Playing with Dolls

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”
2017
Mixed media: thrift store fabric, recycled clothing, acrylic painted canvas, embroiderty floss, poly-fill.
48 by 21 by 10

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.

Early conceptual sketch for “Embodied”, 2016

 

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”
2017
Mixed media: recycled fabric, acrylic painted canvas, embroidery floss, poly-fill.
51 by 23 by 8 inches

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. 

“The Wodewose Quercus”
2017
Mixed media: recycled fabric, acrylic painted canvas, twigs, embroidery floss, fiber-fill.
54 by 31 by 8 inches

Al of the figures begin life as a sketch, sometimes just a random thumbnail drawing.

Sketch for “Quercus”

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.

Concept sketch for “Cucumber Boy”.

I also plan on a crucifix, this being the beginning of the Corpus.

Corpus with sketch

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.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Persephone

IMG_5864_2

I’ve been struggling with the flu for well over a week, in spite of my first ever flu shot, I succumbed sometime during my recent trip back East. I find the flu to be a memento mori ( although it could be argued that everything is a memento mori to me). I wallowed lavishly in misery. But for the last few days I have been able to pull myself off the fainting couch and  put the finishing touches on a painting I have been working on for the past few months, Persephone.

IMG_5865_2

Persephone

2015

oil on canvas

24 by 36 inches

As is so often the case, my inspiration for the painting was yet another literature course, this time, World Mythology. We were focusing upon the Greeks, with a translation of the Homeric Hymns (c.600 B.C.E.) by Andrew Lang, link to text HERE. The opening passage was so beautiful, particularly as read by my professor, that I knew a painting was to be found amidst the flowery prose: 

“Of fair-tressed Demeter, Demeter holy Goddess, I begin to sing: of her and her slim-ankled daughter whom Hades snatched away, the gift of wide-beholding Zeus, but Demeter knew it not, she that bears the Seasons, the giver of goodly crops. For her daughter was playing with the deep-bosomed maidens of Oceanus, and was gathering flowers—roses, and crocuses, and fair violets in the soft meadow, and lilies, and hyacinths, and the narcissus which the earth brought forth as a snare to the fair-faced maiden, by the counsel of Zeus and to pleasure the Lord with many guests. Wondrously bloomed the flower, a marvel for all to see, whether deathless gods or deathly men. From its root grew forth a hundred blossoms, and with its fragrant odour the wide heaven above and the whole earth laughed, and the salt wave of the sea. Then the maiden marvelled, and stretched forth both her hands to seize the fair plaything, but the wide-wayed earth gaped in the Nysian plain, and up rushed the Prince, the host of many guests, the many-named son of Cronos, with his immortal horses. Maugre her will he seized her, and drave her off weeping in his golden chariot, but she shrilled aloud, calling on Father Cronides, the highest of gods and the best.”

I was also inspired by the type of synoptic composition that the Roman’s excelled in, found  often on sarcophagi relief carvings, and silver work; where the narrative just tumbles forth every which way, paying little heed to logical time sequence or proportion. I love the puzzle of guessing what the hell is going on . This detail from a Roman beaker (1-100 A.D.), recently on view at the Getty Villa in Malibu is typical of the sort of compositional puzzle I am speaking of.

VEX.2014.1.10: Beaker with Isthmian games - ROLLOUT

 I set aside for myself the task to include as much of what I loved about the Hymn to Demeter into a relatively small canvas, playing upon the logic defying  compositions of our dear Romans.

First off, there is  “slim-ankled” Persephone , “deep bosomed, low slung hips”, such sexy play of words. Everytime I read the Greeks ( I just finished the Iliad) I am reminded of their absolute love of fleshiness. I wanted to capture that with Persephone.

IMG_5863_2

detail of Persephone

A character I found curious was that of Hekate, she of the “shining head-tire”, who witnessed the soon-to-be abduction (once again,  logical narrative sequence  be damned); she and Phoebus Apollo are the only two to see what the hell went on , and the mad with terror Demeter turns to the “daughter of Persaeus”.

I love the passage of Hekate, serene and separate from the madness of lust, “thinking delicate thoughts”.

IMG_5870

 Hekate “thinking delicate thoughts”

Demeter, in her afore mentioned terror is described as having “tore the wimple about her ambrosial hair, and cast a dark veil about her shoulders”. I admire how that description alludes to her complete withdrawal from god and man and how in time, Mother Earth herself will suffer the consequence.

IMG_5873_2

An interest of mine is how the Greeks, and later Blake , would anthropomorphize natural elements such as mountains, streams, clouds, turning them into sentient beings. I wanted to play with that as well. This mountain shudders as to what will come.

IMG_5872

Another mountain harbors the “deep-bosomed” playmates of Persephone , who cowardly run off, abandoning our heroine.

IMG_5877

The text describes how Hades, Lord with Many Guests ( yet no bride) seduces the “fair-faced maiden”. As Persephone gathers flowers, Hades seduces her with the floral mother load of all flowers, for there “wondrously bloomed the FLOWER, a marvel for all to see, wether deathless gods or deathly men”.

A handsome youth should  sufficiently beguile dear Persephone.

IMG_5874

Of “deathless gods”, many feature in this tale of sacrifice, redemption and rebirth, yet Prince Helios, the glorious Phoebus Apollo is always a delight to render.

IMG_5875_2

As is the Father of Gods, the supreme Son of Kronus. Homer in the Iliad repeatedly reminds the reader how shifty this great god is , that only a fool would rely upon the Dark-browed god’s word. Persephone soon learns this harsh lesson when her cries for salvation fall upon her father’s deaf ears. He too busy collecting accolades from man:

” But he far off sat apart from the gods in his temple haunted by prayers, receiving goodly victims from mortal men”.

IMG_5876

Frankly, Zeus just reminds me of any number of sexy, cocky Italian guys I have known in my day!

But I suppose in many ways this painting focuses not on Persephone but on Hades (first image). In some ways it turned out somehow “redeeming” the rape into an act of rectifying desperate loneliness. When the three great brothers were dividing the Universe, Hades certainly received the short straw. Zeus in his hubris received the heavens and earth, Poseidon the azure sea, but poor Hades, the dank Underworld-and without a bride. Apollo himself tells the bereaved Demeter, that although he shares her sorrow for her loss, she should see the sacrifice in a brighter light, that Hades is a god worthy of Her divine daughter:

“But, Goddess, do thou cease from thy long lamenting. It behoves not thee thus vainly to cherish anger unassuaged. No unseemly lord for thy daughter among the Immortals is Aidoneus, the lord of many, thine own brother and of one seed with thee, and for his honour he won, since when was made the threefold division, to be lord among those with whom he dwells.”

That may very well be  posturing , defensive, patriarchal bullshit, but still, worth considering lonely Hades position.

But for now, I am finished with the Hymn to Demeter.

Be well, Lg