The Convoluted Way

 

Detail of The Anchorite’s Cross

In my ongoing examination of sacred work, an extension of my own feet-in the-ground-butt-in-the-pew spiritual experimentations , during the past Holy Week I spent my studio time with the Way of the Cross. I have resisted attending  Catholic Mass for decades, I’ve attended Episcopal services off and on for years, and while I have felt welcome, I personally felt ill at ease, a nagging longing that something was missing-no matter how High the service. So I did experiment, I attended Good Friday services at a pretty little church in Eagle Rock, and it was sweet to see the devout earnestly visiting each Station, uttering by rote their own passionate pleas. But the service itself, a public forum , where congregants, in the manner of our Protesting brothers and sisters were proclaiming their own gospels. It was too much for me to bear, and shamefacedly, halfway through, I slithered out of my pew and back to my studio. I haven’t given up yet, but in many ways my studio is my temple. The following drawing is my own fervent desire to Walk the Way of the Cross; on my own path.

The Way of the Cross
2019
Sanguine and white charcoal highlights on toned paper
18 by 24 inches

In this synoptic composition, from left to right, I have depicted our Lord as the Ecce Homo, the terrible mocking rabble, Pontius Pilate, the Holy Fool Lazarus, the Fishermen’s boat, the Blessed Mother as the Dolorosa, the Baptist, the Crucified Lamb and Veronica with her Veil.

Relating to this theme is a recently recieved image of The Anchorite’s Cross , part of my Embodied: St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears installation.

The Anchorite’s Cross
2019
Mixed media: acrylic painted canvas, recycled fiber, beads, bells, embroidery floss, poly-fil, vintage furniture and metal work, vintage fabric.
Cross 60 by 32 by 10 inches approximately; total installation variable upon site.

The Stations of the Cross are rarely out of sight, for decades this Victorian Station, Station V, with Simon willingly or begrudgingly helping the staggering Lord, has hung over every drawing desk since meeting David 26 years ago. This is how it looks today.

Wilshire Blvd. studio
2019

In addition to Christian themes, I have tackled classical themes such as my well explored affair with Herakles, like Christ, I find him irresistible.

The Labors of Herakles
2019
Sanguine with white charcoal highlights, on toned paper
Diptych, total 24 by 36 inches

Orpheus another tragic hero that inspires me.

Orpheus’ Descent
2018
Sanguine and colored pencil on toned paper
18 by 24 inches

And of descending into the Underworld, Christ’s own Harrowing of Hell.

The Harrowing of Hell
2018
Sanguine, white chalk highlights on toned paper
24 by 18 inches

I’m actually supposed to be drawing instead of posting so I must complete this post but the view from my new studio is distracting me delightfully.

My new studio with a view (10th floor), Wilshire Bld., LA

Back to the drawing board.

 

 

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 .

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?

The Artist & their Studio

Many of us share a fascination with the artist and the place in which the magic is made. I know as a boy, fascinated with all things 19th c. , the studio of the artist was most beguiling . The divine Sarah perhaps embodying all that I held dear.

Sarah Bernhardt in her studio.

Miss Bernhardt was an astonishingly gifted “amateur” , far surpassing my own talents. But other artists, “real” artists, also possessed gorgeous palaces devoted to art. John Singer Sargent’s magnificently appointed studio nearly outshines dear Madame X.

John Singer Sargent’s studio, the lovely Strapless One in the distance.

In  my opinion there never was a more glamorous studio than that of the immensely visionary Gustave Moreau ( we here in LA have an outstanding Salome at the Hammer). Moreau was a god and certainly deserved a stairway to heaven.

Detail of Moreau’s incredible studio.
Gustve Moreau’s most gorgeous studio.

Moreau’s lovely digs apparently provided shelter to some comely lads.

Studio of Gustave Moreau, apparently model for his Hesiod.

The Pre-Raphealite John William Waterhouse had a rather wonderful place to apply his admirable talents.

The Pre-Raphaelite John William Waterhouse looking dapper at his easel.

But many of us, particularly those of us working in expensive cities such as Los Angeles, have less Palace to Art and more Hovel. My own , while modest, brings me great delight. My dear friend Kristine Schomaker, foundress of Shoebox PR ( link: https://shoeboxpr.com ) , called recently , the following images a fond memento of her visit. 

With my dear friend Kristine Schomaker.

Although less grand than dear Sarah, I do, in my thrift store way attempt to capture her glamour.

Sébastien-Charles Giraud, “Souvenir d’atelier”

Although Papa Picasso had rather imperial digs,

The grand Pablo in his sumptuous studio.

most of us, as dear Mary Ellen Best ( 1809-1891) have far more modest making places. Yet in the end, the space is infertile ground without its maker.

The painting room of the artist Mary Ellen Best; by the artist.

Wishing all fertile ground.