Moments ago I finished this four sheet drawing The Desert Quartet: The Temptations of St. Anthony . I have been working on it off and on over the last few weeks . Putting it aside now and again , most recently for a trip to London but I am now back and I was determined to finish it so as to explore new work inspired by my trip to that most marvelous city .
The following images are details of what I admit is a very dense image, which may be difficult to read from an iPhone photograph . I will need to have this drawing professionally documented.
This drawing is a continuation of my Anthony infatuation , it began as the briefest of doodles . Not a particularly good one but one that has provided inspiration for some reason . I’m about to translate this doodle once again into my stitched paper dolls . I think it will be effective as a wall hung work, projecting out here and there, constructed mostly of cardboard, paint and embroidery flow . I hope to convey movement and articulation, very animated I hope .
I will post progress shots as it progresses . But until then, good wishes from Babylon.
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.
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.
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.
The theme of the great Harrowing of Hell, that period in time in which the Church seems to hesitate a bit, unsure of what really happened, that time after Christ sheds the mortal coil and isn’t seen for a few days. Where he is said to have descended into the Underworld as a triumphant New Adam and liberates lost and languishing souls- that, that moment , fascinates me.
It has for quite some time, as a youth I placed ink to paper in an attempt to imagine such a mythic moment ( the use of pomegranates as a decorative motif, seemed at the time, a brilliant allegory and subtle reference to Eurydice)
As the first(and latest) image attests, the theme still beguiles. Having only recently listened to George Saunder’s astonishing Lincoln in the Bardo (thank you Audible, now I must actually read it). I have been taken with the in-between time of death, redemption and the ambiguous souls left floundering; the Bardo as Saunders asserts. Death isn’t always with me in a dismal way, but it is endlessly fascinating. I don’t actually want to know for sure what the path ahead holds for me, but I am darn curious.
The first introduction to the theme of the Harrowing was Albrecht Dürer’s spectacular depiction of it (Dürer is a heartthrob figure for me in so many ways).
One can easily see Dürer’s influence on my work, going back to my teens. Clearly I stole from the Master in this youthful depiction of the Fallen Adam.
What I had failed to comprehend was what was meant by Hell. In time I came to realize not so much the eternal fires of a wrathful God, but a waiting station, the vague Limbo of my youthful Catholicism.
The theme has been explored countless times; the following, are a few favorites.
My own inspiration was more random, less planned; in my last studio move, an accidental composition made itself available to me. I suspect I will returning to theme again. Perhaps next time Christ will be more triumphant, more muscular in spirit, less hesitant. Although, truth be told, hesitancy seems a reasonable stance.
I have been hard at work on my contributions for the group show “Bad Girls & Outcasts” at Cactus Gallery . Earlier last year my friend, the talented Ulla Anobile had conceived of the theme and had invited me (and the marvelous Mavis Leahy) to participate. Initially it was to be the three of us, but given the interest in the theme ( perhaps in large part due to our current political climate ) , Bad Girls are all the rage and many fine artists are now participating. It should be a very exciting show, Cactus Gallery always gathers together diverse artists and I have no doubt this will be an exceptional group of makers.
For my part I’ve focused on a few of my favorite archetypes: the brazen femme fatale; the sinner/saint; the vengeful goddess and of course, witches. I worked in a variety of techniques: fiber art, painting, drawing, and relief printing. The following images are the results of my love affair with all girls bad, wonderful and misunderstood.
Happily, as I finished up yesterday, I did one final drawing of The Magdalene, as a study for personal reasons, not for the show. After posting my studio progress on Instagram I was pleasantly surprised to find that a collector for the drawing. I’m not yet ready to part with the drawing but I’m telling you, Bad Girls are all the rage!
As I attempt to develop some sense of presence of myself as an artist, I find myself turning to social media. Be it Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or this studio journal, I am becoming increasingly aware of what is and what is not appropriate to post. As much of my work depicts nudity, posting full-frontals has the potential of censorship.
My latest paper doll-jumping jack Self Portrait of the Artist as a Flea is unabashedly nude. The nudity was a big “fuck you” to the bigots and the nasty folks who hate us , particularly important after the Orlando massacre. Queers have been treated like vermin for so very long, by fashioning myself as a flea I embrace what they find so vile.
That sort of righteous anger is all well and good but will it work on my Instagram feed?
Hence the fig leaf.
Now for the sans fig leaf.
Self Portrait of the Artist as a Flea
pencil and watercolor on paper, brads and string
22″ high by 16″ wide
He is a funny character, when he jumps he twitches awkwardly, I like him a lot, just not sure which I prefer, the figged figgy or the unfigged (we call fleas “figgys” in our house).
A problem with nudity is of course not new and I had my encounter with censorship a few years back when the city of Encinitas CA refused to hang my painting Gnosis and the Old Gods Were Pleased unless the female character was made more discreet – for some reason the male junk seemed a-ok.
Gnosis and the Old Gods Were Pleased
An artist I admire quite a bit , Milo Reice ( link to his site: http://miloreice.com/MiloReice/intro.html) who I discover happens to be a neighbor, has explored censorship and the fig leaf archetype in his own work. In his words concerning the following image :
“A detail of a recent work of mine where I was lampooning censorship- underneath everything is thoroughly painted – the appliqués held on with magnets”
A brilliant solution to a vexing problem by a magnificent artist. Check out his website above!
Of course there are times when foliate discretion adds to the allure as in Canova’s hunky Mars, who in this 1822 sculpture Venus and Mars. One rarely encounters such provocative undergarments outside of a go-go boy club.
Venus and Mars
But so it, perhaps an ostentatious fig leaf is in order. If so, I am in fine company. My boyhood hero introduced a ridiculously over sized fig leaf to the ephebe valet in his Enter Herodias ( from a Salome folio, first published in 1894) after there was criticism to the boy’s boy-bits. Not sure which image is more profane ; not to mention the grotesque fetus-like attendant with his enormous boner.
I want to close with a beautiful prayer to the queer and the unwanted. In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting the internet was awash with support and queer empowerment . This prayer by Mark Aguhar, who apparently killed him/herself ( I believe the author was transgender) wrote this beautifulLitany to my Heavenly Brown Body.I need to research Aguhar more thoroughly but felt it a fitting close to this post.
sadly ended Tuesday. I will miss the experience of having an actual body, in the flesh, in front of me. I benefit keenly, even if the results aren’t immediately apparent, from a live model and consistent and structured practice.
That said, in the stacks of drawings made in this class , very few were worth much more than parakeet liner. And from the rest, only bits and pieces satisfy me.
But one of the issues I am working on is abandoning this mad quest for perfection, I fail miserably each and every time. So relinquishing the claims of my ego, I post some of the drawings from Art 12A ; some from extended poses, some gesture drawings (gestural drawings drive me bonkers).
So now with class ended I will join other forums and study groups…plus I always have myself!