Playing with Dolls

I am currently focusing upon an upcoming  December residency with Shoebox Projects here in LA. The last month has been spent fashioning figures such as the comely fellows above. The figures, what I call Stuffed Paintings are essentially dolls, dolls play acting an existential tableaux that I have called Embodied. In the spirit of Neo-medievalism I am tempted to call the dolls  Mummers. The latest Mummer is the red figure in the foreground.

“Proserpina, Archdiablesse, Princess of Evil Spirits”
2017
Mixed media: thrift store fabric, recycled clothing, acrylic painted canvas, embroiderty floss, poly-fill.
48 by 21 by 10

Proserpina, Archdiablesse, Princess of Evil Spirits is typical of the Mummers I have in mind for my revamped Mystery Play centered upon the trials and tribulations of the early Desert Fathers, most particularly, St. Anthony (and his legion of troublesome demons). Proserpina is also a bit of a gender play as are most of the characters. Gender role and “appropriate” performance  being explored and expanded upon.

Early conceptual sketch for “Embodied”, 2016

 

With Embodied I am also eager to explore the concept of withdrawal from worldliness, so beloved by the early Desert Fathers yet so elusive, so prone to “failure”; I find myself, in this age of constant performance (social media, self-branding, creating content suitable to absurdly small  attention spans) alluring and terrifying. I have struggled for the last few weeks to at the very least disconnect the Facebook app from my phone, but even that minuscule rejection of worldliness leaves me anxious and insecure. How did this happen, and what shall I do about it? Can balance be found?

For now I am focusing upon my desert tableaux, my Mummers and perhaps costumes, perhaps even performance of some sort. The following are a few of the Mummers thus far.

“Pierott”
2017
Mixed media: recycled fabric, acrylic painted canvas, embroidery floss, poly-fill.
51 by 23 by 8 inches

Pierott is perhaps the most emblematic of the Mummers. As a  queer boy I was fascinated with the commedia del’arte , particular Pierott, his melancholy and chronic heartbreak was both familiar and comforting. I knew the gist of the comedys and I attempted to recreate them in the little shoestring theater I set up in our suburban basement. All went well with my spit-and-glue scenery and costumes, the problem being actors (and an audience). Given that I was the eldest of six siblings I thought recruiting my siblings would be a cinch. I was wrong, they, my brothers in particular, balked at the faggoty-ness of it all (my father agreed with this ) and after several very lame attempts, the show did NOT go on.

My brothers to this day still mockingly gripe about my directorial bossiness; and I still feel hurt.

Stuffed Mummers, mute and obedient, would have been a better solution. 

“The Wodewose Quercus”
2017
Mixed media: recycled fabric, acrylic painted canvas, twigs, embroidery floss, fiber-fill.
54 by 31 by 8 inches

Al of the figures begin life as a sketch, sometimes just a random thumbnail drawing.

Sketch for “Quercus”

I find further inspiration from multiple sources,such as this manuscript illumination.

The making of Embodied is in itself a reaction against set gender roles. The stitching, the quiet needlework , historically determined to be women’s work is for me deeply enjoyable. Yet when I go to the craft and sewing emporium I feel conspicuously male amidst a shop full of Glendale housewives. I catch myself (pitifully) trying to butch it up as I clutch my fistfuls of gaily colored embroidery floss and sparkly trims. Usually I chuckle at my own absurdity and proceed to the cashier. But the sewing, what may have been women’s work , is now mine as well.

I still have much to do, so much more stitching and painting and thinking and writing , yet I am determined to enjoy this time. To forgo  elusive perfection and instead allow the process to unfold, hopefully revealing new directions , new intentions or solidifying ambiguity.

This fellow is based upon a strange tale told by one of the Desert Fathers. Locked in his desert cell, the unrelenting sun pulverizing his devotion, he suddenly, lustilly desired a cucumber. One can sympathize but the symbolism is amusing. That figure is next on the sewing table.

Concept sketch for “Cucumber Boy”.

I also plan on a crucifix, this being the beginning of the Corpus.

Corpus with sketch

Thanksgiving approaches and we are preparing for our own desert holiday in Joshua Tree , we’ve never been there, so I look forward to being inspired.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Wodewose

I finished my latest figure last evening, what I had heretofore been calling simply a rag-doll, I am now calling a stuffed painting.

 He is called The Wodewose.

Greenmen (andGreenwomen), The Green Knight, Wildmen and the archaic form, the Wodewose, fascinate me. They are at once pure of heart and spirit yet unbridled, carnal, the embodiment of our bestial selves. No wonder they appear so frequently in medieval marginalia; amidst sacred texts, randy hairy beastie-folk cavort and beguile.

I’ve turned to the theme multiple times. After reading Simon Armitage’s excellent  translation of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” I was hooked on the theme, a wondrously fascinating archetype; ripe for seemingly endless re-interpretation.

The Green Knight
watercolor and pencil on paper

 

This latest work is in the round and I was able to more fully develop his fleshy-ness ( and hairy-ness thanks to some found faux fur).

The Wodewose
2017
Mixed media: recycled rag, acrylic paint, twigs, thread and poly-fill
Approx. 40 by 22 by 6 inches

I was inspired to employ the Wodewose-Wildman archetype because of the recent celebration of Beltane on May 1st. Rebirth, renewal, the “pagan” appreciation of unbridled spring. My figure has two ways of presenting himself in order to more fully keep in the step with the seasons.

The first being flacid Winter Dormant:

And the second, lively Spring Renewal:

“The Wodewose” will be part of my contribution to “Satan’s Ball”, a group show at Art Share LA that promises to be an:

“unapologetic embrace of the dangers, demons, burdens and temptations that beckon to the more sinful angels of our nature”.

 I would replace “natural” for “sinful”.

a link to ArtShare:

http://artsharela.org

I’m going to close with a few random images of Wildfolk that never fail to delight me. As I leave for Pittsburgh tomorrow and rain is supposed to be in order, I’m looking forward to a wild rush of greenery (and perhaps a few fauns).

Yet Another St. Anthony

My passion for the anchorite St. Anthony never seems to abate. Another composition for perhaps another painting. I have many to choose from…

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Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert

2016

pencil on paper

18 by 24″

Details follow:

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Anthony and his guardian Wodewose-Greenman

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Herakles and Ophelia

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The Green Knight

Last week I ran a proof for a new print inspired by the Sir Gawain and Green Knight narrative. Initially the print was going to be a multi plate affair, a technique I thought I had mastered somewhat. But after multiple runs I became increasingly dissatisfied with the results ;  The Green Knight proofs were consistent only in their inconsistency: the colors were not aligning , the ink was spotty and “snow-flaked”. I strive to achieve consistency when I run a series, something that was drilled into by my instructor Jim. So I decided to turn to a technique that Jim was less than enthusiastic about, pochoir, or more simply , stenciling . Jim felt it not quite printmaking in some way, and I can understand his resistance. Yet, with this technique I was able to accomplish what I was searching for , color, color that was within the defining lines of the image. A certain degree of wonkiness in printmaking can be desirable but what I was producing just looked like I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. This is the final artist’s proof of The Green Knight. He seems particularly suited to the winter holidays.

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The Green Knight

2015

pochoir-relief print on paper, artist’s proof

image size 8 by10″

The misalignment that frustrated me is apparent in this image.

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I had far preferred the simple black and white print, yet he is the Green knight.

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The  pochoir process is satisfyingly craft oriented, I was able to utilize techniques and tools from my decorative painting career.

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To now have a desk full of proofs is satisfying, I will run a series in the new year, brightening the green and using the darker buff. I am also going to utilize the pochoir technique when I run my recent print The Proposition. I hope to produce prints that are more vibrant AND aligned in the future . At the same time cutting back on production headaches as cutting stencils is far easier than cutting lino. My only new year resolution is to actually make and hopefully sell some prints, pochoir-relief prints may be the answer. Until next time, be well.

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Orpheus’ Lament

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This morning I put the finishing touches on my Orpheus “tapestry”, a large, unbound canvas that I started during my summer stint at PAFA. It is my largest studio painting yet, when I was a decorative painter my work could easily exceed thirty feet or so ( and many stories off the ground) but my studio work thus far has been restricted by the parameters of my work space. PAFA offered me four empty walls, seemingly endless possibilities . 

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Orpheus’ Lament

2015

acrylic on unbound canvas

59 by 93″

Due to the size of the painting (and my own ineptness) I cannot seem to adequately capture the entire image without some sheen and loss of detail, so I will post detail shots:

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(my homage to Redon and Fred Stonehouse)

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Merman, I like this fellow, he is rather sexy.

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This fellow, actually his eye, was the only element of this painting that was considered redeemable by the faculty critique at PAFA. Apparently I am still nursing wounds. Since leaving the program I have had quite a bit of existential angst , have I any right (or abilty) to declare myself an artist. My consolation has been to just work as honestly as I can, and see what happens.

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I listen to far too many podcasts while I work; for those who have enjoyed the podcast Welcome to NightVale , they might recognize the winged character watching over Orpheus.

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I like this fellow-frankly I like them all; hence the somewhat dizzying composition. They become family, I can no sooner eliminate them then I would flesh and blood friends.

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My only formal training is that from a Russian iconographer , that is abundantly clear by this character, who has become sort of a personal avatar.

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These two are inspired by Greenmen , the universal bond of man and the natural world . That bond is the basic inspiration for the painting, a favorite theme, one that has been explored many times over, Orpheus’ playing upon the lyre and so moving the natural world, that all manner of flora and fauna gather at his feet. Trees uproot themselves and mountains roll towards him, all weeping at the bitter sweetness of his song. This Roman mosaic captures that moment beautifully .

Roman mosaic depicting Orpheus Phrygian surrounded by the beasts charmed by the music of his lyre

 This large painting was first a simple watercolor of faun, but it provided unexpected inspiration when I found myself in Philadelphia without my usual “crutches”, namely my large resource library. A library that is often a boon and sometimes a curse.

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While in Philadelphia I would often visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art, passing by the monumental 17th c. tapestries designed by Rubens. The scale and the color palette provided much inspiration. I particularly admired how the waves were translated in the weaving.

IMG_6852All in all I am satisfied with this painting, I’m rarely (ever?) completely satisfied but when I feel I have gone as far as I can with a painting then I consider it finished…for the time being. I will go back to oils, but I was happy that I persevered with acrylics for this painting. With the weather here in LA now not so wretchedly hot I was better able to manipulate the medium. When I left Philadelphia I could barely look at this painting (or the others I had started), but now I feel I absorbed what I could from the experience and feel I expressed myself as authentically as possible . The final image is of the painting before I shipped it to LA.

aug 12th 2015

August 12th 2015

For those in the States I close with an amazingly appropriate Thanksgiving image. I feel as if I could have painted it. It is courtesy of the great artist Judith Schaechter and her ever-amusing Facebook feed. It is particularly appropriate to end with her in mind because she offered me such support and insight while at PAFA. A great inspiration and an incredible artist.

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The Foliate Man

As class winds down I manage to think of work on the horizon, specifically a large oil painting that I have been working on in fits and starts. The following is the body decoration for Herakles, I was delighted to employ my decorative talents once again. I wanted pretty and I received pretty.

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This is the sketch of the fellow unadorned.

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I think he will look swell, perhaps one day he will have a solo role. The following are a few sketches I made for possible paintings-essentially just getting ideas out before they fade into the ether. 

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A tree god inspired by a Juan O’Gorman painting  I saw recently. and a coy Adam.

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Received happy news today , two of my favorite paintings were accepted for an upcoming exhibition celebrating gay pride month, held in perhaps the Vatican of Gaydom, West Hollywood . I suppose that proves, no matter how much I may protest , my work is just a little homo!

Will provide details later.

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The Green Knight

Given that Saint Patrick’s Day is just around the corner and that I happen to be in the throes of attempting to read as many translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as I can, this still-wet painting/drawing seemed fit to post. 

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 The Green Knight 

2015

graphite and watercolor on paper

11 by 11″

As I mentioned I am on a Romantic frenzy with an emphasis on Gawain and the Green Knight. So far the Simon Armitage translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight seems the most expressive and easily holds one’s attention, it is a real page turner. Thankful to Clive Hicks-Jenkins for introducing me to it.

What I love most is Armitage’s  almost erotic description of the beastly yet seductive Green Knight.  He is clearly a monstrous sight, green of flesh, massive and brutish; yet beautiful, well built and splendidly attired. A radiant greenish-golden yellow glow,save for the flaming red of his eyes, permeates his being. I was seduced immediately. Hence the image. 

In my readings I have come upon numerous interpretations of who or what the Green Knight is. Some have understood his unholy skin color to represent death; some believe he is the devil, yet others believe he is a Greenman or the Greenman’s cousin the wodewose.  I want to believe he is not anything particularly malevolent but instead  an old god, full of contradictions, light and dark, “good” and “evil”. The complicated  duality  that the chivalric court of Arthur found so difficult to comprehend with its rigid codes of behavior.

I have attempted to fit all of Gawains future into the blanket of the Green Knight’s equally green horse. There is the unholy beheading challenge, the castle/sanctuary of  Sir Bertilak ( the Green Knight’s alter ego), the seductive Queen with her charming bosom, and  finally the Green Chapel. The Green Knight and his horse are a writing pulsating tangle of vegetation.

Right now I am reading the latest Penguin translation and next I plan to see what Tolkien thought of this grand tale. The following image, which thankfully I did not see until just a moment ago for fear of undue influence, is from an original manuscript-it’s pretty splendid.

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 Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!