It was a great relief and satisfaction earlier last week when I saw four of my works , carefully packed, pull away from the storage unit (where they have languished in the dark since my 2019 solo show Fairyland at MOAH/Cedar) heading forward in the nifty MOAHmobile to the permanent collection of the Lancaster Museum of Art & History (MOAH) https://www.lancastermoah.org
With our upcoming moves, this new chapter in our lives, a new home in Chicago, the sale of our beloved Little Hermitage, renting an apartment in LA, so much needed attention, a prioritizing of intention and a matter of settling affairs. I cannot deny that I know this next chapter, the Chicago period, is most likely my last. The previous chapters have been abundant and I have had the good fortune and opportunity to be rather productive; but that productivity , particularly the works I created for Fairyland
have been larger than my domestic life can easily accommodate (not to mention collector’s).
With this realization in mind, I have been determined to get my work out there, I’ve been encouraging collectors with reduced pricing on selected works (link above in Available Work), and I also want my work to be in permanent public collections. Having had the good fortune to have a solo show at MOAH/Cedar,https://www.moahcedar.org/exhibitions-1/fairyland
MOAH seemed a natural fit. Happy to say MOAH felt the same way, for that I am grateful . When I made the initial inquiry I felt quite nervous, a bit like the goofy nerdy boy asking the pretty, most popular girl to the prom. Thankfully the pretty girl said yes.
The works included were the first two offered, The Anchorite’s Armchair (2019) and Lilith,the Mandrake (2018), the anchors to my installation Embodied: St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears:
With these works enthusiastically accepted, I was gratified that there was interest in other works as well. With that in mind , two other pieces, another textile piece and an oil painting (also created for Fairyland) were selected :
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 .
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:
Much of my time has been spent just sketching out re-enchantment, my studio journals are full of spontaneous bursts of wonder.
This figure of the Mandrake Titus was inspired by my visit to the V&A, in particular the heraldic, near life-sized Dacre Beasts.
In particular the heraldic banners, I’m wild for banners in general, these beasties compelled me to design and stitch up my own.
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.
I’ve also been busy working further upon paper-doll making (as fairyfeller an activity as you can imagine).
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.
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.
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:
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).
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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!
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?
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 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 —
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.
A link to the performance is on this Facebook events page:
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.
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).
My textile /mixed media installation piece Embodied: St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears is a major component of my solo show Fairyland which is now on exhibition at MOAH/Cedar. This body of work occupies an entire gallery and is on display until March 31st, 2019.
Those familiar with my work recognize that I have devoted considerable studio energy to the theme of the hermit Anthony and his desert trials. This particular work, by far my largest, was first realized in an inchoate state last year as part of residency at Shoebox Projects in Los Angeles. It has more fully developed into its present incarnation. Further development is most likely inevitable.
My concept for this show which is partly based upon Flaubert’s masterpiece of the same theme, and the myriad visual depictions of this beleaguered Desert Father not to mention my own trials and distracting temptations of life in the modern age is best expressed in the following artist statement:
Embodied:St.Anthony & the Desert Tears, my latest mixed media installation is inspired most significantly by Gustave Flaubert’s “The Temptation of St. Anthony” (1874). The richness of detail and illusion that Flaubert evokes almost suffocates the reader in its voluptuous beauty. Flaubert himself was inspired in great part by Brueghel’s own phantasmagoric depiction of the tormented hermit. I wish in some way to allude to that dizzying yet exhilarating experience.
As a young boy Flaubert witnessed a marionette performance of “The Mystery of St. Anthony”. From that point on, “St. Anthony accompanied Flaubert for twenty-five or thirty years”, as the philosopher Michel Foucault has written. Flaubert returned to the anchorite time and again until completing the work in 1872. This is not an easy read, dense, at times over-ripe, seemingly more chant than prose; Foucault describes the work as an “overcrowded bestiary” with “creatures of unnatural issue.”
It is this “overcrowded bestiary” I wish to evoke with Embodied,wishing to populate the tableaux with a parade of bewildering, complex “creatures of unnatural issue”. These hybrid embodied beings represent not simply base impulses but our own deep struggle to live a fully expressed life. For when I tackle such fraught topics as sin, temptation and redemption, I am looking beyond the typical biblically inspired admonition (such as Lust or the other Seven Deadlies). I am more interested in the quotidian, seemingly insignificant distractions that prevent us from embodying our truest selves. In essence, what interferes with your being authentic? What is your demon? Who, what shadows your path?
I’m particularly interested in exploring how the tools of modernity – social media, the self-commodifaction through “branding” oneself, the pursuit of relevancy— all hinder full true self-expression, perhaps even censoring it or rendering it mute. Foucault describes Anthony’s temptations as “…false gods resembling the true God….” I argue that false gods lurk in the inky alleyways of a frenetic and rapacious contemporary society.
The mystic Thomas Merton in discussing the Desert Fathers insists, “they did not reject society with proud contempt, as if they were superior to other men”, but instead were seeking the fullest expression of their purpose. Throughout our lives we are given signs which point us (or call us) in the direction of our authentic purpose, so as Merton reminds us: “…whatever you see your soul to desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe”.
I will do that “thing”, clumsily, distractingly, awkwardly, but like Anthony, sincerely and with purpose.
Numerous earlier incarnations on the theme, such as this 2018 oil painting of the troubled saint, play upon this intention and communicate directly with the installation Embodied:St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears.
The following images taken at the March 23rd 2019 MOAH/Cedar opening hopefully substantiate that claim.
(Note, all gallery courtesy of Shoebox PR.)
The installation centers upon the Anchorite’s Chair, from which numerous demons torture the saint from within and without.
Numerous demons pester the troubled hermit.
The crucifix of the desert saint itself isn’t immune from daemonic molestation.
To see Embodied embodied was deeply gratifying, if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to see Fairyland it does run through March 31st with an artist talk on the 30th.
To say the opening of Fairyland last Saturday went well would be an understatement. Frankly the support and good feelings expressed towards this work has left me in a dazed state. I have cloistered myself in the studio for so long that to finally emerge and meet such warmth and kindness, well, I feel a bit blinded by the light.
All I can say is thank you, thank you to the friends, familiar and newly made and to my family who trekked cross country to attend my opening and brought such tidings of good will. I am deeply moved.
For those unable to attend I am having the work documented by several very talented photographers and a book is scheduled for publication. But before that time, there is this wonderful video which was made (and made me a nervous wreck as I am very camera shy).
I was also delighted to receive word that the magazine Hi-Fructose had published a favorable review of the exhibition, that certainly made my day!
Presently much to be grateful for, I am officially on a bit of a holiday, a respite I suppose, precious time with my sisters and then a weekend gateway with my husband David who turns 50 in a very few days, and then …back to work.
I do want to express a great deal of gratitude to my friend Kristine Schomaker of Shoebox PR who handled the publicity of Fairyland. The diligence and hard work of Kristine and her excellent staff has been instrumental in pulling this darn thing off. Thank you my friend.
I’m going to close with a few Shoebox PR snapshots that I especially like.