Jongleur de Dieu, Tumbler for God

Jason Jenn, from his March 16th 2019 performance of “Temptations in Fairyland”

Temptations in Fairyland , Jason Jenn’s site specific performance piece, which delighted  not one but two separate audiences last Saturday at MOAH/Cedar in Lancaster CA, immediately called to my my mind the Jongleur de Dieu, the prankster tradition of tumbling and juggling in order to best serve the Lord. Harking back to the early Church with Symeon the Holy Fool and his manic, mad pranks in which he cleverly  brought the Gospel to a feckless and indifferent world, this enthusiastic tradition continues still. In relatively contemporary times, the late theologian priest Henri Nouwen has been described by his biographer  Professor Michael W.Higgins as such. In referencing the trapeze artists The Flying Rodleighs and their impact upon the priest, Nouwen acknowledges his own place as a Holy Fool:

…the Flying Rodleighs allowed him to see his life as that of a Jongleur de Dieu, a Tumbler or Juggler for God. Although a medieval conceit-linked with courtly love tradition and the troubadours- the jongleur had a special, subversive and beatific function to perform.”

Genius Born of Anguish:The Life Legacy of Henri Nouwen, Michael Higgins

“Special, subversive and beatific” was indeed the “function” of Jason’s astonishing performance last weekend. Set in the middle of my Fairyland, I hadn’t known what to expect, I can say I hadn’t expected such a completely immersive experience-you simply have no choice but to jump onto Jason’s wild speeding train of boundless energy . I am a full throttle artist, I frankly do not know how to make art without giving my all; Jason is a brother, a comrade in this. His performance so complete, so fully committed to embodying Flaubert’s Temptation of St. Anthony, my own Fairyland and his own very personal understanding of performance art and its place in understanding how best to be a human. We as enlightened, gifted beings kissed by an unknown, unknowable god, God, spirit, power, have struggled with this from the very beginning,  Jason, performing as the anchorite Anthony and as the ambiguously evil, delightful, seductive desert  companion Hilarion tackles this conundrum with wit, wonder and moving pathos.   I giggled between gasping, it was a dizzying, manic performance that delighted me at the moment and now a week later leaves me wondering how best to move forward.

 Deep, deep respect to you my friend , Jason,  your tribute meant so much to me.

 

With that said, some mementos from that performance (images for the most part from Jason’s Facebook page).

As the Anchorite with my “Robin Goodfellow
As the Anchorite.

Enter Hilarion!

The incredible body paint by his collaborator, the talented visual artist Vojislav Rad. I was so amazed by this clever pastiche of my own work , that for a moment , I tried to remember when I had actually painted it! 

Vojislav hard at work.
What a team.
The Tempter in the Seat of Temptation, the Anchorite’s Chair.
A moving closing.

It was quite a day, one of great honor for me. Thrilled to see Flaubert so wonderfully realized, delighted to see my own work so thoroughly understood and lastly, to better understand Jason’s work. I am not as familiar with the traditions of performance art. It has always seemed so ponderous, at times full of itself, Jason, through his quite serious merrymaking allowed me to see the joy and life in this art. Similar to my own work, Jason employs a light touch to weighty topics. In this, we are both Jongleur de Dieu.

The author with Pluton.

On a more somber note, Jason’s performance was the last outing for my little chihuahua Speck, who at sixteen, died this past Wednesday. May he be tumbling for God as I speak. Rest in peace sweet boy.

Much gratitude to MOAH/Cedar for providing a home to both  Fairyland and to Temptations in Fairyland, and to Robert Benitez for suggesting the concept initially. What great support from this wonderful cultural gem in the desert!

From left: “Robin Goodfellow”, Leonard Greco, Robert Benitez, Jason Jenn.

A reminder that I am hosting a life drawing session tomorrow at Cedar Hall adjacent to Fairyland. Props, funny hats and a naked fellow, what more do you want?

Links to Jason and Vojislav follow:

http://www.jasonjenn.com

https://www.instagram.com/vojislav.rad/

Jason Jenn, from his March 16th 2019 performance of “Temptations in Fairyland”

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 .

Ekphrasis…what an honor !

Ekphrasis, the artistic practice of a poet or artist inspired by one piece of art that another, generally a poem, is created in its honor. This is an ancient tradition, Homer in both his Illiad and The Odyssey frequently gushes about lovely delicately wrought brooches and elaborate too-pretty-for-war battle shields. The Poetry Foundation describes ekphrasis as :

“an ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art.” More generally, an ekphrastic poem is a poem inspired or stimulated by a work of art.”

Generally understood as a literary practice I myself however have almost exclusively been inspired to produce tributes to poetry and literature through the visual arts. I frankly cannot think of a single piece of work NOT inspired by literature .  My installation piece Embodied:St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears is directly inspired by Flaubert’s magnificent hallucinatory  noodle-buster The Temptation of Saint Anthony (which in turn was inspired by a marionette performance of the same theme).  My work is either illustration (which I would disagree with ) or ekphrastic tribute. As ekphrasis is a beautiful  somewhat haughty  and daunting word, I will go with the latter.

All that said I have been honored recently to have TWO works of art made in tribute to my own art! That is an extraordinary experience. The first is a work of poetry by the artist Edwin Vasquez who had a personal inspiration from my Temptations of St. Anthony of the Desert (below). This poet and artist sent me both the poem and a very poignant  note explaining the meaningfulness of my work to his own personal experience. Like so many artists I work in isolation and frankly never give consideration to potential viewers or their reaction to the work. To have such a touching tribute be sent my way, well that  is incredibly validating and much appreciated. The following is Edwin’s poem and a link.

 

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

The Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert

by Edwin Vasquez


Restless river zig-zagging like a poisonous desert snake

mirroring a non-existent, pale blueish color

from the grey hue of the restless sky.

On the right, in the forefront, St. Anthony stands in a catatonic state

behind a hollow tree trunk that resembles an empty cave where demons play,

his hand with painted nails holds the trunk — perhaps for dear life.

His forehead partially reflects the shadow from the twisted, carved cross,

accenting his sad and somber, melancholic face;

he resembles an animal in distress,

the saffron tunic replaced with a

tight costume – toxic green – accentuating his features,

yet he is not man nor woman,

he is animal, haunted by his own desires and demons.

The joke is on them:

the Bishop and King, the centaur and satyr, the jokers and demons;

they, in disgust, look away from him, who they want to scare —

he, who lost himself in the desert of his soul.

Link:https://sagebrushcafe.wordpress.com/ravensong/?fbclid=IwAR0VHEPDJgO5diiQQ4s8sZqNPT_UoXN7J3nFtrDwNqGJxzZNClnJ2rzmaQg

 

If that wasn’t exciting enough, another artist Jason Jenn has crafted a performance piece around my installation Embodied:St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears. I haven’t seen the work yet and have consciously distanced myself from any input , eager instead to see what this talented friend comes up with. The image associated with the performance of  Temptations in Fairyland delights the heck out of me.

Temptation in Fairyland
Jason Jenn

A link to the performance is on this Facebook events page:

https://www.facebook.com/events/387324135388019/

I don’t know what to expect, and like everyone else I will have to wait and see on March 16th, but I am  unabashedly excited.

And honored.

“The Temptation of St.Anthony of the Desert at the Baths of St.Mark”
2016
sanguine pencil on paper
18 by 24 inches

This  solo show experience has been a great source of personal gratification. I am on a sort of forced break from the studio, first I am in the process of moving the studio to another location, but more importantly (and more pleasurably) meeting friends at MOAH/Cedar to walk them through the galleries. I haven’t socialized this much in years, a bit daunting for an introverted hermit but what a delight. Today I met two really darling friends, both very talented artists, Malka Nedivi and Simone Gad, this photo being a treasured memento (my pups travel pretty much everywhere I go at this point).

Malka, left, The Dogwalker and Simone, right.

Again, what an honor!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Herakles , Redemption & Borage

I visited the Getty Villa this morning with my sister Pamela who is visiting from back east . We arrived early enough that there weren’t many slack- jawed tourists incessantly snapping selfies . Instead we had the old gods and newly born spring blossoms to ourselves.

It was heavenly .

There is currently an exquisite exhibition devoted to the classical world’s understanding of the Underworld. Monumental funerary kraters dominate the plum tinted galleries , elaborate narrative paintings scrawled upon the earthen surfaces. There is of course Queen Persephone and her dark consort Hades , Sisyphus can be found toiling eternally under that terrible darn rock and Hermes flitters about oblivious to the sorrows of the shades .

But I was particularly drawn to mighty Herakles , seen time and again battling the fearsome Cerberus- one of his tasks meant to redeem his terrible crimes, the murder of his wife Megaro and their sons the Herakleidai. From one funerary vessel to another his muscular frame could be seen wrestling that multi headed canine fiend .

I’ve drawn inspiration from Herakles all of my life . His madness , the fit of rage that drove him to his terrible sins , although the result of a divine curse from almighty Hera, caused him great anguish. His suffering has always resonated personally as I’ve had a lifelong struggle with at times severe depression and chronic anxiety . He has been in some ways a patron saint .

So much so that I painted a near life sized icon of the weary redeemed hero in my Herakles Tapestry seen here with Parsifal in the foreground.

 

On one funerary vessel there was a touching image of the ill fated Megara and the sons she bore our hero , they are found forever languishing in dank Hades.

Between visiting darkened galleries devoted to Persephone and her vassals my sister and I popped in and out to delight in the gardens the Villa is so famous for . Glorious spring ephemerals were popping out of the ground as if the dark queen herself was emerging.

Borage being my favorite, with an added joy in the hosts of honey bees darting about .

Perhaps less photogenic but nonetheless important to the Herakles narrative was the hellebores, pale green and tender and so easy to overlook , it however cured our long suffering Herakles from his madness .

I was pleased to see how well it grew and am now encouraged to try it in my own cottage garden . I’m going to close with a few photographic mementos from this fine day with the Shades and the Quick.

The sovereigns of the Underworld

And pretty youths basking in the gifts of Helios

 

And one less youthful but certainly appreciative of being above Hades realm… for now .

My sister Pamela, this being her first visit to the Getty Villa was dazzled and thrilled as is to be expected.

I’m planning another visit very soon as this featured exhibition Underworld :Imagining the Afterlife closes March 18th.

I recommend catching it before it slips away as easily as Eurydice.

A Virtual Tour of Fairyland ( and some pretty nice press)

Image, MOAH/Cedar
Blue Gallery, Fairyland
Image taken by MOAH/Cedar

To say the opening of Fairyland last Saturday went well would be an understatement. Frankly the support and good feelings expressed towards this work has left  me  in a dazed state. I have cloistered myself in the studio for so long that to finally emerge and meet such warmth and kindness, well,  I feel a bit blinded by the light.

All I can say is thank you, thank you to the friends, familiar and newly made and to my family who trekked cross country to attend my opening and brought such tidings of good will. I am deeply moved.

For those unable to attend I am having the work documented by several very talented photographers and a book is scheduled for publication. But before that time, there is this wonderful video which was made (and  made me a nervous wreck as I am very camera shy).

I was also delighted to receive word that the magazine Hi-Fructose had published a favorable review of the exhibition, that certainly made my day! 

Link: http://hifructose.com/2019/02/26/leonard-grecos-fairyland-inhabits-moah-cedar/?fbclid=IwAR1lZ0AiPuNLRW4s1NeUOZlP3a814PPsMnrUyM_kkzuAz2PcqOK1FqyB-sc

 

Presently  much to be grateful for, I am officially on a bit of a holiday, a respite I suppose, precious time with my sisters and then a weekend gateway with my husband David who turns 50 in a very few days, and then …back to work.

David and Viola in Fairyland, February 23rd 2019, MOAH/Cedar.

I do want to express a great deal of gratitude to my friend Kristine Schomaker of Shoebox PR who handled the publicity of Fairyland. The diligence and hard work of Kristine and her excellent staff has been instrumental in pulling this darn thing off. Thank you my friend.

Kristine Schomaker and yours truly.

I’m going to close with a few Shoebox PR snapshots that I especially like.

Image, Shoebox PR
Image Shoebox PR
Image Shoebox PR

Link to Shoebox PR:https://shoeboxpr.com/

More images will be posted, but for now, good night.

Image, MOAH/Cedar

Fairyland, signed, sealed, delivered.

A year and a half in the making and now Fairyland is in place, ready for its unveiling this Saturday, February 23rd, 2019.

https://www.lancastermoah.org/cedar-exhibitions

Prior to delivery, my workshop was quite a mess.

 

(images courtesy of Shoebox PR)

But with careful planning and ample experience in moving, the packing up of the work went surprisingly well. I even took satisfaction in the neat and tidy cardboard packages, labeled like so many Christmas packages under the tree.

For all my control-freak fretting the museum staff was incredibly capable and supportive, in the transport and in the installation. I fret and fret and all goes well,so much  angst for naught.

 

“Embodied” in process of installation.

An unforeseen drama was the vinyl lettering, the custom font I had designed and posted previously was simply too complex a design to be printed by my printer.

A last minute revision was made with happy results.

Best laid plans…

One of the dramatic transformations has been reimagining the white box gallery space into a personal place of enchantment. I specifically chose rich colors as an antidote to the “good taste” of so many gallery spaces, the blinding white or tepid neutrals . I wanted to use colors that I have lived with all my life, the blue seen above , a “Williamsburg” blue favored by my mother, that is now the wall color in my guest bathroom. The golden walls dense and theatrical evoke an orientalist fantasy and the deep red is beguilingly called Cochineal-how does one resist? I also wanted to play up the primary colors, the workhorse of a painter’s workshop and the nursery of fairy tale loving children.

So from chilling white …

…to something more personally gratifying, and since nearly all of my paintings have Paynes Grey in them , they look pretty spiffy.

 

To say it has been harrowing is an exaggeration but it has involved a great deal of planning to get this show on the road, in place and now installed. So much of my time and energy has been devoted to this project that I now feel myself bereft of purpose.  I feel such a loss, my studio is forlorn, stripped bare of my stuffed friends and my favorite paintings, a wet LA winter has left the workshop bone-chilling cold, I am feeling unable to focus on the simplest tasks. I intend to read a new translation of The Odyssey and instead binge on H.R. Puffinstuff (which I now feel has been a  latent influence , unbeknownst to me previously-also it celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year). But for the most part I feel like a ghost, wandering lost, awaiting the next project. I know something will emerge, if nothing else I will set new tasks for myself. I am moving out of the workshop to something climate controlled, clean and with pretty views of LA, plus my husband will be my suite mate. But I haven’t any new real deadlines aside from the final , existential deadline of mortality…that always keeps me moving.

If in Southern California please try to catch Fairyland, it runs through March 31st.