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Archive for July, 2010

Big Mama Thorton at the 1965 American Folk Blues

After writing a short post about Stevie Ray Vaughan  the other day, marking 20 years since his death, I felt like hearing some blues.  Old school stuff.  After listening to a bit in the studio, I went searching for some old Buddy Guy online and came across a great piece of film from the American Folk Blues Festival in 1965. 

 It was a beautifully shot and produced performance by Big Mama Thorton backed by a young, slick Buddy Guy. She rambles out and belts out her best known song, Hound Dog.  Yes, the same song that propelled Elvis to mega-stardom.  There are a lot of purists who throw a lot of hate towards Elvis for taking Big Mama’s song and moving it out of the realm of race records, for making it a big hit on the predominantly white pop charts.  I’m not one of them.  I think Elvis did a great version of the song and in many ways it helped artists such as Big Mama find their way to a wider, more diverse audience.  And Big Mama did a version that was different than Elvis’.  It rocked hard in a bluesier, earthier way.  Big Mama was like a  human earthquake.

Check out this performance.  The sound and camera work is really top notch especially for a performance video of that era.  I’ve also included a video from the same session with Big Mama and several other bluesmen including Big Walter Horton and Doc Ross trading licks on their harps.  Check out John Lee Hooker on his harp, his trademark  guitar nowhere to be seen.  You ever see this one, David?

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When I first heard the term trickle down used to describe supply-side economics, the idea that giving tax-relief to those at the highest income levels will cause them to create more jobs for those in the economics classes below them, I was around twenty years old.  I was working in a factory where the management was constantly striving to get more and more from its workers for less and less.  There was no sense of any sort of paternal feeling from this company. 

 Their job was to extract the most financial return from us at the lowest possible expense. 

I had no problem with this concept.  That is just a fundamental of business. 

But I knew that without the protection of our labor union and governmental agencies like OSHA, they would pare away at us without mercy.  They would pay us less and less.  They would change job specs to require less and less manpower, to the point where many jobs became exceedingly difficult and dangerous.  It was a neverending  struggle to maintain our status quo,  to keep a fair, decent wage and a safe workplace,  against their onslaught.

So when I heard about the trickle down theory, I was somewhat suspect.  Even at that age, with little life experience, I could see what would happen.  Oh, there would be a tiny trickle in the form of a few jobs but most of the cash would go into the coffers of those at the top and stay there.  They were at the top because they had a drive to continually make more and more.  Giving them more wasn’t going to make them spend more.  It would only serve to whet their appetite for even more wealth and power.

It seemed so obvious.

Now , the term is being bandied about again as the talk of the day turns to extending the Bush Tax Cuts of the early part of the decade.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t enjoy paying taxes any more than the next guy.  But the wealthiest 3% of the population are paying less now than at any point in the last 70 years.  The real income of the average American has been flat for over 20 years yet the growth rate for this top level over this same time period has been astronomical, creating a wealth gap between the haves and have-nots that rivals the days of the robber barons.  Our national deficit is growing  and there is a need to raise revenues.  Oddly enough, many of the same deficit hawks who think it is our number one economic priority at this point to cut our deficit are calling for the Bush Tax Cuts to be extended.  I say oddly because this will add a cool trillion dollars or so to our deficit.

You can’t have it both ways, folks.

It’s always perplexed me how this concept of giving money to the wealthy will somehow benefit the lower classes and over the decades since I have seen no proof that this works in any way.  Interestingly, yesterday on CNBC I saw one host, Erin Burnett, interviewing a proponent of extending the tax cuts , ask him if he had any proof, any real data,  that this idea of trickle down economics had ever worked.  He was at a loss for words and basically said no but taxes are bad.  You see, that’s the problem.  This is a theory that doesn’t work but is easy to sell to the masses by simply spouting the taxes are bad mantra over and over, even though the masses are little affected by the relatively small tax raises in the higher brackets.  There was a good article on the Financial Times of London’s website from Martin Wolf  called The Political Genius of Supply-Side Economics.  Very good read.

If you’re not sure how trickle down economics work, here a little primer from Stephen Colbert:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word – Ownership Society
www.colbertnation.com
 
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election Fox News

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Left of Center- GC Myers 2010

This is a piece from the show, New Days, at the West End Gallery.  Its one of the pieces that are being called gray paintings, a series of pieces I have been recently doing in shades of black, white and gray with small touches of color.  As I’m starting to prepare for my show in October at the Kada Gallery in Erie, I’ve began to ponder if and how I will incorporate this series into that show. 

As with anyhting new that clicks with me, I want to run it out to see if I can expand it beyond what it starts as.  For instance, I am really excited about the prospect of using this gray format in a much larger work comprised of a grid of many small individual cells each containing a simple landscape with perhaps one cell having a red tree.  It would have a great graphic quality and the size and austerity would make the small slash of red pop out of the gray. 

 I’m thinking something like a 30″ by 30″ image.  It would work on canvas or paper although I lean toward paper because with the graphic feel of the gray work I like having a mat forming a field of white around the image, something that makes the image stand out even more.  It would be have either 25 or 30 individual cells, 5 or 6 cells across and 5 or 6 down.  I’ve done a few, many years ago, that had 45 and 49 cells.  I haven’t done anything like that in the past several years.

World Shifts-- GC Myers 2003

The other consideration is whether the cells will be very uniform with straight lines, each very much like the next.  Or will it be more organic, with each cell very individual in shape and size.  Here on the right is an example from several years back that has that naturally grown look, with barely anything in it that resembles a straight line.  I like the look and feel of this but looking at it now, I think it is better suited to color. 

 But one never knows.  Maybe I will try a small organic piece in the gray to get a better feel.  Sometimes that first impression I form in my head is off a bit and when further examined, something that I didn’t foresee reveals itself.  Sometimes for the better.  Sometimes not.

This is as close to planning ahead as I often get with my work.  I have a somewhat well-formed idea of what I want to see on the canvas or paper, know how I plan on painting it, know the subject matter– pretty know everything I need to jump in.  The interesting thing is that something invariably happens that changes one of these factors and the piece transforms into something quite different that the one I have in my head now.  Usually, it changes for the better, provided I let these changes emerge in an organic fashion, not forced.  Occasionally the transformation doesn’t work and that is usually the result of a flaw in how I was seeing the painting in my head in the first place or if I try to resist obvious changes that are dictated by shifitng factors.

Hey, the worst thing I can do is think too much about this.  Said too much already. Just give it a direction and let it go.  That said, gotta run…

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Stevie

Yesterday marked twenty years since the death in a helicopter crash of Texas blues guitar god Stevie Ray Vaughan.  I always enjoyed watching Vaughan play.  There was a sheer physicality in his playing that seemed to bond him to the guitar body.  There was also a concentration in his playing that made it seem as though at that moment the only things that existed for him were himself and that Stratocaster, giving his work  a sense that it was more than mere playing.  It gave everything he played an added layer of depth.

With his death, he’s forever frozen in the public’s mind as he was when he died, a 35 year old at the height of his talents.  His growth and continuum ended that day and we’ll never know how his career and work might have evolved, for better or worse.  I haven’t followed his legacy through these years so I can’t comment on his influence in the world of music.  I don’t know how many 19 year olds out there even know who he was or if they’ve ever heard a single song by the man.

I guess it doesn’t matter.  The music’s out there and it’ll always be there, alive and above the whims of what is new and of the moment.  It will influence someone in some way at some point.

Here’s one of my favorites, Riviera Paradise

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Destination- GC Myers 2010

I am at the point in my year where I am past my two summer shows and several months out from my next, a show I do every other year at the Kada Gallery in Erie, PA.  This is a time when I get to catch up on some small things like maintenance around my home and studio, working on a few commissions that have been patiently waiting and starting to work on new ideas that have cropped up over the past few months. 

 It’s a good time for me, for the most part, with no immediate deadlines hovering  overhead.  A time to breath a bit and reflect on the direction of my work and where I want it to head.   Try to bring into form an ideal location further along the continuum where the work shows more growth and depth.  A place where I am totally satisfied in all ways by the work.

Destination.

Which is, by the way, the title of the painting at the top.  This piece, a 12″ by 36″ canvas which is part of my New Days show at the West End Gallery, really represents the concept I’m describing.  Looking ahead and finding a place, a situation,  that meets all your needs and desires, whether in one’s life or lifework.  That sense of the realized ideal really jumped from this piece for me.  There is a great and obvious clarity in this painting, a sense of a gained sense of understanding.  Like looking ahead to a distant future and seeing yourself as being both the same as now but somehow different.  Changed somehow by a new knowledge that you have somehow gathered in the interim between now and then.

I am what I am but I am not what I will be.

It’s a funny feeling when I come across a piece where a thought like that jumps at me, fully formed and encapsulated.  It becomes all I see in the piece.  I can recognize other aspects of it that others see in it.  But for me, that one thought overshadows them.  It makes it a very powerful personal piece for me.

Now, I must get back to finding a way there….

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Some Things Never Change

I have started avoiding the news as of late.  It’s not that I simply find the news of the day too grim or upsetting.  It’s more of a reaction to the way the news is meted out to the public and the manner in which the  media is manipulated by those with self-serving interests.  It has become painfully obvious that there is no segment of the newsmedia that seeks to protect the public, the common man,  from the wealthy and powerful. Even populist movements, like the Tea Party, that have grown through news coverage are, when examined closely, the products of rich and powerful men.  They appear to represent the best interests of the wider population but at heart serve the interests of the very groups that created the conditions that gave birth to these groups.  The common man and the groups to which he belongs are often the product of the news and information he receives from the newsmedia.

   I came across this some time ago and have had it rolling around in my head since then.  It was written in the early 1920’s by newspaper publisher Edward Scripps, founder of the Scripps Company and the news service that transformed over the years into UPI, United Press International.  He knew as well as anyone the power and influence of the press in furthering and protecting the agenda of the wealthy and powerful few.

The press of this country is now and always has been so thoroughly dominated by the wealthy few of the country that it cannot be depended upon to give the great mass of the people that correct information concerning political, economical, and social subjects which is necessary that the mass of people shall have, in order that they shall vote and in all ways act in the best way to protect themselves from the brutal force and the chicanery of the ruling and employing class.

It was disheartening to read this clip from almost 90 years back.  The domination of the press by the wealthy and powerful certainly hasn’t diminished.  If anything, it’s become more pervasive and more impenetrable to those who seek the real truth or question this unholy alliance between the wealthy, powerful few and the press.  There is a thought out there that with the rise of the internet there is a democratization of information, that the truths that they need will get out to the people through smaller, more agile outlets.  Nice thought.  But realistically, while it may be effective for smaller movements among people in certain niches, it seldom reaches out to the wide spectrum of the population that is needed to affect real change or action in our society.  If anything it has created clouds of information that hamper people from seeing anything in a clear and palatable way.   Or fractured potential movements into ever smaller, narrower groups of interest that will never reach a wider audience.

As with many things, I don’t know why I bring this up today.  The press certainly won’t change today.  The wealthy won’t suddenly decide to stop using their power to influence the media.  I guess I just needed to vent and hope that somewhere out there someone will figure out a way to bring light to the masses.

Another snippet from Edward Scripps–

A newspaper fairly and honestly conducted in the interests of the great masses of the public must at all times antagonize the selfish interests of that very class [the advertisers] which furnishes the larger part of a newspaper’s income. It must occasionally so antagonize this class as to cause it not only to cease patronage, to a greater or lesser extent, but to make actually offensive warfare against the newspaper.

Wells said, Ed.  Too bad there’s nobody around today willing to take up your sword…

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Mamuthones and Issohadores

Off the coast of Italy, on the island of Sardinia, there is a village called Mamoiada where festivals are held throughout the year, many having origins in ancient pagan ceremonies.  Appearing in several of these fests, some of which are described as being Festivals of Good and Evil,  are two symbolic characters called Mamuthones and Issahadores, representing the two forces.

It’s not completely clear as to the exact meaning of the symbols but in the most widely believed version it is said that the Issahadores, dressed in their red shirts and white wooden masks,  represent the early shepherds of Sardinia and their victory over the invading Saracens who are represented by the Mamuthones, dressed in their furry suits laden with cowbells and wearing black masks.  They parade through the town with the Issahadores leading a procession of the imprisoned Mamuthones in rows of two.  As the Mamuthones walk they heave upward with their bodies in unison and come down hard creating a huge sound with the many cowbells on their costumes.  It creates a rhythmic throb of sound that fills the streets.  The Issahadores at the front and rear of the parade periodically use their lassos to snare women from from the crowd.

There are other interpretations as to what these characters represent but whatever the case, it’s quite a spectacle.  I don’t know why I show this today.  I saw a brief clip of their parade and was really taken by it.  The sound, the rhythm, the the striking sight of the costumed characters as they do their simple choreography.  It just reeked of a symbolism that you don’t need to know to appreciate, like looking at a painting and being moved without understanding why.

So this Sunday I start my day with echo of the Mamuthones’ bells throbbing in my ears, inspired…

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Cavatina

The show opened at the West End Gallery last night and went pretty well.  Nice crowd. 

Some surprises, like writer Alicja Mann and her husband, David, showing up unexpectedly.  The opening coincided with their annual trip between their home in Tucson, Arizona and their summer place in Cape Cod so they drove quite a bit out of their way to surprise me.  Alicja, as I wrote  about in this blog, had used one of my paintings for the cover of her book of essays, Looking At The World Twice.  She told me the book had recently won a prestigious award, the Glyph,  for best cover design from the Arizona Book Publishing Association.  She was extremely thrilled and proud to have such an honor bestowed and allowed me to share a bit of her  excitement. 

I had never met Alicja personally nor was I expecting her appearance at the gallery so I was very surprised when she introduced herself.  It was a real pleasure meeting her and David and we had a wonderful conversation during and after the show.  Many thanks to both of them and may their trip up to the Cape be safe.

Anyway, I’m taking a little time this morning to mull over the events last night so I’m just going to have a bit of music.  How about Cavatina from guitarist John Williams?  Some of you may remember it as the de facto theme of the movie, The Deer Hunter.  Just a lovely piece of music…

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Tonight is the opening at the West End Gallery for my show, New Days.  I’ve talked about my views on openings over the time I’ve been writing this blog, about the certain level of tension that accompanies such things.  A mix of apprehension and nausea-fueled fear that the work won’t live up to the expectations of the gallery or myself.  It’s an odd combination of both reaching a goal and wishing you had not at the same time.

Divining Tree- GC Myers 2010

 I recognize that I’ve been incredibly fortunate that the galleries that represent my work have wanted to showcase it over the years.  I think they know how seriously I take my work and how much the appreciation I have for their efforts on behalf of my work makes me want to bring in the best possible show every time so that I don’t let them down.  I feel I have a real responsibility to the galleries and to the people who come out to the exhibits to give the fullest possible effort in executing my work.  I think that this leads to a consistency in the work that viewers can recognize.

Light Epistles-- GC Myers 2010

But over the years and the many shows, it has become somewhat easier.   There’s still a level of fear and tension but it’s tempered with the knowledge acquired through experience that everything generally will work out in the long run.  So this morning when I woke up, I was not filled with a huge knot in my gut.  I knew I had put in the effort, had not taken anything for granted.  I think this is a really striking group of work.   It hangs together well, by which I mean the pieces play off and complement one another well.  There is a certain continuity that runs through the group that binds it together.
 So, this morning I feel pretty good.  Oh, sure , there’s apprehension.   Hell, there’s apprehension on mornings when I don’t have a show that night. So, tonight I will go out and talk with folks about the paintings, answer questions and sleep well afterwards, knowing I gave it my best. 
 Hope to see you there if you’re in the Corning area.

GC Myers- New Clarity 2010

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Henry Cheever Pratt- View From Maricopa Mountain...

I saw this painting the other night on a television show on PBS, History Detectives.  The show basically takes an object submitted by a viewer and digs into the real history behind it. On this particular episode the object was a small field sketchbook that contained thumbnail sketches from the American southwest.  It ended up being the sketchbook of Henry Cheever Pratt, a painter who accompanied the expeditions that surveyed and set boundaries that area in the mid-1800’s.  Photography was still in its infancy so it was customary to have an artist in tow to document the landscape and landmarks.

Pratt was a very accomplished artist and this is one of his finest.   Titled View From Maricopa Mountain Near the Rio Gila, it was shown at the end of a segment as a print to illustrate his prowess and I was immediately taken in by its vibrancy and striking composition.  Painted in 1855, the painting has real impact and feels fresh and new, contemporary, even now.

Interestingly, Pratt was trained as a painter by Samuel Morse, the inventor of the telegraph.  Oversahdowed by his revolutionary invention was the fact that Morse was a very fine professional painter.  Trained at the Royal Academy in England, Morse was a renowned portraitist, having done sittings with John Adams and the Marquis de Lafayette among many other prominent figures of the time. 

I don’t know why I bring this up today.  This image just hit me and I’ve been coming back to it in my head over the past few days, trying to figure out what it is in the painting that draws me in.  Trying to figure out how I can use whatever I see in it in my own work. 

Or maybe I should just enjoy it for what it is- a beautiful piece.

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