Gratitude to Genie Davis of Diversions LA for this review of Fairyland, opening February 23rd at MOAH/Cedar, Lancaster, CA. Show runs through March 31st 2019.
Given that it is a new year, why not start it off with something delightful.
Flowers fit that bill perfectly. I’m obsessed with flowers: in my home, multiple bouquets are generally scattered about, I’m seemingly unable to pick upholstery fabric without selecting a floral chintz or needlepoint, and of course the garden. But it is in my studio that florals frequently make their strongest appearance. I’m drawn to the seeming disharmony between the floral and the fine arts. I delight in challenging the dismissal of floral and vegetal motifs to the decorative arts .
I’m also interested in refuting the gendering of the floral, this feminizing of floral motifs leads to an insidious misogynistic homophobic mindset. One I experience externally by society at large and more disturbingly, internally- I am often embarrassed by my affection for the “feminine”, this post a testament to that discomfort. It frequently seems serious art cannot be floral or possess prettiness, and yet I am very serious about my work and floral patterns and motifs bud abundantly-it is in this fact, that my work is perhaps most “queer”. It is the incongruity between the floral prettiness of my work and some of its disquieting aspects that I am drawn to in the first place. My desire is to challenge this bias, both externally and internally.
My latest painting, a large unbound “tapestry”canvas embodies this gendered split. It is of a repentant, tearful Herakles, far removed from the bravado chest thumping posture in which he is usually depicted. This is of the post mad Herakles, after the wife slaying, after the brutal slaying of his own children, the broken man seeking redemption , rived with grief. Ostensibly the Twelve Labors were to be his redemption, but tradition maintains that the modest hellebore is what cured his madness.
Again the flower.
The other day I approached a restroom at a restaurant and encountered this very gendered placard- it made me chuckle as the establishment was earnestly trying to be progressive yet did so in a rather gendered binary way.
If I were choose I would certainly choose the floral.
That aside, this latest tapestry/painting is part of consistent floral motif throughout my Fairyland body of work (and I imagine will continue for quite some time) and until Fairyland is installed I will be snipping and sewing away on many elements, but perhaps most especially, flowers.
Of the gendering of “women’s work”, be it embroidery, stitchery, floral motifs etc, The Subversive Stitch is a wonderful examination.
My supplies shelves are crammed with vintage floral patterns from my boyhood-essentially the patterns I was denied as a little gay boy.
But I’ve made up for lost time. With that, happy 2019!
My latest stuffed painting , just a small element of my installation piece Embodied: St.Anthony & the Desert of Tears, a reimagining of Flaubert’s masterpiece The Temptation of Saint Anthony.
Pluton, Prince of Fire and Governor of the Region in Flames
31 inches high by 31 inches wide by 24 inches deep
Mixed media : recycled fabric, acrylic paint , embroidery floss, poly-fil, vintage footstool
Pluton and his infernal pals will be introduced February 23rd 2019 at the opening of my Fairyland solo show at MOAH/Cedar, Lancaster, California.
Would love to see you there . The show runs until March 31st 2019.
In preparation for my solo exhibition at MOAH/Cedar https://www.lancastermoah.org/cedar-exhibitions I am in that happy place, that point of total absorption with the task at hand. There is a superficial chaos to my studio at the moment, baskets and boxes spill over with thrift store yardage, flashy discarded costumes tumble upon the floor, even the dog beds are spotted with a gay confetti. But from this disorder spontaneity is flowing. I’ve set tasks at hand, a general to-do wish list in order for Fairyland to become a reality , but only used as a guideline. My best work is revealed to me through the process of making, as much as I may enjoy the planning.
There are those close friends who see through the madness, one such person is my fastidious , admirably precise and thoughtful friend Ken, who when visiting recently seemed taken with my large, unwieldy Victorian steamer trunk, crammed full of scraps of fabric and snippets of embroidery floss (I’ve saved every scrap of fabric from the Fairyland project, I’m either very clever or a hoarder). Ken is just the sort of friend an artist wishes for, seeing your intentions, he not only grasps your meaning but elaborates upon it. The notion of the “worthless”rag, the discarded snippet being a metaphor for a disposable humanity needed no explanation to my friend; he too sees the sacred in the forgotten, as witnessed by this dazzling kaleidoscope he created out of studio floor flotsam.
It is really beautiful.
With the floors littered with bundles of thrift store yardage, the work tables are increasingly crowded, I now have five tables in current usage. This charming 19th century illustration below (source unknown to me) delightfully (if romantically) captures the mood of my studio.
And like the doll-making above, my figures are indeed emerging, not by Fairy hands alas.
Concepts formerly inchoate are not taking form. I was recently asked by the museum for a Fairyland statement. Ideas and inspirations have been swimming about in the noggin for some time , but again, inchoate, not fully developed. It was time to put needle, pencil and brush aside and to pick up the quill. This is my statement for Fairyland (the formatting is peculiar for some reason) :
This recent body of work I’ve called Fairyland has developed a definite camp sensibility (not dissimilar to the theatrical confections of Cecil Beaton in the 1920’s). Camp, having been described as the lie that tells the truth, is an innate language I have been reticent to explore until recently.
Perhaps internalized homophobia has left me hesitant to make work so boldly queer – in every sense of the word – making art so openly flamboyant. Purposely stamped with informed wit and a wry knowing humor, this new work is first and foremost intended to visually delight and be taken seriously .
Among other things, it touches on the weighty tableau of the Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert and the perilous trials of Herakles. My aesthetic expression is influenced by my instinctive inclination to lighten somber somewhat ponderous existential themes with a gay touch (consciously using this word in both its current identity-laden fraught understanding and the anachronistic yet more delightful sense). While the work possesses decidedly camp sensibilities it is never ironic as is so often the current fashion. I find irony frequently cynical; my work is never cynical for no other reason than the inherent affection I hold for my motley crew of heroes, saints and sinners .
I draw indiscriminately upon diverse seemingly unrelated archetypes and themes from many sources, including Classical mythology, British folklore, Wagnerian operas and the biblical text of my Catholic youth, doing so in order to touch upon that which is culturally familiar to me, to others – and if we believe Jung – found deeply rooted as archetypes in our souls. These eternal themes provide me ample, seemingly endless, means of interpretation. As a person steeped in the Western tradition of literature and the visual arts, it is a rich fertile field I feel most comfortable in adopting.
The work presented at Fairyland are these familiar themes, explored many times over by countless artist; yet this time reimagined through a prism of my own. My play upon cultural themes hopefully adds a sentence or two to this ongoing cultural conversation. Working in variety of mediums, and a fabulist by nature, it is my intention to create a theatrical spectacle that is peculiar, visually arresting and deeply personal. Although the work is made solely for my own delight, I hope others find the work meaningful in some way. I also hope visitors feel inspired to resist the siren call of selfies and pause instead, if only for a moment, as these works are visually dense and to add their own voice to this enriching and frequently neglected conversation.
With that, welcome to my Fairyland.
Wishing all a most liminal Samhain. I love this time of year when the veil that separates is lifted for just a moment.
The notion that the spirit world is made just a bit more visible appeals to me, but isn’t that what artists and poets do every day? That unveiling seems our job.
The Jack-o’-lantern above, part of Fairyland is directly inspired by my Goblin Market which in turn is directly inspired by that most liminal poem of Christina Rossetti which bears the same name.
So wishing good tidings, happy mumming and festive guising, and remember to keep your eyes open and your spirit free.
I also recommend a reading of Rossetti’s masterpiece:
My ongoing body of work Fairyland I am beginning to see has its roots and inspiration in the nursery. I find myself harkening back to my childhood. We hadn’t a nursery, or day care, in fact, due to my mother’s mental illnesses my childhood was spent in self care and self nurturance. I raised myself best as I could. One of the delights of my solitary childhood was stumbling upon the Victorian and Edwardian library of my maternal grandmother’s own (isolated) childhood nursery. One such delight was Walter Crane’s enchanting Absurd ABC. I spent many quiet hours poring over Crane’s vivid and complex drawings, imagining better worlds. I owe a huge debt to Crane.
With that alphabetic primer in mind, I turned the focus of my daily drawing practice to the ABC’s; each day producing a primer that would have suited that little boy (and the fellow I am now). Later in life I discovered other primers and have experienced inspiration in ornamental alphabets such as this medieval ( neo-medieval?) illuminated primer.
With that information in mind, my Alphabetic Primer of Fairyland:
This isn’t my first alphabet, back in 2012 I went to task working on my Primer of New Spain ( see side bar for link ). However I lost steam and interest, as interesting as Mesoamerican art and culture is, it isn’t MY story. From now on I am focusing on what is true to me, Fairyland is home.
The following is “D is for Dog” from the above mentioned Primer of New Spain.
Dogs are always “true” to me.
With that, I close this post. For the record all of the images are 8 by 10″, on toned grey paper, sanguine (mostly) pencil and white charcoal highlights. I continue my daily drawing practice, starting most studio days with at least one decent drawing. I imagine revisiting the ABC’s once again.
I am preparing my annual entries to a works on paper show here in LA and in so doing focusing my studio time with that more ephemeral medium. In particular, paper dolls, which have long held an interest, harkening back to my fussy sissy boyhood. Fond , forbidden moments snipping away ; this drove my father to fury and violence ,so now, in revisiting this artform, I do so with emotion and gratitude.
My studio complex is an industrial space, and in the recycling bin can be found beautiful clean , rather low grade sheets of cardboard; all for the taking. And taking I have been doing. Large scale paper dolls, and larger planned, have occupied my work table. One of the problems I and others have encountered in working with paper-dolls , is a sense of durability. Inherently ephemeral, how does one strengthen such fragile material. This low grade cardboard (yet free!) has an unsightly edge that I find distracting and unfinished. My solution, perhaps unsurprisingly, is to employ yet another sissy art ( and equally infuriating to Pater) , stitchwork. By a simple stitch of embroidery floss , I strengthen and add an exciting line of color. I confess a certain pride in this, and stitching cardboard is immensely gratifying, not unlike popping those addictive sheets of packing bubbles. I recommend trying it to relieve stress.
My latest trio of paper-dolls are completed but more are planned, this grouping, the largest figure about 36 inches tall, is called The Siren & the Machiavels.
In addition to my paper-doll making , I continue my daily drawing practice. In the same spirit of the nursery, like paper-dolls, another staple of childhood, the ornamental and instructive alphabet:
I will continue through with this alphabet and post upon its completion. For today, as it Sunday, household, not studio duties beckon.
Wishes for a good and creative week.
Last evening’s reception for Embodied:St.Anthony & the Desert of Tears was gratifying in many ways . Most especially in the support shown by my wonderful friends and fellow artists . The art community in LA is a generous one , I am exceedingly grateful for that .
But also in where this residency has brought me , I feel as if I am on a landing , creatively speaking , and about to ascend with a stronger conviction and more focused intention.
I thank Kristine Schomaker and her ShoeboxProjects, which offered this residency to me . I also thank Kristine for these marvelous images . Amidst the hubbub I didn’t take one image . So again, thanks Kristine!
With that said , let the mayhem be fondly remembered.
I love this image of Kristine, really working my hat .
My friend , the excellent photographer Stephen Levey took these images , I particularly like the one with my talented friend Bibi Davidson and our demonic love child .
Our wonderful friend Jodi Bonassi , another great artist , was working the hat as well !
Always lovely to see my friend Randi
And miraculously , our dear Malka Nevidi , yet another amazing artist, arrived near closing . Thank goodness. But all good things must end , we’ve packed it all away , down to the crisp white walls , ready for new inspiration. Filled with much gratitude… and now, a head cold .
I am currently focusing upon an upcoming December residency with Shoebox Projects here in LA. The last month has been spent fashioning figures such as the comely fellows above. The figures, what I call Stuffed Paintings are essentially dolls, dolls play acting an existential tableaux that I have called Embodied. In the spirit of Neo-medievalism I am tempted to call the dolls Mummers. The latest Mummer is the red figure in the foreground.
Proserpina, Archdiablesse, Princess of Evil Spirits is typical of the Mummers I have in mind for my revamped Mystery Play centered upon the trials and tribulations of the early Desert Fathers, most particularly, St. Anthony (and his legion of troublesome demons). Proserpina is also a bit of a gender play as are most of the characters. Gender role and “appropriate” performance being explored and expanded upon.
With Embodied I am also eager to explore the concept of withdrawal from worldliness, so beloved by the early Desert Fathers yet so elusive, so prone to “failure”; I find myself, in this age of constant performance (social media, self-branding, creating content suitable to absurdly small attention spans) alluring and terrifying. I have struggled for the last few weeks to at the very least disconnect the Facebook app from my phone, but even that minuscule rejection of worldliness leaves me anxious and insecure. How did this happen, and what shall I do about it? Can balance be found?
For now I am focusing upon my desert tableaux, my Mummers and perhaps costumes, perhaps even performance of some sort. The following are a few of the Mummers thus far.
Pierott is perhaps the most emblematic of the Mummers. As a queer boy I was fascinated with the commedia del’arte , particular Pierott, his melancholy and chronic heartbreak was both familiar and comforting. I knew the gist of the comedys and I attempted to recreate them in the little shoestring theater I set up in our suburban basement. All went well with my spit-and-glue scenery and costumes, the problem being actors (and an audience). Given that I was the eldest of six siblings I thought recruiting my siblings would be a cinch. I was wrong, they, my brothers in particular, balked at the faggoty-ness of it all (my father agreed with this ) and after several very lame attempts, the show did NOT go on.
My brothers to this day still mockingly gripe about my directorial bossiness; and I still feel hurt.
Stuffed Mummers, mute and obedient, would have been a better solution.
Al of the figures begin life as a sketch, sometimes just a random thumbnail drawing.
I find further inspiration from multiple sources,such as this manuscript illumination.
The making of Embodied is in itself a reaction against set gender roles. The stitching, the quiet needlework , historically determined to be women’s work is for me deeply enjoyable. Yet when I go to the craft and sewing emporium I feel conspicuously male amidst a shop full of Glendale housewives. I catch myself (pitifully) trying to butch it up as I clutch my fistfuls of gaily colored embroidery floss and sparkly trims. Usually I chuckle at my own absurdity and proceed to the cashier. But the sewing, what may have been women’s work , is now mine as well.
I still have much to do, so much more stitching and painting and thinking and writing , yet I am determined to enjoy this time. To forgo elusive perfection and instead allow the process to unfold, hopefully revealing new directions , new intentions or solidifying ambiguity.
This fellow is based upon a strange tale told by one of the Desert Fathers. Locked in his desert cell, the unrelenting sun pulverizing his devotion, he suddenly, lustilly desired a cucumber. One can sympathize but the symbolism is amusing. That figure is next on the sewing table.
I also plan on a crucifix, this being the beginning of the Corpus.
Thanksgiving approaches and we are preparing for our own desert holiday in Joshua Tree , we’ve never been there, so I look forward to being inspired.