Lilith (the Mandrake) was nostalgically inspired by memories of my own youthful desire and identity struggle in the reign of disco.
By incorporating discarded elements of sartorial seduction current to the period (late 70’s early 80’s),the ubiquitous Izod shirts, which seemed mandatory for young gay men, the neon “New Wave” colors found at Fiorucci (and elsewhere) and the general “clone” aesthetic raging in NYC at the time, I tried to playfully examine the entanglements that were ahead of me.
Today is the official first day of my residency with Shoebox Projects, here in Los Angeles. The residency is a little over a month allowing for the holiday interruptions. The unveiling of the work will be Saturday January 13th, 3-6 pm; link to the event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1994368064109763/.
As I embark on this exciting opportunity I wanted to first clarify my thoughts, the following is my statement of intent for this installation which I call Embodied: St. Anthony and the Desert of Tears.
Embodied: St Anthony and the Desert of Tears
The anchorite’s cave , the hermit’s lean-to and the studio of an artist are ideally a place of solitude, reflection and self discovery.A place to contemplate upon the divine , be it the godhead or the muse .
Yet this desired solitude is frequently tormented by demons, external and internal, distracting temptations seductively masquerading as duties or obligations, understandable commitments such as those to family, health and home are inevitable. These realities must be tended to with balance and discipline.
Yet more pervasive is the insidious influence of social media and the subtle influences of “community”, the chattering world , which frequently, at least for this seeker, stirs up emotions of self doubt , insecurity, timidity , and a call to conformity. Even within the sacred space of the studio one can be tormented by an almost adolescent peer pressure, the hive mind buzzing about can be deafening . Community, particularly amongst artists, is currently highly valued , perhaps a reaction against Individualism. But why ? Haven’t we the spark within? For although I treasure the fellowship there is also a very palpable anxiety ( again exacerbated by social media ) to compare and judge oneself , frequently unfavorably, against ones peers.
My inspiration for this mixed media installation is drawn upon the well known narrative of the Early Church Father , St Antony of the Desert and the hermit’s own struggle with demons. It is in the tradition of depicting Anthony ‘s demons playfully that I wish to explore my own struggles.
Oscar Wilde famously said that an artist’s duty is to make art “…for his own pleasure, and has never asked the public what they wanted …”.
This is an extreme, perhaps arrogant , isolationist stance yet if one recalls ones childhood , mud pies were made for the pure delight of the making. It is in this making , unfettered by opinion , second guessing or concern for that ever-elusive societal “relevance” that the artist must center their practice . For it is my belief that is where true art is found .
This anchorite hopes to do just that during this residency.
We were fortunate this Thanksgiving break to spend the holiday in divine desert isolation (Twenty Nine Palms, CA), renting a small cabin, free of distraction, bathed in blissful silence. It was much needed balm for us both and has provided inspiration for this project. A few images follows:
The property has a wonderful abandoned cottage, it provided added inspiration. Trying to incorporate some of the images into Embodied.
In reading the narratives of the Early Church Fathers one is struck by repeated themes: temptations of lust, boredom, the perils of isolation. One recurring motif that I found particularly amusing was the desert desire for cucumbers. A reasonable desire perhaps, but the Freudian associations were hard to dismiss. Surprisingly, adjacent to our rented cottage, stood a date farm planted upon an oasis. The laborers had tapped into the precious water and planted gorgeous pumpkins and squash; they seemed a fitting reference to the hermit’s cucumber.
Eager to begin to assemble my multiple elements. I have a sense of intention, but as with all plans (and art making), change is inevitable. Please wish me luck.
I’ve just finished my latest “stuffed painting”, the term I use to describe my painted-mixed-media sculptural figures. This latest figure, my largest thus far (56 inches tall) employs a heavy use of embroidery and crude needlework. Like Herakles under Omphala’s gaze I turn to “women’s work”, however unlike the disgruntled enslaved hero, I relish the task.
The new work explores gender not only in its materiality but in “gender-fucking” the main character; my Daphne is no slim maiden but a hirsute fellow ripe in manhood yet broken and unable to save himself from a horrid fate.
My figure of Daphne was inspired (very loosely) by Bernini’s ravishing depiction of the attempted rape of the maiden Daphne by the libidinous Phoebus-Apollo. The way Bernini depicted her delicate fingers morphing terribly into branches has always struck me with horror (and admiration). For although the chaste Daphne pleads with her father,the river god Peneus to save her from the looming rape, his solution always seemed as cruel as her debasement. Patriarchy in action, the solution to male excess being born heavily by the victim.
At least Bernini’s vision of the terrible scene was breathtakingly beautiful.
I do not fool myself into thinking my own version in any way resembles the Baroque masterpiece, but I do hope I captured some of the pathos.
My desire for the work was to capture the pathos of his/her situation , the brutal transformation of supple gorgeous flesh into brittle bark. What horror Daphne experienced as the soul became encased and ultimately erased. Transformation into an olive tree is hardly a reward for virtue.
I also wanted to explore how gender factored into the beauty of Bernini’s depiction of a violent crime. Why are there so many ravishingly beautiful depictions of violence against women, art I know and love : the raping of Sabine women, of Europa, of lusty satyrs having their way with unconscious Maenads, and of course Daphne. Why is this acceptable and yet the depiction of male rape is not glorified by art; clearly not desired by the male gaze at large, aside from the homo-philic images of Ganymede.
And even with the images of Ganymede’s “abduction” , they frequently depict a slightly effeminate ephebe. Rembrandt goes so far to depict the rape by depicting Ganymede as a rather horrid infant pissing in fear. Its a nasty bit of work from an artist I have failed to appreciate. The painting seems to embody heteronormative bias against same sex affection.
But aside from the politics of the piece and my developing intentions, I wanted to create a work that pulled the heart (in a neo-Baroque sort of way). When I look into my Daphne’s face, I am moved to pity. I hope that is the general effect to the viewer at large.
The images below are progression shots, Daphne being the first piece made in my new studio, started close to my birthday , July 24th.
My love of the baroque (and the subsequent revivals) is long standing, so much so that I built my previous career as a decorative painter identifying my craft as Neo-Baroque. As a studio painter I still find the allure of the baroque irresistible and in my latest work Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego , I attempted to capture the florid excess of the period.
This work is an extension of my “stuffed painting” series which constitutes a large part of my latest body of work Fairyland. Ostensibly this latest piece is a reflection upon such cheery topics as existential angst, mortality, self-worth/esteem and of course, aging. It is also hopefully funny, a memento mori with wit.
Utilizing fabric allows me to explore the funeral lushness found in over- upholstered baroque furnishings, particularly the decidedly non cozy state beds:
Daniel Marot, the designer of the state bed above was a master of baroque theatricality. His designs for court furnishings are astounding , so inventive, whirling madness yet an underlying balance. I can easily stare at his compositions for hours, and I have. My aforementioned decorative work was directly influenced by Marot and his contemporary Jean Berain.
So it was of little surprise that I would return to the wonderful fripperies of Marot and Berain. I particularly admire the baroque compositions that incorporate a writhing pool of figures, sensuously colliding with one another yet all forming a cartouche, a mirror frame or cabinet. The mad fusion of sculpture, ornament and perhaps some functionality.
My fripperies and atlantes may not be of ormolu, ivory or silk but they are roiling about in a nutty baroque manner.
In his excellent Baroque Baroque , the art historian Stephen Calloway refers to a British baroque revival as “bugger’s baroque”, apparently a witty retort to queen-ish decorative excess. I like to think my “mirror” might have earned that title. Being that The Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego is a further exploration of “sissy” arts, and an element of a larger body of work called Fairyland, I think it has earned that distinction.
Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego will be part of an upcoming solo show at Ave.50 Gallery, 131 N. Avenue 50, Los Angeles, CA 90042
I finished my latest figure last evening, what I had heretofore been calling simply a rag-doll, I am now calling a stuffed painting.
He is called The Wodewose.
Greenmen (andGreenwomen), The Green Knight, Wildmen and the archaic form, the Wodewose, fascinate me. They are at once pure of heart and spirit yet unbridled, carnal, the embodiment of our bestial selves. No wonder they appear so frequently in medieval marginalia; amidst sacred texts, randy hairy beastie-folk cavort and beguile.
I’ve turned to the theme multiple times. After reading Simon Armitage’s excellent translation of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” I was hooked on the theme, a wondrously fascinating archetype; ripe for seemingly endless re-interpretation.
This latest work is in the round and I was able to more fully develop his fleshy-ness ( and hairy-ness thanks to some found faux fur).
I was inspired to employ the Wodewose-Wildman archetype because of the recent celebration of Beltane on May 1st. Rebirth, renewal, the “pagan” appreciation of unbridled spring. My figure has two ways of presenting himself in order to more fully keep in the step with the seasons.
The first being flacid Winter Dormant:
And thesecond, lively Spring Renewal:
“The Wodewose” will be part of my contribution to “Satan’s Ball”, a group show at Art Share LA that promises to be an:
“unapologetic embrace of the dangers, demons, burdens and temptations that beckon to the more sinful angels of our nature”.
I’m going to close with a few random images of Wildfolk that never fail to delight me. As I leave for Pittsburgh tomorrow and rain is supposed to be in order, I’m looking forward to a wild rush of greenery (and perhaps a few fauns).
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.
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!
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.
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.