Inspiration or Appropriation? Navigating Turbulent Waters

We live now in what was described recently in a New York Times article as “ the age of rage”.  Outrage is in the air , folks are prickly (often justifiably so ) and tensions are  palpably high; I have experienced this myself, having inadvertently caused discontent and expressing my own discontent.  There was the recent brouhaha at the Whitney over the death portrait of Emmett Till painted by a white artist , pitchforks were raised and there were calls for the destruction of the work (so much attention was paid to this single painting that I almost failed to notice the rest of the collection -much of which I found addressing social issues effectively as well as being visually dazzling).

For more information follow this link: https://hyperallergic.com/368290/censorship-not-the-painting-must-go-on-dana-schutzs-image-of-emmett-till/
In a more pedestrian instance, an entire day on social media was recently focused upon a banal advertising commercial featuring an overhyped celebrity play-acting social activist all whilst peddling a soft drink .  A valid point concerning the appropriation of social activism (in particular that of the Black Lives Movement) was made , the advertisement was swiftly pulled and social media moved on . But personally I hadn’t felt the level of outrage that was so vocally expressed in my FB feed.  This may very well be the privilege of the white male but discovering that capitalism is coarse and ugly and will employ any marketable hashtag it thinks will sell one more bottle of toxic bubbly brown just doesn’t seem that surprising.  Yet I know heretofore apolitical artists, myself included , who relentlessly employ hashtags that indicate a political engagement not previously expressed ; is this so called click bait or sincere outrage ? I have to frequently ask this question to myself .
Within a few days the angry collective cloud had seemed to blow over and we were collectivity ( and appropriately) crushed by images of Syrians, men,  women and children painfully gassed by their wantonly cruel dictator.
But the issue will reemerge and I sincerely question appropriation, what exactly entails appropriation and in many situations what justifies the righteousness of ” identity politics”.  I am determined to avoid the heated rhetoric of the far right but I have become increasingly aware of the painful divisiveness amongst people of goodwill even here in my own camp . For although I am not poor, nor am I traditionally disenfranchised, I do lack an advanced degree and I too have felt the sting of being shut down by the Judith Butler/Foucault-quoting-critical theorist-academic elites.

This past weekend I attended an artists talk at a local gallery . The well curated exhibition was self identified as queer  (a term – and a hashtag – I have frequently employed in describing myself and my work). Even before I attended the discussion there was a minor social media outrage , accusation of racism freely bantered about concerning a perceived lack of diversity in the collection . These accusations seemed unfounded and hollow to me as the intent of the show, as clearly stated in the curators’ statement, was focused upon the Western male homoerotic gaze . And although much of the work was indeed depictions of pretty dewy-eyed white boys (as has so often been the case in mainstream gay culture ), there were in fact alternative images of desire and longing .

All that said , the point of the show was focused upon the male-to-male gaze , that fairly or not , has been undeniably inspired by the West , one need only look to the Greeks . The co- curator of this show , a thoughtful and well informed fellow , rightly pointed out that the homosexual art historian Johann Winckelmann was in fact writing love letters to Hellenistic works of art .

Portrait of J.J. Winchelmann
anton von Maron
1768

Gay men have historically been doing this ever since ; it is a driving force with my own work and the intention of the collection in question. Diversity in representation is of course important but the orthodox backlash of what is acceptable inspiration and the (over?) heated division  generated is often stifling and ultimately may lead to self censorship.
All that said , the self identified queerness of the show left me feeling alienated and questioned my own “appropriation ” of the word ( and hashtag ) ” queer”. From the panel discussion of queer artists , academics and activists , I was clearly not queer enough . There were open jokes skewering conventional mainstream gay men as IKEA shopping , happily and monogamously married homos settling into a presumably sexless existence with well tended gardens and adopted children ( or in my case adopted pups ) all whilst the “real” queers reveled unshackled ( or perhaps shackled ) in sex clubs, dungeons  and public parks, “documenting”  shenanigans heretofore kept out of public view .  

This of course  is an overstatement, but the body of work deemed queer (at least in this well curated collection) was in fact focused upon salacious images of dick .  So much so , that this artist who is NOT afraid of the penis , felt uncomfortable,  rather queasy and ultimately a bit bored . I also felt , once again , alone .
Identify politics , in this case queer identified politics , can possess an orthodoxy of identity that I  frequently cannot meet and once again I felt as if I were looking into a room ( in this case of attractive young men ) where I simply did not belong and was not welcome .
This sense of isolation is familiar , personally and to many of us , no matter how we identity . Identity politics with its wonderful intentions of giving voice to the unvoiced can easily slip into the righteous orthodoxy of the oppressor. Well intentioned or not, so much anger and outrage can in fact be hurtful and alienating . While marching at the LA Women’s March I witnessed protestors of color taunting white suburban women with hostile placards mocking their (perceived) new found activism , questioning explicitly wether they would be found at the next BLM march.  They have a valid point and it is perhaps a fair question to ask, but if I were those “nice white ladies”, I doubt very much I would attend.

Squelching well intentioned good will is unhelpful at best .  In fact I rarely attend most activists events, even those addressing issues important to the LGBTQ community, POC, women’s issues or any other cause I have allegiance with, for the very reason that somehow , someway, my motivations and intentions are just not up to snuff or “pure” enough . In place of good humored camaraderie, I often encounter a competitive edge that is bordering upon open hostility , a frantic jostling as to who  is more informed, more  passionate and  possessing the most fervent militant zeal . I find it all so daunting and alienating, frankly I’m ill suited to conflict and ill equipped to defend my own good intentions . Instead I retreat .
I will however continue to diligently plod along, making my art that isn’t queer enough , righteous enough or identifiable enough . However I can say that the negative repercussions of what is acceptable inspiration and what is cultural appropriation has entered my creative process and my studio practice . Whilst recently brainstorming a concept, I was initially considering exploring ,once again , the archetype of the great and fearsomely attractive Mesoamerican war god Huitzlipochtli to embody the excesses of patriarchy.

But rather quickly I shifted course , not wishing to endure the accusatory arrows of appropriation, I looked to safer territory , the Western canon , specifically the ancient Greeks and Romans, and chose instead that granddaddy of patriarchy , Uranus .

The Casration of Uranus
2015

And while Dead White Men have their very vocal critics, I for one
can live with this focus , in fact I revel in it as western art, culture and tradition is in fact familiar and eternally thrilling . But it’s also somewhat limiting , instead of feeling free to draw upon any inspiration unfiltered, I feel now a need to question my every motivation. But until I feel better able to defend my intentions I will remain focused upon the Classical traditions of the West.

Recently I had a discussion with a friend, an art historian who’s opinion I hold in high regard. We were speaking of what constitutes inspiration and what is appropriation. I brought up Picasso, Cubism, the well documented influence of African masks upon his work and the subsequent masterpiece Les Demoiselles de Avignon.  My friend quickly dismissed Picasso as caring not at all about African art. I felt more than a bit perplexed  by this response as I’m not  sure what is the appropriate level of appreciation an artist must have for art made outside of his or her own culture in order to find inspiration. Must we really be of a culture in order to draw upon it for appreciation , inspiration and joy ?

What I can say is , whether or not dear Pablo possessed the “appropriate” level of appreciation for African art or not , I am certainly happier living in a world with Cubism than without . And whether or not it was his intention, he introduces this queer little suburban boy from New Jersey -and much of the western world – to African art in a broad and general way .  Was Picasso a scholar of African art , probably not ,  a tool of the Oppressor, certainly not , a great artist?  Absolutely.  Art ,made manifest by unfiltered inspiration in a seemingly less hostile age.

https://www.moma.org/collection/works/79766
The restrictions of outrage are increasingly more heated, more limiting and more intimidating.  I am a quiet person, a shy person , averse to conflict and I will retreat into my hermitage and continue to make what is most likely insignificant art but I will do so without the specter of potential anger and criticism so easily provoked in this Age of Rage by simply avoiding certain inspiration deemed by the powers that be as not my own to draw upon.

Thankfully the Getty has an extraordinary collection of medieval illuminations, if you want me , you can find me there.

My Posse

 

Detail of “Dancing Salome”

I have been hard at work on my contributions for the group show “Bad Girls & Outcasts” at Cactus Gallery . Earlier last year my friend, the talented Ulla Anobile had conceived of the theme and had invited me (and the marvelous Mavis Leahy) to participate. Initially it was to be the three of us, but given the interest in the theme ( perhaps in large part due to our current political climate ) , Bad Girls are all the rage and many fine artists are now participating. It should be a very exciting show, Cactus Gallery always gathers together diverse artists and I have no doubt this will be an exceptional group of makers.

For my part I’ve focused on a few of my favorite archetypes: the brazen femme fatale;  the sinner/saint;  the vengeful goddess and of course, witches. I worked in a variety of techniques: fiber art, painting, drawing, and relief printing. The following images are the results of my love affair with all girls bad, wonderful and misunderstood.

“Coyolxauhqui Reassembled”
2017
Mixed media: acrylic paint, recycled rag, thread, fiber fill
Approx. 21 by 12 inches
“The Sisters Wyrd”
2017
Four plate relief print; series of four
Plate size 8 by 10″; matted and framed 12 by 15″
“Dancing Salome” , a Jumping Jack (Jill)
2017
Mixed Media: enlarged original drawing, graphite, watercolor, cardboard, brads, thread
Approx. 45 by 29 inches
“The Magdalene”
2017
Three plate relief print on paper; series of five
Plate size 8 by 10″; matted and framed 12 by 15″
“The Magdalene”
2017
Mixed media: acrylic paint, recycled rag, artificial foilage, thread, fiberfill
Approx. 26 by 17 by 6″

 

 

Happily, as I finished up yesterday, I did one final drawing of The Magdalene, as a study for personal reasons, not for the show. After posting my studio progress on Instagram I was pleasantly surprised to find that a collector for the drawing. I’m not yet ready to part with the drawing but I’m telling you, Bad Girls are all the rage!

“The Magdalene”, study
2017
Sanguine and white pencil on toned paper
Approx. 15 by 18 inches
Private collection

The Magdalene

 

“The Magdalene”
2017
mixed media: painted recycled fabric, embroidery floss, artificial foliage, polyfill
approx. 26x19x6″

I am happy to say that I have finished my latest figure for an upcoming group show here in the Los Angeles with a theme of “Bad Girls &Outcasts”. I’ve made about five pieces for the gallerist to consider and this soft sculpture figure is my latest.

As I continue on this practice of “painting-sculptures” I find myself more and more drawn to the possibilities of figures in the round. The making of these figures being immensely gratifying.

 

This particular figure was directly inspired by a relief print I had made before crafting The Magdalene. Perhaps its gimmicky but that print will accompany the figure when she is presented to collectors.

 As with much of my work one thing leads to another, this small print leading to another more complicated and I believe, more successful print, of the same subject.

The Magdalene, 2017, three plate relief print on paper, series of five

It will also be presented at the gallery.

The Magdalene has been a figure of fascination since my boyhood, searching out her familiar red hair and raw tears in countless museum visits throughout my life.

Her renunciation of worldliness in order to be closer to the God who left her behind stabs my heart every time. I’m of course playing loose with history and church tradition, but that is the  emotional effect, one of abject abandonment, that moves me so deeply . In many ways, she reminds me of Dido and her awful lament.

 Of course, at least according to Church tradition, she is ultimately reunited with her Savior , often depicted ascending heavenwards garbed only in her anchorite-wild hair. This visual tradition of presenting The Magdalene as a Wild Woman is also extraordinarily interesting to me.  She is in effect the corporeal equivalent of the divine other-wordly Blessed Virgin.

That old trope of Virgin and (Redeemed) Whore.

This resonates for me in that it allows exploration of the Old Gods and the New and how we , as a society , have tried to synthesize these elements in a cohesive and manageable way. I love both the BVM and The Magdalene, but personally, I feel closer to the latter.

Following are a few (unattributed) images of MM that I treasure.

(this is I believe, her reliquary , at least that what my what I noted)

Below is info concerning the show, if in LA, please visit.

The Sisters Wyrd

The Sisters Wyrd 2017 Relief print (four plates) on paper
The Sisters Wyrd
2017
Relief print (four plates) on paper

After a rather arduous process I have at last finished my latest relief print depicting the “weird” sisters from Macbeth (actually any practitioner of ancient arts). It is for an upcoming show here in LA devoted to Bad Girls, and as witchery and pagan ways have beguiled me since boyhood (going so far as memorizing the witches’ lines from the bard’s play), I felt they were a worthy subject. I wanted to laud the women (and men) who have been maligned and persecuted in the past. I also wanted to, as in the middle sister, explore intersex identity. What I like about this print is that it recalls a stained glass window, a pagan stained glass window to ancient seers and prophets. 

But I hadn’t anticipated such difficulty in the making. Perhaps it is a testament to my increasing skill in printmaking,but my expectations are now higher. And as with my painting practice, as I make progress, I also find myself more keenly aware of how to improve the work.  In this case, after rather laboriously cutting multiple plates and running a rather sizable series of prints, after reflection , I just felt the print to not be up to par.

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The cutting of the plate (s) above, and the enthusiastic running of sixteen prints.

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And the lackluster results.

Initial print of "The Sisters Wyrd".
Initial print of “The Sisters Wyrd”.

Having run the series on a Friday, by the time I returned on Sunday, the print seemed cramped and illegible. I have a high tolerance for density and visual information , but I found myself unable to read the image.

First proof.
First proof.

So back to the cutting table, the previous series essentially material for collage.

The final, revised proof.
The final, revised proof.

This new series is smaller (mostly because I have run low on good printing paper) , I was concentrating on making a sound image, not quantity. As it is, in a series of six, only half are in high enough quality to market. I had trouble with the density of black, too much “snow-flaking”, as in this blue version. 

img_1136Given the small run and limited number of prints available, they are artist’s proofs. But I now feel confident that the next run will be a success. To ensure that success I may resort to a spell or two:

 

First Witch
Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.

Second Witch
Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.

Third Witch
Harpier cries “‘Tis time, ’tis time.”

First Witch
Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

All
Double, double, toil and trouble; (10)
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

All
Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Third Witch
Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Silver’d in the moon’s eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe (30)
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.

All
Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

[Enter Hecate, to the other three Witches]

Hecate
O well done! I commend your pains;
And every one shall share i’ the gains;
And now about the cauldron sing,
Live elves and fairies in a ring,
Enchanting all that you put in.

[Music and a song: ‘Black spirits,’ etc, Hecate retires]

Second Witch
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Open, locks,
Whoever knocks!

Until next time, be well.

LG

 

Neo Medievalism and the Approaching Dark Age

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As 2016 winds down I want to pause, taking the time to reflect upon what 2017 might bring, personally and aesthetically. I’ve had a long fascination with 1917, it seemed  such a dynamic period; the October Revolution will mark its centennial this year, as one example.

For me, 1917 seemed exceptional, society was on the cusp of modernity yet still rooted in what was the past. Values, aesthetic, cultural and artistic were changing at a rapid pace, yet still there were antimacassars on the back of velveteen settees, suffragettes were only just beginning to gather steam and art vacillated between DADA and academic treacle. It seems to have been a period of incredible potential, one faced an optimistic yet uncertain future.

I feel that way now, one hundred years later. Yet whereas 1917 was being propelled into the Jazz and later the Atomic Age, I’m fearful of being pulled back into the Dark Ages. I needn’t harp about the President Elect and the backward thinking regime he wishes to install. Anyone who knows me is well aware of my opinions and my anxieties.

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(source unknown, sorry)

 

My instinct is to crawl back into my hermitage, something I may very well do (although I do hope to participate in social activism as needed). While there I hope to work at perfecting an aesthetic that I think is working for me. My last large painting Hadesville felt to me to be my most successful yet ( it will get its first public showing this Friday at a pop up show in LA). I feel I am on to something and have been calling what I wish to explore Neo-Medievalism.

greco_3_wrk_1_2

Hadesville

I’m finding freedom in this aesthetic that I am honing , from the exploration of surface pattern to the quirky articulation of the figures. One of the elements of actual medieval/early Renaissance art that I love is the use of  synoptic narrative, where all of the action takes place on one plane; that just fascinates the hell out of me.

It’s incredibly liberating. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narrative_art#Synoptic_narrative

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I suspect the hermitage theme will preoccupy my studio practice in 2017. I’ve been obsessing about hermitages for years but now with what feels like dark winds blowing against my door, the inclination to withdraw into the anchorite’s cave has never been more pressing.

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Tucson Art Museum
Tucson Art Museum

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Source, ?
Source, ?

Of course , if I am to explore hermits, I can’t forget about Anthony of the Desert OR his pig!

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(Getty)

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boar-lacma-copy

(LACMA)

Our pig SweetTea may very well serve as a model.

 

 

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Sweet Tea at Ironwood Pig Sanctuary, Tucson AZ. Many pigs need sponsorship, please consider!

My interest in Neo-Medievalism was fueled by a recent trip to the Sequoia National Park , where the majesty of these ancient gods, some sacrificed by fire, some  promising hope for a new age, moved me deeply. This beautiful charred corpse is as crenelated as  gothic fretwork.

15135845_10210724427096395_7678041243085763309_nYet through the remains of a burnt trunk, new life.

15193592_10210724427336401_4606782265126548584_nI’m finished pondering what 2017 will bring, instead I must get to actual work. I will close with images that promise to inspire my pen. For a fuller appreciation I suggest listening to Hildegard, this link is to one of my favorite recordings of her vast body of work.

 

13512238_10209298833897456_3218639598302787422_n Now onward!

LACMA
LACMA
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source?

 

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This image, Dido?, her belly, so typical of this period , was an influence for the image of Gnosis in my painting Gnosis…and the Old Gods Were Pleased. The painting recently sold to an East Coast collector, thrilled about that but still a bit melancholy for I fear Gnosis has fled in these dark times.

Gnosis...and the Old Gods Were Pleased (private collection)
Gnosis…and the Old Gods Were Pleased
(private collection)

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To a new year, battle ready !