I was recently asked to participate in a collective exhibition , the theme being The Afterlife. Ordinarily I avoid these mass group shows as they tend to be more inclined to spectacle and keeping the masses entertained (as the public never seems sated, craving new sensation after new sensation, we makers are asked to accommodate). But the curators are well regarded , one I know and respect, the art critic Shana Nys Dambrot, and it is after all a subject of keen personal interest.
El Velorio, as these annual celebrations of Dia de los Muertos are known center around a mass call for art, all loosely tied by a single element, participants receive ,via post, an object to base the work, this year it was a stock wooden cross.
The image above is my contribution.
Resurrection of the Maize God (and the Miraculous Birth of the Hero Twins) was inspired by the Popol vuh narrative in which the Maize God is slain/sacrificed and from this loss, new life, in this case the immaculate birth of the Hero Twins. An old familiar story, found across peoples, from John Barleycorn to Jesus Christ.
I had several years ago made the polymer clay heads for puppets, the puppets didn’t quite work out, but my rat-packing paid off as new life was found is this work. Unfortunately , from social media comments, the Hero Twin budding corncobs read as feet to the crucified Maize God.
I don’t read it that way, but it seems the public, in a mad dash to the next sensation, rarely actually observes.
That said, the work is available, along with many other very well crafted offerings October 12th at the Plaza de la Raza here in LA. I am told it is quite an event, very festive, costumed revelers. La Plaza de la Raza is a very fine art hub, actively community based and a vital center of artmaking; 40% of sales will benefit this wonderful resource.
I have the good fortune to be included in a group show curated by my talented friend Rachel Gibas , the opening reception, this weekend at Coagula Curatorial on Chung king Rd., here in L.A. I’m very pleased and look forward to the opening. I’ve been informed that the exhibition is opening earlier, 5pm, which is fortunate as we have tickets for Orpheus & Eurydice that very evening, so I may enjoy Gluck and the company of my art friends.
I have also received final word that my solo show at MOAH-Cedar has been officially scheduled with an opening scheduled February 23rd 2019. A little less than a year away, which on one hands seems the distant future, but I have much I wish to accomplish before that time I recognize my desires will always outweigh reality-that is the nature of existence after all, books that will never be read, new friends never to have met, new vistas never to be beheld…yet we strive forward. That, in a nutshell, is my “studio practice” (ugh, that is such a pretentious phrase), the blind optimism of reaching towards an un-climable wall.
All that said, I will be stitching, painting, drawing, sawing, glueing, cussing feverishly to fill this space-horror vacui.
My surname is Greco, my paternal grandfather fiercely proud of our rich heritage; clearly my roots are Italian, but in all honesty I’ve only just begun to recognize and appreciate the impact my cultural patrimony has had on me,as an artist and in many ways as a gay man.
I was inspired to reflect upon this existentially while submitting to a group show exploring and celebrating the Italian diaspora. I am the offspring of Calabrians who fled the poverty of their region for the fabled bounty of the New World. Setting sail in the teens of the early 20th century, my great grandmother came armed with a cheap gilded ring set with blue glass (which I now treasure ) and a feisty spirit. Incredibly small people and brown as a nut, my great-grandparents were frequently met with bigotry and prejudice.
Yet they persevered, settling in Trenton N.J., they were embraced by fellow immigrants (many from Naples) in the Italian American enclave known as Chambersburg (colloquially known as the ‘Burg). It is there that they opened water-ice parlors, manned grocery markets and in the twenties, my grandfather, as a boy, ran rum for the mob. Ultimately the family prospered enough to move to the suburbs, sadly leaving the cultural richness of the ‘Burg behind for the homogeneity of the NJ suburbs. My grandfather never felt like he quite fit in with his “white” neighbors, but the pride in his hard earned prosperity was palpable and difficult not to appreciate.
For me, as a sensitive queer boy, artist wanna-be, the suburbs were an aesthetic hell. Cultural deserts where “Mediterranean” evoked cheap flocked wall coverings and abominations upon inky velvet graced many a family room. My boyhood salvation was mass at the family church back in Chambersburg, Immaculate Conception, a 19th c. Gothic Revival pile, redolent in incense, ritual and gilt. It was heaven, and to this day I remember gazing up at its painted ceilings in wonder, and knowing one day, I too would be an artist. My grandfather assured me that was absolutely possible for Italians were especially gifted artists ( although he also insisted that the Irish were particularly gifted in depicting angelic hosts- where or how how he came to this opinion is something I still think about).
So now, in submitting to Italianitá, hosted by the Italian American Museum here in LA, I put to paper the influences my heritage has had on my art and my identity. This is what I came up with:
As a child of Italian-American descent (my paternal great-grandparents arriving from Calabria in the early 20th c.),I was raised in the culturally impoverished suburbs of NJ, yet it was my Italian roots that nurtured my aesthetic and acted as a balm to my artistic soul. Be it the street theater of Feast Days, the Madonna paraded and joyously lauded, the Festival of Lights, or the gilded grandeur of my parish church, it is clear to me that these influences decided my fate to be an artist.
In my work I explore the extremes of human existence through the presentation of archetypal figures undergoing transformation and experiencing salvation, rebirth and enlightenment; not unlike the art of Rome, be it sacred or profane. My paintings are self-contained narratives concerned with universal themes—birth, life and death— that stem from my personal experiences and passions. These include my love of classical mythology, Roman Catholic saints, the Italian Renaissance and Baroque, as well as the commedia del arte , low brow erotica and Surrealism.
As a queer artist my work frequently reflects a sensuality not unfamiliar to Italian art and culture. In this work I am searching to find the divine in the everyday, to show that all life, in all its incarnations is indeed sacred and beautiful. The works are metaphors that explore human relationships and interactions from myriad points of view and ultimately are about my understanding of my place in an ever-changing world.
My oil painting Seizing Sanctimonium is an allegorical homage to personally well loved artists such as Mantegna and Poussin and also a psychological exploration of my own spiritual and existential angst. Employing Renaissance compositional techniques such as one point perspective and borrowing freely from the drama of the Baroque stage, my intention was to evoke the tensions that arise between powers. In this instance, the Roman Church here being confronted by the Old Gods. This tension is palpable in ancient cities such as Rome and Mexico City, where timeless allegiances are everywhere, the old gods literally arising from the earth. Attempts to integrate the old ways into the orthodoxy of Christian faith creates a tension that is complicated, painful yet often dazzlingly beautiful. As a gay man, a artist and a Roman Catholic these tensions are personal, familiar, and frequently painful; conflicted by dictates of the Church and personal truths (embodied here by the Old Gods), it is in my desire to express this pain and to synthesize the diverse elements of my being. It is my hope to create work in my own voice, my own purpose and my own understanding of beauty.
My oil painting Hadesville is yet another homage to works of art that have influenced and inspired me. In this instance the Hellmouth warnings found in late Medieval and early Renaissance churches. These fantastical works are frequently the most inventive, adventurous, not to mention humorous works of art found in Christendom. Mostly attributed to anonymous artists, they continue to beguile , I am not alone in my appreciation. My painting Hadesville recalls such works, employing universal elements such as the aforementioned Hellmouth and symbolism that is personally meaningful.
In addition to the High Medieval, I also nod to Dante and his Divine Comedy with my own oddly disconcerting guides found in the upper left portion of the composition. Navigating the complexities of life, spirituality, sensuality (and the Underworld) was enthusiastically explored by the Italian masters of quill and brush,my humble aim is to add to that conversation.
Daphne is part of a new body of three dimensional work that I identify as Stuffed Paintings. These painted and stitched figures are intended to evoke the dramatic presence of Baroque theater and sculpture (most specifically, as in this case, Bernini). These pieces, Daphne included, frequently explore the power of transformation, sacrifice and redemption . Ovid’s Daphne,suffering divine injustice and paternal betrayal, ultimately finds “salvation” through metamorphosis (in her case, that quintessential symbol of Classical triumph and victory,the laurel bough).With that in mind, the theme of Daphne felt ripe for personal reinterpretation.
It is in this framework I wished to create my own response to Bernini’s ravishing marble masterpiece. In exploring the challenges presented in life, be it familial discord, conflicts with identity or romantic entanglements, my intention was to document the turmoil and anguish necessary to personal development. In so doing, I not only shift mediums from solid stone to pliant fabric, but I also swap gender, making this embroidered and painted allegory my own.
Given that today is Halloween and the group show I curated Hellmouth at Ave. 50 Studio closes this week, I thought it appropriate (and timely) to memorialize the wonderful work and artists I selected. As many know Hellmouth is a theme I love, Mystery Plays, the Harrowing of Hell, sacrifice, redemption and rebirth are ideas I return to time and again. My intention with this show was invite artists I admire into the dialogue; the conversation that ensued proved to be fascinating.
The statement for the show pretty much says it all:
Curated by Leonard Greco
Many a morning I awaken with a fiery knot in the pit of my stomach. It frequently feels we are living in dire times and I know many share my dread .
That being the case I’ve invited a few friends to jump right into the Hellmouth and showcase works that explore the depths of existential angst.
The results are poignant , beautifully charged and frequently quite amusing . Much gratitude to the artists:
Upon receiving the submissions I’ve been struck with how the artists of Hellmouth are poets of the shadows , frequently committed to exploring the dark existential crevices of being .
More sensible artists may resist this oracle’s call but like Orpheus these seekers cannot resist that final backwards glance . I trust you will be as moved as I have been.
Perhaps narcissistically, I found it gratifying how familiar all of the work felt to me on an innate level. That perhaps is why I am attracted to this very diverse group of artists in the first place.
Jodi Bonassi fills her canvas with meticulous detail, keenly observed images and most particularly, startlingly empathetic relatable figures. I’m crazy for her paintings… and for her.
My friend Jeannie Frias is a very fine artist in more traditional mediums, she surprised me with her diabolical mixed media piece. The little guy just delighted me.
I’ve known Jeff Iorollo’s work for some time, following it from afar. His work worlds removed from my own superficially spoke directly to my soul; his “Beq” a memorial dedicated to those lost to AIDS particularly poignant.
I feel with Tom Lesley’s work that I almost had a hand in the making. His references frequently so much my own. His dunce-capped fellow seems lifted right from my own “Hadesville” – it isn’t of course, just a delightful serendipity of art making.
Randi Matushevitz powerful scrawls of emotional chalk upon receptive paper causes me to envy her direct expression. They are a marvel.
My young friend Dakota Noot made “Bacon Wants a Taste” specifically for the show, I’m touched by that on a personal level but exhilarated on a aesthetic level. He is an artist to watch, his nimble witty work excites me.
Dania Strong is perhaps the artist I relate to the most personally. Also quite young she is the artist I wanted to be in my youth. We share a visual vocabulary which I am keen to see develop. She also had a sale, congrats to that!
and my own…
The show was very well received and one I am proud of it. I’m looking to curate further shows, thinking of various themes. One being male artists practicing “women’s work”: embroidery, fiber, applied arts, paper etc. Thinking of calling it ” Under Omphala’s Watch”, referencing Herakles’ “emaculating” period of spinning wool under Queen Omphala’s command. The other possibility is “Beyond Frankenstein”, an idea suggested by a friend, where our demons and self loathing monsters have been embraced. Will keep you posted.
This is the last week of the show which closes on Friday, November 3rd 2017 at Ave. 50 Studio, 131 N. Ave 50, Los Angeles, CA, 90042
It is always wonderful to be curated into a show, better yet if the curators are held in high esteem personally, the icing then is a favorable review (yet again by a someone you admire).
Such was my good luck.
I had the good fortune to be selected for Pop Surreal Playhouse , a group show curated by the deservedly lauded Greg Escalante and Wendy Sherman (sadly Mr. Escalante’s last show, having died only weeks prior to the opening). The Art Share LA opening of Pop Surreal Playhouse was bittersweet , whilst personally gratifying on a professional level given Escalante’s vision and influence locally, nationally and internationally (Pop-surrealism’s reach is global, just read his New York Times obituary); but it was bleak moment to be reminded that I would not be able to thank him personally.
I did however have the chance to chat with Wendy Sherman, a great supporter of the arts (including my own) ; we must treasure and frequently acknowledge these friendships given how fleeting our time is. Hoping Wendy knows how much I value her support and interest.
So with all that I start this frantic week with a wonderful review by Betty Brown for Art and Cake. Brown is a art historian with an uncanny ability to connect the dots from seemingly obscure points in humanity’s cultural journey. That she so aptly “got” my work, my references and my intentions (when more than I few critics do not) was immensely gratifying. Thank you Betty and thank you Art and Cake for providing a forum dedicated to art in Los Angeles.
This is the review, great images of the exhibition within:
Opening night was festive in spite of it being a memorial to Escalante. I did not know the man but from recollections of the fellow, he seemed a man of high spirits. I hope he appreciated the turn out and the works offered by the artists as tributes to his legacy.
Pop Surreal Playhouse runs through October 22nd, if you haven’t seen it , it is well worth a trip to the Arts District.
At the opening, I was particularly delighted to see so many of my friends in the show and in attendance. This snapshot of my young friend, the talented artist Dakota Noot makes me smile. Dakota is perhaps my most glittery friend and I value the joy he and his work brings to the world.
Pop Surreal Playhouse runs through October 22nd, if you haven’t seen it , it is well worth a trip to the Arts District.
So much so that I’ve included his work in the next show I’ve “hosted” (curated sounds so pompous ). The show is called Hellmouth which will open this Saturday, October 14th, 7-10 pm at Ave 50 Studio here in LA. I’m very excited by the show, wonderful art including Noot’s fantastic Bacon Wants a Taste.
I will be posting about the show, its intentions and the fabulous art after its opening, but for now the gallery is ready and I will leave you with this image of Hellmouth.
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.