“I should never have made my success in life if I had been shy of taking pains, or if I had not bestowed upon the least thing I have ever undertaken exactly the same attention and care that I have bestowed upon the greatest.”
I recently finished listening to an audio recording of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop. Dickens is a favored studio companion, his intricate, well woven tales can keep me engaged for days on end. He was a master storyteller and when Curiosity Shop came to its conclusion, I marveled at the care and dedication to detail he lavished upon even the most seemingly insignificant innkeeper, scoundrel or parlormaid. It is a great treat to become so well acquainted with all of his characters, the experience is so rich and gratifying.
Such attention to seemingly insignificant details is my delight at the easel as well. I am aware that a broader brush or a simpler stroke might just as effectively convey a desired message, but it wouldn’t be fully my own, or frankly of any interest to me. I take great pleasure in works that are convoluted, those possessing complicated compositions with seemingly infinite opportunity to discover detail upon detail. I recall the northern Gothic painters, where the doorknob of some distant castle sparkles as brightly and as prettily as some fair maiden’s jeweled bodice; where every tree is embroidered with countless , meticulously rendered leaves. Many find such works frankly too rich in detail, too time consuming to comprehend, not at all suited to our contemporary world’s blunt (brutal?) aesthetic and ever-increasingly limited attention span.
I however stay the course, trying as best as I can to stay personally true, and as Dickens stated, taking the pains necessary to develop the work fully to my satisfaction. The following images are of works in progress, one a rather large oil painting, hopefully nearing completion, the second a work on paper. Both seem to be expanding in scope as each studio comes to a close. But I am increasingly confident that they will let me know when they are finished…fingers crossed, soon.
My surname is Greco, my paternal grandfather fiercely proud of our rich heritage; clearly my roots are Italian, but in all honesty I’ve only just begun to recognize and appreciate the impact my cultural patrimony has had on me,as an artist and in many ways as a gay man.
I was inspired to reflect upon this existentially while submitting to a group show exploring and celebrating the Italian diaspora. I am the offspring of Calabrians who fled the poverty of their region for the fabled bounty of the New World. Setting sail in the teens of the early 20th century, my great grandmother came armed with a cheap gilded ring set with blue glass (which I now treasure ) and a feisty spirit. Incredibly small people and brown as a nut, my great-grandparents were frequently met with bigotry and prejudice.
Yet they persevered, settling in Trenton N.J., they were embraced by fellow immigrants (many from Naples) in the Italian American enclave known as Chambersburg (colloquially known as the ‘Burg). It is there that they opened water-ice parlors, manned grocery markets and in the twenties, my grandfather, as a boy, ran rum for the mob. Ultimately the family prospered enough to move to the suburbs, sadly leaving the cultural richness of the ‘Burg behind for the homogeneity of the NJ suburbs. My grandfather never felt like he quite fit in with his “white” neighbors, but the pride in his hard earned prosperity was palpable and difficult not to appreciate.
For me, as a sensitive queer boy, artist wanna-be, the suburbs were an aesthetic hell. Cultural deserts where “Mediterranean” evoked cheap flocked wall coverings and abominations upon inky velvet graced many a family room. My boyhood salvation was mass at the family church back in Chambersburg, Immaculate Conception, a 19th c. Gothic Revival pile, redolent in incense, ritual and gilt. It was heaven, and to this day I remember gazing up at its painted ceilings in wonder, and knowing one day, I too would be an artist. My grandfather assured me that was absolutely possible for Italians were especially gifted artists ( although he also insisted that the Irish were particularly gifted in depicting angelic hosts- where or how how he came to this opinion is something I still think about).
So now, in submitting to Italianitá, hosted by the Italian American Museum here in LA, I put to paper the influences my heritage has had on my art and my identity. This is what I came up with:
As a child of Italian-American descent (my paternal great-grandparents arriving from Calabria in the early 20th c.),I was raised in the culturally impoverished suburbs of NJ, yet it was my Italian roots that nurtured my aesthetic and acted as a balm to my artistic soul. Be it the street theater of Feast Days, the Madonna paraded and joyously lauded, the Festival of Lights, or the gilded grandeur of my parish church, it is clear to me that these influences decided my fate to be an artist.
In my work I explore the extremes of human existence through the presentation of archetypal figures undergoing transformation and experiencing salvation, rebirth and enlightenment; not unlike the art of Rome, be it sacred or profane. My paintings are self-contained narratives concerned with universal themes—birth, life and death— that stem from my personal experiences and passions. These include my love of classical mythology, Roman Catholic saints, the Italian Renaissance and Baroque, as well as the commedia del arte , low brow erotica and Surrealism.
As a queer artist my work frequently reflects a sensuality not unfamiliar to Italian art and culture. In this work I am searching to find the divine in the everyday, to show that all life, in all its incarnations is indeed sacred and beautiful. The works are metaphors that explore human relationships and interactions from myriad points of view and ultimately are about my understanding of my place in an ever-changing world.
My oil painting Seizing Sanctimonium is an allegorical homage to personally well loved artists such as Mantegna and Poussin and also a psychological exploration of my own spiritual and existential angst. Employing Renaissance compositional techniques such as one point perspective and borrowing freely from the drama of the Baroque stage, my intention was to evoke the tensions that arise between powers. In this instance, the Roman Church here being confronted by the Old Gods. This tension is palpable in ancient cities such as Rome and Mexico City, where timeless allegiances are everywhere, the old gods literally arising from the earth. Attempts to integrate the old ways into the orthodoxy of Christian faith creates a tension that is complicated, painful yet often dazzlingly beautiful. As a gay man, a artist and a Roman Catholic these tensions are personal, familiar, and frequently painful; conflicted by dictates of the Church and personal truths (embodied here by the Old Gods), it is in my desire to express this pain and to synthesize the diverse elements of my being. It is my hope to create work in my own voice, my own purpose and my own understanding of beauty.
My oil painting Hadesville is yet another homage to works of art that have influenced and inspired me. In this instance the Hellmouth warnings found in late Medieval and early Renaissance churches. These fantastical works are frequently the most inventive, adventurous, not to mention humorous works of art found in Christendom. Mostly attributed to anonymous artists, they continue to beguile , I am not alone in my appreciation. My painting Hadesville recalls such works, employing universal elements such as the aforementioned Hellmouth and symbolism that is personally meaningful.
In addition to the High Medieval, I also nod to Dante and his Divine Comedy with my own oddly disconcerting guides found in the upper left portion of the composition. Navigating the complexities of life, spirituality, sensuality (and the Underworld) was enthusiastically explored by the Italian masters of quill and brush,my humble aim is to add to that conversation.
Daphne is part of a new body of three dimensional work that I identify as Stuffed Paintings. These painted and stitched figures are intended to evoke the dramatic presence of Baroque theater and sculpture (most specifically, as in this case, Bernini). These pieces, Daphne included, frequently explore the power of transformation, sacrifice and redemption . Ovid’s Daphne,suffering divine injustice and paternal betrayal, ultimately finds “salvation” through metamorphosis (in her case, that quintessential symbol of Classical triumph and victory,the laurel bough).With that in mind, the theme of Daphne felt ripe for personal reinterpretation.
It is in this framework I wished to create my own response to Bernini’s ravishing marble masterpiece. In exploring the challenges presented in life, be it familial discord, conflicts with identity or romantic entanglements, my intention was to document the turmoil and anguish necessary to personal development. In so doing, I not only shift mediums from solid stone to pliant fabric, but I also swap gender, making this embroidered and painted allegory my own.
My current body of work that I have placed under the encompassing umbrella of Fairylandis an ongoing project, transforming itself almost daily. Ultimately it will be a large and complicated installation project involving diverse disciplines: painting, fiber art, printmaking and possibly some performance. A classic example of gesamtkunstwerk.
Ultimately given full expression at my 2019 solo show at MOAH-Cedar in Lancaster CA. I also have a month long residency with Shoebox Projects in December where I will further examine this magical place I call the land of fairies.
But in the meantime I am submitting Fairyland for possible solo shows. The following is my latest submission, and let me tell you applying for residencies or submitting for solo shows is on par with the Harrowing of Hell. Shaken and now nervous, I know I’ve done my best. Rejections have become a part of my reality, but in my heart I know this could be a pretty nifty show.
The following is what I presented.
Wish me luck.
Grappling with ways in which to express “being-ness”, I find myself reaching beyond my usual studio practice of painting into diverse disciplines including fiber-art figures . The figures are fashioned by fully embracing the pre-conceived “sissy” element of this art. Thus exploring my identity as a queer and terrified man, the series validates a long suppressed self loathing.
“Fairyland” an ongoing project, bears a title once a slur, now declaring a message of empathy, pride, and hopefully, humor. Embracing the fairy has been empowering ; the art created expressing a spirit of furtive repression breaking free.
The following is a “walk through” description of what I propose:
“One enters Fairyland through a swagged theatrical portal, embellished and festooned with luxurious passementerie, the ornaments fashioned from trashed rags, the “rich” cloth of stitched and patched recycled fabric, all evoking a glorious if tarnished sham splendor .
This initial dramatic entrance into the Wurdemann Room is not mere camp , it is a sincere appreciation for aesthetic visual redundancy, one that is deeply personal and I believe a trait familiar to the queer aesthetic, the need to elaborate, to further explain.
To offer alternative truths.
It is in the elaborations that I explore familiar cultural narratives through a queer prism, doing so in multiple mediums: stitched and painted fiber art , relief prints, book making, drawings, easel and wallpaintings .
Once entered, the visitor encounters a hushed dark room , it’s walls swaddled in lush fabric , faint chants heard muffled behind the plush. At the far end of the gallery an elaborate neo-baroque mirror hangs, confronting the pilgrim with a chilling memento mori. The mirror titled Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego is of mixed media and fiber arts and is flanked by near life sized fiber-art figures such as Daphne and Icarus which act as sentinels of life, death and transformation.
To ones right and left, floor to ceiling (faux) tapestries entitled Orpheus’ Lament and Eurydice’s Response (of painted and stitched un-stretched canvas), depict alternative tellings of the Orphic drama.
As the Wurdemann gallery is set as a private salon/wunderkammer with approximately 12-15 pieces, various paintings such as the large scale oil paintings Goblin Market and Hadesville will be interspersed amongst the “tapestries”.
In the center of the chamber, on an elaborately draped library table, one finds hand blocked , hand stitched books, opened for viewing. Further stitched and painted figurative ornaments also bedeck the table’s surface .
Sensory overload is the desired affect in this gesamtkunstwerk that I call Fairyland- this particular Fairy’s private retreat made public.”
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for me, I’m trying now, not very successfully, to collect myself. Between the move into a new space, multiple shows and now an inferno has set upon the City of Angels, I find myself quite discombobulated. Now that I have a semblance of internet (thank you Hotspot, whatever the hell that is), I feel less adrift.
To procrastinate, I’m enclosing a few images from recent shows, “Satan’s Ball” at Art Share LA and more recently, this last weekend’s “Fairyland”, my solo show at Ave. 50 Gallery.
A pleasant surprise was meeting the photographer Stephen Levey who took some excellent images of my work. I was quite delighted to see how he captured the moodiness of my figures.
I’ve tried for some time to capture my first “Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert”, Stephen, seemingly effortlessly, snapped a great image.
The preparation for the opening of “Fairyland” was daunting, with packing up the old studio, moving into the new and all the details that go into a transfer from one place to another, I was rattled. Particularly grateful to Dan Fernandez who handled my installation expertly.
In the end it all came together and the opening was just splendid…hot as Hadesville , but splendid.
I was so touched by how many of my friends stopped in, in spite of a plethora of competing openings, in spite of the gallery’s rather isolated situation and in spite of the terrible heat. In spite of that , the support was thrilling. Thank you my friends, friends I’ve known for awhile and to the new ones I’ve just met.
Art making is isolated work but it is the community one finds that encourages and delights. I’m pretty delighted at the moment…in spite of fierce Apollo.
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.”