Right now I’m juggling three series of work at once. I didn’t plan it this way; it just happened. One is an ongoing project I call the Extemporal Suite. That’s on hold for the moment. Then there’s Myths and Lies, of which I am just now tentatively posting the first images. I haven’t really been able to get any traction on this series yet because I have been fortunate enough to have a few commissions that have prevented me from dedicating a continuous period of time. So I’m still just figuring it out, but I haven’t posted anything in a while so…
This work is indirectly inspired by my guilty love of academic painting. I’ve always had a fondness for L’art Pompier. I love the clichéd idealism and formulaic conventions of beauty, the use of mythology to justify painting the nude, basically, all the things the realists and impressionists rebelled against. Adolphe Bouguereau’s Birth of Venus is a favorite due to its in-your-face eroticism and general inanity.
It is only rivaled by Alexandra Cabanel’s painting of the same name, which I have parodied in an earlier painting. Bouguereau and Cabanel both feature loads of overlapping putti and stunningly idealized flowing-haired goddesses.
But nothing matches Bouguereau’s The Oreads for sheer glorious absurdity. It’s exactly what Manet was challenging with Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, a breathtaking accomplishment and giant step forward for sure, but the death knell of academic art.
The Oreads – wood nymphs fleeing the morning light
So with Myths and Lies I am using a style that might be called non-idealized idealism. All the contrivances are there, but my mythological and allegorical figures are more flawed and human than in academic art. Like a realist might paint a goddess if goddesses happened to really exist and looked like your neighbor. I present an alternative to the eroticism of the academic artists that is nevertheless I hope seductive in its own way.
The Guerilla Girls once pointed out that 85% of the nudes in the Metropolitan Museum are women, but only 5% of the artists are.
This is not actually a reflection on the collecting practices of the Met. It echoes the reality of historical painting (and most other professions) in which women were largely excluded. Still, an unscientific opinion sampling of my female friend’s suggests that even if woman were equally represented in the Met as artists, the female nude count might not be that different. Women seem to favor the female figure in art as much as men do. Though the figures might presumably appear different under the female gaze.
I’m just getting started with this series despite the fact that I have been working on it on and off for three years. I have a solo exhibition scheduled for this work at the Castellani Museum in April of 2014. But now I’m also working intensely on a third (sub) series of this work I’m calling god-heads.
The third series is called god-heads, and it’s consuming most of my time at the moment. The story behind the god-heads illustrates how the creative process is often far from a straight line. My friend (and Squeaky Wheel Director in Buffalo) Jax Deluca graciously agreed to pose as a subject for myMyths and Lies series. At my request she brought with her a variety of costumes and accessories. One item was a fake fur rabbit-ears hat. She also happened to have some carrots with her. I can’t recall if the carrots went with the hat, or if she was just hungry, but Jax bit the carrot and then looked at me with one of her wide-eyed expressions that tend to strike like lightening bolts out of the blue. I snapped a picture (I use photography as references to paint from).
The image didn’t work for my Myths and Lies series, but it was too compelling to put aside, so I decided to use it to make a small painting. I loved the result. So I Googled the words “rabbit” and “goddess,” to see what I would come up with. Kaltes is a shape shifter goddess who often takes the form of a hare. I named the painting after this goddess, and the germ of an idea was planted.
Around this time Barbara and Dan Hart from Studio Hart (Allen Street Gallery in Buffalo) asked me if I wanted to have a show there. I proposed to do a series of works similar to Kaltes, all of which will feature friends of mine from the art community. Each were told to bring something interesting that they could wear on—or hold near—their head. I set up lights, take pictures, and manipulate them in Photoshop. Then I paint them. That’s an over-simplification, but you get the idea. Then I Google key words to find a god or goddess that fits the results. It’s weird how well this works out. You would think I planned the whole thing. The paintings that have resulted (12 at this writing) are amusing and powerful in a visually quirky way. The show will be called god-heads. The work will be seen for the first time in June at Studio Hart and won’t be posted until then. Meanwhile, the approach has given me some new ideas for the Myths and Lies series—if I ever get back to it.