Herakles , Redemption & Borage

I visited the Getty Villa this morning with my sister Pamela who is visiting from back east . We arrived early enough that there weren’t many slack- jawed tourists incessantly snapping selfies . Instead we had the old gods and newly born spring blossoms to ourselves.

It was heavenly .

There is currently an exquisite exhibition devoted to the classical world’s understanding of the Underworld. Monumental funerary kraters dominate the plum tinted galleries , elaborate narrative paintings scrawled upon the earthen surfaces. There is of course Queen Persephone and her dark consort Hades , Sisyphus can be found toiling eternally under that terrible darn rock and Hermes flitters about oblivious to the sorrows of the shades .

But I was particularly drawn to mighty Herakles , seen time and again battling the fearsome Cerberus- one of his tasks meant to redeem his terrible crimes, the murder of his wife Megaro and their sons the Herakleidai. From one funerary vessel to another his muscular frame could be seen wrestling that multi headed canine fiend .

I’ve drawn inspiration from Herakles all of my life . His madness , the fit of rage that drove him to his terrible sins , although the result of a divine curse from almighty Hera, caused him great anguish. His suffering has always resonated personally as I’ve had a lifelong struggle with at times severe depression and chronic anxiety . He has been in some ways a patron saint .

So much so that I painted a near life sized icon of the weary redeemed hero in my Herakles Tapestry seen here with Parsifal in the foreground.

 

On one funerary vessel there was a touching image of the ill fated Megara and the sons she bore our hero , they are found forever languishing in dank Hades.

Between visiting darkened galleries devoted to Persephone and her vassals my sister and I popped in and out to delight in the gardens the Villa is so famous for . Glorious spring ephemerals were popping out of the ground as if the dark queen herself was emerging.

Borage being my favorite, with an added joy in the hosts of honey bees darting about .

Perhaps less photogenic but nonetheless important to the Herakles narrative was the hellebores, pale green and tender and so easy to overlook , it however cured our long suffering Herakles from his madness .

I was pleased to see how well it grew and am now encouraged to try it in my own cottage garden . I’m going to close with a few photographic mementos from this fine day with the Shades and the Quick.

The sovereigns of the Underworld

And pretty youths basking in the gifts of Helios

 

And one less youthful but certainly appreciative of being above Hades realm… for now .

My sister Pamela, this being her first visit to the Getty Villa was dazzled and thrilled as is to be expected.

I’m planning another visit very soon as this featured exhibition Underworld :Imagining the Afterlife closes March 18th.

I recommend catching it before it slips away as easily as Eurydice.

Flower Power

Detail : The Herakles Tapestry
Image: Ken Moffatt

Given that it is a new year, why not start it off with something delightful.

Flowers fit that bill perfectly. I’m obsessed with flowers: in my home, multiple bouquets are generally scattered about, I’m seemingly unable to pick upholstery fabric without selecting a floral chintz or needlepoint, and of course the garden. But it is in my studio that florals frequently make their strongest appearance. I’m drawn to the seeming disharmony between  the floral and the fine arts. I delight in challenging the dismissal of  floral and vegetal motifs to the decorative arts .

I’m also interested in  refuting the gendering of the floral, this feminizing of floral motifs leads to an insidious  misogynistic homophobic  mindset.  One I experience externally by society at large and  more disturbingly, internally- I am often embarrassed by my affection for the “feminine”, this post a testament to that discomfort.  It frequently seems serious art cannot be floral or possess prettiness, and yet I am very serious about my work and floral patterns and motifs bud abundantly-it is in this fact, that my work is perhaps most “queer”.  It is the incongruity  between  the floral prettiness of my work and some of its  disquieting aspects that I am drawn to in the first place.  My desire is to challenge this bias, both externally and internally.

My latest painting, a large unbound “tapestry”canvas embodies this gendered split. It is of a repentant, tearful Herakles, far removed from the bravado chest thumping posture in which he is usually depicted. This is of the post mad Herakles, after the wife slaying, after the brutal slaying of his own children, the broken man seeking redemption , rived with grief. Ostensibly the Twelve Labors were to be his redemption, but tradition maintains that  the modest hellebore is what cured his madness.

Again the flower.

 

The Herakles Tapestry
2018
acrylic on canvas, embroidery floss
99 by 55 inches
Image:Ken Moffatt 

 

Notebook sketches of Helleborus.

 

 The other day I approached a restroom at a restaurant and encountered this very gendered placard- it made me chuckle as the establishment was earnestly trying to be progressive yet did so in a rather gendered binary way.

 

If I were choose I would certainly choose the floral.

 

That aside, this  latest tapestry/painting is part of consistent floral motif throughout my Fairyland body of work (and I imagine will continue for quite some time) and until Fairyland is installed I will be snipping and sewing away on many elements, but perhaps most especially, flowers.

Floral garland
Recycled fabric, embroidery floss, poly-fil
Flowers, recycled rainslickers, IKEA bags,. embroidery floss, poly-fil

Of the gendering of “women’s work”, be it embroidery, stitchery, floral motifs etc, The Subversive Stitch is a wonderful examination.

 

 

My supplies shelves are crammed with vintage floral patterns from my boyhood-essentially the patterns I was denied as a little gay boy.

But I’ve made up for lost time. With that, happy 2019!

Detail : The Herakles Tapestry
Image: Ken Moffatt

The Labors of Herakles ( 7 out of 12 ain’t bad)

New drawing just completed, I believe this may be it . I’ve depicted the first seven Labors but to be frank , aside from our hero’s wrestling match with the fearsome Cerberus, I’m not particularly interested in drawing them . I’ll wait and see if inspiration strikes . But for now the first Seven:

1- the Nemean Lion , slay the poor thing

2-Lernean Hydra, slay that poor thing

3-Ceryneian Hind, capture that poor thing

4- Erymanthian Boar, capture that poor thing

5- Augean Stables, clean that filthy place

6-Stymphalian Birds, kill those man-eating things

7- Cretan Bull, capture that randy thing

Leonard Greco

The Labors of Herakles

2018

Sanguine pencil with chalk highlights on toned paper

18 by 24 inches

When and if I return to the balance of his Labors I will continue with the continuous narrative composition as a diptych.

But for now , calling it a day .

New work: The Temptations of St. Anthony of the Desert

My relentless fascination with the blessed anchorite continues:

Leonard Greco
“The Temptations of St. Anthony of the Desert”
2018
oil on panel
18 by 36 inches

My enthusiasm for this hermit continues to delight me, so much so, stumbling upon a friend’s FB feed , I found the perfect hermitage.

Dream hermitage.
Leonard Greco
“The Temptations of St. Anthony of the Desert”
2018
oil on panel
18 by 36 inches
detail, Herakles in tears from “The Temptations of St.Anthony of the Desert

 

Family Friendly

I’m very pleased that two of my favorite  and decidedly not “family friendly” paintings have been included in this exciting group show curated by the talented Gwen Freeman.

Show details follow:

“Family Friendly” is a loaded phrase for those who do not conform to the hetero-normative model–the paradigm often described as “normal,” “just regular,” or “traditional.”

This phrase, “family friendly” can be interpreted by the LGBTQ community as code for “not including me.”

But, of course, gay, lesbian, transgender, non-gendered, gender-fluid, cross-dressing and queer people are very much a part of families all around the world.

This exhibit seeks to explore that fact, and to celebrate a broader more inclusive definition of family.

PARTICIPATING ARTISTS:
Joanne Chase Matillo * Natalie Egnatchik * Michael Frey * Leonard Greco * Kerry Thorne

CURATOR:
Gwen Freeman

LOCATION:
The AAC Blue Wall Alcove @ Ave. 50 Studio
131 N. Avenue 50, Los Angeles, CA 90042

EXHIBITION DATES:
February 10 – March 3, 2018

OPENING RECEPTION:
Saturday, February 10, 2018, 7 -10pm

Herakles & Telephos
2015
watecolor on paper
12 by 9 inches
The Castration of Uranus
2015
watercolor on paper
11 by 14 inches

 

 

 

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.