“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”.
Recently I was invited by the art historian/enthusiast/promoter John Hopper to be included in the next edition of INSPIRATIONAL magazine. I first “met” John online through his admirable site The Textile Blog (link: thetextileblog.blogspot.com). John possesses an encyclopedic knowledge concerning the arts, with an emphasis on the 19th century revivalist movements. Be it Owen Jones, William Morris or the Glasgow School, John provides keen insight , frequently showcasing lesser known under-represented figures ( his The Embroidery of Ann Macbeth introduced me to an artist heretofore unknown to me). A link to his scholarly writings can be found here:
All that said, when John requested an interview, I could only be delighted. While John is an esteemed scholar concerning 19th c. decorative and textile arts he has his sights set forward, encouraging and promoting makers of the here and now. Hopper is no fusty antiquarian but a connoisseur of applied and fine arts, with a seeming emphasis on the frequently neglected field of textile arts. I guess that is where my Stuffed Paintings come into the picture.
The vehicle in which this new Evangelist John proselytizes his aesthetic vision is through his on line art magazine INSPIRATIONAL, link below.
I will allow John to describe his vision and issue 17 himself:
INSPIRATIONAL 17: Now on Sale
Welcome to the 17th issue of Inspirational magazine. In this issue inspirational features interviews with four new artists, as well as one previous featured artist with new work, a community article, a project article, a book review, and events pages highlighting exhibitions and art events from around the world.
Inspirational 17 is an interactive downloadable contemporary art magazine, which can be purchased for instant download from the following link: https://payhip.com/b/BsR4
CONTENTS OF INSPIRATIONAL 17:
Feature artist: Akiko Suzuki is the internationally renowned Japanese textile/fiber artist. She has worked in a range of disciplines and collaborated creatively and highly successfully with fellow creative artists on an international stage. Akiko gives an in-depth interview and shows a range of her work in this Inspirational feature.
Feature artist: Amy Oliver is a profound British conceptual artist that works with her own experiences regarding among other subjects – mental health, women’s rights, abuse and identity. Amy gives an in-depth interview and shows a range of her work in this Inspirational feature.
Feature artist: Emanuela Cau is an Italian photographic artist who produces the most extraordinary emotional, theatrical, magical work, rich in texture and meaning. Emanuela gives an in-depth interview and shows a range of her work in this Inspirational feature.
Feature artist: Leonard Greco Jr is an American painter and textile artist. Leonard is one of those rare artists, one that has an acute sense of history, sense of spirit, sense of wonder, sense of epic and intimate. Leonard gives an in-depth interview and shows a range of his work in this Inspirational feature.
New work: The British textile artist Stewart Kelly was originally featured in Inspirational 8. Nine issues on Stewart is again being featured, he gives an in-depth interview, and we see what he has been up to since first being featured in Inspirational, showing a range of his work in this Inspirational feature.
Community: PEG (Profanity Embroidery Group) is a British textile/fiber community, one that meets regularly to embroider profane statements, but they are so much more. PEG is a community that supports, shares and genuinely engages with its members. Members of PEG are interviewed and they show a range of work produced by PEG in this Inspirational feature.
Project: World Wide Weave 2018 is a project organised by British textile/fiber artist Maria Clarke-Wilson. It is a planetary wide project that involves eco dyeing of fiber by artists around the globe, and then the pulling together of the results by Maria so that she can freestyle weave a unified result. Maria gives an in-depth interview about this planetary project for this Inspirational feature.
Review: Points of Juncture is a book about an exhibition. Points of Juncture was a ground-breaking exhibition held at the Forty Hall Estate, London in 2017 by the textile/fiber artist Cos Ahmet. It proved so successful that a book has just been published by Forty Hall Estate and the Arts Council England in celebration. Cos gives an in-depth interview and shows a range of his work for the Points of Juncture exhibition in this Inspirational feature.
Events: pages that are global in nature. All continents are covered, highlighting a range of art events and opportunities across the planet.
It’s a full and varied selection of contemporary talent for this issue of Inspirational. Please enjoy.
I am incredibly grateful to John for including my work, his finding it worthy , given my respect for his scholarship, means the world to me. But most especially for the friendship and encouragement he has given me throughout the years. Although we have never met, and when I finally make it to the UK we will, he has nonetheless been a friend I value and treasure.
I was delighted yesterday when a Facebook friend noticed the similarity to the above image, a work in progress which I had posted to social media and to that of the Egyptian-Roman mummy portraits of Fayum (late 1st c. B.C. to approximately 3rd c. A.D.).
I have a keen fondness for Fayum paintings, one of the last links to the celebrated paintings of the Classical world. We have the frescoes of course, but painting, which was so well praised and documented in the Classical period, is for the most part available to us except in the mosaic reproductions found gracing the villas of Pompeii. The Fayum panel portraits are therefore even more precious a cherished reminder of a splendid tradition lost to time.
I’ve been conscious of the aesthetic similarities but hadn’t engaged with the likeness actively as a concept. But as my faces are attached to a stuffed fiber torso and my predecessors upon linen wrappings, there is an undeniable link. Prior to moving to Los Angeles, I hadn’t been that familiar withthe Fayum paintings, but the Getty Villa, once again, with its admirable Classical collection afforded an intimacy with these portraits of lost souls. The Getty Villa is a slice of heaven.
There is such freshness and vitality to these encaustic and tempera portraits that one feels you have met these folks before (here in LA, perhaps The Grove).
Frequently they are portraits imagined in the full bloom of youth.
There is in that, a similarity to my own work; an ode to comeliness and youth.
I haven’t yet seen a Fayum portrait that wasn’t expressive, each visage staring directly into your soul , in some cases swaddled in their shroud.
A few of my own “Fayum” ( Gayum ?) portraits. Pardon the silly pun, but who could resist?
I am going to close with this fanciful image of a discovery of a Fayum mummy. Although the Wikipedia source seems to disparage the accuracy of the depiction, its fancifulness is just what delights me. This imagined scene, with its loose-limbed cadaver and baroque sarcophagus is in keeping with my own vision.
My surname is Greco, my paternal grandfather fiercely proud of our rich heritage; clearly my roots are Italian, but in all honesty I’ve only just begun to recognize and appreciate the impact my cultural patrimony has had on me,as an artist and in many ways as a gay man.
I was inspired to reflect upon this existentially while submitting to a group show exploring and celebrating the Italian diaspora. I am the offspring of Calabrians who fled the poverty of their region for the fabled bounty of the New World. Setting sail in the teens of the early 20th century, my great grandmother came armed with a cheap gilded ring set with blue glass (which I now treasure ) and a feisty spirit. Incredibly small people and brown as a nut, my great-grandparents were frequently met with bigotry and prejudice.
Yet they persevered, settling in Trenton N.J., they were embraced by fellow immigrants (many from Naples) in the Italian American enclave known as Chambersburg (colloquially known as the ‘Burg). It is there that they opened water-ice parlors, manned grocery markets and in the twenties, my grandfather, as a boy, ran rum for the mob. Ultimately the family prospered enough to move to the suburbs, sadly leaving the cultural richness of the ‘Burg behind for the homogeneity of the NJ suburbs. My grandfather never felt like he quite fit in with his “white” neighbors, but the pride in his hard earned prosperity was palpable and difficult not to appreciate.
For me, as a sensitive queer boy, artist wanna-be, the suburbs were an aesthetic hell. Cultural deserts where “Mediterranean” evoked cheap flocked wall coverings and abominations upon inky velvet graced many a family room. My boyhood salvation was mass at the family church back in Chambersburg, Immaculate Conception, a 19th c. Gothic Revival pile, redolent in incense, ritual and gilt. It was heaven, and to this day I remember gazing up at its painted ceilings in wonder, and knowing one day, I too would be an artist. My grandfather assured me that was absolutely possible for Italians were especially gifted artists ( although he also insisted that the Irish were particularly gifted in depicting angelic hosts- where or how how he came to this opinion is something I still think about).
So now, in submitting to Italianitá, hosted by the Italian American Museum here in LA, I put to paper the influences my heritage has had on my art and my identity. This is what I came up with:
As a child of Italian-American descent (my paternal great-grandparents arriving from Calabria in the early 20th c.),I was raised in the culturally impoverished suburbs of NJ, yet it was my Italian roots that nurtured my aesthetic and acted as a balm to my artistic soul. Be it the street theater of Feast Days, the Madonna paraded and joyously lauded, the Festival of Lights, or the gilded grandeur of my parish church, it is clear to me that these influences decided my fate to be an artist.
In my work I explore the extremes of human existence through the presentation of archetypal figures undergoing transformation and experiencing salvation, rebirth and enlightenment; not unlike the art of Rome, be it sacred or profane. My paintings are self-contained narratives concerned with universal themes—birth, life and death— that stem from my personal experiences and passions. These include my love of classical mythology, Roman Catholic saints, the Italian Renaissance and Baroque, as well as the commedia del arte , low brow erotica and Surrealism.
As a queer artist my work frequently reflects a sensuality not unfamiliar to Italian art and culture. In this work I am searching to find the divine in the everyday, to show that all life, in all its incarnations is indeed sacred and beautiful. The works are metaphors that explore human relationships and interactions from myriad points of view and ultimately are about my understanding of my place in an ever-changing world.
My oil painting Seizing Sanctimonium is an allegorical homage to personally well loved artists such as Mantegna and Poussin and also a psychological exploration of my own spiritual and existential angst. Employing Renaissance compositional techniques such as one point perspective and borrowing freely from the drama of the Baroque stage, my intention was to evoke the tensions that arise between powers. In this instance, the Roman Church here being confronted by the Old Gods. This tension is palpable in ancient cities such as Rome and Mexico City, where timeless allegiances are everywhere, the old gods literally arising from the earth. Attempts to integrate the old ways into the orthodoxy of Christian faith creates a tension that is complicated, painful yet often dazzlingly beautiful. As a gay man, a artist and a Roman Catholic these tensions are personal, familiar, and frequently painful; conflicted by dictates of the Church and personal truths (embodied here by the Old Gods), it is in my desire to express this pain and to synthesize the diverse elements of my being. It is my hope to create work in my own voice, my own purpose and my own understanding of beauty.
My oil painting Hadesville is yet another homage to works of art that have influenced and inspired me. In this instance the Hellmouth warnings found in late Medieval and early Renaissance churches. These fantastical works are frequently the most inventive, adventurous, not to mention humorous works of art found in Christendom. Mostly attributed to anonymous artists, they continue to beguile , I am not alone in my appreciation. My painting Hadesville recalls such works, employing universal elements such as the aforementioned Hellmouth and symbolism that is personally meaningful.
In addition to the High Medieval, I also nod to Dante and his Divine Comedy with my own oddly disconcerting guides found in the upper left portion of the composition. Navigating the complexities of life, spirituality, sensuality (and the Underworld) was enthusiastically explored by the Italian masters of quill and brush,my humble aim is to add to that conversation.
Daphne is part of a new body of three dimensional work that I identify as Stuffed Paintings. These painted and stitched figures are intended to evoke the dramatic presence of Baroque theater and sculpture (most specifically, as in this case, Bernini). These pieces, Daphne included, frequently explore the power of transformation, sacrifice and redemption . Ovid’s Daphne,suffering divine injustice and paternal betrayal, ultimately finds “salvation” through metamorphosis (in her case, that quintessential symbol of Classical triumph and victory,the laurel bough).With that in mind, the theme of Daphne felt ripe for personal reinterpretation.
It is in this framework I wished to create my own response to Bernini’s ravishing marble masterpiece. In exploring the challenges presented in life, be it familial discord, conflicts with identity or romantic entanglements, my intention was to document the turmoil and anguish necessary to personal development. In so doing, I not only shift mediums from solid stone to pliant fabric, but I also swap gender, making this embroidered and painted allegory my own.
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.