A newly completed work on paper, pencil and gouache expressing my confusion, dismay and anxiety concerning multiple new realities, be it social upheaval identity obsessions , pronoun hysteria , language police, climate vulnerability , and now martial aggression in Eastern Europe.
Bread and circuses, be it foolish political distractions, petty grievances and mindless entertainment seems to be what society craves most .
I never really know how mywork will be perceived, I try not to think about it. My work is earnest , often with a degree of what I hope passes for wit , but is never intended to be ironic . I work diligently and sincerely on all my work. Perhaps I am humorless, too dour , but I put my heart into the work.
So with this in mind I was taken aback by an emoji “comment” (is an emoji really a comment?) made recently on my Instagram page after having posted this recently completed self portrait. I really dislike facial expression emojis , I earnestly try to avoid them, trusting my command of language will properly convey my intentions .
Of all emojis the one I dislike the most is this one : 😂.
I find it infuriating. It seems to embody the moronification of society in general and Los Angeles particularly. To garner public approval most everything needs to be a joke – a sarcastic , mocking joke laced heavily with irony is most desired . And so this painting was received. I must put this in perspective, it was a single post , by an artist who from his IG site we learn that his specialty is “big dicks and wet c#nts”- so we are speaking of a quite the gentleman. But of course the gentleman in question possesses youth , is handsome , fit and talented in a Tom of Finland. He has well over ten thousand followers and to attest to his smug arrogance , follows no one in return . Oh , and he paints shirtless to better display his artfully paint be-speckled pecs.
I mention all this because my initial response to his puerile emoji comment was to be affronted. I even blocked him in my disgruntledness for a few minutes . But then I realized just how perfect this comment was for apainting, a self portrait, intending to skewer/reject worldliness . IfI paint myself as a Holy Fool,albeit in the self conscious irony I generally reject , I need to expect some hecklers . So from wounded-ness I now possess a degree of pridein having elicited a reaction from just the sort of shallow nincompoop Anthony sought to avoid.
This painting started out, as so much does, unintentionally. My daily studio routine generally starts with automatic drawing . I try to not focus on any particular reference material , or getting details “right”, just the free flow of ideas inspired from who knows where . Such was the case of this sketch made I am guessing close to seven years ago while living in San Diego – a difficult period in our/my life .
I hadn’t intended for it to be a painting let alone an allegorical self portrait, yet there was something about the dashed off drawing that beckoned further exploration. So a few months back I decided torevisit , revise the by now , quite familiar theme of St.Anthony of the Desert, his temptations and my appropriating his reality .
The paintingwent well nearly from the start , each element revealing itself to me , and in this period of plague isolation, quarantine ananchorite would find familiar and social unrest akin to third century upheaval , it felt a timely theme.
What follows are the details .
Seated upon a memento mori throne , I was inspired by a stuffed and stitched example I made awhile back for another Anthony inspired tableau- the circle continues .
Detail of accompanying figures that I haven’t particularly explored the meaning of : Hirsute Giant, Druidboy and Millefleur Boy ( a favorite).
Yesterday’s automatic drawing shares the theme of the painting , a memento mori reflection prompted I know by personal concern . David spent much of this week in the hospital, heart concerns , a procedure was needed , we were of course concerned. It appears all went well, fingers crossed , candles lit , novenas uttered , he will be on his way to good health. He is resting now , Viola a lackluster nursemaid , but he’s home .
That darn anchorite keeps following me around, this time not so much in the desert but in a lush, abundant landscape inspired by the German Romantic painter Jakob Phillip Hackert (1737-1807).
It wasn’t really my intention to once again return to Anthony and his desert travails, at least not yet (currently more immersed in fairylands, bogles, goblins and pixiefolk). But in my studio, kicking about and frankly in the way, was a practice landscape from a few years back. I’ve long admired German Romanticism, particularly the dramatic treatment of nature, most especially trees. In the hands of a master like Hackert, trees are major players, singular beings rich in personality. I had hoped to better understand how these landscapes/tree-scapes were constructed so I set about copying one of my favorites, Hackert’s Italian Landscape, 1778.
It was a gratifying experience, in no way was I able to match Hackert’s luminous original, but I did learn valuable lessons in light, perspective and composition.
But then I had a painting that I wasn’t very interested in, wasn’t original, wouldn’t/couldn’t show, not particularly “good” and yet frankly too sentimentally attached to to just chuck.
So I decided to make it my own by reworking it in my own way. I’ve seen artists self consciously take thrift store paintings (rather annoyingly, seems a bit stunt-ish), works they mockingly called kitsch, and adapt them to their generally ironic purposes. This sort of practice is close to being a kitsch cliche in its own right but it started the wheels turning .
I’m not an ironic artist, nor did I think my painting kitsch, although granted a rather poor copy, but I was excited to reimagine Hackert’s poetic composition, eager to populate his pretty world with my imps and daemons. In many ways old master Jakob acted (unwittingly) as my collaborator. This latest painting the happy result.
I hope he would have been pleased.
As my composition is visually dense in the Boschian/Bruegelian sense, details follow:
This is the Master’s take, as you can see it is quite lovely, my copy so paltry in comparison. The wisest path was re-spinning my inferior version in my own voice.
In the end I am pleased, I made room in storage, profited from past labors and have a new painting I like quite a bit.
Temptations in Fairyland , Jason Jenn’s site specific performance piece, which delighted not one but two separate audiences last Saturday at MOAH/Cedar in Lancaster CA, immediately called to my my mind the Jongleur de Dieu, the prankster tradition of tumbling and juggling in order to best serve the Lord. Harking back to the early Church with Symeon the Holy Fool and his manic, mad pranks in which he cleverly brought the Gospel to a feckless and indifferent world, this enthusiastic tradition continues still. In relatively contemporary times, the late theologian priest Henri Nouwen has been described by his biographer Professor Michael W.Higgins as such. In referencing the trapeze artists The Flying Rodleighs and their impact upon the priest, Nouwen acknowledges his own place as a Holy Fool:
…the Flying Rodleighs allowed him to see his life as that of a Jongleur de Dieu, a Tumbler or Juggler for God. Although a medieval conceit-linked with courtly love tradition and the troubadours- the jongleur had a special, subversive and beatific function to perform.”
Genius Born of Anguish:The Life Legacy of Henri Nouwen, Michael Higgins
“Special, subversive and beatific” was indeed the “function” of Jason’s astonishing performance last weekend. Set in the middle of my Fairyland, I hadn’t known what to expect, I can say I hadn’t expected such a completely immersive experience-you simply have no choice but to jump onto Jason’s wild speeding train of boundless energy . I am a full throttle artist, I frankly do not know how to make art without giving my all; Jason is a brother, a comrade in this. His performance so complete, so fully committed to embodying Flaubert’s Temptation of St. Anthony, my own Fairyland and his own very personal understanding of performance art and its place in understanding how best to be a human. We as enlightened, gifted beings kissed by an unknown, unknowable god, God, spirit, power, have struggled with this from the very beginning, Jason, performing as the anchorite Anthony and as the ambiguously evil, delightful, seductive desert companion Hilarion tackles this conundrum with wit, wonder and moving pathos. I giggled between gasping, it was a dizzying, manic performance that delighted me at the moment and now a week later leaves me wondering how best to move forward.
Deep, deep respect to you my friend , Jason, your tribute meant so much to me.
With that said, some mementos from that performance (images for the most part from Jason’s Facebook page).
The incredible body paint by his collaborator, the talented visual artist Vojislav Rad. I was so amazed by this clever pastiche of my own work , that for a moment , I tried to remember when I had actually painted it!
It was quite a day, one of great honor for me. Thrilled to see Flaubert so wonderfully realized, delighted to see my own work so thoroughly understood and lastly, to better understand Jason’s work. I am not as familiar with the traditions of performance art. It has always seemed so ponderous, at times full of itself, Jason, through his quite serious merrymaking allowed me to see the joy and life in this art. Similar to my own work, Jason employs a light touch to weighty topics. In this, we are both Jongleur de Dieu.
On a more somber note, Jason’s performance was the last outing for my little chihuahua Speck, who at sixteen, died this past Wednesday. May he be tumbling for God as I speak. Rest in peace sweet boy.
Much gratitude to MOAH/Cedar for providing a home to both Fairyland and to Temptations in Fairyland, and to Robert Benitez for suggesting the concept initially. What great support from this wonderful cultural gem in the desert!
A reminder that I am hosting a life drawing session tomorrow at Cedar Hall adjacent to Fairyland. Props, funny hats and a naked fellow, what more do you want?