At this stage of my life, off center of a century, I am grappling with ways in which to express my “being-ness”. Unable to avoid the “who am I” question any longer, I find myself, as a visual artists reaching beyond my usual studio practice of oil painting into diverse disciplines including figures in the round. The figures are essentially dolls, and are fashioned by fully embracing the pre-conceived sissy element of this art.
It is in this extension of my practice that I am exploring, at this late stage, my identity as a queer and terrified man; the specter of the pansy boy I was, being given new voice in my latest ongoing project “Fairyland”. It is in this new series of projects , where paint, needle and thread give expression and validation to a long suppressed self loathing.
The very name “Fairyland”, a word once delivered with bloody blows, transcends beyond with a message of empathy, compassion. pride, and I hope, humor. Reclaiming the fairy has been empowering. The art I attempt to create is intended to express the spirit of furtive repression breaking free.
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!
I am happy to say that I have finished my latest figure for an upcoming group show here in the Los Angeles with a theme of “Bad Girls &Outcasts”. I’ve made about five pieces for the gallerist to consider and this soft sculpture figure is my latest.
As I continue on this practice of “painting-sculptures” I find myself more and more drawn to the possibilities of figures in the round. The making of these figures being immensely gratifying.
This particular figure was directly inspired by a relief print I had made before crafting The Magdalene. Perhaps its gimmicky but that print will accompany the figure when she is presented to collectors.
As with much of my work one thing leads to another, this small print leading to another more complicated and I believe, more successful print, of the same subject.
It will also be presented at the gallery.
The Magdalene has been a figure of fascination since my boyhood, searching out her familiar red hair and raw tears in countless museum visits throughout my life.
Her renunciation of worldliness in order to be closer to the God who left her behind stabs my heart every time. I’m of course playing loose with history and church tradition, but that is the emotional effect, one of abject abandonment, that moves me so deeply . In many ways, she reminds me of Dido and her awful lament.
Of course, at least according to Church tradition, she is ultimately reunited with her Savior , often depicted ascending heavenwards garbed only in her anchorite-wild hair. This visual tradition of presenting The Magdalene as a Wild Woman is also extraordinarily interesting to me. She is in effect the corporeal equivalent of the divine other-wordly Blessed Virgin.
That old trope of Virgin and (Redeemed) Whore.
This resonates for me in that it allows exploration of the Old Gods and the New and how we , as a society , have tried to synthesize these elements in a cohesive and manageable way. I love both the BVM and The Magdalene, but personally, I feel closer to the latter.
Following are a few (unattributed) images of MM that I treasure.
(this is I believe, her reliquary , at least that what my what I noted)
Below is info concerning the show, if in LA, please visit.
I am working on a series of pieces for an upcoming group show devoted to the maligned women of history , folk tale and myth . The show is called “Bad Girls”. There are plenty of so called Bad Girls to choose from and I’ve selected a few that have resonated over the years : Salome , Mary Magdalene, the three crones from “Macbeth”.
My studio progress which had been going well has been interrupted a bit ( even this post , ordinarily made from the comfort of my studio , is now made from my IPhone at my breakfast table .
My little dog Rose is very sick . We nearly lost her over the weekend and her recovery is arduous and fraught with worry . My time and my emotions are occupied with her recovery .
That said , I did manage to bring all the pups to the studio yesterday and put in a few hours . Rose’s whimpering abating , the anti anxiety meds kicking in allowing me some time to focus.
What I focused upon was the Mesoamerican moon goddess Coyolxauhqui, link below :
According to the legend this unfortunate goddess for reasons complicated by patriarchy and misogyny, is mutilated beyond recognition. Forever memorialized in the monumental disc bearing her image found now at the Templo Mayor museum in Mexico City . She is a powerful figure.
I worked rather feverishly yesterday as I knew my time was limited before Rosie became restless again needing my attention and the result thus far , is the corpus of the goddess found above . I myself was struck by the pathos of the being .
As usual with my dollmaking I hadn’t filtered my emotions for mechanics; the figure emerged on her own . And after I held her broken body and posted her image online , only then , over dinner with my husband ( the psychotherapist) did I realize that my Coyolxauhqui was in fact Rosie.
This should have been obvious , Rose has an amputated rear right leg and now a near lame right arm- she is essentially an invalid . That the doll is nearly life sized to my sweet pug is also an unconscious similarity.
I’m of course completely absorbed with Rose’s needs , we both are . David , a medical doctor’s son is particularly adept in assessing in a calm cool manner; but he has his own work , patients of the human sort wrestling with their own traumas .
As the artist with a more flexible schedule, nursing is for the most part, my duty . I’m so happy she is alive I am grateful to have this second chance . But it’s hard , she cannot eliminate on her own , fights me ferociously over her bitter pills and the whimpering, not consistent, but when she does whimper , it breaks my heart in half . Believing myself to be impotent , useless .
This is Rosie yesterday , a better day ( after a fraught night ) , shopping for new bedding and nursing paraphernalia. She loved the attention , her tail wagging with enthusiasm.
Today, after her follow up at the hospital ( it’s predicted to be a lengthy recovery , six months or so of this schedule), I plan to head to the studio and meet my other obligations to the show , my work and to myself .
The following images are of my progress thus far: Wish me luck.
While listening to the dismal election news coming forth from my studio radio last week , I was busy at work on a drawing. The drawing was vague, more of an amusement than any specific concept. But as the electoral numbers came in, my panic rose, and the magnitude of what was at stake, all that I hold dear being seriously imperiled , the heretofore ambiguous drawing took a life of its own.
As the Bully rose in the number, my fears turned to those most vulnerable: women, POC , religious minorities, LGBTQ folk, but most specifically the environment. If we were to being living in this profit-first-profit-only environment then kiss aside any slim progress made during the last few years. Good bye Miami, hello hellacious droughts and rampant fires. Any sane regulation to protect our mute charges steam-rolled by corporate greed and the rapacious machine of unregulated capitalism. All of those poor enslaved creatures in factory farms across the nation will be subject to the same horrors found in the darkest most perverse Chinese market : animals skinned alive, brutally bludgeoned, callously scalded alive. A hell scene out of the imagination of Bosch, but the “sinners” are the innocent and the helpless.
My heart breaks at the potential exploitation of the earth and her children, all for some mad grasp at some lost imagined American “greatness”. So taking the advice of artists wiser than myself I channeled my nervousness and my anxiety into making this past week; this diptych one of the results. I’m going to need to be hyper vigilant the next four years (gods forbid eight), and I expect my work will reflect the strange times we now live. My colors for this drawing reflect my emotions, ugly, garish and harsh. By employing color wheel opposites I tried to embody the split between Right and Left, the green and red expressing the tensions between the natural order and Man’s voluptuous greed. I have never employed such ugly coloring before and I doubt I will again. It has been too unsettling even working with them.
This morning I put the finishing touches on my Orpheus “tapestry”, a large, unbound canvas that I started during my summer stint at PAFA. It is my largest studio painting yet, when I was a decorative painter my work could easily exceed thirty feet or so ( and many stories off the ground) but my studio work thus far has been restricted by the parameters of my work space. PAFA offered me four empty walls, seemingly endless possibilities .
acrylic on unbound canvas
59 by 93″
Due to the size of the painting (and my own ineptness) I cannot seem to adequately capture the entire image without some sheen and loss of detail, so I will post detail shots:
(my homage to Redon and Fred Stonehouse)
Merman, I like this fellow, he is rather sexy.
This fellow, actually his eye, was the only element of this painting that was considered redeemable by the faculty critique at PAFA. Apparently I am still nursing wounds. Since leaving the program I have had quite a bit of existential angst , have I any right (or abilty) to declare myself an artist. My consolation has been to just work as honestly as I can, and see what happens.
I listen to far too many podcasts while I work; for those who have enjoyed the podcast Welcome to NightVale , they might recognize the winged character watching over Orpheus.
I like this fellow-frankly I like them all; hence the somewhat dizzying composition. They become family, I can no sooner eliminate them then I would flesh and blood friends.
My only formal training is that from a Russian iconographer , that is abundantly clear by this character, who has become sort of a personal avatar.
These two are inspired by Greenmen , the universal bond of man and the natural world . That bond is the basic inspiration for the painting, a favorite theme, one that has been explored many times over, Orpheus’ playing upon the lyre and so moving the natural world, that all manner of flora and fauna gather at his feet. Trees uproot themselves and mountains roll towards him, all weeping at the bitter sweetness of his song. This Roman mosaic captures that moment beautifully .
This large painting was first a simple watercolor of faun, but it provided unexpected inspiration when I found myself in Philadelphia without my usual “crutches”, namely my large resource library. A library that is often a boon and sometimes a curse.
While in Philadelphia I would often visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art, passing by the monumental 17th c. tapestries designed by Rubens. The scale and the color palette provided much inspiration. I particularly admired how the waves were translated in the weaving.
All in all I am satisfied with this painting, I’m rarely (ever?) completely satisfied but when I feel I have gone as far as I can with a painting then I consider it finished…for the time being. I will go back to oils, but I was happy that I persevered with acrylics for this painting. With the weather here in LA now not so wretchedly hot I was better able to manipulate the medium. When I left Philadelphia I could barely look at this painting (or the others I had started), but now I feel I absorbed what I could from the experience and feel I expressed myself as authentically as possible . The final image is of the painting before I shipped it to LA.
August 12th 2015
For those in the States I close with an amazingly appropriate Thanksgiving image. I feel as if I could have painted it. It is courtesy of the great artist Judith Schaechter and her ever-amusing Facebook feed. It is particularly appropriate to end with her in mind because she offered me such support and insight while at PAFA. A great inspiration and an incredible artist.
I love Maundy Thursday, the washing of the feet, the adoration and entombment of the Eucharist-the Slavic church I used to attend had the most incredible 19th c. “hill” crafted of spit, glue and devotion. The all night vigil that follows is always deeply moving to me.
I had intended to participate this year after nearly a 25 year absence . After all there is this new welcoming pope and I had found this adorable church very close to our house ( Cathedral Chapel of Saint Vibiana).
But then I began to paint and it went well, so I stayed put, feeling this was my place.
I hope He understands.
This is the progress thus far on Descent from the Cross II, acrylic on canvas,started this week.
Wishing all a moment of peace and reflection on this Good Friday.