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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I came across an item that caught my eye on the blog of Candler Arts, a great folk art site that I check out on a regular basis.  It was a page from a book with an old photo of a man standing next to a dead tree that had been carved with all sorts of figures.  Alligators, monkeys, lions, Indian heads and bunnies adorned the tree.  What caught my eye was that it said he was from an area not too far from here, just below Auburn  in the Finger Lakes region of NY.

His name was George Carr.  According to his obituary  (Totem Tree Man Dies at Age of 86) in the Auburn newspaper that appeared in 1926 after his death , he was a veteran of the Civil War, serving as a musician in both the army and navy during the war.   It also said that his carved tree was a big tourist attraction in the Finger Lakes, drawing thousands of visitors from all over the country over the years and giving Mr. Carr nationwide celebrity as the story of his tree went out in the press.  Unfortunately, it also points out that the tree was destroyed in a cyclone that struck in the previous year, bringing to an end the  attraction for tourists.

I had never heard of George Carr or his totem tree nor have I been able to find much beyond a few photos, postcards and a thin but very collectible book on Ebay, George Carr’s Totem Tree and Other Curious Things.  This lack of available info and the obvious fact that the tree and any other carvings from his home no longer exist brings me pause.  As an artist, I always consider the possibility that my work may or may not live on beyond my own short lifespan, hoping that it does find a way to continue on its own, of course.  But the thought that it might someday fade completely away but for a few images caught in photos or a few words in an old newspaper is sobering.

Art is life and life is ephemeral.  Some fortunate art will always live on, carried by a life force that is continually replenished by those who see and love it.  Some art is less fortunate and is forever lost to new eyes and new energy that could carry it forward through time.  The same things could be said for any of us.

Maybe by writing about George Carr and his Totem Tree, I am actually hoping that someday someone in the distant future will do the same for one of my paintings and help revive it in some way, even if only a memory.

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I wasn’t going to post anything today but there was this photo on a site  to which I subscribe, PhotoBotos.com, from photographer Nima Moghim.  It was of the tracks of the metro line in Dubai.  It is  an image of converging lines and stark tones that is at once both wonderful and terrifying.  It has a feeling that is devoid of anything natural besides the beautiful curve of the lines as they race towards each other in the distance.

Moghim’s own description of the photo only enhances the dark, dystopian nature of the image:

I took this photo in Dubai metro in late spring of this year. When I am on the metro train and pass all of these modern life indices which have been arranged like the children logo in this new city, I asked myself where the end of this luxurious life is and whether we don’t get closer to the Apocalypse with progress. The following sentences are my statement to the “Apocalypse now “and my declaration for this photo: 

“Apocalypse now….the words which hear frequency at these days and we almost fear. But who takes us toward the Apocalypse ? Who melts the Antarctic ices? Who makes a frightful weapon such as HAARP instead of music? Who throws bomb on his head? Who pours oil in the dark depth of ground in the clear waters? Who leaves his kin at the bottom of well for gaining power? Who prepare the blood baths for the naïve people on the pretext of freedom? Who focus the best trade in the world on the weapon? Who ridicules his fellow citizen on the pretext of inspection? And who transgresses all ethical virtues on the pretext of modernization? All people on the modernity express train are directed to a great explosion and we don’t know where the end is, 2012 or the next thousands of years? God is very patient …..”

Sorry for such an unsettling photo on a Sumday morning in the summer but it was too intriguing to not pass along.  Awful beauty…

PS– The HAARP mentioned in his declaration stands for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, which is a US Military research project that deals with the ionosphere and has been called the Moby Dick of conspiracy theorists who claim it is responsible for all sorts of recent natural disasters.  It was new to me but you can read a bit by clicking the link above.

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My exhibition, Internal Landscapes: The Paintings of GC Myers, has officially opened at the Fenimore Art Museum in lovely Cooperstown, NY.  The exhibit hangs until the end of the year, December 31.  It’s a select group of mostly larger paintings from the last few years along with a few very early small pieces that show the beginning stages of the evolution of my work.

One of the highlights for me is the first public showing of the piece shown above, The Internal Landscape, a painting familiar to regular readers of this blog.  It is a very large painting, measuring 54″ high by 84″ wide.  This large scale gives it  a real presence in any space.

If you can make it to the Fenimore in the next month, the exhibit hanging in the adjacent gallery is American Impressionism: Paintings of Light and Life, which is a grand collection of paintings from the likes of Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam and William Merritt Chase.  And if you’re looking for real star power, there’s even a piece from one of the most influential Impressionists, Claude Monet.  Plus there are several other great exhibits not to mention the incredible Thaw Collection of American Indian Art, which is worth the trip on its own.  I’m pretty excited to be in such grand company.

On November 7, I will be giving a talk on show after a luncheon, from 12:30 until 2:30,  as part of the museum’s Food For Thought lecture series.

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