Tenochtitlan Toyland

This is one of two proposals I recently submitted for a solo show… boney fingers crossed. The first, The Thinking Reed is pretty much ready to hang; this one resides mostly within my head and deals primarily with perception and the problems that arise from appropriation and misappropriation.

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Tenochtitlan Toyland: Playthings from New Spain

My proposal for “Tenochtitlan Toyland: Playthings from New Spain” is a theatrical concept room, an installation piece that essentially represents a nursery from hell. My concept which employs painted and constructed assemblages, cardboard and papier-mâché figures, marionettes and paintings on paper also incorporate an interactive element in which to engage the gallery viewer.

The nursery in question is that of the Infanta Margaret decorated with imagined booty from New Spain. By utilizing commonly found construction materials, I wish to poke fun at consumerism and the incessant quest for novelty.  To achieve this end I plan to make a plywood Selfie Booth, fashion a series of cardboard jumping wall puppets , even introduce a live performer encased in a walking puppet of my making. There is also a faux didactic element to this installation; I’ve painted a series of watercolor illustrations for an alphabet primer of New Spain that completely misses the mark in comprehending these vanquished people. From encouraging the use of hashtags for my proposed Selfie-booth, to passing out crayons in which to color pastiches of Baroque wall hangings, I wish to engage the viewer, reflect the past and hold up a mirror to the foibles and vanities of our current society.

My work is always narrative based and whether expressed through two dimensional or three dimensional works, I seek to tell universal stories and explore universal truths. With this installation I wish to employ every weapon in the arsenal. Paintings, sculpture and interactive engagement are part of my concept; I wish to create a sense of Gesamtkunstwerk, but instead of a Wagnerian Valhalla, I instead wish to create a dark and funny depiction of our seemingly unquenchable thirst for power and privilege.
Much of this work is still in the conceptual stage, so I have provided preparatory drawings to illustrate my intentions. I have also, when available, enclosed images of completed elements such as marionettes, paper dolls and pages from the aforementioned Primer of New Spain. I have also enclosed an itemized page providing details concerning my concepts and anticipated materials for the elements which make up the whole of Tenochtitlan Toyland; they are numbered to correspond with the images. Concerning which gallery I would prefer I have submitted a scaled rendering of the show situated in the W Gallery; of course that decision is up to the gallery. Given that much of the work is site specific I would appreciate, if I were fortunate enough to be selected, a later date in 2017 for the opening. Given my themes of consumerism and toys, a slot close to Christmas would be devilishly delightful!

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An Itemized List Concerning Tenochtitlan Toyland: Playthings from New Spain

1- “The Rape of Tenochtitlan”, 2016, colored pencil on paper, 18 by 24”.
The initial impetus behind this concept.

2- Pages from my alphabetic primer The Primer of New Spain ; letters A, B, C and D shown. The entire alphabet will represented .
Materials: watercolor on paper.

3- My marionettes of the Hero Twins. These marionettes are part of a body of work that includes other puppets and doll derived from the Popol vuh, that will be incorporated into the concept as a whole.
Materials: Sculpey modeling medium, armature, paint.

4-Part of a collection of paper dolls that I have been working on over the last few years. Some of the dolls are nearly life-sized, some conventionally sized.
Materials: watercolor, graphite, on paper, brads.

5- The Coatlicue Selfie Booth , given that Aztec goddess Coatlicue (and her war god son Huitzilipochtli) is quite a fearsome presence, she is an amusing choice for a selfie cutout . I would actively encourage the hashtag #teotoyland while visitors snap away; both ridiculing social media and exploiting it.
Anticipated materials: self supporting painted plywood cutout.

6- My proposal includes four “jumping jacks”, childish amusements of the Victorians, the difference being, as is the case with this depiction of the rain god Tlaloc,my offerings would be considered inappropriate for the nursery by most sane people. I imagine including three other Aztec gods including the aforementioned war-god Huitzilipochtli. Each will be placed behind a baroque inspired “tapestry”, that with crayons provided near by, I would hope gallery visitors would color in. I imagine an interactive experience, as with the selfie booth.
Anticipated materials: paint, cardboard, string, brads; tapestries, enlarged renderings with crayons provided.

7-The Templo Major, the heart of Tenochtitlan, home to the primary altars of Tlaloc and Huitzilipochtli , scene of countless human sacrifices and terrible battles , could not be a more inappropriate inspiration for a dollhouse; yet I propose just that concept . The installation would include rag dolls of gods, priests and their unfortunate victims. I anticipate quite a few hearts.
Anticipated materials: Painted wood and or papier-mâché construction, lightbulbs, mixed media as yet undetermined.

8- One of the aforementioned rag dolls, in this case, Huitziliopochtli.
Materials: rags, thread, paint.

9- A Meso-american television complete with vignettes from the creation myth , the Popol vuh. It would include the aforementioned marionettes.
Anticipated materials: painted wood and or papier-mâché , lightbulb , mixed media elements as of yet undetermined.

10-A prototype of #9, the Meso-american television.
Materials: painted wood, mixed media.

11- Mictlantecuhtli (Lord of Xibalba) parade marionette. A walking interactive puppet depicting the major god of the underworld . Once again introducing an absurd interactive element into the nursery concept. I hope the performer to be most fetching.
Anticipated materials: chicken wire armature, papier-mache, dowels, string, wire, paint.

12- Schematic of my proposal within the Wubdemann Gallery; drawn 1/4” scale.

 1-Rape of Tenochtitlan
1-Rape of Tenochtitlan
2-detail from Primer of New Spain
2-detail from Primer of New Spain
3-Hero Twin marionettes
3-Hero Twin marionettes
4-Paper-dolls from Xibalba
4-Paper-dolls from Xibalba
5-Selfie Booth
5-Selfie Booth
6- Tlaloc Tapestry design
6- Tlaloc Tapestry design
7-Welcome to the Xibalba Dollhouse
7-Welcome to the Xibalba Dollhouse
8-Huitzilipochtcli Rag-doll
8-Huitzilipochtcli Rag-doll
9-Xibalba Variety Hour
9-Xibalba Variety Hour
10-prototype example
10-prototype example
11-Walking Puppet
11-Walking Puppet
12-Installation Schematic
12-Installation Schematic

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Well, that’s it. I’m not sure which worries me more, being rejected or actually having this proposal accepted and going mad putting it all together! Wish me well please.

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The Rape of Tenochtitlan

 

Rape, the very word causes you to pause. I ruminated upon even using the word “rape” for this drawing, but no other word fully expressed the Conquest of New Spain by the Old. The use of the word rape is relatively common in Western art, one refers to the Rape of the Sabine Women and of course all of those frothy depictions of The Rape of Europa , a pink cheeked maiden astride gorgeous twinkly eyed white bulls. I wanted to play upon that theme and the word rape is an integral element of the concept. In this case Europa is doing the raping. 

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The Rape of Tenochtitlan 

2016

colored pencil on toned paper

18 by 24″

I’m gathering my thoughts, both visual and verbal, concerning  a project focusing upon Mesoamerica in general, Tenochtitlan specifically. But the historical elements are superficial in many ways as  I am primarily interested in identity  and perception , how one empire can so thoroughly misunderstand  one another , New Spain vs. Old Spain.  How we continue to misunderstand one another, be it racial tension, gender conflict, cops vs. Black Lives Matter, queers/straights, Muslims, you name it, if it ain’t “us” we become all paranoid and defensive (check out the GOP convention in Cleveland at the moment to confirm my assertion).

I’ve been fascinated for some time  by the intersection of cultures and what is gained and lost in the process. Although  I am not the first and I certainly will not be the last, I hope to add something personal to that conversation.  Drawing back in time, when even the most basic images of what is now Mexico City were ominously romanticized and barbarized,  they were oozing with biased  fodder for our imagination, fueling our fascination with the  pornography of violence:  the perverse fascination with human sacrifice and  the seemingly  never-ending ghastly spectacle of the Aztecs. To the conquerers this New Spain was in fact a New Jerusalem, ripe for conversion, once they came to heel that is.  To drive home the message of this new and terrifying place, the images were depicted through the prism of Classical antiquity , as the  temple image below suggests.

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Jan Karel Donatus Van Beecq (1638-1722) – Illustrations de Histoire de la conquête du Mexique ou de la Nouvelle Espagne

I am now eager to explore this cross cultural disconnect in an upcoming series of work in which I play upon the theme of courtly entertainment, toys and baubles meant to amuse an aristocratic audience, all presented to the Holy Roman Emperor from the New World by none other than the reviled/beloved Malinche. And as my brain is driven fundamentally visually, sketching out vague concepts is the most pragmatic approach.

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As is usual with my approach, whatever floats across my field of vision will often find itself incorporated into my work. The other day while visiting LACMA I encountered a beauty, a small ceramic depiction of the Maize Goddess. She was Mayan in origin, and although diminutive she possessed all of the grace of a Tanagra figurine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanagra_figurine

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I was happy to place this lovely lady into my composition.

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Another inspirational happenstance,  though less elegant, was when my publicist Kristine posted an image of this drawing in its unfinished state and accidentally added a filter of rainbows and stars. In what would have been in any other circumstance appalling  to me , was in this instance, just what I needed. Of course fair Europa would feign affection, declaring undying affection to get at that gold lurking behind Tenochtitlan’s fiery skirt.

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As I drew my mind wandered back to my visit to Mexico City, how as soon as we entered the city, I felt I belonged there. I was wistful reminiscing about the ancient art that seems to reach out from the very soil,defying the Church, defying the State, defying Time.  This detail is drawn from loose memory of a visit to the National Anthropological Museum.

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I’m going to continue to draw upon these fascinating resources, albeit in my own ways. I feel no more compulsion to depict the divinities of Mexico as they were by indigenous peoples than I would feel obligated to depict Christ in a Byzantine manner. The following are a few beauties found at the Museo Templo Major, literally pulled from sacrificial ground. That just fascinates me.

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I’m going to close with my handsome husband taken at the Casa Azul for no other reason than it was a really marvelous day and a really marvelous memory. 

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The Great War God, Huitzilopochtli, take 2

Last evening I completed a small painting, I like to think of it as an icon, an icon to a dreadful god. Once again, the great war god of Tenochtitlan has captured my imagination, this time expressed in oil.

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 The Great War God, Huitzilopochtli 

2015

oil on canvas

8 by 12 “

I had previously made a series of relief prints depicting the god,  link HERE.

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The Great War God Huitzilopochtli

2015

relief print on paper

9 by 12″

This isn’t the most fearsome  depiction of  a war god , Ares seems far more terrible (and cowardly) in the Iliad. Somehow my war god translated into something  gentle and bumbling, I’m thinking that is a good thing.

Be well, Lg

Calling Juanito

It seems fitting that today,  on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, that the City of Angels should have the blessing of rain. It is a gloriously blustery day as I snugly make this post. Gracias.

As today is her feast day I wanted to make a print to honor the event , the vision of Our Lady by Juan Diego back on Dec. 12th 1531. There are countless images of the Virgen yet I felt emboldened to create my own. It was tempting to make yet another sweetly naive woodblock image of her, but I wanted my own  image, one conceived from my own  perspective as a white middle aged gay guy from the East Coast, not  at all able to claim Latino heritage (although my husband is half Mexican) yet respectful and enamored by the culture.

So this is the result, in several color ways.

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 Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe

Dec. 2014

4 color relief print on paper

image size 8 by 10 inches, print 9 by 12

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2 color relief print.

I think I like this approach the best and I will play with it some more. I like how Juan Diego’s  guardian angel appears ethereal, more of an apparition.

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Artist’s proof

My intention with this print was to implement the motifs that recur frequently within my work,  namely the queer elements, in this case the Hero Twins as played by Juan Diego and his Aztec Guardian Angel. I loosely borrowed elements from the codices in creating the angel. There is a vague and historically inaccurate reference to a New Fire Ceremony in the background, a nod to the “pagan” past. 

My intention was for it to appear as if the Old Gods were giving their blessings to the New.

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Have a great feast! Thanking Tlaloc for the rain!

Lg

Tlazoltéotl, a difficult birth

My esposo so rarely asks anything of me, he supports my work in every sense , so when he made a request for me to paint a portrait of the “Eater of Filth”, the Aztec goddess Tlazoltéotl, I could hardly say no. I introduced David to this fierce goddess when in Mexico City , reading aloud the words of the great Mexicophile , Alma Reed’s and her description of Tlazoltéotl :

” Primarily an earth goddess, Tlazoltéotl, “Eater of Filth”, alone among the female deities had a moral significance, since in eating refuse, she was believed to consume the sins of mankind, leaving them pure.” ( The Ancient Past of Mexico, 1966).

 I knew this would resonate with my beloved, for aside from Roman priests and the sacrament of confession, few professions aside from his own(psychoanalysis) are able to break through the wall of darkness and allow the  pure light of renewal into one’s soul.

He asked for a portrait of this patroness of sinners, of purification and of curing, of misdeeds and of childbirth and of renewal.

And unofficially, of psychic renewal.

 This is it.

For my darling, Tlazoltéotl, a difficult birth.

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Tlazoltéotl, a difficult birth.

2014

oil on panel

18 by 24 inches

My depiction of this great goddess was in a great part inspired by the well known depiction such as the one that follows. We in fact have a silly clay whistle of her, purchased at the base of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, sitting on our dining room sideboard.

Tlazolteotl

  In this image she is giving birth to one of the maize gods; again, a symbol of rebirth.

According to the Miller/Traube Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico, she is often depicted with a broom to represent her ability to cleanse; I thought a dainty dust rag more fitting for my goddess. I’m not going to psychoanalyze my own painting, why the amputated semi- aborted men? I do not know.  I do know I chose butterflies, an almost universal symbol of the soul, some to be set free and to flourish and some to be crushed to their death, at her whim.

This seemed fitting for this goddess who we all most confront at some time ; the Aztecs, according to Reed, would make offerings and auto sacrifice to her upon their death bed. But as my own psychoanalyst interpreted recently, this great goddess of redemption, this “Eater of Sin”, needs our sins to survive as much as we need her for redemption.

Be well,

Lg

Feliz Navidad

As the year winds down I am trying to complete a few last paintings.

This painting The Virgin Birth of Huitzilopochtli I finished last evening. A few little tweaks here and there, but it is complete…for now. This has been an aesthetic experiment and it has been a difficult birth (cheap pun, forgive me).

After departing Tenochtitlan I have been inspired by the geometric forms of Aztec visual expression. How in spite of their often fearsome appearance,I sense the humanity, the complexities of this culture. Even this narrative, the virgin birth of their most revered god, the fire/war god Huitzilopochtli (Tlaloc, the rain god a close second), which has obvious similarities to the Christian salvation narrative is imbued with both violence and tenderness.

The great goddess Coatlicue , She of the Skirt of Serpents,  is miraculously with child, this new violent god who will bring the people wealth through tribute . His siblings the moon goddess Coyolxauhqui and her fellow siblings the Centzonhuitznahuah are full of rage at the dishonor such a claim makes.  A virgin birth, through a stray feather is as absurd as a teenage Hebrew girl chatting it up with the Angel of Yahwah. They set upon their wayward mother ready to tear her to pieces;  miraculously Huitzilopochtli is born fully armed and prepared to smite the usurpers. The famous (and spectacular) Coatlicue Stone a striking  indigenous illustration of the carnage.

The following is my own interpretation , imbuing the narrative with traditional nativity tenderness, let the blood-letting hold for the moment.

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The Virgin Birth of Huitzilopochtli

2013

oil on canvas

24 by 36 inches

I have placed the lunar goddess Coyolxauhqui in the upper right corner, her siblings the vengeful Centzonhuitznahuah sitting in judgement on the left; as a hint of hope the Plumed Serpent Quetzalcoatl splashes about awaiting his own return. For perspective , I have enclosed some traditional examples of this great pantheon:

P1000331 copyCoatlicue-National Museum of Anthropology

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Coyolxuahqui-Templo Major

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Huitzilopochtli-not sure of source other than wikipedia.

I have more work ahead , but I was eager to finish this painting before my own celebration of that OTHER virgin birth.

Viva la Virgens!

Take care, Lg

Searching for Tlaloc

When visiting Mexico City we were determined to find a massive fountain Diego Rivera  had designed for Chapultepec Park. The mosaic fountain depicted, appropriately for the city’s water-works, the rain god Tlaloc. Finding this fountain proved to be difficult, we encountered blank stares when we discussed what we thought would be a well-loved emblem of civic pride.

Sadly this great work seems to have been largely forgotten. Time has moved on and much of the elaborate fountain schemes are dry and neglected. Rivera’s work has been restored (click here for info concerning its renovation ) but there is a sense of desolation to the place. That and it was fast approaching dusk, we were lost as hell, in a strange city, in a VAST park without a clue as to how to get back to the b&b-thank the old gods for Google map apps.

But we did return and now safe and sound I have crafted a relief print of the great god, he should be our deity in sun parched Southern California. Happily I have found a small press available for use at the local Art & Craft Museum on Wilshire Blvd.

IMG_4510Blessed Tlaloc

artist’s proof, relief print

I hadn’t realized it at the time but I was influenced by Rivera’s playful interpretation of this most fierce god; a god so relentless for tribute he demanded the blood of tearful toddlers.

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Rivera’s take on the god, magnificent image NOT my own but that of National Geographic from the article above.

My own, far lamer images follow:

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Intricate aquatic themed mosaic work covers almost every surface.

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Difficult to capture from the angle, but a detail of his face.

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The back of his head features a different face.

This trip established for me a profound respect for Diego Rivera and his work, I hadn’t much of an opinion before, but the breadth of his work astounds me.

Must get cracking’, I have three canvases in various states of completion.

Until next time, take care,

Lg