GC Myers- Carried Across sm

Carried Across– At West End Gallery

While working here in the studio yesterday, I was listening to a podcast from TCM (Turner Classic Movies) about the making of the screen adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. Even though it was not a movie in which I found little worth watching and the novel, filled as it was with unsympathetic characters, did not thrill me in any way, I found the backstory of the movie’s production pretty interesting.

There was one bit where the movie reviewer from the Wall Street Journal, who was given total access at the time to the production, spoke of how director Brian DePalma would often isolate himself from the chaos from the production that swirled around him– and for which he was almost totally responsible– by putting on his earphones to listen to a favorite opera on his Walkman. As the huge budget overruns and other problems mounted, he tried to block it out with something he found beautiful.

The reviewer said that she thought this typical for artists, that they had to be able to block out all the noise and naysaying in order to be able to maintain their own belief that whatever work was at hand was the most important thing in the world at that moment.

That struck a chord. It’s something I struggle with on a regular basis especially at times like those which we are collectively going through. Unless you have an overly giant and problematic ego, it’s easy to see that in the bigger scheme of things that the world doesn’t revolve around one’s personal creations.

This is healthy from a psychological standpoint.  But creatively, it creates a problem because in order to make work that is truly vital the artist has to maintain total belief in the validity and importance of their work. That total dedication of self is an imperative.

If the artist doesn’t maintain belief why would anyone else?

I’ve said this before, that I recognize my own relative insignificance both as a human and in the grand sweep of art history. I’m okay with that. But when I am at work I have to have total belief that the piece in front of me has something vital to express.

That it has some degree of importance.

That is not comparing my work to that of anyone else. That is not for me to do. I am talking about the basis of my expression, the belief in what I trying to say. In that moment I have to believe that my expression is as valid and important as that of any other artist or person, now or in the past.

But sometimes in the midst of the swirl of the chaos of this world, self doubts creep in and that belief is weakened. It’s hard to create at those times.

I certainly know that feeling.

Hearing that yesterday on the TCM podcast was a reminder of the need to isolate myself in some ways in order to maintain that belief that whatever is at hand is the most important thing I can be doing at that moment.

I don’t know that I adequately described what I want to say here but the time has come to end this for this morning. I am once more finding  that belief and have to get to work before it decides to run away again.

So, you must leave now.

Here’s some exit music in the form of a lovely rendition of a Leonard Cohen song, Came So Far For Beauty, from Lisa Hannigan.


GC Myers- Cool Rising sm

Cool Rising– At West End Gallery, Corning

Very slowly burning, the big forest tree
stands in the slight hollow of the snow
melted around it by the mild, long
heat of its being and its will to be
root, trunk, branch, leaf, and know
earth dark, sun light, wind touch, bird song.

Rootless and restless and warmblooded, we
blaze in the flare that blinds us to that slow,
tall, fraternal fire of life as strong
now as in the seedling two centuries ago.

–Kinship, Ursula Le Guin

It’s pretty obvious by now that I am a tree person. I have always felt most comfortable in the company of the trees of the forest, more so than in the company of people. Well, most people– you guys are okay.

I grew up wandering in the woods. I have lived and worked in the woods for decades now. My great-grandfather and many other ancestors worked the forests of the Adirondacks and northern Pennsylvania. Some died in those woods.

I have planted trees and cleared trees to build, cutting down my fair share of trees. That is the one act that is my least favorite and done now only when absolutely necessary. And even then, it is done with great sorrow and with reverence toward the life of that tree. You see, after all the time spent among the trees one begins to sense and respect the rhythm of their life’s slow and patient metabolism.

They simply are.

There is something greatly comforting in their presence, their quiet and unflinching witnessing of the other worlds that live under and around them. Being among them slows my own heart rate, immerses me in a quiet state of mind that I find in few other places.

It’s a kinship of some sort, to be sure. Though most will long outlive me, I find myself acting as a protective guardian for them now. There is the hope that someday someone will meet one of the large shagbark hickories around our home and feel the presence of their being as I do.

And will then feel as enriched as I have felt.

The verse at the top from the late author Ursula Le Guin (1929-2018) aptly describes how I see the being of trees. Below is a reading of it from Amanda Palmer.

Walt Whitman-  Thomas Eakins 1891

….This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body….

—Walt Whitman, Preface to Leaves of Grass

I am running this post from several years back as a result of some recent genealogy research I have been doing lately. It’s always interesting while I am doing the research. especially when I uncover evidence of distant relations that have long evaded me or uncover bits of what I consider interesting connections to American history. Part of my brain allows me to imagine the lives of these distant ancestors and wonder if I have any of the same characteristics that allowed them to survive– if they did.

For example, I recently found a distant great-grandfather from about 8 or 9 generations back who came here from Scotland as an indentured servant after being captured by Cromwell‘s forces in the English Civil War. After around 8 or 9 years of servitude he gained his freedom and became a prosperous brickmaker and was the progenitor of an entire American family line that has grown exponentially over the centuries and is widespread across this country now. Unfortunately, less than two decades after becoming a free man this ancestor was one of the first deaths in King Philip’s War that took place between the colonists of New England and the Native American tribes in the late 1670’s.

His track record as a warrior has me a bit concerned.

But while interesting, the story of this man’s life has little connection to me and my current life outside of perhaps a few strands of DNA here and there that most likely do little more than determine the length of my big toe or the pattern or ever increasing abundance of the hair growing inside my ears. But every so often you come across an ancestor or distant relative that you hope you share something more than these tenuous mitochondrial bonds and you let your mind wander into that possibility.

Like my Cousin Walt:

I have always been moved and inspired by the writings of the American poet Walt Whitman. I can find something that speaks directly to me in almost everything of his I come across. For me, he remains one of the most intriguing and unique characters in the American experience in so many ways.

This comes across in the photos of him, including the remarkable portrait above that was taken by the great American painter Thomas Eakins, who was also a pioneering figure in photography, in 1891, a year before Whitman’s death. It has a remarkable feeling of earned wisdom and understanding.

I had always felt a familial bond with him anyway, having called him Uncle Walt for as long as I can remember. He seemed like he was the wise old uncle I wanted growing up, someone who watched over me and imparted bits of wizened advice to me from time to time. So with this great reverence for the man, you can imagine how excited I was when my genealogy revealed that we were related.

Not an uncle.


Okay, 6th cousins. We share a grandparent going back to the early 1600’s, five generation before Whitman and nine generations before me. So, that makes us 6th cousins, 5 generations removed.

That’s like being in the furthest reaches of relationship in the game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Sure, we’re related by these tenuous bonds but it is so far removed that it is academic at best. There are probably several hundred thousand, if not a million or ten million, people with this same bond.

So it is certainly no big deal. Interesting but absolutely meaningless and without value.

But when I read a line from Whitman that makes my heart race a bit, that makes my brain and soul stir, I have to admit that it makes me happy that we share that silly, insignificant bond.

I just call him Cousin Walt now.

Thomas Cole- Round Top

How I have walked… day after day, and all alone, to see if there was not something among the old things which was new!

— Thomas Cole (1801-1848)

I am not sure if the words above from Thomas Cole refer to revisiting his older paintings to glean inspiration or if they have some other meaning. I immediately took them as meaning he sometimes looked back at his older work to see if there was something in them that could be explored once more and perhaps enhanced with the knowledge and expertise he had gained in the intervening time.

I know that this is my own purpose in periodically going back through the archives. I am looking for the inspiration that might come in seeing past compositions and uses of color or forms that may have changed over the years. Or simply ways of seeing and thinking thatmight have went in different directions and are ripe for a new examination.

If this is what Cole was intending then I am very pleased. I find his work, though worlds away from my own, intriguing. His body of work is pretty impressive, even for someone like me who isn’t always immediately drawn to traditional landscapes. Maybe that is because Cole’s works were not completely traditional. Perhaps it’s that he took such creative license with his subject matter, never being afraid to add his own romantic depth to landscapes that were already boldly dramatic in their own right.

The big got bigger and the wild, even wilder. His paintings and those of  the other painters of the Hudson River School of painting were the face of 19th century America to the rest of the world, creating a romantic vision of a beautiful and wide open nation, one that drew masses to its shores.

I am also intrigued by the fact that he was primarily a self-taught artist and his prodigious productivity. And that he did this all before his death at age 47 at his home in Catskill, NY. Impressive by all accounts.

Thomas Cole distant-view-of-niagara-falls-1830

Thomas Cole- Distant View of Niagara Falls 1830

Thomas Cole Evening in Arcady 1843

Thomas Cole- Evening in Arcady 1843

thomas cole- Sunset

Thomas Cole – Sunset

Thomas Cole- The Clove- Catskills 1827

Thomas Cole- The Clove, Catskills 1827


Thomas Cole- A Tornado in the Wilderness 1830

Anthony Bourdain Empathy

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.

― Albert Schweitzer

The two quotes above are both about the gains of being in service to others though I imagine that Albert Schweitzer was not speaking about schlepping pork chops or pancakes to hungry folks in a restaurant. But maybe he was. And even if he wasn’t, the happiness gained from being in service that he describes goes hand in hand with the words above from late chef Anthony Bourdain.

I have often said that I thought everyone should be required to work as a server in a restaurant for at least a short period of time. There are so many lessons to be learned from the experience.

Empathy, as Bourdain points out, is one. I often dealt with people who were obviously down and out or going through trying times. It was hard to not put yourself in their shoes or at least make their time with you comfortable. 

Humility, for me, was a big one. There was nothing more centering than going from an opening filled with compliments and praise on a Friday evening to pouring coffee for a hungover trucker on a Saturday morning. Puts everything in perspective in quick fashion.

You quickly learn that the world does not revolve around you.

That brings us to restraint. You have to learn to turn a deaf ear to insults and barbs then deliver the same service to that offending person that you give to all. Restraint also keeps you from making a kneejerk reaction. I had a diner one  morning who was as rude and unpleasant as could be, snapping at me with every interaction. I felt like snapping back but retrained myself and just did my job as efficiently as possible so that I wouldn’t have to have any real problems with him.

Later, after he finished his meal and went to the rest room, he called me over to his table and apologized for his behavior. He had just been released that morning from the hospital and was not feeling well at all. He wasn’t sure about the outlook for his future and had taken it ut on me. I told him I understood then we chatted for a bit, me learning that he had been on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. 

I was glad I hadn’t reacted to our initial interaction.

That brings us to consistency and endurance, two qualities that allow a server to be successful, which is to make a living wage since the base pay was and is well below the minimum wage. There were people who were notorious bad tippers and when you had the misfortune of them ending up in your station, you still had to give them exactly the same level of service as your best tippers. Inconsistency can be contagious, in my opinion, so its easier to just do the same rather than try to alter your routine to deprive someone.

Then there is, of course, teamwork. You learn that even though you might be a highly capable server, you need the assistance of a variety of people– cooks, bus people, dishwashers, and other servers– in order to be successful. 

You also learn that you even if you are exceptionally good at your job, you are not indispensable. The world will go on without you. Food will still emerge from the kitchen and people will enjoy their meals without you. This probably belongs above under the humility label but I am writing off the cuff here and am not going back now.

The main lesson is probably that there is great gratification in serving others. Making a meal pleasant and seamless isn’t life-altering in any way but to make someone else comfortable and at ease for even a short time is something that pleases me.

It’s a small bit of evidence of humanity.

And in these days, when so many folks have lost sight of their humanity and its accompanying empathy, maybe we could all use a reminder that there is happiness to be found in service to others, to paraphrase Mr. Schweitzer.

Little Birdie

Little Birdie

I am needing to get to the easel this morning, an urge that hasn’t been around in a long time. I am working on a new piece that has really engaged me, that has a slightly different feel, and I want to try to keep it going. To that end, let’s get to this week’s Sunday morning music.

It’s a song from Rachel Price along with the Punch Brothers, the progressive bluegrass group that features former Nickel Creek wunderkind Chris Thile. I featured them a few weeks back with their powerful version of Can’t Find My Way Home, the Blind Faith classic. This song is titled Little Birdie.

Seems like a good way to kick off what I hope is a productive morning. Probably works just as well for sitting quietly and sipping your coffee. I think I’ll try that first…

Yosemite Valley with El Capitan

Mother I made it up from the bruise on the floor of this prison
Mother I lost it, all of the fear of the Lord I was given
Mother forget me now that the creek drank the cradle you sang to
Mother forgive me, I sold your car for the shoes that I gave you
So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten
Sons could be birds, taken broken up to the mountain

Upward Over the Mountain, Iron & Wine

I didn’t have much enthusiasm to write this morning, gray as it is at the beginning of another rainy day. I looked for some music and a version of a song, Upward Over the Mountain, I like very much from Iron & Wine came on. It was a live video of Sam Beam, who is Iron & Wine, performing the song, accompanied by singer/songwriter Andrew Bird, outdoors in the beautiful Yosemite Valley.

The combination of the setting and song really hit home for me. Seeing Yosemite’s charms made me yearn to wander through that place again and the song reminded me of the redemptive power of nature. For me, there is a soothing balm found amidst rock and wood and water.

In those places, I always feel a little less broken.

Yosemite Half DomeWhen we visited Yosemite years ago, it was in late November and the place was fairly empty. Getting up early each morning, we seldom encountered anyone else on the trails and it was easy to feel special in that place. Somehow closer to a fullness that we seldom can see in our day to day lives.

Seeing those same locales as shown in this newly released video, which also contains a performance of Iron & Wine’s Call It Dreaming, brought back those feelings. It also renewed my appreciation the setting in which I live now and sometime fail to see for all its familiarity and the shadows in the mind that obscure the charms of the hills and woods and water around me.

It’s worth a watch and a listen, at least in my opinion, for what its worth.

GC Myers- Where Memory Rests sm

Where Memory Rests — At the West End Gallery

We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.

There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always like a sketch. No, “sketch” is not quite the word, because a sketch is an outline of something, the groundwork for a picture, whereas the sketch that is our life is a sketch for nothing, an outline with no picture.

— Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

This is sort of a continuation of yesterday’s questions: Do we know what we should remember? Do we remember what we should know? 

The passages from author Milan Kundera’s great novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being perhaps provide one answer: We can never know.

Life is, as his character puts it, one and done. No rehearsals. No trying out of new material or making revisions.

Life is, indeed, more of a sketch than a final version of a picture. People in the future, if they care to make the effort, cobble together a final portrait of our lives. That doesn’t mean it’s accurate or completely truthful. It can’t be totally either since it is the work of others and their interpretations that are taken from the sketch we leave behind.

It is beyond the control of the subject of these sketches.

And as Kundera points out, we live — or rather, perform— our lives from moment to moment with little or no context on which we can base our performances. We’re often halfway through our performance before we realize that we have the power to improvise, to use what little knowledge we have gained from observing others, to make our performance going forward better and deeper in meaning.

I guess I am trying to say it is advised that we try, at some point, to make a conscious decision about the sort of character we want to play or what sort of sketch we will finish during the remaining time of our arc of existence here on this planet.

Live with intention.

I know that, for myself, my performance and my sketch has changed in many ways since I realized that doing so was the only true control I had over the arc of my life. I could choose my reactions during my performances so that they didn’t have the same mistakes made in past rehearsals. Or that I could choose how I marked the surface with my sketches, the intensity of the lines and how much of myself I would share.

I think doing so has my rehearsals and sketches better. At least, I like them more now. How they play in the future, how others will critique them, is not for me to say. Or know.

Damn it– my coffee’s cold again! I guess I will have to pay more attention in tomorrow’s rehearsal…

Pieces in the Puzzle

GC Myers-The Memory of That Time sm

The Memory of That Time– At the Principle Gallery, Alexandria, VA

There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth.

― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Do we know what we should remember? Do we remember what we should know?

Do we have the ability to recognize the importance of any moment in our lives at the time it occurs? Of course, there are the huge moments that affect the whole of a nation such as the 9/11 attacks which we all remember, most in graphic details from our reactions to the moments of that day.

We certainly immediately knew that the memory of that day would last.

But what about those days and events that affect only ourselves and perhaps a small group of other folks? Do we know in any of those moments that we would or should carry that memory forward?

Sometimes those small moments bring on large consequences for those involved. But do we recognize what part these small, seemingly insignificant moments played in bringing them about?

I don’t know the answer. Perhaps it differs for each of us and maybe it doesn’t even matter in the larger scheme of things.

I ask these questions because I am often baffled by my life and the path it took. There is some gnawing inner need to understand the pattern it followed, to uncover those small moments of importance hidden in the mists of the past.

For the most part, it’s a fool’s errand. But occasionally a forgotten moment from the past will push forward and I will hold it up and examine it as though it were a newly found specimen, letting the light shine on it as I examine it from different perspectives.

Sometimes, these found memories are oddly gratifying, as though I have finally found a missing piece that fits in the billion piece jigsaw puzzle that is a life. Of course, there are still millions of other missing pieces– lost memories of other small but important moments– in that puzzle.

Been writing this and my coffee got cold. Wonder if that should be remembered?



When I am finishing a picture I hold some God-made object up to it / a rock, a flower, the branch of a tree or my hand / as a kind of final test. If the painting stands up beside a thing man cannot make, the painting is authentic. If there’s a clash between the two, it is bad art.

–Marc Chagall

Below is a post from 2015:

Marc Chagall Sun of ParisI haven’t mentioned Marc Chagall here but once over the 6+ years I have been doing this blog and I very seldom list him as one of my influences or even one of my favorite artists. But somehow he always seems to be sitting prominently there at the end of the day, both as a favorite and an influence.

One way in which his influence takes form is in the way in which he created a unique visual vocabulary of symbolism within his work. His soaring people, his goats and horses and angels all seem at once mythic yet vaguely reminiscent of our own dreams, part of each of us but hidden deeply within.

They are mysterious but familiar.

And that’s a quality– mysterious and familiar– that I sought for my own symbols: the Red Chair, the Red Tree and the anonymous houses, for examples. That need to paint familiar objects that could take on other aspects of meaning very much came from Chagall’s paintings.

marc-chagall-fishermans-family-1968He also exerted his influence in the way in which he painted, distinct and as free-flowing as a signature. It was very much what I would call his Native Voice. Not affected or trying to adhere to any standards, just coming off his brush freely and naturally.

An organic expression of himself. And that is something I have sought since I first began painting– my own native voice, one in which I painted as easily and without thought as I would write my signature.

So to read how Chagall judged his work for authenticity makes me consider how I validate my own work.  It’s not that different. I use the term a sense of rightness to describe what I am seeking in the work.

It is very much the same sense one gets when you pick up a stone and consider it. Worn smooth through the ages, untouched for the most part by man, it is precisely what it is. It’s form and feel are natural and organic. There is just an inherent  rightness to it.

I hope for that same sense when I look at my work and I am sure that it is not far from the feeling Chagall sought when he compared his own work to a rock or a flower or his own hand.

Marc Chagall Song of Songs

%d bloggers like this: