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Archive for February, 2013

Holy Family-  American Folk Art MuseumI wasn’t going to write anything today but I opened a book that I have featuring works from the American Folk Art Museum, one that I browse on a regular basis.  The page I turned to is near the middle of the book, a page that I always seem to turn to when I open the book,  showing a carved piece, Holy Family,  that I  just love.  It is attributed to the 19th century  woodcarver John Philip Yaeger, a German born craftsman who worked in the Baltimore area.  I’m not religious in any traditional sense of the word but I thought this would be a fitting image to show today, which is Ash Wednesday on the Christian calendar.

There’s something irresistibleabout this carving,  beyond the subject matter,  that I just can’t put my finger on.  The color of its patina is beautifully golden and warm. The lines are smooth and rhythmic.  There’s a wonderful balance of fineness and roughness in the way the pieces of wood that make up the sculpture are put together.  It has a modern feel yet seems old– a timeless quality.  Everything about it has that sense of rightness that I have tried to describe here without much success in the past.

I also am intrigued but he damage on the left shoulder of the father.  I don’t know if this is just a property of the wood after these many years but it looks like it may have been near a cat who saw this as a perfect scratching post.  But even that doesn’t lessen the power of the piece.  It fits right into the wholeness of it.  Imperfectly perfect.

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Out of Bounds with Tish PearlmanLast week I went to REP Studio in Ithaca to record a radio interview with Tish Pearlman for her Out of Bounds show.  It’s a show that airs on several public radio stations around the country and features the affable and inquisitive Pearlman sitting down with people from a wide range of backgrounds with a purpose “to forge understanding among people of diverse backgrounds through thoughtful, in-depth conversations that educate and enlighten.”    Pearlman has been doing this show since 2005 and has featured interviews with many national and regional  figures, all of which can be found archived on the show’s website.  It’s a pretty impressive list that has many names that will be familiar to many of you.  So I was surprised, and honored, when she invited me to sit in for an interview.

Our half hour passed in the blink of an eye with Tish asking questions about my work and technique, as well as inquiring as to how I came to painting which is a story familiar to those of you who read this blog regularly or have came to one of my gallery talks.  Beyond that, my memory of what I said is a blur.  I can only hope that I was somewhat coherent and didn’t make a fool of myself.

When the session ended,  Tish clapped her hands and said that it had went really well and asked how I felt about it.  I said I was pleased but knew that, based on past experiences, that I would be beating myself up in the car on the way home, second-guessing what I had said and what I hadn’t said.  Every time I do an opening or a talk, I inevitably go through this process of regretful recollection , wishing I had made a point or agonizing over something that just didn’t come out right or over not being able to speak with someone who was in attendance.  Or that I just came off as some sort of jerk or pompous twit.

She said that I surely wouldn’t do that over this interview and I laughed and said that I knew that I would.  And, of course,  I did.

But my recollection of the interview is a very pleasant one.  Tish has an easy, friendly manner that puts you at ease and you begin to forget that you are in a small room with a microphone in front of you instead of a comfortable  living room having a pleasant conversation.  Of course, it’s a one-sided conversation.  I actually wish I had been able to ask her about some of her interviews and some of the people behind them.  I bet she has some great insights.

The show will air on the following channels:

Thursdays at 7pm WEOS-FM (NY)
Sundays at 11:30am WSKG-FM (NY)
Fridays at 3:30pm on WRNC-FM (WI)
Wednesdays at 11am on KKRN-FM (CA)
I believe that all of the channels have a live online stream for the show.  I know that WEOS-FM  and WSKG-FM do stream  the show.  I am not positive about the channels in Wisconsin or California.  And if you miss it, the interview will be on the Out of Bounds site within a month or two.
Thanks, Tish, for the opportunity to speak with you.  It was a pleasure and an honor.

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GC Myers WIP- Final Stages 2013I am getting closer to completion on the piece that I have been showing over the last week here, a 24″ by 48″ canvas.  After taking the photo shown here, I was able to spot several areas that need small touches to bring it to a possible finish.

The painting has changed considerably since the last stage  I showed of it in the prior post.  The everpresent Red Tree has appeared on a rise overlooking the lake.  The sky and sun (or is it a moon?) have unified in color.  The trees and fields have taken on more color which gives them shape and depth.   The lake that was last seen as a black pool has transformed into a surface of teeming blue brushstrokes.

It may not be very obvious in these photos but I lightened the most distant hills which moved the horizon deeper into the picture and gave the whole piece more depth.  It’s one of those things that doesn’t register when you first look at the painting.  You see the closer images – the lake, the houses, the graveyard, the bridge and roads– or maybe you focus on the sun/moon and the Red Tree stretching up into the sky.  Those are all important elements that make the painting vibrant and certainly are the stars of the show.  But, for me, it’s this extra perception of depth beyond the scene that gives the piece a real sense of wholeness.  This depth attaches the fantastic to reality.

GC Myers WIP Detail 2I spoke in the last post about the graveyard which is a new element for me in my  landscape paintings.  Another new element is located in the area around the covered bridge.  Now, I have used bridges  a number of times in my work and even a few covered bridges have popped up so it’s not that.  It’s the simplified gas station, a one-pumper that recalls rural gas stations of the past where the pump was just off the shoulder of the road.  I don’t know how that came to be in this painting except to say that I wanted a strong distinct element that would balance the graveyard and like the way it breaks up the space in which it is located.  Plus, the addition of the it and the graveyard give this piece a sense of real place, of community, for me.

There is a lot for me to like in this piece.  It’s as strong  and appealing as I had hoped it might be, with great rhythm and flow through its many elements that gives it a sense of harmony.  I had mentioned that I might use this piece for a Name That Painting contest but now I’m not so sure.  I have a title in mind and am strongly leaning toward using it, although I want to mull it over.  However, I would love to hear any other titles you might have in mind.

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GC Myers WIP 2013This the piece I showed earlier in the week, a 24″ by 48″ canvas started last weekend.  As you can see by the image to the left, the composition of the landscape has filled in and the sky has began to take shape.   I have laid in several layers of brushstrokes in the sky but probably won’t go back into it until I do more on the landscape below.  The landscape will set the final tone and feel for the sky and I need more color in it to fully be able to read it.

I sometimes question whether I need to have as many layers of color in the sky because  often in the final surface you can’t even discern any of these layers.  For example, there is a layer with  numerous strokes of violet in the sky here that you probably can’t make out in the picture above.  When this piece is complete, you may only be able to see a tiny  hint of  violet at any point in the sky.

Could I skip that layer and several other similar layers?

Sure.  It may not make a bit of difference to the casual observer.  But for me, it is an integral part of the process, a  slow development of the depth and complexity of the color that I am seeking, a color that I won’t know until it finally shows itself.  That little touch of violet is necessary for me, an important step that, if skipped, would have me thinking that something was amiss in the picture.

DSC_0011 smLeaving the sky, I begin to lay in preliminary colors for the landscape, a variety of blues and greens for the trees and a brownish  putty color for the houses and a bit of red for the roofs. It’s always exciting at this point because the color begins to bring real shape and life to the landscape.  As  each house comes to life with a little color as I work across the canvas, it is like there is a wave of light moving over it.  The whole surface begins to feel animated.

DSC_0014 smAfter that layer, I begin to lay in the surface of the landscape with a multitude of colors, weighing each block of color  as I place it  to get a sense of how it fits into the rhythm of the whole.  I begin to put on what may or may not be final touches on some of the houses, slashes of white that glows on the canvas.  I really am beginning to feel the direction of the painting at this point and have a sense of where it may finish, starting to think how I will handle the blackness of the lake.

GC Myers WIP DetailI know that this sounds goofy and I can’t really explain in any coherent manner, but there’s a good feeling around this painting at this point.  I like it’s strength and think it will show dynamically in its final state.  I really like it so far and like a few of the details in it that are new to my work.  For example, this scene has a small church graveyard  with a road circling it as it overlooks the lake.   Although I sometimes reference death and the past in my work and have a great personal fondness for graveyards, I have never actually portrayed a cemetery in my work.  But I really wanted to show it as part of the community of this painting.  It somehow tempers the piece for me.

So, while the painting is beginning to take shape, there is still a ways to go before I can sit back.  I am still trying to see what the final focus of the piece will be, what will give me a name that fits it.  Perhaps I should ask you for some help.

Shall we have a Name That Painting Contest?

 

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Eric Burdon- 'Til Your River Runs DryGrowing up,  I was always kind of fascinated by Eric Burdon, then lead singer for the Animals, the British rock band who always seemed just in the shadow of the Beatles and the Stones.  But they were different than the other bands of that early British Invasion.  They seemed rougher, more closely connected to American blues.  Their songs were not mere love ditties.  They were angrier, more defiant and fatalistic.

And it was all captured in the face of Eric Burdon.  He was not a pretty boy, not the smiling cute one that even moms found charming.  He was sleepy eyed with  pock marked skin and an almost surly demeanor that never broke into a toothy smile.  I might be mistaken, but I think he even had a broken tooth.   But he sang those songs that still resonate today–House of the Rising Sun, Boom Boom, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Don’t Bring Me Down, Sky Pilot,  We Gotta Get Out of this Place.  

It’s my life and I’ll do what I want…

He has had a long career, starting the band War, best known for Spill the Wine, Cisco Kid and Low Rider.  Today. he lives in the desert of Southern California and, at age 71, has a new CD, ‘Til Your River Runs Dry,  out on the market.  I am including a song from it today, Water, that deals with the ever growing problem with maintaining the availability of  safe and potable water now and in the future.   Water is that thing that we all need– more than oil, more than gas, more than any precious metals.  Water is the cause of the current battle over hydro-fracking and might be the thing that nations battle over  in the future.  Give a listen…

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Mark Reep Issue -Blue Canvas CoverThere’s a great article in this month’s issue of Blue Canvas, a quarterly magazine that is distributed worldwide and features articles and interviews with some of the finest artists around the globe. The article that I mention concerns the work of Mark Reep, an artist who has shown at the West End Gallery since 1995 and lives in Lawrenceville, PA. It’s a wonderful article that focuses on Mark’s process and the motivation behind the mysterious places that populate his unique artistic world. It shows several pieces of his beautiful black and white work , including two full page images. Just a great opportunity for the rest of the world to see the work that the folks around here have been lucky enough to have right under our noses for these last 17 years.

Mark Reep - Stone of Turning

Mark Reep – Stone of Turning

I have always felt a kinship with both Mark and his work. We started showing at the West End Gallery around the same time and our work was different than much of the other work in the gallery at the time, both of us focusing on landscapes that originated internally, based on creating a world based on feeling and emotion rather than one that represented the world around us.

Mark’s pieces were moody and mysterious small pieces, meticulously crafted with a laborious stippling that created magnificent depth and detail. They rewarded the viewer who stopped and deeply pondered the work with a stillness and quiet that was almost spiritual in its nature, all the time filling you with questions. Where does that path lead? Who lives in that stone house perched atop that high cliff? How do I get there?

Over the years, there has been an incredible consistency in his vision, even as his process has evolved and the world that he portrays has expanded. I never get the sense that his created world is not real because of this great commitment. As a result, his world is always distinctly his own, something I really appreciate and struggle for as an artist.

Mark Reep-  All the Silent Years

Mark Reep- All the Silent Years

I have to admit to being awestruck by Mark’s work over the years, perhaps more than any artist I have ever shown with. And that includes some truly great artists. Maybe it’s because I know of his commitment to this work, his unwavering belief in it. Maybe it’s because I see its timeless appeal, something that makes me believe it will only become stronger as the generations pass.

Maybe I don’t know exactly why. But I am thrilled that Mark’s work is being seen on a worldwide stage. It is well deserved. I have often felt that we took his work too much for granted on a local level, that we didn’t see the diamond in our presence. And his work is a diamond.

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GC Myers  The Kid  Outlaws was a series of small  paintings that I did back in 2006.  They were  dark pieces, painted in a deep almost-black sepia,  where the light of figures emerge from the darkness.  There was a sense of desperation in each of these figures, a sort of inner struggle that overflowed to the outer world, that gave the series its title.  They are not necessarily breakers of the law but they are outside it, away from central stream of the world.  Outcasts more than pure outlaws.  Some of the characters held handguns, mainly in fearful, defensive positions.  The exception was the piece shown above, The Kid, which is most aggressive piece in the series and the one that most closely fits the textbook definition of outlaw.

996-240 Confession smIn most of my work, there are elements that take on symbolic meaning.  The Red Tree.  The Red Chair and Red Roofs.  The artifacts found underground in the Archaeology series.These things evoke some sort of  private meaning for most viewers, mostly familiar and gentle to them.  The handgun does this as well, although the reaction is definitely more extremely polarized.  I wanted a symbol that raised extreme emotion, wanted to see how people reacted.

Many people were disturbed by the imagery because it was so far  from the gentler alter-world I normally paint.  It had elements of fear and other darker emotions that are usually absent from my signature work.  The handgun piece, predictably, was the most disturbing to most people. 996-245 The Fear sm I have described here before how the pieces that showed the central figure looking through a window became a litmus test for  a person’s own level of fear or, at least, understanding of the fears of other people.   Some people saw the figure as a threat, peering in the window from the outside, ready to invade their home.  Others saw them as a figure looking out the window from the interior, fearful and haunted.  Although this result was not intended, it pleased me that it raised such distinctly different points of view.

996-229 Two Sides smI suppose this is akin to the way people view the ongoing debate on gun control.  Each sees gun control in different ways.  I grew up around guns.  My father wore a gun to work every day and we always had guns in the house.  Most people I knew  hunted and had guns.  I remember my grand-uncle taking me on an early morning  walk when I was about 5 years old.  We walked down to the cove, an inlet along the Chemung River where people dumped their trash,  which was not that uncommon at the time, unfortunately.  He sat up several coffee cans and bottles and stood behind me, putting his arms around me to help me steady the heavy blue steel of the handgun he took from his holster.  I remember the thrill of the jolt from the blast and the clang of the can.  The pungent smell of gunsmoke in my nostrils and the pointy ringing  in my unprotected ears.  It is an indelible memory.

996-221 Outlaw's Vigil smI don’t have a gun now and haven’t shot a gun in several years.  Can’t stand the noise, to tell  the truth.  But I respect the rights of hunters and shooters and feel that guns do have a place in our country.  That being said, the current debate has become poisoned by the fearful hyperbole perpetrated by the NRA and other advocates.  Any form of gun control is seen by them as the first move towards some  fascist, dystopian future, a paranoia which prevents any sort  of dialogue based on common sense.  They oppose any laws , any registries and almost all oversight.  They say that the laws on the book now should be enforced but they say it with a wink because they know that they have effectively disabled the effectiveness of this enforcement though crafty lobbying which has led to underfunded  agencies such as the undermanned ATF which are hampered in their efforts at every turn by restrictions imposed by lawmakers who are very friendly with the gun lobby .  Until we begin to look at how these agencies can once again be allowed to enforce the laws currently on the book as they are written,  new gun law legislation is a moot point and a distraction from the fact that the enforcement of any new laws is toothless by their design.

Unfortunately, they are a powerful and well funded lobby that knows how to play on the fears of gun owners.  They make people who are at no risk of losing any guns or the right to use  them believe  that the gun apocalypse is near.  They want to stay in the extreme position  because that is where fear is created.  They need that fear and they play on that fear.  It sells guns and ammo and that is the  bottom line.   It’s not about the Second Amendment, it’s not about stopping a Fascist American  government  and it’s certainly not about making us safer.  Their efforts certainly haven’t made any of us feel any safer, gun owners included.  The characters in these painting have guns and they certainly don’t seem any more at ease for it.

Free the agencies responsible to fully enforce the law…

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GC Myers Feb 2013 W-I-PThis is a new piece that I started over the weekend.  It’s a fairly large canvas, 24″ by 48″,  gessoed and blackened before I began to lay out the composition in the red oxide that I favor for the underpainting.   I went into this painting  with only one idea, that it have a mass of houses on  a small hilltop.  That is where I began making marks, building a small group of blocky structures in a soft pyramid.   A little hilltop village.  From there, it went off on its own, moving down the hill until a river emerged from the black.   An hour or two later and the river is the end of a chain of lakes with a bridge crossing it.  We’ll see where and what it is when  it finally settles.

I like this part of the process, this laying out of the composition.  It’s all about potential and problem-solving, keeping everything, all the elements that are introduced, in rhythm and in balance.  One mark on the canvas changes the possibility for the next.  Sometimes that possibility is limited by that mark, that brush of paint.  There is only one thing that can be done next.  But sometimes it opens up windows of potential that seemed hidden before that brushstroke hit the surface.  It’s like that infinitesimal moment before the bat hits the pinata and all that is inside it is only potential.  That brushstroke is the bat sometimes and when it strikes the canvas, you never know what will burst from the rich interior of the pinata, which which is the surface of the canvas here.  You hope the treats fall your way.

One of the things I thought about as I painted was the idea of keeping everything in balance.  Balancing color and rhythm and compositional weight, among many other things, so that in the end something coherent and cohesive emerges.  It’s how I view the process of my painting.  Over the years,  keeping this balance becomes easier, like any action that is practiced with such great regularity.  So much so that we totally avoid problems and when we begin to encounter one, we always tend to go with the tried and true, those ways of doing things that are safest and most predictable in their results.

It’s actually a great and safe way to live.  But as a painter who came to it as a form of seeking,  it’s the beginning of the end.  And as I painted, I realized that many of my biggest jumps as an artist came because I had allowed myself at times to be knocked off balance.  It’s when you’re off balance that the creativity of your problem-solving skills are pushed and innovation occurs.

It brings to mind a quote from Helen Frankenthaler that I used in a blogpost  called Change and Breakthrough from a few years back:   “There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about. ”  

 You must be willing to go outside your comfort zone, be willing to crash and burn.   Without this willingness to fail, the work becomes stagnant and lifeless, all the excitement taken from the process.  And it’s that excitement  in the studio that I often speak of  that keeps me going, that keeps the work alive and vitalized.

It’s a simple thing but sometimes, after years of doing this, it slips your mind and the simple act of reminding yourself of the importance of willingly going off balance is all you need to rekindle the fire.

This is a lot to ponder at 5:30 in the morning.  We’ll see what this brings in the near future.  Stay tuned…

 

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GC Myers- Passing Clouds

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.
-Helen Keller

***************

Who can speak more about optimism than Helen Keller?

I still struggle to get my mind around how she persevered to overcome blindness and deafness.  Such a remarkable thing.  It makes me question my own strength of character, makes me wonder how I would respond if similar circumstances.  I wonder how well known her life’s story is to the younger generation, outside of the tale of her early years with the woman, Anne Sullivan,  who taught her how to join the world as portrayed in the play and movie, The Miracle Worker?  That drama, while marvelous, doesn’t tell of the great influence that Helen Keller had through her life as an activist and inspirational speaker.  She is a pretty amazing case, to say the least.

That brings me to this  little piece, a new 12″ by 12″ canvas that I call Passing Clouds.  There’s a lot of joy, a lot of bright-eyed optimism in this painting, both in the process of painting it and in the final product.  It’s one of those pieces that I truly enjoyed every moment that I worked on it and never felt a twinge of doubt about the strength or validity of it.  It felt in rhythm with the first brushstroke and every subsequent move was made with complete confidence.  That’s a rare thing.  Usually there is a struggle at some point.  But occasionally things come together and a painting like this flows out with complete ease.

No, there are no clouds over this one.

I wanted to include a version of Irving Berlin‘s classic song  Blue Skies, one of my favorites.  But as I searched  I came across this different song  with the same title from Tom Waits.  I had forgotten this song that I hadn’t heard in many years but it immediately came back to me.  Just a lovely small song, perfect for a lovely small painting.

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