I recently had the good fortune to purchase a memento from my distant past , a drawing of a living room long since shuttered . My dear friend Marge Miccio is a talented artist working primarily in pastels . One of her great gifts is interior portraiture . Generally without human figures ( in my case my dear pup Gizmo can be seen perched on a cushion as was his want ) but her unpopulated rooms speak volumes . I’m delighted that Marge discovered this drawing made back in 1994 . She calls it “The Plaid Sofa”.
I call it wonderful.
To get a sense of her keen eye , here is a photo taken before I left the house, Trenton ,the city I had called home, in fact, my previous life . A new chapter was to unfold but Marge preserved a memory . I purchased this little rowhouse when I was so very young , flush with new romance for my first love Douglas . We pooled are resources and bought the house for $5000.00!
It was a romantic shambles , but through the years it became home . We purchased other houses , but when the love we had could no longer sustain us , this little gem became my own .
It wasn’t to last. I was to move forward , a move to Philadelphia where I would meet David and embark upon this adventure I now find myself .
But then , in 1994, months before I packed it all away , this was home. Happiness is having a lovely framed reflection of a life passed.
Now, with the drawing freshly hung in my newly painted apple green living room, my pug Viola occupies the same corner of a different sofa , as her predecessor Gizmo.
Some things do not change .
Another thing that hadn’t changed is my love of gardening, these rather poor quality images , were taken late summer 1994. And now another garden beckons …
I’ve just finished my latest “stuffed painting”, the term I use to describe my painted-mixed-media sculptural figures. This latest figure, my largest thus far (56 inches tall) employs a heavy use of embroidery and crude needlework. Like Herakles under Omphala’s gaze I turn to “women’s work”, however unlike the disgruntled enslaved hero, I relish the task.
The new work explores gender not only in its materiality but in “gender-fucking” the main character; my Daphne is no slim maiden but a hirsute fellow ripe in manhood yet broken and unable to save himself from a horrid fate.
My figure of Daphne was inspired (very loosely) by Bernini’s ravishing depiction of the attempted rape of the maiden Daphne by the libidinous Phoebus-Apollo. The way Bernini depicted her delicate fingers morphing terribly into branches has always struck me with horror (and admiration). For although the chaste Daphne pleads with her father,the river god Peneus to save her from the looming rape, his solution always seemed as cruel as her debasement. Patriarchy in action, the solution to male excess being born heavily by the victim.
At least Bernini’s vision of the terrible scene was breathtakingly beautiful.
I do not fool myself into thinking my own version in any way resembles the Baroque masterpiece, but I do hope I captured some of the pathos.
My desire for the work was to capture the pathos of his/her situation , the brutal transformation of supple gorgeous flesh into brittle bark. What horror Daphne experienced as the soul became encased and ultimately erased. Transformation into an olive tree is hardly a reward for virtue.
I also wanted to explore how gender factored into the beauty of Bernini’s depiction of a violent crime. Why are there so many ravishingly beautiful depictions of violence against women, art I know and love : the raping of Sabine women, of Europa, of lusty satyrs having their way with unconscious Maenads, and of course Daphne. Why is this acceptable and yet the depiction of male rape is not glorified by art; clearly not desired by the male gaze at large, aside from the homo-philic images of Ganymede.
And even with the images of Ganymede’s “abduction” , they frequently depict a slightly effeminate ephebe. Rembrandt goes so far to depict the rape by depicting Ganymede as a rather horrid infant pissing in fear. Its a nasty bit of work from an artist I have failed to appreciate. The painting seems to embody heteronormative bias against same sex affection.
But aside from the politics of the piece and my developing intentions, I wanted to create a work that pulled the heart (in a neo-Baroque sort of way). When I look into my Daphne’s face, I am moved to pity. I hope that is the general effect to the viewer at large.
The images below are progression shots, Daphne being the first piece made in my new studio, started close to my birthday , July 24th.
The single most influential person in my life died today.
Tomorrow is my 55th birthday .
Thirty years ago , on my 25th birthday , this marvelous women came to my home overflowing with gifts as was her want . Fabulous, thoughtful, unconventional gifts . In this case , to celebrate my twenty fifth year , it was with tomatoes , masses of gloriously ripe orbs . All nestled in a 19th century Russian baking pan , golden copper a gleaming foil to their lustrous beauty . Nestled within the tomatoes was a knife . A strange knife , serrated and fancy looking . She explained to me that it was a tomato knife . I had never heard of such a thing but I was delighted .
I felt very rich that evening in the rather shabby ( yet charming ) rowhouse that I shared with her son Douglas in Trenton. Douglas was my great love and this woman was my hero . My love for both often felt entangled.
The tomatoes were of course devoured , the pan became part of the settlement Douglas and I decided upon when after nine years of loving one another , we no longer found ourselves able to continue . The pan was a family heirloom but I kept the knife . I use this knife nearly every day , it hasn’t changed just as my feelings for the giver haven’t faltered.
Everything she seemed to do , she did seemingly effortlessly with grace , taste and affection . It’s easy to have good taste , to put others at ease is such a rare gift .
And that is what she did , she listened , she laughed , she made what you said ( no matter how inane ) seem worthy of attention .
My background was Shitsville , my self esteem nonexistent and yet this patrician woman thought I had something worthwhile to say . She encouraged my art making by introducing me to a gallerist in Blue Hill Maine where the family summered . We would scour the junkyards in search of castaways to paint , refurbish and market . If she , with her discerning taste thought my work worthy , than perhaps it was .
Her taste drew me in from the beginning . How she set a table , unpretentious yet elegant and inviting . How she decorated her many homes , she and her husband Bob collected homes like some folks collect stamps . Her art collection was impressive but she never boasted of its value as so many collectors do. For her it was the art ! Not the value of the art .
She was an early patron of George Nakashima, Douglas’ boyhood home , a palatial pile was chockablock with raw edged wood. American craft , contemporary and traditional was her passion early on . And as she developed into middle age she acquired a masters in fine art , focusing upon the three dimensional , creating work that surprised and delighted me .
Many memories will be resurfacing in the next few days and weeks : how she introduced me to the beauty of the color orange ( her favorite color), of the poetry of rust , of Maine , of how to cook an incredible meal out of whatever was lingering in the cupboard , how to pile on jewelry and pull it off , how to ignore the clay under ones nails or the paint upon ones shirt and still be the most scintillating person at any party. How to engage with warmth and openness and stay true to yourself.
Her name was Sherell Jacobson .
Sleep well Shez.
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for me, I’m trying now, not very successfully, to collect myself. Between the move into a new space, multiple shows and now an inferno has set upon the City of Angels, I find myself quite discombobulated. Now that I have a semblance of internet (thank you Hotspot, whatever the hell that is), I feel less adrift.
To procrastinate, I’m enclosing a few images from recent shows, “Satan’s Ball” at Art Share LA and more recently, this last weekend’s “Fairyland”, my solo show at Ave. 50 Gallery.
A pleasant surprise was meeting the photographer Stephen Levey who took some excellent images of my work. I was quite delighted to see how he captured the moodiness of my figures.
I’ve tried for some time to capture my first “Temptation of St. Anthony of the Desert”, Stephen, seemingly effortlessly, snapped a great image.
The preparation for the opening of “Fairyland” was daunting, with packing up the old studio, moving into the new and all the details that go into a transfer from one place to another, I was rattled. Particularly grateful to Dan Fernandez who handled my installation expertly.
In the end it all came together and the opening was just splendid…hot as Hadesville , but splendid.
I was so touched by how many of my friends stopped in, in spite of a plethora of competing openings, in spite of the gallery’s rather isolated situation and in spite of the terrible heat. In spite of that , the support was thrilling. Thank you my friends, friends I’ve known for awhile and to the new ones I’ve just met.
Art making is isolated work but it is the community one finds that encourages and delights. I’m pretty delighted at the moment…in spite of fierce Apollo.
As what had been a very delightful sanctuary becomes barren and littered with bubble wrap and pugs , I wanted to make one last post from my creative home of the last two years. Although eager to settle into larger digs, I will miss this place (particularly its excellent air-conditioning ).
This is proving to be a busy moment in my life. The movers arrive this Saturday and that evening I have an opening , Satan’s Ball, a perennial favorite -I have five pieces in that show. I may be pooped after the move but looking forward to being part of the festivities at Art Share LA. Then my solo show Fairyland July 8th. Frantic, daunting, exciting.
I was delighted to be notified that my drawing The Rape of Our Mother had been accepted into the Brand 45 Annual National Exhibition of Works on Paper. I was particularly excited because the juror was Leslie Jones, Curator of Prints and Drawings at LACMA- my submissions were unmistakably drawings in that old fashioned way and I having her validation was important to me.
I had failed to mention that my painting Hadesville won 3rd Best of Exhibition at CEDARFEST 32, at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History, Lancaster, CA.
I was beaming with a goofy grin.
The day after the award ceremony Facebook rather magically reminded me of what the painting looked like a year ago.
This “memory” popped up.
And a year later:
Packing has produced some novel still lives that I am eager to figure into compositions for new paintings, this being the most successful :
I’m at the end of my packing , I receive the keys to the new studio tomorrow morning. Much more to do but very eager to get back to work, be it stitching, drawing or painting, perhaps a relief print of two as well.
My love of the baroque (and the subsequent revivals) is long standing, so much so that I built my previous career as a decorative painter identifying my craft as Neo-Baroque. As a studio painter I still find the allure of the baroque irresistible and in my latest work Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego , I attempted to capture the florid excess of the period.
This work is an extension of my “stuffed painting” series which constitutes a large part of my latest body of work Fairyland. Ostensibly this latest piece is a reflection upon such cheery topics as existential angst, mortality, self-worth/esteem and of course, aging. It is also hopefully funny, a memento mori with wit.
Utilizing fabric allows me to explore the funeral lushness found in over- upholstered baroque furnishings, particularly the decidedly non cozy state beds:
Daniel Marot, the designer of the state bed above was a master of baroque theatricality. His designs for court furnishings are astounding , so inventive, whirling madness yet an underlying balance. I can easily stare at his compositions for hours, and I have. My aforementioned decorative work was directly influenced by Marot and his contemporary Jean Berain.
So it was of little surprise that I would return to the wonderful fripperies of Marot and Berain. I particularly admire the baroque compositions that incorporate a writhing pool of figures, sensuously colliding with one another yet all forming a cartouche, a mirror frame or cabinet. The mad fusion of sculpture, ornament and perhaps some functionality.
My fripperies and atlantes may not be of ormolu, ivory or silk but they are roiling about in a nutty baroque manner.
In his excellent Baroque Baroque , the art historian Stephen Calloway refers to a British baroque revival as “bugger’s baroque”, apparently a witty retort to queen-ish decorative excess. I like to think my “mirror” might have earned that title. Being that The Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego is a further exploration of “sissy” arts, and an element of a larger body of work called Fairyland, I think it has earned that distinction.
Reflection of a Harsh Super Ego will be part of an upcoming solo show at Ave.50 Gallery, 131 N. Avenue 50, Los Angeles, CA 90042