Archive for December, 2013

John LaFarge- Samoan Dancing a Standing Siva 1909I am a big fan of stained glass windows.  It has influenced my work in many ways, from trying to emulate the brilliance and glow of the colors to the way in which I see and compose my work.  I have been lucky enough to live in an area with access to the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany who is easily the best known and most stylish of stained glass makers.  The Corning Museum of Glass has a number of his pieces, which are remarkable,  as do several churches in the area.

But there is someone to rival, if not eclipse, the works of Tiffany, someone who actually paved the way for Tiffany’s work with his innovative work in stained glass.  This was John LaFarge.  I can’t remember the exact piece or location of the first time I saw his work except that it was somewhere in NYC.  But I do remember the stunning colors and the lead work which held the glass pieces together.  It  was so different than that of other stained glass windows I had seen which was normally clean and neat, fitting for the solemnity of a church.  But the LaFarge lead work I saw was rough and dark, dividing the opalescent glass but also becoming part of the composition in itself.  His lines were organic and integral to the composition.  It was remarkable.

I came across the image shown above recently,  Samoan Dancing a Standing Siva, in a book about LaFarge’s travels to Tahiti and other South Pacific islands in the early 1890’s and about how this expedition changed his work.  It’s interesting that the other artist whose work was transformed by Tahiti, Paul Gauguin, arrived on the island just days after LaFarge departed.

This piece of stained glass excites me very much in the use of line, especially in the naturalness and organic feel of them, as well as the contrast between the brilliance of the colors and the the darknesses that surround them.  To me,this is simply magnificent, possessing those things that I want to see in my own work.

There is a Pinterest page with many of LaFarge’s more famous stained glass pieces, most of which are a bit more formal than this piece above.  But it gives a nice overview of his work on one page.  To see it click here.

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GC Myers-  Time of Peace smThis season always signals the end of one year and the beginning of the next and generally sets me to thinking about pasts and futures, thinking about their connection and how it affects my life and work.  One way to examine the past is to delve into genealogy, something that I began doing in earnest several years ago and continue on a regular basis, especially at this time of the year.  It has provided a background, a basis for being and a connection with my environment that I often felt was missing as I grew up.

I will talk a little bit about it with family members, trying to pass on my findings, but have gotten so used to glassy-eyed looks of disinterest that I now seldom bring it up in conversation.  Not everyone wants to look back and I can respect that.  For me, however, it has been essential to my own progress forward, providing me with perspective and a sense of being.  I wrote a bit about this several years ago on this blog, documenting a relative’s pitiable existence and how it relates to my work.  I think it says as much about how I define my purpose as an artist as well as anything I have written before or since.


I woke up much too early this morning.  Deep darkness and quiet but my mind racing.  Oddly enough I found myself thinking of a person I had come across in my explorations in my personal genealogy.  It was a cousin  several generations back, someone who lived in the late 1800′s in rural northern Pennsylvania.  The name was one of those you often come across in genealogy, one with few hints as to the life they led.  Few traces of their existence at all. 

 At the time, it piqued my curiosity for some reason I couldn’t identify.  He was simply a son of  the brother of one of my great-great grandparents.  As I said, you run across these people by the droves in genealogy, people who show up then disappear in the mist of history, many dying at a young age.  But this one had something that made me want to look further.  I could find nothing but a mention in an early census record then nothing.  No family of any sort.  No military service.  No land or property.  No listings in the cemeteries around where he lived.  I searched all the local records available to me and finally came across one lone record.  One mention of this name at the right time in the right place, a decade or so from when I lost sight of them.

It was a census record and this person was now in their late 30′s.  It was one line with no other family members, one of many in a long list that stretched over two pages.  I had seen this before.  Maybe this was a jail or a prison.  I had other family members in my tree who, when the census rolled around, were incarcerated and showed up for those years as prisoners.  So I went to the beginning of the list and there was my answer.

It wasn’t a prison.  Well, not in name.  It was the County Home.  This person was either insane or mentally or physically handicapped and was living out their life in a home when they could or would no longer be cared for by family.  It struck me at the time that this was someone who lived and experienced as we all do and who has probably not been thought of in many, many decades.  If ever.

This all came back to me in a flash as I laid there in the dark this morning.  I began to think of what I do and, as is often the case when I find myself wide awake  in the dark at 3:30 AM, began to question why I do it and what purpose it serves in this world.  Is there any value other than pretty pictures to hang on a wall?  How does my work pertain to someone like my relative who lived and died in obscurity? 

In my work, the red tree is the most prominent symbol used.   I see myself as the red tree when I look at these paintings and see it as a way of calling attention to the simple fact that I exist in this world.  I think that may be what others see as well– a symbol of their own existence and uniqueness in the world. 

If I am a red tree, isn’t everyone a red tree in some way?  Isn’t my distant cousin living in a rural county home, alone and apart from family, a red tree as well?  What was his uniqueness, his exceptionalism?  He had something, I’m sure.  We all do.

And it came to me then, as I laid in the blackness.  Maybe the red tree isn’t about my own uniqueness.  Maybe it was about recognizing the uniqueness of others and seeing ourselves in them, recognizing that we all have special qualities to celebrate.  Maybe that is the real purpose in what I do.  Perhaps this realization that everyone has an exceptionalism that deserves recognition and celebration is the reason that I find it so hard to shake the red tree from my vocabulary of imagery. 

 Don’t we all deserve to be a red tree, in someone’s eyes?

There was more in the spinning gears this morning but I want to leave it at that for now.  It’s 5:30 AM and the day awaits…

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A Christmas Wish

GC Myers  Christmas 2013

Sending out a wish for a peaceful Christmas day to all my friends out there.


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Limbourg Brothers- Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry FebruaryOne of the great pleasures in being fairly ignorant is the thrill that comes from stumbling across something that is absolutely spectacular without any knowledge of its existence beforehand.  Of course, the flip side of this experience is the depressing realization that sets in when you realize how little you really know.  I know this from experience.

The other day,  while searching for images of medieval snow scenes for the previous post, I also came across a beautiful image taken from a 15th century illuminated manuscript called the Tres Riches Heures.  It was a gorgeous winter scene, very Dutch looking, with a astronomical chart with beautiful blue lapis bands arching across the top of the page.   I was immediately taken in by the image.

Limbourg Brothers- Anatomical Man- Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry FebruaryDoing some quick research I discovered that this image was but one of over 130 painted images in the Tres Riches Heures, many of which were done by a trio of Dutch siblings, the Limbourg Brothers, between 1412 and 1416 for the French Duke du Berry.  The Tres Riches Heures is a book of hours which consists of prayers and devotional exercises along with  timetables for specific prayers and calendars for feast days and other days of note in the liturgical year, along with some customized additions.  This particular book of hours was the most spectacular ever produced.

Of course, something this incredible never comes easily.  The Limbourg Brothers, unfortunately, all died within the year of 1416, most likely from the plague, leaving the Tres Riches Heures incomplete.  It was worked on for many years by an unknown intermediate painter, most likely a court painter for French king Charles VII, who had attained the unfinished group work in the years after the Limbourgs died.  Finally, between 1485 and 1490, the work was completed by artist Jean Colombe.

Limbourg Brothers- Hell- Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry FebruaryToday, this considered arguably the most valuable book in the world– a book filled with 130 beautiful Dutch paintings, a book that took nearly eighty years to complete.

As I say, I was thrilled to come across it, having no prior knowledge of it or the magnificent work of the Limbourg Brothers or Jean Colombe.  But then I was a bit taken aback by the realization that I had such a gap in my knowledge, especially of a work of such grandeur.  But, that’s the way it goes.  You trudge forward, a blind squirrel periodically stumbling across a nut.

Now I know…



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Bruegel, Pieter the Elder- Hunters in the Snow (Winter) 1565I was looking for a medieval image of a scene in snow that would fit a piece of medieval seasonal music.  In this instance or most any, you can’t go wrong with a painting from Pieter Bruegel the Elder.  The Flemish painter , who lived from around 1525 until 1569, has long been a favorite of mine with the gorgeous colors of his peasant scenes.  This is one of the more famous of the 45 or so known remaining paintings from Bruegel, titled The Hunters in the Snow  from 1565.  The contrasting darkness of the trees and the hunting party against the lightness of the snow and the atmosphere just make this piece memorable for me.  It is of its time but it feels as though you could step into it, be part of it.

The piece of music I wanted this to accompany is Gaudete, a well known piece that comes from the 16th century which means it, like the Bruegel painting, are not really medieval since that period ended with the 15th century.  But both feel as though they have that medieval feel and, besides,  Gaudete is based on truly medieval Latin lyrics.

The song is a Christmas carol that opens with the line Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus which translates to  Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born.  Gaudete is Latin for rejoice.  While I do not practice any particular religion, this is truly a beautiful expression of the meaning of the season.  This lovely version of the song is an arrangement for 4 voices, arranged and conducted  by Joan Yakkey and performed by 4 adolescents belonging to the Young Madrigalists group of the School of Music of Fiesole, Florence Italy.

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Wassily Kandinsky- Composition VIII  1923In the final analysis, every serious work is tranquil….Every serious work resembles in poise the quiet phrase, ” I am here.” Like or dislike for the work evaporates; but the sound of that phrase is eternal.

Wassily Kandinsky


The above quote is from Wassily Kandinsky and concisely captures what might be the primary motive for my work. I think, for me, it was a matter of finding that thing, that outlet that gave me voice, that allowed me to honestly feel as though I had a place in this world. That I had worth. That I had thoughts deserving to be heard. That I was, indeed, here. 

That need to validate existence is still the primary driver behind my work. It is that search for adequacy that gives my work its expression and differentiates it from others. I’ve never said this before but I think that is what many people who respond to my work see in the paintings- their own need to be heard. They see themselves as part of the work and they are saying, “I am here.” 



I wrote the above a little over five years ago in one of the early posts on this blog.  I came across it and was going to re run it alone because I still feels it sums up a lot of what I feel about  my work but I also wanted to expand just a bit more on Wassily Kandinsky, who ended up not really getting much notice in this outside of his quote.

Kandinsky, who was born in Moscow in  1866  and died in Paris in 1944, was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century,  leading the  way into abstraction in painting.  I have sometimes been ambivalent about his work- some I have found entrancing but others have done nothing for me.  But seeing it chronologically, from his earliest efforts until the years just before his death, has made me see him in a different light.  Seeing his evolution from a painter strongly influenced by his mentors  and contemporaries to an artist with a distinct voice of his own is remarkable to witness.  This was a man who was always seeking more than he was seeing, an artist who didn’t rest at a plateau.  Seeing this evolution gave me a new respect for the work of Kandinsky

To see this clearly and for yourself, I suggest you go to WassilyKandinsky.net.  His career is divided into four sections and  each has a chronological gallery of work that you can scroll down.  It’s worth a look.

Wassily Kandinsky- Couple Riding   1906 Wassily Kandinsky-  Murnau. A Village Street  1908 Wassily Kandinsky  -Softened Construction 1927     1925Wassily Kandinsky- In Blue  1925  1923Wassily Kandinsky  - Decisive Pink  1932

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Peter O'Toole Lion in  WinterI was saddened to discover yesterday that Peter O’Toole had died over the weekend  in London at the age of 81.   He was definitely a favorite of mine.   The Irish-born actor was famous for his partying and brawling alongside his longtime chum Richard Harris, but first and foremost was legend on the stage and on the screen, casting a magnificent presence into all his roles.   And what great roles they were-  the ethereal Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia,  his comic twist as Allan Swann in My Favorite Year and  my favorites, two times as King Henry II in Beckett and in The Lion In Winter.

O’Toole holds a dubious record , being the most nominated best actor ( 8 times) without ever winning the Oscar.  I can’t fault most of the winning choices in the years that he lost.  Most were incredible performances such as Marlon Brando in 1972’s The Godfather, Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962, Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady in 1964, John Wayne in True Grit in 1969, Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull in 1980, and Ben Kingsley in Gandhi in 1982.  All of these are legendary roles.  Even his loss to Forrest Whitaker in 2006’s The Last King of Scotland is understandable.

No, the one where his performance was by far the greatest of that year (and most others in my opinion) was in 1968 when he portrayed  Henry II in The Lion in Winter.  He lost to Cliff Robertson in Charly, which was a great role and a fine movie, the film version of Flowers For Algernon.  I take nothing away from Cliff Robertson but O’Toole’s portrayal was one for the ages, matched as he was with Katherine Hepburn  and a young Anthony Hopkins.  It’s a film that I cannot help but watching whenever it comes on.  O’Toole is mesmerizing in that film, just dominating the screen.  He was truly the Lion in that film.

I think I’ll watch it again today just to see him roar once more.

Here’s a taste:



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Flow Chart--mihaly csikszentmihalyiI wrote the other day about my search for that intangible thing in my work, that quality that will set me off on a new path.  I’ve been thinking about it and what I think I am really looking for comes down to one word:  Flow.   There’s a famous book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ( please don’t ask me how to pronounce his name) that describes flow as a sense of being in the zone or in the groove, of being so totally immersed in the task before you that the external world is blocked out.  He describes it as being like playing jazz, where each action, thought and movement rises from the previous one.

He points out that this flow occurs when there is a balance between the level of the challenge and the skill of the person facing it.  Basically, this person is working at the far end of their skill level, pushing themselves to their boundaries in order to conquer the task before them.  There can be no thought other than that thing before them.  Total concentration and dedication.  I think of it in terms of a mountain climber facing a climb that seems at the far end of their limits, who must muster up all their knowledge and concentrate on each movement in order to scale the daunting peak before them.

I have known this feeling, this flow that he describes, in painting.  I have often described this feeling of immersion, of a level of concentration where each action leads to the next and time seems to fade into nothingness.  I don’t hear the music playing, don’t feel thirst or hunger, don’t think about other things that I need to do or things that might be worrying me.  When I have been in this state it seems so real and so concrete that it feels as though it is always right there and attainable.  It is intoxicating.

But it is not sustainable forever without creating new challenges.  One you have conquered one peak, you need a new one to face down.  Without this challenge, you are at a  comfortable plateau, something I have attempted to describe in the recent past.  Your skill exceeds the challenge and total immersion is not necessary.  While there is a level of needed concentration to simply maintain this elevation, there is also room for outside thoughts and concerns.  The once difficult task has become the normal course.  Comfortable.

And this is fine  and, as I have said before, most artists reach a comfortable level and settle in for the long  term at this high level.  But deep inside, at least for me at the moment, there is a gnawing feeling to find myself hanging  tenuously on a new, scary ascent, pushing my abilities to new levels.  Riding the flow of the thrill of this tunnel-like focus.

That’s where I find myself at the moment– at a plateau, looking up for a new peak to attack.

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Winter Weather mapA lot of us around the country are feeling the effects of winter-like weather this morning.  I know that I am going to go out in a bit and plow the several inches of snow that fell yesterday and overnight.  Not my favorite thing but before that I am going to just take it all in– the gorgeous blanket of white that hugs the contours of the ground and clings to the tree branches and the quiet it produces as it muffles all sound.  These snowfalls are beautiful to see  and hear.

A lot of people don’t share my affection for this weather and crave something a little more warm.  To that end here’s a video with Janis Joplin singing Ball and Chain.  It’s her breakout performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.  If this doesn’t get your blood flowing then I have nothing more to offer.  There’s a great shot about 2/3 through the video of Mama Cass watching the performance, with a look of awe on her face.

Have a great Sunday…

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GC Myers- First View 1994It’s that time of the year when I get to take a deep breath and begin to look forward into the next year, trying to determine where my path will lead next.  It’s never an easy time doing this, trying to see change of some sort in the work  especially after so many years of being what I am and painting as I do.  It always comes back to the same question: What do I want to see in my paintings?

That seems like a simple question.  I think that any degree of success I may have achieved is due to my ability to do just that,  to paint work that I want to see myself, work that excites me first.  So I have been doing just that for most of my career, painting pictures that I want to see.  But there is another layer to the question.

What am I am not seeing in my work that I would like to see?

That’s a harder question.  How can you quantify that thing that you don’t know, might not even have imagined yet?

It might be a case of  knowing it when you see it.  I know that my first real breakthrough was like that.  I was simply fumbling along , looking for something that nagged at the edge of my mind.   I wasn’t sure what it would look like, had not a concrete idea of what it might be.  It was just there in a gaseous form that I couldn’t quite grasp.  But when the piece emerged in a tangible form– which is the painting at the top here, First View from 1994– I instantly knew what it was that I had stumbled on  and that it was something that  very important to me.

It might not look like much to the casual viewer now but in an instant I could see in this little painting everything I was sensing in that gaseous, intangible form that hovered at the edges of my mind.  I could see a realization of all of the potential in it.  Even now, after years of evolving from it, I can see how it connects to everything in my work, even those things I had could not yet see when I painted it.

And that’s where I find myself at the moment.  There’s something out there ( or in there, I probably should say) that I want to see, might even need to see.  But I don’t know what it is yet.  But I will know it when I see it.

And, trust me,  I do plan on seeing it. 

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