I am preparing my annual entries to a works on paper show here in LA and in so doing focusing my studio time with that more ephemeral medium. In particular, paper dolls, which have long held an interest, harkening back to my fussy sissy boyhood. Fond , forbidden moments snipping away ; this drove my father to fury and violence ,so now, in revisiting this artform, I do so with emotion and gratitude.
My studio complex is an industrial space, and in the recycling bin can be found beautiful clean , rather low grade sheets of cardboard; all for the taking. And taking I have been doing. Large scale paper dolls, and larger planned, have occupied my work table. One of the problems I and others have encountered in working with paper-dolls , is a sense of durability. Inherently ephemeral, how does one strengthen such fragile material. This low grade cardboard (yet free!) has an unsightly edge that I find distracting and unfinished. My solution, perhaps unsurprisingly, is to employ yet another sissy art ( and equally infuriating to Pater) , stitchwork. By a simple stitch of embroidery floss , I strengthen and add an exciting line of color. I confess a certain pride in this, and stitching cardboard is immensely gratifying, not unlike popping those addictive sheets of packing bubbles. I recommend trying it to relieve stress.
My latest trio of paper-dolls are completed but more are planned, this grouping, the largest figure about 36 inches tall, is called The Siren & the Machiavels.
In addition to my paper-doll making , I continue my daily drawing practice. In the same spirit of the nursery, like paper-dolls, another staple of childhood, the ornamental and instructive alphabet:
I will continue through with this alphabet and post upon its completion. For today, as it Sunday, household, not studio duties beckon.
The theme of the great Harrowing of Hell, that period in time in which the Church seems to hesitate a bit, unsure of what really happened, that time after Christ sheds the mortal coil and isn’t seen for a few days. Where he is said to have descended into the Underworld as a triumphant New Adam and liberates lost and languishing souls- that, that moment , fascinates me.
It has for quite some time, as a youth I placed ink to paper in an attempt to imagine such a mythic moment ( the use of pomegranates as a decorative motif, seemed at the time, a brilliant allegory and subtle reference to Eurydice)
As the first(and latest) image attests, the theme still beguiles. Having only recently listened to George Saunder’s astonishing Lincoln in the Bardo (thank you Audible, now I must actually read it). I have been taken with the in-between time of death, redemption and the ambiguous souls left floundering; the Bardo as Saunders asserts. Death isn’t always with me in a dismal way, but it is endlessly fascinating. I don’t actually want to know for sure what the path ahead holds for me, but I am darn curious.
The first introduction to the theme of the Harrowing was Albrecht Dürer’s spectacular depiction of it (Dürer is a heartthrob figure for me in so many ways).
One can easily see Dürer’s influence on my work, going back to my teens. Clearly I stole from the Master in this youthful depiction of the Fallen Adam.
What I had failed to comprehend was what was meant by Hell. In time I came to realize not so much the eternal fires of a wrathful God, but a waiting station, the vague Limbo of my youthful Catholicism.
The theme has been explored countless times; the following, are a few favorites.
My own inspiration was more random, less planned; in my last studio move, an accidental composition made itself available to me. I suspect I will returning to theme again. Perhaps next time Christ will be more triumphant, more muscular in spirit, less hesitant. Although, truth be told, hesitancy seems a reasonable stance.
I am currently focusing upon an upcoming December residency with Shoebox Projects here in LA. The last month has been spent fashioning figures such as the comely fellows above. The figures, what I call Stuffed Paintings are essentially dolls, dolls play acting an existential tableaux that I have called Embodied. In the spirit of Neo-medievalism I am tempted to call the dolls Mummers. The latest Mummer is the red figure in the foreground.
Proserpina, Archdiablesse, Princess of Evil Spirits is typical of the Mummers I have in mind for my revamped Mystery Play centered upon the trials and tribulations of the early Desert Fathers, most particularly, St. Anthony (and his legion of troublesome demons). Proserpina is also a bit of a gender play as are most of the characters. Gender role and “appropriate” performance being explored and expanded upon.
With Embodied I am also eager to explore the concept of withdrawal from worldliness, so beloved by the early Desert Fathers yet so elusive, so prone to “failure”; I find myself, in this age of constant performance (social media, self-branding, creating content suitable to absurdly small attention spans) alluring and terrifying. I have struggled for the last few weeks to at the very least disconnect the Facebook app from my phone, but even that minuscule rejection of worldliness leaves me anxious and insecure. How did this happen, and what shall I do about it? Can balance be found?
For now I am focusing upon my desert tableaux, my Mummers and perhaps costumes, perhaps even performance of some sort. The following are a few of the Mummers thus far.
Pierott is perhaps the most emblematic of the Mummers. As a queer boy I was fascinated with the commedia del’arte , particular Pierott, his melancholy and chronic heartbreak was both familiar and comforting. I knew the gist of the comedys and I attempted to recreate them in the little shoestring theater I set up in our suburban basement. All went well with my spit-and-glue scenery and costumes, the problem being actors (and an audience). Given that I was the eldest of six siblings I thought recruiting my siblings would be a cinch. I was wrong, they, my brothers in particular, balked at the faggoty-ness of it all (my father agreed with this ) and after several very lame attempts, the show did NOT go on.
My brothers to this day still mockingly gripe about my directorial bossiness; and I still feel hurt.
Stuffed Mummers, mute and obedient, would have been a better solution.
Al of the figures begin life as a sketch, sometimes just a random thumbnail drawing.
I find further inspiration from multiple sources,such as this manuscript illumination.
The making of Embodied is in itself a reaction against set gender roles. The stitching, the quiet needlework , historically determined to be women’s work is for me deeply enjoyable. Yet when I go to the craft and sewing emporium I feel conspicuously male amidst a shop full of Glendale housewives. I catch myself (pitifully) trying to butch it up as I clutch my fistfuls of gaily colored embroidery floss and sparkly trims. Usually I chuckle at my own absurdity and proceed to the cashier. But the sewing, what may have been women’s work , is now mine as well.
I still have much to do, so much more stitching and painting and thinking and writing , yet I am determined to enjoy this time. To forgo elusive perfection and instead allow the process to unfold, hopefully revealing new directions , new intentions or solidifying ambiguity.
This fellow is based upon a strange tale told by one of the Desert Fathers. Locked in his desert cell, the unrelenting sun pulverizing his devotion, he suddenly, lustilly desired a cucumber. One can sympathize but the symbolism is amusing. That figure is next on the sewing table.
I also plan on a crucifix, this being the beginning of the Corpus.
Thanksgiving approaches and we are preparing for our own desert holiday in Joshua Tree , we’ve never been there, so I look forward to being inspired.
As what had been a very delightful sanctuary becomes barren and littered with bubble wrap and pugs , I wanted to make one last post from my creative home of the last two years. Although eager to settle into larger digs, I will miss this place (particularly its excellent air-conditioning ).
This is proving to be a busy moment in my life. The movers arrive this Saturday and that evening I have an opening , Satan’s Ball, a perennial favorite -I have five pieces in that show. I may be pooped after the move but looking forward to being part of the festivities at Art Share LA. Then my solo show Fairyland July 8th. Frantic, daunting, exciting.
I was delighted to be notified that my drawing The Rape of Our Mother had been accepted into the Brand 45 Annual National Exhibition of Works on Paper. I was particularly excited because the juror was Leslie Jones, Curator of Prints and Drawings at LACMA- my submissions were unmistakably drawings in that old fashioned way and I having her validation was important to me.
I had failed to mention that my painting Hadesville won 3rd Best of Exhibition at CEDARFEST 32, at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History, Lancaster, CA.
I was beaming with a goofy grin.
The day after the award ceremony Facebook rather magically reminded me of what the painting looked like a year ago.
This “memory” popped up.
And a year later:
Packing has produced some novel still lives that I am eager to figure into compositions for new paintings, this being the most successful :
I’m at the end of my packing , I receive the keys to the new studio tomorrow morning. Much more to do but very eager to get back to work, be it stitching, drawing or painting, perhaps a relief print of two as well.
I finished this painting several weeks ago, but needed to step away from it a bit, literally and figuratively. It is a large painting and that is the direction I would like to take with my studio practice. This painting is in many ways the impetus for my moving studios. I’ve simply run out of room at my charming current studio.
But this has been a long journey, nearly two years, from bringing what had been a seemingly simple response to Christina Rossetti’s incredible poem of the same name, a simple pencil sketch, to this large canvas.
Before heading off for Philadelphia in the summer of 2015 I made this sketch, dashed it off really.
I was entering a summer program at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and I hadn’t really any concept of how to focus my time. Materials needed to be shipped and I felt overwhelmed logistically. Plus I suffer emotionally from being separated from David and the pups.
I’ve posted before about the PAFA critique program, at times bitterly, but in hindsight I realize how unprepared for the experience I actually was. I now feel, a few years later, that I could approach the experience with more confidence and intentionality (is that a word??).
Perhaps some other summer.
Without a real game plan I decided pretty much on board the plane that Goblin Market was to be my next project for the summer. Part of what I had hoped for with the critique program was to loosen up mentally and creatively, and my little sketch , which I had so enjoyed drawing, would launch me in the right direction. Or so I hoped.
The following are some sequential images of its making.
I pause here because this is where strife began between me and the program director , she insisting that this was a finished work, and I insisting it wasn’t. I envisioned a more polished painting and she wished to “free” me from what she perceived were constraints . Again, in hindsight, I feel I could now express my intentions with more clarity, but at the time I felt crushed and confused.
I persevered but warily.
This image is where I left it at PAFA, unable to finish , I rolled it up, threw it on the plane and allowed it to languish in my studio. I tried avoiding it frankly. Then, in 2017 I decided I needed to face the painting once again.
I’ve tweaked it a bit since this next image, but I now believe it to be finished…for now.
I have a solo show coming up in July, its a small show ( Goblin Market will most likely make its debut), a gallery within a showroom I enjoy showing in. I am excited. It is my first solo show and in many ways it is a clarifying experience.
I’m grappling with what I want to say as an artist and as a person . What is my contribution in this dialogue of life. The window we are given is open ever so briefly, and as I feel I have only just recently entered into myself, I desire to do so fully.
My show will be called “Fairyland”. It is a concept I wish to explore in depth; I will be putting together more extensive proposals for other solo shows, so this show in July is the model.
The following is a revised statement for “Fairyland”:
“At this stage of my life, off center of a century, I am grappling with ways in which to express my “being-ness”. Unable to avoid the “who am I “ question any longer, I find myself ,as a visual artists reaching beyond my usual studio practice of oil painting into diverse disciplines including figures in the round.The figures are essentially dolls, and are fashioned by fully embracing the pre-conceived sissy element of this art. It is in this extension of my practice that I am exploring, at this late stage, my identity as a queer and terrified man; the specter of the pansy boy I was, being given new voice in my latest ongoing project “Fairyland”. It is in this new series of projects , where paint, needle and thread give expression and validation to a long suppressed self loathing.
The very name “Fairyland”, a word once delivered with bloody blows transcends beyond with a message of empathy, compassion. pride, and I hope , humor. Reclaiming the fairy has been empowering. The art I attempt to create is intended to express the spirit of furtive repression breaking free.”