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Archive for April, 2013

Singleton Glad You Dead You Rascal YouSome of the first things I ever did artistically as a somewhat mature person were bas-relief  carvings.  In a way, it formed the technique that I adopted as a painter.  I suppose that’s why I am so drawn to carvings when I come across them.  There’s something very appealing to me in the idea of a flat surface that has this raised, tactile surface. Like a painting that is also available in braille.  I can imagine the artist running his hands over the piece as he works, the ridges and valleys sliding gently underneath in a most comforting way.

Smithsonian American Art Museum - Donald W. Reynolds CenterI recently stumbled  across the work of Herbert Singleton ,  a New Orleans folk artist who made wonderful and colorful carvings such as the piece at the top, Glad You Dead You Rascal You, which depicts a New Orleans funeral procession.  Singleton’s life story is similar in may ways with other folk artists– a life filled with missteps and violence, run ins with the law and addictions.  He spent the better part of 14 years in prison and died in 2007 from lung cancer at the age of 62.  But in his short time here, Singleton created a powerful body of  carved work that documented his world and goes well beyond the label of folk art or self-taught art.  It is not benign work .  It often rails against social injustice and hypocrisy with great gusto.

I was first attracted to some of his Voodoo Protection Stumps, such as the one shown just below, which are carved from  half of a log with  multiple colorful faces emerging from one side and the bark remaining on the backside.  There is an immediacy and vibrancy to the images and color that make them really ring out. Singleton’s work is such a great example of   an artist who will not be held captive to their circumstance,   will not succumb to the hardships and obstacles that that they face.  They use their life and whatever means they can muster to express their place in this world.

SingletonVoodooProtectionStump 2

The piece at the top of this post, Glad You Dead You Rascal You, was based on the song You Rascal You made popular by the great  Louis Armstrong in the early 1030’s.  Here ‘s a Betty Boop cartoon from 1932 that features the song in  an interesting mix of cartoon and live action with Armstrong and his band.  Hard to believe this is from before my dad was born on this day back in 1933.  Happy birthday to my old man.

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The $2 Road Trip FundA friend of mine sent me a story last week that he had come across that he thought would interest me.  It was a story that has been told on CNN and NPR but was not one that I heard.  It was about a young man from NYC named Dotan Negrin who travelled around the Northeast US and eastern Canada, playing piano as he went.  He started the trip in NYC with his van, a 450 pound Kimball piano, a few personal items, a$2 bill which was the only money he took, one gallon of gas in his van and Brando,  his constant canine companion.

The trip lasted 31 days and he covered 3600 miles, playing piano in 11 cities.  He earned money from donations as he played as well as from picking up a few gigs at a few places from owners who heard him on the street.  He came home with the $2 bill still in hand as well as over $2200 more.  It’s a great story, along with earlier trip across the entire US,  that you can read more about at his site Piano Across America.

The $2 Road Trip- Doltan and Brando at workIt’s just another great illustration of someone following their bliss, taking that thing that they most love to do and somehow finding a way to make it their livelihood.  Dotan loves playing piano yet struggled to find a way to earn a living doing it in the traditional manner.  So he made his own opportunity.  It’s a great lesson in thinking outside of the box, determination and not accepting what the eye initially beholds.  A lesson that many of us should take notice of

Too often we let others set our limits and determine our fates.  We all have an ability of some sort.  This is something that I have always believed– that we are all equally gifted and flawed.  It’s just a matter of determining what our own special ability is and finding a way to incorporate it into our life.  Dotan Negrin is doing just that.  On the back of his piano there is a map of the US along with a sign that says “You owe it to yourself to do something remarkable with your life.

It appears that his special ability is in playing music and inspiring people.

Here’s a great video that has him playing and talking about his trip across the country.  Lot of lessons in here, too.

 

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Frank Hurley- Endurance in the Antarctic- Ghost Ship 1915I came across these photos from the great Frank Hurley when he was part of the fabled Shackleton Expedition (Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917) that tried to cross Antarctica but was trapped  en route in a huge moving ice floe that ultimately crushed and sank their ship, the Endurance.  They  drifted for months and months on ice floes and were in lifeboats in the frigid sea for several days until finally making landfall, nearly 500 days since their voyage began.  This photo shows the Endurance as it is held in the clutches of the Antarctic ice at night.  It’s ghostly image really caught my eye and made me wonder how the members of the expedition might have felt, trapped in a most inhospitable place so far from anyone without any form of communication as you watch your only means of escape slowly be crushed.  

What makes man push to those extremes?

Frank Hurley- Endurance in the Antarctic Night 1915Part of me admires them mightily and makes me wonder if I have ever possessed anything near that drive.  It certainly doesn’t feel like it as I live my relatively safe and comfortable life.  In fact, most of us spend our lives striving to avoid ever being put in harm’s way.  But what drives these others?

I certainly don’t know.  As I said, their exploits fascinate me.  Their actions, which on the surface seem foolhardy for even being considered, take on heroic perspective over time and I suppose that explains my admiration.  I think we all like an epic, almost mythic,  journey.  But I still find myself wishing that I could really get a sense of what they truly felt as they stood in cold silence of the Antarctic night and looked at the frozen bones of their ship.

Perhaps that is just part of the soul of a man.  Here’s a great version of the old Blind Willie Johnson song, Soul of a Man, from David Lindley and Harry Manx.  Great playing on this cut.

Frank Hurley Endurance in the ice 1915 

 

 

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GC Myers Archaeology-sketch

I did a presentation last night for a local arts group, the Elmira Regional Art Society.  I’m not sure how well I did in meeting their expectations, or my own for that matter, but I stumbled through.  Not my smoothest talk but they were a very gracious group and I thank them for having me in to speak with them.  One of the stories that I related was about how the Archaeology series evolved, one that I related here back in April of 2010.  I thought that I would revisit it today:

There’s new exhibit that opens at the West End Gallery in Corning next week [May, 2010]. It’s titled The Process- Start to Finish and features the gallery’s roster of artists showing sketches and studies for finished pieces of work. The idea is to give the viewer a better understanding of how a piece of art evolves through the process.

Now, I never really do studies and very little sketching for my paintings so this didn’t really seem like a show fitted to my process. But I remembered that a couple of years ago, at a point when I was floundering a bit and somewhat lost direction, I did a series of sketches (actually, I call them doodles) that eventually evolved into my Archaeology series.

GC Myers Archaeology-new-day

Archaeology: New Day

These were done on 12″ by 24″ sheets of watercolor paper with a finepoint Sharpie marker, which I liked to use because it forced bold lines and better simulated the way I used a brush as a drawing device when I painted. They were basically exercises where I would start at any given point on the sheet with a mark and simply fill the space with shapes and lines. Kind of a stream of consciousness thing. There was no intent . I was just trying to find something that would fire my then faltering imagination.

I did this for about a week, filling a number of these sheets until I began to realize that this sketching process could lend itself well to a different type of painting for me. One that combined my typical landscapes and iconography with areas of this intuitive doodling. Thus came the Archaeology series.

So I guess I do have a sketch of sorts for this show. The piece shown here, Archaeology: New Day, was one of the first in the series. You can see this by way the underground elements are formed in the same marker-like manner as the sketches as opposed to later pieces in the series where each element is painted as though it is almost floating in an underground basin. This piece, which remains a personal favorite, will be at the West End for the show.

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We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. 

-Joseph Campbell

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GC Myers- Destiny AwaitsImagine us all as being boats on the oceans of the world.

 Some of us drift aimlessly, of course.  That was how I first set out.  No idea where I was going or even in which direction to navigate.  At any given moment, what might be my destination could have been  right in front of me or in a totally different hemisphere thousands of miles away and I would not know.  I had no idea what to even look for as I drifted.

But  some of us set out for a known destination and fully expect to arrive at that point.  We have studied the maps and charts and set a course, making all the needed preparations and taking every precaution.  We have sought out the advice of those who have made that voyage before and have formed an image in our mind of how the whole journey will go.

 But sometimes things don’t go as we plan.  Sometimes we get blown off course by storms and lose our way.  Or we were not as prepared as we thought for the hardship of the voyage.  Or the advice we received was mistaken.  Or sometimes we arrive and find that there is no room for us to dock or that our destination just wasn’t as we had imagined before we set sail.

 Perhaps ultimately that destination was not our destiny after all and we must set off once more in search of it.  It must be out there, that place, that one spot that we feel is totally our own.

I suppose this is how I see this new painting, an 8″ by 20″ on paper that I simply call Destiny.  It’s a composition that I have visited several times in the past and one that always attracts me for the simple elegance and balance of it.  There’s a confidence and clean sharpness in the way the image comes across that makes it very palatable– it immediately announces itself to the viewer, regardless of how they personally interpret it.

This piece’s destiny is my June show, Observers, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA.

 

 

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Nadar_autoportrait_tournantWhile following the events of last week , both in Boston and in Texas, it seemed as though the media was constantly mentioning how many terrible things had happened during this week in the past.  The Oklahoma City bombing and the end of the siege at  the Waco compound of the Branch Davidians, to name a couple.  It sent me to  the computer to search for something more positive to mark this week of the year.  I came up with the first exhibition of the Impressionists in  1874.  It took place at the Paris studio of a photographer called  Nadar.  The story of this  photographer looked even more interesting  than the original story  of the Impressionists and set me off on a tangent.

Nadar Self Portrait 1909The Frenchman Nadar, who lived from 1820 -1910 and whose real name is Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, was a larger than life character who acted as a caricaturist, photographer, journalist and a pioneering balloonist.  That’s him above in a revolving self portrait that he did in 1865.  Of course, the automated spinning was a bit after his time but I’m not sure he didn’t see it coming.  He was always pushing for the advancement of  heavier-than-air flight, in the form of balloons at the time, and was a friend and associate of Jules Verne, who based his book Five Weeks in a Balloon as well as a character in his book  From the Earth to the Moon on Nadar.

Nadar Le Geant Gondola after flight and wreckHe was well known for his aerial photos of Paris taken from a tethered balloon.  In fact, he was the first person to take an aerial photo in 1858 although none of these survived until today.  The aerial shot below of Paris  is from 1867.  In 1863, he built a huge gas balloon, Le Geant (the giant),  the largest to date.  It had a huge two story gondola and had room for thirteen passengers as well as a lavatory and other amenities such as a darkroom and a lithograph press on which short reports would be printed and flung from the balloon.  After a failed first attempt, a flight that lasted more than 17 hours and covered 400 miles was made but unfortunately there was a mishap on landing.  The winds were high and the gondola was dragged along the ground for several miles, injuring  all aboard, some seriously.  But it never deterred the forward looking Nadar, who sent the balloon to England to be displayed at the Crystal Palace in hopes of raising funds for an future attempts.

Nadar Aerial View of Paris 1867

The ballooning aside, his portraits of the leading names of the time are really wonderful.  Artists such as Monet, Corot and Delacroix were all subjects as were many others from all other fields– the actress Sarah Bernhardt; the composers Rossini, Chopin and Liszt; writers Baudelaire and George Sand.  Perhaps most striking of his portraits is a shot of Victor Hugo as he lay dead in his bed,shown here at the bottom of this post.

It all amounts to a pretty big life, one that we know little of today except as a footnote to other events.  I’m glad I followed that tangent…

Nadar Death Portrait of Victor Hugo

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GC Myers-  In the ZoneIt’s hard to imagine that it’s been less than a week since the Boston Marathon bombing and all that followed.  It seems as though that so much has occurred that six days could not possibly hold it all.  I normally don’t do work that is topical in any manner and, to be quite honest, when I was finishing this piece I wasn’t even consciously thinking about the Boston bombing.  In fact, it was quite the opposite– I was working to shut out the emotion of the events.  it was only after finishing that I realized that there was some relevance in this piece, an 8″ by 16″ painting on paper that I call Running Free.

I originally thought that this would be a simple Red Tree piece, just the tree set against a fragmented sky.  Quiet.  Placid.  But I inadvertently started with a block that didn’t run level, giving it a sloped appearance.  As I worked on the sky, I thought about the challenge that the slope offered, an obstacle to overcome much like a runner looks at a hill.  I felt that  a runner moving up this slope was a good metaphor for the obstacles that we all at some point  take on and overcome.

The way the upper section– the sky– finished left a larger block that seemed to be a perfect  spot to place my runner.  Safely isolated, much like a runner might feel when they are in mid run and have blocked out the external.  In the zone, which was also the first title that came to mind in the aftermath of finishing this piece.

But looking at it I realized there was a connection to last Monday’s events, one that I had never intended.  The term freerunner came to mind  but that is so connected with the guys who run and jump their way through urban landscape that I opted for the simple Running Free.  All I could think of was of those people who challenge themselves with their running and find a release, a freedom, in it.  Who find sanctuary of a sort in going inward as they block out everything but their own thoughts and the road ahead of them.  And how that safe haven was invaded last week.

But runners are by nature strong-willed and will not be intimidated by cowardly acts.  I’m looking forward to seeing images of the runners streaming through London today as they run their marathon there  in defiance of those who seek to take away their freedom and their security.  May they continue to  run free…

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