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.

 

Fairyland ABC …for sale!

Fairyland ABC
(cover)

https://www.blurb.com/b/9751155-fairyland-abc

I recently self published my Fairyland ABC/Alphabetic Primer of Fairyland through Blurb, at first I was  intimidated by the process, but in fact it was pretty straight forward, almost fun once my desktop was properly organized. 

The link above allows for a preview of the book and  direct purchase and shipping- just in time for the holidays! A perfect stocking stuffer ( that sounds a bit unchaste).

What started out as an extension of my daily drawing practice, my focusing upon the alphabet as inspiration ,quickly suggested itself to book format.This paperback edition is nearly true to size to that actual notebook (the private notations and wonky compositions attest to that day-to-day reality).

The following images are some of my personal favorites:

G is for Greenman
(& Gryphon & Ganymede)
J is for Jester
P is for Pierrot
(& Pollarded Trees)

Perhaps my favorite

W is for Witchcraft

Perhaps you will consider adding it your library.

I hope so.

Finis

Samhain Revisited

 

 

Samhain
2019
Colored pencil on toned paper
18 by 24 inches

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 .

Suggestive red ink

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).

Samhain
2019
Colored pencil on toned paper
18 by 24 inches

Fairyland Artist Talk

Artist Talk, March 30th 2019, Leonard Greco and Kristine Schomaker, Fairyland at MOAH/Cedar, Lancaster, CA

Last Saturday I was at MOAH/Cedar in conversation with my friend Kristine Schomaker, artist and founder of Shoebox PR for the closing of my solo show Fairyland. Fortunately this artist talk was recorded by my friend and fellow artist Edwin Vasquez.  If you were unable to attend this memento offers a glimpse of the conversation that had taken place. To all who did attend (and snap photos-thank you Samuelle Richardson-yet another fine artist friend), much gratitude for the support and the illuminating questions.

Much to ponder as I move forward in the studio.

David and the pups attended, little Rose a welcome lap dog. I think it is funny how blue everything is , blue walls (Benjamin Moore, Phillipsburg Blue0, industrial blue chairs, and my purple sweater reading as blue. It is as if I am trying to sink into the background, which is perhaps true. I much prefer the work to speak, nonetheless a wonderful conversation with my dear Kristine.

Super Bloom, Leonard Greco, Rose & Kristine Schomaker. Memory taken by Samuelle Richardson.

After the talk, we headed to the heart of the Antelope Valley to witness for ourselves the much celebrated Super Bloom. The California poppy a perfect foil to the azure heavens …and still more blue art, a handsome installation in the desert.

image taken by Samuelle Richardson.

Yes, those specks are people!
Image taken by S. Richardson .

Image S. Richardson

A good day indeed.

Artist Talk, March 30th 2019, Leonard Greco and Kristine Schomaker, Fairyland at MOAH/Cedar, Lancaster, CA

 

 

Jongleur de Dieu, Tumbler for God

Jason Jenn, from his March 16th 2019 performance of “Temptations in Fairyland”

Temptations in Fairyland , Jason Jenn’s site specific performance piece, which delighted  not one but two separate audiences last Saturday at MOAH/Cedar in Lancaster CA, immediately called to my my mind the Jongleur de Dieu, the prankster tradition of tumbling and juggling in order to best serve the Lord. Harking back to the early Church with Symeon the Holy Fool and his manic, mad pranks in which he cleverly  brought the Gospel to a feckless and indifferent world, this enthusiastic tradition continues still. In relatively contemporary times, the late theologian priest Henri Nouwen has been described by his biographer  Professor Michael W.Higgins as such. In referencing the trapeze artists The Flying Rodleighs and their impact upon the priest, Nouwen acknowledges his own place as a Holy Fool:

…the Flying Rodleighs allowed him to see his life as that of a Jongleur de Dieu, a Tumbler or Juggler for God. Although a medieval conceit-linked with courtly love tradition and the troubadours- the jongleur had a special, subversive and beatific function to perform.”

Genius Born of Anguish:The Life Legacy of Henri Nouwen, Michael Higgins

“Special, subversive and beatific” was indeed the “function” of Jason’s astonishing performance last weekend. Set in the middle of my Fairyland, I hadn’t known what to expect, I can say I hadn’t expected such a completely immersive experience-you simply have no choice but to jump onto Jason’s wild speeding train of boundless energy . I am a full throttle artist, I frankly do not know how to make art without giving my all; Jason is a brother, a comrade in this. His performance so complete, so fully committed to embodying Flaubert’s Temptation of St. Anthony, my own Fairyland and his own very personal understanding of performance art and its place in understanding how best to be a human. We as enlightened, gifted beings kissed by an unknown, unknowable god, God, spirit, power, have struggled with this from the very beginning,  Jason, performing as the anchorite Anthony and as the ambiguously evil, delightful, seductive desert  companion Hilarion tackles this conundrum with wit, wonder and moving pathos.   I giggled between gasping, it was a dizzying, manic performance that delighted me at the moment and now a week later leaves me wondering how best to move forward.

 Deep, deep respect to you my friend , Jason,  your tribute meant so much to me.

 

With that said, some mementos from that performance (images for the most part from Jason’s Facebook page).

As the Anchorite with my “Robin Goodfellow
As the Anchorite.

Enter Hilarion!

The incredible body paint by his collaborator, the talented visual artist Vojislav Rad. I was so amazed by this clever pastiche of my own work , that for a moment , I tried to remember when I had actually painted it! 

Vojislav hard at work.
What a team.
The Tempter in the Seat of Temptation, the Anchorite’s Chair.
A moving closing.

It was quite a day, one of great honor for me. Thrilled to see Flaubert so wonderfully realized, delighted to see my own work so thoroughly understood and lastly, to better understand Jason’s work. I am not as familiar with the traditions of performance art. It has always seemed so ponderous, at times full of itself, Jason, through his quite serious merrymaking allowed me to see the joy and life in this art. Similar to my own work, Jason employs a light touch to weighty topics. In this, we are both Jongleur de Dieu.

The author with Pluton.

On a more somber note, Jason’s performance was the last outing for my little chihuahua Speck, who at sixteen, died this past Wednesday. May he be tumbling for God as I speak. Rest in peace sweet boy.

Much gratitude to MOAH/Cedar for providing a home to both  Fairyland and to Temptations in Fairyland, and to Robert Benitez for suggesting the concept initially. What great support from this wonderful cultural gem in the desert!

From left: “Robin Goodfellow”, Leonard Greco, Robert Benitez, Jason Jenn.

A reminder that I am hosting a life drawing session tomorrow at Cedar Hall adjacent to Fairyland. Props, funny hats and a naked fellow, what more do you want?

Links to Jason and Vojislav follow:

http://www.jasonjenn.com

https://www.instagram.com/vojislav.rad/

Jason Jenn, from his March 16th 2019 performance of “Temptations in Fairyland”

Ekphrasis…what an honor !

Ekphrasis, the artistic practice of a poet or artist inspired by one piece of art that another, generally a poem, is created in its honor. This is an ancient tradition, Homer in both his Illiad and The Odyssey frequently gushes about lovely delicately wrought brooches and elaborate too-pretty-for-war battle shields. The Poetry Foundation describes ekphrasis as :

“an ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art.” More generally, an ekphrastic poem is a poem inspired or stimulated by a work of art.”

Generally understood as a literary practice I myself however have almost exclusively been inspired to produce tributes to poetry and literature through the visual arts. I frankly cannot think of a single piece of work NOT inspired by literature .  My installation piece Embodied:St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears is directly inspired by Flaubert’s magnificent hallucinatory  noodle-buster The Temptation of Saint Anthony (which in turn was inspired by a marionette performance of the same theme).  My work is either illustration (which I would disagree with ) or ekphrastic tribute. As ekphrasis is a beautiful  somewhat haughty  and daunting word, I will go with the latter.

All that said I have been honored recently to have TWO works of art made in tribute to my own art! That is an extraordinary experience. The first is a work of poetry by the artist Edwin Vasquez who had a personal inspiration from my Temptations of St. Anthony of the Desert (below). This poet and artist sent me both the poem and a very poignant  note explaining the meaningfulness of my work to his own personal experience. Like so many artists I work in isolation and frankly never give consideration to potential viewers or their reaction to the work. To have such a touching tribute be sent my way, well that  is incredibly validating and much appreciated. The following is Edwin’s poem and a link.

 

The Temptations of St. Anthony of the Desert
2018
Oil on panel
18 by 36 inches

The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert

by Edwin Vasquez


Restless river zig-zagging like a poisonous desert snake

mirroring a non-existent, pale blueish color

from the grey hue of the restless sky.

On the right, in the forefront, St. Anthony stands in a catatonic state

behind a hollow tree trunk that resembles an empty cave where demons play,

his hand with painted nails holds the trunk — perhaps for dear life.

His forehead partially reflects the shadow from the twisted, carved cross,

accenting his sad and somber, melancholic face;

he resembles an animal in distress,

the saffron tunic replaced with a

tight costume – toxic green – accentuating his features,

yet he is not man nor woman,

he is animal, haunted by his own desires and demons.

The joke is on them:

the Bishop and King, the centaur and satyr, the jokers and demons;

they, in disgust, look away from him, who they want to scare —

he, who lost himself in the desert of his soul.

Link:https://sagebrushcafe.wordpress.com/ravensong/?fbclid=IwAR0VHEPDJgO5diiQQ4s8sZqNPT_UoXN7J3nFtrDwNqGJxzZNClnJ2rzmaQg

 

If that wasn’t exciting enough, another artist Jason Jenn has crafted a performance piece around my installation Embodied:St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears. I haven’t seen the work yet and have consciously distanced myself from any input , eager instead to see what this talented friend comes up with. The image associated with the performance of  Temptations in Fairyland delights the heck out of me.

Temptation in Fairyland
Jason Jenn

A link to the performance is on this Facebook events page:

https://www.facebook.com/events/387324135388019/

I don’t know what to expect, and like everyone else I will have to wait and see on March 16th, but I am  unabashedly excited.

And honored.

“The Temptation of St.Anthony of the Desert at the Baths of St.Mark”
2016
sanguine pencil on paper
18 by 24 inches

This  solo show experience has been a great source of personal gratification. I am on a sort of forced break from the studio, first I am in the process of moving the studio to another location, but more importantly (and more pleasurably) meeting friends at MOAH/Cedar to walk them through the galleries. I haven’t socialized this much in years, a bit daunting for an introverted hermit but what a delight. Today I met two really darling friends, both very talented artists, Malka Nedivi and Simone Gad, this photo being a treasured memento (my pups travel pretty much everywhere I go at this point).

Malka, left, The Dogwalker and Simone, right.

Again, what an honor!

The Temptations of St. Anthony of the Desert
2018
Oil on panel
18 by 36 inches