Archive for March, 2014

GC Myers- Traveler- 2014I don’t know if this painting is exactly right for the title of this post or this song.  But in the early morning light it has a moonish glow in its center, the gray of the shadows muting the brightness of the color at its edges.  For a moment, it looks like it could be a harvest moon.  At least, what I think of as a harvest moon.

The actual title of this 18″ by 48″  painting is Traveler, which is also the title of my June show at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria.  It has been above my fireplace in the studio for a couple of months now and is wearing well with me.  I find myself often looking up at it, letting myself be pulled along that winding path toward that beckoning sun.  Or moon, depending on how I see it at any given moment, such as this morning.

I will write more about this painting and the June show at a later date.  For now, its a dreary, snowy  Sunday morning here and I need some music that will change my mood a bit.  Here’s Neil Young with a version of his always lovely Harvest Moon.

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The Planet of Mars

Shel Silverstein The Planet of Mars

On a morning when I need  a chuckle I can always turn to the late, great Shel Silverstein and his slightly skewed take on the world.  Like him, there are people that I know who must be from Mars.  Check out his site by clicking here.

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Henri Rousseau- Self Portrait -1890

Henri Rousseau- Self Portrait -1890

I wrote a tiny bit on this site about Henri Rousseau over five years back, showing a few of  his paintings that I count among my favorites.  Over the years, that little blogpost is consistently my most popular page, receiving a considerable number of hits each day.  It’s a testament to the  power of his imagery, both in its ability to draw in the viewer and in the timeless quality it possesses in its evocation of mood.  I know those are the two qualities that drew me to Rousseau and the qualities I sought to emulate in my own work.

But going through a large book of his work yesterday, I was stuck by one  of his  greatest attributes, one that I had overlooked: his fearless approach to painting.  His work never tried to be something that it was not and always displayed his hand proudly, always declaring itself as his.  It gave even his lesser works a strength that is undeniable and true.

It was evidence of a supreme belief in the manner in which he was expressing himself.

That’s not a small thing.  I know for myself, there is a constant struggle to maintain my own voice and vision, to not try to conform to the expectations and definitions set down by others in my work.  To remain fearless like Rousseau.

henri_rousseau_-_a_carnival_eveningRousseau was born  in 1844 and worked most of his life as a civil servant, a clerk who collected taxes on goods going into Paris.  He didn’t start painting  until he was in his early 40’s and was not a full-time painter until he was 49.  He was basically self taught  and worked for the next seventeen years as a painter, blissfully maintaining his fearless work even though he was ignored or disparaged by most of the critics and much of the art world in general.

Yet, among the painters of his day he remains one of the most influential, directly inspiring other giants such as Picasso and many of the the Surrealists.  I think they, too, were drawn in and empowered by his fearlessness.

I think he might have been one of the great examples of someone painting the paintings he wanted to see.  And that, too, is not a small thing.  This and his bold approach are constant reminders to painters who want to maintain their unique voice, who don’t want to be lumped in with genres and styles and schools to stay fearless.

I will try.

henri-rousseau-sleeping-gypsy Henri Rousseau the dream 1910


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GC Myers--Phronesis Phronesis… involves not only the ability to decide how to achieve a certain end, but also the ability to reflect upon and determine good ends consistent with the aim of living well overall.

— Aristotle


This is a new painting, 8″ by 14″ on paper, that I am calling Phronesis.   It’s a Greek word that the philosopher Aristotle used to differentiate practical wisdom from theoretical philosophy.  Phronesis involves putting gained wisdom into rational, measured action, not merely reflecting upon it.  It is the ability to determine where one wants to be– physically, mentally and spiritually– at a future point and how to achieve that goal.  Phronesis employs  theoretical wisdom  and puts it into rational action.

That’s the five cent version of the concept.  And that’s what I see here.   In a calm fashion, the Red Tree has determined its course, which is to be in unity with a greater universal power or spirit, represented here by the breaking sun and the layers of color in the sky.  It has already recognized the universal truths and is now trying to enact them, trying to become closer to the central truth.

It sounds much more complicated than it might really be. ‘Live lightly’ might just as easily get across what I struggle to say here.  That would probably fit the simple composition of this painting, that  spare elegance which draws me to this piece.  In itself, there is a sort of phronesis taking place, as its painting is an action that takes what little wisdom I have gained and allows me to move a step closer to that same goal shown in it.  Peace and light, really.

Well, enough said.

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GC Myers- Song of Searching smSunday morning.  Time for some music to fit the mood of the early day.  It feels kind of bluesy today but in a quiet way, typical for many Sunday mornings.  I immediately go to my default guy, John Lee Hooker and his 1991 collaboration, from his album Mr. Lucky,  with another favorite, Van Morrison.  The song is titled I Cover the Waterfront. While it shares a title, this song is not to be confused with the more well known song from the 30’s, most famously covered by the great Billie Holiday with a version that is also a fave of mine.  I’m sure Holiday’s version influenced Hooker’s song if only in setting the emotional tone and pace.

Both are beautiful in their own ways.  What the hell, I’ll put up both versions.  Hope one of these sets the tone for a cool and easy Sunday for you.

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Lotte Laserstein- Evening Over Potsdam (Abend Uber Potsdam) 1930

Lotte Laserstein- Evening Over Potsdam (Abend Uber Potsdam) 1930

While looking up some the artwork that was branded as being entarete kunst, or degenerate art, by the Nazis in 1930’s Germany, I came across a number of  amazing works, many by well known artists  but some from artists who were unknown to me.  Many of these were Germans who were well on their way to establishing big careers as important artists before the war and its buildup  but never really regained their momentum after the war.  That is, if they even survived.

Lotte Laserstein at work on "Evening Over Potsdam"

Lotte Laserstein at work on “Evening Over Potsdam”

The painting shown above, Abend Uber Potsdam, or Evening Over Potsdam,  by  German-born artist Lotte Laserstein , stopped me in my tracks when I stumbled across it.  It speaks volumes with just a glance.  At first, all I could see was a sort of  classic Last Supper type arrangement as if painted by Norman Rockwell while he was in the deepest depths of despair.   It was big and brilliant. The facial expressions and the body language evoke a mood that is beautiful and tragic at once, perhaps filled with the foreboding of what was to come for these people and  that city and that nation.

Perhaps the dog, a sleeping German Shepherd, is symbolic of the German people being unaware of what is ahead, an omen of what is lost when a shepherd is not always vigilant.

This was painted in 1930, just as the Nazis were beginning to make their fateful  move to take over the German government.  I can only that imagine someone with keen perceptive powers could easily imagine what might be coming with those dark clouds massing over that German city.

Lotte Laserstein- In Gasthaus ( In the Restaurant)Laserstein grew up in Prussia and was trained as an artist in the creative whirlwind that was post- WW I Berlin .  Art in all forms was flourishing, fueled by the desperation and fatalism of living in a post-war world.  There was change in the air.  Women were becoming more bold and empowered and modernity was pushing away the conventions of the past.   Laserstein embraced this life, typifying the image of the single, self-sufficient New Woman.  The painting shown to the right, her Im Gasthaus (In the Restaurant), is a great example of that time, showing a single woman with bobbed hair and fashionable clothes sitting alone in a restaurant.  The hands are strong and the expression is pensive, thoughtful.  It’s a great piece and a wonderful document of the time.

Laserstein was gaining stature at this point but in 1933 was marked as being Jewish and her career began to stall in Germany.  In 1937, the same year as the famous Entarete Kunst exhibit put on by the Nazis where they displayed and mocked artwork labeled as being degenerate then destroyed much of it ( a story worthy of another post) , Laserstein was invited to have a show in Sweden.  She went there and stayed until her death in 1993.

After the war she basically fell off the radar, although she was active until the end of her life. However, her work after the beginning of World War II lacked the fire of her earlier Berlin work.  It was good work but it was less full, less expressive.  Perhaps the war had sapped away a great part of her.  Her earlier work was rediscovered in her late 80’s and had a retrospective at a London gallery and in 2003, ten years after her death, she returned to Berlin with a   large retrospective.

There were many victims of that horrible time.  Lotte Laserstein did survive and did produce work for half a century after it so perhaps one might not call her a victim.  But there was something lost i n this case and we may never know fully what might have been for her without the war.  As it is, she has left us some wonderful work.

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Preston_Dickinson_-_Factory_(c__1920) Columbus Museum of ArtI’m a fan of the Precisionist movement in art which was formed in the early 20th century and often depicted the industrial structures that were fueling the growth spurt taking place in America.  There are some big names in this movement, mainly Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth, both of which I have featured here in the past.  But, like many of the movements in art, there are many lesser  but equally brilliant stars in their universe.  I recently came across one that really hit with me, mainly because of the energy and breadth of his work.  I thought it was all really good, really strong and evocative.  But it moved in many directions, pulling from many inspirations.  There was some Futurist work, some elements of Cubism and others.  It was as though this was an artist that was so talented that he was having trouble finding that single voice that fit his needs.

Preston_Dickinson Old Quarter Quebec 1927 - The Phillips CollectionHis name was Preston Dickinson who was born in NY in 1891.  He studied as a youth at the Art Students League under William Merritt Chase and soon after, with backing from a NY art dealer, headed off to Europe to study and exhibit there.  Coming back to America, he moved around a bit but by the late 1920’s was considered among the stars of American Modernist painting.

In 1930, he moved to Spain to live and paint and several months after being there contracted pneumonia and died there.  He was only 39.  He produced only a few hundred pieces of work in the twenty years or so in which he was producing work.

So maybe there is something to this feeling that he was still in the midst of finding his true voice.  It makes me sad to ponder what might have been and what sort of work was lost to the world when he passed away.  He was obviously a huge talent with an active and inquiring mind.

I am glad to have just stumbled across him now and hope that the joy his work brings me somehow moves into my own.Preston Dickinson Harlem River  MOMA

preston-dickinson-tower-of-gold Preston_Dickinson - Street in Quebec- The Phillips Collection Preston_Dickinson_-_My_House_-_Google_Art_Project Preston_Dickinson - Industry 1923- The Whitney Collection


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Archie Comics Cover _608It’s always interesting to discover something new — a few interesting facts or the true backstory — about things that have been in plain sight for most of your life.  Take for instance the song Black and White , released in 1972 by the pop band Three Dog Night.  The song went to #1 on the pop charts here and, with its pleasant beat and gentle message of racial equality, has been a staple of oldies radio for decades now.

I never really thought much about the song even though I’ve heard it hundreds of times over the years, even singing along with the lyrics that have been embossed in my synapses with repeated listening.  It came on the radio in our car the other day and Cheri and I couldn’t agree on who had written the song.  Three Dog Night didn’t write many of their own songs, most being penned by other, more notable songwriters– Hoyt Axton, Laura Nyro, Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Elton John and others.  So whenever we hear one of their songs we try to identify the original songwriter.  But we drew a blank with Black and White.

Looking it up, we were both surprised that it was written in 1954 by songwriters Earl Robinson and David Arkin, a blacklisted teacher and set-designer who was the father of actor Alan Arkin.   This fact  made sense to me because I knew that Alan Arkin was a folksinger in the 1950’s, scoring a hit that went to #4 on the charts with a version of the The Banana Boat Song with his group, the Tarriers.

The song was written to celebrate the Supreme Court decision in the landmark case  Brown v Board of Education which outlawed segregation in public schools and was first recorded in 1956 by Pete Seeger.  In the original version, which Seeger sang, the beginning lyrics are different than the ones that so many of us who know the song through the Three Dog Night version remember– the ink is black/the page is white/ together we learn to read and write.  The original deals directly with the supreme court decision:

Their robes were black, Their heads were white,

The schoolhouse doors were closed so tight,

Nine judges all set down their names,

To end the years and years of shame.

The 1972 version that Three Dog Night recorded was based on one that was recorded a year before, in  1971, by a British group, Greyhound, that had a hit in the UK with it.  The Greyhound hit did not use these original lines anywhere in their version and Three Dog Night merely copied  this.  Though it doesn’t greatly diminish the song, it would be nice to have these lines in the song.  Perhaps by 1971 or 1972 they felt that the 1954 Supreme Court decision was no longer topical or relevant.

So, there you have it: a seemingly innocuous and pleasant song with some real history behind it.

Here’s a 1970 version from the Jamaican band The Maytones.  I believe that Greyhound‘s version of the following year came from this one.

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GC Myers- Purifying Light smSolitude is the place of purification.

–Martin Buber


I call this new painting, a fairly large 20″ by 60″ canvas, Purifying Light.  There’s something about the light from the sun here that speaks to me of the burning away of impurities, of purging the darkness with light.  Light is the revelator of truth and truth is the revelator of flaws and impurities.

That sounds a bit too dramatic, a bit too preachy for what I am trying to get across here.  But it’s always hard to get across vague but large concepts.  I think we all possess flaws and impurities that we live with by hiding them in the shadows around us– with half-truths told, hidden histories and diversions that take the light from these flaws.  But at some point, these imperfections always come to light in some form, revealing our true selves, our true natures.

At first blush that sounds awful.  But ultimately that is when and where we find the peace and acceptance of  the truth of our reality– what we are and what we are not.  The light of this truth burns away the weight of those imperfections, like the rust and barnacles being stripped away from the hull of a steel ship.  As the ship glides easier through the water freed from these things that once clung to it so do we move forward, freed from the burdens of our faults.

Okay, there’s a bit of hyperbole here.  But there is something in this piece, perhaps because of it’s large size and strong colors, that inspires a little heightened rhetoric.  It is calm and introspective but with an exclamation point.  And I kind of like that…

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celtic-shamrock-hiI thought that for a bit of Sunday morning music this week, I would stick with something that sort of fits with  tomorrow’s St. Patrick’s Day observance.  I say observance because while we often loudly celebrate it here with a little too much Guinness and more than enough Kelly green clothing, it is a more somber and religious holiday in Ireland.  But that being said, I thought I would play a song that is more in the spirit of  a raucous celebration.

This is Big Strong Man from the Irish band , The Wolfe Tones.  They have been around for about 50 years and are primarily known for their repertoire of rebel songs.  I am somewhat ambivalent about using them as I have a long-time friend who lives in County Armagh in Northern Ireland who has often described to me over the years the fatigue and the toll that this multi-generational conflict has taken on the people there.  But this is a great and fun song that doesn’t take  any political stand.

Have a great Sunday!

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