Here in frosty Chicago , I have felt the wintry chill for weeks, yet my calendar informs me that true winter isn’t until tomorrow, the 21st of December. So in honor of all manner of frosty solstice cheer and Yuletide goodwill, I share today’s drawing-painting.
I never really know how mywork will be perceived, I try not to think about it. My work is earnest , often with a degree of what I hope passes for wit , but is never intended to be ironic . I work diligently and sincerely on all my work. Perhaps I am humorless, too dour , but I put my heart into the work.
So with this in mind I was taken aback by an emoji “comment” (is an emoji really a comment?) made recently on my Instagram page after having posted this recently completed self portrait. I really dislike facial expression emojis , I earnestly try to avoid them, trusting my command of language will properly convey my intentions .
Of all emojis the one I dislike the most is this one : 😂.
I find it infuriating. It seems to embody the moronification of society in general and Los Angeles particularly. To garner public approval most everything needs to be a joke – a sarcastic , mocking joke laced heavily with irony is most desired . And so this painting was received. I must put this in perspective, it was a single post , by an artist who from his IG site we learn that his specialty is “big dicks and wet c#nts”- so we are speaking of a quite the gentleman. But of course the gentleman in question possesses youth , is handsome , fit and talented in a Tom of Finland. He has well over ten thousand followers and to attest to his smug arrogance , follows no one in return . Oh , and he paints shirtless to better display his artfully paint be-speckled pecs.
I mention all this because my initial response to his puerile emoji comment was to be affronted. I even blocked him in my disgruntledness for a few minutes . But then I realized just how perfect this comment was for apainting, a self portrait, intending to skewer/reject worldliness . IfI paint myself as a Holy Fool,albeit in the self conscious irony I generally reject , I need to expect some hecklers . So from wounded-ness I now possess a degree of pridein having elicited a reaction from just the sort of shallow nincompoop Anthony sought to avoid.
This painting started out, as so much does, unintentionally. My daily studio routine generally starts with automatic drawing . I try to not focus on any particular reference material , or getting details “right”, just the free flow of ideas inspired from who knows where . Such was the case of this sketch made I am guessing close to seven years ago while living in San Diego – a difficult period in our/my life .
I hadn’t intended for it to be a painting let alone an allegorical self portrait, yet there was something about the dashed off drawing that beckoned further exploration. So a few months back I decided torevisit , revise the by now , quite familiar theme of St.Anthony of the Desert, his temptations and my appropriating his reality .
The paintingwent well nearly from the start , each element revealing itself to me , and in this period of plague isolation, quarantine ananchorite would find familiar and social unrest akin to third century upheaval , it felt a timely theme.
What follows are the details .
Seated upon a memento mori throne , I was inspired by a stuffed and stitched example I made awhile back for another Anthony inspired tableau- the circle continues .
Detail of accompanying figures that I haven’t particularly explored the meaning of : Hirsute Giant, Druidboy and Millefleur Boy ( a favorite).
Yesterday’s automatic drawing shares the theme of the painting , a memento mori reflection prompted I know by personal concern . David spent much of this week in the hospital, heart concerns , a procedure was needed , we were of course concerned. It appears all went well, fingers crossed , candles lit , novenas uttered , he will be on his way to good health. He is resting now , Viola a lackluster nursemaid , but he’s home .
I last posted what I had then thought to be a finished drawing, one I was pleased with in many ways but still had a persistent nagging sense of dissatisfaction concerning its resolution. But given other studio obligations I decided to put is aside and move forward.
However, a dear friend and accomplished artist in her own right would have none of that. In a private message she let me know in no uncertain terms what specifically was lacking, the email contained a red-inked copy of the offending drawing .
I confess I was taken aback by this unsolicited critique, but given my respect for her, for her academic training and for her own admirable work, I put aside my embarrassment and instead picked up the pencil once again. I now believe the drawing to be complete…unless I receive another private message (smiley face).
Caves are a recurring image in my dizzying dream world. As a result I incorporate them into my work, initially as an impulse, but now working with a Jungian dream analyst, with more deliberation. My friend Betty Brown, who frequently posts thoughtful affirmations and memorable quotes shared this Campbellian gem this very morning (thank you Betty):
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”
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!
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!
This is the new image of Seizing Sanctimonium , again, I’m very pleased.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Speaking 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
Until next time .“Shanti! Shanti! you must not let anger possess you like that.””
After the Orlando massacre a few weeks back I have been giving thought to my past, particularly my youth and what a miracle it is that I am here today. Lets say the theme of Memento Mori is my day to day soundtrack of late.
My youth was a turbulent period, my parents were furious at my being gay and they regularly changed the locks after tossing my meager belongings out onto the lawn. Their flashes of temper left me homeless for periods of time, sometimes a few days, sometimes weeks. Often I would just float around , I had a large car, a Chevy Impala, it was an ugly beast but it was commodious; frequently it sufficed as the roof over my head.
This was the early years of the 80’s and with the little cash I scratched together I would head north; NYC beckoned me away from that shit-hole in NJ. And like many suburban gay boys I fantasized about that city, I picked up copies of the now defunct Soho News, the Village Voice, Interview magazine, fantasizing about this paradise only a train ride away. I imagined living in this fantasy loft, with beautiful pine floors and expansive windows, “artistic” furniture and of course Boston ferns. Boston ferns were not negotiable .
But of course that was not my reality, I was poor and not that cute in a city of incredibly beautiful people and my only real companion was an on again- off again drunk drag queen named Leo, her drag name Leonora- perfect Lenny and Leonora. What a pair we must have made.
Leo was only six years older I have just discovered but gosh, I thought he was so mature, so experienced. He had BEEN to Broadway, had been to the Met(both the opera house and the museum), the ballet, he knew everything . He was an introduction to a level of sophistication I hadn’t imagined. On our first encounter he bought me the cast recordings to “Dreamgirls” and “Evita”,both spectacular hits. I hadn’t a stereo or even a home at that point but they were totems of a life I so desired.
But Leo as sophisticated as he was, as genteel as he was, was also very familiar with the sordid (yet exhilarating) aspects of the city. We went to the nightclubs if they were free, the lights flash now in my memories , one blur after another. But what Leo enjoyed most was going to the baths. And really they were perfect, they were cheap, all you had to do was buy a towel and you were in…for hours, until dawn. Leo would buy his towel, often if he was flush, buy mine as well, kiss me goodbye, tell me where and when to meet up, and off he went. I can remember still how he draped his towel, he tucked it up well over his chest, inching it as if he had breasts, pushing them together to imitate a cleavage he didn’t possess . I often wondered what the hell he was doing, here in this hyper masculine world , here he was sashaying like some peculiar version of Marilyn Monroe. Yet he was popular.
I was not, I was an invisible boy, goofy, plain and confused . Also I was exhausted. What I often found myself doing was falling asleep. I wasn’t deliberately chaste, I just wasn’t chased. So as I was too broke to buy drinks and afraid of the drugs around me, I found myself falling asleep in the oddest of places, the orgy rooms of the bath houses. I think my unpopularity saved my life. Leo would be dead in less than a decade, and so would pretty much anyone else I knew in this strange wonderful new world. But I survived, and that , I have been thinking about of late. How when I was a young kid,as young as many of those kids in Florida, how I desired to attract the attention of the many beautiful gods that surrounded me, only a few feet away yet I remained invisible. I was lucky.
That is what I wanted to capture in this drawing, that confusion, that dizzying excitement, the pagan energy, that now is only a shadowy memory. Elusive as a lost soul.
The Temptation of St.Anthony (of the Desert)in the St.Marks Baths
sanguine pencil on paper
18 by 24″
It is of course a dense image one full of meaning but what is most significant at least to me is the image of the saint, who resembles a younger me, the clown like figure in the lower right; the skeletal figure in the mask is my dear friend Leo soon to be almost as ruined as this figure I depict.
I haven’t much from that period, the LP’s Leo gave me our long gone, the cliched pink flamingo statuettes he bought ( even though I essentially lived in a car) long broken, but I still have the post card from The New Saint Marks Baths, it captured the glamour and excitement of that place then and now years later, it still does .
An odd bit of ephemera to a period long past. I can’t think about it anymore…
I just finished a new painting, a very small one, 8 by 10″. After having labored rather diligently over a large painting for so long, it was nice to produce a painting in relatively short time. I think its finished, I will probably go back and play with the contrasts , glazing and such, but for now…
oil on panel
8 by 10″
The painting started as a quick sketch and I wanted to maintain as much of the sketches spontaneity as possible, I think I have- as spontaneous as one can be while working with essentially a single haired brush anyway.