Embodied:St.Anthony and the Desert of Tears

Work in progress shot of “Lilith the Mandrake”, Twenty Nine Palms, CA

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 14th, 3-6 pm; I will post updates closer to the date. But 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.

Ready to begin…

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:

“Our” little cottage, eager to return.
The house has running water, but a reminder…

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.

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!

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.

Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego
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”.

 

 

Daphne, the Apotheosis of.

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.

Detail of “Daphne”

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.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini
“Apollo and Daphne”
1622-1625

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.

Leonard Greco
“Daphne”
2017
Mixed media: acrylic painted recycled rag, thread, twigs, embroidery floss, poly-fill.
56 by 33 by 9 inches

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.

The rape of Ganymede
*oil on canvas
*177 x 129 cm
*signed c.: Rembrandt. ft / 1635

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.

Concept drawing for “Daphne”.
All of my work starts in pencil.
The “painting” part of my “Stuffed Paintings”.
The new space.

A study in contrasts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wodewose

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.

The Green Knight
watercolor and pencil on paper

 

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).

The Wodewose
2017
Mixed media: recycled rag, acrylic paint, twigs, thread and poly-fill
Approx. 40 by 22 by 6 inches

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 the second, 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 would replace “natural” for “sinful”.

a link to ArtShare:

http://artsharela.org

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).

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.