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Archive for February, 2013

Judging/ Game of Life

 GC Myers--Game of Life FlipviewThere was a piece that I featured a few weeks back as a work in progress.  It is a 24″ by 48″ painting that I have decided to call Game of Life.  I thought it was strong piece at the time and have nothing that swayed my opinion since, looking at it on a daily basis in the studio.  But yesterday, as I was framing several pieces, the painting was laying on a table and from my vantage point it appeared upside down to me.  I kept coming back to it with my gaze , noting how well the piece kept together in an almost abstract manner with the balance of the painting’s elements still strong.

I was really pleased by this as well as reminded of this earlier method of judging my work, where I would flip a painting over then set it on it’s ends to check it’s balance and to see if it still translated.  I don’t do it very often anymore, instead trusting a judgement that has been shaped over the years that allows me to evaluate a piece incrementally as I work.  But seeing this painting inverted reminded me how well this simple method worked for me in the past.  It forced me to look at and judge the work in from a different perspective.  I couldn’t be lulled into submission by the scene itself– it had to stand on strong compositional legs that created a bonded unity in the work.

Now, I don’t know if this method works for all work.  I’m not sure all of my work stands the test.  Probably not.  But when it does pass this test, it’s a reassurance and validation that I really trust.

Here’s what Game of Life looks like in its normal state:

GC Myers -Game of Life

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Treasure Island

People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.

–St. Augustine

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GC Myers- Treasure Island  This is a new painting, a 12″ by 36″ canvas that is titled Treasure Island.  For me, this has nothing  to do with the Robert Louis Stevenson book of the same title  with Long John Silver and his pirate crew.  Oh, there’s an element of treasure in this piece, from the golden tones of the crown of the central figure of the island tree to the rich and regal  color of the sky.

But what I see in this piece is really more about introspection and the discovery of  an inner wealth.  It’s a theme I often see in my work, this idea of finding what we are and are not , celebrating those qualities we possess rather than lamenting our deficiencies.  This evaluation of self creates a sovereign realm within us, one that is a safe haven from the intrusion of the outer world, one that lets our strengths flower and grow in an unfettered way.

That sounds like a lot of mumbo-jumbo and maybe it is. But I do see this as a painting that speaks about inner strength and celebrating what we are on our own terms.  About controlling those things we value in ourselves and not letting others define us.  We are all small islands containing all different sorts of wealth, if only we would take the time to look.  Look inward then let your own wealth shine outward, whatever it might be.

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Watch on the Rhine 1943Tonight is night when the Oscars are handed out for the best movies, directors, actors and so on.  I’ve always been a big film fan and I always look forward to seeing who wins even on the years when I have hardly seen a movie.  It also makes me think of many of my favorite movies, films that stick in my mind and, like any other  form of art, define who I am.

A few weeks ago, I saw one of these favorites of mine, Watch on the Rhine.  It was made in 1943, adapted for the screen by Dashiell Hammett from  the prize-winning play written by his wife, the great Lillian Hellman.  It concerns a family in the Northern Virginia area across the Potomac from DC whose daughter ( Bette Davis in a supporting role here) returns home from a war torn Europe for the first time in many years with her husband and children.  It is set, and was written,  in the years before our entry into World War II.

Her husband is a German freedom fighter, Kurt Muller,  who is a wanted leader in the underground movement against the Nazis. He is  played by Paul Lukas in a magnificent performance, one that won him the Academy Award for Best Actor that year over Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and Gary Cooper in For Whom the Bells Toll.  Yes, it was that good.

His Muller is the common man who finds himself in the role of the selfless hero willing to give up everything– his career, his family, his life– in order to stand against evil.  It’s not a task Muller sought but is one he must shoulder.  His words are simple, direct and powerful.  Lukas, who also originated the part on the Broadway stage, is brilliant and, whenever I see this movie, I am haunted for weeks afterwards by Lukas’ performance.  The power of it thrills me but I find myself questioning my own strength and beliefs as a human.  Thankfully, I have never been put into a situation like that faced by Kurt Muller and hopefully never will.  But would I be able to stand with even a fraction of the grace and courage of Lukas’ character?

I doubt it but I don’t know.

But I know that this movie’s ability to fix that question in my mind for weeks make it a great movie with great acting and world-class writing.  Hopefully, this year’s movies will have a film like Watch on the Rhine that will haunt future generations when they watch it years from now.

 

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Bluefire

GC Myers- BluefireHere’s a new painting, a 10″ by 20″ canvas,  that I am calling Bluefire.   I don’t know if the title refers to the blue sun rising over the distant ridge or if it refers to the hot contrast of the red tree to the predominately blue environment.  It doesn’t really matter  because the title feels right, feels at home in this painting.  At least, it does this morning.

Bluefire also sounds like a gem of some sort and the color of this piece definitely has a gem-like quality, sapphire  and topaz and tourmaline green.  It feels as much like a jeweled object as it does a simple painting, which I like.  I have spoken a number of times of the idea of the painting being viewed in multiple ways, as a pure object in itself as well as a representation of something emotion-based on its surface.   This seems to fit this idea.

I also like the paradox of  the warmth of this piece despite the blue overtone of the whole.  Blue is often portrayed as a cool color but sometimes that doesn’t hold completely true.  I think this is one good example of warmth in blue.  And I think it’s this going against what is the norm that I like about Bluefire.  The blues are warm and the sun is blue but it somehow doesn’t matter.  It registers true to me and that is the test that counts.

Now, whether others see and accept it in those terms is another matter.

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Louis Boutan- Underwater Photo ExperimentA friend of mine had a picture on Facebook yesterday that was taken underwater.  It was bright, clear and detailed, full of the color of the sea.  The fact that anyone can easily take such sharp underwater photos made me wonder about how underwater photography had evolved.  Doing a little research I came across the photo shown here on the left that really caught my eye.  It has a real magical quality to it with the light burst at the center and the diver appearing like some odd creature in mid-birth.  It was by a French marine biologist, Louis Boutan, from the early 1890’s and is one of the earliest surviving underwater photos.

There had been an earlier photo,  from 1856 by William Thompson in the waters of Dorset in the UK.  It was taken by a camera attached to a pole and showed the underwater plant growth of the shallow sea bottom. The photo has been lost  however which  and it takes almost forty years into the future before Boutan takes up the quest for documenting what he was seeing under the sea as a marine biologist.  You have to realize the difficulties he faced in achieving this goal.  First, diving and photography were in their early stages and the equipment for both was large and cumbersome.  It would be decades before scuba gear was introduced and cameras were large boxes with long exposures and flash systems that consisted of burning magnesium.  You couldn’t just whip out your iPhone and snap some pix.

Louis Boutan in his Diving SuitBut Boutan persevered and with the aid of his engineer brother devised systems, that would be enormous by today’s standards, allowed him enough mobility to move them to the sea bottom and photograph.  His experiments included shallow shoots such as the one featuring the diver above and, ultimately, dives that descended to 164 feet beneath the sea in a diving suit.  The image to the right is one of these first deep images.  As I said, the exposure were long, up to 30 minutes for the film of the time at such low light, and Boutan would sometimes suffer nitrogen narcosis– the rapture of the deep.  It was a dangerous effort to document the world he loved.

Louis Boutan on left with his Dual Carbon LampsThis a photo of Boutan (on the left)  and his equipment at one of the later stages of his 1890’s experimentation.  Even though it looks huge to us, this was pretty compact for the time.  The two steel orbs in the forefront are carbon arc lamps that he developed to replace the earlier system which was a huge wooden barrel with a large glass globe affixed to the top that encased a ribbon of burning magnesium.  Portability was not its big strength.

I like this photo of Boutan and his equipment because there is a feeling of the past and the future in it.  He appears so modern in contrast with his appearance, with his sport coat and haircut when compared to his assistant standing behind him who is obviously a product of his age with handlebar moustache, necktie and cap.  Boutan could walk into the room today and be contemporary.  I think that speaks to his drive to evolve his process.  He would not be tied to the static present and the lingering past.

Boutan also published a book in the 90’s that featured many of his images and documented his work.  Below is a group of these images.  So, when you pull out your compact camera the next time and dive into the water to snap a shot of the kids or some colorful fish, remember Louis Boutan.  He set the whole thing in motion.

Louis Boutan Group of Photos from his 1890s Book

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GC Myers-  ExplorerAnother thing from the Out of Bounds interview that I wanted to expand on was my answer to Tish Pearlman‘s question as to what advice I  might give to aspiring artists.  I said that I thought that they should paint the paintings that they wanted to see.  I think there needs to be a little more depth to that answer.

Earlier in the interview I had said that I was influenced by a wide variety of imagery from other great painters and illustrators to advertising and film and television.  Any visual input had some influence.  I spoke of   deeply saturated colors that I had seen maybe 25 years ago in a Coke ad on TV, colors that still dwell in my mind.  There are hundreds of little nudges that push at the buttons for the perfect, idealized  image that you maintain in your mind but is never quite fully captured.  I know that’s how it was for me.

I would go into museums and look at great works of art and absolutely love so many of them yet still felt that none was exactly an expression of what I was feeling or who I was.  There was always a lingering feeling that there was work that was closer to the hazy criteria my mind presented, work that I still wasn’t seeing.  It was this feeling that led me to the conclusion that I would never find what I was looking for by trying to paint in the style of other painters.  If their work was what I was looking for to begin with, why even paint?  It seemed to me that too many artists are satisfied by simply doing work that resembles other work, safe in the accepted pack, rather that taking the gamble on stepping away from it.

But I wanted to step away and to do so I would have to assess what I was as well as what I wasn’t.  By that, I mean I would play to what I felt were my strengths and not waste too much energy on my weaknesses.  I knew that anything that would be close to what I wanted to see had to come from a total belief from within and that trying to do things that were not who I was, which would be a weak area in my abilities, would diminish the whole thing.  No, it needed a total commitment from myself.

I guess what I am saying it that aspiring artists need to focus on what they believe they want to see and use their strengths to try to achieve that end.  By concentrating their efforts on their strengths, a natural  style or voice will evolve.  If they accept this voice with a real belief in its validity, it will soon be as natural as signing their name.  They will soon be able to celebrate the things that make them different  than others, rather than striving to be like them.

I don’t know if any of this is making sense this morning.  I’m sure some of the above will ring true to some and ruffle the feathers of others.  That’s art  for you.  It’s more mystery than science.  I might, be right, wrong or both.  Depends on who’s looking…

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Steven Wilson- The Raven That Refused to SingMy friend Scott Allen from the Cleveland area sent me a link to a video the other day.  It was an animation of a song from Steven Wilson, a British progressive rock musician who is the lead singer for Porcupine Tree.  The song is titled The Raven That Refused to Sing and Scott said that he felt reminded by it of my Exiles/Outlaw series, both in tone and imagery.

It’s a dark and sad storyline that runs through the video as an old man deals with the grief of loss and memory.  But I could definitely see the parallels that Scott hadGC Myers- Followed observed , especially in certain scenes.  For example, the scene where the old man sits in his bed in front of the windows  ( shown above) instantly reminded me of my characters as they peer out their own windows with that same haunted look.  Perhaps their fear is much like this old man’s grievous fears.

The video was made by British animators Jess Cope and Simon Cartwright who have a real knack for incorporating this type of dark and mysterious subject matter in their works.  Their The Astronomer’s Sun is a much celebrated short in the same poignant vein. It’s definitely worth a look, as is this video.  Thanks, Scott.

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