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Archive for the ‘Influences’ Category

Van Gogh Still Life- Blue Enamel Coffeepot, Earthenware and Fruit 1888When I came into the studio this morning there was a question waiting for me in my inbox.  In response to yesterday’s post, a blogger, JM Nowak, asked : I wonder what van Gogh would have thought? What would he think now about the popularity and sales rate of his Art? Would it make him feel more confident and self-assured…I wonder?!

The question set my mind in motion.  Would have recognition in his time affected Van Gogh’s work?  Would it have changed the arc of his evolution as we know it?  Would his style have changed to meet the will of the market if he had started to sell his work at the time?

These are hard questions.  Part of me is selfishly glad that we will never know, happy in the fact that his work came about in just the way it did, relatively uninfluenced by the market or the words of critics.  Though I do have to confess that I wish he had found some sort of satisfaction or happiness in knowing that his work became so loved and revered.

But his work evolved in much the same way as outsider and folk artists who toil for the absolute necessity of self expression, without any outside affirmation.  There is a sort of pristine purity in this that presents an interesting dichotomy:  established artists crave this purity that they can no longer have and the artists with it often desire the acknowledgment that the established artists receive.

Can the line between the two be walked?

It makes me wonder how my own work would have evolved without the galleries or patrons who have supported me these many years now.  Would my own arc or direction be the same as it is now?  I think it would be different if only for the assurance that  that the knowledge that there are waiting eyes to see your work brings.  That in itself propels the work forward at times.

But it would undoubtedly be different.  But whether it would be better or worse is debatable.  It might be narrower in scope just because I might be more tempted to follow an even more personal and esoteric path.  But I’m not really sure about that because the real question would be how long would I be able to continue without some outer affirmation for the work.  Would I be able to maintain the passion or would I abandon the work or continue to follow Van Gogh down that  vortex of madness which he ultimately followed?

A lot to ponder at 6 in the morning…

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Lawren Harris- Isolation Peak -1931

Lawren Harris- Isolation Peak -1931

I received a copy of the new catalog for the Lawren Harris show that is currently showing at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles before moving to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in the spring of 2016.  The show, curated by comedian/actor/ avid art collector Steve Martin , is the first major show in the US for the Canadian artist, who passed away in 1970 at the age of 85.  It’s a fabulous looking show if the catalog serves as any kind of indicator.

I’ve written a couple of times about his paintings and my consternation that they were somehow not known to us south of the Canadian border.  In his intro Martin writes very much the same thing.  We have embraced so many Canadians as our own in many other fields– Neil Young, Joni Mitchell,  Jim Carrey,  and so many others that it would difficult to list them all– yet for some reason we have either not embraced Canadian painters or Canada has not been willing to share them with us.

I guess I could understand the latter.  After giving us so many musicians, comedians and actors without so much as a thank you note from their neighbors to the south, they might want to keep something that they can call their very own.  Something that speaks of its Canadian identity, its roots and sensibility.

But that may be coming to an end.  You see, great painting, regardless of its origin and subject, transcends boundaries and speaks in a universal tongue.  And the Canadian painters I show here do that.  We may have been shielded from them for a hundred years or so but once they trickle through it will soon be a torrent.  And I’m only talking about a group of painters from the early 20th century.  Who knows what treasures are waiting to be discovered in that land to our north?

Maybe we will see them if we just show them a small bit of appreciation.  Let me be the first to say “Thank You” for sharing your richness with us.

Arthur Lismer-Bright Land -1938

Arthur Lismer-Bright Land -1938

Arthur_Lismer-Olympic with Returned Soldiers

Arthur_Lismer-Olympic with Returned Soldiers

Franklin Carmichael - Autumn in Orillia-1924

Franklin Carmichael – Autumn in Orillia-1924

Franklin Carmichael -Jackknife Village-1926

Franklin Carmichael -Jackknife Village-1926

Franklin Carmichael-Mirror-Lake-1929

Franklin Carmichael-Mirror-Lake-1929

Frederick Varley - Night Ferry Vancouver -1937

Frederick Varley – Night Ferry Vancouver -1937

Tom Thomson- The Jack Pine -1917

Tom Thomson- The Jack Pine -1917

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Edward Burra

Edward Burra-Cornish Landscape With Tin Mines 1975I can’t remember how I came across the painting above but it really caught my eye then jammed itself into my memory.  It was just a picture that mad me want to look at it– the subjects, the colors, the contrasts and composition all created an interesting form.  It was from the late British painter Edward Burra, who lived from 1905 until 1976.  It was yet another name that seemed new to me.  Looking at some other images of his work, I wondered how it could be that I had never heard of Edward Burra.

Doing a little research I found that I wasn’t the only one.  In a 2007 British newspaper review of a biography of his life, Burra was described  as  forgotten and neglected.  I don’t know how much that has changed in the past few years but the work is truly compelling.  He is best known for his scenes of the seedier side of urban life including  Harlem of the 1930’s along with war scenes and macabre scenes of cavorting skeletons.  Working primarily in watercolor and ink,  there were also quiet landscapes.  All in all, it is a wide and varied body of work, one that provides a truly unique vision.

I certainly hope he gets his due recognition.  There is a film, I Never Tell Anybody Anything :The Life and Art of Edward Burra,  that is available for viewing on YouTube.  I am hoping to get to it today.  Meanwhile, take a look at some of his work below.  

Edward Burra Cabbages Springfield Rye 1937 Edward Burra Zoot Suits 1948 Edward Burra Skeleton Party 1952-4 Edward Burra -Newport Docks 1971Edward Burra Harlem 1934

Edward Burra- Dancing Skeletons 1934

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GC Myers- Reaching to Time sm

I was checking the stats for my blog this morning.  One of them is a list of most viewed posts from the prior day.  I saw the title for one and it didn’t ring a bell so I checked it out, finding that it related in a way to a post from earlier in the week when I wrote about an unusual character in my wife’s ancestry.  As I said, it’s wonderful running across great stories from one’s family history.  But on the flip side, when you come across a story that is tragic or just sad it sticks with you in a different way.  I thought I’d rerun this post from back in 2010 because in the last few paragraphs the story relates to how I view my Red Tree:

I woke up much too early this morning.  Deep darkness and quiet but my mind racing.  Oddly enough I found myself thinking of a person I had come across in my explorations in my personal genealogy.  It was a cousin  several generations back, someone who lived in the late 1800’s in rural northern Pennsylvania.  The name was one of those you often come across in genealogy, one with few hints as to the life they led.  Few traces of their existence at all. 

 At the time, it piqued my curiosity for some reason I couldn’t identify.  He was simply a son of  the brother of one of my great-great grandparents.  As I said, you run across these people by the droves in genealogy, people who show up then disappear in the mist of history, many dying at a young age.  But this one had something that made me want to look further.  I could find nothing but a mention in an early census record then nothing.  No family of any sort.  No military service.  No land or property.  No listings in the cemeteries around where he lived.  I searched all the local records available to me and finally came across one lone record.  One mention of this name at the right time in the right place, a decade or so from when I lost sight of them.

It was a census record and this person was now in their late 30’s.  It was one line with no other family members, one of many in a long list that stretched over two pages.  I had seen this before.  Maybe this was a jail or a prison.  I had other family members in my tree who, when the census rolled around, were incarcerated and showed up for those years as prisoners.  So I went to the beginning of the list and there was my answer.

It wasn’t a prison.  Well, not in name.  It was the County Home.  This person was either insane or mentally or physically handicapped and was living out their life in a home when they could or would no longer be cared for by family.  It struck me at the time that this was someone who lived and experienced as we all do and who has probably not been thought of in many, many decades.  If ever.

This all came back to me in a flash as I laid there in the dark this morning.  I began to think of what I do and, as is often the case when I find myself wide awake  in the dark at 3:30 AM, began to question why I do it and what purpose it serves in this world.  Is there any value other than pretty pictures to hang on a wall?  How does my work pertain to someone like my relative who lived and died in obscurity? 

In my work, the red tree is the most prominent symbol used.   I see myself as the red tree when I look at these paintings and see it as a way of calling attention to the simple fact that I exist in this world.  I think that may be what others see as well– a symbol of their own existence and uniqueness in the world. 

If I am a red tree, isn’t everyone a red tree in some way?  Isn’t my distant cousin living in a rural county home, alone and apart from family, a red tree as well?  What was his uniqueness, his exceptionalism?  He had something, I’m sure.  We all do.

And it came to me then, as I laid in the blackness.  Maybe the red tree isn’t about my own uniqueness.  Maybe it was about recognizing the uniqueness of others and seeing ourselves in them, recognizing that we all have special qualities to celebrate.  Maybe that is the real purpose in what I do.  Perhaps this realization that everyone has an exceptionalism that deserves recognition and celebration is why I find it so hard to shake the red tree from my vocabulary of imagery. 

 Don’t we all deserve to be a red tree, in someone’s eyes?

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Odilon Redon- The Cyclops 1914I am certain about what I will never do – but not about what my art will render.

–Odilon Redon

***************

When I came across this quote from the great French Symbolist painter/printmaker Odilon Redon, I found myself nodding in agreement.  There are many things I know that I will never do with my work mainly because these things don’t inspire me to take the time to make the effort.  But about those things where I do make the the effort,  I am never quite sure where they will take me or how they will surprise me or how they will reach out to others in ways I never imagined.

And that is the thing, the driving force, that keeps me coming back to this studio each morning: the hope that this will be the day that brings that next surprise, that next thing that remains a wonder to myself.

By the way, you should really take a few moments and check out the work of Odilon Redilon.  He was one of the most influential painters around the turn of the 20th century and set the groundwork for a lot of modern movements.  Plus, his prints and paintings are just plain interesting to take in, with a mysterious twist and symbolism that feels both psychological and spiritual.  The eye in the sky is a recurring form in his work as you see in the painting at the top, The Cyclops.  His one-eyed creature has a different feel than that of the more terrifying one in Homer’s Odyssey.  Redon’s has an almost protective, paternal feel.  It feels odd but inviting.

Here is a site ( click here)with most of his known paintings although not much if any  of his print work.  It’s worth a look.

Odilon Redon - Eye  Balloon-1898 Odilon Redon Flower Clouds 1903

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Ormond Gigli  Girls InTh Windows New York 1960 --Stanley-Wise Gallery NYCOrmond Gigli is an American photographer born in 1925 who is famous for his photos of celebrities from the worlds of stage, screen and fashion.  I recently came across his most famous photo (above) which is called Girls In the Windows.  It is considered to be one of the great fashion shots of the 1960’s and just a great photo in any category.

The photo came about in 1960 when a group of brownstones in Manhattan were being demolished across the street from Gigli’s  East 58th Street studio.  Gigli wanted to capture those brownstones on film and had a vision of 43 fashion-clad women adorning the windows.  Working quickly, arrangements were made to get permissions, models and the Rolls-Royce in place so that the photo could be taken during the workmen’s lunch break before the buildings hit the ground.  Some of the models couldn’t stand on the windowsills as they were so crumbly.

It’s a stunning visual.  You never know what will inspire something new in your own work and looking at a photo like this triggers all sorts of reactions within my mind.  I am sure this was the same for others who sort of borrowed from this photo in the years after it was taken.  For instance, I am pretty sure the artist who did the cover for Led Zeppelin‘s 1975 album, Physical Graffiti was inspired in some way by Gigli’s photo to place iconic images in the windows of a crumbling apartment building.

Ormond Gigli has a website devoted to his work and the stories behind some of his more famous shots that you can visit by clicking here.

Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti Album Cover 1975

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Scott Coulter - Ohara

Scott Coulter- Ohara

When I was in Alexandria for my annual Gallery Talk last weekend, I ran into an old friend, the wonderful painter painter Scott Coulter.  I hadn’t seen in many years and had a chance to briefly catch up with him while he manned his booth at  the very busy King Street Art Festival.  Canadian-born Scott Coulter was one of the first painters I connected with when I began my career  when he was still living in this area, the Finger Lakes region of  New York.  He now divides his time between Florida and Minnesota when he’s not traveling around the country to display his work and to capture some of the natural splendor that he paints so well.

Scott Coulter -Upper Elk 48x60

Scott Coulter -Upper Elk 48×60

While we paint with very different styles and processes, I found it very easy to become a big fan of Scott’s atmosphere filled landscapes as well as the way in which he painted them.  Every painting is just him and his brushes with perhaps a photo or two to guide him.  There are no projected images onto his canvasses, no airbrushes to create his beautifully graded colors, no digital assistance of any kind– just him and an unerring ability to build magnificent, and often very large, paintings with a palette that is instantly recognizable to anyone who knows his work.  I remember seeing him paint years ago and being so impressed with how he made the very difficult seem so easy.  He’s master of his art.

He was influential in my desire to paint very large.  I remember one piece he was commissioned to paint that was huge, so much so that the patron provided him with a space, a small but tall  inner courtyard they owned, in which he could paint because it was too tall for any space available to him.  It was something like eleven foot tall and had an incredible visual impact.  I am sure it still brings oohs and aahs in its current home.  Rogue’s Gallery, shown below, is another large piece at 66″ square that I would love to see in person.

In recent years, he began painting railroad cars and physical features such as underpasses with graffiti covering them and it fits into his body of work so well that it seems like it has always there.  Hard not to like this as well.

For more info on Scott’s work check out his website by clicking here and if you’re in the NYC area this weekend, check it out in person at the Gracie Square Art Fair.

No two ways about it– just good work.  Great to see you, Scott.  Look forward to seeing you again!

Scott Coulter - Bob's Boys 18x24

Scott Coulter – Bob’s Boys 18×24

Scott Coulter- Stone Cold Merced 60 x48

Scott Coulter- Stone Cold Merced 60×48

Scott Coulter - Rogues Gallery 66x66

Scott Coulter – Rogues Gallery 66×66

Scott Coulter -BNSF 403775 18x24

Scott Coulter -BNSF 403775 18×24

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