Archive for the ‘Influences’ Category

James Ensor Christs Entry Into Brussels in 1889I’ve been spending some time recently looking at the work of painter the Belgian painter James Ensor who lived from 1860 until 1949 in the seaside town of Ostend.  It’s not a name that you probably recognize and even seeing the work may not ring a bell for you.  I know that it didn’t for me.  But the work did excite me, especially given the context of the time in which much of it was created.   He began creating his visionary and sometimes macabre world in the 1880’s when the Impressionists were still taking shape.  Given the look and subject matter, it came as no surprise that he is considered a major influence on the Surrealists and Expressionists of later generations.

James Ensor Christs Entry Into Brussels in 1889 DetailBut it was new to me and captivated me at once, especially the piece at the top of this page , Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889.  It is a massive piece, over 8 foot tall and 14 foot  in length.  It is a Mardi Gras parade ( Happy Fat Tuesday, by the way– bon temps rouler!) of caricatured figures escorting Christ into modern day Brussels in 1889.  It is loud and aggressive and roughly painted, so unlike the prevailing style of the time.  Filled with energy, it is a treasure trove for the eye.

Here is the description from the Getty Center in LA where it now resides and is shown:

James Ensor took on religion, politics, and art in this scene of Christ entering contemporary Brussels in a Mardi Gras parade. In response to the French pointillist style, Ensor used palette knives, spatulas, and both ends of his brush to put down patches of colors with expressive freedom. He made several preparatory drawings for the painting, including one in the J. Paul Getty Museum’s collection.

Ensor’s society is a mob, threatening to trample the viewer–a crude, ugly, chaotic, dehumanized sea of masks, frauds, clowns, andcaricatures. Public, historical, and allegorical figures along with the artist’s family and friends made up the crowd. The haloed Christ at the center of the turbulence is in part a self-portrait: mostly ignored, a precarious, isolated visionmary amidst the herdlike masses of modern society. Ensor’s Christ functioned as a political spokesman for the poor and oppressed–a humble leader of the true religion, in opposition to the atheist social reformer Emile Littré, shown in bishop’s garb holding a drum major’s baton leading on the eager, mindless crowd.

After rejection by Les XX, the artists’ association that Ensor had helped to found, the painting was not exhibited publicly until 1929. Ensor displayed Christ’s Entry prominently in his home and studio throughout his life. With its aggressive, painterly style and merging of the public with the deeply personal, Christ’s Entry was a forerunner of twentieth-century Expressionism.

Looking at this piece sends my mind whirling and makes me want to break free of my comfort zone, to think outside of the box in which I have been comfortably residing for a while now.  It rekindles old ideas that have laid dormant, untouched, for many years and makes me wonder if I have the nerve to execute them now.  For me, this excitement to expand is true validation of the power and energy of this work.

Now to decide how to use that inspiration…


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Maxfield Parrish- Daybreak

Maxfield Parrish- Daybreak

I saw this year’s schedule for the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown and was excited to see that on it there was  an exhibit of work from the great Maxfield Parrish. Titled Maxfield Parrish: The Art of Light and Illusion, this show opens May 23 and features 45 pieces– paintings, prints and sketches– as well as some of the props for which he was well known for using.  Here is how the Fenimore describes Parrish’s career on their site:

As one of the most popular American artists of the twentieth century, Maxfield Parrish created fantastic images of fairy-tale figures and idyllic landscapes in a style that was all his own. Through a prolific career that spanned from the 1890s through the 1960s, Parrish became one of America’s first truly “public” artists. The mass reproduction of his paintings—originally intended as book and magazine illustrations, advertisements, calendars, and murals—ensured his reputation as one of the most widely-known figures in the history of art. It has been said that in 1925 a lithograph of his most well-known painting Daybreak [seen at the top of this page] could be found in one out of every four American homes.  Parrish’s magical artwork continues to capture the imagination and inspire today’s artists, musicians, and filmmakers.

Maxfield ParrishI have written here before that he was an influence on my work, especially in the luscious quality of color that he used in almost all of his work.  I liked his better known works, such as Daybreak, here at the top, but it was his lesser known work, quiet landscapes with compositions that intensified the quietness of the solitude they portrayed, that were my favorites.  But I have never seen many of his pieces in person and am really looking forward to being able to closely examine them in the intimate space of the Fenimore.  There is something about seeing the hand of the artist on the surface of a painting that makes me feel somehow connected to the artist, that allows me to imagine them at work at that particular moment when they made that mark.

If you have seen much of my work you will probably recognize Parrish’s influence that I took from the painting below, Aquamarine.  The shape of the tree and the promontory on which it stands, the proportions  of sky and sea, and the way the land sits on the horizon all found their way into my own vocabulary.  More than those obvious elements was the emotional tone that I saw in it and wanted for my own work.

Just great work and a show to which I am really looking forward to seeing up close.




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I wrote this post several years ago describing how a certain composition from one artist can influence another, even though the results may seem light years away.  I often look at work of others in different ways, sometime focusing on the quality of the colors or how their handling of the paint.  But  often  I find myself looking at how the composition comes together, breaking away the the surface details in my mind to reveal the  bare bones or armature underneath.  Sometimes this sparks something and while looking at someone else’s work I will see a painting of my own growing over this armature.

I thought today I’d recall how this worked with a very famous piece:

WhistlerThis is James McNeil Whistler’s most famous piece, Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1:  Portrait of the Painter’s Mother.  It is, of course, better known as Whistler’s Mother.  It was a painting that I was casually familiar with as I grew up but it wasn’t until I looked more closely at it after I had started painting that I saw the brilliance of it’s composition.

Whistler always asserted that the painting was not about his mother but was more concerned with creating mood with color and composition, which the primary focus of almost all his work. This piece achieves it’s mood with beautiful diagonal lines formed by the woman’s form and contrasting verticals and horizontals that create great visual tension and energy.  The stark whiteness of the matted print on the wall behind shines like a full moon against the pale blue-gray sky that is the wall itself.  The head of the old woman seems to be almost lit by the light from the moon/print.

This is not a portrait of an old woman.  It’s a nocturnal landscape.  That’s what I saw when I looked at it as a painter trying to glean what I could from it for my own use.  This was a composition that had a geometry that just felt so right immediately.  It had such a sense of perfection in the way color and form combine with sheer simplicity that I knew I would have to use it for myself.

And I have, quite a few times over the years since I first really looked at it, sometimes with slight variations in the placement of the elements but still basically with the same compositional base.  And inevitably, they are pieces that have great immediacy in their impact, pieces that carry great mood whatever their subject matter.

The following day I wrote:

Yesterday I wrote about how I have often used in my own work the composition from the James McNeil Whistler painting popularly known as Whistler’s Mother.  I did so without illustrating the point so I thought I’d take quick moment to show how I might block in my own work with Whisyler’s composition.

GC Myers - the-way-of-lightGoing into my archives, one of the first things I look at is a painting from a few years back, The Way of Light.  At first glimpse, this piece has nothing in common with the Whsitler piece.  First, it is not portraiture ( although I often view my trees as such) and it is a landscape.  It is obviously a different palette of color than that of Whistler and the elements are rendered in a less realistic fashion than you would see in Whistler’s work.

WhistlerBut if you put those differences aside and quickly take in the shape and form of each piece, you can begin to see the similarity.  The line of trees on the small mound of land in my piece take the place of Whistler’s dark curtain on the far left.  The water in mine becomes the floor of his. The body of his mother is replaced by my island and her head becomes my red tree.  The framed print is now my moon.

Here, I overlaid my piece with the Whistler piece to further illustrate the point.  Obviously, there are worlds of differences separating the two pieces, as I pointed out above.  But the composition and use of blocking and light help us each achieve a sense of mood that is the primary goal in both cases.  Like Whistler, I am often more concerned with the mood and emotion of a piece of work than the actual subject matter.  In this pursuit I have come to view much of my work as Whistler did his, as musical compositions rather than merely representative images.

In color and shape there is rhythm, tempo and tone.  The placement of the compositional elements of a piece are much like the placement of individual notes in music, each affecting and reacting with those around it.  All trying to evoke feeling, response.

Well, there’s my illustration of how Whsitler’s iconic piece fits in with what I try to do with my work.  Hope you can now see the connection…

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GC Myers In the Time of DreamingI’ve been looking for a while at this new painting, a 24″ by 30″ canvas.  It has a calming effect for myself.  Maybe it’s the placid blues and violets or the softness of the moon’s light–I don’t know yet.  I just find myself letting go and being pulled into the central geometry of this piece, that triangle formed by the moon, the Red Tree and the group of Red Roofed houses atop the rise.  There’s a sense of mystery in it from which I can’t look away.

I call this piece In the Time of Dreaming.  Maybe it’s the mystery aspect that brings the title to mind, in way we sometimes find our own dreams– puzzling but somehow pointing to something that we just can’t quite put a finger on.

I also thought of the Australian Aborigines’ Dreamtime when the title came to mind.  Their Dreamtime is the basis for their entire belief system, the eternal time in which creation occurred and where the individual exists before and after their worldly life.  It is the time where their ancestry exists as one resulting in their belief that they accumulate worldly knowledge through the wisdom gained by their ancestors.

This results in a knowledge of the world that is passed down through word and song.  They can travel great distances through their lands guided by the Songlines,  paths that are traveled while singing specific songs that point out direction and landmarks.  It’s a beautiful system that very much ties the Aborigines to their ancestry and the land in which they live.  The late Bruce Chatwin wrote an interesting book, The Songlines, in the 80’s that gave a great account of this culture and belief system.

But whatever the reasoning, conscious and unconscious, behind it, I find myself continuing to look at this piece.  And dreaming.

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GC Myers- Listening to the MuseI spent quite a bit of time this morning looking at the image of the painting above, Listening to the Muse.  It’s part of my show at the Kada Gallery which is in it’s last weekend there.  This painting really captivates me on a personal level and reminds me of  a thought that once drove me forward as a younger painter.  It’s a thought that I often pass along as a bit of advice to aspiring artists:

Paint the paintings you want to see.

Sounds too simple to be of any help, doesn’t it?  But that simplicity is the beauty and strength of it.

For me, I wasn’t seeing the paintings out there that satisfied an inner desire I had to see certain deep colors that were being used in a manner that was both abstract and representative.  If I had seen something that fulfilled these desires, I most likely would not have went ahead as a painter.  I wouldn’t have felt the need to keep pushing.

It was this simple thought that marked the change in my evolution as a painter.  Before it, I was still trying to paint the paintings that I was seeing in the outer world, attempting to emulate those pieces and styles that already existed by other artists.  But it was unsatisfying, still the work of others, forever judged in comparison to these others.

But after the realization that I should simply paint what I wanted to see, my work changed and I went from a bondage to what existed to the freedom of what could be.  For me, that meant finding certain colors such as the deep reds and oranges tinged with dark edges that mark this piece.  It meant trying to simplify the forms of world I was portraying so that the colors and shapes collectively took on the same meditative quality that I was seeing in each of them.

In my case this seems to be the advice I needed.  But I think it’s advice that works for nearly anything you might attempt.  Paint the paintings you want to see.  Write the book you want to read.  Play the music you want to hear.  Make the film you want to see.  Cook the food you want to eat.  Sew the clothes you want to wear.

Make the world in which you want to live.


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GC Myers- Rigel smMy show, Into the Common Ground, hangs for one more week, until January 12th,  at the Kada Gallery in Erie.  One of the paintings that I was asked about quite often at the opening back in early December was this piece, a 20″ by 24″ canvas titled Rigel.  What was that blue orb?  The sun?

Well, when I was painting this piece there just seemed to be something a bit different in the feel of it before I had even opted for the blue ball in the sky.  Maybe it was the ultra warmth of the red and yellows that made me want to counter it somehow or maybe that odd feeling made me want to accentuate it even more.  I am not really sure.

But the blue orb appeared and all that came to mind was the star Rigel which appears in the night sky as the foot of the constellation Orion.  Rigel is one of the brightest stars in the night sky and is a blue giant star, extremely hot and large but short-lived due due to the intensity with which it burns.  It’s a star that I always look for in the winter sky when I make my way home in the walk from my studio.

It’s brightness and location in Orion make it jump from the dark sky.  In those moments the light from it seems so cold and distant which seems like a paradox given the great heat with which it burns.  And it’s that paradox that I saw in the blue orb in this painting.

A rightness in its wrongness.

It’s a painting that I always linger over for a few moments when I run through this show as it makes me think about so many other things than what seems obvious on the surface.

And I like that in a painting…




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GC Myers Glory Run 2006It’s the time of the year when I take a slight pause and try to ascertain what the past year has brought and where the next year might head.  I often find myself going back through my files, looking at images of long gone but well remembered paintings from the past.  There are a lot of thoughts that come and go during this process.  I will see work that bring back strong memories of the emotions that brought it out from within and some that leaves me wondering where it came from, it seems so different than the work around it in the files.

Then there is work that seemed to be a constant in my body of work that suddenly stopped coming out at a certain point.  Boat paintings, for example.  They were a minor staple in my work through the mid-2000’s but around 2009 they suddenly stopped completely, save for a few ferry paintings.  I really have no explanation for the stoppage.  It just didn’t seem to need to come out over the last several years.

GC Myers Night Glides In 2006There is probably some psychological reasoning to be found but it doesn’t matter to me at this point.  Just seeing the work and realizing that they were a part of the body of work and may someday emerge again in some way is enough.  Seeing these pieces with some time past makes me look at them with a questioning eye.  Some are real anomalies that stand out among a crowd of colorful images.  For example, the piece shown here on the left, Night Glides In, is a definite one-of-a-kind with its serene blue tones and placid feel set against a lone craft, vaguely Viking in style, that is headed inland.  It could be the return of a warrior or fisherman or traveler or it could be something more ominous and threatening.

That possibility always comes to my mind when I see this image even though I personally tend to see it in more congenial and positive terms.  More homecoming than home invasion…

GC MyersTime and Tide 2006Another painting from about the same time that also draws my attention whenever I am skimming through is this piece, Time and Tide.  I always have to zoom in to take in the texture.  The texture in my pieces seem to shift and change over the years and the texture in this piece is different than that in subsequent years.  Maybe it was an alteration in the way I prepped my surface or a change in material but it gives this piece a distinct signature in that texture and in the perspective of the incoming ship within the picture.

Looking at these boat pieces brings back influences and thoughts that have faded a bit in time, making them seem rejuvenated with the passage of years and the gaining of new experiences in that time.  I can see a boat or two floating back into my work in the new year.

We shall see…

GC Myers Beyond Chaos 2008

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