Those were the words I heard every Easter, fervently claiming them myself. Now, I am less certain of what I believe. It feels more complicated, more fraught ;one day the Old Gods have all the answers, the next Jesus Christ. I take the truth from where I can.
That said I feel more attuned to what has been called by the Irish as the “thin places”, the space between the world of man and the world of the spirit. This lenten season, instead of forgoing any particular vice, hindrance or pleasure, I simply drew. With a pencil in hand, promising to whoever listens to my private thoughts, that no matter what, each studio day I will produce at the least, a decent enough drawing. No promises of masterworks, just a commitment of time and energy before I began my studio day.
I once studied under a Russian Orthodox monk and iconographer Vladislav Andrejev, he, through the translation of his sweet wife Olga, told me that art making must be considered a prayer to the Divine.
That I believe in.
The following is a result of my Lenten Indulgences ( a little nod to dear old Luther) :
“As Rome becomes more modern…he himself becomes increasingly more antique”, so Colm Tóibín describes Henry James in The Master. I share that sentiment, my Rome being the world at large, most specifically the online universe . A marvel of a place, where,without inching a bit from my armchair,I may explore worlds heretofore unknown to me.
Such is the case with that mighty culture unto itself, the realm of Queer Art. How does one actually define Queer Art? Such a broad and diverse realm, at least that is what I would imagine, for aren’t we the clever ones?
I hesitate to gripe, knowing full well the marvelous work being made by contemporary LGBTQ artists, in the here and the now. And yet, when I scroll my Instagram, I find myself bombarded by images so salacious I almost feel embarrassed . I’m not prudish, but the overload of comely boys with perky butts and winsome smiles romping about with bathhouse abandon (if an allusion to Jesus Christ or the Blessed Virgin can be added to the mix, all the better),has, and I have a hard time saying this, become tedious, boring and depressing . I follow a great many “queer” art collective sites, initially engaging with the host, hoping I suppose for some reciprocal interest in my work, but quickly concluding that my work is far from what is generally regarded as queer art. Nonetheless I employ the #queerart hashtag , knowing full well my work will not meet expectation.
With that, I find myself settling in with an anthology of early “queer” literature, Sexual Heretics: Male Homosexuality in English Literature from 1850 to 1900, selected and with an introduction by Brian Reade, to say I feel right at home in this fin de siècle paradise is an understatement. The literary works explored in this anthology,first published in the United Kingdom in 1970, I find sincerely radical, far more expressive than the frequently vacuous reflections of an unreflective society…and yes, I refer to contemporary gay culture. One knows all too well the repression experienced in the 19th century (and earlier of course) and yet, given these suffocating restrictions, great works of art were made. By employing subtle (and not so subtle ) codes, desire, yearning and repressed intention was expressed, at least to a knowing audience . I certainly do not want to return to a furtive society, but yet, I do frequently feel impoverished by the orgiastic (?) abundance of an unfettered culture. We have now attained a level of freedom unimagined and the best we can come up with is salaciousness and blasphemy ? I think our collective experience is richer than that.
I don’t know what the answer is, this is merely the ramblings of a crotchety old gay guy but just as Henry James felt ( at least according to Tóibín) “He was old enough at fifty-six to deplore things with full conviction…”. Solidly fifty-six, I feel confident to not only deplore a great many things but to also be unflinchingly delighted. One such delight is the very queer of art of the fin de Siécle, most specifically the Symbolists, the Decadent Movement and at times the Pre-Raphealites and the Arts and Craft movement.
Simeon Solomon, both homosexual and Jewish, knew all too well the ugly heel of repression , yet his work expressed a poetic tenderness that often leaves me speechless. He frequently found himself in tussles with the law, seemingly unable to avoid public toilets, yet his work, possesses a languor that often feels chaste. I love this impish image of him, I feel I would have delighted in knowing him.
An early love is the same sex art couple Charles Ricketts (b. 1866, d. 1931) and Charles Shannon (b. 1863, d. 1937). Both painters, Shannon an accomplished portraitist ( a bit dry for my taste). But it is Rickets, who struggled with easel painting but found full expression in illustration, book, set and costume design, that I most relate to. Although never “out” in the modern sense, their open domesticity left little room for doubt, a couple (and their art) well worth exploring.
Ricketts line work easily rivaled Aubrey Beardsley.
Ricketts book design captured perfectly the perfumed excess of Wilde’s pleasure dome.
I mentioned Ricketts struggled with easel paintings, from the biographies I have read he was frequently frustrated, I imagine more so if he compared himself to the academic gloss of his partner’s conventional studio work. That said, I admire a great many of his paintings. Queer and odd indeed .
I mentioned above the great Beardsley, and although not clear as to homosexual or not, he certainly was magnificently queer . This odd fellow who described even his teeth being a little phallic (not to mention that coif) , this odd bird, made my grim childhood so delightful, so rich,so full of curious perverse wonder. My greatest desire is for there to be an afterlife in which I can thank him (and Wilde) for the innumerable gifts he has given me. Passing beyond tragically young, there has never been another Aubrey.
As a boy I haunted used bookstores with my mother, whilst she perused the Harlequin Romance pile, I explored the art and literature shelves. At nine I almost fainted when this image popped out of the pages of a Beardsley monograph- suffice to say I never showed the book to my mother.
I was recently asked to be in a group show of queer artist, I was asked to describe how I defined my art and my “queerness”; this is how I answered:
“In our identity obsessed society , where non binary fluidity is omnipresent, gender non-specific pronouns the lingua franca of our age and everyone of a certain age seems free to identify as queer, I feel a bit of an anachronism. A middle aged white man of dull and conventional gayness My work however , following the dictates of Flaubert :“BE REGULAR AND ORDERLY IN YOUR LIFE LIKE A BOURGEOIS, SO THAT YOU CAN BE VIOLENT AND ORIGINAL IN YOUR WORK” might express my queerest self . While probably not wholly original or particularly violent, it is heartfelt. It is in my reclaiming and re-contextualizing cultural archetypes ( almost exclusively Western ), which heretofore felt exclusionary , that I feel most inspired and free . For it is in finding the sacred in all beings , queer ones as well , that I can relinquish the shackles of shame and self loathing so present in my generation. Thankfully the youth of our day seem less burdened .”
This figure of Pierrot is what will be shown…I think with his pink satin peen he will be salacious enough to be considered queer.
I’ll close with another commedia figure, this by the great Beardsley .
Rather curious email I just received , from a film producer , inquiring as to if I held the copyright to this image. As it is still in its notebook, I suppose I do. What I find so curious is how this producer (and director , who has made films even this hermit at least recognizes), found this image. I have little memory of sharing it, aside from this studio journal-are people really reading this thing ???
Odd how exposed I feel.
Anyway, they wish to use it as part of the set decoration for a film loosely based upon Lavinia and Titus Andronicus, I agreed. As long as credit is given, I am delighted.
I love Lavinia, I’ve turned to her before as in this acrylic painting from 2015.
I think I need to re-read that magnificent, complex and horrifying play, this rainy LA day the perfect time to do so.
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 .
I had the good fortune to be invited to a film this afternoon by a thoughtful friend. Given my monastic tendencies and my obsessive desire for studio time , I was close to declining. But the film, November directed by Ranier Sarnet was only playing this one day, this one time (in LA!). If I had listened to that hesitant voice I would have missed a very great work of art.
I’m desiring in my art (and in my life) to be truer, braver, funnier, darker, richer.
Living in LA I should be more of a film buff, everyone seems an expert. But truth be told my interest lies in the traditional arts. But this baroque gritty ravishing film , filmed exquisitely in inky black and blizzard white, is hilarious at moments, horrifying the next; it captures the essence of why fairytales are so essential. A primal confection, one moment a fantasy of alabaster lovers exchanging love tokens in a gilded gondola, the next, scatalogical buffoonery.
Not since Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête have I swooned with such delight.
This preview only hints at the snow bleached beauty of this film,veined with the greed, rapacity, and wretchedness of base man and yet tenderly evoking the poetry of illusive desire and tragedy of ephemeral youth.
This link provides the dates this marvel will be shown.
After having seen this nourishing film, I feel impoverished after populist fare such as the Shape of Water (which I enjoyed). Whereas that aquatic romance delighted , this film lingers in the way a Bruegel painting haunts your memory . In fact, Bruegel with his potty-mouthed humanism is what came to mind consistently during this gorgeous film.
Cocteau had the handsome Jean Marais as his Bête; Sarnet has the beguiling Estonian actor Jörgen Liik as the comely Hans. I’m rather smitten by this flaxen crowned Apollo. I imagine I will be drawing him.
I think I’ve gushed enough about this film. If you don’t believe me , read this review:
Lastly, thank you Lezley for inviting me. What a gift.
I have the good fortune to be included in a group show curated by my talented friend Rachel Gibas , the opening reception, this weekend at Coagula Curatorial on Chung king Rd., here in L.A. I’m very pleased and look forward to the opening. I’ve been informed that the exhibition is opening earlier, 5pm, which is fortunate as we have tickets for Orpheus & Eurydice that very evening, so I may enjoy Gluck and the company of my art friends.
I have also received final word that my solo show at MOAH-Cedar has been officially scheduled with an opening scheduled February 23rd 2019. A little less than a year away, which on one hands seems the distant future, but I have much I wish to accomplish before that time I recognize my desires will always outweigh reality-that is the nature of existence after all, books that will never be read, new friends never to have met, new vistas never to be beheld…yet we strive forward. That, in a nutshell, is my “studio practice” (ugh, that is such a pretentious phrase), the blind optimism of reaching towards an un-climable wall.
All that said, I will be stitching, painting, drawing, sawing, glueing, cussing feverishly to fill this space-horror vacui.