Mandrakes, Fairyfellers and the search for Re-Enchantment

I haven’t posted in a bit, but my hands have been busy and so has my imagination. I’ve been making, clarifying and meditating upon the theme of Re-enchantment. I’ve mentioned before that my childhood was far from halcyon, more precisely grim in the lower case. Yet in spite of the anxious tension I was quite frequently in a state of wondrous enchantment. I had the good fortune to have a beguiling  and magical woods behind our suburban home. A solitary boy, I spent hours in quiet delight, there was simply so much to explore : salamanders, bullfrogs, carnivorous pitcher plants, skunk cabbage, blankets of velveteen moss, fungi galore and most delightfully sweet and wise box turtles. Truly, who needed humans when such fairies and imps kept you company?

That enchantment has slipped a bit in my golden years, I stumble upon it now and then, in the garden, with my animal friends, but most especially in my studio (my studio is my sanctuary) but if I were honest, a great deal of my time is spent in pursuits far from enchanting. 

Hence this interest in re-enchantment, in my work, in the studio and in my life. I am actively searching for the extraordinary in the quotidian, mindful and appreciative of the minor miracles of the day-to-day, the unfurling of the hairy leafed begonia, the topaz gold of a hornet, the diamond trail of the garden slug.  My seven year old self was well aware of these delights, I’m in the process of being reacquainted .

Undated photo of yours truly, seven? nine?

In that spirit, a new body of work is emerging, I’ve coined it as Fairyfellers (inspired by the fantastic Victorian fairy painter Richard Dadd). Fairy-telling is my aim, visually expressing that wonder found in the gentler, enticing realm of toadstools, ferns and tadpoles.

The following are examples of some of my labors:

The Mandrake Titus, Defender Against Reality (he lost)
2020
Mixed fiber media
72 by 40 by 27 inches

Much of my time has been spent just sketching out re-enchantment, my studio journals are full of spontaneous bursts of wonder.

Fairyfellers, page from sketchbook
Concept sketch for The Mandrake Titus.
Initial pose for Titus, triumphant against Reality; I preferred him defeated. Truer.

This figure of the Mandrake Titus was inspired by my visit to the V&A, in particular the heraldic, near life-sized Dacre Beasts.

Two of the four Dacre Beasts (1507-25) at the V&A.

In particular the heraldic banners, I’m wild for banners in general, these beasties compelled me to design and stitch up my own.

Artist’s sketchbook
Detail: heraldic Mandrake shield.
Reverse view of the figure.

The Mandrake’s cape was inspired by a detail from my latest painting (previous post). Cross pollination of ideas , across mediums, is a common occurrence in my studio.

Further experiments in “stuffed paintings” resulted in this elfin trio of Fairyfellers: Rufus, Derrick and Seamus.

Studio shot of Rufus, Derrick and Seamus (and Robin Goodfellow).
Derrick and Rufus.
Rufus
Seamus
Derrick

I’ve also been busy working further upon paper-doll making (as fairyfeller an activity  as you can imagine).

Daisy Chain
2020
Mixed paper and fiber media
Approximate dimensions 96 by 51 inches
Concept sketch for Daisy Chain
Daisy Chain, detail
Daisy Chain, detail
Daisy Chain, detail

The last image of the daisy loin cloth betrays a bit of self censorship, increasingly I am re-evaluating how much nudity to portray. Not so much out of prudery, but I’ve heard myself described as a “penis artist”, and that isn’t my intention or interest. In this case I think the work is improved by the discretion, plus it is more playful; playfulness a key element of re-enchantment.

“Uncensored” detail

So far that is it in the Fairyfeller realm, more fairyfellers  are on the way. Right now however I have returned to painting , stitching is hard work, my fingers begin to ache and the fabric and needle pricks have caused some damage to my fingertips. So for now this fairyfeller is at the easel.

 

Newly Documented Work

In anticipation of 2020 and various upcoming submissions I decided it was time to have some newer work better documented- the I-phone is a wondrous tool but it has its limitations in my hands. The following images are the result of a recent photo shoot.

Robin Goodfellow
2018
Mixed media:acrylic painted canvas, recycled fiber, embroidery floss, black-pipe internal structure, plywood, poly-fil
63 by 36 by 32 inches

I had this piece, one I like quite a bit, professionally photographed during my Fairyland solo show , but the in-situ placement offers visual distractions that a time-pressed curator most likely hasn’t the time for.

Robin Goodfellow
2018
Mixed media, recycled fiber
63 by 36 by 31 inches

Other works:

The Anchorite’s Crucifix
2019
Mixed media: acrylic painted canvas, recycled fabric, beads, bells, embroidery floss, black pipe interior structure, poly-fil, vintage furniture, metal work and fabric.
60 by 32 by 10 inches, Crucifix only; total installation varies upon situation.
The Anchorite’s Crucifix
detail shot
Oedipus & the Sphinx
2019
Oil on panel
12 by 8 inches
The Conversion of St.Paul on the Road to Damascus
2019
Oil on canvas
48 by 36 inches

The following was shot twice, but honestly I cannot tell the difference, Version I:

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

Version II:

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

and that is it…

Robin Goodfellow
2018
Mixed media:acrylic painted canvas, recycled fiber, embroidery floss, black-pipe internal structure, plywood, poly-fil
63 by 36 by 32 inches

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.

 

 

“Embodied:St.Anthony & the Desert of Tears”, a new video

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

My mixed media installation work Embodied: St.Anthony &the Desert of Tears, was recently documented and a video made. The link below is the  result. The incredible music by Thom Ayres of Arcanta provides perfect accompaniment .

Concerning the work, my thoughts and intentions :

Embodied:St.Anthony & the Desert Tears, my latest mixed media installation  is inspired most significantly by Gustave Flaubert’s “The Temptation of St. Anthony” (1874). The richness of detail and illusion that Flaubert evokes almost suffocates the reader in its voluptuous beauty. Flaubert himself was inspired in great part by Brueghel’s own phantasmagoric depiction of the tormented hermit. I wish in some way to allude to that dizzying yet exhilarating experience.

As a young boy Flaubert witnessed a marionette performance of “The Mystery of St. Anthony”.  From that point on, “St. Anthony accompanied Flaubert for twenty-five or thirty years”, as the philosopher Michel Foucault has written. Flaubert returned to the anchorite time and again until completing the work in 1872.   This is not an easy read, dense, at times over-ripe, seemingly more chant than prose; Foucault describes the work as an “overcrowded bestiary” with “creatures of unnatural issue”.

It is this “overcrowded bestiary” I wish to evoke with Embodied, wishing to populate the tableaux with a parade of bewildering, complex “creatures of unnatural issue”. These hybrid embodied beings represent not simply base impulses but our own deep struggle to live a fully expressed life.   For when I tackle such fraught topics as sin, temptation and redemption, I am looking beyond the typical biblically inspired admonition (such as Lust or the other Seven Deadlies). I am more interested in the quotidian, seemingly insignificant distractions that prevent us from embodying our truest selves. In essence, what interferes with your being authentic?  What is your demon? Who, what shadows your path?

I’m particularly interested in exploring how the tools of modernity – social media, the self-commodifaction through “branding” oneself, the pursuit of relevancy— all hinder full true self-expression, perhaps even censoring it or rendering it mute. Foucault describes Anthony’s temptations as “…false gods resembling the true God….” I argue that false gods lurk in the inky alleyways of a frenetic and rapacious contemporary society.

The mystic Thomas Merton in discussing the Desert Fathers insists, “they did not reject society with proud contempt, as if they were superior to other men”, but instead were seeking the fullest expression of their purpose. Throughout our lives we are given signs which point us (or call us) in the direction of our authentic purpose, so as Merton reminds us: “…whatever you see your soul to desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe”.

I will do that “thing”, clumsily, distractingly, awkwardly, but like Anthony, sincerely and with purpose.

A link to Thom’s work, he is so talented and generous.

The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert
2018
Acrylic on paper
11 by 14 inches unframed
Detail , “The Temptations of St.Anthony of the Desert”, 2018, oil on panel

 

 

Embodied Realized

My textile /mixed media installation piece Embodied: St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears is a major component of my solo show Fairyland  which is now on exhibition at MOAH/Cedar. This body of work  occupies an entire gallery and is on display until March 31st, 2019.

Those familiar with my work recognize that I have devoted considerable studio energy to the theme of the hermit Anthony and his desert trials. This particular work, by far my largest, was  first  realized in an inchoate state last year as part of residency at Shoebox Projects in Los Angeles. It has more fully developed into its present incarnation. Further development is most likely inevitable.

My concept for this show which is partly based upon Flaubert’s masterpiece of the same theme, and the myriad visual depictions of this beleaguered Desert Father not to mention my own trials and distracting temptations of life in the modern age is best expressed in the following  artist statement:

Embodied:St.Anthony & the Desert Tears, my latest mixed media installation  is inspired most significantly by Gustave Flauberts “The Temptation of St. Anthony” (1874). The richness of detail and illusion that Flaubert evokes almost suffocates the reader in its voluptuous beauty. Flaubert himself was inspired in great part by Brueghels own phantasmagoric depiction of the tormented hermit. I wish in some way to allude to that dizzying yet exhilarating experience.

As a young boy Flaubert witnessed a marionette performance of “The Mystery of St. Anthony”.  From that point on, “St. Anthony accompanied Flaubert for twenty-five or thirty years”, as the philosopher Michel Foucault has written. Flaubert returned to the anchorite time and again until completing the work in 1872.   This is not an easy read, dense, at times over-ripe, seemingly more chant than prose; Foucault describes the work as an “overcrowded bestiary” with “creatures of unnatural issue.”

It is this “overcrowded bestiary” I wish to evoke with Embodied,wishing to populate the tableaux with a parade of bewildering, complex “creatures of unnatural issue”. These hybrid embodied beings represent not simply base impulses but our own deep struggle to live a fully expressed life.   For when I tackle such fraught topics as sin, temptation and redemption, I am looking beyond the typical biblically inspired admonition (such as Lust or the other Seven Deadlies). I am more interested in the quotidian, seemingly insignificant distractions that prevent us from embodying our truest selves. In essence, what interferes with your being authentic?  What is your demon? Who, what shadows your path?

Im particularly interested in exploring how the tools of modernity – social media, the self-commodifaction through “branding” oneself, the pursuit of relevancy— all hinder full true self-expression, perhaps even censoring it or rendering it mute. Foucault describes Anthonys temptations as “…false gods resembling the true God….” I argue that false gods lurk in the inky alleyways of a frenetic and rapacious contemporary society.

The mystic Thomas Merton in discussing the Desert Fathers insists, “they did not reject society with proud contempt, as if they were superior to other men”, but instead were seeking the fullest expression of their purpose. Throughout our lives we are given signs which point us (or call us) in the direction of our authentic purpose, so as Merton reminds us: “…whatever you see your soul to desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe”.

I will do that “thing”, clumsily, distractingly, awkwardly, but like Anthony, sincerely and with purpose.

 

Numerous earlier incarnations on the theme, such as this 2018 oil painting of the troubled saint, play upon this intention and  communicate directly with the installation  Embodied:St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears. 

The following images taken at the March 23rd 2019 MOAH/Cedar opening  hopefully substantiate that claim. 

(Note, all gallery courtesy of Shoebox PR.)

Leonard Greco
“The Temptations of St. Anthony of the Desert”
2018
oil on panel
18 by 36 inches

The installation centers upon the Anchorite’s Chair, from which numerous demons torture the saint from within and without.

Anchorite’s Chair
Anchorite’s Chair, reverse
Detail, Anchorite’s Chair

Numerous demons pester the troubled hermit.

Lilith
Pluton, Prince of Fire, Governor of the Region in Flames.
The Curia
Flora
The Foliated Trinitarian
The Houseboy
The Wodewose

The crucifix of the desert saint itself  isn’t immune from daemonic molestation.

The Anchorite’s Cross
Detail, Anchorite’s Cross
The Living Cross

Dear friend Dwora.
The artist with his little dog Speck.

To see Embodied embodied was deeply gratifying, if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to see Fairyland it does run through March 31st with an artist talk on the 30th.

https://www.facebook.com/events/725419224526201/

I am also hosting a life drawing session March 24th, 4:45 through 7 pm, the gallery will be open prior to the life drawing should you be inclined to take a peek.

 

Pluton

My latest stuffed painting , just a small element of my installation piece Embodied: St.Anthony & the Desert of Tears, a reimagining of Flaubert’s masterpiece The Temptation of Saint Anthony.

Pluton, Prince of Fire and Governor of the Region in Flames

2018

31 inches high by 31 inches wide by 24 inches deep

Mixed media : recycled fabric, acrylic paint , embroidery floss, poly-fil, vintage footstool

 

Pluton and his infernal pals will be introduced February 23rd 2019 at the opening of my Fairyland solo show at MOAH/Cedar, Lancaster, California.

Would love to see you there . The show runs until March 31st 2019.

 

Parsifal, Swan Slayer, Holy Fool

“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: 

Click to access WRITING_Parsifal_As%20_Ritual_Theater.pdf

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.

Parsifal
2018
Mixed fiber, acrylic paint
approximately 5’4″ by 8′

In the making…

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”.

BUY!

With that I close, have a great week.

The Foliated Trinitarian

I recently finished another of what I have been calling Stuffed Paintings, this figure The Foliated Trintarian is one of my larger works.

The Foliated Trinitarian
2018
Mixed media: recycled fiber, acrylic painted canvas, embroidery floss, feathers, poly-fil
28″h 60″l 34″w

My inspiration for this piece is drawn from the whimsical, frequently bizarre hybrid beings found gracing the margins of psalters and various medieval manuscripts.

I am particularly drawn to the vibrancy of the blue acanthus ornament.

Hybrid marginalia such as this foliated, beasty fellow played a great part in developing The Foliated Trinitarian. I particularly admire the floral element of its tail.

In fact the foliate ornament of this period has become a bit of a mania for me. The 19th architect-designer A. Welby Pugin’s pattern book of floriated decoration only further fueled my interest.

Ornament such as this distinctly influenced elements of my own work, such as this foliated tail.

Further neo-medieval details follow.

For scale I am going to close with the following image of my dear faithful studio companion Viola. She welcomes all newcomers, foliated or not.

INSPIRATIONAL…and validating

 

Inspirational, issue 17
2018
John Hopper, publisher

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:

https://payhip.com/johnhopper

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.

Parsifal, “stuffed painting”
Currently a work in progress .

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.

Thank you Mr. Hopper