The Eternal Cycle

The Eternal Cycle
2021
Acrylic on life sized plastic skull

I’ve recently finished a painting truly in the round, a fanciful forest-scape depicting a hermit, naturally enough, reflecting upon his mortality , painted upon a life sized plastic skull.

Let me tell you , painting in the round with some degree of  detail is no simple task.

The Eternal Cycle
2021
Acrylic on life sized plastic skull

For this “painting” I have focused upon the memento mori theme, the endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth; hermits and Holy Fools and Death Angels populate this fertile sylvan scene.

The Eternal Cycle
(Death Angel detail)
2021
Acrylic on life sized plastic skull

I’ve crammed the narrative  upon  every surface of the skull, deliberately treating the surface not as  a figure in the round but as a flat surface, allowing the surface narrative to meander as life itself.

The Eternal Cycle
(Holy Fool detail)
2021
Acrylic on life sized plastic skull

My intention with the piece was to create an object of reflection , to be handled and meditated upon; a bauble for a wunderkammer.

The Eternal Cycle
(Hermit detail)
2021
Acrylic on life size plastic skull

The ultimate reveal being its base, where Life defeats Death, cradling  slightly phallic Amanita muscaria toadstools.

The Eternal Cycle
(Life detail)
2021
Acrylic on life size plastic skull

The piece was inspired by an international art collective I was to be included in, a plastic blank skull arriving by oversea  post. Initially I was excited by this joint venture, I do not collaborate generally but I was eager to see what I had hoped to be like minded folk from across the globe found inspiring in this most basic and eternal theme. Sadly, thus far, pretty tame: the usual “Steampunk” sort of treatment ; the gratuitous appropriation of traditional Oaxacan decorative arts and Posada’s Catrina; faux finishes, beads and sparkly bits . The occasional preparation of shot of a skull smoking .

Schoolyard stunts. I’m surmising Death might NOT have been pondered by my fellow artists,  a theme once universally explored, now it seems too terrible to bear contemplating. Hence the pretty beadwork.  I’m grateful to my neighbors here in LA with our annual Dia de los Muertos festival reminders, festive, beautiful, mindful.

But this is a theme I’ve long contemplated, making my peace with fear by walking side by side with Death, first in my youth through the AIDS crisis, and now to this day as I approach my final chapter. Never knowing when my spin of the  Danse macabre   will be upon me, I want to stay mindful of just how precious this miracle of Life really is.

This has lead to a large body of work reminding me time and again to be present, to be grateful , and to have a little fun with Death, making Lord Bones and Lady Skull laugh along with me.

A sample follows:

“D”, from Fairyland ABC, The Eternal Cycle
The Alpha & the Omega

Studio vignette

In the end I might decline the collaborative invitation, if the work doesn’t go beyond the superficial or decorative , I feel less inclined to participate . But nonetheless, grateful to reflect, brush in hand, on this great reality and chuckle a bit in the process. 

Source unknown to me; any information appreciated.
The Eternal Cycle
2021
Acrylic on life sized plastic skull

Full Circle, Fairyland, permanent collection @ MOAH

Detail from The Anchorite’s Armchair, 2019

 

It was a great relief and satisfaction earlier last week when I saw four of my works , carefully packed, pull away from the storage unit (where they have languished in the dark since my 2019 solo show Fairyland at MOAH/Cedar) heading forward in the nifty MOAHmobile to the permanent collection of the Lancaster Museum of Art & History (MOAH) https://www.lancastermoah.org

With our upcoming moves, this new chapter in our lives, a new home in Chicago, the sale of our beloved Little Hermitage, renting an apartment in LA, so much needed attention, a prioritizing of intention and  a matter of settling affairs. I cannot deny that I know this next chapter, the Chicago period, is most likely my last. The previous chapters have been abundant and I have had the good fortune and opportunity to be rather productive; but that productivity , particularly the works I created for Fairyland  

Fairyland

have been larger than my domestic life can easily accommodate (not to mention collector’s). 

With this realization in mind, I have been determined to get my work out there, I’ve been encouraging collectors with reduced pricing on selected works (link above in Available Work), and I also want my work to be in permanent public collections. Having had the good fortune to have a solo show at MOAH/Cedar,https://www.moahcedar.org/exhibitions-1/fairyland

MOAH seemed a natural fit. Happy to say MOAH felt the same way, for that I am grateful . When I made the initial inquiry I felt quite nervous,  a bit like the goofy nerdy boy asking the pretty, most popular girl to the prom. Thankfully the pretty girl said yes.

The works included were the first two offered, The Anchorite’s Armchair (2019) and Lilith,the Mandrake (2018), the anchors to my installation Embodied: St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears:

The Anchorite’s Armchair
2019
Mixed textile , acrylic painted canvas IKEA armchair
Approx 65″h, 42″w, 65″d
Lilith the Mandrake
2018
Mixed textile, acrylic painted canvas
Approx.6’6″h, 6’w, 6″d

With these works enthusiastically accepted, I was gratified that there was interest in other works as well. With that in mind , two other pieces, another textile piece and an oil painting (also created for Fairyland) were selected :

The Swan Slayer Parsifal
2018
Mixed textile, acrylic painted canvas
apron 65″h, 41″w 87″d
The Swan Slayer Parsifal,
reverse
Persephone
2015
Oil on canvas
24 by 36 inches

So with that, its full circle.

 

Detail from The Anchorite’s Armchair, 2019

 

 

A Critique, unsolicited but tickles the heck out of me…

Pluton ready for the holidays, 2020

 

The following is from my Facebook account, a response to a Christmas posting I made featuring my adorable Pluton, Prince of Fire, Governor of the Region in Flames. The review, arriving some time post Yuletide was in response to the below, uncensored version. Initially taken aback by its frankness, now just delighted by it. Compelled to save it, share it:

“This makes the Grinch look like Little Miss Muffit . When I look at your work I ponder would Pope Francis laugh or pass out . Hug you or summon the Swiss Guard . Invite you to do a showing or send out a global ban . Praise your creativity or retire to the Vatican Archives and ask some researchers to reasearch  unusual spritual conditions . Since your partner is an analyst I know your mind has been examined in every way possible known to mankind . I have to say your art shocks me every time . In a way that is often uncomfortable  and I always would love to modify it … This guy makes the scariest clown seem normal . I try not to project onto your art but can’t help questioning the inspiration behind it ? It is not whimsical . It borders on deranged serial killer but I know your instincts are contained by your religious upbringing , devotion , literary development , and obsessive compulsive  discipline that this art takes . Still  100 years from now :experts might be analyzing your work and hypothesizing  about core values , obsessions,  all kinds of stuff . There is a whimsey . Bosch and the other classicists inspire you I guess and this is modern . I could say carnival funhouse because you are such a lovely man . But the intuitive , spiritual , wholesome part of me always gets this uncomfortable feeling  about the source that drives you . The demons . You espouse humor yet some how  I feel other demons are channeling through you , using you . I would love to see the Pope’s and College of Cardinals response to your body of work in person and have the strength to accept the truth that I see .  In the least everything you do evokes the unexpected . Please do not be offended by my honest response . Your work is so brutally honest that I can’t help give you a response . No imitation here . Definitely  all from you : your own genre which yet needs to be named . You are not a student of anyone : no artist proceeds you : you qualify as an ” Outsider” I believe . Completely original , self taught . Even if you are school trained : there is no previous precident for your art . I cannot tell if your art is a Cautionary tale , a Psycic eruption , Deviant , Maudlin Whimsey , a Dreamscape ? My perception of hellish must be my projection . That doesn’t seem to be your overt intent . Could be considered modern Surrealism?  Or maybe you wanted to design children’s toys for Mattel and they wouldn’t hire you and here we are . I guess the purpose of art is to evoke?”

The image that elicited the above response.

Anyway, I was delighted.

Pluton ready for the holidays, 2020

 

A look back; a glance forward to a new chapter

        As mentioned in a previous post 2020 was by most standards a rather dreadful year. The dreadfulness obvious enough I needn’t belabor the point. Yet I worked through it, not only psychologically but in the studio. It seems, going through my photos that I painted about six paintings, stitched together a half dozen textile folk, made quite a few of my jumbo paper-dolls and my rather consistent studio practice of daily drawings filled quite a few folios- I fear quantity reigned more frequently than quality at times.

But studio wise, a rather decent year.

 

Selection of works from 2020.

      I’m sensing, hoping , 2021 might be better yet. I’m feeling a new chapter in my life. We’ve begun the incremental steps to relocating to Chicago, given David’s  psychoanalytic practice this requires delicacy and sensitivity , not my  general rash readiness to move, obstacles be damned, full steam ahead  forward. But given the constraints,  I sense one chapter closing and another beginning. We will be in an in-between limbo state for the next two years, my studio, his practice here  in LA, we’ll be renting a small apartment in Los Angeles close to the office/studio and once our Little Hermitage has sold purchasing an apartment close to Lake Michigan. We spent the new year downtown this (last) year and feel we’ve a better sense of what feels like home.

      But studio wise, I am feeling a new chapter as well. My work in Los Angeles has been frequently  bold (its been called tacky) in color, admittedly outrageous at times, overtly sexual initially (its been called pornographic), and frequently a bit smirking (but never intentionally ironic). I’m now feeling an inclination towards less of  that.  Not sure how this will develop but in clearing out my studio, a pre-spring cleaning, I found myself  eagerly tossing  out many of my frankly depressing thrift store schmattas  I had been using in favor of richer velvets and brocades.

   Perhaps an embrace of more “serious” intention is in store for me , a growing sense of confidence, an entitlement to a  personal voice, to not fearfully hide behind a smirking mask because , God forbid, I actually take myself and my work seriously.  Which I do, but in spite of self doubt so fundamental to my being,  I feel I am developing  confidence  that my voice might, can be, taken seriously and that recognition begins with me.  This heretofore has been contrary to my entrenched insecurities. 

   All that said,  a degree of humor will always be present in my work and in my personality; that is my nature as well

Detail , “The Temptations of St.Anthony of the Desert”, 2018, oil on panel

In the meantime I am very pleased with this interview with the Verum Ultimum gallery in Portland Oregon. I am honored to have one of my favorite paintings included in Generous Kingdom V,  a diverse and exciting collection of work. A great deal of gratitude to founder, owner and curator Jennifer Gillia Cutshall. Please visit the gallery’s website for a complete virtual experience.

The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert
2018
Oil on panel
18 by 36 inches

The interview follows:

https://www.verumultimumartgallery.com/single-post/inside-a-generous-kingdom-v-deepening-the-mystery-with-artist-leonard-greco

 

Detail , “The Temptations of St.Anthony of the Desert”, 2018, oil on panel

2020 Annus horribilus…or was it?

2020, good riddance
2020
gouache on canvas
12 by 6 inches

    Complaining about 2020 is fast becoming a cliche as the annual reflection upon the year past is upon us all. I’ve complained myself, mostly about inconveniences that have interrupted my frankly spoiled life, dining out during COVID, when it was available , was an anxiety producing event-food tastes less a treat when your hands smell of 70% alcohol sanitizer (I did however recently  have one enchanting (and frigid ) meal in Chicago, in a twinkling tent fortified with  plenty of hooch to fend off nature’s bluster). 

      But truly, little to complain about, I am fortunate in so many ways in that the vicissitudes of this virus have had little impact. That is until recently when  my prince came down with COVID  ( I somehow continue to test negative and symptom free); he has at last recovered, rather quickly and without any long-term effects. For this we consider ourselves supremely lucky and have reconnected our commitment to the here and the now; a forced embrace of the realty that our lives are not our own, simply lent, a gift of Being, undeserved and ruthlessly impermanent .

     For an artist who spends a great deal of time exploring the theme of memento mori that should be obvious…but it isn’t. For now we are keenly aware of this tenuous situation we call our life, and while the scare is close to hand, I am deeply appreciative. I will slip into complacency all too soon, but for now, holding those I love close.

2020, daily drawing
23rd Dec 2020

 

   In so many ways 2020 was quite a wonderful year, my CV (https://boondocksbabylon.com/cv/)is rather bulging with the exhibitions I’ve participated in- even rejecting a few ; close to a dozen high quality curated exhibitions , a record for me…seems it takes a plague to have my work considered.

I am self contained as an artist, my love of hermits such as St.Anthony of the Desert is not by chance. To be untroubled by social pressure, gallery openings, feigned social conviviality, competitive posturing and the fine art of humble bragging, to be relieved of all this  is an immense liberation for my soul . I feel myself breathing with ease and can only hope that when we do return to whatever we call normal, that I am able to remain true to this core of my identity. That I will possess the fortitude to resist the siren’s call of doubt, competitive insecurity and the fear-of-missing-out.

 

We are moving forward with our long term plan to move to Chicago, having spent our summer there, we are now more than ever eager to leave LA for green summers, wet springs, blustery winters and russet autumns. That and a serious art museum or two. Our game plan is to be resettled in a few years, we are about to  place our little hermitage on the market, a poignant first step in what we hope will be a halcyon final chapter.

Our sweethearted pugdog Viola delights us no end, we have one another, reasonably good health (for the moment), time (for the moment) to pursue our talents and the  means to explore our interests.

So in the end, 2020 wasn’t so horribilus after all.

2020, good riddance
2020
gouache on canvas
12 by 6 inches

Samhain 2020, Punkie Night and the unquiet departed

Samhain is fast approaching as is All Saints Day, both observances that I find personally meaningful . For they provide a moment to pause and recognize that liminal in-between state of the Quick and of the Dead. Whether you are seeking the portal to Fairyland, or beseeching the intercession of the saints, it is a backward glance, one familiar and comforting as winter hunkers down. Given my general melancholic state , it is my favorite time of year. In order to best honor Samhain I annually create a drawing to celebrate this Punkienight, the haunt of woodspirits, fairyfolk and frightening rutabagas demanding one “Give me a candle, give me a light If you don’t, you’ll get a fright”.

What’s not to love?

Taken in my neighborhood , where napolitos replace rutabagas!

So today’s daily drawing honors this special time of year, where the dead, the fairy, the saint, are all in our midst. Enjoy their company. In my neighborhood, one with a vibrant Mexican American community, the Dia de los Muertos altars are being set up, bright with orange marigolds, culinary treats, candles, confectionary skulls and the wafting aroma of ancient copal, and clearly , most importantly, the gathering of loved ones, particularly poignant in this moment of isolation. Tomorrow I will burn copal (hopefully my smoke alarm will behave itself), I will read the mass of the Saints, I will reflect upon those passed and treasure those in my midst. honoring both the spirits of life and the souls of the parted.

Happy Halloween, good Samhain, a festive Dia de los Muertos and may the legion of Saints guide you to light and peace.

Punkie Night, daily drawing 30th October 2020, color pencil , gouache highlights on toned paper, 12 by 9 inches

Magnificent Insignificance or what the hell am I doing?

Detail : Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death , 2020

As I spend my time alone in my studio , methodically painting my dainty little paintings , aspiring to some elusive medieval-perfect lapidary finish ; filling day after day with early music, pug snores and cloistered reflections upon obscure seemingly irrelevant themes , I begin to question this existence – after all , is anyone REALLY interested in a third century Hermit and struggles with darkness ? does anyone give a fig about Fairyland, old gods , new gods and the same questions asked century after century, yet always left unanswered; is this “relevant”, to use an increasingly irritating word.

I begin to question all this and how ill-suited, frankly irrelevant I may be , my interests may be and most painfully , my art my be . I follow my heart, as trite as that sounds, led by my interests, waiting to see how the path unfolds; I’m fortunate that my day to day life allows such indulgence, I’m not unaware of that fact . But I think personal exploration to be an essential duty, an imperative in fact , the defining quality of being gifted with a soul .  But my highly personal expression frankly is just that , personal and I think leaves many, if I am lucky, perplexed but more likely just indifferent. I am not sure I blame them ( whoever “them” is ) , for in this frantic attention span challenged universe , where the consumer model is its core influence , just how exactly is my work to be hash-tagged, how best categorized? It isn’t technically proficient enough to be lumped with the MFA realists; it’s too content heavy, too narrative driven to please the non-representational crowd, is it illustration? is it anime ? it isn’t obviously political enough to gratify the identity obsessed awoken claque , it isn’t technically reckless enough to be shelved with the brush-dripped- art brut scrawls so in favor, so well suited, to this rough-and -tumble over shouting world we find ourselves.

I hadn’t thought of which category to select when I first picked up the brush .

I just knew I had to pick up the brush .

Self Portrait of the Artist as a PaperDoll

 As in all things , there is a fashion to the times , a collective defining mood, ours currently seems to be more angry than aesthetic, more retribution oriented than reflective , more inclined to group think than the nuances of individualism , defined by an us-versus-them obsession that frankly rejects the universal humanism I am so inclined towards. A society so collaboration obsessed that from my perspective seems to reject the quiet of A Room of One’s Own and in the end , I believe it to be a society that is just plain old anti-oddball.


I’m also becoming convinced that those who do more readily fit a preferred contemporary narrative and who are able to squawk the loudest about oppression , injustice and their righteousness gets the worm , be it the commission , the residency ,that elusive prize of recognition and relevance. That wiggly golden worm can be anything from an army of devoted social media followers, gallery representation and the ease that seems to embody and most validating, solo shows.

I guess for me , the painful question is , am I good enough , aren’t I good enough ?  Such an adolescent cry, yet in the school yard of contemporary society, seemingly fitting . I see friends audaciously brag about their accomplishments, shamelessly boast of solo shows, commissions and residencies; haughtily letting it be known that their gallery tends to all such mundane business as promotion, representation money gathering etc – mind you, all the while, never ceasing to talk endlessly about themselves and by extension their art.

 Or , perhaps more likely I’m just simply jealous. Just another old white guy (for there is no category of personhood seemingly more open to derision and contempt than the White Guy, preferably the Old White Guy ) dabbling with paint and dabbling not very well . But I’m not willing to accept that fact just yet. I’m going to keep dabbling . For in a dream I was told by that Unknowable Being found in all my dreamscapes that my insignificance is magnificent.

I cling to that contradiction. 

Detail: “Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death” 2020 Oil on panel


New painting: Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death

Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death
2020
Oil on panel
18 by 24 inches

I never really know how my work 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 a painting, a self portrait, intending to skewer/reject worldliness . If I 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 pride in 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 to revisit , revise the by now , quite familiar theme of St.Anthony of the Desert, his temptations and my appropriating his reality .

 

The painting went well nearly from the start , each element revealing itself to me , and in this period of plague isolation, quarantine an anchorite would find familiar and social unrest akin to third century upheaval , it felt a timely theme.

Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death
2020
Oil on panel
18 by 24 inches

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 .

The textile model.
A detail of the maker , painting Death as Death models offstage – I have a fondness for paintings within paintings. I also have a fondness for gilded satyr angels .

 

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 .

There isn’t an emoji to express my gratitude.

 

Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death
2020
Oil on panel
18 by 24 inches

 

Samhain

I recently finished a drawing celebrating Samhain which has just passed . Inspired especially by Victorian fairy paintings ( particularly those luminous works of Richard Dadd), I wanted to evoke that liminal moment , with lanterns and bonfires lit when we find the boundary between this reality and that of the Otherworld a bit more easily trespassed . If one wants to cross over into Fairyland, Samhain ( and Beltain) is your opportunity ; easy passage can be found also for the spirited Dead who may wish to cross over into our realm for quick hello with the Quick.

I love this Celtic recognition of two realms , side by side , each with inhabitants leading an existence separate yet interconnected to one another . A natural acknowledgment of what seems to be so apparent – I have only to refer to my own fertile dreamscape to believe that two realms run side by side . But which is the “real ” one ?

Samhain

2019

Colored pencil with chalk highlights on toned paper

18 by 24 inches

One of the many traditions I find so enchanting about this Celtic celebration, is the historic practice of carving humble turnips into lanterns – far more charming I think than the more photogenic pumpkin .

I also wanted to capture the spirits of the Dead , utilizing one iconic image over and over – that of the winged skull found on countless headstones .

I particularly like the idea of the Dead finding escape through ruptures in the earth , cave entrances etc – here I employed the turnip , that modest root vegetable that pleases me so greatly .

And of course, the ubiquitous bat .

Mumming and costume play, another tradition that I take delight in and hope I captured just a bit .

I had hoped to have finished this drawing on Samhain proper , October 31st through November 1st- certainly a broad window . But it just wasn’t to be . Though diligent , I’m not a particularly speedy artist .

Perhaps next Beltain I will revisit the realm of the fairy and the pixie and actually meet the deadline . Until then …