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Archive for January, 2013

166_1934_CCI find it hard to believe that I haven’t mentioned the work of Charles Sheeler here, outside of a mention of his collaboration with Paul Strand on the film Manhatta, a landmark American art film from 1921.  Sheeler (1883-1965)  is one of my favorite artists who as  a pioneer in photography and painting in the early decades of the 20th century is often called the father of Modernism.  Oddly enough, I am particularly drawn to his industrial imagery which replaces almost all evidence of things natural in completely man-made factoryscapes.  This  might seem to be the antithesis of my own work,  which often omits all evidence of human intervention in my landscapes.

Charles Sheeler River Rouge PlantSome of his most potent work came from an assignment where Henry Ford hired Sheeler to photograph his factories, wanting him to glorify them in an almost religious manner, as though they were cathedrals for the new age.  As Ford had said at the time, “The man who builds a factory builds a temple. The man who works there, worships there.”  Sheeler was impressed with the factory complexes and felt that, indeed, they represented a modern form of religious expression.  His painted work from this time glorified the machine of industry in glowing forms and color.

Charles Sheeler Shaker BarnHe saw the factory as a continuation of the American idea of work as religion, one that was rooted in the sense of  reverence and importance of the barns and structures of the farms of the earlier pre-industrial age.  He   painted many scenes of farms and barns, abstracting the forms as he had with the factory scenes.

Charles Sheeler Classic LandscapeI don’t know that I completely agree with Sheeler on his idea of the factory as cathedral but I do have to admit to being awestruck in the presence of large factory structures.  I remember working in the old A&P factory, a huge building that was said to have the capability to produce enough product each day to feed everyone east of the Mississippi.  It no longer exists.  Some of the huge rooms in the building were amazing to stand in, as the machines hummed and throbbed while workers hustled about servicing their needs.  I particularly remember the tea room which was a huge ca cavernous space with row after row of steampunk  looking machines that bagged the tea then sewed it shut.  I cleaned these machines for several weeks and, standing in the grand space in silence after most of the workers had gone and the machines turned off, felt that feeling of awe.   I would sometime walk around from area to area, just taking it in.  I didn’t necessarily adore it in the manner of a religious zealot but there was no denying the  power in its magnitude and the power of the machine.

Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to Sheeler.  Maybe its his use of form and color.  I don’t know.  I guess it doesn’t really matter.  I just like his work. Period.

Charles Sheeler Conversation Sky and Earth

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“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.

It is not far, It is within reach,
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know,
Perhaps it is every where on water and land.”

–Walt Whitman- Part of Song of Myself from Leaves of Grass. 1855

Walt Whitman-  Thomas Eakins 1891

I’m in a bit of a hurry but really wanted to show this great photo of Walt Whitman.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photo of him that wasn’t interesting but this one is special.  It’s taken by the great American painter Thomas Eakins in 1891, a year before Whitman’s death in 1892.  Eakins was also a pioneer in the use of photography in the art studio and an innovator in motion studies with film, among many other things.  I plan on writing more about his remarkable career in the future.  But for now, I just wanted to show this simple elegant photo of America’s voice.  At least to my ears.

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Cameron_Julia_Margaret_Iago_Study_from_an_ItalianA few months ago, I posted one of my favorite photos, Sadness, from the  British Victorian era photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.  I was struck by the contemporary feel and presence of the photo taken of the actress Ellen Terry in 1864.  It had a naturalness that was unlike much of the photography that we think of from that era, making me feel that it could be a photo from any time.

I recently came across another of Cameron’s photos that hit me in very much the same way.  It is an 1867 study of a young Italian man,  Angelo Colarossi, portraying Iago, the betrayer of Shakespeare’s Othello.  With downcast eyes, his unshaven face fills the frame and you don’t see any props to give away his character.  It may be betrayal that fills his face but for me it is more along the lines of Judas than Iago.  There seems to be remorse and even a bit of Christlike genuflection in his downward gaze.

Like Cameron’s Sadness, this piece has a freshness that makes it feel out of time.   It is a document of emotion that crosses time.  Cameron had a real knack for capturing the universal and eternal in her work, when all others were capturing stiff, glassy-eyed portraits in her own time.  For me, I use Cameron’s work as reminder of the quality that I want in my own work, that universal and timeless appeal, even though our methods and materials and eras are so different.

Just a great photo.

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Work Ethic/Redux

997-341-labor-to-light-4001 I’ve been going over some old blogposts from back in late 2008/early 2009 in preparation for a couple of upcoming interviews on public radio and television, just to see how my views on my work, or at least how I represent them,  might have evolved over the last four years.  I came across this post from October of 2008 that talks a bit about how  my work ethic in the studio was shaped.  It’s one of my favorite posts from that time and a story I’ve related a number of times over the years ,  one that I think is still relevant for most field of endeavor.

This is a piece called “Labor to Light”, a smaller piece that is at the West End Gallery in Corning.  It features one of what I call my icons, the field rows running back to the horizon.  To me, they represent the act of labor and its fruits- the work ethic which has been very important to me in this career and something I stress to kids whenever I get to talk to them.  

I remember years ago reading an interview with author John Irving (of “Garp” fame) where he talked about his work routine.  He talks quite a bit about wrestling in his writing as he was a high school and college grappler and he used a wrestling analogy to describe how he approached his writing.  He said that if he wanted to go to the highest level as a wrestler, which would be an Olympic or world  champion, he would have to train harder and longer than the men he would be competing against.  He felt that he was basically competing against every wrestler in the world.  He then turned this to writing.  

He turned his writing into a competitive effort of Olympic proportion, where he was competing with every other writer in the world for each reader that came into a bookstore.  If you were buying someone else’s book, you weren’t buying his and in his mind, he had lost.  So he began to train himself as a writer with the same effort as though he were an Olympic athlete, writing 7-8 hours per day, forcing himself to forge ahead even on days when it would be easy to just blow it off and do anything else.

When I read this it struck a chord.  I realized that in order to reach my highest level I would have to be willing to devote myself to working harder and longer than other artists, be willing to spend more time alone, away from distraction.  It would require sacrifice and hard labor.  But Irving’s example gave me a path to follow, a starting point.

I have since realized that there is a multitude of talented people out there, many with abilities far beyond mine.  But to communicate successfully with one’s art one needs to push that ability fully, in order to go beyond what your mind sees as an endpoint. I see this as my goal everyday in the studio.  Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I come up short but I’m out there competing everyday.

Thanks, John Irving

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The Internal Journey

GC Myers- Abundant Life All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
And I intend to end up there.

— Rumi, thirteenth-century Persian poet

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The other day, while going over some very early posts from this blog, I came across this short poem from Rumi.  It had been passed on to me by my friend Scott Allen from the Cleveland area after my 2008 show at the Kada Gallery.  It was what he himself had felt in my work.  The poem had, I’m sorry to confess, slipped my mind over the years and coming across it again immediately rekindled my  original reaction to it. Then and now,  I felt as though this little wisp of a poem captured the secret behind what I was doing.

Like Rumi’s voice in this poem, I have spent most of my life in an existential quandary, filled with doubts about who I am and what I should be doing.  I often felt like a stranger in a strange land, ill at ease in my surroundings and feeling, like Rumi, that my soul is from elsewhere.   Initially, I felt as though my uncertainties and doubts could be allayed externally.  I was simply not in the right physical location.  But it was soon apparent that it was not an external problem.  Regardless of the location, I would not be at ease on the outside until I sought and found where I needed to be internally.

That’s where the painting came in and filled the void in my life.  If life were an ocean, painting gave me a hope, an endpoint for which to navigate. Without it, I would still be rudderless in an ocean of doubt.  With it and through it, I feel that my soul is headed in the right direction.  I don’t know exactly why I feel the need to share this intimacy with you this morning.  Perhaps that openness is part of the journey or even the destination.  But for me, seeing this poem again reconnected me to the journey at a point when it felt as though I was going slightly off course.  Sometimes in the process of seeking one forgets why they set out on the journey in the beginning.  Ant that why, that motivation, sometimes needs to be revisited during the journey.  It gives the destination definition and immediately puts you back on course.

This morning, I feel like I am sailing on smooth seas again, knowing why I am going forward.

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The new painting at the top is called Abundant Life, a 12″ square canvas that will be showing at the West End Gallery during the upcoming Little Gems show.  It is definitely  a destination piece, something to aspire to, internally and externally.

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GC Myers Bright OutlookThe dates for my two annual shows have been set.    Friday,   June  7th, is the day that my  solo  show at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA opens and at the end of the next month, on Friday, July 26th,  my show at  the West End Gallery begins.  Show titles and other details will be forthcoming.

I have had long runs at both of these wonderful galleries, this being my fourteenth show at the Principle Gallery and my twelfth at the West End.  This is sort of unusual in that it’s often difficult to have such long runs of exhibits at a single gallery without exhausting  the market for your work.  The fact that I have been able to have these long runs is something that I take great pride in because it’s a testimony to the continuing growth and evolution of the work through the years which has continually attracted  newer collectors at these established galleries.  I use this as a spur to keep pushing forward and during periods where I am experiencing the doldrums I only have to remind myself of those people who come to these shows to get my engines revving again.

We shall see what this new year brings for these shows.  The piece at the top is a smaller new painting, 6″ by 8″ on paper, called Bright Outlook.  I hope this painting’s title applies for the coming year for us all.

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Howard Pyle-  Marooned PirateLater this year, the Fenimore Art Museum will be presenting a big show featuring the works of the first family of American art, the Wyeths, in a show titled  The Wyeths: A Family Legacy.  I have written several times here about my admiration for the work of  family patriarch NC Wyeth and son, Andrew Wyeth.  Their work is woven into the cloth of American art and this should be a great exhibit highlighting their work as well as other talented members of the clan.  Also included in this show will be work  by the great American illustrator, Howard Pyle, who was the teacher and mentor to NC.

Howard PyleAlthough his name is not nearly as well known as many who followed in his footsteps, it’s hard to overstate the influence that Pyle (1853-1911)  had on future generations of American illustrators and artists.  He was huge in his time, a celebrity who mingled with the great writers and thinkers of the time.  His illustrations for many of the most popular magazines of that time, based on the great stories of literature, shaped how we saw those stories.  Cinematographers, costumers and set designers took their clues from Pyle’s visions of the stories they were staging.  For example, his vision of Robin Hood became the idealized version that we came to know in the old Errol Flynn classic movie.  His idea of the pirates of Treasure Island became ours.  His cowboys, knights  and explorers ingrained themselves into our collective psyche as we saw them on the page and on the movie screen.

Howard-Pyle-The-Wolf-and-Doctor-Wilkinson-Once-it-Chased-Doctor-Wilkinson-into-the-Very-Town-ItselfThere is an interesting sidebar to the extent of Pyle’s fame.  In a letter to his brother, Theo, Vincent Van Gogh wrote ” Do you know an American magazine Harpers Monthly?  There are wonderful sketches in it…which struck me dumb with admiration…by Howard Pyle”  His work may have been illustration but it was  pure art as well and the eye of Van Gogh could see that in the  line work and rhythm of his compositions.   I know that I am always inspired by his work and the that of his acolytes,  including NC Wyeth and Norman Rockwell.   I am  really looking forward to seeing his work alongside the Wyeths this year at the Fenimore.  It should be a memorable show.

 

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