Adolf Loos first decried the use of ornament in 1908 in that loveliest (and ornamented) of cities, Vienna. His groundbreaking essay Ornament and Crime (I’ve also seen it entitled “Ornament is Crime”) is astonishing in its prophetic belief that ornament “dates” objects, creating a desire for new and seemingly more fashionable objects, dress , even homes. I actually adore Loos, he was a genius, his buildings are starkly luxurious, his aesthetic judgement without question.
Yet I’ve always taken issue with the wholesale rejection of ornament in the 20th century (sadly that seems the only Loosian dictate to have secured root). Be it fine art or the applied arts, there is a general suspicion if not loathing of the decorative.
So with that understanding, nearly three decades ago, I had the hare brained notion to start my “career” as an ornamentalist . It was physically demanding work, frequently unappreciated and until I moved to LA, not well compensated. It wasn’t until the recent recession that I decided to hang up that cap and pursue a long suppressed desire to be a REAL artist.
In my current incarnation as a studio painter I had thought I had moved away from that phase of my life; shunning baroque acanthus , intricate strap work and pretty blackamoors for something seemingly more substantive .
It is ironic that as an example of ornament’s criminality , Loos cited the “degeneracy” of Papuan full body tattooing, for the full body “tattooing” of my studio mannequin Massimo is what compelled me to dust off my folios of decorative designs.
I found myself rustily trying to remember how to create patterns and ornamental compositions, in the end it came back as easily as remembering to ride a bike. I find myself now interested in exploring ornament, how to synthesize it into work, attempting to transcend superficial attractiveness. I’m excited by the possibilities as ornament making is a skill I possess, it pours out of me. How do I use this ability in an interesting and compelling way? My studio work has always contained an element of the decorative so I’ll be curious to see how it progresses with committed intention.
The following are images taken from my vast collection of preparatory drawings.
This was my first big break, a huge job, close to two years to complete. I was so naive, underbid myself, underestimating the scope of the project. This massive overmantel ornament a mere sliver of the actual project.
Back to the here and now, I did finish the ornament for Massimo, and as Loos predicted it IS indeed degenerate!
Loos, in condemning “primitive” ornament, particularly full body application, could not have imagined a world in which a comely young man ( image discovered on internet search) would adorn himself so prettily and to great applause.
In my enthusiasm I’ve started a new piece, The Apotheosis of Herakles. It will be one of my faux tapestries, which in of itself allows me to play with fiber, sewing, domestic “feminine” craft, which along with ornament , has been traditionally eschewed- yet I’m drawn to both. The following is the beginning of the work.
Now back to it.
My current body of work that I have placed under the encompassing umbrella of Fairyland is an ongoing project, transforming itself almost daily. Ultimately it will be a large and complicated installation project involving diverse disciplines: painting, fiber art, printmaking and possibly some performance. A classic example of gesamtkunstwerk.
Ultimately given full expression at my 2019 solo show at MOAH-Cedar in Lancaster CA. I also have a month long residency with Shoebox Projects in December where I will further examine this magical place I call the land of fairies.
But in the meantime I am submitting Fairyland for possible solo shows. The following is my latest submission, and let me tell you applying for residencies or submitting for solo shows is on par with the Harrowing of Hell. Shaken and now nervous, I know I’ve done my best. Rejections have become a part of my reality, but in my heart I know this could be a pretty nifty show.
The following is what I presented.
Wish me luck.
Grappling with ways in which to express “being-ness”, I find myself reaching beyond my usual studio practice of painting into diverse disciplines including fiber-art figures . The figures are fashioned by fully embracing the pre-conceived “sissy” element of this art. Thus exploring my identity as a queer and terrified man, the series validates a long suppressed self loathing.
“Fairyland” an ongoing project, bears a title once a slur, now declaring a message of empathy, pride, and hopefully, humor. Embracing the fairy has been empowering ; the art created expressing a spirit of furtive repression breaking free.
The following is a “walk through” description of what I propose:
“One enters Fairyland through a swagged theatrical portal, embellished and festooned with luxurious passementerie, the ornaments fashioned from trashed rags, the “rich” cloth of stitched and patched recycled fabric, all evoking a glorious if tarnished sham splendor .
This initial dramatic entrance into the Wurdemann Room is not mere camp , it is a sincere appreciation for aesthetic visual redundancy, one that is deeply personal and I believe a trait familiar to the queer aesthetic, the need to elaborate, to further explain.
To offer alternative truths.
It is in the elaborations that I explore familiar cultural narratives through a queer prism, doing so in multiple mediums: stitched and painted fiber art , relief prints, book making, drawings, easel and wallpaintings .
Once entered, the visitor encounters a hushed dark room , it’s walls swaddled in lush fabric , faint chants heard muffled behind the plush. At the far end of the gallery an elaborate neo-baroque mirror hangs, confronting the pilgrim with a chilling memento mori. The mirror titled Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego is of mixed media and fiber arts and is flanked by near life sized fiber-art figures such as Daphne and Icarus which act as sentinels of life, death and transformation.
To ones right and left, floor to ceiling (faux) tapestries entitled Orpheus’ Lament and Eurydice’s Response (of painted and stitched un-stretched canvas), depict alternative tellings of the Orphic drama.
As the Wurdemann gallery is set as a private salon/wunderkammer with approximately 12-15 pieces, various paintings such as the large scale oil paintings Goblin Market and Hadesville will be interspersed amongst the “tapestries”.
In the center of the chamber, on an elaborately draped library table, one finds hand blocked , hand stitched books, opened for viewing. Further stitched and painted figurative ornaments also bedeck the table’s surface .
Sensory overload is the desired affect in this gesamtkunstwerk that I call Fairyland- this particular Fairy’s private retreat made public.”
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for me, I’m trying now, not very successfully, to collect myself. Between the move into a new space, multiple shows and now an inferno has set upon the City of Angels, I find myself quite discombobulated. Now that I have a semblance of internet (thank you Hotspot, whatever the hell that is), I feel less adrift.
To procrastinate, I’m enclosing a few images from recent shows, “Satan’s Ball” at Art Share LA and more recently, this last weekend’s “Fairyland”, my solo show at Ave. 50 Gallery.
A pleasant surprise was meeting the photographer Stephen Levey who took some excellent images of my work. I was quite delighted to see how he captured the moodiness of my figures.
I’ve tried for some time to capture my first “Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert”, Stephen, seemingly effortlessly, snapped a great image.
The preparation for the opening of “Fairyland” was daunting, with packing up the old studio, moving into the new and all the details that go into a transfer from one place to another, I was rattled. Particularly grateful to Dan Fernandez who handled my installation expertly.
In the end it all came together and the opening was just splendid…hot as Hadesville , but splendid.
I was so touched by how many of my friends stopped in, in spite of a plethora of competing openings, in spite of the gallery’s rather isolated situation and in spite of the terrible heat. In spite of that , the support was thrilling. Thank you my friends, friends I’ve known for awhile and to the new ones I’ve just met.
Art making is isolated work but it is the community one finds that encourages and delights. I’m pretty delighted at the moment…in spite of fierce Apollo.
This whole awful nonsense with Trump, his foul mouth and his belittling bullying tactics has brought up a lot of issues for me. I’ve said it before, but Trump, with his bravado, his swagger and impotent rage reminds me of my own bullying father and I just can’t bear to look at his piggy little face (my porcine friends please forgive the comparison ). When the stunning “p*ssy” comments were made public I thought of all of the women in my life who have endured such boorish , bullying and belittling treatment. My own sister, unbeknownst to me at the time, endured repeated childhood sexual assault by our neighbor, out-and -out rape and perhaps more damaging, hideous psychological torment by this fiend who escaped unpunished back to India. He was a respected member of the community, a doctor I think and we were the oft-ridiculed white trash family of the neighborhood. My sister, a young girl, delightful, bright and eager to please, was easy pickings. To this day she suffers mental illness, I do not know if the abuse she endured is the sole cause of her afflictions, but I seethe with rage when I see Trump’s smug, pursed lipped entitlement, he so reminds me of the tyrannical behavior certain men of privilege can so easily exploit. I grieve for my sisters, blood or not.
So as the awful details of Trump’s comments came out , and my women friends on FB opened up in such brave and powerful ways , I was reminded of one woman in particular who had suffered the oppression of men silently and yet harbored wickedly delightful schemes of revenge, the great Pirate Jenny! David and I were traveling north to Sacramento and I packed a bunch of cd’s to pass the time. Amongst the treasures were recording by Lotte Lenya and Marianne Faithful of Seerbäuber Jenny (Pirate Jenny) from Brecht’s Three Penny Opera (link:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_Jenny.)
Both artists captured the despair of oppression but also the spark of divine revolt, sometimes those fantasies are all that can sustain you during times of pain. I know from experience, a child of violence and abuse, how nursing revenge can thrill you into creative action. My father was one mean motherf*cker, but boy I created some truly fabulous faggy art as a young kid, duct tape, spit, glue and hubris are powerful weapons.
And in that spirit I decided to start crafting a body of work that would capture that moment, when after living her life in subservience, Jenny (Diver), barmaid, whore(?), ill-treated servant, has her revenge on all who have oppressed her. As the groveling tormentors are presented to her , Jenny, now queen of the Pirates, has the power and it is thrilling:
“In the midday sun a hundred men will step ashore
All tramping where shadows crawled.
They’ll lay their hands on men, hiding shit-scared behind doors
Lead them in chains here before this silent woman,
And they’ll say, “well, which ones shall we kill ?”
They’ll say, “which ones shall we kill ?”
Come the dot of twelve, it will be still in the harbour,
When they ask me, “well, who is going to die ?”
And you’ll hear me whispering, oh, so sweetly, “all of them!”
And as the soft heads fall, i’ll say, “hop-là!”
Hop-là indeed and from that inspiration I’ve decided to take what had been a studio folly, rag-doll making , into a large installation of all one hundred heads of Jenny’s “shit-scared” bullies!
So I have three down and ninety seven more to go; suffice to say I needed more poly-fill. Needles sharpened, embroidery floss and paint brush in hand, I am on to a sissy-boy-doll-making marathon! Given Jenny was a barmaid, each of the heads are made of used and NASTY dishrags, seems appropriate.
And although the work is essentially a feminist response to patriarchy and its abuses it can easily be understood to be a battle cry to oppression in all of its ugly manifestations: gender, sexual identity, race. For me another vital cause is the continued, and dare I say it, enslavement of animals for food,clothing, experimentation, even our base pleasure . What would it look like if animals had the upper hand (paw, hoof, wing) as our fair Jenny. I imagine a battle cry of ‘Hop-là” across every factory farm, every slaughterhouse and science lab.
Heads would be a-rolling!
In closing I thought I would include a few videos of both Lenya’s and Faithful’s recordings, both found at the bottom of this post; both are excellent, Lenya’s is probably truer to the original intentions of Brecht, but Faithful drives me mad with her gravel voiced contempt, yet she is so vulnerable as well.
I’m also enclosing a link to the lyrics Faithful is employing with such power, it is a slightly different translation from Brecht’s original, but it truly has visceral appeal.
My three complete “Trophies” will in the near future be employed as neo-baroque passementerie ( a pretentious way of saying decorative tassels) for my Orpheus’ Lament , a faux tapestry that will included in the Zoomanity show at ArtShare in downtown LA, opening festivities, November 19th. So if in town, take a peek!
acrylic on un-stretched stitched canvas
59 by 93 inches
Have a great weekend and down with the patriarchy!