Archive for August, 2012

9GC Myers- Coming to an Understanding

A couple of years ago, back in April of 2010, I wrote here about one of my paintings being selected by the then Ambassador to Nepal,  Scott DeLisi,  for display in his offices at the American Embassy in Kathmandu.  And earlier this year, I wrote again about that painting being part of a intercultural exhibition and gala featuring the art of a number of Nepalese artists and the eight American artists whose work hung at the embassy.  Being chosen by Ambassador DeLisi was a great honor for me, particularly since  there aren’t a lot of chances for an artist to represent their country in any meaningful way.  I almost felt like an Olympian, even if only in a very small way.

Ambassador DeLisi   however had his assignment altered and left that position earlier this year, which meant that the painting in Kathmandu was returned to the gallery.  My Olympic dream seemed to be at an end.

However, Mr. DeLisi was nominated by President Obama to be Ambassador to the African nation of Uganda and was confirmed by the Congress in May.  Yesterday, I was notified by the Principle Gallery that the Ambassador had requested three of my paintings for display at the Embassy in Kampala.

I feel Olympian once again!  I was especially thrilled that it was going to Uganda after having watched the young Ugandan boys who came to Williamsport, PA  in the past few weeks as the first African team to play in the Little League World Series.  It was a great story as the other teams and the crowds there seemed to truly embrace these kids.  Remarkably, they won a game even though most of the kids had only been playing  baseball  (or even known about baseball, for that matter) for about six months.

But I was mostly thrilled at the prospect of my work once again being representative of our country and honored that  Ambassador DeLisi had once again found something in it that enabled his decision.  I hope these paintings serves him well in Uganda.

The pieces chosen are shown above and below.

GC Myers- Pot Luck

GC Myers- Sovereign Solitude

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When I was speaking last week with the docents at the Fenimore Art Museum, I was confronted with a question that asked about the repetition of forms and themes of my paintings, particularly my use of the Red Tree.  I think I answered the question satisfactorily, stating that I tried to paint as far as possible from the conscious part of my mind . I pointed out that painting in series of repeated forms allowed me to put aside thoughts of composition and focus on the color and texture that carry the emotional weight of the painting.  The theme and focus of the painting was really just an invitation to the viewer to enter the picture and experience the underlying emotional content.  And that was where I hoped the viewer ultimately arrived .

But driving home, I thought about a  blogpost from a few years back that addressed the same question and my own concern early in my career with allowing myself to simply paint whatever came out of me.  I hope that  posting this piece from October of 2009 helps better answer that question from the Fenimore docents:

There was an episode of Mystery! on PBS starring Kenneth Branagh as Swedish detective Wallander. It was okay, nice production but nothing remarkable in the story but there was a part at the end that struck home with me and related very much to my life as a painter. Wallander’s father, played by the great character actor David Warner, was, like me, a landscape painter. Now aged and in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, his son comes to him and intimates that he can’t go on as a detective, that he can’t take the stress. The painter then recalls how when Wallander was a boy he would ask his father about his painting, asking, “Why are they always the same, Dad? Why don’t you do something different” 

He said he could never explain. Each morning when he began to paint, he would tell himself that maybe today he would do a seascape or a still life or maybe an abstract, just splash on the paint and see where it takes him. But then he would start and each day he would paint the same thing- a landscape. Whatever he did, that was what came out. He then said to his son, ” What you have is your painting- I may not like it, you may not like it but it’s yours.” 

That may not translate as well on paper without the atmospheric camera shots and the underscored music but for me it said a lot in how I think about my body of work. Like the father, I used to worry that I would have to do other things- still lifes, portraits, etc.- to prove my worth as a painter but at the end of each day I found myself looking at a landscape, most often with a red tree. As time has passed, I have shed away those worries. I don’t paint portraits. Don’t paint still life. I paint what comes out and most often it is the landscape. And that red tree that I once damned when I first realized it had became a part of who I am. 

I realized you have to stop damning who you are…

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I wrote last week about a   painting, Babette’s Feast,  that was part of a small group of my early formative work on display at the Fenimore Art Museum.  Each of these pieces marked a new step forward in the development of my work that became more and more obvious as the years went by.  The painting shown here, Redstar, is another of this group.

It’s a tiny little piece, only around 2″ tall by 3″ wide but it spoke loudly to me.  It was painted in the format that characterized my early pre-Red Tree work, a larger block of color over a contrasting smaller block of color separated by a white line.  This line was actually just the paper showing through, not a painted line at all.  The distinction of this painting is in the larger block of color that made up the sky.

It was a random pattern of smaller blocks of color that gave the piece a different rhythm and feel that my earlier pieces in this format.  These curved lines that crisscrossed the sky gave it a  texture  that was distinctly different from the smooth, textureless  work I had been producing until this point.  This sparked something in my mind and set me on a path where I sought more and more ways to create texture within the picture.  I saw this texture as an enhancement to the colors of the work, something that gave the color the  added dimensions of depth and complexity-  perhaps the most important elements to the color in my work.

So, while it may be an easy piece to overlook due to it’s diminutive size , it appears  very large  for me.

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I feel sort of embarrassed to admit this but I had never heard of L.S. Lowry until I stumbled across him the other day.  I am most likely not alone in this but would have thought he would have crossed my radar screen at some point, especially given his prominence in the British art world and in British culture.  Not that I know a lot about British art or culture.  But this is a painter who has sold many works in the multi-million dollar range, one selling for a record $9+ million last last year.  This is not an anonymous artist.

I am still discovering more about this  painter  with a most individual style but here is a very short summation.

He was born in the north of England in 1887 and died in 1976, having spent most of his life as a rent collector for a property company.   Although he is often referred to as a self-taught artist, through much of his working life he studied art in the evenings at various schools. He used this study and the environment around him to find the distinctive style that marked his work, one that is populated with matchstick figures walking through   urban scenes, often heavily filled with images of  the English industrial landscape.

His work has permeated British popular culture as well. His matchstick figures were the basis for a 1967 rock song, Pictures of Matchstick Men, from Status Quo that was later became a hit  here in the States when covered by Camper Van Beethoven in the 80’s. And more recently, the British group Oasis had a video, The Masterplan, featuring the band members as matchstick men walking through animated scenes from Lowry’s paintings. In fact, Noel Gallagher, one of the leaders of  Oasis, has joined a growing chorus of fervent Lowry fans in Britain who have been  calling for greater displays and recognition of the late painter’s work there.  As a result, the Tate is mounting a major retrospective of Lowry’s work for 2013.

There’s a lot for me to like about Lowry which makes just finding him now more puzzling. But I have found him and will continue to learn more.  For now, here is the both the Status Quo song and the Oasis video.

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A friend posted one of my favorite songs online a few weeks back, the Nat King Cole version of  Irving Berlin‘s classic What’ll I Do.  As with just about anything Nat King Cole performed,  it’s a great rendition of the song.  I have heard numerous versions of this song  as it has been recorded by hundreds of artists since Berlin wrote it in 1923 and, for the most part, they’re all wonderful- a tribute to Berlin’s skill as a songwriter.  But I wanted to hear one that I hadn’t come across yet .

I found a version from the  great  Chet Baker, the late Jazz musician who  I mentioned briefly in a post earlier this year.  I find him a fascinating subject.  His story is tragic and the images of  his physical change through the years from the ravages of drugs and violence are heartbreaking.  As a young lion of the jazz scene, he was truly the Golden Boy, strikingly handsome and hugely talented, and you can see life beat him down in the photos over time.  There’s a worn down sadness in his being that makes a perfect match for the melancholy tones of a song like this.

Give a listen on a slow and quiet Saturday morning…

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There is a  group of four small paintings that are part of my current exhibition at the Fenimore Art Museum.  They represent the very earliest pieces that showed the way for all of the work that followed, establishing a format and look that I had been seeking in vain up until the time that these pieces arrived.  This little painting is titled Babette’s Feast and is the first indicator of the Red Roof paintings that were to come in later years as well as one of the first pieces that featured a path that leads into the picture plane, a feature of many of my recent paintings.  It is also one of my wife’s treasured pieces.

The title, which was given to this painting by my wife after the title of  one of her favorite movies, a 1987 Danish film and Academy Award winner for best Foreign Film that is based on a story from Danish writer, Isak Dinesen,  best known for her autobiographical tale Out of Africa.  It is a wonderful tale set in a 19th century village in Denmark and, without getting into all of the details of the film, has great humor, beauty and humanity.    You can read a pretty good synopsis of the film on Wikipedia.

One of the docents at the museum asked me about the title and, knowing the film,  commented that it fit the piece perfectly.  That was a gratifying comment for me even though the painting was not done with any thought of the movie.  And even though I see different significance in this little painting, especially as a precursor for what was to come, it  is a great compliment to have a piece bring to mind a favorable comparison with such an evocative and stirring film.

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William Matthew Prior Self Portrait

I spent several hours yesterday at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown giving a talk to the staff  and docents about my work and the paintings hanging in my current exhibit at the museum.  Many thanks to Maria Vann and the  staff  there for making me feel so welcome and for their many questions and comments.  They are a really impressive group of professionals who make the Fenimore a world-class facility and I was honored to be able to talk with them.

There was also news yesterday at the Fenimore about one of the other exhibits that is currently on display,  Artist & Visionary: William Matthew Prior Revealed.   This is the first  retrospective exhibit that focuses solely on William Matthew Prior, the great 19th century folk portraitist and features more than 40 examples of his work.  Yesterday, it was featured in a review in the Wall Street Journal written by Lee Rosenbaum.

It’s a great show that I encourage anybody within range to take in before it closes at the end of the year.  For a real in-depth peek Rosenbaum has also posted an interview with Fenimore president and CEO, Paul D’Ambrosio.  His insights into the works really bring them and Prior to life.

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