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.

Neo Medievalism and the Approaching Dark Age

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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.

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(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.

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Hadesville

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.

It’s incredibly liberating. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narrative_art#Synoptic_narrative

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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.

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Tucson Art Museum
Tucson Art Museum

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Source, ?
Source, ?

Of course , if I am to explore hermits, I can’t forget about Anthony of the Desert OR his pig!

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(Getty)

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(LACMA)

Our pig SweetTea may very well serve as a model.

 

 

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Sweet Tea at Ironwood Pig Sanctuary, Tucson AZ. Many pigs need sponsorship, please consider!

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.

15135845_10210724427096395_7678041243085763309_nYet through the remains of a burnt trunk, new life.

15193592_10210724427336401_4606782265126548584_nI’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.

 

13512238_10209298833897456_3218639598302787422_n Now onward!

LACMA
LACMA
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source?

 

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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.

Gnosis...and the Old Gods Were Pleased (private collection)
Gnosis…and the Old Gods Were Pleased
(private collection)

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To a new year, battle ready !

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 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

Temptation of St.Anthony of the Desert (a fellow and his pig)

 

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Just moments ago I finished up a drawing of the abbot of the desert St. Anthony. This well intentioned saint who sought to avoid worldliness and the corruption that follows only found himself in the thick of it. Anthony is my muse (as he was to Bosch, to symbolists such as Flaubert and to many  Surrealists), I turn to him time and again and have lost count as to how many works I have devoted to this early father of the Church . But one attribute of the anchorite that I particularly love is the company he keeps, pigs. The pig is found in many depictions of the hermit but this  is the first time I have worked one of my favorite beasties into the composition.  I’m sure there will be many more.

In this depiction I tried to incorporate,in a whimsical way, classical elements to depict worldliness ; not that I feel humanism is corrupt but classical sculpture can certainly raise one’s pulse.

 

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The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert (and his pig) 

2016 graphite and pastel on paper

18 by 24″ 

My love of pigs is personal, being a vegan I have a particular attachment to this highly intelligent and sensitive creature . David sponsored a pig for me this year as a Christmas present, her name is Sweet Tea and she is well tended to by the loving folks at Ironwood Pig Sanctuary. Although I wish she lived with us we can easily visit her in Tuscon AZ, we plan on visiting her at least every boxing day. This image is from the day we first met, as you can see she is quite adorable and friendly. It is delightful how pigs rush to you when you enter their compound, ever greedy for treats and attention.

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Sweet Tea

Like I mentioned Anthony is often depicted with a pig, this little gem of painting by Lelio Orsi (1511-87) is one of my favorites at the Getty, I search it out whenever I visit.

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On my last visit I noticed this wee little pig pawing at the anchorite’s robe as fervently as my pug Viola.

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As I mentioned I will be sure to return to Anthony time and again, my very sweet and very talented friend, the artist and musician Henry Kitchen offered to pose, sending along this funny photo. He is actually a perfect Anthony, right down to the hoodie.

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I’m sure to take him up on the offer very soon.

Until then, back to painting, good night.

Validation

After a dreary period of seemingly endless rejection letters from galleries and exhibitors, it is validating to have had the last few submissions accepted. Yesterday I received word that the Brand Library , for their annual Works on Paper exhibition (this is their 43rd year ) had accepted my Temptation of Saint Anthony in the Desert. It was particularly thrilling to read:

“Juror Kent Twitchell reviewed 890 submitted works, of which 70 were selected for the exhibition”.

Kent Twitchell is an icon here (and elsewhere)  known for his  photo-realistic monumental murals; I admire him a great deal, hence the validation. Funny things is he paints such spectacularly colossal, hyper realistic works and chose my teeny bit of fantasy. Catholic tastes I guess .

Temptation of St.Anthony of the Desert, 2015, acrylic on Yupo paper, 11 by 14"
Temptation of St.Anthony of the Desert, 2015, acrylic on Yupo paper, 11 by 14″

I have the happy task of framing this little painting, a pleasant break from the mad dash of setting up a new home, packing up an old, securing a new studio (about to sign the lease), and perhaps buying a car(YIKES), THEN fly out to Philadelphia for the six week critique course. I’m spinning about in space.

I think for the program at PAFA I am going to translate this drawing The Goblin Market into a much larger painting, size to be determined- essentially as big as I can ship back.

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The Goblin Market

When I arrive in Philadelphia, after a red eye flight, I am pretty much just jumping the deep end at PAFA  on Monday the 6th. I will post regularly from my phone.

To be continued…LG