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Icon: Joe H.

GC Myers- Icon: Joe H.Here’s my latest entry into the Icon series, a 12″ by 12″ canvas piece that is titled Icon: Joe H.  He is my 3rd great-grandfather and his name was Joseph Harris and he was born in the Lindley (the town named after our common ancestor, Eleazer Lindsley,who was among the first Icons) area south of Corning in 1833.

He led a fairly typical life for the time and place, serving in the Civil War and raising a family.  He worked primarily as a blacksmith and a sawyer ( I have a lot of lumbermen in my family– maybe that’s where my affinity for trees comes from) in his early years, working for a number of years in the then booming timber business that was taking place in northern Pennsylvania and western NY.   It was there that his wife, Emeline Whitney, died just a year or so after the end of the Civil War.  Later in his life, he returned to the area of his birth, settling in as a farmer  just over the border in Pennsylvania where he died in 1922.

That was about the extent of his life for me, at least what I could find of it in records.  I did discover that he married his step-sister, Jennie, who was twenty years younger, as his second wife.  But it was my research into local newspapers that gave me a better sense of him.

Looking at records gave no indication of anything but the basics but in his 1922 death notice printed in the Wellsboro Agitator ( I love the name of that paper!) the headline lists him as a “Skilled and Noted Musician.”  It goes on to say that he had been the one-time Banjo Champion of the United States.  He very well may have picked up the banjo from his Civil War experience as it’s popularity in the time after the war is often attributed to many people being exposed to it for the first time during their service.  I could never find anything to document a championship which was no big surprise as it most likely occurred somewhere in the 1870’s or 1880’s and whatever group sanctioned the competition is more than likely no longer in existence.

But I was pleased to know that music played a big part in his life and I later found an item that confirmed this.  It stated that his son, William Harris, was working as a musician in one of the  oilfield boom towns in northern PA in the 1890’s when he tragically took his own life by shooting himself at the hotel where he was living.  As is often the case, you find a lot of tragedy when you look backwards so it’s some consolation to know that there was a bit of music and joy mixed in there somewhere.

I did visit Joe’s gravesite a while back.  It is a bare-boned and flat plot of land that sits next to a harsh little trailer park visible from the new interstate.  Standing at his grave you looked into the backyard of several trailers, the kind of yards scattered with kids toys, spare tires and oil drums.

It made me a little sad but then, I guess a guy who lived through the Civil War, endured the death of his first wife and several of his children before him and lived to see the first World War, this wasn’t all that bad.

In Delight

GC Myers= In DelightThere is delight in singing, though none hear beside the singer.

Walter Savage Landor

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The British poet, Walter Savage Landor, who wrote those words above knew what he was talking about: Sometimes you do something that is filled with pleasure for yourself yet it might not stir the soul of a single other person.  The delight comes in simply doing it.

Not that Landor, who lived from 1775 to 1864,  was without accolades.  He had an incredibly long career–almost 70 years— and was held in the highest esteem by his peers. But he never gained widespread public popularity or love for his work in his life or after.

His poetry was his singing and sometimes only he and perhaps a few others could appreciate that voice.

I chose these words from Landor for this painting not only because I felt that he was writing about his own work in a way.  I used it because of the great pleasure I took in painting the painting above, an 18″ by 18″ canvas that I am fittingly calling In Delight.  It was one of those paintings that gave me a lot of joy at every step of its growth, each stroke making it come more and more to life for me.

It’s that fulfillment of joy that makes me not worry about how it is received.  If not a single person sees a thing in it, I do not care.  It pleased me to simply make it and even now it makes me smile when I look at it from my chair in the studio.

For me, I felt like I was singing with a rich and full voice.  But again, that’s just my ear.  You might hear fingernails on a chalkboard when you look at it.  And that’s okay– the delight was in the singing.

Birds and Ships

hundertwasser_land-of-men-birds-shipsThe painting above is titled Paradise-The Land of Men, Birds and Ships.  It’s actually a mural that was painted on a building outside of Paris in 1950 by artists Friedensreich Hundertwasser and  René Brõ.  It was saved from demolition in 1964 although I have no idea where or in what condition it now stands.  I’ve featured Hundertwasser’s work, with it’s rich colors and organic shapes, here on the blog a few times in the past.  I like his work,  I like this and thought it fit well with the song I’ve chosen for today’s Sunday Morning Music.

That song is Ships and Birds from one of my favorite albums, Wilco and Billy Bragg‘s 1998 Mermaid Avenue.  It’s a collection of old unheard Woody Guthrie lyrics set to new music composed by Wilco and others.  This track features Natalie Merchant singing the lead and is just a lovely, simple  song.  A nice way to kick off any Sunday morning.

Have a great Sunday…

Lawren Harris- Ice House, Coldwell, Lake Superior 1923

Lawren Harris- Ice House, Coldwell, Lake Superior 1923

Art is the distillate of life, the winnowed result of the experience of a people, the record of the joyous adventure of the creative spirit in us toward a higher world; a world in which all ideas, thoughts, and forms are pure and beautiful and completely clear, the world Plato held to be perfect and eternal. All works that have in them an element of joy are records of this adventure.

Lawren Harris

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I love this quote from the great painter (please note that I didn’t preface it with Canadian) Lawren Harris.  I know that whenever I am working and am excited with the joy of what is unfolding before me, I feel closer and more connected to some sort of power that is beyond my knowledge.  It’s as though I feel tapped in to that winnowed result of the experience of a people as Harris puts it.  That is a great feeling, exhilarating and calming at the same time.  It is ultimately the feeling that brings one to art, both as a viewer and a creator.

Unfortunately, in the course of creating, it is sometimes a feeling that is forgotten, put aside for ends other than this element of joy.

It’s easy to do, believe me.

But rediscovering that joy is like coming across it for the first time.  Even though you know you have experienced it before, it feels all new and shiny, full of promise.

Effervescent– that is the word that comes to mind when I think of these moments of joy.

So, let me stop right here.  I am close to my own joy and don’t want to delay it for another minute.  Effervescence will not wait around too long, you know.

Hope you find some of your own today.

Icon: St. Anna

GC Myers- Icon: St. Anna of NovgorodI don’t know how to start with this newest painting from the Icon series.  When I started the series I wanted it to focus on the lives and stories of the everyday ancestors that make up my and many others’ family lines.  But there ares some folks in these lines that are definitely not everyday people.  Such is the case with this icon– she was already the subject of multiple icons before I even thought of painting her.

Her birth name was Ingegerd Olafsdotter and she was born to the Swedish king Olof Skötkonung  right around the year 1001.  She is my 32nd great-grandmother.

She received an exceptional education as a young girl of the time, studying the scriptures, literature and history as well as being instructed in the use of military arms.  In order to extend his own influence and consolidate power, Olof sent her to Kiev in 1017 to wed the Russian Great Prince Yaroslav the Wise.  There she took on the name Greek martyred saint,  Irene.

During her time as the Great Princess of Kiev, Irene acted as an ambassador of sorts in maintaining Russia’ influence in the Europe of that age.   She offered sanctuary to several outcast princes to protect them from overthrowing forces and arranged marriages for her children that placed them squarely in the middle of continental affairs.  Her three daughters became Queens of Hungary, Norway and France ( my 31st gr-grandmother, Anne of Kiev)  while her sons all took positions of power within Russia.

St. Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod

St. Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod

She and Yaroslav also continued the growth of Christianity in that time, building the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev as well as one of the same name in Novgorod.  Near the end of her life, Irene established a monastery in Novgorod and, as was the custom of the time, as founder was required to operate it.  In doing she was tonsured (which involves the cutting of the hair) and took on the name Anna.  She continued in this capacity for several years until her death around the year 1050.  She is buried in St, Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod.

Holy Anna of Novgorod from Holy Annas Chapel in SwedenFor her works in spreading the beliefs of the church as well, in actually building churches, Anna was made a saint in the Eastern Orthodox church.  In fact, one of the feast days of St. Anna is next week on February 10th.

You would think it would be easier to paint this type of ancestor, especially one who is already portrayed in many real icons.  But there is such a disconnnect in time and place that with some of these distant illustrious ancestors, while I am pleased to know that I somehow have a blood  link to them, I feel less of a bond with them than  with a hardworking lumberman in the Adirondacks or a forgotten housemaid who stole from  her employer.  Or even a Scottish scoundrel and liar who remains a mystery to me.

Maybe I see more of myself in them.

Genealogy often reveals great discoveries.  In some cases, you are left wondering how a family rose so far from humble beginnings while in others you wonder what choices and factors along the way brought a descendant so far below the stature of their ancestors.

I guess it’s a great case study in the laws of probability.  Over the course of a thousand years and thirty some generations winding their way into a new country, some bad choices and bad luck will inevitably fall on some along the way.  I am sure there are literally many, many millions of descendants springing from St. Anna and some families have probably maintained power and prestige through the ages.

And others– well, you know the story.  It’s most of our stories.

 

GC Myers/ Art in Embassies Catalog 2016 a smI wrote last year about a couple of places where my work has ended up in one way or another.  Recently, I received some material from a couple of these places that show how my work is being used.

The first came in the form of a catalog from the Arts in Embassies Exhibition at the United States Embassy in Kuwait.  My painting that hangs at the Embassy, The Way of the Master, was chosen to adorn the cover.  This was a surprise and a thrill,  especially given the quality of the work from the other artists in the exhibit, including Helen Frankenthaler.

Archaeology: Rooted in the Past

Archaeology: Rooted in the Past

The second was a calendar from the Spanish Society of Soil Science that featured one of my Strata pieces on the cover and Archaeology: Rooted in the Past inside for the month of May.  I didn’t know anything about this calendar other than the fact that my pieces were involved.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover the company I was keeping. Spanish tapestry artist Carles Delclaux and myself were the only living artists involved and among the others were some of my heroes, Vincent Van Gogh and Pieter Brueghel, and some of the finest classic painters from Spain. 

Besides my obvious favorites in Van Gogh and Brueghel and one of the Limbourg Brothers‘ gorgeous plate from Les Tres Heures , one of my favorites from the calendar is shown at the bottom,  titled O Paraño.  It is painted by an interesting character, Alfonso Daniel Rodriguez Castelao, who is better known for his political works and writing in Spain than for his obvious talent as a painter.  This piece was painted in the 1920’s and it’s use of color and form really connected with me.

I realize that in the big scheme of things, these little moments of having my work included in such projects don’t really matter all that much.  But on some days, when things aren’t going too well, there is something reinforcing in seeing them and feeling that my work somehow fits into the larger puzzle.

And that is gratifying.

Castelao- O Parano

Alfonso Daniel Rodriguez Castelao- O Parano

Spanish Soil  Society Calendar Cover 2016 a sm

 

GC Myers- Where the Winds GatherSometimes I will get an image in my mind that seems all fleshed out and full.  It’s just a matter of moving that image from the inner workings of my consciousness into the outer world of reality.  Sometimes, it goes smoothly and the final painting matches that first thought of it.

But more often, that trip from thought to reality produces something completely unlike the original vision. And sometimes that is not so good.  The work shows the struggle in trying to force the vision into reality and the whole thing looks forced and without rhythm.  But occasionally, one slips out that is not at all like the original vision but somehow finds its own rhythm and comes to life on its own.

I think that is what happened with the painting shown above, a small 9″ by 12″ canvas that I call Where the Winds Gather.  I’ve had an image of this painting in my mind for a few weeks and as I would be doing other things it would often bounce through my mind.  But it looked much different than this painting.  The color was not the same nor was the manner in which the whirls of wind in the sky were painted.  Some of that is the result of working in a smaller size which restricted the type of marks I could make with my brush.

There was a point when I was well into this piece that I could see that it had strayed far afield from my original concept and I began losing my enthusiasm.  For a while I wanted to just set it aside or simply call it a day and paint it over.  But I decided to push through and see if it could evolve into something more.  And slowly it did, at  least in my own eyes.  There’s an interesting balance of rough and soft in this and the pattern in the sky came together much better than it appeared in its earlier form.

There’s just something I like in this piece.  Maybe it’s just the fact that it came to life despite my own original misgivings.  I know that I admire that kind of determination from someone in overcoming the low expectations placed on them.  Grit.

Maybe that should be the title– Gritty Determination.

 

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