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Helen Frankenthaler -Sirocco

Helen Frankenthaler -Sirocco

I received a nice letter yesterday from the American Ambassador to Kuwait, Douglas Silliman,  expressing thanks for the loan of a painting of mine to hang at their residence at the embassy in Kuwait City.  In describing  how they came to choose the works that hang there, he mentioned that one of the other pieces in the embassy exhibit was Sirocco from the late Helen Frankenthaler.

This really interested me because she was an artist whose unorthodox use of materials greatly influenced my own thoughts on how I worked.  It brought to mind a quote from her that I have used several times here in the past that expresses just this point.  One time I used this quote was from a post from over two years ago that I would like to rerun today, called Willingly Off Balance:

gc-myers-feb-2013-smThis is a new piece that I started over the weekend.  It’s a fairly large canvas, 24″ by 48″,  gessoed and blackened before I began to lay out the composition in the red oxide that I favor for the underpainting.   I went into this painting  with only one idea, that it have a mass of houses on  a small hilltop.  That is where I began making marks, building a small group of blocky structures in a soft pyramid.   A little hilltop village.  From there, it went off on its own, moving down the hill until a river emerged from the black.   An hour or two later and the river is the end of a chain of lakes with a bridge crossing it.  We’ll see where and what it is when  it finally settles.

I like this part of the process, this laying out of the composition.  It’s all about potential and problem-solving, keeping everything, all the elements that are introduced, in rhythm and in balance.  One mark on the canvas changes the possibility for the next.  Sometimes that possibility is limited by that mark, that brush of paint.  There is only one thing that can be done next.  But sometimes it opens up windows of potential that seemed hidden before that brushstroke hit the surface.  It’s like that infinitesimal moment before the bat hits the pinata and all that is inside it is only potential.  That brushstroke is the bat sometimes and when it strikes the canvas, you never know what will burst from the rich interior of the pinata, which which is the surface of the canvas here.  You hope the treats fall your way.

One of the things I thought about as I painted was the idea of keeping everything in balance.  Balancing color and rhythm and compositional weight, among many other things, so that in the end something coherent and cohesive emerges.  It’s how I view the process of my painting.  Over the years,  keeping this balance becomes easier, like any action that is practiced with such great regularity.  So much so that we totally avoid problems and when we begin to encounter one, we always tend to go with the tried and true, those ways of doing things that are safest and most predictable in their results.

It’s actually a great and safe way to live.  But as a painter who came to it as a form of seeking,  it’s the beginning of the end.  And as I painted, I realized that many of my biggest jumps as an artist came because I had allowed myself at times to be knocked off balance.  It’s when you’re off balance that the creativity of your problem-solving skills are pushed and innovation occurs.

It brings to mind a quote from Helen Frankenthaler that I used in a blogpost  called Change and Breakthrough from a few years back:   There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about. ”  

 You must be willing to go outside your comfort zone, be willing to crash and burn.   Without this willingness to fail, the work becomes stagnant and lifeless, all the excitement taken from the process.  And it’s that excitement  in the studio that I often speak of  that keeps me going, that keeps the work alive and vitalized.

It’s a simple thing but sometimes, after years of doing this, it slips your mind and the simple act of reminding yourself of the importance of willingly going off balance is all you need to rekindle the fire.

This is a lot to ponder at 5:30 in the morning.  We’ll see what this brings in the near future.  Stay tuned…

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By the way, this is the end product of the painting started above, Game of Life.

GC Myers- Game of Life 2013

GC Myers- Game of Life 2013

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Thomas_Hart_Benton_-_Achelous_and_Hercules_-_SmithsonianOne of the great things about going down to the DC area is being able to take advantage of the great museums that are part of the Smithsonian Institution.  The nineteen museums that make up what has been called America’s Attic ( I prefer America’s Treasure Chest) see more than 30 million visitors come through their doors each year, all admitted free of charge, to see an incredible collection of  art and artifacts.

Sargent_John_Singer_Spanish_Dancer El JaleoThis year, in the afternoon before the opening of  my show, we made our way to the American Art Museum which is downtown, several blocks off the Capital Mall.  It’s a wonderful collection of American art that runs the gamut from the grandness of Hudson River landscapes to the rawer but no less powerful beauty of folk art.  There are examples to suit every taste and all are exceptional.

I was there primarily to see the great mural, about 5′ by 22′ in size,  shown at the top, Achelous and Hercules from Thomas Hart Benton.  Because of the museum’s location away from the Mall, the crowds are sparser and it was a thrill to be able to stand alone in front of this  grand painting without to have to constantly look around other people.  Just an inspiring piece to see.

There is so much more to take in that our short time there barely scratched the surface.  If you get the chance to get to the DC area, definitely take the time to visit this museum and the others that make up the Smithsonian.  However you feel about the role of government, I think you will be proud of the collection that has been assembled in the name of the American people.

Eastman_Johnson_-_The_Girl_I_Left_Behind_Me_-_Smithsonian Agnes Tait- Skating in Central ParkAlbert_Bierstadt_-_Among_the_Sierra_Nevada,_California_-_Google_Art_Project

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GC Myers- EurekaI am in the final days of prep work for my upcoming show, Native Voice, at the Principle Gallery, which opens next Friday, June 5.  This will be my 16th show at the Alexandria gallery so my routine in finishing up in these few last days is pretty set.  Even so, it’s a hectic rush to get everything done.  For instance, even as I am framing I am still finishing up my final photography of the work.

For instance, just this morning I shot the 24″ by 30″ painting on canvas shown at the top.  I had photographed it before but the lighting  coupled with the blue tones made it a less than desirable photo, not really representative of the actual painting. But this one seems to hit the mark, capturing the blues in their actuality.

I call this painting Eureka.  The word is from the Greek, meaning “I have found it ” and was most famously attributed to Archimedes who upon sitting in a hot bath noticed that his body displaced an equal volume of water which meant that the volume of irregular objects could then be accurately measured.  That was not an easy thing to do around 250 BC.

But over the years, the word eureka has come to signify any great moment of discovery.  California uses it as their state motto after its use in the gold strikes of the mid 19th century.

In this painting, the bursting light which forms a corona around the Red Tree signifies a moment of  great recognition of some heretofore hidden truth, a discovery that forever alters one’s perspective of the world and their place in it.  It was not painted with this intent but the fact that the light is bursting from out of the blue of the sky is no small coincidence.  That is how these eureka moments normally reveal themselves– unannounced with little forewarning.

I’ve been fortunate to have one or two of these moments.  Well, one for sure.  And in that instance, I certainly felt like I was suddenly standing ablaze in the darkness that had surrounded me.  This piece really captures that instance for me.

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GC Myers- Trio:Three SquaresI came across this poem from author Wendell Berry on Maria Popova‘s wonderful site, Brain Pickings.  It’s a lovely rumination that could apply to any creative endeavor or to simply being a human being.  I particularly identified with the final verse that begins with the line: Accept what comes from silence.  I’ve always thought there was great wisdom and power in silence, a source of self-revelation.  Perhaps that is why so many of us shun the silence, fearing that it might reveal our true self to be something other than what we see in the mirror. Berry’s words very much sum up how I attempt to tap into silence with my work.

At the bottom is a recording of Wendell Berry reading the poem which gives it even a little more depth, hearing his words in that rural Kentucky voice.  It’s fairly short so take a moment and give a listen.

HOW TO BE A POET
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Wendell Berry

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Caspar David Frederich- Abbey Among Oak Trees

Caspar David Frederich- Abbey Among Oak Trees

A picture must not be devised but perceived. Close your bodily eye, that you may see your picture first with the eye of the spirit. Then bring to light what you have seen in the darkness, that its effect may work back,  from without to within.

–Caspar David Frederich

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I find myself identifying strongly with the words and work of the 19th century German painter Caspar David Frederich (1774-1840).  His work often takes a symbolic stance with expansive landscapes that overwhelm the human presence in them and much of it moves toward the metaphysical.  He , along with his British contemporary JMW Turner, were at the forefront of the movement from Classicism  to  work that reflected the inner emotional reaction of the individual to the world around them.

It was said of Frederich that he was “a man who has discovered the tragedy of Landscape.”  I see this in his often moody and contemplative work.  It is not painting of only a place or scene– it is more a painting of emotion, of some inner vibration triggered by what is before the painter.  His brilliance is in capturing that inner element and revealing it to the viewer.  It’s a rare thing, one that I think most painters aspire to obtain in their own work.  I know that I do.

Caspar_David_Friedrich_-_Wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fogFrederich’s work fell from favor in the latter stages of his life but the coming of modern art movement whose many painters were greatly influenced by Frederich,  brought him back to great recognition through the first few decades of the 20th century.   Unfortunately for Frederich, in the 1930’s, his work was associated with the Nazis who mistakenly saw his work as being nationalistic in its symbolism. I know that the piece shown here on the right, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog,  is often associated with Friedrich Nietzsche‘s idea of the Übermensch or Superman.  Even though Frederich died years before Nietzsche was born and almost a century  before the Nazis usurped his art, it took several decades before his work regained the stature it lost due to this association.

But the inner message of his landscapes persevered and his paintings still resonate with their timeless qualities today.  As they should.

Caspar David Friedrich- Monk by the Sea

Caspar David Friedrich- Monk by the Sea

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Joseph Campbell quoteI’ve been a fan of the late mythologist Joseph Campbell for many, many years.  In his many books on myth, including his classic The Hero With a Thousand Faces, as well as a great PBS series, The Power of Myth,  with Bill Moyers , Campbell documented myths from around the world but more importantly showed how intimately they related to our individual lives.  Campbell showed us that we all had lives that very much followed the patterns that ran through the classic myths of all cultures.

In short, we are all, in our own way, heroes.  We may not slay dragons or find great treasures, but we all at a point experience some form of the hero’s journey.

There’s a wonderful animated short film called What Makes a Hero?  from TED Ed and educator Matthew Winkler that succinctly illustrates Campbell’s premise, including the eleven stages of the hero’s journey.  It’s a delightful short that will hopefully help you to begin to see the mythic elements that make up your own life.

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Sandor Galimberti- Tában Cityscape in Budapest (1910)It’s funny how you sometimes come across things.

I had heard the song Budapest from George Ezra recently and had decided to share it on my Sunday music interlude.  It just has an infectious sound that seemed like a good way to start what looks to be a beautiful day.  Plus I liked the fact that he lists Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly as influences– kind of unexpected from a 20-something Brit.

So I began looking for something visual to accompany this lead-in to the music and punched in Budapest painting into my search engine.  Up came many lovely watercolor-y  images of the beautiful  grand riverfront along the Danube.  They were nice but tucked in among them was a rougher, more modernistic cityscape that really stuck out to me.

Red roofs.  Simple forms and dark linework.  A path leading in and up.  Even the tree that divided the upper right section of the scene looked familiar.  It looked like something that could have easily been tucked away somewhere  in my own body of work.

The painting, shown above  was titled Taban Cityscape in Budapest and the artist was listed as Sandor Galimberti.  Looking deeper, there was little info on Galimbert’s life except that he was Hungarian, born in 1883.   From a rough translation on a Hungarian site, I gleaned that he studied with Matisse and  had began to achieve notoriety for his work around Europe before World War I.  Married to another artist, he lived in Paris then finally Amsterdam before returning to Hungary to enlist in the army during the early days of the war.  In 1915, Learning that his wife had contracted lung cancer, Galimberti returns from the battlefield and his wife then dies.  Hour later, he takes his own life at the age of  32.

Yet another tragic story of what may have been an epic career cut short.  Looking at his work online (including his final work, Amsterdam, shown at the bottom) I am impressed on so many levels and can only imagine what may have come from an artist just reaching his maturity in the aftermath of the war.  We might be talking of him in the same terms as Matisse and Picasso and other modern masters.  But a tragic fate intervened and he is little known outside of a few certain circles.

So what began as a simple search for an image gives me a new artist to wonder at and study- perhaps my Hungarian cousin?  So many hidden treasures in this world.  Enjoy the song, enjoy the day and be glad for those things that bring you joy.

Sandor Galimberti- Amsterdam 1914

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