1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
Henry Ossawa Tanner “The Three Wise Men”1925
Albrecht Dürer, “Adoration of the Magi” 1504
Hieronymus Bosch, “Adoration of the Magi” 1485
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Leonard Greco “Self Portrait of the Artist as Saint Anthony of the Desert Facing Death” Oil on panel 18″ x 24″ inches 2020
Just as art provides a microcosm of life, the current state of the establishment art world provides a microcosm of the real world. Our cultural institutions have become massively tainted and dysfunctional. The failures we are enduring were not inevitable or accidental; rather, they are the result of systematic, calculated actions by a corrupt cabal. They’ve betrayed the legitimate functions of the institutions they’ve usurped in favor of their own self-aggrandizing agendas; their rotten practices range from the financial to the spiritual.
But I have great hope for the future, because while the institutions are infiltrated and compromised, the human need for artistic accomplish persists in the people. True art survives outside the ruthlessly filtered cloisters the elitists have cultivated.
My beliefs are confirmed by artists like Leonard Greco. He is pursuing a deeply personal vision, combining native talent with all the skill and craft a lifetime of patient dedication can provide. His imagery is grotesque and surreal, in the tradition of masters like Hieronymus Bosch and Jan Brueghel. While monstrous, the works manage to be beautiful and comical as well.
Greco acknowledges humanity’s conflicts and fallen nature like a medieval morality play or a fairy tale might. There is transcendence in the beauty of his vibrant colors, the complex compositions, and the precise resolution he brings to his paintings and sculptures. He does not shy away from the darkness, but uses art to show the redemption of graceful love. Greco understands how the eternal function of art as an expression and a means for inspiration.
Leonard Greco “Saint George & the Dragon” Oil on panel 16″ x 20″ 2021
Leonard Greco was gracious enough to share some comments on his art and methods in a recent email exchange.
QUESTION: How did you initially get involved in the visual arts? Who were some of your inspirations?
Leonard Greco: There hasn’t been a period of my life where art-making wasn’t a significant element of my identity. Early on I picked up pencil and brush. I was fortunate in having an eccentric grandmother who was very creative, a gifted amateur in all manner of artistic expression: oil painting, stained glass, fine jewelry making, silversmithing, set design.
We saw one another infrequently, but I treasure the memories of time spent in her thrilling company, she was certainly a great, if erratic, inspiration.
Q: How do you create your paintings?
LG: I’m primarily a painter in oil. I am also an avid draughtsman, my painting start first in copious pencil studies ( I try to draw daily). I then, once I have a mental roadmap, begin the painting process. This process is laborious, in part because I am self taught and very well may be reinventing the wheel but also because the paintings I most admire, namely northern medieval and Renaissance panel paintings, possess a fastidious lapidary finish. Wishing to emulate that effect takes a great deal of time. I work with absurdly small brushes and there are far too many studio days when the territory claimed is mere inches of the canvas.
In addition to easel painting I also create textile art, frequently near life sized fiber constructions that I call “stuffed paintings”; they are hybrid works, part sculpture, part painting.
Leonard Greco “Robin Goodfellow” Mixed textile Life size 2019
Q: What do you hope to convey through your work?
LG: I wish to create a mythic timeless space that in spite of its unreality resonates as familiar. I am inspired by my dreams which are rich, highly symbolic and frequently terrifying. They possess a dim grey light , frequently shadowless, I try to capture that haunting atmosphere.
I am also trying to convey the universal truths we humans share, truths concerning life, death, one’s soul, worldliness in all its fraught excesses and the pursuit of the true, highly individual light given to us by our Maker. This search I think is best sought through myth and story telling. I am essentially a myth maker, a Fairy-taler.
Leonard Greco “The Knight’s Tale (after Chaucer)” Acrylic on canvas panel 18″ x 24″ 2020
Q: What have been some of the highlights of your artistic journey and career?
LG: Very early on I had unearned solo shows, I was far too young, far too undeveloped and frankly just naive, smug and stupid. Since those halcyon youthful days there has been time spent in the desert of isolation and inwardness. I had the good fortune to have a solo show called Leonard Greco’s Fairyland in 2019 ( https://leonardgreco.me/fairyland/ ) one more deserved, more intentional and most gratifying. Since that time I’ve acquired more collectors, have been included in more exhibitions ( including permanent collections) and looking forward to further collaborations and opportunities. But it’s been an arduous and discouraging journey, to be an artist requires courage, tenacity, grueling, frequently unrewarded labor and limitless faith.
Q: Are you optimistic about the direction the arts are going in? Why?
LG: I am not. Pessimism is so easy to succumb to and every century has had its doomsayers yet I am hard pressed not to feel a sense of despair when confronting a society of art elites hellbent on disregarding the history, beauty, craft and spirituality of our shared Western tradition. Without indulging in a screed against identity obsessed post modernism, what I encounter routinely in public museums and private galleries leaves me disheartened, cynical, uninspired and bluntly, quite bored. I never imagined being bored by contemporary art.
Q: Why does art matter in the 21st century?
LG: For starters I hope for a 22nd century, one that can look back to the 21st and reflect upon how fascinating and creative we were. Century after century, man has spoken to the next age. Through literature , art , music we send forth our best, for ourselves, for our Maker, for our contemporaries and in some way for our future kin. The art making of our day frequently reflects narcissistically upon a cynical, ironic age, one not given to a pursuit broader than pleasure and paper thin superficiality and when it does venture beyond its own navel, focuses not on eternal truths but instead is devoted to an identity politics of grudges, chip-on-the-shoulder score settling, a highly honed aesthetic of anger and retribution. It rarely creates engaging, inspiring or enlightening art. I require art that nourishes, nurtures and inspires my fullest aspirations, all too often when I am confronted with contemporary work deemed “meaningful” or “ powerful” by the art elites, I am instead left with a sense of extreme impoverishment.
Q: Why does art matter to you?
LG: It saved me, it offered hope and a sense of purpose. That’s so overblown and absurdly dramatic but it’s true. My boyhood was one of poverty, materially and spiritually. There was great violence in my home as well, little peace and no beauty other than the natural God given sort. Yet somehow, miraculously, in our attic there were discarded family treasures: old Bibles, Victorian scrapbooks and most tantalizingly, art history books belonging to my above mentioned Nana. Thumbing through these books, possessing what now would be considered the most minimal of images, I was nonetheless transported to the world of the ancient Egyptians, the vase paintings of the Greeks, the Medici court. It was a revelation, I wanted desperately to draw like Durer, I recall specifically taking pencil to tablet and with Durer’s patch of turf in mind, meticulously recording a dandelion.
My life was so desolate in my youth, deep, seemingly unbearable depressions, despair and shame in being a misunderstood gay kid , suicidal fantasies and yet through it all I drew. This determined practice allowed me to see myself as an artist despite the odds; the odds are still there yet I still cling to hope for what else is there?