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Archive for June, 2010

Sustenance-- GC Myers

Maybe it’s the gray paintings that I’ve been working on lately.  Or maybe it’s just the unseasonably cool morning with the temperatures in the mid-40’s.  Or maybe it’s a somewhat contrarian nature.  Whatever the case, I find myself this morning longing for cold weather and gray skies and flecks of snow gathering on the grass that has lost much of its green.  The feel of a sharp wind  on the cheek like a reviving slap.  The harsh bones of the leafless trees in silhouette against the slate sky.  The absolute quiet of the forest, save the creak of the trees swaying in the cold breeze.

I know that for many this sounds absurd.  Most want to bask in the summer heat.  Most want to feel the adolescent charm of days spent shoeless under a relentless sun. 

 Easy days.

Not so for winter.  Maybe that’s what I like.  Winter gives you nothing.  No warmth. No sustenance. No cover.  What you take from winter is a hard fought victory and that makes it all the sweeter.  Anyone can  feel the carefree lure of summer.  But winter drives off those unwilling to endure its own special charms. 

Cold, refreshing charms…

Here’s a wonderful version of  the Winter section from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by violinist Gil Shaham to get you into the winter mood…

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Pot-Shots

A Pot Shot from Asheligh Brilliant

I was looking for a quote in one of the many online quotesites when I came across several attributed to someone called Ashleigh Brilliant, a name I had never heard.  Many of his quotes made me chuckle and some had an Oscar Wilde-ish bite.  For instance:

My play was a complete success. The audience was a failure.
 
Looking him up, I discovered he is a British-born epigrammist  (yes, I said epigrammist) living in Santa Barbara who has a syndicated feature called Pot-Shots, described as “Brilliant thoughts in 17 words or less“, which features his clever epigrams and line drawings in a small postcard shaped box.  His website features many of his best works ( and some not so) for sale in many forms.  Mugs.  T-shirts.  Postcards.  Placemats.
 
Placemats?
 
In other words, the guy is a character who is not afraid to market his unique personality.  Good for him.  Take a moment and check out his site.  It’s entertaining and has a real human feel.
 
Here’s another of his bon mots:
 
I waited and waited, and when no message came, I knew it must have been from you.
 
 

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Visionary

This is a painting finished for my next exhibition which opens July 22 at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY.  This show, which I am calling New Days, is my tenth annual solo show there, something I never envisioned when I began showing there in the early part of 1995.  At that point, I was amazed that anyone would even want to look at my work,  let alone buy it.  I was simply happy to hang my simple paintings on a wall and have somebody see them, which is still remains a thrill today.

This painting, a 24″ by 30″ canvas, is titled Visionary.  I’ve lived with this piece for a while and there’s a lovely depth into the painting and a golden hue around it that keeps my eye coming back to it.  An almost mystical pull.  It has sat untitled for all this time but this morning, the word visionary came to mind. 

Maybe it’s the distance between the houses in the foreground and the single tree in the distance but I am reminded of the vision quests of many indigenous people in many lands, a rite of passage where a young person of the tribe is sent alone into the wilderness, with the idea that the isolation and the deprivations (fasting is often part of the ritual) will attune them to their true self and their place in the natural world.  This quest is similar to those taken by the tribesmen who have been called forth as shamans although their journey is often enhanced by hallucinogens.

Either way, the idea is to shed all the trappings of their safe life and tap into a mystic energy in nature, confer with the spirits.  Unite with the eternal.  To see the remarkable behind the mundane.

Much like the visionary who, in all cultures, steps away from the safety of what is normal and stands alone.  Their viewpoints may seem far away and improbable, easily brushed aside.  But sometimes, their visions become evident to the normal world and we are grateful for their ability to see beyond what is now to what can be.  Grateful for their self belief and fortitude in stating their visions even though they may realize the risk of derision.

Maybe in this piece, the visionary, as represented by that far tree, is able to see the true nature of light and color as it breaks into pieces in the sky above.  To us, the inhabitants of the houses, it seems but a mere sky.  To the tree, the visionary, it seems to be comprised of unseen forces, the defining elements that make up all things.  He sees deeper, far beyond our shorter sight.  And he seeks to make it known to us.

Well, maybe that’s what I mean by this piece.  Somedays, it’s all a mystery to me…

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Painting of Old Centerway Bridge by Marty Poole

At yesterday’s memorial service for Tom Buechner, former congressman and head of Corning, Inc Amory Houghton was one of the speakers who stood before the large crowd under the spectacular Tiffany stained-glass windows of  the Christ Episcopal Church in Corning and told stories about the man.  At one point, Houghton said that  while Tom was a brilliant man (he had , after all, been chosen by the Houghtons to start the Corning Museum of Glass in 1950 at the tender age of 23) he sometimes came up with “nutty ideas“.  He then cited the stained glass bridge that I mentioned in yesterday’s post as an example, almost harumphing as he finished as if to say, “How crazy is that?”

Cheri and I exchanged sideways glances and to the crowd’s credit, very few seemed to share the humor Amo seemed to find in it. 
Nutty idea“?
Big? Yes.   Risky?  Sure.  Difficult?  Of course. Expensive?  Positively.  Impractical?  Maybe…
But at the same time, it is an idea that is forward-thinking on a grand scale, filled with the possibility of returns for the community and company that dwarf the initial risk.  Visionary, yes.  Nutty? Hardly.
And therein sits the division between those who see possibility and those who see impossibility.  It’s a very narrow chasm often leaving two people seemingly standing next to one another, close enough to touch.  But between them is a gaping ravine deep enough to deter crossing.  The believer in possibility stands on one side and tries to convince the denier of possibility that all he must do is to dare to lift his foot and simply step across to the other side.  Though not so far away, the view is so much different from this side! 
Maybe this difference of views is the same that separates us all.  Deep chasms we dare not cross, formed by our fears and the thoughts of what can’t be done rather than what can.  I read an interesting editorial the other day where the writer talked about this moment in time in our country versus the time after World War II.  At that time, our national debt was 120% of our GDP as opposed to the nearly 90% now.  The highest income tax rates hovered at 90%, shockingly higher than today.  Unemployment was soaring as the masses of troops returned to the civilian ranks.  We were staggering and teetering after a decade of the Great Depression and a costly war.  Yet, as the writer of the editorial  pointed out,  there was a positivism then that is virtually absent now.  We had persevered the worst in the Depression and came out victorious in the War and we had come out the other side with an atitude that we could get anything done if we set our will to it.  We embarked on two huge and costly efforts despite staggering costs-  the Marshall Plan to rebuild war-ravaged Europe and the GI Bill that rewarded our troops for their selfless sacrifice with  a chance at a higher education and low-cost housing, one of the largest entitlement programs in our history and one that set the table for the growth of the middle class in the 1950’s.
Today, that positivism is nowhere to be found in the general populace.  Gone is the roll-up-your-sleeves attitude.   We have become afraid to move forward, preferring to stand in the present and not step across the chasm of possibility to a future that moves forward.  We have fallen prey to fear and negativity and nothing good, absolutely nothing, can come of this attitude.
So, maybe hearing “nutty idea” spoke to more than a little museum on a little  bridge in a little city in a rural county in upstate New York for me.  Maybe it spoke to the symptoms  and causes of what ails us as a nation– the differing viewpoints of those who look on the same thing and see two vastly different versions.  A chasm between possibility and impossibility.

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The Stained Glass Bridge- Thomas Buechner

We are heading off this morning for a memorial service for the late  Tom Buechner, a man of many talents ( including those as an artist, writer, curator, art historian and teacher) who passed away on June 13th.  The memorial is being held at the beautiful Christ Episcopal Church in Corning which, with its great stained glass windows, brings to mind one of Tom’s dreams that never reached fruition, unfortunately.

The Chemung River cuts the city of Corning into two halves and there are two active bridges that span the often lazy river.  There is also a third bridge, the old Centerway Bridge that sits right next to the newer Centerway Bridge, that was built in the 1970’s, leaving the old bridge to sit idly by acting only as a wide pedestrian bridge between the downtown Market Street district on one side and the Corning Museum of Glass on the other. 

Buechner saw this idle bridge and its scenic perch above the river as a waste of an asset.  In his creative mind he saw it as something more, as a foundation for a structure rising from it, one that would celebrate Corning’s glass heritage and fame.  Stained glass, in particular.  He saw the bridge holding a world class museum and facility for the study of stained glass, a natural extension of the present Glass Museum which draws glass scholars from all over the world.

It would sit above the river and have glass panels on each side that would permit the freeflow of light through the panels on display, giving the outside of the building a colorful gleam.  At night, it would glow above the river in the glorious colors of so many stained glass windows.  It would have been quite a sight to see and would have become, no doubt, a great addition to Corning’s lure as a tourist destination.

But it was a big dream for this small city and never came about.  Money, structural concerns, etc.  They all conspired to leave the stained glass bridge as a seed in Tom Buechner’s mind.  This past year, at his October exhibit at the West End Gallery in Corning, he displayed the painting above which showed his concept for the museum.  I remember being excited at seeing this piece because the idle bridge always seemed to be sitting there, waiting to be transformed into something.  A phoenix hovering in the ashes.

There’s still hope that someone will recognize the beauty of this dream and let the phoenix rise.  But it’s doubtful now that Tom has passed, taking with him his vision and his passion.  But at least the idea and the dream still remain. 

Imagine a lazy summer evening and, as dusk breaks, the deep colors of many stained glass windows cast their rich light over the river …

Present Day Old Centerway Bridge in Painting from Tom Buechner

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Paper Doll

I often feature some of my favorite music in this blog, which covers a pretty wide range of artists.  I just realized I hadn’t paid homage to one of my longtime favorites, the Mills Brothers.  A vocal quartet comprised of four brothers from Ohio, the Mills Brothers performed together for nearly 60 years from the 1920’s through the 1980’s. 

I love these guys .  I know it’s an older and seemingly dated sound but I have never heard anything from them that wasn’t an absolutely gorgeous sound.  Their voices have a richness that you seldom hear and they mesh together so effortlessly that it allows the listener to sink into the music like a soft mattress. 

 Or to put it in visual terms, their sound has the richness and depth of the colors in the most vivid stained glass windows, the deep reds and blues that glow as though lit from inside.  I don’t know if anybody knows what I trying to say with this analogy.   All I’m trying to say is that they made beautiful music with an ease and a quality that you seldom see today.  If you could sing like this, why would you want to sing in amy other way?

Here’s one of my favorites from them, Paper Doll

And here’s a 1938 recording of several songs.  I mainly wanted to have you hear the first, an English version of the Italian classic Funiculi Funicula, where their voices fill all the parts of the song including horns and strings.  Great stuff…

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John Isner in the 5th Set

When I was doing research on my grandfather’s career as a professional wrestler in the earliest days of the sport, back in the first decade of the 1900’s, I came across a newspaper account of  one of his earliest matches.  It was held at the Kanaweola Club in Elmira which was one of the men’s sporting clubs of that era, a place where men gathered to to participate and watch sports.  Since there wasn’t ESPN, or television, or even radio, they often held live sporting events such as pro and amateur boxing and wrestling.  Oh, and they also would drink  a bit at the clubs.

In one of his headline matches at such a place, Shank, my grandfather’s wrestling moniker, started a match one evening at 9 PM and wrestled until midnight without either wrestler gaining a fall, which means neither was able to pin his opponent or get him to submit.  They stopped at midnight and resumed the following night, wrestling for another two and a half hours before Shank was finally pinned.  I wanted to lie there and say that Shank had gloriously persevered but I just couldn’t do it.  I was proud enough that he just competed in such a marathon and I think he might have been proud of the feat despite the loss.

I don’t know if the two competitors in the current marathon competition still in action on the tennis courts at Wimbledon, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut,  are ready to say they’re proud just to be involved in such a match.  To say so would be a psychological concession of sorts and they both aren’t ready to give in just yet.   They started this match Tuesday and played until dark.  The match resumed yesterday afternoon and stretched until they could barely see the balls.  Or stand.  Ten hours in all.  The fifth set, still unfinished, stands in at a time of 7 hours and 6 minutes, making it alone longer than the longest match ever.  The third day of this grinder takes palce this morning and I might have to watch.

At this point, the competition between these two men has transcended physical triumph of one over the other and moved into the realm of conquering their own psyches, convincing themselves that they can persevere.  Steeling themselves against the desire to just give in and let it be done.

It’s a remarkable thing to witness, this stalemate of wills between two equally matched competitors.  It’s liking stealing a raw glimpse of our desire to survive, our desire to overcome struggles of life and death.  To be wounded, hurt, but still rise to our feet and return to the fray.  Only in a safer way.  This is tennis, after all.

Good on both of you today, Mr. Isner and Mr. Mahut.  Don’t give up now.

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