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Archive for June, 2012

I was out in the driveway with some old pieces of stone when I heard a voice telling me to pick up my tools and start to work on a tombstone. I looked up in the sky and right there in the noon daylight He hung a tombstone out for me to make.

—–William Edmondson, on his inspiration to begin sculpting

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My last post was about the grand paintings of the Renaissance era, beautifully crafted pieces from painters who were extensively trained under master artisans so that they could capture the religious spirit that was the subject and inspiration for most of the work of that time.  But that post made me think about how others, less schooled and less well equipped, translate this same inspiration into forms.

That  thought brought me quickly to William Edmondson,  a man born in 1874 in Tennessee to former slaves.  Edmondson worked in a number of jobs throughout his life, losing his job as a hospital orderly in the late 1920’s when he was in his mid-50’s.  It was at this point that he had the vision he describes above which led to him to begin sculpting for two African-American cemeteries in the Nashville area.

 Using handmade tools such as a chisel made from a railroad spike and working on discarded chunks of stone from building sites, it soon became clear that Edmondson had a true affinity for capturing the essence of figures in stone with forms that were spare but elegant with subtle shaping.  I see a simplified elegance in much of his work that cannot be taught, that is simply an expression of the artist’s self and spirit.

Edmondson sculpted for the next couple of decades until his death in 1951, gaining acclaim as perhaps the finest American folk sculptor of the century.  He was the first African-American artist to be featured  in New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1937 and his work is still celebrated today for its extraordinary qualities.

Edmondson’s called each of his sculptures “miracles,”  something that strikes very close to home for me.  I think it’s that feeling of having something emerge from your hand that seems to transcend what you are as a human, something that is more than the sum of your own parts.  I have sometimes been fortunate enough to have experienced this and have felt that same sense of wonder at this miracle of creation.  It’s a wonderful moment that serves as  inspiration to continue to push forward with the work, to continue the inward journey.  It’s a true  pleasure to see Edmondson’s inspirations come to life.

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Whenever we get to DC for any appreciable time, we try to get to the National Gallery.  We can spend hour after meandering through the maze of viewing rooms, taking a vurtual tour through the timeline of art history.  There’s so much to see that we never see it in its entirety, often leaving out entire eras and movements.  But one section that we never miss is that area that features the Byzantine and early Italian Renaissance art.  Maybe it’s the beauty of the gold-leafed backgrounds that give the religious scenes an iconlike feeling or maybe it’s the thought of all the history that many of these pieces had witnessed and how amazing it is that they have weathered the vagaries of many wars to survive in such beautiful condition.

Take for example, the painting above, St.. Jerome Reading from one of my favorite artists of this era, Giovanni Bellini.  The surface and colors of this piece are stunningly pristine looking even though it was painted in the 1480’s.  It looks as fresh as a newly painted work.  I don’t know how much conservation this painting has underwent but one of Bellini’s masterpieces and another of my favorites, St. Francis in the Desert, which is in the Frick Collection in NYC, underwent conservation last year and they said it basically just needed a good dusting off.  Even if it has underwent a little plastic surgery, which I doubt, it is incredible to see it’s surface.

Another favorite is a piece from Andrea del Castagno made from leather stretched over a wooden  frame called The Youthful David that features the image of the biblical David with his sling in hand and the head of Goliath at his feet.  The piece was painted as a shield for probably some wealthy Florentine family to brandish during  the festivals and parades of the time.  I love the color and action of this piece as well as the thought of how many events it has been witness to over the ages, how many parades in which it was carried since it was painted in the 1450’s.

I could go on and on about some of the work there, so many pieces that stop me in my tracks in awe.  I thought I would just mention these two because they hit me most the other day and continually inspire in ways that are not always evident.

Just plain good stuff…

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It always takes a day or two after returning from a show to get back into any kind of rhythm in the studio, especially when I’ve been away for several days.  I am definitely a creature of habit, one that needs its set daily routine to keep everything at an even keel.  Without it, I feel out of sorts and a bit on edge.  So getting back in the studio is a relief even though the rhythm is still disrupted.   Eventually, I know that the rhythm of my routine will kick back in.

These  first days after a show  find me slowly sliding into the painting process while I use this break as a time to reset and evaluate the direction of my upcoming work as I run over the details of the show which has just passed.  I am  trying to remember comments made about the work in an effort to ascertain what aspects triggered great response and what pieces drew less enthusiastic reactions.   Some pieces surprise me with the reaction they provoke from the show-goers, some drawing much stronger respnses than I’d anticipated.   These mornings after are just a rehash of all of this info, trying to make it into some form that I can pull from in the future.

A friend, Ted Terrenoire,  took a few photos during the opening including the one at the top of this post, a photo that I really like a lot.  I think it captures what I hope for in my exhibitions, that the show is about people engaging with the work.  I’ve come to the conclusion that a successful show is one where the crowd is facing outward towards the  work on the walls.   I’ve been to crowded shows where everyone is gathered with their backs to the walls, the social aspect of the event far outweighing the work to which barely a glance is given.  I’m pleased that most of my shows are not social events, that most of the shows are spent with people intently looking at the paintings, often lost in their own thoughts.  That makes me feel as though I’m on the right path with my work.

Okay, I have to go.  There is much work to be done here and I feel the rhythm coming back to me…

 

 

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Many Thanks

Back in the studio this morning, ready to dive back into my routine.  While I am eagerly looking forward to getting back to work, I have to take a few moments to send out thanks to everyone who came out Friday evening for the opening at the Principle Gallery.  Wonderful crowd, as is always the case there, with some folks that I knew and some that I was meeting for the first time, most armed wiuth questions of some sort.  Hopefully, I gave answers that satisfied their curiosities.

Of course, there were some that I couldn’t get to which always bothers me for a long time afterwards.  There are people who come to the shows each year and I sometimes don’t get more than a moment to say hello and sometimes not even that.  Just like being back in the studio, there seems to never be enough time.

Also, many thanks to the staff at the Principle Gallery.  Michele, Ali, Clint and Meghan do a bang-up job on the behalf of  both their artists and collectors, always making both feel comfortable in the gallery space.   They did a masterful job of hanging this show, givng it the full effect of the unity of the work in it. 

Well, I’ve been away too long and must get back to it.  Again, many thank you’s.  I am most appreciative and will think of that evening and the folks with which  I spoke many times during coming days spent alone in my studio.  Thank You!

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Golden Windows

Golden Windows Tryptych– GC Myers

I’m getting ready to head out later this morning for Alexandria for tomorrow night’s opening of my show, A Place to Stand,  at the Principle Gallery there.  This is my fifteenth annual exhibition there, the last thirteen of them solo shows, so I kind of know how things will go.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any easier or take away my anxiety.  But simply knowing the terrain from the past keeps  the inner tension from getting the best of me. 

  I have often written about how one of the purposes of my work is for it’s calming effect on myself, how it often acts as an inner counterbalance to the less than calm feelings I often experience in the outer world.   Sometimes I forget this but sitting here at this moment, about 6 AM,  looking at the image above, Golden Windows, a trypych on paper from the show, really brings that point home. 

 I find myself easily transformed when I allow myself to stop and really take it in. 

The tension in my shoulders that started the moment I opened my eyes in bed seems to ease and a calmness comes over me.  I am for a minute there, at once both the tree and a placid onlooker soaking in the rich yellow of the sky and the  stark simplicity and ease of its composition.  It seems to help and I think I will keep this image in my mind today, trying to come back to it whenever I feel the anxiety building.

So, image set in my mind, I get ready to soon head out. 

 

 

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Clarification– GC Myers

My solo show at the Principle Gallery opens Friday and I’m very busy in the interim.  Seems like there in not enough time in any one day.  I thought this might be a good day to run a combination of two posts that first ran here back in September of 2008.  They give a quick overview of how I started painting and I thought they might be of interest to new readers of the blog who might not know the background story. 

Part I:

I never expected to be an artist. I mean, I remember thinking at age 7 or 8 that it might be neat to live as an artist, drawing and painting the days away, but in reality it seemed like a pipe dream. We were what I would consider lower-middle class (maybe even upper-low class) and the idea of someone being an artist was as fantastic as someone being a fish. We didn’t know any artists and art didn’t seem to occupy a large place in our lives. But I thought I would like to be an artist and my parents did their best in meeting this wish, going out and buying me tubes of oil paint and canvas boards. They didn’t know that a 7 year old would not be able to teach himself to use the oils and would need training and besides, they had no idea how to find such help. So I plunged ahead and made gray glop on the boards and became frustrated, finally setting aside the paints forever. Or so I thought.

Over the next few decades I tried my hand at many things: drawing awful little sketches for the school paper, working with leather, writing sophomoric poetry, screen-printing t-shirts, wood carving and on and on. Nothing hit for me but I felt there was something in me that had to come out, something that had to be expressed in one form or another. For a long while I thought it was writing but after many years I came to the realization that what I wanted to write about was the quiet of large open space, the feeling of peering across lands to a far horizon. How much could one person write on that subject? I wasn’t interested in telling a tale. I wanted to make people feel. I wanted to touch people on an emotional level and my writing wasn’t doing the job.

During this time I held a number of jobs. I worked as a candy cook in the A&P factory for several years, worked as construction laborer, owned and operated a swimming pool business, sold cars and was a finance manager at a Honda dealership. Stumbling along, I ended up at a Perkins Restaurant in my mid-30’s as a waiter. I had no idea what the future held.

It was around this time that my wife, Cheri, and I started to build a home on a parcel of land we had bought several years before. I would work on the house during the day and wait tables at night. One September morning I was working at site alone, stapling Tyvek weather barrier to the peak of the house when my ladder slid on the Tyvek, toppling over and catching my feet, throwing me face-first to the ground, about 16 feet below. I still cringe a bit at the memory of that moss green ground rising up at me and the sudden blackness as it hit. I was up immediately, leaning against the house and muttering “Oh my god, oh my god…” as I surveyed the damage. My right wrist had two 90 degree angles in it. Blood poured down my face and I could feel that the inside of my mouth was all torn up from broken teeth smashing in and through it. I had no way of calling anyone (pre-cellphone days!) so I drove home, fading in and out during the short drive.

Cheri got me to the hospital and over the course of the next few months I began to mend. I had plenty of time to myself since I couldn’t work at the restaurant and couldn’t do much on the house. It was during this time that in my boredom I began to play around with some old air-brush paints from another earlier failed effort. I would put the brush in my cast and push it around on some bristol paper just to feel like I was doing something. At first, it seemed the same as always then suddenly, something clicked in my head. The shapes and colors seemed to come together and make sense. I don’t know how to exactly describe it. It was as though my perception had changed and with that came new found ability.

That was the beginning of my new life. I became obsessed with this new way of expressing myself. After returning to work, I would paint several hours each evening. With each session a new avenue would open before me. My mind raced with each discovery. I remember with great clarity the night I finished this piece:

The hair on the back of my neck stood up and my heart raced. It was a moment of epiphany. For the first time, I saw something that had the same feeling as the images in my head, something that was my own pure expression. The form was right. The color was right. It had its own quality and life. It was at that moment I knew that painting would be my life.

Part II:

So there I was painting away, assembling a mish-mosh of paper and board with smears of paint. Some pieces really hit and some didn’t but, as in any endeavor, there was a lot to be learned from the misses. The missteps defined strengths and weaknesses. A time pass and I felt that the work was growing and was becoming a true expression of myself but I wasn’t thinking I was any more than an avid hobbyist at this point.

I had bought a painting or two over the years from the West End Gallery in Corning, NY. One of the owners at that time was Tom Gardner, also a well-known painter and teacher. Tom has a knack for conversation and I would occasionally stop in and we’d end up pulling out chairs in the middle of the spacious gallery and just shoot the breeze for a couple of hours. It was during one such talk that Tom asked if I painted. I hemmed and hawed a bit then confessed that I had puttered around a little. Tom told me that I should bring some stufff in and he’d be glad to critique it but to be prepared to accept a harsh judgement if the work deserved it. I hesitatingly agreed.

A week or so later I showed up at the gallery and Tom, seeing me, started to laugh. I was hauling my pieces in an old blue milk crate with pieces of paper and cardboard sticking out all over the place. It was not the organized portfolio of a serious artist or student. Tom hunkered down and began shuffling through the pile of work and turned to me.

“I’ve got one question for you,” he said, pausing for a beat. “Where the hell have you been?”

I was shocked and thrilled. It was a validation of the work. He saw something original and strong in the work, saw real possibility. My head reeled. About this time, co-owner Linda Gardner walked in and looked over Tom’s shoulder for a few minutes. After a moment she turned to me.

“Can you have 10 or 12 of these ready by next week for our next opening”

I can still remember the giddiness I felt from this unexpected turn of events. A new possibility opened before me in that one moment, that one simple question. I said yes. of course I could have the work ready. I wanted to be confident even though I had no idea how to present the work properly. But I knew I would learn and learn quickly because there was new horizon in front of me now, an opportunity that I knew I could not squander. I would give it everything I had.

So, it was started. Here is one of the first pieces I exhibited and I believe the first piece I ever sold:

Anyway, that’s how I first came to show my work publicly. I’ll talk more about that in later posts.

And I have, for about 4 years now.  Thanks for stopping in here over that time.

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Well, I delivered my work  to the Principle Gallery on Saturday for the show, A Place to Stand, which opens this coming Friday evening.  There is always a feeling of great relief after a show is delivered, a momentary sense of elation in knowing that I’ve done all that I could and the fate of the show is out of my hands.  The elation, of course, turns to anxiety for those same reasons– I’ve done all that I could and the fate of the show is out of my hands.  There is a certain level of autonomy, of control,  in the studio that is lost once the work goes out the studio door.

 For those of you who have followed this blog for any time at all, this anxiety of which I speak is familiar ground.  I have come to terms with this over the years after around 30 solo shows of feeling this awful knot of tension build as I hand over control of my work to others.  I  know that things inevitably work out with time, especially if I have truly done my best in the studio.  But that knowledge doesn’t completely erase the tension I feel at this point. 

I may not be able to completely explain this feeling.  My situation is my own and I place certain levels of importance to things that may not mean much to many others so that if might be difficult to completely understand.  Like many situations in life, we all travel a singular journey that only we can fully understand and appreciate.

That term, A Singular Journey, is one that I chose for the painting shown above, a large 20″ by 60″ canvas that is one of the centerpieces of the Principle Gallery show.  I had finished this painting and had been studying it in the studio for a few days, trying to ascertain a title.  At the same time, I had been following the progress of a friend who is coping with the devastating illness suffered by his wife of many years.  Offered many words of encouragement and advice from a multitude of friends, he had written online that he truly appreciated what his friends were trying to do but had come to the realization that ultimately his wife and he were alone in this situation.  And that, at that moment, felt almost unbearable.

But he’s right.  We all ultimately walk our path alone, through the hard times as well as the good.  No one can fully appreciate our private journeys  because they can never truly know all of the dynamics that influence our perspectives.  We would like to think that everyone will react in certain situations in much the same manner as ourself but that is seldom the case.  We all handle tragedy, and happiness,  in our own individual way. 

Now that seems like a daunting prospect, this seemingly lonely journey of one.  But in this piece I choose to try to look at it from the perspective that while there is a starkness in being alone in our journey, there is also a certain grace, a beauty that only the person on that journey can appreciate.  Everything that we experience on this path is ours alone to savor and  to partake of the lessons it has to offer.  Even the tragedy of my friend may offer a sort of grace that in the long run may he may see as a gift.  He certainly may not see it now nor would I ask him to look for it.  I couldn’t.  It’s his journey and his grace, his treaure,  to discover.

It’s a funny thing how a painting can have layers of meaning beneath a seemingly bright and cheerful surface.  There are hints of these layers in this painting.  It has deep and dramatic textures and there is a certain roughness and darkness  in the linework that belies its optimistic surface.  As though that Red Tree had seen darker times before it felt the warmth of this moment.  But that is something we may never know…

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A Place to Stand, my solo show that opens next Friday at the Principle Gallery, has a theme of self-sovereignty running through it.  The idea of the individual realizing that their life is their own kingdom and that they alone have rule over it is a powerful one.  This new painting, a 30″ by 30″ canvas that is titled Satellites, reinforces that theme while also pointing out that our lives also inevitably revolve around greater concepts.

It puts our sovereignty into perspective, pointing out that, while we may rule our own lives, we all are ultimately parts of larger pictures and that our sovereign lives often revolve around those.  It may be our work, our family or our faith.  It may be in our duty to others, our compassion, that moves our worlds.  It can be any number of things but what it  boils down to is that there is a motivating concept around which our individual lives revolve.

I believe that if we could identify that thing, that motivating factor that makes our individual world turn, we would all have a better chance at satisfaction with our lives.  A purpose is needed in this life and it sometimes seems that many of us stumble along without a hint of one.

I guess the question that comes from this is:  What is this motivator in your own life?

That being said, this painting is a pretty interesting one from a visual aspect.  It has great contrasts, texture and bright yet subtle colors that make it an eye-catcher.  For me, the painting’s strength is in the stability of the triangle formed by the Red Tree, the Red Chair and the moon.  It really gives the whole piece a feeling of sturdiness and assurance, at least in my eyes.  This sturdiness is supported by the solidness of the patchwork fields on which the triangle sits and plays off.

It will be interesting to see the response to this painting.  It;s one of those pieces about which I have no idea as to how people will see it.  We shall soon see…

 

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