Archive for February, 2014

Martin Lewis - Late Traveler 1949I saw a Martin Lewis etching years ago and was transfixed by the crisp contrast of its darks and lights and the easy moodiness it gave off.  I knew nothing of the artist but it was obvious that he was masterful in his etching and in his artistic eye.  I had largely forgotten this artist until I came across a group of his etchings that are coming up for auction.  Seeing them rekindled that same feeling I felt years ago.  Mainly images from New York in the 20’s and 30’s, they often capture a feeling of urban anonymity and isolation, mining the same vein of emotion in which  Edward Hopper worked in his paintings.  This is probably not a coincidence since Lewis and Hopper were friends, Lewis having taught Hopper the art of etching around 1915.

Martin Lewis was born in Australia in 1881 and ran away from home at age 15, working rough jobs for a few years as he travelled and sketched his way through Australia and New Zealand.  He ended up in Sydney where he studied and did illustrations for a local newspaper.  He migrated to the US around 1900, arriving in San Francisco where he painted backdrops for the presidential campaign of William McKinley before finding his way to New York City.

Martin Lewis- Relics (Speakeasy Corner) 1928Inspired by the dynamism of the city at that time, Lewis worked as an illustrator and painter.  It was a 1910 trip to England, where he was introduced to the printwork of English artists such as James MacNeil Whistler, that inspired him to take up etching.  However, it was an 18 month stay in Japan in 1920 that set the groundwork for his signature work which captures light and air and mood so well.  He was active and increasingly successful from 1925 until about 1935.  However, the Great Depression brought a downturn to his popularity and by the 1940’s his work was out of favor.  His work never really took hold after that and he died in 1961,  largely unknown.  In fact, just finding some of the details on his life for this short blog post took some doing.

I think his work is wonderful and evocative and  find it amazing that his work ever fell out of favor.  But such is the nature of art.  But the etchings of Martin Lewis will persevere through the fickle cycles because they capture something elemental and personal.  And that is what real art does.

Martin Lewis- Shadow Dance 1930 Martin Lewis-Tree  Manhattan Martin Lewis- Little Penthouse Martin Lewis- Glow of the City 1928 Martin Lewis - Which Way 1932 Martin Lewis New York Nocturne

Read Full Post »

Beltracchi Working on a Fake Max Ernst (Vanity Fair)

Beltracchi Working on a Fake Max Ernst (Vanity Fair)

This past Sunday, 60 Minutes did a segment on a German artist named Wolfgang Beltracchi.  I would be surprised if you had heard of him unless you know this story.  But you probably have seen his paintings if you have been in many of the great museums of the world.  You see, Beltracchi is an art forger who has dozens of fakes still hanging in many venues around the world.

There was a brilliant twist in his scheme to bring fake paintings to the public and especially to the big money collectors.  Rather than merely copy existing paintings from the masters, Beltracchi would more or less channel the artists, making paintings that he felt that they themselves might have painted if they had had the time to move in a given direction.  They are labeled as  lost masterworks. He would do great amounts of research into the artist’s body of work and biography as well as studying the materials and tools of the time periods so that everything gave it a genuine appearance.  His research was so meticulous that his paints often matched the chemical profile of the originals, making the fake almost impossible to detect with even the most sophisticated of scientific tools.

Helene Beltracchi posing as her grandmother in front of fakes

Helene Beltracchi posing as her grandmother in front of fakes

This genuine appearance made validating the work as original much easier.  But Beltracchi and his wife, Helene, completed the deal with a detailed backstory that made complete sense and was seldom challenged.  They claimed that the paintings were owned by Helene’s grandparents there in Germany and were hidden from the Nazis before World War II .  To make the illusion complete, they would make up Helene as her grandmother and take photos on old period photo paper in front of the paintings.

It was deviously clever deception that stumped the art world for many years.  Museums and high profile collectors (Steve Martin was duped by one of Beltracchi’s fakes to the tune of around $850,000) ate up his works, some being included in books of the best paintings of the last century as well on the cover of a high profile Christie’s Auctions catalog.

The deception was perfect.

Except for one tiny mistake.

On one of his paintings Beltracchi used a tube of white paint that did  not disclose that it included a bit of titanium.  Titanium white was not available as a pigment until 1921 and his use of it made the work instantly detectable.  The house of cards crumbled and both he and his wife were arrested.  They lost everything– the cars, the yachts, the plush homes and the huge stacks of  cash that their con had provided.  They are both serving terms in an German open prison, meaning that they go out each day to work and return at night.

Most of the works , which Beltracchi claims to be well over 1000 and maybe as many as 2000 by over 50 different artists, still hang in many museums around the globe.  It will probably take some time and effort to detect these fakes, if they do it all.  Nobody wants to admit they’ve been conned.

Bellini's "Saint Jerome Reading" at the National Gallery, DC

Bellini’s “Saint Jerome Reading” at the National Gallery, DC

It’s an interesting story.  I was immediately intrigued by Beltracchi’s claim that he could paint in the style of anyone except for perhaps Bellini.  I love Bellini’s work and was glad when this master forger thought it was beyond counterfeiting.  But I wondered how an artist who had this kind of ability, this technical prowess, could have no voice of his own.  The money and the thrill of the ruse were surely big factors in discarding his personal aspirations. For me, painting and art is all about personal expression and emotion.  To see someone with so much obvious talent to be without any personal expression that he would call his own is somewhat sad.

Perhaps he views this whole thing as some sort of performance piece in itself, in which case he may be the greatest artist of our time.  But I doubt it.

Read Full Post »

GC Myers- Happy Trails smI finished this painting, a 10″ by 20″ canvas,  over the weekend.  Every piece has a different feel in process.  Some are struggles, not wanting to show me a way through to the finish.  Every decision and move must be really scrutinized.  Some show me a way but leave me uneasy about my choices until near the end.  And some, like this painting, open wide and invite me in, the process feeling almost effortless.

This painting felt right from the moment it went on the easel.  The composition fell together easily and the colors meshed immediately which left me feeling as though I was simply along for the ride.  Not painting but rather just observing it coming together.  It’s an interesting feeling and one that is highly desirable, at least for me, as the resulting work usually feels naturally free and easy.

And for me this piece has this feel.  It flows easily and the warmth of its colors and the rising elevation of it gives me a sense of joy, as though it represents a desired destination, an endpoint to a long journey.  You always hope that your journey will end well and this piece is symbolic of that hope.  I call it Happy Trails.

Some of you of a certain age will probably immediately associate this with the theme song  of  film and television cowboy Roy Rogers , written by his wife, cowgirl Dale Evans.  Those of you of a slightly younger age will probably think of the song that Van Halen with David Lee Roth used to end its shows.  And those of an even younger age will probably just think that its a catchy title.  I fall into the first group, having watched reruns of the Roy Rogers Show on Saturday mornings as a kid, mainly because we only had a couple of channels.  Plus, I did like Trigger and Roy’s sidekick, Gabby Hayes.  And the theme song which ended every show.

It’s a catchy and pleasantly warm song.  Its feel and title fit this painting well.  Here’s a lovely version that I found online from a gentleman on a ukulele named Patrick Hildebrand Sr. from the Amazing Music Store in Pacific Palisades, California.  The uke’s warm tones and his pleasant voice fit this song well.

Read Full Post »

Jackie Wilson Baby Workout LP CoverI flipped on the radio the other day and heard George Benson doing a remake of the song Baby Workout, the 1963 hit from the late, great R & B singer Jackie Wilson.  It wasn’t a bad version but it only made me really want to hear the original once more.  That’s usually how it goes when I hear somebody cover a Jackie Wilson song.  They usually pale to the real thing and Jackie Wilson was the real thing though he is often forgotten these days.  But that is somewhat  understandable considering he died thirty years ago, in 1984, after suffering through the after-effects of a stroke nine years before.

He just faded from the public’s consciousness.

And that is the shame because Wilson always seemed to live up to his nickname– Mr. Excitement.  His powerful stage moves and soaring voice drove his fans into a frenzy and influenced generations of performers.  Michael Jackson owed much of his stagecraft to Wilson, acknowledging it in his acceptance speech for his 1987 Grammy for Thriller.   You cans eeit also in some of Bruno Mars’ stagework. Wilson’s charismatic performances also garnered him hit after hit.  Reet Petite.  Lonely Teardrops.   The classic Your Love (Keeps Lifting Me Higher).  And many more including Baby Workout, which is a personal favorite of mine.

His life had many highs but perhaps more lows:  Arrests, shootings, the early deaths of several of his children, drug abuse, divorces, bankruptcy and, of course, the stroke a that consumed the last nine years of his short life.  But I don’t want to focus on the tragedy of his life or even the relative obscurity to which he has been assigned through the intervening years.  When I hear him sing and watch him perform, he comes alive once again.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

Here’s a version of Baby Workout from the old Shindig show.  You can get a good idea of Wilson’s power if you get by what looks to be the cast of Up With People! gyrating around him in their matching sweaters.  Anyway, enjoy and have a great Sunday.

Read Full Post »

Stanley Wolfson  (NY World Telegram & Sun ) Bullet Holes in back of stage where Malcolm X was shot

Stanley Wolfson (NY World Telegram & Sun ) Bullet Holes in  back of stage where Malcolm X was shot

I wrote  here several months back about coincidence, those strange moments of synchronicity.  You know, those times when someone who you haven’t spoken with in quite some time suddenly calls you just as you about to pick up the phone to call them.  Or an old song comes into your head and you flip on the radio and there it is.  There seems to never be a reason and the coincidences are seldom  remarkable enough to wonder about for more than a moment.

I had one of those this morning when I was looking for a photo on one of my favorite sites, Luminous Lint.  While scanning through a page of  many small, unrelated images, the photo above caught my eye.    Looking quickly at the small image on my screen it reminded me for a moment of one of my Red Chair paintings.  It was an overturned chair set against a landscape.  There was an immediate sense of loss, of someone having died in my quick reading of the shapes in the photo.   It wasn’t until I looked at the larger image that I could see that the landscape was theatrical backdrop and the chair was on a stage.

The caption said that the circles on the backdrop were bullets holes and this was where Malcolm X was shot at Harlem’s Audobon Ballroom.  I immediately wondered, for some unknown reason, when exactly that was.  I knew it was around 1964 or 65 but wasn’t sure.  I looked it up and there the date– February 21, 1965.  Today’s date, forty nine years ago.

I am sure there was nothing in this. No deeper meaning.  No connection or synchronicity with the movements of the universe.  Just coincidence.  But it makes one wonder why this photo and this date coincided this morning.  I will try to keep my own chair upright today.

Read Full Post »

Hokusai Mackerel and Sea Shells 1840

I don’t have much to say today and am running late plus the Russia-Finland hockey matchup in the Olympics is beginning as I speak.  So I am greatly distracted today.  But t came across this image from the Japanese master Hokusai that I wanted to share.  I had a post several years back that featured the famed waves  for which Hokusai is best known.  They are such strong images of the power and rhythm of nature that it is easy to see why they are his signature works.  But when I saw this quiet still-life of a fish with a few shells from 1840 I truly understood how revelatory this work must have been to the western artists,  such as Whistler and Van Gogh among many others,who discovered it a generation later.

It has a wonderful delicacy in its color and it’s also  simple and elegant, maintaining an extraordinary modernity through the past 170 or so years.  It always seems  like it is in the now which is that intangible that most artists , myself included, seek.  It is unlike anything you would have found in the west in 1840 yet seems totally at home now.  Just a wonderful image to ponder.

Read Full Post »

Buddha Candle

GC Myers Pure Joy smI used the term joyous melancholy in yesterday’s blog to describe the feeling of a painting and a moment, the paradox of finding some sort of small pleasure in a gloomy moment.  It’s a delicate but satisfying feeling, one that solemnly affirms one’s humanity.  The new painting above, an 8″ by 24″ canvas,  is the opposite of that.  It is not paradoxical in any way nor is its message delicately or solemnly expressed.  It is pure color and joy that proudly displays what it is with gusto.

It’s a very strong, almost muscular piece in its expression.  Bold and unapologetic.  Willing to share its glee with anyone who is drawn to look at it.  It brings to mind a quote from Buddha: Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. 

A reminder that our joy is not a finite product, that it should be a shared experience.  I think I will call this painting  Buddha Candle.

On yet another below zero morning, I am enjoying the warmth and joy in this piece.


Read Full Post »

GC Myers Strange Affair 2010I had this video, Strange Affair,  on the blog about four years ago and just wanted to share it again.  Good sound for a cold and quiet Sunday morning.  Plus the image that I used to accompany the post (a painting that is, of course, titled  Strange Affair)  is one of those images that both sticks in my mind and meshes well with June Tabor’s beautiful interpretation ( accompanied by one of my favorites, Martin Simpson, on guitar) of the Richard Thompson song.

There’s something stark in both the song and the painting that appeals to my sensibilities.  A sort of joy found in certain moments of melancholy.  There was a moment like that last week when I was walking through the woods to the studio.  It was extremely cold with the sky a flat gray slate and there hardly another sound other than the trudge of my footsteps in the snow.  It seemed like such a bleak and sterile moment but then a single snowflake drifted down, dancing delicately in the air, and I was suddenly filled with a joy that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  It wasn’t happiness.  Just the joy of feeling connected to the world in that moment.

Joyous melancholy.  A paradox.  A strange affair, to be sure.

So, pardon me for showing this image and this video again.  It was four years ago  after all.  Enjoy and have a great Sunday.

Read Full Post »

Giacomo Costa- Post Natural

Giacomo Costa- Post Natural

The last post, Brighter Days Ahead, featured a painting that dealt with the anticipation of the future.  The perspective of that painting had a somewhat optimistic and hopeful vision of what might be ahead.  There are, of course, grimmer visions of the future out there.  I  was reminded of this early this morning when I came across the photos of Italian photographer/artist Giacomo Costa.

Giacomo Costa- The Chronicles of Time   book coverCosta uses digital manipulation and , from what I can deduce, extensive architectural research to create large scale images that portray fantastic futuristic structures and cityscapes in various stages of decay.  They are very cinematic, easily fitting in any big budget sci-fi thriller,  yet stand on their own as pure, thought provoking imagery.  It was the cover of his book,  The Chronicles of Time, shown here on the right, that caught my eye.  I wasn’t aware of Costa’s work and thought this was a real building, one so fantastic and amorphous  that I couldn’t believe I had never seen it before this.

It may be a grimmer future, albeit one that may be a  millennium or two or more away, than we want to imagine but there is something beautiful in the recapture of the natural space by trees and oceans.  Perhaps, we may not be anymore at some point but nature will prevail in some form.  And that is, in some strange way, comforting, especially if you believe that we humans are not remote as a species but are entwined on a particle level with all natural life and will have some form of consciousness, even among the ruins of a human civilization.

It may not be the future we wish for but it is a future.  Check out the work of Giacomo Costa at his website.  It will make you think about the future and, hopefully, the present.

Giacomo Costa - Ground 1 2013 Giacomo Costa - Atto 9 2007 Giacomo Costa-  Aqua n 3 2007 Giacomo Costa

Read Full Post »

GC Myers- Brighter Days AheadThe future ain’t what it used to be.

–Yogi Berra


I like winter and winter weather.

Maybe that’s part of the contrarian streak in me. I don’t know.  But even I am kind of surprised at the way this year’s winter has bared its fangs for much of the eastern part of the country and find myself looking forward to warmer weather.  You know, temperatures in the high 20’s and 30’s.

This new piece is part of the series of paintings that I have been working on lately that feature snow as part of the composition.  This piece, which I call Brighter Days Ahead, is on paper and measures 14″ by 24″.  There’s a lot of bands of texture swirling through this piece and a lot of embedded layers of color throughout.  Here in the studio where you can take in the depth of its texture and the contrast between the dark linework and the color, this piece has quite a striking appearance.  I am not sure my photography can fully capture the effect.

There is a real feeling of optimism and warmth in this painting, which gave rise to the title.  The colors of the sky and the sun rising in the center represents a warmer and gentler future, which  is obviously optimistic.  The future should be optimistic.  Anything less means that we have caved in to our fears, seeing only the worst scenarios,   and lost faith in our ability to persevere.

I sometime fall into that trap and follow the lead of my fears.  But history tells us that there are always two futures– those that we imagine and those that we make– and that the two most often are not the same.  Throughout history, we have always seen the worst in the future.  Doom and gloom, the end of days descending on us.  But somehow we always make it past that imagined future and beginning forming the next future to dread.  And it will come and not meet up with our fears.  Oh, it will  not be everything we hope because things, by nature, change and we always resist change.

The future is a foreign land to us and we will never be quite comfortable there.  It might not be perfect but perhaps it won’t be so bad.  Just a bit different.  And if we remember  that, we might even see the sun that will assuredly still be shining above.  And begin imaging a new future.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: