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Archive for December, 2011

As we end this year, 2011, I thought I’d take a minute and show a few of the Saturday Evening Post covers from the first half of the 20th century that celebrate the new year, all created by  the great illustrator J.C Leyendecker

Leyendecker is credited with popularizing the notion of the New Year being embodied as a baby and for over thirty years his versatile babies hailed in the new year for the popular magazine, often in a timely fashion.  One hundred years ago, he had a baby suffragette marching across the cover and in times of war he had sword wielding doughboys and Nazi-fighting GIs.  The one thing they all had in common was Leyendecker beautiful style.

The German-born Leyendecker came to America as a child in 1882 and became one of the most successful and influential illustrators of his time.  He is perhaps best known for his Arrow Collar Man, a long-running series of ads that shaped how the American man of that time came to be viewed.  He also did so many of their covers that his name was  associated almost synonymously with the Saturday Evening Post, in much the same way the work of Norman Rockwell became after him.

I wonder how Leyendecker might have portrayed this new year’s baby?

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Okay, I promise this will be the last Christmassy thing you will hear from me for a long time but I came across this video of the old holiday chestnut, Sleigh Ride, with a dog sled team hurtling through a winter wonderland.  The song is performed by She and Him, the indy-folk duo comprised of the ever adorable Zooey Deschanel, the singer/actress of 500 Days of Summer and now New Girl fame, and  singer/songwriter M. Ward, whose distinct solo work I really admire.  There is something very charming in much of their music.

I just found myself sucked into watching this video, not being able to look away as I followed the dogs’ powerful gaits which made me think of our first dog, Maggie Blackwater, a husky-sherpherd mix who favored her husky side, if her love of snow and desire to run at full throttle for long distances are any sort of indicators.  She sometimes felt more wild than domestic but never in an aggressive way.  With an indomitable spirit, she simply burned through life like a wildfire, always racing forward in a most unpredictable fashion, and never slowed down until she died from a heart attack at age 12.   She would have been straining at her harness to get to joyfully run with these guys.

So, take a ride on this last Friday of the year.

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Omega Rise

I finished this piece yesterday and it may well be the last painting I finish this year and if that’s the case, I am happy with this piece having that designation.  I always hope that paintings that end or start my years have something in them that makes them mark their time in a memorable fashion, that they will have something that will make them stand out.  That being the case, I’ve titled this 16″ by 20″ canvas Omega Rise. 

Omega is the last letter of the Greek alphabet and is often used to designate an end or a finish, which fits in with the idea of it being the last piece of 2011.  But there is also an ominous, serious quality in  the sky that portends that the omega may mean more than that.  Perhaps this last little uphill rise is the final part of a journey but not necessarily in an end of life sort of way.  Perhaps the dark blue of the rise signifies a past of some sort and the rise lifts the viewer  out of that darkness and into the brightness of some new enlightenment.  The tree seems to be near a cusp between the contrast of dark and light, close to the discovery of what is over this rise.  There is definitely some sort of epiphany beyond it.

Please remember, I’m just thinking off the top of my head at 7 AM and in a few days, or even a few hours, I may see this in a completely different way.  But I know there’s something in this piece that if it remains the omega painting for 2011, I will always remember it as that.

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Early Snow

We’re winding down the last few days of December and we have yet to have any real snow in this part of New York  where I live and work.  I’ve rhapsodized here before about my particular affection for snow so it should come as no surprise that I am bit depressed by the lack of the white stuff at this point in the year.  That being the case I went looking for some online and came across this image on one of my favorite sites, Luminous Lint, which features a spectacular array of fine art photos from all eras.

This particular one is an 1841 daguerrotype from Frenchman Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey that may be the eraliest known photographic image of snow.  Photography was in its infancy then and nature photography had yet to blossom.  The daguerrotype, named after the man, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, who created the process which created these images, was the main form pf photography at the time.  It was a very dangerous process that involved the heating of mercury which created extremely toxic vapors.

According to the site, there may be other images of snow that predate this but today I’m considering this the first.  Besides I like the was the plate shows its spectrum of color at its edges and the image sort of emerges from it.  It really feels like a moment from a time long ago has been ripped from the continuum and placed on a slide for us to examine. 

And besides, it may be the only snow I see for the rest of this year.

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Strength of Character

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.

Mahatma Gandhi

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This is a painting from a few years back titled Strength of Character, a 26″ by 30″ image on paper.  It’s one of those rare paintings that has always garnered a lot of attention when shown but has never found a home which has always puzzled me because I consider it an iconic piece from my body of work. 

It uses the Red Tree as a central figure and uses spare detail and strong color to convey a very simple message, one that might well spring from the words of Gandhi quoted above.  The twisted trunk of the tree tells of the adversity the tree has faced, of the obstacles of the hard rock it has forced its way past to emerge to display its red foliage which it wears like a victor’s laurels.  This piece is all about perseverance and maintaining one’s will throughout.  Indomitable.

The color in the piece is really interesting to me.  It has several layers that create a great depth in it, giving the painting a level of complexity that belies its simple constuction.  The overall effect is one that I have struggled to recreate but have never been able to accomplish with anything near the  level of grace or fluidity that I find in this piece.  This color and the fact that the painting still stays with me makes this a very enigmatic piece.

Why it has yet to find a home is not a question I can answer.  I can never say why a painting leaves quickly or stays around for a while.  The pure subjectivity of art is often hard to follow or translate, even in my own work.  But the fact that it remains has never made me think for a moment that this was anything but a painting of my highest level.  It may just take a while for others to see that.

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The other night, I saw the end of the 1958 movie Auntie Mame, starring Rosalind Russell as the iconic title character.  The film was on TCM and at its end, host Robert Osborne came on and, as he normally does,  wraps up the film with an interesting bit of trivia about its stars or the folks who made it.  I really enjoy these stories as they usually give you some info that I didn’t know before that often adds a layer of understanding and interest to the film.

On this particular occasion,  Osborne spoke for a minute about the author, Patrick Dennis,  who wrote the book behind the film,  Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade in 1955 Although I knew of the stageplay and film as well as the later musical versions, Mame, I knew nothing about the author.  Patrick Dennis was an unknown quantity to me.  It turns out that his story is a fascinating one that was documented in a book , Uncle Mame: The Life of Patrick Dennis , from author Eric Myers.

Patrick Dennis, whose real name was Edward Everett Tanner, was spectacularly famous as an author in the 1950’s, the toast of the NY publishing world.  He wrote 16 books, mainly comic novels and almost all bestsellers, which made him many, many millions of dollars.  Auntie Mame alone was on the NY Times Bestseller List for 112 weeks.  He was married with two children and seemed to be living the American Dream but that was a mere facade.  He lived another life as a gay man and also washed away all traces of who he really was with torrents of hard drink.  His fame steadily waned in the 1960’s as his books fell from fashion and his boozy, freewheeling lifestyle left him near broke.

His life entered a second (or third) act. 

He reverted to his original name and, knowing well the world of wealth,  became a butler.  He buttled for the family of McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc, and a few others who had no idea that the bearded gentleman managing their home was the famous author responsible for Mame.  He worked anonymously.  After several years, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer which ended his life in 1975.  He was 55 years old.

While the play and film stand well enough on their own, the story of Patrick Dennis is a truly interesting  footnote to Auntie Mame.

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Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home.

—Charles Dickens

Wishing a very Merry Christmas to everyone everywhere.  May the season find us all at peace.

—-GC Myers, 2011

 

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