New painting: Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death

Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death
2020
Oil on panel
18 by 24 inches

I never really know how my work 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 a painting, a self portrait, intending to skewer/reject worldliness . If I 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 pride in 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 to revisit , revise the by now , quite familiar theme of St.Anthony of the Desert, his temptations and my appropriating his reality .

 

The painting went well nearly from the start , each element revealing itself to me , and in this period of plague isolation, quarantine an anchorite would find familiar and social unrest akin to third century upheaval , it felt a timely theme.

Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death
2020
Oil on panel
18 by 24 inches

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 .

The textile model.
A detail of the maker , painting Death as Death models offstage – I have a fondness for paintings within paintings. I also have a fondness for gilded satyr angels .

 

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 .

There isn’t an emoji to express my gratitude.

 

Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death
2020
Oil on panel
18 by 24 inches

 

Mandrakes, Fairyfellers and the search for Re-Enchantment

I haven’t posted in a bit, but my hands have been busy and so has my imagination. I’ve been making, clarifying and meditating upon the theme of Re-enchantment. I’ve mentioned before that my childhood was far from halcyon, more precisely grim in the lower case. Yet in spite of the anxious tension I was quite frequently in a state of wondrous enchantment. I had the good fortune to have a beguiling  and magical woods behind our suburban home. A solitary boy, I spent hours in quiet delight, there was simply so much to explore : salamanders, bullfrogs, carnivorous pitcher plants, skunk cabbage, blankets of velveteen moss, fungi galore and most delightfully sweet and wise box turtles. Truly, who needed humans when such fairies and imps kept you company?

That enchantment has slipped a bit in my golden years, I stumble upon it now and then, in the garden, with my animal friends, but most especially in my studio (my studio is my sanctuary) but if I were honest, a great deal of my time is spent in pursuits far from enchanting. 

Hence this interest in re-enchantment, in my work, in the studio and in my life. I am actively searching for the extraordinary in the quotidian, mindful and appreciative of the minor miracles of the day-to-day, the unfurling of the hairy leafed begonia, the topaz gold of a hornet, the diamond trail of the garden slug.  My seven year old self was well aware of these delights, I’m in the process of being reacquainted .

Undated photo of yours truly, seven? nine?

In that spirit, a new body of work is emerging, I’ve coined it as Fairyfellers (inspired by the fantastic Victorian fairy painter Richard Dadd). Fairy-telling is my aim, visually expressing that wonder found in the gentler, enticing realm of toadstools, ferns and tadpoles.

The following are examples of some of my labors:

The Mandrake Titus, Defender Against Reality (he lost)
2020
Mixed fiber media
72 by 40 by 27 inches

Much of my time has been spent just sketching out re-enchantment, my studio journals are full of spontaneous bursts of wonder.

Fairyfellers, page from sketchbook

Concept sketch for The Mandrake Titus.

Initial pose for Titus, triumphant against Reality; I preferred him defeated. Truer.

This figure of the Mandrake Titus was inspired by my visit to the V&A, in particular the heraldic, near life-sized Dacre Beasts.

Two of the four Dacre Beasts (1507-25) at the V&A.

In particular the heraldic banners, I’m wild for banners in general, these beasties compelled me to design and stitch up my own.

Artist’s sketchbook

Detail: heraldic Mandrake shield.

Reverse view of the figure.

The Mandrake’s cape was inspired by a detail from my latest painting (previous post). Cross pollination of ideas , across mediums, is a common occurrence in my studio.

Further experiments in “stuffed paintings” resulted in this elfin trio of Fairyfellers: Rufus, Derrick and Seamus.

Studio shot of Rufus, Derrick and Seamus (and Robin Goodfellow).

Derrick and Rufus.

Rufus

Seamus

Derrick

I’ve also been busy working further upon paper-doll making (as fairyfeller an activity  as you can imagine).

Daisy Chain
2020
Mixed paper and fiber media
Approximate dimensions 96 by 51 inches

Concept sketch for Daisy Chain

Daisy Chain, detail

Daisy Chain, detail

Daisy Chain, detail

The last image of the daisy loin cloth betrays a bit of self censorship, increasingly I am re-evaluating how much nudity to portray. Not so much out of prudery, but I’ve heard myself described as a “penis artist”, and that isn’t my intention or interest. In this case I think the work is improved by the discretion, plus it is more playful; playfulness a key element of re-enchantment.

“Uncensored” detail

So far that is it in the Fairyfeller realm, more fairyfellers  are on the way. Right now however I have returned to painting , stitching is hard work, my fingers begin to ache and the fabric and needle pricks have caused some damage to my fingertips. So for now this fairyfeller is at the easel.