A look back; a glance forward to a new chapter

        As mentioned in a previous post 2020 was by most standards a rather dreadful year. The dreadfulness obvious enough I needn’t belabor the point. Yet I worked through it, not only psychologically but in the studio. It seems, going through my photos that I painted about six paintings, stitched together a half dozen textile folk, made quite a few of my jumbo paper-dolls and my rather consistent studio practice of daily drawings filled quite a few folios- I fear quantity reigned more frequently than quality at times.

But studio wise, a rather decent year.

 

Selection of works from 2020.

      I’m sensing, hoping , 2021 might be better yet. I’m feeling a new chapter in my life. We’ve begun the incremental steps to relocating to Chicago, given David’s  psychoanalytic practice this requires delicacy and sensitivity , not my  general rash readiness to move, obstacles be damned, full steam ahead  forward. But given the constraints,  I sense one chapter closing and another beginning. We will be in an in-between limbo state for the next two years, my studio, his practice here  in LA, we’ll be renting a small apartment in Los Angeles close to the office/studio and once our Little Hermitage has sold purchasing an apartment close to Lake Michigan. We spent the new year downtown this (last) year and feel we’ve a better sense of what feels like home.

      But studio wise, I am feeling a new chapter as well. My work in Los Angeles has been frequently  bold (its been called tacky) in color, admittedly outrageous at times, overtly sexual initially (its been called pornographic), and frequently a bit smirking (but never intentionally ironic). I’m now feeling an inclination towards less of  that.  Not sure how this will develop but in clearing out my studio, a pre-spring cleaning, I found myself  eagerly tossing  out many of my frankly depressing thrift store schmattas  I had been using in favor of richer velvets and brocades.

   Perhaps an embrace of more “serious” intention is in store for me , a growing sense of confidence, an entitlement to a  personal voice, to not fearfully hide behind a smirking mask because , God forbid, I actually take myself and my work seriously.  Which I do, but in spite of self doubt so fundamental to my being,  I feel I am developing  confidence  that my voice might, can be, taken seriously and that recognition begins with me.  This heretofore has been contrary to my entrenched insecurities. 

   All that said,  a degree of humor will always be present in my work and in my personality; that is my nature as well

Detail , “The Temptations of St.Anthony of the Desert”, 2018, oil on panel

In the meantime I am very pleased with this interview with the Verum Ultimum gallery in Portland Oregon. I am honored to have one of my favorite paintings included in Generous Kingdom V,  a diverse and exciting collection of work. A great deal of gratitude to founder, owner and curator Jennifer Gillia Cutshall. Please visit the gallery’s website for a complete virtual experience.

The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert
2018
Oil on panel
18 by 36 inches

The interview follows:

https://www.verumultimumartgallery.com/single-post/inside-a-generous-kingdom-v-deepening-the-mystery-with-artist-leonard-greco

 

Detail , “The Temptations of St.Anthony of the Desert”, 2018, oil on panel

2020 Annus horribilus…or was it?

2020, good riddance
2020
gouache on canvas
12 by 6 inches

    Complaining about 2020 is fast becoming a cliche as the annual reflection upon the year past is upon us all. I’ve complained myself, mostly about inconveniences that have interrupted my frankly spoiled life, dining out during COVID, when it was available , was an anxiety producing event-food tastes less a treat when your hands smell of 70% alcohol sanitizer (I did however recently  have one enchanting (and frigid ) meal in Chicago, in a twinkling tent fortified with  plenty of hooch to fend off nature’s bluster). 

      But truly, little to complain about, I am fortunate in so many ways in that the vicissitudes of this virus have had little impact. That is until recently when  my prince came down with COVID  ( I somehow continue to test negative and symptom free); he has at last recovered, rather quickly and without any long-term effects. For this we consider ourselves supremely lucky and have reconnected our commitment to the here and the now; a forced embrace of the realty that our lives are not our own, simply lent, a gift of Being, undeserved and ruthlessly impermanent .

     For an artist who spends a great deal of time exploring the theme of memento mori that should be obvious…but it isn’t. For now we are keenly aware of this tenuous situation we call our life, and while the scare is close to hand, I am deeply appreciative. I will slip into complacency all too soon, but for now, holding those I love close.

2020, daily drawing
23rd Dec 2020

 

   In so many ways 2020 was quite a wonderful year, my CV (https://boondocksbabylon.com/cv/)is rather bulging with the exhibitions I’ve participated in- even rejecting a few ; close to a dozen high quality curated exhibitions , a record for me…seems it takes a plague to have my work considered.

I am self contained as an artist, my love of hermits such as St.Anthony of the Desert is not by chance. To be untroubled by social pressure, gallery openings, feigned social conviviality, competitive posturing and the fine art of humble bragging, to be relieved of all this  is an immense liberation for my soul . I feel myself breathing with ease and can only hope that when we do return to whatever we call normal, that I am able to remain true to this core of my identity. That I will possess the fortitude to resist the siren’s call of doubt, competitive insecurity and the fear-of-missing-out.

 

We are moving forward with our long term plan to move to Chicago, having spent our summer there, we are now more than ever eager to leave LA for green summers, wet springs, blustery winters and russet autumns. That and a serious art museum or two. Our game plan is to be resettled in a few years, we are about to  place our little hermitage on the market, a poignant first step in what we hope will be a halcyon final chapter.

Our sweethearted pugdog Viola delights us no end, we have one another, reasonably good health (for the moment), time (for the moment) to pursue our talents and the  means to explore our interests.

So in the end, 2020 wasn’t so horribilus after all.

2020, good riddance
2020
gouache on canvas
12 by 6 inches

Magnificent Insignificance or what the hell am I doing?

Detail : Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death , 2020

As I spend my time alone in my studio , methodically painting my dainty little paintings , aspiring to some elusive medieval-perfect lapidary finish ; filling day after day with early music, pug snores and cloistered reflections upon obscure seemingly irrelevant themes , I begin to question this existence – after all , is anyone REALLY interested in a third century Hermit and struggles with darkness ? does anyone give a fig about Fairyland, old gods , new gods and the same questions asked century after century, yet always left unanswered; is this “relevant”, to use an increasingly irritating word.

I begin to question all this and how ill-suited, frankly irrelevant I may be , my interests may be and most painfully , my art my be . I follow my heart, as trite as that sounds, led by my interests, waiting to see how the path unfolds; I’m fortunate that my day to day life allows such indulgence, I’m not unaware of that fact . But I think personal exploration to be an essential duty, an imperative in fact , the defining quality of being gifted with a soul .  But my highly personal expression frankly is just that , personal and I think leaves many, if I am lucky, perplexed but more likely just indifferent. I am not sure I blame them ( whoever “them” is ) , for in this frantic attention span challenged universe , where the consumer model is its core influence , just how exactly is my work to be hash-tagged, how best categorized? It isn’t technically proficient enough to be lumped with the MFA realists; it’s too content heavy, too narrative driven to please the non-representational crowd, is it illustration? is it anime ? it isn’t obviously political enough to gratify the identity obsessed awoken claque , it isn’t technically reckless enough to be shelved with the brush-dripped- art brut scrawls so in favor, so well suited, to this rough-and -tumble over shouting world we find ourselves.

I hadn’t thought of which category to select when I first picked up the brush .

I just knew I had to pick up the brush .

Self Portrait of the Artist as a PaperDoll

 As in all things , there is a fashion to the times , a collective defining mood, ours currently seems to be more angry than aesthetic, more retribution oriented than reflective , more inclined to group think than the nuances of individualism , defined by an us-versus-them obsession that frankly rejects the universal humanism I am so inclined towards. A society so collaboration obsessed that from my perspective seems to reject the quiet of A Room of One’s Own and in the end , I believe it to be a society that is just plain old anti-oddball.


I’m also becoming convinced that those who do more readily fit a preferred contemporary narrative and who are able to squawk the loudest about oppression , injustice and their righteousness gets the worm , be it the commission , the residency ,that elusive prize of recognition and relevance. That wiggly golden worm can be anything from an army of devoted social media followers, gallery representation and the ease that seems to embody and most validating, solo shows.

I guess for me , the painful question is , am I good enough , aren’t I good enough ?  Such an adolescent cry, yet in the school yard of contemporary society, seemingly fitting . I see friends audaciously brag about their accomplishments, shamelessly boast of solo shows, commissions and residencies; haughtily letting it be known that their gallery tends to all such mundane business as promotion, representation money gathering etc – mind you, all the while, never ceasing to talk endlessly about themselves and by extension their art.

 Or , perhaps more likely I’m just simply jealous. Just another old white guy (for there is no category of personhood seemingly more open to derision and contempt than the White Guy, preferably the Old White Guy ) dabbling with paint and dabbling not very well . But I’m not willing to accept that fact just yet. I’m going to keep dabbling . For in a dream I was told by that Unknowable Being found in all my dreamscapes that my insignificance is magnificent.

I cling to that contradiction. 

Detail: “Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death” 2020 Oil on panel


Final Days

 

I’m in the final days of my current studio , here now nearly two years . And while it has been roomy with plenty of light and space for me to sprawl out and create Fairyland, it is also been an uncomfortable fit . Blazing hot or frigid cold, open to the elements at one end , dust pours in, oil painting an impossibility. Also just a very ugly part of town that fetishizes its own ugliness . Time to move on . My new digs will be in David’s office suite, a few rooms , adequately lit, tenth floor with pretty views , climate controlled , air tight and a built in tea-time companion- plus the pups are welcome .

All well and good but I am nervous and anxious at the unknown ahead . Fairyland is finished and I find myself floundering , not sure where to go next . I have a long list of anticipated projects, optimistically scribbled down during the frenzy of manic making but now in the sobriety of task completed, inspiration is flaccid .

I know this will pass , all things in their time and yet my heart and soul aches . I’ve committed to drawing-table time, seeking no muse just a date with my pencil . My task at hand is to draw , simple as that . No expectation, no need to share or impress – studio vanity is a very real thing in my immediate universe , the endless posturing of busyness, productivity and excellence. None of that , just pencil to paper .

And packing . Ostensibly I am to be out by April Fools Day , with my Fairyland commitments and now this move , my time feels precious.

But as I have said I feel a heaviness of heart. I pack, I discard , recycle and donate , ruthless in shedding unwanted, unused objects, furnishings and materials only for them to languish for years in rented storage .

Today will be spent with the pups , cardboard packing boxes and hopefully more drawing .

I snapped the following images of the place as a memento of how it appeared before the dismantling.

Farewell my temporary workshop.

One of the most challenging tasks was ridding myself of the huge bags of scraps , the detritus of Fairyland. Initially I fancied I would make something of them but when faced with the reality of their being I saw only bleakness. I tend towards melancholy and this depression at a the sight of ragged scraps, floor dust and dog hair might be a result of that . But without much reflection, I tossed them into the dumpster .

Then I felt guilt over adding to the landfill . Such is my internal world .

This will pass , I believe that , until that time , I just being .

Junk & Peen (warning, naughty bits follow)

Studio vignette with censored safer sex poster from 1988.

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.

“Oedipus & the Sphinx
or
Self Portrait of the Artist as an Inquisitive Flea”
2018
Sanuine pencil, white charcoal highlights on toned paper
24 by 18 inches

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”.

Studio vignette with censored safer sex poster from 1988.

The Artist’s Hand

Detail from Van der Weydenthe’s “Descent from the Cross”, 1435

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 .

Viola and the maker
2014?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Post from Eagle Rock

Final days @ 1053 Colorado

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.

“The Rape of Our Mother”
2016
colored pencil on paper

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.

3rd Best of Exhibition “for the artwork titled ‘Hadesville'”

The day after the award ceremony Facebook rather magically reminded me of what the painting looked like a year ago.

This “memory” popped up.

June 17, 2016
unfinished

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 :

Accidental Composition, June 27th 2017

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.

Feeling rather festive and optimistic!

Priorities and the Eternal Cycle

The Alpha & the Omega 2013 mixed media
The Alpha & the Omega
2013
mixed media

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.

Happy St.Valentine’s Day.

The Eternal Cycle 2014
The Eternal Cycle
2014