Mission San Xavier del Bac: Art and Faith

As a boy I looked upward towards the sumptuous ceiling of Immaculate Conception Church , my father’s parish church in the Italian American community of Trenton NJ. I was moved beyond belief , the incense became more aromatic , the songbook more inspiring, the gospel readings more personally encouraging.

Today upon entering the desert church of the Mission San Xavier in Tucson Arizona, I felt that familiar tingle of faith synchronized with art creating an exhilarating sensation. My Catholicism is intertwined with my art making and with my life . At times , foolishly, I’ve tried to distance myself from my faith , but the saints , they come a knocking and will not be ignored .

Inside this treasure of a church , my iPhone clicking away in the most secular vulgar fashion I looked about at the faithful reciting their rosary , the earnest supplication for divine intercession and the pinning of milagros upon the reliquary of the mission’s patron and I felt a sense of shame , of coarseness. Amidst such sincerity , my appreciation for the art clouded the balm my soul was being offered .

Silencing my phone , I sat upon the wooden pews and allowed the spirit of the place , one enriched by countless testaments of faith , to sink in .

The following images were taken before the intercession of spirit .

 

Below, the central altar .

La Dolorosa, circa 1750, east transept

 

Jesús Nazareno, west transept

I admire the rich and exuberant ornament surrounding this santo.

Elsewhere art abounds.

One of an angelic pair flanking the main altar.

The fonts shaped as shells I believe , notice the diapered wainscot.

How sweet is this angel ? One of many charmingly depicted.

As you can see below and in other images this is an active church , faith engaged daily , in this case festively for the celebration of our Savior’s birth .

The baptismal font curious and marvelous.

 

The choir loft equally enchanting.

As is so often the case , this mission’s dazzling interiors are enhanced by austere splendor of the exterior , the sunlit majesty of this mission is incredibly inspiring .

There was a side chapel , I don’t know it’s history , I’m , we’re , now reading histories of the place to be better acquainted for future visits , but we both were moved to tears by the power of the place . The passionate pleas laid bare in this modest sanctuary. No inkling present to document this sacred hallowed ground by pulling out my phone , so instead this side altar to my patron saint must suffice .

With that , I sign off.

Pax.

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.

 

Fairyland Chaos

My scrap trunk, image by Ken Moffatt

In preparation for my solo exhibition at MOAH/Cedar https://www.lancastermoah.org/cedar-exhibitions  I am in that happy place, that point of total absorption with the task at hand. There is a superficial chaos to my studio at the moment, baskets and boxes spill over with thrift store yardage, flashy discarded costumes tumble upon the floor, even the dog beds are spotted with a gay confetti. But from this disorder spontaneity is flowing. I’ve set tasks at hand, a general to-do wish list in order for Fairyland to become a reality , but only used as a guideline. My best work is revealed to me through the process of making, as much as I may enjoy the planning.

There are those close friends who see through the madness, one such person is my fastidious , admirably precise and thoughtful friend Ken, who when visiting recently seemed taken with my large, unwieldy Victorian steamer trunk, crammed full of scraps of fabric and snippets of embroidery floss (I’ve saved every scrap of fabric from the Fairyland project, I’m either very clever or a hoarder). Ken is just the sort of friend an artist wishes for, seeing your intentions, he not only grasps your meaning but elaborates upon it. The notion of the “worthless”rag, the discarded snippet being a metaphor for a disposable humanity needed no explanation to my friend; he too sees the sacred in the forgotten, as witnessed by this dazzling kaleidoscope he created out of studio floor flotsam.

Scrap Kaleidoscope
Ken Moffatt

It is really beautiful.

With the floors littered with bundles of thrift store yardage, the work tables are increasingly crowded, I now have five tables in current usage. This charming 19th century illustration below (source unknown to me) delightfully (if romantically) captures the mood of my studio.

Source unknown to me, if you know, please send me a message.

And like the doll-making above, my figures are indeed emerging, not by Fairy hands alas.

“Pierrot”
Image by L.A. Art Documents
The artist and Robin Goodfellow

Concepts formerly inchoate are not taking form. I was recently asked by the museum for a Fairyland statement. Ideas and inspirations have been swimming about in the noggin for some time , but again, inchoate, not fully developed. It was time to put needle, pencil and brush aside and to pick up the quill.  This is my statement for Fairyland  (the formatting is peculiar for some reason) :

Leonard Greco

Fairyland
This recent body of work I’ve called Fairyland has developed a definite camp sensibility (not dissimilar to the theatrical confections of Cecil Beaton in the 1920’s).  Camp, having been described as the lie that tells the truth, is an innate language I have been reticent to explore until recently.
Perhaps internalized homophobia has left me hesitant to make work so boldly queer – in every sense of the word – making art so openly flamboyant.  Purposely stamped with informed wit and a wry knowing humor, this new work is first and foremost intended to visually delight and be taken seriously .

Among other things, it touches on the weighty tableau of the Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert and the perilous trials of Herakles.  My aesthetic expression is influenced by my instinctive inclination to lighten somber somewhat ponderous existential themes with a gay touch (consciously using this word in both its current identity-laden fraught understanding and the anachronistic yet more delightful sense).  While the work possesses decidedly camp sensibilities it is never ironic as is so often the current fashion.  I find irony frequently cynical; my work is never cynical for no other reason than the inherent affection I hold for my motley crew of heroes, saints and sinners .
I draw indiscriminately upon diverse seemingly unrelated archetypes and themes from many sources, including Classical mythology, British folklore, Wagnerian operas and the biblical text of my Catholic youth, doing so in order to touch upon that which is culturally familiar to me, to others – and if we believe Jung – found deeply rooted as archetypes in our souls. These eternal themes provide me ample, seemingly endless, means of interpretation. As a person steeped in the Western tradition of literature and the visual arts, it is a rich fertile field I feel most comfortable in adopting.
The work presented at Fairyland are these familiar themes, explored many times over by countless artist; yet this time reimagined through a prism of my own. My play upon cultural themes hopefully adds a sentence or two to this ongoing cultural conversation.  Working in variety of mediums, and a fabulist by nature, it is my intention to create a theatrical spectacle that is peculiar, visually arresting and deeply personal.  Although the work is made solely for my own delight, I hope others find the work meaningful in some way.  I also hope visitors feel inspired to resist the siren call of selfies and pause instead, if only for a moment, as these works are visually dense and to add their own voice to this enriching and frequently neglected conversation.

With that, welcome to my Fairyland.

“The Bauble”
Element from Shoebox Projects residency, 2018
Private collection
My scrap trunk, image by Ken Moffatt

 

 

 

Samhain Greetings

Wishing all a most liminal Samhain. I love this time of year when the veil that separates is lifted for just a moment.

The notion that the spirit world is made just a bit more visible appeals to me, but isn’t that what artists and poets do every day? That unveiling seems our job.

The Jack-o’-lantern above, part of Fairyland is directly inspired by my Goblin Market which in turn is directly inspired by that most liminal poem of Christina Rossetti which bears the same name.

“Goblin Market”
2017
oil on canvas
48 by 60 by 2 inches

So wishing good tidings, happy mumming and festive guising, and remember to keep your eyes open and your spirit free.

I also recommend a reading of Rossetti’s masterpiece:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44996/goblin-market

Junk & Peen (warning, naughty bits follow)

Studio vignette with censored safer sex poster from 1988.

Recently I tried to join an online Facebook reading group, although I recognized their conservative leanings, their thoughtful discussions around the Great Books encouraged me to follow them. I was, perhaps naively, taken aback when I received an automated reply that my Facebook page did not meet Community Standards. The post that drew their ire was the one above, posted pre-scribbled fig leaf-although I am pretty confident, that even with self censorship I would still not meet their standards.

Although taken aback, I really can understand their position from a conservative Christian perspective. I have , rather boldly, sometimes with a puerile inclination to provoke, lavishly depicted genitalia , specifically boy parts, in my work.

Only the other day I was in discussion with a friend concerning my upcoming show In Fairyland and the question was raised as to how I wanted to alert the public to my “x-rated” work (the argument being to shelter children). That statement I must say was more startling for it came not from a religious conservative .  I was taken aback once again.

Startling because although my work might technically  warrant an x-rating for its nudity it isn’t pornographic. These instances of how my work is perceived (misperceived?) has left me pondering,  what do  I think about depicting the human form in its un-neutered form?  For me, aside from some boyish visual pranks, the nude male form  is inherently vulnerable and exposed. 

My nightmare state as this self portrait attests.

“Oedipus & the Sphinx
or
Self Portrait of the Artist as an Inquisitive Flea”
2018
Sanuine pencil, white charcoal highlights on toned paper
24 by 18 inches

I’ve tried, too bluntly perhaps, to explore this vulnerable existential state. Perhaps unsuccessfully.

I have of late finding myself questioning as to whether or not to include a peen or not, is it necessary to make my point or to gratify my aesthetic vision?  Sometimes it is, often it isn’t. I don’t find this to be restrictive self-censorship but rather a more discerning , aware approach to making.

But I must say rather disappointing as I’ve fancy myself to have mastered textile willies.

The following is a gallery sure to offend Community Standards, please rate it an “X”.

Studio vignette with censored safer sex poster from 1988.

The Labors of Herakles ( 7 out of 12 ain’t bad)

New drawing just completed, I believe this may be it . I’ve depicted the first seven Labors but to be frank , aside from our hero’s wrestling match with the fearsome Cerberus, I’m not particularly interested in drawing them . I’ll wait and see if inspiration strikes . But for now the first Seven:

1- the Nemean Lion , slay the poor thing

2-Lernean Hydra, slay that poor thing

3-Ceryneian Hind, capture that poor thing

4- Erymanthian Boar, capture that poor thing

5- Augean Stables, clean that filthy place

6-Stymphalian Birds, kill those man-eating things

7- Cretan Bull, capture that randy thing

Leonard Greco

The Labors of Herakles

2018

Sanguine pencil with chalk highlights on toned paper

18 by 24 inches

When and if I return to the balance of his Labors I will continue with the continuous narrative composition as a diptych.

But for now , calling it a day .

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: 

http://drdouglasthomas.com/DT_images/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.