Ornament is NOT a Crime

 

Adolf Loos first decried the use of ornament in 1908 in that loveliest (and ornamented) of cities, Vienna. His groundbreaking essay Ornament and Crime (I’ve also seen it entitled “Ornament is Crime”) is astonishing in its prophetic belief that ornament “dates” objects, creating a desire for new and seemingly more fashionable objects, dress , even homes. I actually adore Loos, he was a genius, his buildings are starkly luxurious, his aesthetic judgement without question. 

Yet I’ve always taken issue with the wholesale rejection of ornament in the 20th century (sadly that seems the only Loosian dictate to have secured root).  Be it fine art or the applied arts, there is a general suspicion  if not loathing  of the decorative.

So with that understanding, nearly three decades ago, I had the hare brained notion to start my “career”  as an ornamentalist . It was physically demanding work, frequently unappreciated and until I moved to LA, not well compensated. It wasn’t until the recent recession that I decided to hang up that cap and pursue a long suppressed desire to be a REAL artist.

In my current incarnation  as a studio painter I had thought I had moved away from that phase of my life; shunning baroque acanthus , intricate strap work and  pretty blackamoors for something seemingly more substantive .

Apparently not.

It is ironic that as an example of ornament’s criminality , Loos cited the “degeneracy” of Papuan full body tattooing, for the full body “tattooing” of my studio mannequin Massimo is what compelled me to dust off my folios of decorative designs.

I found myself rustily trying to remember how to create patterns and ornamental compositions, in the end it came back as easily as remembering to ride a bike. I find myself now interested in exploring ornament, how to synthesize it into work, attempting to transcend superficial attractiveness. I’m excited by the possibilities as ornament making is a skill I possess, it pours out of me. How do I use this ability in an interesting and compelling way? My studio work has always contained an element of the decorative so I’ll be curious to see how it progresses with committed intention.

“Massimo” and preparatory sketch (“Herakles”)

The following are images taken from my vast collection of preparatory drawings.

Design, residence, Beverly Hills
Entry Hall, Palm Beach Florida
Ceiling medallion design, Greystone Mansion, Beverly Hills
Design, wall panel, Greystone, Beverly Hills
“Bohemian Lounge”, Greystone , Beverly Hills ASID showcase

 

Ornamental panel design, chinoiserie.

Wall paneling, Boca Raton

Wall panel, Naples Florida

 

This was my first big break, a huge job, close to two years to complete. I was so naive, underbid myself, underestimating the scope of the project. This massive overmantel ornament a mere sliver of the actual project. 

Design proposal , Main Line, Philadelphia

Back to the here and now, I did finish the ornament for Massimo, and as Loos predicted it IS indeed degenerate!

“Massimo”,detail
2017
oil on mannequin

Loos, in  condemning “primitive” ornament, particularly full body application, could not have imagined a world in which a comely young man ( image discovered on internet search) would adorn himself so prettily and to great applause. 

I haven’t the information for attribution; will do so upon discovery.

In my enthusiasm I’ve started a new piece, The Apotheosis of Herakles. It will be one of my faux tapestries, which in of itself allows me to play with fiber, sewing, domestic “feminine” craft, which along with ornament , has been traditionally eschewed- yet I’m drawn to both. The following is the beginning of the work.

Work in progress, “The Apotheosis of Herakles”.

Now back to it.

 

Fairyland Continues

 My current body of work that I have placed under the encompassing umbrella of Fairyland is 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.

Fairyland

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.

Detail from “Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego”.

 

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.

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Daphne
Icarus

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.

Preliminary sketch for “Eurydice’s Response”, faux tapestry.

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”.

Goblin Market
Hadesville

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.”

“Fairyland”
Ave 50 Gallery, Los Angeles
July, 2017
Detail “Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego”.

 

 

Yet Another St. Anthony

My passion for the anchorite St. Anthony never seems to abate. Another composition for perhaps another painting. I have many to choose from…

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Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert

2016

pencil on paper

18 by 24″

Details follow:

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Anthony and his guardian Wodewose-Greenman

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Herakles and Ophelia

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The Rape of Tenochtitlan

 

Rape, the very word causes you to pause. I ruminated upon even using the word “rape” for this drawing, but no other word fully expressed the Conquest of New Spain by the Old. The use of the word rape is relatively common in Western art, one refers to the Rape of the Sabine Women and of course all of those frothy depictions of The Rape of Europa , a pink cheeked maiden astride gorgeous twinkly eyed white bulls. I wanted to play upon that theme and the word rape is an integral element of the concept. In this case Europa is doing the raping. 

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The Rape of Tenochtitlan 

2016

colored pencil on toned paper

18 by 24″

I’m gathering my thoughts, both visual and verbal, concerning  a project focusing upon Mesoamerica in general, Tenochtitlan specifically. But the historical elements are superficial in many ways as  I am primarily interested in identity  and perception , how one empire can so thoroughly misunderstand  one another , New Spain vs. Old Spain.  How we continue to misunderstand one another, be it racial tension, gender conflict, cops vs. Black Lives Matter, queers/straights, Muslims, you name it, if it ain’t “us” we become all paranoid and defensive (check out the GOP convention in Cleveland at the moment to confirm my assertion).

I’ve been fascinated for some time  by the intersection of cultures and what is gained and lost in the process. Although  I am not the first and I certainly will not be the last, I hope to add something personal to that conversation.  Drawing back in time, when even the most basic images of what is now Mexico City were ominously romanticized and barbarized,  they were oozing with biased  fodder for our imagination, fueling our fascination with the  pornography of violence:  the perverse fascination with human sacrifice and  the seemingly  never-ending ghastly spectacle of the Aztecs. To the conquerers this New Spain was in fact a New Jerusalem, ripe for conversion, once they came to heel that is.  To drive home the message of this new and terrifying place, the images were depicted through the prism of Classical antiquity , as the  temple image below suggests.

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Jan Karel Donatus Van Beecq (1638-1722) – Illustrations de Histoire de la conquête du Mexique ou de la Nouvelle Espagne

I am now eager to explore this cross cultural disconnect in an upcoming series of work in which I play upon the theme of courtly entertainment, toys and baubles meant to amuse an aristocratic audience, all presented to the Holy Roman Emperor from the New World by none other than the reviled/beloved Malinche. And as my brain is driven fundamentally visually, sketching out vague concepts is the most pragmatic approach.

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As is usual with my approach, whatever floats across my field of vision will often find itself incorporated into my work. The other day while visiting LACMA I encountered a beauty, a small ceramic depiction of the Maize Goddess. She was Mayan in origin, and although diminutive she possessed all of the grace of a Tanagra figurine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanagra_figurine

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I was happy to place this lovely lady into my composition.

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Another inspirational happenstance,  though less elegant, was when my publicist Kristine posted an image of this drawing in its unfinished state and accidentally added a filter of rainbows and stars. In what would have been in any other circumstance appalling  to me , was in this instance, just what I needed. Of course fair Europa would feign affection, declaring undying affection to get at that gold lurking behind Tenochtitlan’s fiery skirt.

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As I drew my mind wandered back to my visit to Mexico City, how as soon as we entered the city, I felt I belonged there. I was wistful reminiscing about the ancient art that seems to reach out from the very soil,defying the Church, defying the State, defying Time.  This detail is drawn from loose memory of a visit to the National Anthropological Museum.

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I’m going to continue to draw upon these fascinating resources, albeit in my own ways. I feel no more compulsion to depict the divinities of Mexico as they were by indigenous peoples than I would feel obligated to depict Christ in a Byzantine manner. The following are a few beauties found at the Museo Templo Major, literally pulled from sacrificial ground. That just fascinates me.

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I’m going to close with my handsome husband taken at the Casa Azul for no other reason than it was a really marvelous day and a really marvelous memory. 

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The Temptation of St. Anthony (of the Desert) at the St. Mark’s Baths

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After the Orlando massacre a few weeks back I have been giving thought to my past, particularly my youth and what a miracle it is that I am here today. Lets say the theme of  Memento Mori is my day to day soundtrack of late. 

My youth was a turbulent period, my parents were furious at my being gay and  they regularly changed the locks after tossing my  meager belongings out onto the lawn.  Their  flashes of temper left  me homeless for periods of time, sometimes a few days, sometimes weeks. Often I would just float around , I had a large car, a Chevy Impala, it was an ugly beast but it was commodious; frequently it sufficed as the roof over my head.

This was the early years of the 80’s and with the little cash I scratched together  I would head north; NYC beckoned me away from that shit-hole in NJ.  And like many suburban gay boys I  fantasized about that city, I picked up copies of the now defunct Soho News, the Village Voice, Interview magazine, fantasizing about this paradise only a train ride away. I imagined living in this fantasy  loft, with beautiful pine floors and expansive windows, “artistic” furniture and of course Boston ferns. Boston ferns were not negotiable .

But of course that was not my reality, I was poor and  not that cute in a city of incredibly beautiful people and my only real companion was an on again- off again drunk drag queen named Leo, her drag name Leonora- perfect Lenny and Leonora.  What a pair we must have made.  

Leo was only six years older I have just discovered but gosh, I thought he was so mature, so experienced. He had BEEN to Broadway, had been  to the Met(both the opera house and the museum), the ballet, he knew everything . He was an introduction to a level of sophistication I hadn’t imagined. On our first encounter he bought me the cast recordings to “Dreamgirls” and “Evita”,both spectacular hits. I hadn’t a stereo or even a home at that point but they were totems of a life I so desired.

But Leo as sophisticated as he was, as genteel as he was, was also very familiar with the sordid (yet exhilarating) aspects of the city. We went to the nightclubs if they were free, the lights flash now in my memories , one blur after another. But what Leo enjoyed most was going to the baths. And really they were perfect, they were cheap, all you had to do was buy a towel and you were in…for hours, until dawn. Leo would buy his towel, often if he was flush, buy mine as well, kiss me goodbye, tell me where and when to meet up, and off he went. I can remember still how he draped his towel, he tucked it up well over his chest, inching it as if he had breasts, pushing them together to imitate  a cleavage he didn’t possess . I often wondered what the hell he was doing, here in this hyper masculine world , here he was sashaying like some peculiar version of Marilyn Monroe. Yet he was popular.

I was not, I was an invisible boy, goofy, plain and confused . Also I was exhausted. What I often found myself doing was falling asleep. I wasn’t deliberately chaste, I just wasn’t chased. So as I was too broke to buy drinks and afraid of the drugs around me, I found myself falling asleep in the oddest of places, the orgy rooms of the bath houses. I think my unpopularity saved my life. Leo would be dead in less than a decade, and so would pretty much anyone else I knew in this strange  wonderful new world. But I survived, and that , I have been thinking about of late. How when I was a young kid,as young as many of those kids in Florida,  how I desired  to attract the attention of the  many beautiful gods  that surrounded me, only a few feet away yet I remained invisible. I was lucky.

That is what I wanted to capture in this drawing, that confusion, that dizzying excitement, the pagan energy, that now is only a shadowy memory. Elusive as a lost soul.

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The Temptation of St.Anthony (of the Desert)in the St.Marks Baths

2016

sanguine pencil on paper

18 by 24″

It is of course a dense image one full of meaning but what is most significant at least to me is the image of the saint, who resembles a younger me, the clown like figure in the lower right; the skeletal figure in the mask is my dear friend Leo soon to be almost as ruined as this figure I depict. 

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I haven’t much from that period, the LP’s Leo gave me our long gone, the cliched pink flamingo statuettes he bought ( even though I essentially lived in a car) long broken, but I still have the post card from The New Saint Marks Baths, it captured the glamour and excitement of that place then and now years later, it still does .

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An odd bit of ephemera to a period long past.  I can’t think about it anymore…

Have a good Independence Day

Daily Sketchbook

I’ve been challenging myself with a commitment to my sketchbook, random images, most from source material that has delighted me. In no particular order, a few follow…

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a silly musing, I think this is what I do best, in the natural sense

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Christ enthroned 2016
Christ enthroned 2016

In the Flesh

 

 

My life drawing course with the excellent Jim Morphesis  (link to his work: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-seed/jim-morphesis-the-wounds_b_7014096.html )

sadly ended Tuesday. I will miss the experience of having an actual body, in the flesh, in front of me. I benefit keenly, even if the results aren’t immediately apparent, from a live model and consistent and structured practice.

That said, in the stacks  of drawings made in this class , very few were worth much more than parakeet liner. And from the rest, only bits and pieces satisfy me.

But one of the issues I am working on is abandoning this mad quest for perfection, I fail miserably each and every time.  So relinquishing the claims of my ego, I post  some of the drawings from Art 12A ; some from extended poses, some gesture drawings (gestural drawings drive me bonkers). 

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So now with class ended I will join other forums and study groups…plus I always have myself!

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