Recently I tried to join an online Facebook reading group, although I recognized their conservative leanings, their thoughtful discussions around the Great Books encouraged me to follow them. I was, perhaps naively, taken aback when I received an automated reply that my Facebook page did not meet Community Standards. The post that drew their ire was the one above, posted pre-scribbled fig leaf-although I am pretty confident, that even with self censorship I would still not meet their standards.
Although taken aback, I really can understand their position from a conservative Christian perspective. I have , rather boldly, sometimes with a puerile inclination to provoke, lavishly depicted genitalia , specifically boy parts, in my work.
Only the other day I was in discussion with a friend concerning my upcoming show In Fairyland and the question was raised as to how I wanted to alert the public to my “x-rated” work (the argument being to shelter children). That statement I must say was more startling for it came not from a religious conservative . I was taken aback once again.
Startling because although my work might technically warrant an x-rating for its nudity it isn’t pornographic. These instances of how my work is perceived (misperceived?) has left me pondering, what do I think about depicting the human form in its un-neutered form? For me, aside from some boyish visual pranks, the nude male form is inherently vulnerable and exposed.
My nightmare state as this self portrait attests.
I’ve tried, too bluntly perhaps, to explore this vulnerable existential state. Perhaps unsuccessfully.
I have of late finding myself questioning as to whether or not to include a peen or not, is it necessary to make my point or to gratify my aesthetic vision? Sometimes it is, often it isn’t. I don’t find this to be restrictive self-censorship but rather a more discerning , aware approach to making.
But I must say rather disappointing as I’ve fancy myself to have mastered textile willies.
The following is a gallery sure to offend Community Standards, please rate it an “X”.
Recently the New York Times ran an article discussing the role of fabricators at play in the contemporary art world.
The article prompted my own, admittedly inchoate musings.
link to article:
The NYT article points out the current emphasis of concept over construction: “In the digitally enhanced multimedia era, the mark of the artist’s hand is far less important than the concept…”. The article elucidates further, I suggest a reading in full.
This isn’t new, although the article hearkens to an imagined purity during the Renaissance, I recall distinctly my boyhood heart sinking upon discovering just how many assistants the great Raphael employed to create that army of Madonnas. I’m not naive about it all but it does leave me feeling isolated and out of sync with a tradition I do not fully recognize, or currently understand and share sympathy with.
In the film First Reformed, the title character, Reverend Toller (performed admirably by Ethan Hawke), is a man of burning spirit, actively engaged with both angels and devils, Toller is condescendingly mocked by the megachurch Abundant Life, which patronizingly sponsors his flagging 18th century parish. In the haughtiness of Abundant Life’s head pastor, a preacher more inclined to the Prosperity Gospel than to that of Christ, Toller is mocked for reading of all things, Thomas Merton. Toller is ridiculed for what is perceived as a rejection of the “real world”- which according to Abundant Life is the blessings of wealth and power.
Toller, upon bearing this scorn is adrift, seemingly unfamiliar with the community of faith and his role in it. This is a heartbreaking moment. One sees his struggle,does he abandon self for ease and acceptance?
Such in a way, a modest comparison, is my struggle with the issue of fabricators, be it the workshops worthy of Haephestus or the quotidian reliance upon photoshop and image manipulation.
I have a series of “rules” of what is and is not permitted in my art making . These rules are based upon an insistence that most, if not all of the elements in my work be personally hand crafted. This can border upon mania and must at times be challenged; rules are of course meant to be broken. But for the most part, this self imposed dictate has made collage making, assemblage and installation pieces a bit more challenging-or at least time consuming. I see, know and respect artists who easily and adeptly employ all sorts of found objects and digital techniques, to great effect. I frequently admire that. But for my practice I feel compelled, take joy in fact, in making almost every element. I employ some found objects: feathers and beads and recycled fabric. But for the most part, if a floral pattern is called for, frequently a piece of fabric or artificial flowers would suffice in expressing what I seek to express. Yet I insist, perhaps masochistically, and truth be told, delight in, fabricating each little element. I love the craft of making and would be saddened not to have the wonder of making in my life. Each element seemingly opening the path of art and craft that much wider.
In many ways I pity many of these artists for having reduced their role to designer (although I admire a great many designers, they are generally not artists in the making way), this pity is colored by wonder, don’t they miss the brush, the pencil, the forge? How does a lap top satisfy ? Yes, it is time efficient, but is that the only goal? Handing off a whim of design to a mighty workshop, isn’t that fraught with risk? Is the concept sound, well developed, or as a Prince of Art, is your mere whim worthy of time, labor , expense and occupation within the common sphere-yes, I am referring to Mr. Koons.
Away from the lofty realm of Koons and other celestial beings, there is what I impishly describe as the Lazy Person Artist, the person with perhaps limited time, talent or vision yet wishes to be known as an artist. The type is familiar, most likely having seen the work : some pedestrian pre-made object, or refuse, upon which is slapped some lumpy paint, some string perhaps and then scrawled upon some on-trend slogan: “resist”, “privilege” etc. and then calling it a day…and art. I’m being sarcastic of course but there is a frustration I feel in this rather impoverished exchange .
It is all rather maddening.
Recently an artist “forgave ” me for my indifference to digitally produced art, this artist now , rather alarmingly decided to include in their studio practice such “analog” technique as, shudder, painting! Admitting, perhaps begrudgingly, that whilst digital manipulation allowed images to be made swiftly and efficiently, the allure of brush to canvas was calling. I hope this trend, the artist in their studio, at an easel , alone with thought and inspiration, not a laptop or fabricator in sight, returns. It may be only a pretty myth but it can at least be found in my own studio .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As what had been a very delightful sanctuary becomes barren and littered with bubble wrap and pugs , I wanted to make one last post from my creative home of the last two years. Although eager to settle into larger digs, I will miss this place (particularly its excellent air-conditioning ).
This is proving to be a busy moment in my life. The movers arrive this Saturday and that evening I have an opening , Satan’s Ball, a perennial favorite -I have five pieces in that show. I may be pooped after the move but looking forward to being part of the festivities at Art Share LA. Then my solo show Fairyland July 8th. Frantic, daunting, exciting.
I was delighted to be notified that my drawing The Rape of Our Mother had been accepted into the Brand 45 Annual National Exhibition of Works on Paper. I was particularly excited because the juror was Leslie Jones, Curator of Prints and Drawings at LACMA- my submissions were unmistakably drawings in that old fashioned way and I having her validation was important to me.
I had failed to mention that my painting Hadesville won 3rd Best of Exhibition at CEDARFEST 32, at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History, Lancaster, CA.
I was beaming with a goofy grin.
The day after the award ceremony Facebook rather magically reminded me of what the painting looked like a year ago.
This “memory” popped up.
And a year later:
Packing has produced some novel still lives that I am eager to figure into compositions for new paintings, this being the most successful :
I’m at the end of my packing , I receive the keys to the new studio tomorrow morning. Much more to do but very eager to get back to work, be it stitching, drawing or painting, perhaps a relief print of two as well.
I’ve just received word , via text , that a dear friend has just died, cut down far too short. Her death, though expected, stunned me to tears and has struck me once again by the unfairness of the inevitable. Unfairness is probably a foolish thing to say, it is the bargain life makes with the eternal. On my jog yesterday I was delighted by the glossy virgin leaves of the pear trees, providing a lovely frame to the sweet tender blossoms. But interspersed between the verdure I saw the withered and desiccated leaves of last spring, clinging on just a bit longer. Perhaps holding on, making sure the next generation was established.
This curbside philosophizing made me chuckle and shudder all at once; I’m the brown leaf and what am I doing fretting about the petty worries of my day? The fresh sprouts of time forever surging forward. I had been fretting, as is my wont, by yet another unfavorable review, this time, that my work was too dense, too time consuming to experience. The critic felt it would take twenty hours to discern and hadn’t the interest or the inclination to do so. That of course stung, but what I realized was, this is MY vision, my interest, my art; not hers. And although the conversation with the world at large is of vital importance, perhaps a fundamental impetus for art making; the conversation with my soul is paramount. I make dense, frequently incomprehensible art (even to myself), it is intuitive and flawed but true.
Today I am feeling the passage of time acutely, with my friend’s death, a nascent cold/flu/bubonic plague looming and most recently a loss of a tooth. That tooth, an emblem of youth, of green vitality , now missing , forces the mirror of life upon me.
Upon hearing of my friend’s death I rushed to the studio, and although it is St. Valentine’s Day and I should say my greatest passion is for my dear David (and it is ), my greatest love today, my most pressing desire, was in making. Making flawed, imperfect art that I hope at times resonates.