“Enlightened through compassion, the innocent fool”
Parsifal, Richard Wagner
I am currently immersed in the operas of Richard Wagner, a full plunge into his world. Be it the mythic narratives he skillfully adapted to suit his vision; his very specific costume and set requirements ; or his peculiar relationship with his royal patron Ludwig II, all capture my fascination. Of his operas, Parsifal intrigues and delights me the most. I am not certain why, for I find passages of Tristan und Isolde so moving that I return to them time and again, and the Ring is so very exhilarating, yet on a quiet and personal level, Parsifal satisfies, validates and encourages me.
This opera is perplexing and confounding, Kundry one can spend hours pondering, Amfortas possesses a wound which we all can psychologically identify with. But Parsifal, the Pure Fool is an archetype too powerful to resist. I may simply delight in the synthesis of Christian and pagan archetypes and the universality of a redemptive figure such as Parsifal, unknowing, yet sanctified. But I believe there is more.
Whatever my attraction may be, I am very aware of my having only yet scratched the surface of its complexities. When I began this figure it was with mostly subliminal intentions, I dreamt of Parsifal vaguely, inchoate the inspiration. I discussed with my analyst my interest in the opera and the archetype of Parsifal. It turns out my analyst is not only a sensitive Jungian psychoanalyst but also a music scholar, his paper Wagner’s Parsifal as ritual theater: approaching the numinous unknown provides this insight:
“When Parsifal bursts upon the stage, he is an impulsive agent of death and can only articulate his un-knowingness. In a sense, he is the embodiment of the unconscious itself: void of knowledge or understanding, and unable to carry out the basic operations of human consciousness. Such an undeveloped psycho- logical state could easily arouse contempt in others, but Gurnemanz recognizes the innocence in Parsifal, and sees his potential to heal and transform the king and the entire established order of the land. So it is that the greatest transformations in our own lives do not emerge from the established order of the ego, but rather from our unconscious selves, our foolishness.”
link to Dr. Thomas’ paper, I heartily encourage a thorough reading:
I have much to think about concerning this work of Wagner, many recordings to listen to (currently the ’62 Hans Knappertsbusch Bayreuth recording and the ’81 Bayreuth production directed by Wolfgang Wagner). But for the most part the making of this latest “stuffed painting ” has been intuitive. What delights me is how in sync my instinctive intentions were to Wagner’s- truly, archetypes are universal, known to all who listen and feel.
Enough of words, now images:
The figure is nearly life sized at 5’4″ and possesses a 8″ train.
The train of Parsifal is ornamented with flowers to represent the final act, where in the words of Dr.Thomas “Parsifal fulfills the redemptive prophecy of the Grail by returning to the kingdom, where the land greens and blossoms at his arrival.” I confess I wasn’t aware of this symbolism consciously yet needle in hand I expressed it.
Speaking of needles, my recent re-reading of this wonderfully important book has only recommitted my dedication to “women’s work”.
I am preparing my annual entries to a works on paper show here in LA and in so doing focusing my studio time with that more ephemeral medium. In particular, paper dolls, which have long held an interest, harkening back to my fussy sissy boyhood. Fond , forbidden moments snipping away ; this drove my father to fury and violence ,so now, in revisiting this artform, I do so with emotion and gratitude.
My studio complex is an industrial space, and in the recycling bin can be found beautiful clean , rather low grade sheets of cardboard; all for the taking. And taking I have been doing. Large scale paper dolls, and larger planned, have occupied my work table. One of the problems I and others have encountered in working with paper-dolls , is a sense of durability. Inherently ephemeral, how does one strengthen such fragile material. This low grade cardboard (yet free!) has an unsightly edge that I find distracting and unfinished. My solution, perhaps unsurprisingly, is to employ yet another sissy art ( and equally infuriating to Pater) , stitchwork. By a simple stitch of embroidery floss , I strengthen and add an exciting line of color. I confess a certain pride in this, and stitching cardboard is immensely gratifying, not unlike popping those addictive sheets of packing bubbles. I recommend trying it to relieve stress.
My latest trio of paper-dolls are completed but more are planned, this grouping, the largest figure about 36 inches tall, is called The Siren & the Machiavels.
In addition to my paper-doll making , I continue my daily drawing practice. In the same spirit of the nursery, like paper-dolls, another staple of childhood, the ornamental and instructive alphabet:
I will continue through with this alphabet and post upon its completion. For today, as it Sunday, household, not studio duties beckon.
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 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 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.
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 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.
Al of the figures begin life as a sketch, sometimes just a random thumbnail drawing.
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.
I also plan on a crucifix, this being the beginning of the Corpus.
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.
My current body of work that I have placed under the encompassing umbrella of Fairylandis 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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.”