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September Song

GC Myers- Septemebr SongIt’s hard to believe that September is upon us already.  September always has a contemplative feel, a pause after the hustle and bustle of the summer months before making the transformation into the cooler, grayer months.  The leaves begin to turn.  The days get shorter. The air takes on a cool hardness that is a keen reminder of the coming coldness of the winter.

One of my favorite songs is the classic tune from Kurt Weill, September Song.  It’s been recorded by literally hundreds of artists through the years from many genres, from Jimmy Durante to James Brown to Lou Reed.  Willie Nelson does a rendition that is very delicate, maintaining the tenuous nature of the tune.  Just a lovely version.  I’ve included it at the bottom.

The image here is a new piece, a 6″ by 10″ painting on paper that I am calling September Song.  It is part of a group that will be accompanying me for the trip to the Principle Gallery on September 13th, when I will be giving a gallery talk there.  More info on that later. This painting has a wistful feel, as though the tiny figure is pausing on the path to reflect on where he has been, what he has seen and done.  The sun above and the churning rays of light emanating from it represent the inevitability of time, of change.   I wasn’t sure what to title this painting but when I realized that we were into September, the tune immediately came to mind and the narrative of the scene filled out for me.

Now, I am going to give a listen to Willie as he sings September Song:

Labor Day/ Redux

If hard work were such a wonderful thing, surely the rich would have kept it all to themselves.

——Lane Kirkland

Ralph Fasanella- Bread and Roses

Ralph Fasanella- Bread and Roses

I caught the end of a Bill Moyers interview yesterday with Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz in which he described how our current level of income inequality was surpassing the levels of the prior two times when they reached a level of crisis here in this country– the Gilded Age of the late 19th century and the Roaring 20’s.  In each case, we were at the brink of total collapse but were able to come through and bring wages back into levels of greater equilibrium which always leads to greater prosperity across the board.  He wasn’t too positive about our ability to avoid the consequences of our current inequality, given the ability of the wealthiest to buy political clout with impunity. 

It’s a scary situation and, on this Labor Day weekend, it made me think of what the labor movement has done for this country in battling for greater wage equality.  I went back in the archive to a Labor Day post from back in 2009 that I thought fit the bill.  Here it is:

On this day, Labor Day, I am showing a a painting from the great American folk primitive painter Ralph Fasanella, depicting the famed Bread and Roses strike that took place at the textile plants in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912. I thought it fitting that something be shown that is closer to the spirit of this holiday which has faded from the public’s knowledge in recent years.

I was a union member in my first on-the-books  job at a Loblaw’s grocery store when I was sixteen years old and a few years later I was a member of the Teamster’s Union at the A&P factory where I was employed for several years.  I was the union steward in my department for the last few years, a position that I took because for some reason nobody else wanted the hassle of it.   By taking it  I was protected from being laid off so long as my department was operating so I thought it might be worth a try.  Most days had some sort of small trouble and on a few some major problems.  There was always an argument to be had, either with company supervisors who tried to  circumvent or twist the rules to their advantage or with co-workers who felt the union didn’t go far enough or went too far.  It was a very educational experience.

The most telling thing was the general apathy from many of the workers, the same apathy that has allowed the solidarity of the union to erode and crumble over the years, paralleling the image of labor unions, which has crumbled, perceived now as corrupt and self-serving.  Probably a well deserved image. But the failings of these unions are the failings of men, the same failings that the company owners possessed that the early unions organized against. Greed and a lack of empathy for their workers. It doesn’t take much research to discover that the work conditions of the last 130 or 140 years were deplorable. Long hours. Low pay. Incredibly unsafe conditions. Dismissal for any reason. No rights whatsoever.

Today, many view industry as this amiable, father-like figure but don’t realize how much blood was spilled by early union organizers and members to obtain the things we now take for granted as our rights. Industry did not willingly give up anything to the worker without being forced. I can imagine what our world would look like without the efforts of our unions. This very holiday would not exist to have it’s roots forgotten. The idea of vacations would only exist for the company owners. The pay scale would be similar to those places on the Earth where many of our jobs have migrated, places that allow the avarice of the companies to override the rights and safety of the workers. Places where sweatshops still operate, as they once did here. Places where unschooled children toil in dirty, dank conditions, as they once did here. Places where the health and safety of the workers is secondary to the profit they provide, as it once was here.

You may despise the unions now for their corruption but make no mistake about it- without them our country would look much different. And not in a good way…

Paul Robeson and Shipyard Workers singing "The Star Spangled Banner" 1942

Paul Robeson and Shipyard Workers singing “The Star Spangled Banner” 1942

It’s a Sunday morning which means a bit of music here on the blog.  I try to have something fitting the day and since we’re in the midst of the Labor Day weekend, I thought I would have something labor related.  It is a holiday celebrating the working classes after all, something we often forget as we rush to get in that last weekend of the summer.  I’ve talked here before about the labor movement and how it transformed the American life.  Almost every right we now take for granted in the workplace was fought for– and I mean fought for— by workers and organizers who banded together to demand better working conditions and higher wages.

There were some important names in the labor movement of the early 20th century but maybe none so polarizing as that of Joe Hill, a Swedish immigrant who came to America in 1902 and soon after, as an itinerant laborer,  became involved with the labor movement.  He joined the Industrial Workers of the World — the Wobblies– and wrote  some of the most memorable labor songs of the time, songs which are still played today– The Preacher and the Slave (Pie in the Sky) and There Is Power In a Union.

Hill was working in the silver mine areas of Utah when he was accused of a double murder.  Many believe that Hill was innocent , that the evidence cited did  not line up with the facts of the case, yet he was found guilty.   Many believed that his labor connections were the deciding factor in the guilty verdict.  He was executed by firing squad in 1915.

Hill did little to help himself, remaining silent about a wound that the prosecution claimed was inflicted on him during the murder.  Hill’s fiance later stated that Hill had wrote her from prison, saying that her former lover had shot him.  But Hill seemed to sense that he meant more to the movement as a martyr.

And that is exactly what he became.  He was cremated and his ashes divided into 600 small packets which were distributed around the world by the Wobblies to be cast to the winds.  He has been celebrated in word and song.  The name Joe Hill when spoken still draws the attention of those who know their history.

This is a song , I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night, written in the 1930’s by Earl Robinson and Alfred Hayes.   It is performed by the great Paul Robeson, one of the most interesting people of the last century.  Robeson was a star athlete, a lead actor and  headlining singer– the bright light in any sky he entered.    But more than that, Robeson was a ceaseless champion of the labor and civil rights movements.  If you don’t know much about Robeson, please look him up.

This is a subject that needs more space and time than I have to give today and for that, I apologize.  But please take a listen to the operatic voice of Paul Robeson as he sing about Joe Hill.  And remember what this holiday really means.

 

 

GC Myers- The Find

GC Myers- The Find

Tomorrow is the final day for my show, Layers,  at the West End Gallery.

It’s been a great show, one that I was pleased with from the time that it came together and one that brought great reaction in the gallery.  That’s a gratifying feeling as an artist  to have those two things intersect in a show.  Anytime a show is successful it affirms that the vision you hold for the work in it is somewhat on track.  It tells me that the work is somehow hitting the mark in creating an emotional conduit which reaches off the wall and connects to any viewer open to it.

And this show has done that.  And more.

I have written before of the post-show letdown that often comes, a malaise that sets in once the show’s opening has passed.  This show has not seen anything like that. In fact, it has been the reverse.  It has been far more inspiring, creating more energy in the studio than I would normally see in the aftermath of most shows.  It is like a tide of positive energy has flowed from this show and I am eager to harness it, to see what it brings.

Many thanks to Lin and Jesse at the West End for their positive response to this show and to everyone who has seen the show or made some piece in it their own.  You have given me more than you will ever know and I hope that you have found something in the work that inspires you as well.

 

Allura

GC Myers- Allura smI am putting together a small group of work to take with me for my upcoming Gallery Talk at the Principle Gallery next month, on September 13th.  Among the paintings is this 24″ by 24″ canvas that I am calling Allura.   After finishing this piece, it seemed that the moon was the central focus, the tree and landscape holding an attraction for it.   I wanted something that described that but was sort of nebulous, not really well defined.  What better way to do that than with a word that sounds descriptive and perhaps from a foreign language but has little basis in its meaning.

You see this a lot in automobiles.  The Integra.  The Elantra.  My favorite is the Cadillac SUV, the Escalade.  Oh, its a real word in French but it means the scaling of a fortification’s walls with ladders such as in a military attack.  I’m not sure how this means anything to the vehicle perceived image.

But the word Allura stuck with me.  It had its base in the word allure and that was what I was seeing in it.  It was simple and efficient and even a bit elegant.  But looking it up just to make sure it didn’t have some other meaning I found that it is an girl’s name used mainly in the 18th and 19th century in England and America.

But even more interesting was that the name’s given definition was Divine Counselor.  I liked the name even more with this little bit of info.  It seemed to fit as even better for me than the vague word implying the moon’s attraction.  I could see the Red Tree here perching itself on that rise of earth and asking for some sort of guidance from the tranquil presence in the night sky.

I feel right with the name Allura now.  It sounds like it fits and ultimately, it does…

GC Myers- Shadowsong smWell, it is Sunday morning and time for some music once again.  I thought I’d take this opportunity to show how it is not always the what but the how that is important.  Take for instance the song Oops!… I Did It Again, perhaps one of the best known pop songs of the last fifteen or twenty years, performed by Britney Spears.  Like her or not, you probably have found yourself at some point with that tune in your head.

Myself, I have tried to avoid it in any way possible.

But back in 2003, one of my favorites, Richard Thompson,  did a live album called 1000 Years of Popular Music, where he attempts to summarize the last millennium through musical selections from different eras through that time.  He begins  with Sumer Is Icumen In from the 11th century (this debatable with some saying it is later but for the sake of making the album title work let’s go along with the 11th century) and moves through all forms of traditional and popular music all arranged for his single guitar and  percussion, when needed.  It ends with 2000’s Oops!… I Did It Again.

In Thompson’s hands, the song becomes something quite different.  In painting terms, it would be like two vastly different painters doing the same scene.  Let’s say a simple country cottage painted by Thomas Kinkade and Vincent Van Gogh.  They might be the same whats but the resulting hows would be worlds apart.

Give a listen and see for yourself.  And have a great Sunday…

The Home Place

Writght Morris- Straightback Chair, The Home Place

Writght Morris- Straightback Chair, The Home Place

One of the most common questions I am asked at gallery openings or talks is about the meaning behind the Red Chair in my paintings.  I always struggle to answer.  Maybe because the answer is always changing for me.  I don’t really know.  I do know that I use it in my work because the chair is such an identifiable image that is known to anyone in nearly any culture and has an inherent meaning in its form.  A place to sit and rest. Or eat. Or converse. Or any number of things.  It is simply an icon of human existence.

But looking through some photo sites I came across the work of Nebraska-born photographer/writer Wright Morris (1910-1998).  His stark and striking images of the Plains will seem very familiar to anyone who saw last year’s Alexander Payne film, Nebraska.  I don’t know but would not be surprised if Morris’ imagery was a big influence on the visual look of the black and white film.

Wright Morris- Chair, The Home Place

Wright Morris- Chair, The Home Place

But while looking at some of these photos I came across a few images of chairs in a farmhouse.  They were from a book of his titled The Home Place, a photo-novel telling the story of a man’s one-day visit to where he had spent his childhood in Nebraska, the home place.  The images were very evocative and looking at them, it dawned on me that the meaning of the Red Chair was the same.  It was so obvious– it was the Home Place.  The place where you have a chair in which to sit, accepted as a part of that place.

It is simple yet powerful, like Wright Morris’ photos.

It’s good to have an answer to give now when someone asks…

Wright Morris Picture of Boy- The Home Place

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