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Maurice de Vlaminck- Houses at Chatou 1905

Maurice de Vlaminck- Houses at Chatou 1905

When I get my hands on painting materials I don’t give a damn about other people’s painting… every generation must start again afresh.

– Maurice de Vlaminck

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I have to admit I don’t know much about French painter Maurice de Vlaminck  (vlah-mink)  who lived from 1876 until 1958.  His work is best known for a short period  in the early years of the 20th century when he was considered one of the leading lights, along with Andre Derain and Henri Matisse, of the Fauve movement.  Fauve translates as wild beast and the style of these painters was very much like  that to the sensibilities of that time.  It was brightly colored with brash brushwork and little attention paid to detail.  It was all about expression and emotion.

I recognize some of his early Fauvist work, mainly for the obvious influence of Vincent Van Gogh  it exhibits, and none of his later which becomes less colorful and exuberant, perhaps shaped by his experiences in WW I.  But his name is one that I have often shuffled over without paying too much time to look deeper.

Maurice de Vlaminck At the Bar 1900

Maurice de Vlaminck- At the Bar 1900

But I came across this quote and it struck me immediately.  It was a feeling that I have often felt  when I immerse myself in my work.  All thoughts of other painters– of their influence, of comparisons and artistic relationships– fade into nothing.  It is only me at that moment faced with the task of pulling something new and alive from the void.  I can’t worry myself at that moment about what other painters are doing.  Their whats and hows and whys  are all moot to me then because I am only trying to express something from within.  It might only exist and live for me in that instant, though I hope it transcends the moment, but that is the whole purpose and all of the works of all the painters throughout time can’t change this singular expression of this moment.

This single, simple quote brought me into kinship with de Vlaminck and made me promise myself to explore more deeply into his work and life so that when I come across his name in the future I don’t simply skim past without a thought.  But when I am painting, rest assured I will not be thinking of Maurice de Vlaminck.  And that is as it should be…

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Robert Henri Quote Boundless

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Georgia O'Keeffe-Cow's Skull  Red, White and  Blue -1931

Georgia O’Keeffe-Cow’s Skull Red, White and Blue -1931

I don’t know if I have talked much about Georgia ‘OKeeffe (1887-1985) here on the blog.  Her work was a big influence on me when I was starting, especially with her use of  bold, clear color and in the way she pared away detail in her compositions, leaving only the essential.  Her lines and forms were always organic and natural, something in them almost creating a harmony or vibration that easily meshed with the viewer on a gut level.

I was looking at films of artists at work earlier and came across a short segment from a 1977 documentary by filmmaker Perry Miller Adato that was aired on PBS at the time to mark O’Keeffe 90th birthday.  I was immediately captivated by the film of her as younger woman early in her time in New Mexico set against her at 90, listening to talk about paintings that were based on the bones she found in the high desert, telling a bit about the iconic painting shown here.

Her words were direct and plain-spoken in a mid-western voice that reflected her mid-western upbringing.  There’s an interesting juxtaposition of her speaking in very simple terms about her work set against a curator speaking in a bit of artspeak.  I’m not saying his point wasn’t valid.  It was just interesting to see how she spoke easily on the subject, it all being just a part of who she was.

It was just a neat clip that reminded me of why I liked her work so much in those early years.  As I said, this is just a clip and I am sorry that I don’t know where you can see the entire film.  But enjoy this and perhaps you’ll stumble across the whole film some other day.

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In different hours, a man represents each of several of his ancestors, as if there were seven or eight of us rolled up in each man’s skin, — seven or eight ancestors at least, — and they constitute the variety of notes for that new piece of music which his life is.
―Ralph Waldo Emerson

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GC Myers- Family Lines smThis is another newer painting that is headed to Erie for my show, Into the Common Ground,  in December at the Kada Gallery.  This 30′ by 40″ canvas is titled Family Lines with the Red Tree serving as the symbol of a family tree and the Red Chair acting as an offspring of it.  The broken segments of the winding path leading up to it represent for me the often arduous task of finding your connection to this tree while the light of the sky represents ultimate discovery and illumination.

I’ve often felt as though I had little definition of myself or my connection to the world through my ancestors.  My work as an artist has helped change this in many ways, giving me a portal for displaying who I am or  at least aspire to be in definition.  But my connection to my ancestors was always vague and hidden away beyond my knowledge.  I wondered who they were, what their stories held  and what traits they fed forward  through time to me.  I began to study my genealogy, hoping to discover some form of connection with the past that might help me better understand who I was in the present.  To discover what worlds the winding path that led to my own life traveled through.

It’s been a wonderful process that has given me greater connection with the past and with the history of this country and with those countries that gave birth to my ancestors.  Naturally, I am always drawn to the grand stories that are uncovered, the heroic and celebrated ancestors that I find myself hoping have somehow contributed some of their positive traits to my DNA.  But I am equally intrigued and touched by the simple and sometimes tragic tales that are uncovered.

I had earlier written of a great grand uncle who had lived his whole life in a county home for the infirmed. He was described in the censuses during his life as “feeble-minded” and he was unceremoniously buried  in an unmarked grave there at the county home.  I recently came across his death certificate and they listed him as a lifelong sufferer of epilepsy.  It made the story even more tragic in that this was perhaps a person who had a condition that would be treatable today.

I think of this person quite often.  His story is as much a part of that tree as those of  its more celebrated members.  It may not be the most beautiful leaf on the branch but it is there.  As Emerson says, we represent in some form a number of our ancestors and whose to say what part this ancestor plays in that piece of new music that is my life.

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John Lennon Jurgen Vollmer PhotoIt’s John Lennon‘s birthday today and while I was trying to think of one of his solo songs that would I like to feature here, one kept popping up in my mind.  It was Power to the People from 1971.

For me , this song brings back a flurry of personal memories of that time and of certain places.  I remember listening to this song as it came from the little speaker on a small portable radio that was my pride and joy in those days that predated the Walkman, the iPod and the smartphones that were to come.

It was square in shape and had a padded leather case and a leather handle and I had chosen it out of a Century catalog.  Century was regional chain of catalog showrooms, places where you would go in and enter the product number from a catalog and put it in a tray  for a clerk to pick up and send to  the warehouse space at the rear of the showroom.  You would then wait until your chosen product would come up on a small conveyor and would be whisked off by a clerk who would call you to the counter via the PA.  It seems like such a strange and antiquated system now but it was one of those places that you grew up with, so it seemed natural at the time.

So there I was, a twelve year old kid with a little square radio listening to my local AM station– there were no FM stations in our area yet although they would pop up rapidly in the next few years.  There was something about this song for me at that time playing from that radio that imprinted on my memory.  Maybe it was that the idea of the people banding together in order to be heard resonated with those feelings of powerlessness that many twelve year olds have felt through the ages.  Maybe it was an omen of my populist views to come or maybe it just sounded great coming out of that tinny little speaker.

Whatever the case, I still hear that song today in the context of that memory and get the same feeling that I got those forty-some years ago.  Lennon would have been 74 today.  Thanks for the memory, John. PS: the phot at the top is a Jurgen Vollmer photo of Lennon taken during the early Hamburg days. Itwas used on Lennon’s Rock and Roll LP.

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GC Myers-Dedicated Follower of FashionThis piece from years ago always sticks out to me when I am rambling around in my past work.  I am never quite sure if I like this piece which is an odd thing for me.  I usually have one overriding opinion on most of my work with little ambivalence.  But this one always gnaws at me and I stll find myself wondering why. 

I showed this on this blog back in 2009 but I thought it was worth showing again today along with its inspiration, a Kinks song describing the 60’s era London fashionistas.

Here it is:

This is called Dedicated Follower of Fashion, based on the song of the same name from the mind of Ray Davies and the Kinks.

I call this one of the Exiles pieces but I’m not really sure if it truly fits. It was done at the same time back in 1995 or ’96 and performed in the same manner but lacks the emotional depth of the others. In fact, it’s defining feature is its lack of emotional content.

I think that this blankness may have been the factor that led me to shape this piece into its final form. The elements of the face were the first part completed and basically dictate, in the way I work, where the painting goes. For instance, he could have been place on a vast and deep plain that sweeps to the distance behind him but that didn’t fit for me.

There was something in his oddly colored features that reminded me of the vanity and obsequiousness of many fashionistas. And that’s where the Kinks come in.

So, maybe he doesn’t quite fit in with the other Exiles but maybe that in itself makes him an exile of sorts.

Anyway, here are the Kinks doing the song…

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Derek Jeter #2 - Michelle V. Agins-/NY Times

Derek Jeter #2 – Michelle V. Agins-/NY Times

You would expect that a blog from an artist would focus on the influence and lessons learned from other artists.  Sure.  I have done that many times.  But some of the greatest lessons that I have learned and actions that I have emulated have come from sources far afield from the world of art.

Take, for instance, Derek Jeter.

As we fans of Derek Jeter struggle this weekend with the end of a glorious era as he retires as the legendary shortstop and captain of the New York Yankees, we are left with memories and a few lessons.

The first lesson that I took from the Captain is: Give total effort all of the time.  Watching him come to bat thousands of time, I cannot recall a single instant when he didn’t bust out of the batter’s box and run with his greatest effort on what appeared to be an easy out for the opposing team.  He knew, as the great Joe Dimaggio had pointed out before, that there were people in the stand who might never get to see him again, who had traveled to see him play and to not give his total effort would be robbing those people of seeing him at his best.  And besides that, good and unexpected things often came from this effort– often making the other team hurry, causing mistakes on their part, and spurring his teammates to follow suit and give that same effort.

Total effort becomes routine for players like Derek Jeter, acting like a rehearsal.   In the big moments, they simply focus and do that same thing they have done every time before.

The second lesson is to : Make the most of what you have.  This is an extension of the first lesson.  Over the last year or so, I have Derek Jeter point out , when asked what he thought separated him from other players, that he knew he was not the most talented player in the game or at his position.  But his desire to excel, his dedication to working hard and his willingness to give total effort with each attempt multiplied his talent level.  How many times have you seen those with great amounts of talent in just about any field flounder simply because they cannot find the focus or dedication to fully use their talent?

Lesson three is: Know who and what you are.  This is kind of an extension of lesson two.  Play to your strengths and away from your weaknesses, while at the same time trying to make your weaknesses into a strength.  Derek had vulnerabilities in his swing early in his career, susceptible to inside pitches.  A definite weakness that would be exploited throughout his career if he didn’t do something to change.  So he worked and developed an ability to fight off those pitches with a contorted, inside out swing that became a tremendous strength for him.  He also never tried to be a slugger or home run hitter because he knew that was not who he was, knew that was not his role on the team.  This translates to the art world easily as you often see artists who feel they must be something that they clearly are not and in attempting to do this take away from their real strength.

Lesson four:  Control your image.  Derek Jeter is a master at controlling his own actions and image, on and off the field.  On the field, he does not make wild claims or attack other players, doesn’t need to build himself up by tearing others down.  He never overreacts, never disrespects other players, umpires or the fans.  You never hear wild rumors about him or hear silly comments coming from him.  He has used his fame to create goodwill.  He began his foundation to aid and educate underprivileged kids when he was 21 years old.  Think about that– 21 years old.  How many of us would be thinking about ways to help others when we were that age, especially with a million dollars in our pockets and the free run of NYC?  He has stated that the foundation will be his primary focus in this post-baseball life.  As a result, he has built a reputation based on respect, both for his abilities and his image.

Lesson five :  Do not be afraid to fail.  While Derek Jeter has always seemed to succeed, those who watch the game regularly know this is not the case.  Like most players, he fails to get a it 7 out of 10 times at bat.  Yankee fans often grimace when he hits into double plays, a result of him always seeming to make contact with the pitch.  I have seen him fail numerous times, often striking out to end a game.  But the beauty of it is that he puts it aside and instead of dwelling on that failure, looks forward to the next chance to redeem himself.  You must be willing to go to the plate and swing that bat.  For artists, that means putting  your work out into the world, showing it at every opportunity, knocking on every door and dealing with possible rejections.  Because you struck out once does not mean that you won’t have hit next time up.

That brings us to lesson six:  Embrace the moment.  This is sort of a culmination of all of the other lessons.  Be ready for opportunity and when it appears, step up and take your best swing.  Be confident in who you are, in that you have the ability and that this moment is not greater than you.  Derek Jeter has done this countless times.  In the biggest moments, he seems to make the play, get the hit, score the run– whatever is required in the moment.  Last night, in his last at bat ever in Yankee Stadium, he delivered a storybook ending, stroking a game-winning hit with that swing that is oh so recognizable to his fans.  You don’t get a lot of opportunities in this life so be prepared and do what you must to score that run.

There are more things I could surely say about Derek Jeter.  He said that he has achieved his greatest wishes and beyond, more than he had dreamed possible.  So maybe I should have said something about creating  a vision of what you want to be. Perhaps you too  will achieve more than you initially thought possible.

It’s going to be hard to not see that number 2 jersey on the field after this weekend.  I already miss him but will not complain because Derek Jeter has given me 20 years of baseball that I have loved along with those lessons I have learned.  Thanks, Captain.

 

 

 

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