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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The Temptation of St. Anthony (of the Desert) at the St. Mark’s Baths

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After the Orlando massacre a few weeks back I have been giving thought to my past, particularly my youth and what a miracle it is that I am here today. Lets say the theme of  Memento Mori is my day to day soundtrack of late. 

My youth was a turbulent period, my parents were furious at my being gay and  they regularly changed the locks after tossing my  meager belongings out onto the lawn.  Their  flashes of temper left  me homeless for periods of time, sometimes a few days, sometimes weeks. Often I would just float around , I had a large car, a Chevy Impala, it was an ugly beast but it was commodious; frequently it sufficed as the roof over my head.

This was the early years of the 80’s and with the little cash I scratched together  I would head north; NYC beckoned me away from that shit-hole in NJ.  And like many suburban gay boys I  fantasized about that city, I picked up copies of the now defunct Soho News, the Village Voice, Interview magazine, fantasizing about this paradise only a train ride away. I imagined living in this fantasy  loft, with beautiful pine floors and expansive windows, “artistic” furniture and of course Boston ferns. Boston ferns were not negotiable .

But of course that was not my reality, I was poor and  not that cute in a city of incredibly beautiful people and my only real companion was an on again- off again drunk drag queen named Leo, her drag name Leonora- perfect Lenny and Leonora.  What a pair we must have made.  

Leo was only six years older I have just discovered but gosh, I thought he was so mature, so experienced. He had BEEN to Broadway, had been  to the Met(both the opera house and the museum), the ballet, he knew everything . He was an introduction to a level of sophistication I hadn’t imagined. On our first encounter he bought me the cast recordings to “Dreamgirls” and “Evita”,both spectacular hits. I hadn’t a stereo or even a home at that point but they were totems of a life I so desired.

But Leo as sophisticated as he was, as genteel as he was, was also very familiar with the sordid (yet exhilarating) aspects of the city. We went to the nightclubs if they were free, the lights flash now in my memories , one blur after another. But what Leo enjoyed most was going to the baths. And really they were perfect, they were cheap, all you had to do was buy a towel and you were in…for hours, until dawn. Leo would buy his towel, often if he was flush, buy mine as well, kiss me goodbye, tell me where and when to meet up, and off he went. I can remember still how he draped his towel, he tucked it up well over his chest, inching it as if he had breasts, pushing them together to imitate  a cleavage he didn’t possess . I often wondered what the hell he was doing, here in this hyper masculine world , here he was sashaying like some peculiar version of Marilyn Monroe. Yet he was popular.

I was not, I was an invisible boy, goofy, plain and confused . Also I was exhausted. What I often found myself doing was falling asleep. I wasn’t deliberately chaste, I just wasn’t chased. So as I was too broke to buy drinks and afraid of the drugs around me, I found myself falling asleep in the oddest of places, the orgy rooms of the bath houses. I think my unpopularity saved my life. Leo would be dead in less than a decade, and so would pretty much anyone else I knew in this strange  wonderful new world. But I survived, and that , I have been thinking about of late. How when I was a young kid,as young as many of those kids in Florida,  how I desired  to attract the attention of the  many beautiful gods  that surrounded me, only a few feet away yet I remained invisible. I was lucky.

That is what I wanted to capture in this drawing, that confusion, that dizzying excitement, the pagan energy, that now is only a shadowy memory. Elusive as a lost soul.

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The Temptation of St.Anthony (of the Desert)in the St.Marks Baths

2016

sanguine pencil on paper

18 by 24″

It is of course a dense image one full of meaning but what is most significant at least to me is the image of the saint, who resembles a younger me, the clown like figure in the lower right; the skeletal figure in the mask is my dear friend Leo soon to be almost as ruined as this figure I depict. 

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I haven’t much from that period, the LP’s Leo gave me our long gone, the cliched pink flamingo statuettes he bought ( even though I essentially lived in a car) long broken, but I still have the post card from The New Saint Marks Baths, it captured the glamour and excitement of that place then and now years later, it still does .

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An odd bit of ephemera to a period long past.  I can’t think about it anymore…

Have a good Independence Day

Daily Sketchbook

I’ve been challenging myself with a commitment to my sketchbook, random images, most from source material that has delighted me. In no particular order, a few follow…

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a silly musing, I think this is what I do best, in the natural sense

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Christ enthroned 2016
Christ enthroned 2016

Temptation of St.Anthony of the Desert (a fellow and his pig)

 

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Just moments ago I finished up a drawing of the abbot of the desert St. Anthony. This well intentioned saint who sought to avoid worldliness and the corruption that follows only found himself in the thick of it. Anthony is my muse (as he was to Bosch, to symbolists such as Flaubert and to many  Surrealists), I turn to him time and again and have lost count as to how many works I have devoted to this early father of the Church . But one attribute of the anchorite that I particularly love is the company he keeps, pigs. The pig is found in many depictions of the hermit but this  is the first time I have worked one of my favorite beasties into the composition.  I’m sure there will be many more.

In this depiction I tried to incorporate,in a whimsical way, classical elements to depict worldliness ; not that I feel humanism is corrupt but classical sculpture can certainly raise one’s pulse.

 

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The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert (and his pig) 

2016 graphite and pastel on paper

18 by 24″ 

My love of pigs is personal, being a vegan I have a particular attachment to this highly intelligent and sensitive creature . David sponsored a pig for me this year as a Christmas present, her name is Sweet Tea and she is well tended to by the loving folks at Ironwood Pig Sanctuary. Although I wish she lived with us we can easily visit her in Tuscon AZ, we plan on visiting her at least every boxing day. This image is from the day we first met, as you can see she is quite adorable and friendly. It is delightful how pigs rush to you when you enter their compound, ever greedy for treats and attention.

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Sweet Tea

Like I mentioned Anthony is often depicted with a pig, this little gem of painting by Lelio Orsi (1511-87) is one of my favorites at the Getty, I search it out whenever I visit.

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On my last visit I noticed this wee little pig pawing at the anchorite’s robe as fervently as my pug Viola.

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As I mentioned I will be sure to return to Anthony time and again, my very sweet and very talented friend, the artist and musician Henry Kitchen offered to pose, sending along this funny photo. He is actually a perfect Anthony, right down to the hoodie.

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I’m sure to take him up on the offer very soon.

Until then, back to painting, good night.

St. Kevin & the Blackbird

 

Nearly two years (January 24th specifically ) I started this small panel painting. Having been introduced to the saint through the Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ depictions of the holy man, I was then inspired by the late Seamus Heaney’s incredible poem of the saint and his feathered visitor ( Link : http://www.poetryarchive.org/poem/st-kevin-and-blackbird). But for some reason the inspiration waned and I stashed this little panel away until only recently, picking it up again last December. I believe he is now complete.

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St. Kevin and the Blackbird

 2016

oil on panel

12 by 12″

When I started this painting a few years back I also carved a plate of the saint from which this painting is inspired. I believe it is the first of what is now becoming a dual practice, making a painting then a print (or  the reverse).

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I will now get back to a few other unfinished paintings; I always have far too many unfinished works, doodles and sketches of paintings I would like to make. Daunting at times. I am now enrolled in a life drawing class with the painter Jim Morphesis an artist I admire very much. Jim had awarded me a prize last summer for my painting Genesis and I was eager to thank him AND crash his course. Happy to say I have been added. So I am looking forward to that experience, a model at every class , always a luxury. Until next time, be well.

Validation

After a dreary period of seemingly endless rejection letters from galleries and exhibitors, it is validating to have had the last few submissions accepted. Yesterday I received word that the Brand Library , for their annual Works on Paper exhibition (this is their 43rd year ) had accepted my Temptation of Saint Anthony in the Desert. It was particularly thrilling to read:

“Juror Kent Twitchell reviewed 890 submitted works, of which 70 were selected for the exhibition”.

Kent Twitchell is an icon here (and elsewhere)  known for his  photo-realistic monumental murals; I admire him a great deal, hence the validation. Funny things is he paints such spectacularly colossal, hyper realistic works and chose my teeny bit of fantasy. Catholic tastes I guess .

Temptation of St.Anthony of the Desert, 2015, acrylic on Yupo paper, 11 by 14"
Temptation of St.Anthony of the Desert, 2015, acrylic on Yupo paper, 11 by 14″

I have the happy task of framing this little painting, a pleasant break from the mad dash of setting up a new home, packing up an old, securing a new studio (about to sign the lease), and perhaps buying a car(YIKES), THEN fly out to Philadelphia for the six week critique course. I’m spinning about in space.

I think for the program at PAFA I am going to translate this drawing The Goblin Market into a much larger painting, size to be determined- essentially as big as I can ship back.

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The Goblin Market

When I arrive in Philadelphia, after a red eye flight, I am pretty much just jumping the deep end at PAFA  on Monday the 6th. I will post regularly from my phone.

To be continued…LG

 

Back to the Hermitage

Having first finished Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony and then  having gone to the Getty Centre to see the spectacular Ensor exhibition ( twice, and not at all too many visits )  where I encountered Ensor’s interpretation of the poor anchorite bedeviled by worldliness, I was inspired to paint yet another Temptation.  

Flaubert’s work influenced Ensor and that is apparent, from the writhing Byzantine whirl of Temptations to the floating, glowing head of the Savior (Freud was also heavily influenced by this amazing and odd little book). If you are inclined towards visual excess as I am, Flaubert’s text offers endless inspiration. One of the many temptations that poor Anthony encounters is the personifications of Lust and Death, in Flaubert’s description they are an inseparable duo, one cannot be without the other.

I found this magnificent and horrifying, his description of the two is chilling:

Lust: “My rage equals thine. I also yell ; I bite. I too, have sweats of agony, and aspects cadaverous.”

Death: ” It is I that make thee awful! Let us intertwine!”

I love that, it is so terrible, so damned, and yet Anthony resists them and they flee.

This painting unlike the last Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert ( link: HERE) is a small little oil painting, only 16 by 20 inches. I painted smaller frankly because I am running out of studio space and I have two other large canvases that I am working on occupying two easels . 

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 The Temptation of Saint Anthony

2014

oil on canvas

16 by 20 inches

I wanted to commit to grissaile which at times has been a challenge; my love of color so great. Given the theme I resisted the siren’s call.

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detail of Lust and Death

I explored Lust and Death previously with my relief print Lust und Tod.

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The idea of Anthony carrying the mask came from a dream, which given Freud’s love of Flaubert’s Anthony, I thought too important to omit.

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I will close with this image, the handsome hermit tempting Temptation.

Be well, Lg

Labor’s Reward

I recently finished a decorative project for a certain blond mega pop star who everyone pretty much knows; as glamorous as all that may be, I really did not want the project. I do however hold her designer in high esteem and count him a a friend ; PLUS money is nice.  Money is really nice for buying oneself gifts. I have been itching for a press and I now have one.

Some fellows, when they have a mid life crisis buy a flashy car ; I buy a printing press, but is absolutely testosterone driven.

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 Press source

The work station is pretty fantastic gift as well, a birthday gift from the spouse man, welded steel, capable of supporting 3000 lbs, overkill, as the press is under 200 pounds, but again, testosterone driven on very  impressive wheels.

Source Uline : source

This press actually intimidated me a bit, and my chum the talented artist Deborah Lambert graciously walked me through the process; incredibly simple and it works like a dream, the following is an afternoon’s leisurely output.

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The relief print I worked on this afternoon was inspired by Flaubert’s The Temptation of St. Anthony, in one scene the poor beleaguered anchorite is tormented by Lust and Death,  representing the eternal circle of life.

I really love that idea, without Lust , Death cannot be fed, they need one another.

So hence , Lust und Tod.

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 Lust und Tod

2014

relief print on mulberry paper

9 by 12 inches

I have not been posting because I have been working on a large painting, once again dealing with life, death and salvation, apparently I never tire of the theme. As much as I love printmaking, painting gives me the greatest joy. I have existential angst at times as my prints are well received and my paintings, well, not so much. I may in fact not be terribly good, my landlady told me frankly I shouldn’t bother with paintings, focus on printmaking. I know she means well, though it did indeed sting; but the fact is I love painting. So good or bad, well received or not, I continue my practice. the following is a detail.

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be well, Lg