Ornament is NOT a Crime

 

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 .

Apparently not.

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.

“Massimo” and preparatory sketch (“Herakles”)

The following are images taken from my vast collection of preparatory drawings.

Design, residence, Beverly Hills
Entry Hall, Palm Beach Florida
Ceiling medallion design, Greystone Mansion, Beverly Hills
Design, wall panel, Greystone, Beverly Hills
“Bohemian Lounge”, Greystone , Beverly Hills ASID showcase

 

Ornamental panel design, chinoiserie.

Wall paneling, Boca Raton

Wall panel, Naples Florida

 

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. 

Design proposal , Main Line, Philadelphia

Back to the here and now, I did finish the ornament for Massimo, and as Loos predicted it IS indeed degenerate!

“Massimo”,detail
2017
oil on mannequin

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. 

I haven’t the information for attribution; will do so upon discovery.

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.

Work in progress, “The Apotheosis of Herakles”.

Now back to it.

 

The Thinking Reed : From the Hermitage to the Underworld, the Quest for Gnosis

I’m putting together two proposals for a solo show, this is one of the proposals:

greco_resurrection-of-the-fatherwatercolor( cover: The Resurrection of the Father , 2013)

The Thinking Reed: From the Hermitage to the Underworld, the Quest for Gnosis.

“Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapor, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe knows none of this.
Thus all our dignity consists in thought. It is on thought that we must depend for our recovery, not on space and time , which we could never fill. Let us then strive to think well; that is the basic principal of morality.”

Pascal, Pensées

 

 

 
This dignity is our greatest gift and our harshest burden, this awareness of how absurd our very existence is. Bird, beast or fish are oblivious to their insignificance ; we alone must confront this existential dilemma . We are left to comprehend this miracle we have been given, a gift given with the cruel understanding that it endures for only the blink of a god’s eye. We must then live this life fully , and as Pascal demands, ponder deeply and “strive to think well”
It is this Thinking Reed which I wish to examine with this body of work. Begun in 2013, it consists of drawings, relief prints, watercolor and oil paintings, drawn from a number of sources: the Popol vuh of the Quiche Maya to Flaubert’s Temptation of St.Anthony. These narratives are re-examined through a queer prism , reclaiming the canon as a gay man living in the 21st century.  Of varying sizes they depict a quest for “think(ing) well”, a search for gnosis -self knowledge.
The collection will include approximately 10 -12 pieces, work I envision hung salon style; in the ideal world, against a rich background (I will need to ponder the logistics of that desire). As per gallery preference, ultimately I leave that up to the jurors and the gallery, however the Center Room might prove an intimate setting well suited to the intricacy of the work. Much of the work is completed and ready to be hung; in the instance of enclosed drawings, they may be translated into a painting, a tradition which is part of my studio practice.

The works are as follows:
1- Cover: Resurrection of the Father
2013
watercolor on paper
18 by 24 inches

2- Gnosis…& the Old Gods Were Pleased
2014
oil on canvas
24 by 48 inches

3- Genesis
2014
oil on canvas
30 by 40 inches

4- Seizing Sanctimonium
2016
oil on canvas
40 by 56 inches

5- The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert
2013
oil on canvas
36 by 48 inches

6- The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert
2015
acrylic on paper
11 by 14 inches

7- The Apotheosis of Sophia
2014
oil on masonite panel
18 by 24 inches

8- Jonah
2016
oil in panel
8 by 10 inches

9- Herakles and Telephus
2015
watercolor and graphite on paper
9 by 12 inches

10- The Temptation of St. Anthony (of the Desert) at the Baths of St. Mark
2016
sanguine pencil on toned paper
18 by 24”

11- The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert (or , The Betrayal of the Pig)
2016
graphite and colored pencil on paper
18 by 24 inches

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3 greco_genesis

4 greco seizing sanctimonium

5 greco_temptation-of-st-anthony-of-the-desert (1)

6 greco temptaion-of-st-anthony-of-teh-desert7 greco_sophiathe-apotheosis-ofoil-copy8 greco jonah-20169 greco herakles10 greco the temptation of st anthony_bath of st mark11 greco the temptation of st anthony and pig

My second proposal is more conceptual and I would rather keep it under wraps until it comes to fruition. This one however consists of work I have posted before.

Wish me well.

LG

Yet Another St. Anthony

My passion for the anchorite St. Anthony never seems to abate. Another composition for perhaps another painting. I have many to choose from…

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Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert

2016

pencil on paper

18 by 24″

Details follow:

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Anthony and his guardian Wodewose-Greenman

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Herakles and Ophelia

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Seizing Sanctimonium, a Primer

My latest painting, a large one (40 by 56″) , large at least for my studio, is at last finished!

Hurrah!

It has not been an easy birth, unbelievably having been started February of 2014.

Link below:

https://boondocksbabylon.com/2014/02/16/the-old-gods/

Between other paintings, my time in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and my own uncertainty , the painting often languished . And when I thought it near complete, and to my satisfaction, my last critique group, left me once again in the grip of  uncertainty. After nearly four weeks of being unable to paint (hence a stream of drawings) I at last regained my faith in this painting, finished it up,  and now consider it one of my best.

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Seizing Sanctimonium 

2016

oil on canvas

40 by 56″

The painting is undeniably complicated, visually and in its narrative; I think that is why my critique might have had some issue with it. But my interest in paintings often includes complicated compositions; I might be hubristic but my intention with this painting was to emulate in my modest way the elaborate tableaux paintings of Poussin. I studied them carefully, which is pleasurable work as he is one of my idols. I captured what I love about his paintings: the ability to stare at this painting and discover ever unfolding details. Bosch of course, another idol, also gives us that generous gift. But I think for many viewers, particularly those with the 6-second attention span, this painting will not please. I perhaps, to satisfy contemporary tastes should have left the painting in its initial planning stages; something several folks, had hoped for. I might have saved myself headaches and angst, but I would have been very unhappy. This painting ,in its finished state,makes me happy.

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(Initial stage of the painting, I do like it, I like the ghostly images; but I am not that sort of painter. I love a lapidary finish.)

The story behind this painting is complex and personal. It began after discovering the Gnostics, with the concept of the Demiurge,  a false god posing as a true god. Misleading the faithful down a path of sanctimonious righteousness . My demiurge, the bronze figure in the center is a sarcastic depiction of Christ the Church. If I were to change anything it would be this element . It is more cynical than I now feel , with our new pope, the blessed Francis, my relationship with the Church has become warmer, more loving . I know longer harbor the estranged hurt and anger I felt when I began this painting. But instead of erasing him, I felt it good to keep a record of my discontent.

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 The Demiurge, center flanked by details of the earth goddess Coatlicue, one of the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and the Axis Mundi.

Going counterclockwise , from upper left around, I will attempt to offer clues to the figures:

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My initial conceit for this painting was to utilize “bad” gods, unfortunate figures, maligned archetypes, to do battle with the smug and sanctimonious , be it the Church herself, the pompous evangelist down the street, ISIS, or that homophobic second grade teacher who shamed you for playing with the girls. That said, the upper left figures are depiction of the denizens of Xiblaba, the underworld of the Popol vuh. Next, descending in a very theatrically baroque manner is the savior Quetzalcoatl . Below, stands the accursed Judas ( noose still dangling) and the blessed Magdalene, clad only in her long hair, as per the archetype. Next to her, stands the familiar companion of the Other, the Scapegoat.

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The Scapegoat .

In the next quarter,  the Mesoamerican rain god Tlaloc sheds tears for humankind, he is attended by a companion vaguely reminiscent of the figures found in Teotihuacan, possessing triangular heads. Further back, the Mother of the Gods, the Aztec earth mother, She of the Serpent Skirt,Coatlicue, she hurries her son, the Great War god Huitzililopochtli into toppling their nemesis, the Demiurge, embodied by the Church that silenced them.

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Next to them is a gaggle of squawking birds, sure of themselves, confident in their noise, essentially those who I politically and religiously disagree. Next to them, well I guess that is me.

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In the third quarter, I placed a Boschian figure of no particular meaning, just an odd blue figure with a piscine phallic nose. Next , again, just vague figures, a Fire-god aflame with passion;  a herm to signify the supremacy of the fertile earth; another Quetzalcoatl, or perhaps a passive Ares, I don’t know. Basically he was hot and looked Poussin-ist. Central to this quarter are the Hero Twins from the Popol vuh, archetypes so dear to my heart. Although they are brothers, I have in a personal way , embraced them as emblems of same sex affection. They are fiercely loyal to one another, acting as one; Hunahpu (on the left) going so far as to sacrifice himself, hence the blood and unearthly pallor. His brother Xbalanque helps to resurrect his fallen brother. I have returned to the Twins time and again, in paintings, puppets and prints. I predict they will be with me until I pass into the Underworld myself. A quick click in the side panel,on the tab “Hero Twins” will lead you to other examples.

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 Floating above on a very smart cloud is my favorite figure of this painting, the dashing floral-tatted Herakles. Herakles is every sissy boy’s hero, and I just could not resist including him. He surely would fight the fight of the just.

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Herakles, plus a preliminary rendering.

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Rounding out the painting in the last quarter I have various moon gods, non specific, just pre Christian. Next to them stands an Earth Father figure. A softer kinder answer to the excesses of patriarchy. He is horned in his affiliation with old truths, old gods, old ways. He also reflects my evolving reintroduction to the Church, with the pope reminding me of Christ’s magnificent message. This figure is a tribute to that compassionate god. He may also be an incarnation of the great Maize-god, sacrificed father of the Hero Twins and of humankind , Hun-Hunahpu. It is through his death, we are born. Sound familiar ?

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Moon-gods, for you can never have too many!

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The Christo-hun-Hunahpu figure.

If I had any residual uncertainty concerning this painting, it was silenced by this painting being accepted into an upcoming show ( along with my jumping jack figures from a recent post). I’m thrilled the well regarded juror Peter Mays included this painting.

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The positive aspect of being unable to emotionally (post-critique) to paint for a few weeks was drawing. I’ve been drawing like mad, I’m sure I am  boring social media with my progress, but I feel I am gaining confidence and ready to begin a series of small panel. I think of them as Illuminations, intimate, needing to be contemplated. I am discovering, at heart,that  I am a religious painter. Unorthodox , unclear and ambiguous in my own faith, but I am compelled to make “icons”, depictions of universal archetypes. One of the new paintings will be of Jonah, this preliminary sketch, shows my intention.

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That’s it for now, I will post this little painting, only 8 by 10″ when I am finished. Until them, be well.

Open for Critique…kinda

So after much studio time (on and off, over a year) I am at last, pretty close, almost positive, for the moment, finished with my latest paintings. And although I have heard younger artists, seemingly without any pause (or apparent modesty) call their work “masterpieces” , I am in no way inclined to make the same claim; but I am pleased (for now).

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Seizing Sanctimonium 

2016

56 by 40″

oil on canvas 

click on the image to enlarge

 I have been eager to get the painting into a presentable stage as Sunday is my turn for the critique group I have recently  joined. As some of you might remember this is a bit anxiety producing. My paintings are very far from random and imbued (crammed)with meaning : personal, mythological, literary etc. All not terribly obvious from first encounter. I fear it might not be well received or understood, but that is something I cannot control.  One of the problems I anticipate is that the one being critiqued is  not to respond while criticism is being made. I might have bitten off my tongue by the end of all of this.

So wish me and the painting well.

I will tighten the painting some more next week, details and glazings, saturating shadows and such. Then I will try to explain the painting at some length in the final post. Hopefully with a better image.

Until then , be well.

Lavinia Seeks Solace at the Court of Coatlicue

The following painting is an experiment on several levels.  I’m experimenting with a new paper from Arches called Huile oil paper which is designed specifically for oil painting. Anyone who paints in oil knows that working on paper is frowned upon as it is not archival. Secondly I am experimenting with the Surrealist technique of automatic drawing and painting. The following painting is the result.

IMG_6231 Lavinia Seeks Solace at the Court of Coatlique

2015

oil on Arches Huile paper

15 by 22 inches

It is an absurd image composed of seemingly random characters, but there is a free- associative logic to it all…at least from my perspective. Lavinia (from Shakespeare’s  Titus Andronicus) in a dream state, wanders into the court of the Aztec goddess Coatlique, She of the Skirt of Serpents … and a pretty fantastic necklace composed of skulls, hearts and most importantly, hands! A bit of gallows humor perhaps, but I didn’t think it out too much. I allowed unconscious  instinct to direct the composition.  The following is Coatlique taken from our trip to Mexico City.

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One of the things I really enjoy about taking classes outside of the discipline of art is the opportunity to free my mind and doodle with abandon. My judgmental brain is turned off and my hand flows across the page. They are not great drawings by any means, often ridiculous; but I find in them a nonsensical spontaneity that  I value and want to integrate into my work more often.

The following are samples taken from an English Composition C course that I recently finished.

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This might be my last post for awhile until I leave for my Philadelphia critique course at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. I have obligations I need to tend to before I leave on Independence Day. I’m nervous and excited, I’ve never been away from David (or my dear dogs)for such a long stretch; but to have time just for my work is an amazing opportunity.

Until next time, be well, LG