That darn anchorite keeps following me around, this time not so much in the desert but in a lush, abundant landscape inspired by the German Romantic painter Jakob Phillip Hackert (1737-1807).
It wasn’t really my intention to once again return to Anthony and his desert travails, at least not yet (currently more immersed in fairylands, bogles, goblins and pixiefolk). But in my studio, kicking about and frankly in the way, was a practice landscape from a few years back. I’ve long admired German Romanticism, particularly the dramatic treatment of nature, most especially trees. In the hands of a master like Hackert, trees are major players, singular beings rich in personality. I had hoped to better understand how these landscapes/tree-scapes were constructed so I set about copying one of my favorites, Hackert’s Italian Landscape, 1778.
It was a gratifying experience, in no way was I able to match Hackert’s luminous original, but I did learn valuable lessons in light, perspective and composition.
But then I had a painting that I wasn’t very interested in, wasn’t original, wouldn’t/couldn’t show, not particularly “good” and yet frankly too sentimentally attached to to just chuck.
So I decided to make it my own by reworking it in my own way. I’ve seen artists self consciously take thrift store paintings (rather annoyingly, seems a bit stunt-ish), works they mockingly called kitsch, and adapt them to their generally ironic purposes. This sort of practice is close to being a kitsch cliche in its own right but it started the wheels turning .
I’m not an ironic artist, nor did I think my painting kitsch, although granted a rather poor copy, but I was excited to reimagine Hackert’s poetic composition, eager to populate his pretty world with my imps and daemons. In many ways old master Jakob acted (unwittingly) as my collaborator. This latest painting the happy result.
I hope he would have been pleased.
As my composition is visually dense in the Boschian/Bruegelian sense, details follow:
This is the Master’s take, as you can see it is quite lovely, my copy so paltry in comparison. The wisest path was re-spinning my inferior version in my own voice.
In the end I am pleased, I made room in storage, profited from past labors and have a new painting I like quite a bit.
In 1769 the Royal Academy first set about creating a space for showcasing new works of art, two hundred fifty two consecutive years of discovering, exhibiting and promoting contemporary art to the public. The Summer Exhibition is the longest open call opportunity for artists of all rank to present their vision to the Academy and to the world.
That is quite an impressive feat.
Through the centuries this progressive mission became associated with an institution that might have seemed stodgy and which one rebelled against. I’m guessing all that has changed , I really do not know but for a boy growing up in New Jersey the tales of Varnishing Day, the glamour of opening day, the imagined pithy comments from Oscar Wilde, all created a siren’s call impossible to resist.
I’ve dreamt of submitting for years (decades) but hadn’t the nerve. I still lack the nerve but this year I submitted anyway. It wasn’t an overnight decision. At my solo show last year I met a British couple enthusiastic about my work, amidst their welcomed flattery they pulled out their phones and showed me glimpses of the Summer Exhibition 2018 fantastically curated by Grayson Perry, encouraging me to submit my work for they felt it would be right at home. It was exhilarating this thought, feeling so out of place in Los Angeles, adrift in where to next turn, it seemed a dream; this Royal Academy was FAR from stodgy, far from my conceived notions of what “academic” art was. This was a magical place of wild color, classical architecture, and wall after overcrowded wall of diverse and distinct art just begging for attention. I was floored. This was an oasis, far removed from the frequently tedious , muted, reserved, overly-curated, predictable gallery exhibitions found here in surprisingly conservative , tight-laced and conventional Los Angeles.
When we visited London for the first time last summer the RA Summer Exhibition 2019 was a must-see. I had already toyed with the notion of submitting after having seen glimpses of the Perry show but heading into solemnly magnificent Burlington House, situated in glamorous Piccadilly, in the very heart of London, then finding inside these impressive walls an abundance of art, art of all sorts, a staggering diversity of material, style and approach, all this sealed the deal.I was immediately convinced that I must at least try.
The long anticipated open call was announced this week on Monday. I was prepared and at the gate: all work freshly documented; a revised, suitably Anglophilic artist statement self-consciously composed; measurements and prices converted to metric and pounds. I was ALMOST confident. Nervously I typed in all the necessary information, exhibition submissions are always harrowing for me, but because this was so personally important it was especially so. But I soldiered on, all in order, all checked, double and triple checked, and then just when I attempted to pay the entry fee (entry fee is due before you can submit) I hit a wall, an unmovable glowing , unyielding wall on my laptop screen.
ERROR, error, error, unable to process. I tried again and again, rechecking triple checking every entry information, David checked, my publicist checked, we resubmitted, shut down, rebooted, cleared cookies and caches (whatever the heck they are), different browsers, computers, laptops, I-phones all to know avail. I contacted the RA support, they responded but the suggestions made proved unfruitful. I despaired, over-reacted, overwrought and self-pitying I was convinced I of course wasn’t worthy to even submit to the RA. I was such a loser they wouldn’t even take my money. In my pathetic state, eager to have them like me I became a Friend of the Academy…something I wanted to do anyway, but felt , hey, they’ll see I’m not some obnoxious self absorbed American. All absurd of course, it was some glitch, my rational brain knew this but I possessed such desire to just submit that I became quite abject in my disappointment and despair. It was resolved of course, my subsequent, pitiful emails were returned , a helpful assistant recognized the problem immediately and the Error message miraculously disappeared. With the error corrected (my fault of course) all was well, the submission window hadn’t suddenly closed in twenty four hours as I had ridiculously obsessed over, fees were paid, all was processed, entered, and the submit button nervously pressed.
The glitch? I had spelled out “California” instead of the required CA…damn California.
If I was irrationally anxious about the submission, I was irrationally proud of myself for actually having completed the task. The work that follows is what I, in the end , decided upon submitting. Perhaps not the wisest choices or most prudent, for they are large and unwieldy , and if the heavens allow and I am ,on the slimmest chance, shortlisted, the work will need to be seen up close and personal. This will be enormously expensive, but let me tend to that when and if it must be tended to. For now I will bask in the glow of an overly inflated sense of accomplishment.
I will receive first round results mid March …wish me luck.
I will close with a happy memento from our visit last summer , my Herakles and that Farnese imposter.
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.
I finished my latest figure last evening, what I had heretofore been calling simply a rag-doll, I am now calling a stuffed painting.
He is called The Wodewose.
Greenmen (andGreenwomen), The Green Knight, Wildmen and the archaic form, the Wodewose, fascinate me. They are at once pure of heart and spirit yet unbridled, carnal, the embodiment of our bestial selves. No wonder they appear so frequently in medieval marginalia; amidst sacred texts, randy hairy beastie-folk cavort and beguile.
I’ve turned to the theme multiple times. After reading Simon Armitage’s excellent translation of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” I was hooked on the theme, a wondrously fascinating archetype; ripe for seemingly endless re-interpretation.
This latest work is in the round and I was able to more fully develop his fleshy-ness ( and hairy-ness thanks to some found faux fur).
I was inspired to employ the Wodewose-Wildman archetype because of the recent celebration of Beltane on May 1st. Rebirth, renewal, the “pagan” appreciation of unbridled spring. My figure has two ways of presenting himself in order to more fully keep in the step with the seasons.
The first being flacid Winter Dormant:
And thesecond, lively Spring Renewal:
“The Wodewose” will be part of my contribution to “Satan’s Ball”, a group show at Art Share LA that promises to be an:
“unapologetic embrace of the dangers, demons, burdens and temptations that beckon to the more sinful angels of our nature”.
I’m going to close with a few random images of Wildfolk that never fail to delight me. As I leave for Pittsburgh tomorrow and rain is supposed to be in order, I’m looking forward to a wild rush of greenery (and perhaps a few fauns).
I just finished a drawing of the horned god Cernunnos. My studio companion of late has been a Druid podcast out of the UK, fantastic stuff about finding the sacred in the every day. The horned god seems to pop up quite a bit, so I felt compelled to at least work out a sketch of him. I was also compelled to imagine what sort of hut he would live in which indulged my interest in neo-medieval follies . It was fun, drawing gives me great pleasure and freedom.
Cernunnos and his Lair
pencil and pastel on toned paper
18 by 24″
I’m reminded of another horned, branched, antlered figure I sketch out awhile ago, thinking it might make a handsome little (or large) painting. We will see, may the gods grant more hours.
Last week I ran a proof for a new print inspired by the Sir Gawain and Green Knight narrative. Initially the print was going to be a multi plate affair, a technique I thought I had mastered somewhat. But after multiple runs I became increasingly dissatisfied with the results ; The Green Knight proofs were consistent only in their inconsistency: the colors were not aligning , the ink was spotty and “snow-flaked”. I strive to achieve consistency when I run a series, something that was drilled into by my instructor Jim. So I decided to turn to a technique that Jim was less than enthusiastic about, pochoir, or more simply , stenciling . Jim felt it not quite printmaking in some way, and I can understand his resistance. Yet, with this technique I was able to accomplish what I was searching for , color, color that was within the defining lines of the image. A certain degree of wonkiness in printmaking can be desirable but what I was producing just looked like I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. This is the final artist’s proof of The Green Knight. He seems particularly suited to the winter holidays.
The Green Knight
pochoir-relief print on paper, artist’s proof
image size 8 by10″
The misalignment that frustrated me is apparent in this image.
I had far preferred the simple black and white print, yet he is the Green knight.
The pochoir process is satisfyingly craft oriented, I was able to utilize techniques and tools from my decorative painting career.
To now have a desk full of proofs is satisfying, I will run a series in the new year, brightening the green and using the darker buff. I am also going to utilize the pochoir technique when I run my recent print The Proposition. I hope to produce prints that are more vibrant AND aligned in the future . At the same time cutting back on production headaches as cutting stencils is far easier than cutting lino. My only new year resolution is to actually make and hopefully sell some prints, pochoir-relief prints may be the answer. Until next time, be well.
Just made what is most likely the final cuts to this plate for a new print The Green Knight. It will be a two color print, green of course , but for now, a satisfying image. Now off to tend to the beasties.
Given that Saint Patrick’s Day is just around the corner and that I happen to be in the throes of attempting to read as many translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as I can, this still-wet painting/drawing seemed fit to post.
The Green Knight
graphite and watercolor on paper
11 by 11″
As I mentioned I am on a Romantic frenzy with an emphasis on Gawain and the Green Knight. So far the Simon Armitage translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight seems the most expressive and easily holds one’s attention, it is a real page turner. Thankful to Clive Hicks-Jenkins for introducing me to it.
What I love most is Armitage’s almost erotic description of the beastly yet seductive Green Knight. He is clearly a monstrous sight, green of flesh, massive and brutish; yet beautiful, well built and splendidly attired. A radiant greenish-golden yellow glow,save for the flaming red of his eyes, permeates his being. I was seduced immediately. Hence the image.
In my readings I have come upon numerous interpretations of who or what the Green Knight is. Some have understood his unholy skin color to represent death; some believe he is the devil, yet others believe he is a Greenman or the Greenman’s cousin the wodewose. I want to believe he is not anything particularly malevolent but instead an old god, full of contradictions, light and dark, “good” and “evil”. The complicated duality that the chivalric court of Arthur found so difficult to comprehend with its rigid codes of behavior.
I have attempted to fit all of Gawains future into the blanket of the Green Knight’s equally green horse. There is the unholy beheading challenge, the castle/sanctuary of Sir Bertilak ( the Green Knight’s alter ego), the seductive Queen with her charming bosom, and finally the Green Chapel. The Green Knight and his horse are a writing pulsating tangle of vegetation.
Right now I am reading the latest Penguin translation and next I plan to see what Tolkien thought of this grand tale. The following image, which thankfully I did not see until just a moment ago for fear of undue influence, is from an original manuscript-it’s pretty splendid.