New painting: Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death

Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death
2020
Oil on panel
18 by 24 inches

I never really know how my work will be perceived, I try not to think about it. My work is earnest , often with a degree of what I hope passes for wit , but is never intended to be ironic . I work diligently and sincerely on all my work. Perhaps I am humorless, too dour , but I put my heart into the work.

So with this in mind I was taken aback by an emoji “comment” (is an emoji really a comment?)  made recently  on my Instagram page after having posted this recently completed self portrait. I really dislike facial expression emojis , I earnestly try to avoid them, trusting my command of language will properly convey my intentions .

Of all emojis the one I dislike the most is this one : 😂.

I find it infuriating. It seems to embody the moronification of society in general and Los Angeles particularly.  To garner public approval most everything needs to be a joke – a sarcastic , mocking joke laced heavily with irony is most desired . And so this painting was received. I must put this in perspective, it was a single post , by an artist who from his IG site we learn that his specialty is “big dicks and wet c#nts”- so we are speaking of a quite the gentleman. But of course the gentleman in question possesses youth , is handsome , fit and talented in a Tom of Finland. He has well over ten thousand followers and to attest to his smug arrogance , follows no one in return . Oh , and he paints shirtless to better display his artfully paint be-speckled pecs.

I mention all this because my initial response to his puerile emoji comment was to be affronted. I even blocked him in my disgruntledness for a few minutes . But then I realized just how perfect this comment was for a painting, a self portrait, intending to skewer/reject worldliness . If I paint myself as a Holy Fool ,albeit in the self conscious irony I generally reject , I need to expect some hecklers . So from wounded-ness I now possess a degree of pride in having elicited a reaction from just the sort of shallow nincompoop Anthony sought to avoid.

 

This painting started out, as so much does, unintentionally. My daily studio routine generally starts with automatic drawing . I try to not focus on any particular reference material , or getting details “right”, just the free flow of ideas inspired from who knows where . Such was the case of this sketch made I am guessing close to seven years ago while living in San Diego – a difficult period in our/my life .

I hadn’t intended for it to be a painting let alone an allegorical self portrait, yet there was something about the dashed off drawing that beckoned further exploration. So a few months back I decided to revisit , revise the by now , quite familiar theme of St.Anthony of the Desert, his temptations and my appropriating his reality .

 

The painting went well nearly from the start , each element revealing itself to me , and in this period of plague isolation, quarantine an anchorite would find familiar and social unrest akin to third century upheaval , it felt a timely theme.

Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death
2020
Oil on panel
18 by 24 inches

What follows are the details .

 

Seated upon a memento mori throne , I was inspired by a stuffed and stitched example I made awhile back for another Anthony inspired tableau- the circle continues .

The textile model.
A detail of the maker , painting Death as Death models offstage – I have a fondness for paintings within paintings. I also have a fondness for gilded satyr angels .

 

Detail of accompanying figures that I haven’t particularly explored the meaning of : Hirsute Giant, Druidboy and Millefleur Boy ( a favorite).

 

Yesterday’s automatic drawing shares the theme of the painting , a memento mori reflection prompted I know by personal concern . David spent much of this week in the hospital, heart concerns , a procedure was needed , we were of course concerned. It appears all went well, fingers crossed , candles lit , novenas uttered , he will be on his way to good health. He is resting now , Viola a lackluster nursemaid , but he’s home .

There isn’t an emoji to express my gratitude.

 

Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death
2020
Oil on panel
18 by 24 inches

 

Samhain

I recently finished a drawing celebrating Samhain which has just passed . Inspired especially by Victorian fairy paintings ( particularly those luminous works of Richard Dadd), I wanted to evoke that liminal moment , with lanterns and bonfires lit when we find the boundary between this reality and that of the Otherworld a bit more easily trespassed . If one wants to cross over into Fairyland, Samhain ( and Beltain) is your opportunity ; easy passage can be found also for the spirited Dead who may wish to cross over into our realm for quick hello with the Quick.

I love this Celtic recognition of two realms , side by side , each with inhabitants leading an existence separate yet interconnected to one another . A natural acknowledgment of what seems to be so apparent – I have only to refer to my own fertile dreamscape to believe that two realms run side by side . But which is the “real ” one ?

Samhain

2019

Colored pencil with chalk highlights on toned paper

18 by 24 inches

One of the many traditions I find so enchanting about this Celtic celebration, is the historic practice of carving humble turnips into lanterns – far more charming I think than the more photogenic pumpkin .

I also wanted to capture the spirits of the Dead , utilizing one iconic image over and over – that of the winged skull found on countless headstones .

I particularly like the idea of the Dead finding escape through ruptures in the earth , cave entrances etc – here I employed the turnip , that modest root vegetable that pleases me so greatly .

And of course, the ubiquitous bat .

Mumming and costume play, another tradition that I take delight in and hope I captured just a bit .

I had hoped to have finished this drawing on Samhain proper , October 31st through November 1st- certainly a broad window . But it just wasn’t to be . Though diligent , I’m not a particularly speedy artist .

Perhaps next Beltain I will revisit the realm of the fairy and the pixie and actually meet the deadline . Until then …

Samhain Greetings!

I love this liminal time of year , when the Otherworld is just a bit more accessible. When mummery , be it thrift shop finery or garments rich in folkloric significance can be found in the elevator, on the street , even at the dog park . When fairies , pixies, elves and ogres seem believable and where the day to day grind of this reality can be relieved by the fancy of the Other.

So as Los Angeles once again burns , I play with paper dolls and imagine a more playful , magical , liminal place .

Have a grand Samhain, Hallowing, All Hallow’s Eve 🎃👻🦇💀!

Fanciful Fonts for Fairyland

As I countdown to my Fairyland opening February 23rd I have been working on marketing projects . Postcard being my anachronistic focus . While social media invitations and digital marketing will be made by my publicist, I have a deep fondness for paper ephemera.

In designing the postcards I found I needed a font for the word Fairyland. The fonts that seemed vaguely suitable were of that whimsical nostalgic mid- century sort – the sort of things that make me cringe . The Black Forest , Olde World, “Gothick” fonts seemed silly and a bit too Renaissance Fair(e).

At a loss I then recalled my hero , the Victorian illustrator Richard Doyle who in 1870 had published his own Fairyland. I knew he had designed the cover himself, I have always admired that, his insistence upon visual continuity, in fact his Fairyland is in some ways an inspiration for my own . So with his example in mind , I decided to design one myself.

While Doyle’s is adorable and sweet and my own gnarled and encrusted, I feel kinship between the two.

(The bat being perfect .)

In researching fairies and fairyland themes , I turned to late 19th century sources which seemed obsessed with the theme . As this charming cover attests , even dour science could be sprinkled with fairy dust .

My own fairies aren’t as innocent perhaps but I think just as cute.

( note the tedious font )

In addition to Doyle’s wonderful art , work that I’ve enjoyed since boyhood, another childish delight has been the illustrations of the D’Aulaires. Frequently whimsical but never silly their book art has long been a favorites day an inspiration . Their Trolls had particularly enchanting title font , it is a wonderful book , full of creepy , funny , stupid , hilarious trolls ( and comely humans ).

The inspiration has been broad and wide , from medieval illumination, to Victorian book art; I’ve had much to admire . In the end I’m satisfied with my own lettering , I may either have it translated into vinyl lettering or if time allows paint it directly upon the gallery walls myself .

With that , welcome to Fairyland.

GDPR

Official dull, boring, seemingly obligatory, keep-the-evil-gods-at-bay announcement:

 

As you probably already know, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect  25 May 2018. The new regulations are such that your personal data can only be used with your consent. Here at Boondocks Babylon, the safety and privacy of your information is paramount. If you enjoy receiving my updates and announcements, no further actions are necessary.

 

Should you wish to stop receiving notifications , please email me at neobaroque@mac.com (or I would think , just unfollow me). This is all far above my head, I am a painter, this stuff, all a bit daunting .

 I do however appreciate your continued interest, it flabbergasts me that anyone finds it interesting. So thank you.

Sincerely,

Leonard Greco

Memorial Day 2018

Los Angeles

Cloistertime

I’ve been spending much of this year sequestered in my studio , focusing upon work at hand and engaging with the actual world far less . My desire to work has compromised my ability to attend openings, pay studio visits , basic human time . I have ambivalent regret about that , but the time spent at the cloister of my making is so fleeting , my life so short that I feel compelled.

Although I spend less and less actual time with friends , many talented and exciting artists, company I treasure I do stay engaged, at least superficially. Social media keeps me in the proverbial loop , for that I am grateful .

Work in progress : The Herakles Tapestry

And through social media I am offered moments of reflection . I recently saw a post from an artist I admire very much and a dear friend , this post was hash tagged with “#f@ckoverthinking” ( without my censor ; it increasingly seems the “f” word is the go-to descriptor for almost anything : “f-ing brilliant “, “f-ing amazing “, etc. ).

This admonition to not overthink one’s process and by extension work , inspired thinking about my own process and the work itself . The taste for seemingly spontaneous, emotive work , where the process is an existential eruption feeds a narrative very much in fashion . Hollywood for decades has promoted the mythology of a feverish genius , blind with passion , communicating madly with their unrelenting muse ( the new film concerning Picasso has a cover image that depicts this archetype very well – handsome , paint , bespecked , exhausted ).

I confess my studio time has never been a cardio workout . In fact , contrary to my friends admonition to “f” overthinking, I think a great deal . I think, I write , I connect the dots . And while my work isn’t aesthetically feverish , it is dense with layers , perhaps too many , I don’t know for I am too close to the process . But it is the work I find interesting , the work I want to look at and the work I want to bring into the world .

I’ve never been interested in work that doesn’t call me back for another visit . That makes too direct a point . The works I most admire puzzle me , tease me with elusive symbols , require my attention . Directness is not my nature , not in life , or conversation, or even in my writing ; I am furtive , and in my studio work I would rather slip in a sly informed allegory than confront an issue directly . A flourish of meaning easily overlooked.

But I do think my approach is at odds with contemporary expectations of what art is or should be ( my calling my work “art” is an indulgence I allow myself when speaking of it , generally I refer to it as “stuff I make ” ). Street art has in a great way set this expectation : deft, ecstatic , exuberant, and most importantly, accessible. Marx would have been pleased.

My own work tends to be more obscure, more measured , the process at times almost plodding , but a joyous plodding , because the dedication to minute brushstrokes, to innumerable pencil markings or whip stitches is not unlike a prayer .

I had a wise teacher , a Russian iconographer , who insisted that every brush stroke when painting (an icon) is a prayer of gratitude. This deliberate , exacting mindfulness, the antipode to “overthinking” , is what I seek in my cloister .

Which is where I will spend my day . Have a great one .

(I am inspired by medieval illumination, , the measured , concise focus upon marginalia . This ornamental border , my take on Marginalia, is on a much larger scale , but when finished will, I hope, convey the same spirit . I’m looking to go larger and also to employ fiber art.)

Alien Nation

We spent part of the day yesterday at a local privately own art museum, the Marciano Art Foundation. Housed in a handsome former Masonic Temple . This mid century structure , while lacking the patrician dignity of east coast temples ( such as the mind blowing Philadelphia pile ), nonetheless was very impressive in its day and currently, in its reincarnation, still is .

Happily the Marciano Foundation is conscientious in tending to the dignity of the facade .

The interior , much gutted , houses a permanent immersive work as shown in the video above in what was a spectacular auditorium and rotating collections of well known and lesser known contemporary artists in the striking gallery floors above . A noble mission . All free of charge. Quite admirable , all in the spirit of Carnegie .

Yet with this abundance, I was overcome with a sense of isolation, one that I frequently feel whenever in the presence of what is deemed important art . Be it the Museum of Contemporary Art , Hauser&Wirth or the well regarded Hammer – all must-sees when visiting Los Angeles , I feel a sense of desolation . What I experience on a deep visceral level is an abiding sense of alienation.

I see enthusiastic crowds gathering about , snapping images ( not all selfies thankfully) and having earnest and sincere conversation about work that leaves me so listless that I cannot muster the strength to open the camera on my phone .

What on earth am I missing ?

So much of what is seen as exciting and needing to be discussed at great length has me skeedaddling out of the handsome , well appointed galleries at a rapid pace . So much of the work, of cantilevered plates of glass, of copious amounts of asphaltum, of precise geometric composition, works demanding the focus of a mathematical equations , these works leave me wondering , if such works were my introduction to art , would I have ever picked up a pencil ?

Luckily , as a boy , my first art crush , was found in the teeniest reproduction of Greek vase paintings – from there I grabbed a pencil .

From much of the work I see at respectable temples to art , I fail to grasp the spirit of the maker , of the object . I read the theory , witness the sincere discussion concerning the work , I ponder , question , reflect , yet comprehension is as elusive as proving the existence of an almighty .

It isn’t at all fair to pick on the Marciano Art Foundation, and that isn’t my intention . In fact , I am sure at some point I will return for some exhibition of interest .

But the greater issue for me is of existential disconnect. I have many contemporary artists whose work I know and love ( a few I have even met ) but they all offer a piece of their heart . Perhaps that sacrifice is what I desire , and wish to offer myself . The presence of heart wasn’t apparent to me yesterday.

 

In the end , I did enjoy my visit to the Marciano , the staff was so pleasant, plentiful and eager to chat, the interiors handsome and spare and the Masonic history thoughtfully preserved . In fact the Masonic costumes were of particular interest .

The exterior of the former temple still retains its beautiful mosaic murals by the fantastic Millard Sheets and the striking monumental architectural sculptures narrate Masonic lore as plainly as a medieval stained window .

In closing, my intention isn’t to bemoan the contemporary world, that would be futile and ineffective, my intention is to recognize my disconnect, the why of it , and to find a place in it . An attachment to a romantic past is fruitless , but thoughtful conversation across time , that is what I seek . My alienation frequently stems from not grasping my present society,this alien nation .

“Embodied”, my intention and some kind words

In the final week of my residency I’m quite literally tying up loose threads ; I’m also trying to gather my thoughts, my feelings and clarify my intentions.

The following is the result :

 

EMBODIED: ST. ANTHONY & THE DESERT OF TEARS

Leonard Greco

Shoebox Projects – Artist in Residence

 

Embodied:St.Anthony & the Desert Tears, my latest (ongoing) body of work, 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 the still evolving 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.

 In addition to my own words I was flattered by this generous review of my work by the art and culture writer Genie Davis . It certainly warms my heart .

Thank you Genie, Art and Cake and ShoeboxProjects.

https://artandcakela.com/2018/01/07/leonard-grecos-embodied-st-anthony-the-desert-of-tears-at-shoebox-projects/