Archive for December, 2012

Allendale Parade, Northumberland Homer Sykes 1972I came across some photos online some time ago from British photographer Homer Sykes.  They were taken in the early 1970’s and were images of traditional British countryside celebrations throughout the year.  One in particular  from  Northumberland  caught my eye.  In black and white, it showed a group of people in capes and cloaks and all manner of costume carrying flaming short barrels as they marched.  Without knowing anything about what or where it was from, you had the sense that this was derived from some sort of pagan ritual celebration.  It piqued my interest.

Turns out it was from the village of Allendale and, while it has the appearance of some Norse festival of fire, dates back to 1858.  It turns out that a band used to  parade on New Years  and used candles to light their music.  But the winds of the season made this impractical and someone suggested using these tar lined barrels which would give off great light and be portable as well.  Plus, it looked a  pretty kickass thing to do to bring in the new year.

Allendale Tar BarrelsOver the decades it has turned into tradition.  There are 45 marchers, called guisers,  who maintain their positions hereditarily.  They assemble early in the evening, adorned in all manner of costume,going  from pub to pub in a Mummer-like procession.  In the hour or so before  midnight , they gather in the town square to have their annual roll call and prep their barrels.  At 11:30, the barrels are lit and they begin their fiery march through the village, led by a small band of drums and brass.  It is said to resemble a river of fire moving through the village.

They return to the town square and gather around a 14 foot  mound of  fir branches and with  the words “Be damned to he who throws last” hanging in the air, they heave their 45 flaming barrels into it, setting it into a giant bonfire as the last seconds of the old year pass away.

Maybe this tradition doesn’t date back to the ancient times but the idea of  of the old being burned away and the new rising from its ashes certainly is timeless.  Set the past afire tonight.  Have a happy New Year.


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The TreniersThere was a now little known band called The Treniers that began performing in the 1940’s.  Led by twin brothers, Cliff and Claude, they were known for their raucous live shows that featured their considerable talents as musicians, dancers and comedians.  They were simply entertainers.

They were also one of the first bands to use the term rock and roll in their songs and acted as a bridge between the pop and swing of the 40’s and the first fledgling footsteps of rock in the 50’s.  They appeared on a number of early television shows as well as in a few 50’s rock movies with Alan Freed, the legendary DJ who brought rock and roll to the mainstream, such as The Girl Can’t Help It.

Personally, I only knew of them from a novelty song they cut in the 50’s called Say Hey!, which was a tribute to the great Willie  Mays, whose trademark was the phrase Say Hey!  It was on an old record I practically wore out as a kid about the history of baseball and was also featured on the Ken Burns Baseball documentary.  But reading a book by Nick Tosches on the unsung heroes of early rock, I was introduced to them and began seeking their work online.

They were an interesting case, immensely talented  but never having the huge recording careers one might expect.  You see, their energy came from the interaction with an audience, from  the reactions of the excited and dancing crowds before them .  That  never fully translated in the recording studio where the only audience was a handful of engineers.  The recordings could never capture the joy and force of their live shows, for which they became famous.  In fact, they performed for over 55 years  in Las Vegas and other places as an act with at least a few members of the family still in place.

Here’s a great early clip of them from the Colgate Comedy Hour in 1954.  It was hosted by the still partnered comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, who were both huge fans of the Treniers.  It’s a wonderful bit of music and comedy that features some wild dancing that makes me understand what the French see in Jerry Lewis.

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GC Myers- LakedaysI wrote last week about this being the time of year when I examine where  I am at the year’s end on my artistic path.  In order to somehow chart a course forward, I look back at the work of this past year, trying to see what changes have taken place, to see what new paths were followed and where they might take me in the near future.  I am at the same time looking  to  see what paths presented themselves and were passed by and never revisited.

I also go back through the years and look at pieces that also  offered these different directions.  I examine them to see where I might have taken the work further if I had continued the creative thread I was following at that time.  Were these opportunities missed?  Would I want to go back to that juncture in my journey and set off now in that direction?

The piece shown here, Lakedays, a 16″ by 20″ canvas.  is such a painting.  From 2003, it was painted with a bluefor the  underpainting instead of the red oxide that I normally use.  The red gives me a warmth from below the surface that connects the whole piece in  harmony.  Using the blue– a manganese blue, if I’m not mistaken– gave this piece a different feel, one that was cooler  and cleaner.  It has distance, making me feel removed from the scene.  Using the  red shortens that distance, pulls me closer.

That sounds like a criticism of the effect here but it’s not.  The coolness, the remoteness of the distance provided by the blue in this piece, works very well here.  It provides the sense of the airiness one feels when looking over lakes, that feeling of a cool dome of air that encompasses the space.  But despite the cooler temperatures of the blue underneath, there is still a golden warmth and intimacy in the space between the tree and the building, providing a contrast  that gives this simple scene a dramatic tension and a sense of the ethereal moment.

I like it very much and think it is a very strong piece.  But is it a path to revisit?  Or should this remain an anomaly in  the continuum of my body of work?  That’s the type of questions I ask myself at this time of year.  The answers shall be seen in the coming year…

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Monkees' Christmas 1967I was flipping around the channels last night, the final Christmas specials winding down as the holiday came to an end.  I ended up on an old Christmas episode of The Monkees from around 1967.  It was a show that I had loved as a kid of 8 or 9 and it had Butch Patrick, the kid who played Eddie Munster on the also adored The Munsters TV show, as a guest.  How bad could it be?

God awful. That’s how bad.

Luckily, I came in near the end but was amazed at how utterly terrible it had been  put together, almost to the point of being unwatchable.   The writing was bad and  the schtick, worse.  I began to wonder if all of those other things I loved as kid had aged so poorly.

But just as I was about to flip to anything else, the band came on and began performing a song a capella. Sung in what seemed to be Spanish or Portuguese, it was mesmerizing with its harmony.  Beautiful.  The whole show was saved by this act of redemption.

The song was Riu Riu Chiu, a 16th century song from the Iberian region.  Roughly translated, it means The Nightingale’s Sounds and is a telling of the Nativity.  Not being well versed in Renaissance era choral music, the song was new to me but I’m sure it is familiar to some of you out there.  But, even so, it is a stirring and lovely version by the  Monkees.

And here it is, in a separate clip so you don’t have to suffer through a terrible episode of their show.

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St. Nicholas Face ReconstructionWe call him Santa Claus mainly but sometimes we still refer to him as old St. Nick or St. Nicholas,  who was actually a 4th century Greek who served as a bishop in Constantine’s church of that time.  Called Nicholas the Wonderworker and sainted in the church,  his fame spread throughout Europe through  the ages and evolved in story and form into the jolly, bearded fellow that we call Santa Claus today.

His bones are buried in the crypt of the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy.  During repairs made in the 1950’s, his bones were temporarily removed during which time they were measured and photographed with great precision.

In 2005, it was determined that a reconstruction of old St. Nick’s face might be made using today’s cutting edge forensic technology.  An excerpt from an article from the St. Nicholas Center, which is a fascinating site on the history and legend of  St. Nick evolution into Santa Claus, describes the process:

The current professor of forensic pathology at the University of Bari,  Francesco Introna, knew advancements in diagnostic technique could yield much more from the data gathered in the 1950s. So he engaged an expert facial anthropologist, Caroline Wilkinson, at the University of Manchester in England, to construct a model of the saint’s head from the earlier measurements. 

Using this data, the medical artist used state-of-the-art computer software to develop the model of St. Nicholas. The virtual clay was sculpted on screen using a special tool that allows one to “feel” the clay as it is molded. Dr. Wilkinson says, “In theory you could do the same thing with real clay, but it’s much easier, far less time-consuming and more reliable to do it on a computer.” 

After inferring the size and shape of facial muscles—there are around twenty-six—from the skull data, the muscles are pinned onto the virtual skull, stretched into position, and covered with a layer of “skin.” “The muscles connect in the same place on everyone, but because skulls vary in shape, a different face develops,” Wilkinson comments. The tangents from different parts of the nasal cavity determine the length of a nose. This was difficult because St. Nicholas’ nose had been badly broken. “It must have been a very hefty blow because it’s the nasal bones between the eyes that are broken,” she continued. 

“We used clay on the screen that you can feel but not physically touch. It was very exciting. We did not have the physical skull, so we had to recreate it from two-dimensional data. We are bound to have lost some of the level of detail you would get by working from photographs, but we believe this is the closest we are ever going to get to him,” Wilkinson concluded. 

Next the three-dimensional image went to Image Foundry Studios where a digital artist added detail and color to the model. This gave it Greek Mediterranean olive-toned skin, brown eyes, and grey hair and beard, trimmed in 4th century fashion. 

The result of the project is the image of a Greek man, living in Asia Minor (part of the Greek Byzantine Empire), about 60-years old, 5-feet 6-inches tall, who had a heavy jaw and a broken nose.

So, there we have the face of our Santa Claus.  It doesn’t seem so really different from the evolved version although that broken nose makes me wonder who popped Santa. Disgruntled elf?  Or maybe just a mishap with a reindeer.  Even the best forensics won’t tell us that tale.

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Monkey Soap Christmas 1895And we thought that the commercialization of Christmas was a new thing.  Here’s a great image from  Victorian era  England circa 1894 featuring Father Christmas as portrayed by the Brooke’s Monkey Brand Soap monkey.  Actually, this simian huckster was quite a regular in the print ads of the time.  If you click here it will take you to the Google Image search page with a large group of this great imagery.

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William Miller's 1843 ChartWell, I got  up this morning and, outside of a light layer of snow on the ground, it looked pretty much the same as yesterday.  The world is still here and the Mayans have got some explaining to do for getting us all worked up.  Or were the Mayans just pulling our leg the whole time?

I’m not sure about that but I am pretty sure that this won’t be the last time someone predicts that the end of the world is upon us.  It’s happened on a regular basis throughout the history of civilization.  We seem to have some sort of predisposition for doomed thought that pops up in a big way every generation or so,  a doomsayer getting everybody’s panties in a knot with their what-seems-rational-at-the-moment reasoning  for the coming apocalypse.

One of my favorite apocalypses (how often do you get to say that?) was the End of the World of 1843 and 1844 as predicted by William Miller right here in the state of  New York, which was fertile ground at that time for new religion movements. Mormonism and Seventh-Day-Adventism, which sprang from Miller’s preaching, are the two best examples.

Miller was a preacher who came to the conclusion that the end was near through a complex system of mathematical calculations  based on his readings of the Old Testament.  He traveled throughout the northeast through the 1830’s and 40’s, preaching his prophecy of the coming end of the world.  It’s said that he spoke to over a million people during his promotion of the event and that over a hundred thousand actually chose to follow his instructions to sell their worldly possessions and gather on the hilltops with him, all dressed in white robes,  in March of 1843 to await the coming of the the lord and their rapture from this doomed place.   A great testament to the persuasive power of Miller’s preaching of his rationale for the prophecy.

It was a big deal at the time, with headlines carrying news of the prophecy and the hordes gathering for the end. But the day came with  a fizzle, not a boom.   When nothing happened at this event, an embarrassed Miller ran the numbers again.  I think he forgot to carry the seven as he added one column.  Whatever the case, he revised the date to a day in October of 1844.

I’m told that the world didn’t end on that particular day.  It was called The Great Disappointment and many of Miller’s followers abandoned him.  Some went on to form the Seventh Day Adventists.  Miller never gave up his belief in the ultimate truth of his prophecy, dying a few years later in 1849.

The chart at the top is one that Miller published to illustrate how he came to his conclusion.  Much of  the design and artwork was done by one of Miller’s followers,  William Matthew Prior, the famed American folk portrait painter who I featured in a post on his work recently.  You can see this amazing sheet at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown along with two portraits of Miller done by prior.  One is a spirit portrait, done afterMiller’s death.  It is Prior’s interpretation of Miller’s essential spirit, not the physical entity he inhabited while alive.

The Prior show, along with my own exhibit there, closes at the end of next  Sunday, December 30.  So time is short– for these shows, not this world.

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NRBQ drawing for The SimpsonsI don’t think I’ve ever featured any music from NRBQ on this blog which is surprising because they are always rock solid.  Consistency is a trait I really appreciate and NRBQ has been just that for over 46 years now, which seems like a crazy amount of time for a group that has went kind of under the radar of the pop charts for most of that time but has built a cult following that counts some of the biggest names in music as fans.  They were even on TV as the house band on The Simpsons for a couple of seasons ( see Matt Groening’s drawing of the band above.)  They are known as musician’s musicians with a real sense of humor and a huge playlist that enables them to pretty much play anything.  I don’t know if they still do this but they used to have a milk crate with question marks painted on it that leader Terry Adams would stand on to take requests from the audience.

Founded in 1966, the lineup for NRBQ, an acronym for New Rhythm and Blues Quartet, has changed a bit in the last decade or two but Terry Adams stills pushes them forward despite his own battles with throat cancer.  Adams, if you didn’t know, is the blonde mop-haired pianist who seems to have a Dorian Gray thing working for him.  He looks pretty much the same as he did when I first came across them back in the 70’s.

Here’s a song from the original members of the band as they perform I Got a Rocket in My Pocket, the old 50’s rockabilly song from Jimmie Lloyd.  This is from around 1980 and is a good example of the band and their sound.  It’s also a good beat to carry you through what most likely will be a hectic weekend for most of you as you prepare for the holidays.

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GC Myers- Pride and Joy 2003At this time of the year I normally take a little time and revisit some of my work from the past.  I am typically beginning to look ahead to the coming year and am looking for inspiration, hoping to find a new path to follow and examine.  By starting with my own work first,  I look for pieces from the past that have a singular look for the time in which they were created.  Perhaps I was doing something at that time, experimenting with color or the manner in which I apply the paint for example, something that was set aside and never revisited.  Perhaps, now would be a good time to revisit this path.

If I can find it.

The painting above is one example of what I’m talking about.  Called Pride and Joy and painted in the first month or so of 2003, it is a 15.5″ by 16″ image on a wood panel.  While it has the elements of the Red Roof series that was emerging at that time, it has a sky that is different from others of that time and not one that I have painted since.  It has a golden glow in it that gives the whole piece a great warmth and shimmer.

I find it really appealing yet am somewhat baffled by how it was achieved.  That’s one of the drawbacks in the way I paint.  Being self-taught, my technique is always shifting, nudging in small degrees one way or the other by new discoveries or ingrained habits.  I don’t have an anchor of taught technique that I work from.  This was especially evident in my early work  where you could see how the technique would sometimes have wide swings throughout a year.

In this case, could I recapture the look, the golden quality of that sky?  I don’t know.  But it does open up a path for me that I may want to follow for a while, hoping that it leads somewhere new and exciting.  Maybe that path that I double back to will be one that I am now more ready to follow than I was a decade ago.

And that’s the purpose of looking back at this time of the year for me.  I have a couple of more examples to show in the next few weeks that illustrate how there are paintings that were the start of paths that I have yet to fully follow. Stay tuned.

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Clouds of Joy

GC Myers- Clouds of Joy I have always maintained that my work acts as a sort of pacifier for me, a soothing respite from the outer world.  It gives me focus and brings me calm when I most need it.  And in light of the tragic events of the past week, I   found myself  in need.   I turned inward from the confusion of the outer world and centered on a new painting, one that was filled with color and light and a more optimistic outlook.

I call this 16″ by 20″ piece  on canvas Clouds of Joy.  There’s a forward looking sense  in this painting that is warm and  hopeful  while being, at the same time,  aware of the reality that is this world.  The clouds here, which for me represent an ethereal passing of time, are bright and beaming but are darkly edged with red peeking through their whiteness.  From their vantage point, they have seen   the world for what it really is.   Yet they still  reflect the light down to us in a hopeful way while absorbing the darkness of what they have witnessed.

Maybe that’s cock-eyed optimism.  If so, it’s no matter to me because I need that hope for what might be ahead,  need to believe that there is light on this earth.  There’s enough evidence of our darkness all around at this point.  I need evidence that we can shed this darkness and embrace the better parts of ourselves and our world.  Empathy.  Compassion.  Generosity of self and spirit.

And that’s what I see here.  A little hope that calms my inner whirlings.

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