Last evening’s reception for Embodied:St.Anthony & the Desert of Tears was gratifying in many ways . Most especially in the support shown by my wonderful friends and fellow artists . The art community in LA is a generous one , I am exceedingly grateful for that .
But also in where this residency has brought me , I feel as if I am on a landing , creatively speaking , and about to ascend with a stronger conviction and more focused intention.
I thank Kristine Schomaker and her ShoeboxProjects, which offered this residency to me . I also thank Kristine for these marvelous images . Amidst the hubbub I didn’t take one image . So again, thanks Kristine!
With that said , let the mayhem be fondly remembered.
I love this image of Kristine, really working my hat .
My friend , the excellent photographer Stephen Levey took these images , I particularly like the one with my talented friend Bibi Davidson and our demonic love child .
Our wonderful friend Jodi Bonassi , another great artist , was working the hat as well !
Always lovely to see my friend Randi
And miraculously , our dear Malka Nevidi , yet another amazing artist, arrived near closing . Thank goodness. But all good things must end , we’ve packed it all away , down to the crisp white walls , ready for new inspiration. Filled with much gratitude… and now, a head cold .
In the final week of my residency I’m quite literally tying up loose threads ; I’m also trying to gather my thoughts, my feelings and clarify my intentions.
The following is the result :
EMBODIED: ST. ANTHONY & THE DESERT OF TEARS
Shoebox Projects – Artist in Residence
Embodied:St.Anthony & the Desert Tears, my latest (ongoing) body of work, is inspired most significantly by Gustave Flaubert’s “The Temptation of St. Anthony” (1874). The richness of detail and illusion that Flaubert evokes almost suffocates the reader in its voluptuous beauty. Flaubert himself was inspired in great part by Brueghel’s own phantasmagoric depiction of the tormented hermit. I wish in some way to allude to that dizzying yet exhilarating experience.
As a young boy Flaubert witnessed a marionette performance of “The Mystery of St. Anthony”. From that point on, “St. Anthony accompanied Flaubert for twenty-five or thirty years”, as the philosopher Michel Foucault has written. Flaubert returned to the anchorite time and again until completing the work in 1872. This is not an easy read, dense, at times over-ripe, seemingly more chant than prose; Foucault describes the work as an “overcrowded bestiary” with “creatures of unnatural issue.”
It is this “overcrowded bestiary” I wish to evoke with the still evolving Embodied, wishing to populate the tableaux with a parade of bewildering, complex “creatures of unnatural issue”. These hybrid embodied beings represent not simply base impulses but our own deep struggle to live a fully expressed life. For when I tackle such fraught topics as sin, temptation and redemption, I am looking beyond the typical biblically inspired admonition (such as Lust or the other Seven Deadlies). I am more interested in the quotidian, seemingly insignificant distractions that prevent us from embodying our truest selves. In essence, what interferes with your being authentic? What is your demon? Who, what shadows your path?
I’m particularly interested in exploring how the tools of modernity – social media, the self-commodifaction through “branding” oneself, the pursuit of relevancy— all hinder full true self-expression, perhaps even censoring it or rendering it mute. Foucault describes Anthony’s temptations as “…false gods resembling the true God….” I argue that false gods lurk in the inky alleyways of a frenetic and rapacious contemporary society.
The mystic Thomas Merton in discussing the Desert Fathers insists, “they did not reject society with proud contempt, as if they were superior to other men”, but instead were seeking the fullest expression of their purpose. Throughout our lives we are given signs which point us (or call us) in the direction of our authentic purpose, so as Merton reminds us: “…whatever you see your soul to desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe”.
I will do that “thing”, clumsily, distractingly, awkwardly, but like Anthony, sincerely and with purpose.
In addition to my own words I was flattered by this generous review of my work by the art and culture writer Genie Davis . It certainly warms my heart .
Thank you Genie, Art and Cake and ShoeboxProjects.
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.
As 2016 winds down I want to pause, taking the time to reflect upon what 2017 might bring, personally and aesthetically. I’ve had a long fascination with 1917, it seemed such a dynamic period; the October Revolution will mark its centennial this year, as one example.
For me, 1917 seemed exceptional, society was on the cusp of modernity yet still rooted in what was the past. Values, aesthetic, cultural and artistic were changing at a rapid pace, yet still there were antimacassars on the back of velveteen settees, suffragettes were only just beginning to gather steam and art vacillated between DADA and academic treacle. It seems to have been a period of incredible potential, one faced an optimistic yet uncertain future.
I feel that way now, one hundred years later. Yet whereas 1917 was being propelled into the Jazz and later the Atomic Age, I’m fearful of being pulled back into the Dark Ages. I needn’t harp about the President Elect and the backward thinking regime he wishes to install. Anyone who knows me is well aware of my opinions and my anxieties.
(source unknown, sorry)
My instinct is to crawl back into my hermitage, something I may very well do (although I do hope to participate in social activism as needed). While there I hope to work at perfecting an aesthetic that I think is working for me. My last large painting Hadesville felt to me to be my most successful yet ( it will get its first public showing this Friday at a pop up show in LA). I feel I am on to something and have been calling what I wish to explore Neo-Medievalism.
I’m finding freedom in this aesthetic that I am honing , from the exploration of surface pattern to the quirky articulation of the figures. One of the elements of actual medieval/early Renaissance art that I love is the use of synoptic narrative, where all of the action takes place on one plane; that just fascinates the hell out of me.
I suspect the hermitage theme will preoccupy my studio practice in 2017. I’ve been obsessing about hermitages for years but now with what feels like dark winds blowing against my door, the inclination to withdraw into the anchorite’s cave has never been more pressing.
Of course , if I am to explore hermits, I can’t forget about Anthony of the Desert OR his pig!
Our pig SweetTea may very well serve as a model.
My interest in Neo-Medievalism was fueled by a recent trip to the Sequoia National Park , where the majesty of these ancient gods, some sacrificed by fire, some promising hope for a new age, moved me deeply. This beautiful charred corpse is as crenelated as gothic fretwork.
Yet through the remains of a burnt trunk, new life.
I’m finished pondering what 2017 will bring, instead I must get to actual work. I will close with images that promise to inspire my pen. For a fuller appreciation I suggest listening to Hildegard, this link is to one of my favorite recordings of her vast body of work.
This image, Dido?, her belly, so typical of this period , was an influence for the image of Gnosis in my painting Gnosis…and the Old Gods Were Pleased. The painting recently sold to an East Coast collector, thrilled about that but still a bit melancholy for I fear Gnosis has fled in these dark times.