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“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

-Elie Wiesel

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GC Myers Memory of  Night sm

I’ve been sitting here for quite some time now, staring at the quote above from Elie Wiesel.  I had planned on writing about how my work evolved as a response to the indifference of others but now, looking at those words and putting them into the context of  Wiesel’s experience, I feel a bit foolish.  Wiesel, who had survived the Holocaust, was eyewitness to indifference on a grand scale, from those who were complicit or those who did not raise their voices in protest even though they knew what was happening to the personal indifference shown by his Nazi guards, as they turned a blind eye to the suffering and inhumanity directly before them on a daily basis, treating them as though they were nothing at all.

The indifference of which he speaks is that which looks past you without  any regard for your humanity. Or your existence, for that matter.  It is this failure to engage, this failure to allow our empathy to take hold and guide us,  that grants permission for the great suffering that takes place throughout our world.

So you can see where writing about showing a picture as a symbolic battle against indifference might seem a bit trivial.  It certainly does to me.  But I do see in it a microcosm of the wider implications.  We all want our humanity, our existence, recognized and for me this was a small way of  raising my voice to be heard.

When I first started showing my work I was coming off of a period where I was at my lowest point for quite some time.  I felt absolutely voiceless and barely visible in the world, dispossessed in many ways.  In art I found a way to finally express an inner voice, my real humanity,  that others could see and react to.  So when my first opportunity to display my work came, at the West End Gallery in 1995, I went to the show with great trepidation.  For some, it was just a show of  some nice paintings by some nice folks.  For me, it was a test of my existence.

It was interesting as I stood off to the side, watching as people walked about the space.  It was elating when someone stopped and looked at my small pieces.  But that  feeling of momentary glee was overwhelmed by the indifference shown by those who walked by with hardly a glance.  That crushed me.  I would have rather they had stopped and spit at the wall than merely walk by dismissively.  That, at least, would have made me feel heard.

Don’t get me wrong here– some people who are not moved by a painting walking by it without a glance are not Nazis.  I held no ill will toward them, even at that moment.  I knew that I was the one who had placed so much importance on this moment, not them.  They had no idea that they were playing part to an existential  crisis.  Now, I am even a bit grateful for their indifference that night because it made me vow that I would paint bolder, that I would make my voice be heard.  Without that indifference I might have settled and not continued forward on my path.

But in this case, I knew that it was up to me to overcome their indifference.

Again, please excuse my use of Mr. Wiesel’s quote here.  We all want to be heard, to be recognized on the basic levels for our own existence, our own individual selves. But too often, we all show indifference that takes that away from others, including those that we love.  We all need to listen and hear, to look and see, to express our empathy with those we encounter.  Maybe in these small ways the greater effects of indifference of which Elie Wiesel spoke can be somehow avoided.

It’s a hope.

The painting at the top is a new piece that I call Memory of Night, inspired by Wiesel’s book, Night.

GC Myers- April 2014This is a new painting, a still untitled 12″ by 12″ canvas. Normally when I look at such a piece I see in it something hopeful, forward looking toward a distant horizon.  Destiny bound.  But while I was looking at this piece, absorbing it and trying to take in its feeling, something I had read at some point came to mind.  I can’t remember who said it but the gist of it was that you can’t connect the dots of destiny by looking forward– you can only connect them by looking backwards.

In other words, you can’t plan your destiny.  But you can see how you arrived where you are.

This idea of connecting the dots by looking backwards was no stranger to me.  That was the central appeal of  genealogy for me, being able to find the trail that brought us to where we are at this moment.  To see that path in some sort of view that takes what might be very mundane lives when seen individually and places them in a grand and sweeping perspective.  Doing this made me feel connected with my humanity, able to see that I was not some sort of alienated being  but was a part of that sweeping vision.  Would I be a noteworthy part?  That I could not tell.

As it was said, you can’t plan your destiny.

So looking at this piece with this thought in mind, I no longer see it forward looking.  I view it as the perspective of someone who has turned around on the trail and is looking back at from where they came.  And there’s a certain synchronicity in this.  The sun and the water represent our evolutionary beginnings and the path, our trail though the ages.

Strangely, it doesn’t lose any of its hopefulness by taking on this perspective.  In fact, I now find it comforting from this perspective, that I have a purpose and responsibility as the recipient of a task that must be carried forward, at least for my short stint here on the trail.

The dots are connected and now I can look ahead…

 

GC Myers Failed Painting detailThe image shown here is a tiny part, a background detail,  of a painting that I worked on for several days a month or so back.  I would show you the whole painting as it is at the moment, which is a canvas covered with black paint.  This little detail is the only part of this piece  that I feel comfortable showing and the only bit of it that you will ever see because this painting  just did not work.  At all.  It started wrong and over the days I worked on it continued to get even more wrong.  Even sitting here, looking at this detail, I am tempted to take a brush loaded with black paint to my computer screen to paint away the memory of its wrongness.

Just plain wrong.

It started as a much too concrete idea,  one that was too clever and too thought out.  I have always maintained that I am not smart enough to rely on my conscious brain to create ideas that can come alive and that my work is at its best when it flows from  intuition and reaction and feel.  This painting was surely proof of that.   I tried to force my brain into this painting in every way and it never took on any sort of organic feel, never had a rhythm, never came remotely to life.  I made dozens, maybe hundreds, of conscious decisions in this painting and it seemed as every one was wrong and made the whole thing a greater mess.

I knew within a day or so that it was futile, that this patient was dead on arrival.  But instead of rolling it into the morgue, I decided to try to bring it to life as though I were Dr. Frankenstein working over his poor monster.  This painting certainly resembled the Frankenstein monster– a good part here and there but stitched together crudely and an overall abomination.  It was as abject a failure as I had created in some time.

It was my monster.

I kept the beast around for several weeks and it became too painful to bear, seeing this tortured monster in the corner, more dead than alive.  I could have put it away to remind me of the folly of my own cleverness but I just wanted it gone,  all evidence of it erased.  So I broke out the brush and within moments it was but a memory.  Of course, I took a photo just in case I needed a reminder of  my own fallibility and failings.

I have quite a pile of such reminders, some more monstrous than others.

This monster was gone but it had taught me a lesson which was to keep the mind clear, to try to not force life where it has not taken hold on its own.  Trust the inner parts, my intuition and subconscious.  The life of a painting can’t be forced.   There is a natural rhythm needed that you can’t create.  You must find it and embellish it so that it becomes visible to others.  In this way, painting becomes less like the surgery of Dr. Frankenstein.

We know how that story ends.

 

Grapes of Wrath Book CoverIt was on this date 75 years ago, in 1939, that John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was published.  Following the Joad family as they lose their family farm in Dust Bowl-era Oklahoma and head for fields  and groves of California,   this epic tale has parallels for the dispossessed and downtrodden everywhere and in every time.   The book and subsequent movie, the 1940 John Ford classic starring Henry Ford as the everyman Tom Joad,  have influenced my perspective on the world since I was child.

When it was published, The Grapes of Wrath was an instant bestseller but it also stirred more than  a little controversy.  Many were shocked at the portrayals of poverty and couldn’t believe they were true, that such destitution could exist in our country.  Many were alarmed at the book’s themes of collectivism, feeling that it was a nudge in the direction of some form of Soviet Communism instead of  a gathering of the preyed upon and voiceless into a form that had a strong and unified voice and gave them protection against their oppressors.

I am sure there are many who still see the book as some sort of threat to the status quo– it is still one of the most frequently banned books in the country.  I think that says a lot about the strength of the powers-that-be and the fact that there are even more  families like the Joads out there today– dispossessed, voiceless and feeling absolutely alone in the world.  I am sure that Steinbeck could find plenty of source material in today’s America to write a modern day sequel.

It’s a powerful book and movie, one that I play at least once a year in the studio.  It still moves me deeply ad always will.  I wrote about the movie here a few years back in a post titled Then Who Do We Shoot?, outlining my early brush with the movie and how it affected me as a kid. I also had the video below which has a review from the NY Times with a few of the many great scenes including Tom’s farewell to his mother.

Happy 75th, Grapes of Wrath.  You haven’t lost a step.

 

Into the Pure Land

GC Myers- Into the Pure Land smI’ve had this newer painting in the studio for a few weeks now and it has become one of those pieces where my eyes often come to rest.  That’s something I wasn’t so sure would be the case when I was painting it.  In the earliest stages when I compose the piece by blocking in the forms with a red oxide paint, it felt stiff and lifeless.  This is not necessarily strange at this point in my process but this piece felt even more so.  But with each change in the surface, each layer of paint added, it gained life and depth.

By the its finish, it was instantly drawing me inward.  It had such a meditative effect that I began to think of it in terms of mantras and focal points.  But ultimately, I began to see it as an endpoint, a desired place of attainment.  As a result, I settled on Into the Pure Land as a title for this 10″ by 20″ piece.

In some forms of Buddhism, there are seven levels of heaven, whose name takes on a different meaning than the one denoting paradise that we often associate with the word heaven.  Their heavens are those realms of cyclical existence where a being is reincarnated time after time, hopefully gaining wisdom with each incarnation.  If the being is able to gain total enlightenment, nirvana,  he moves beyond the heavens and into the Pure Lands, which are the eternal abodes of the Buddhas.  This would be closer to the traditional heaven that most likely comes to mind.

This piece has that feel for me, an idyllic place attained by working to pass  through many levels, represented here by the path passing through the layers in the landscape’s foreground.  The radiating bands in the sky represent the eternal pull forward through these layers, almost as a visual mantra that focuses the attention on reaching the endpoint of enlightenment, which I see here as the sun over the horizon.

Mind you, this is only my simplistic take on the concepts of a religion.  The five cent version.  But these terms strike a chord in me when I look into this painting.  Maybe that is my response alone, my personal reaction to my own expression.  For others, it might be a painting that makes them feel a little joy or just an attractive piece with a graphic feel.  Or it just might not be their cup of tea, period.  All are fine with me.  I’m just thinking about entering into that pure land…

earl-kerkam1891-1965-1361546399_org I am very interested in the painter’s painter, those artists who garner the respect and  admiration of other artists while often not attaining the same sort of attention from the general public.  I try to figure out where the disconnect comes in how these artists are perceived so differently by these two groups.  I recently came across a prime example by the name of Earl Kerkam, a NY painter who lived from 1891 until 1965.

Kerkam trained in some of the finest art academies here and abroad, studying for a while with Robert Henri.  He showed his work in important shows alongside some of the greats of the early 20th century.  His work is included in some of the great museum collections of this country.  In the aftermath of his death,  modern artists of huge stature  such as  Mark Rothko and Willem  de Kooning proclaimed Kerkam to be one of the finest painters to ever emerge from America.

earl-kerkam1891-1965self-portrait-1361546314_bYet his work is basically unknown outside a handful of art insiders.  His work sells of very modest prices at auction and I doubt if anyone who reads this will have ever heard the name.

There could be many reasons for this relative anonymity.  Perhaps his work is too esoteric, too caught up in the dogma of style or too narrow in its range of emotional impact.  Perhaps his work was caught between eras, never really falling into a classification where he would be swept to the forefront of a wave. This might have something to do with it because, while his work is modern, it never really moved into the realm of the abstract expressionism that was the rage of the day.

I don’t really know and looking at his work I found myself torn between liking it in some instances and being indifferent to  others.  I can see how both sides, artists and the  general public, might take opposing views on his work.  His work remains an enigma to me and I don’t know if I will ever see enough of it, or at least a single piece that could be called a masterwork,  to make me say that he deserves to be among the beacons of mid-20th century painting  or if he was simply a fine painter who garnered just the attention his work deserved.   But for now, the name Earl Kerkam is at least on my radar and I will be open to finding other works from him that will move my perceptions.

Of Infinite Worth

GC Myers- Of Infinite WorthEvery situation– nay, every moment– is of infinite worth, for it is the representative of a whole eternity.

– Goethe, 1823

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These words from Goethe give me pause.  I have often thought that each moment, even those multitudes of moments which we seem to throw away like so much trash, has some unique quality that we may not recognize or understand in that moment.

Filled with possibility of discovery and wonder.  Perhaps it is the revelation of a whole eternity captured and represented in that moment, as Goethe suggests.

I suppose the trick then is to give each moment, each situation, the proper reverence and joy it deserves.  A deeper understanding and sense of purpose is offered in return.

Of course, this is the goal.  There will be many moments thrown away, disposed in negative emotions and behaviors.  But if we just try to be aware of the weight of each moment at some point in each day, perhaps it will become habit.  Part of our make-up.

And that’s what I see in this painting, 7″ by 10″ on paper, that I am calling Of Infinite Worth, appropriating the title from Goethe’s quote.  We move on a path that winds forward, taking us  in and out of view of the horizon. Eventually, it brings us to a higher elevation, above distraction, that offers us a clear view of what is ahead.  Perhaps it is a moment filled with eternity or simply a moment to carry with us as we continue ahead.

I could blather on a little more here but I think I should stop and let the image speak for itself.  After all,  everyone might not be looking for eternity this morning.

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