Leonard Greco’s Embodied: St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears at Shoebox Projects

Photo courtesy Leonard Greco.

Leonard Greco’s Sculptural and Theatrical Embodied

Currently in residence, reception on January 13th
Shoebox Projects, Brewery Arts Complex, Los Angeles

By Genie Davis
In progress now, with a reception set for January 13th, Leonard Greco takes over Shoebox Projects’ gallery space with a new installation, Embodied: St. Anthony & the Desert of Tears.

This new body of work looks at the relationship between the solitude of an artist in studio and the often intrusive realities of daily life. Drawing from the story of St. Anthony in the desert and his resistance to temptation, Greco’s mixed media installation reflects his own struggles.

“It is an elaboration upon past work,” he says. “The word ‘embodied’ holds specific meaning in that my past works, based upon the theme of the Desert Fathers – namely drawings, paintings and relief prints – have taken form in the round.”

The installation uses sculptural and theatrical elements that Greco says have “brought me a great deal of personal satisfaction. In addition to being gratifying aesthetically and emotionally, I’m hoping they provide a degree of emotional engagement with the viewer that works on paper might not as easily.”

Impressively self-taught, Greco has been honing his craft for over 25 years. A painter, printmaker, and puppet and doll-maker, Greco has also worked as a decorative painter and muralist. This exhibition is in many ways a passion project for the artist.

Photo courtesy Leonard Greco.

“When I tackle subjects as fraught as sin, temptation and redemption, I am not concerned with the typical biblically inspired admonitions, 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.” He notes that his work poses questions for viewers such as “What interferes with being authentic? What is your demon? Who, what shadows your path?”

Greco is directing his exhibit at viewers besides artists and those with monastic lifestyles. He relates that he is particularly interested in the “tools of modernity” and how social media, email, self-branding, and the pursuit of relevancy “all have the potential to hinder full, true self-expression; perhaps even censor it, dislocate it, or render it mute.”

As always with Greco’s powerful work, this exhibition has strong roots in religious symbolism and is rich with detail. Having a complete installation space allows the artist more room to explore.

According to Greco, “For whatever reason, I had previously resisted my innate theatricality and religiosity, fearing, I suppose, being dismissed as frivolous or irrelevant. I’ve worked beyond that, and have embraced the full-blooded drama that installations and tableaux can provide.” He adds “I’ve also upped the ante on surface ornament, embracing it as an integral element of my aesthetic. I speak in metaphor and work exclusively in symbolism, the indirect path always the favored one.”

He says that his installation at Shoebox offers a fertile ground for allegory and myth-making, as well as the perfect place to explore the strong poetic elements that shine through all his art.

“All of my work is in some way influenced by the written word, be it prose or poetry. This body of work is inspired most significantly by Gustave Flaubert’s 1874 poetic rambling, The Temptation of St. Anthony. The richness of detail and illusion almost suffocates the reader in its voluptuous beauty. I wish in some way allude to that dizzying experience.”

And indeed, from Greco’s varied mediums to his detailed and delicate depictions, absorbing the artist’s work is both a beautiful and consuming process.

“It is truly mixed media,” he says, describing his materials. “The main body of the work consists of figures in the round that I call ‘Stuffed Paintings.’ They are of painted canvas and recycled fabric.” All of the fabric he uses is recycled, and he “delights in honoring the discarded,” calling this a “tribute to the disposable in society; as a gay man I can relate to being deemed irrelevant, and wish to honor that in a subtle way.”

Along with his sculptural forms, Greco is experimenting with large photographic blow-ups taken on a recent trip to Joshua Tree. He says these are meant to “evoke the anchorite’s hermitage, or in a more contemporary context, the impromptu hut of the un-housed.” The exhibition also includes works on paper and canvas, and serves as both a complete piece and a composite of multiple pieces that can be viewed individually. “The great joy of this installation is gathering the elements, my mummers, and putting on a mystery play,” he says.

Encouraging viewers to engage with his work rather than simply consuming it, Greco’s art is unique and wonderfully absorbing; and it indeed locks into the mysterious. There is something both otherworldly and spiritual about his works, which contain strong elements of the contemplative and the fantastic. With this exhibition no exception, plan a trip to Shoebox Projects for January 13, 3-6 p.m.

Shoebox Projects
660 South Avenue 21 #3, Los Angeles
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