The theme of the great Harrowing of Hell, that period in time in which the Church seems to hesitate a bit, unsure of what really happened, that time after Christ sheds the mortal coil and isn’t seen for a few days. Where he is said to have descended into the Underworld as a triumphant New Adam and liberates lost and languishing souls- that, that moment , fascinates me.
It has for quite some time, as a youth I placed ink to paper in an attempt to imagine such a mythic moment ( the use of pomegranates as a decorative motif, seemed at the time, a brilliant allegory and subtle reference to Eurydice)
As the first(and latest) image attests, the theme still beguiles. Having only recently listened to George Saunder’s astonishing Lincoln in the Bardo (thank you Audible, now I must actually read it). I have been taken with the in-between time of death, redemption and the ambiguous souls left floundering; the Bardo as Saunders asserts. Death isn’t always with me in a dismal way, but it is endlessly fascinating. I don’t actually want to know for sure what the path ahead holds for me, but I am darn curious.
The first introduction to the theme of the Harrowing was Albrecht Dürer’s spectacular depiction of it (Dürer is a heartthrob figure for me in so many ways).
One can easily see Dürer’s influence on my work, going back to my teens. Clearly I stole from the Master in this youthful depiction of the Fallen Adam.
What I had failed to comprehend was what was meant by Hell. In time I came to realize not so much the eternal fires of a wrathful God, but a waiting station, the vague Limbo of my youthful Catholicism.
The theme has been explored countless times; the following, are a few favorites.
My own inspiration was more random, less planned; in my last studio move, an accidental composition made itself available to me. I suspect I will returning to theme again. Perhaps next time Christ will be more triumphant, more muscular in spirit, less hesitant. Although, truth be told, hesitancy seems a reasonable stance.
Adolf Loos first decried the use of ornament in 1908 in that loveliest (and ornamented) of cities, Vienna. His groundbreaking essay Ornament and Crime (I’ve also seen it entitled “Ornament is Crime”) is astonishing in its prophetic belief that ornament “dates” objects, creating a desire for new and seemingly more fashionable objects, dress , even homes. I actually adore Loos, he was a genius, his buildings are starkly luxurious, his aesthetic judgement without question.
Yet I’ve always taken issue with the wholesale rejection of ornament in the 20th century (sadly that seems the only Loosian dictate to have secured root). Be it fine art or the applied arts, there is a general suspicion if not loathing of the decorative.
So with that understanding, nearly three decades ago, I had the hare brained notion to start my “career” as an ornamentalist . It was physically demanding work, frequently unappreciated and until I moved to LA, not well compensated. It wasn’t until the recent recession that I decided to hang up that cap and pursue a long suppressed desire to be a REAL artist.
In my current incarnation as a studio painter I had thought I had moved away from that phase of my life; shunning baroque acanthus , intricate strap work and pretty blackamoors for something seemingly more substantive .
It is ironic that as an example of ornament’s criminality , Loos cited the “degeneracy” of Papuan full body tattooing, for the full body “tattooing” of my studio mannequin Massimo is what compelled me to dust off my folios of decorative designs.
I found myself rustily trying to remember how to create patterns and ornamental compositions, in the end it came back as easily as remembering to ride a bike. I find myself now interested in exploring ornament, how to synthesize it into work, attempting to transcend superficial attractiveness. I’m excited by the possibilities as ornament making is a skill I possess, it pours out of me. How do I use this ability in an interesting and compelling way? My studio work has always contained an element of the decorative so I’ll be curious to see how it progresses with committed intention.
The following are images taken from my vast collection of preparatory drawings.
This was my first big break, a huge job, close to two years to complete. I was so naive, underbid myself, underestimating the scope of the project. This massive overmantel ornament a mere sliver of the actual project.
Back to the here and now, I did finish the ornament for Massimo, and as Loos predicted it IS indeed degenerate!
Loos, in condemning “primitive” ornament, particularly full body application, could not have imagined a world in which a comely young man ( image discovered on internet search) would adorn himself so prettily and to great applause.
In my enthusiasm I’ve started a new piece, The Apotheosis of Herakles. It will be one of my faux tapestries, which in of itself allows me to play with fiber, sewing, domestic “feminine” craft, which along with ornament , has been traditionally eschewed- yet I’m drawn to both. The following is the beginning of the work.
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.