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Archive for January, 2015

I wrote this post several years ago describing how a certain composition from one artist can influence another, even though the results may seem light years away.  I often look at work of others in different ways, sometime focusing on the quality of the colors or how their handling of the paint.  But  often  I find myself looking at how the composition comes together, breaking away the the surface details in my mind to reveal the  bare bones or armature underneath.  Sometimes this sparks something and while looking at someone else’s work I will see a painting of my own growing over this armature.

I thought today I’d recall how this worked with a very famous piece:

WhistlerThis is James McNeil Whistler’s most famous piece, Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1:  Portrait of the Painter’s Mother.  It is, of course, better known as Whistler’s Mother.  It was a painting that I was casually familiar with as I grew up but it wasn’t until I looked more closely at it after I had started painting that I saw the brilliance of it’s composition.

Whistler always asserted that the painting was not about his mother but was more concerned with creating mood with color and composition, which the primary focus of almost all his work. This piece achieves it’s mood with beautiful diagonal lines formed by the woman’s form and contrasting verticals and horizontals that create great visual tension and energy.  The stark whiteness of the matted print on the wall behind shines like a full moon against the pale blue-gray sky that is the wall itself.  The head of the old woman seems to be almost lit by the light from the moon/print.

This is not a portrait of an old woman.  It’s a nocturnal landscape.  That’s what I saw when I looked at it as a painter trying to glean what I could from it for my own use.  This was a composition that had a geometry that just felt so right immediately.  It had such a sense of perfection in the way color and form combine with sheer simplicity that I knew I would have to use it for myself.

And I have, quite a few times over the years since I first really looked at it, sometimes with slight variations in the placement of the elements but still basically with the same compositional base.  And inevitably, they are pieces that have great immediacy in their impact, pieces that carry great mood whatever their subject matter.

The following day I wrote:

Yesterday I wrote about how I have often used in my own work the composition from the James McNeil Whistler painting popularly known as Whistler’s Mother.  I did so without illustrating the point so I thought I’d take quick moment to show how I might block in my own work with Whisyler’s composition.

GC Myers - the-way-of-lightGoing into my archives, one of the first things I look at is a painting from a few years back, The Way of Light.  At first glimpse, this piece has nothing in common with the Whsitler piece.  First, it is not portraiture ( although I often view my trees as such) and it is a landscape.  It is obviously a different palette of color than that of Whistler and the elements are rendered in a less realistic fashion than you would see in Whistler’s work.

WhistlerBut if you put those differences aside and quickly take in the shape and form of each piece, you can begin to see the similarity.  The line of trees on the small mound of land in my piece take the place of Whistler’s dark curtain on the far left.  The water in mine becomes the floor of his. The body of his mother is replaced by my island and her head becomes my red tree.  The framed print is now my moon.

Here, I overlaid my piece with the Whistler piece to further illustrate the point.  Obviously, there are worlds of differences separating the two pieces, as I pointed out above.  But the composition and use of blocking and light help us each achieve a sense of mood that is the primary goal in both cases.  Like Whistler, I am often more concerned with the mood and emotion of a piece of work than the actual subject matter.  In this pursuit I have come to view much of my work as Whistler did his, as musical compositions rather than merely representative images.

In color and shape there is rhythm, tempo and tone.  The placement of the compositional elements of a piece are much like the placement of individual notes in music, each affecting and reacting with those around it.  All trying to evoke feeling, response.

Well, there’s my illustration of how Whsitler’s iconic piece fits in with what I try to do with my work.  Hope you can now see the connection…

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roller skating house theboatlullabiesOne of my favorite things to do online is to browse through some of the sites that feature found photographs, images that have been lost or abandoned by their original owners and picked up by others at flea markets, yard sales, etc.  Almost all are by amateurs and feature many day-to-day scenes of friends and families, some remarkable and some not so much.  Some a little bit too personal.  But there is something quite beautiful in the sum of them, an artfulness that is naturally gained and not thought out, much of it unintended.

I find a lot of inspiration in going through these images.  There is often a tangible sense of emotion in these images, something that makes me wonder how something that obviously meant something to someone at some point could be just set adrift.   How many of my own family’s photos are out there like these, lost ancestors floating around in some flea market bin?

Some, like the one shown here, which I call the Roller Skating House (obviously a house in the midst of being moved), are just neat images that pique my interest and imagination.  I found this at The Boat Lullabies which is a great site ran by the person behind Square America, a site that is now down but was an amazing collection of vernacular photography.  You can still find Square America on Facebook— a great page to follow.  Another great collection of found images is at FoundPhotographs.com.

Check out some of these sites.  They are fun and often thought provoking.

 

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Robert Henri- At Far Rockaway

Robert Henri- At Far Rockaway

The man who has honesty, integrity, the love of inquiry, the desire to see beyond, is ready to appreciate good art. He needs no one to give him an ‘Art Education’; he is already qualified. He needs but to see pictures with his active mind, look into them for the things that belong to him, and he will find soon enough in himself an art connoisseur and an art lover of the first order.

-Robert Henri

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A lot of people over the years have made my work their first art purchase which pleases me greatly because I know how difficult it is to make that first decision to spend hard-earned money on a piece of art.  It is tremendously gratifying to me as an artist to have that person find something in the work that belongs to them that allows them to overcome the fear of buying art.

And there is a fear in buying art.  Or even showing one’s appreciation of it.

I hear it all the time from people who come up to me in galleries and say that they know nothing about art, some who are very powerful people who move through the world with a supreme air of confidence about them. They are often afraid of making a mistake that will reveal their lack of knowledge about art.

My first response is to tell them that they don’t have to know anything about art.  They don’t need a wide knowledge of art history or contemporary art.  They only need to first trust their eyes and their emotional response to a piece of work.  No amount of persuasion can make you like those things that don’t stir your emotions.

Ultimately, you like what you like– work that speaks to who you are at your core.   And that is the first requirement and rule for any lover of art, whether you collect or simply enjoy taking in the images when you come across them.

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GC Myers- Wisdom of the WindWisdom sails with wind and time.

–John Florio

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Thought I’d take the opportunity to show another new small painting that will be part of the Little Gems show at the West End Gallery, opening next Friday.  This little 4″ by 6″ piece is titled Wisdom of the Wind.

For me, this is a piece about motion, about the movement of the trees caught in the gusting winds.  Like the words from the 16th century above, I see this as being about how we  are often shaped by exposure and time to prevailing thought.  Some will simply succumb to the winds of the time while some will offer resistance against the direction in which the wind is blowing.

I suppose that the wisdom comes from knowing when to relent and when to resist.  What fights to pick and what fights to let pass.

There’s a long pause between that last short paragraph and this one.  I find myself lost in that thought, wondering if there is any wisdom in it at all.  It’s one of those things where I can see a viable argument for either side.  I suppose it comes down to one’s nature, how one is built.  Some trees are made to simply go with the wind while others always struggle against every wind.

I sometimes can’t decide what type of tree I am.

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GC Myers - The Outlier's Home 1200- 72Yesterday on the blog, I showed one of my small pieces from this year’s Little Gems show at the West End Gallery, which opens February 6.  I thought I might show another today, this one a little 4″ by 6″ painting called The Outlier’s Home.

It’s a simply constructed piece that features the intense color of the foreground set against the placid blue gradation of the sky with a red-roofed homestead alongside a Red Tree set between the two contrasting forces.  It has a feeling of distance and separation but without anxiety or fear.

Maybe that is where the title originated, in this separation.  I like the idea of the outlier, that thing or being that is apart from the normal set.  An aberration, something slightly outside the norm in one way or another.  I think that is why I envision the Red Tree standing alone apart from other trees in many of the paintings.

I like the idea here of  a place outside the normal that seems peaceful and accepting of itself, not caring what the world  that looks at them from across that purple field  thinks.  I think that’s what we all hope for in this world– an acceptance for ourselves as we are without having to put on a mask to fit into the crowd.

It’s a lot to see in a simple, little piece.  But that’s my take.

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GC Myers- Storms Are on the OceanI’ve been working recently on some very small pieces for the upcoming Little Gems show at the West End Gallery in Corning.  I’ve mentioned here before that this particular show is always  a sentimental favorite of mine as it was in this show that I first publicly showed my work twenty years ago.  It represents the first step on to the path that I now follow and that makes it special for me.  Plus I enjoy working in the smaller scale for a bit.  It allows for easily easing back into older themes and forward into newer ones.

One of these pieces that just finished yesterday is shown here at the top.  It’s a 4″ by 6″ painting that I call Storms Are on the Ocean.  I haven’t done a boat painting in some time and thought the smaller format would be the perfect opportunity to re-visit the theme.  I am always drawn to the motion in these pieces and the billow of the sail.  It reminds me of a fable or a dream in some way that I find appealing.

I thought this would be the perfect match for this week’s Sunday morning music which is the song after which this painting is titled.  It’s The Storms Are on the Ocean, a song first done by the legendary Carter Family back in the late 20’s.  This version is from June Carter Cash‘s last album, Wildwood Flower, which was released in the year, 2003, after her death.  Like the final recordings of her husband, the great Johnny Cash, this album shows her in a fragile state of health which adds greatly to the emotional impact of the songs.

It definitely comes through on this lovely song with its haunting chorus:
The storms are on the ocean
The heavens may cease to be
This world may lose its motion, love
If I prove false to thee

Enjoy and have a great Sunday.

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bacon-s-studio-1This is not my studio.

Although sometimes when I am in a really good groove of painting my studio does get progressively more and more cluttered.  At first, it doesn’t bother me at all that the floor didn’t get swept or that piles of papers are beginning to pile high on the stone kneewalls that separate the spaces in the studio.  Tubes and bottles of paint and old yogurt containers with brushes in varying degrees of wear all over the place.  New paintings propped against any available wall space so that I can freely see and consider them and a few old pieces and raw canvasses ready to be worked on stacked off to the side, creating a new wall in themselves.

bacon-studioBut at a certain point, the feeling of chaos begins to creep in and I can’t take it anymore. I have to organize at least a bit to calm the drone that the chaos has brought on in my head before it breaks into my painting rituals too much.  So, I re-stack paintings and paper, cleans some brushes and containers, put away some books and maybe vacuum.

Maybe.

Maybe not.

bacon-reece-mews-studioBut I feel a little lighter and my mind is clearer so I can easily fall back into that groove.  Plus my current studio is, even in its most cluttered state, less chaotic than my old studio in the woods above our home.  It was very rustic and I regularly purged the paints I soaked up in my process from my brushes on to the floor, creating a huge black spot of paint and ink.  Plus, being much smaller than the current studio made the space always seem filled and in a somewhat messy state even after I would pick up.

But even that space didn’t compare with the studio of Francis Bacon, the Irish born painter known for work that is sometimes violent and disturbing in nature.  The shots shown here are from his old London studio that was left intact after his death in 1992 at the age of 82.  It was moved exactly as it was, with every bit of dust and debris intact, to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin where it is on permanent display.

bacon_study1953I remember seeing these photos years ago and feeling so much better about my studio.  The huge black paint stain on my floor didn’t seem so bad.  But I wondered if I could function in his space.  I guess the concentration required to block out the mounds of debris would have to be incredible.  Maybe that is part of the painting obsession- to be so engrossed in what is before you that all else is pushed far off into the background.  Bacon did view his painting as an obsession, saying, “I have been lucky enough to be able to live on my obsession. This is my only success.”  

Bacon was an incredibly interesting character and one whose words often ring true for me.  He was self taught and talked in terminology that I understand, earthy and straightforward.  Very little artspeak.

The piece shown here from Bacon is one of my favorites, Study After Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, and is very representative of the style of much of his work.  You can find a lot on Bacon and his work online.

Well, got to go– I think I better pick up a bit…

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