city, I felt I belonged there. I was wistful reminiscing about the ancient art that seems to reach out from the very soil,defying the Church, defying the State, defying Time. This detail is drawn from loose memory of a visit to the National Anthropological Museum.
I’m going to continue to draw upon these fascinating resources, albeit in my own ways. I feel no more compulsion to depict the divinities of Mexico as they were by indigenous peoples than I would feel obligated to depict Christ in a Byzantine manner. The following are a few beauties found at the Museo Templo Major, literally pulled from sacrificial ground. That just fascinates me.
I’m going to close with my handsome husband taken at the Casa Azul for no other reason than it was a really marvelous day and a really marvelous memory.
I just finished a drawing of the horned god Cernunnos. My studio companion of late has been a Druid podcast out of the UK, fantastic stuff about finding the sacred in the every day. The horned god seems to pop up quite a bit, so I felt compelled to at least work out a sketch of him. I was also compelled to imagine what sort of hut he would live in which indulged my interest in neo-medieval follies . It was fun, drawing gives me great pleasure and freedom.
Cernunnos and his Lair
pencil and pastel on toned paper
18 by 24″
I’m reminded of another horned, branched, antlered figure I sketch out awhile ago, thinking it might make a handsome little (or large) painting. We will see, may the gods grant more hours.